Iraq appoints ministers but govt still incomplete

Baghdad (AFP) –


The Iraqi parliament approved three new ministers on Monday, but the post of education minister remains unfilled eight months after Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi was appointed.

The legislature gave its backing to Abdel Mahdi's picks to head the defence, interior and justice ministries.

President Barham Saleh handed Abdel Mahdi the task of forming a new government last year, following the country's hard-fought victory over the Islamic State group, as several coalitions were jockeying for preeminence.

A veteran of Iraqi politics and an economist by training, Abdel Mahdi, 76, was regarded as sufficiently independent to be able to assemble a government despite fractures in the ruling elites.

He also has the backing of both Washington and Tehran, two key Iraqi allies who are themselves bitter enemies.

But he has faced a complex task building a government which faces the enormous challenges of rebuilding a country ravaged by three years of fighting IS.

Abdel Mahdi won parliament's backing for Yassin al-Yasseri as interior minister and General Najah al-Shemmari to head up the defence ministry.

A woman had been put forward as education minister but was not approved -- parliamentary sources say another vote is expected in the coming days.

Shemmari, who like all Iraq's defence ministers since 2003 comes from Mosul, was previously one of the commanders of the country's elite counter-terrorism unit.

The appointments come amid days of pressure by parliamentarians and protesters calling on Abdel Mahdi to finish building his government.

Iraq's roasting hot summers are often marked by social unrest as power cuts -- which shut down vital air-conditioning units -- spark anger over perceived official incompetence and corruption.

Powerful Shiite cleric and political figure Moqtada Sadr has threatened to withdraw his confidence in the government, sparking speculation the current administration could lose its majority in parliament.