BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament approved eight new ministers on Sunday but Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has yet to decide who will hold sensitive security posts in the cabinet such as defense and interior.
Maliki’s new government was approved in late December after nine months of political wrangling but he left 10 cabinet posts with acting leaders, keeping the Defense Ministry, which runs the army, Interior, which controls the police, and National Security for himself temporarily.
Iraq is trying to solidify its nascent democracy in the face of a stubborn insurgency nearly eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, before U.S. troops complete their withdrawal by year’s end.
Parliament approved new electricity and trade ministers, two key positions covering provision of basic services and food, the focus of recent protests in Baghdad and the provinces.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden congratulated Maliki on the approval of the ministers during a call on Sunday, the White House said in a statement.
“The vice president commended the prime minister for his role in consolidating Iraq’s democratic progress, and encouraged the prompt completion of the final steps for government formation, including the appointment of security ministers and the establishment of the National Council for Higher Policies,” the statement said.
The two men also discussed events in Egypt, it said.
The new power minister, Raad Shallal, has worked for the ministry since 1987 and holds a masters degree in engineering.
Intermittent electricity is one of Iraqis’ biggest gripes.
Current production is only 7,000 megawatts, about 5,000 megawatts short of demand, acting Electricity Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said on Saturday as he announced a plan to give Iraqis 1,000 kilowatt-hours of free power each month.
The new trade minister is Khairalla Hasan, a Kurdish veterinarian with 20 years’ experience in trade in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region.
Food and power have been at the heart of numerous recent street protests, which seem likely to grow with the approach of summer, when temperatures rise above 50 degrees Celsius.
Maliki also announced his picks for the posts of women’s affairs, tribal affairs, municipalities, civilian community affairs, national reconciliation and a minister of state without portfolio, and said he would submit other nominees to parliament within days.
“I would like to assure members of parliament I will bring up the security ministers to parliament very soon to be approved,” Maliki told lawmakers.
Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy; writing by Ahmed Rasheed; additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington; editing by Tim Pearce and Sandra Maler