Iraq MPs approve new government, Kerry to visit region

Iraq MPs approve new government, Kerry to visit region
Members of the Iraqi parliament gather to vote on Iraq's new government at the parliament headquarters in Baghdad

BAGHDAD - Iraqi MPs approved a new cabinet on Monday but key security posts remained unfilled, as America's top diplomat prepared to visit the region to build a coalition against jihadists.

New premier Haidar al-Abadi had been under heavy international pressure to form an inclusive government that could present a united front against the militants, led by the Islamic State (IS) group, who have seized much of the country's Sunni heartland.

The outgoing government faced criticism that it alienated the Sunni Arab minority, revitalising militants within the community.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking a few hours before leaving on a mission to solidify the front against IS, praised the "new and inclusive" Iraqi cabinet as a "major milestone".

"Now is the time for Iraq's leaders to govern their nation with the same vision and sense of purpose that helped to bring this new government together," he said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the new government as a "positive step" but urged politicians to quickly choose new defence and interior ministers.

Meanwhile, the new UN human rights chief Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said IS atrocities promised only a "house of blood" for those living under their rule, while the head of Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar religious institution also condemned the group.

Key posts unfilled

The crucial parliament session opened to chaotic scenes, with speaker Salim al-Juburi struggling to maintain order and many MPs absent.

Eventually, 289 out of 328 lawmakers showed up and helped approve three deputy prime ministers and 21 ministers, but key posts - including the interior and defence posts - remain unfilled.

Abadi has asked for a week to fill them, and will run the ministries in an acting capacity until then. The last government also started with key positions empty and acting ministers ended up filling them for four years.

In a sign of the delicate balancing act required to paper over Iraq's deep sectarian and factional divides, three fierce rivals were also approved as the country's new vice presidents: former premiers Nuri al-Maliki and Iyad Allawi, and ex-parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi.

The cabinet is so far dominated by Shiite Arabs, who make up the majority of Iraq's population, and includes only one woman.

Iraq's Kurds - who control an autonomous region and are at odds with Baghdad over issues including territory and division of the country's vast natural resources - only took part at the last minute.

Their MPs were still waiting for word from their leaders in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah when parliament opened, and were waiting in the cafeteria.

They later arrived in the chamber, and Kurdish MP Ala Talabani announced during the session that the Kurds would participate in the government on a three-month trial period. They received two ministries and a deputy premiership.

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