Key Iraq posts filled after missing deadlines

Khaled al-Obaidi was voted defence minister and Mohammed al-Ghabban was picked for the interior post

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Iraq on Saturday named its new security ministers after the parliament missed two deadlines to approve previous nominees for the long-vacant interior and defense ministry positions.

Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, a Shiite lawmaker with new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s State of Law political bloc, was appointed as minister of interior while Khaled al-Obeidi, a Sunni lawmaker from the besieged city of Mosul, was named for the post of defense minister.

The postponement of the ministerial announcements last Thursday came after Abadi’s earlier choices were rejected by parliament on Sept. 16. Abadi had presented Sunni MP Jabar al-Jabbari as defense minister and Riyad Gharib, a Shiite lawmaker with the State of Law parliamentary bloc, as interior minister.

While Abadi succeeded in reaching a breakthrough on Saturday, Iraqis hope that the new ministers will put national interests above narrow sectarian agendas.

“We do not expect an ideal situation. But others and myself wish to see ministers [chosen] who have no sectarian sentiments,” former MP Dhia al-Shakarchi told Al Arabiya News, referring to the polarized Iraqi parliament.

“Iraq needs a defense minister not only for Sunnis and an interior minister not only just for Shiites but for Iraq and Iraqis,” she added.

In Iraq the post of parliament speaker is reserved to a Sunni Arab, the premiership to a Shiite Arab and the presidency to a Kurd. It is traditional for the defense and interior portfolios to go to a Sunni Arab and Shiite, respectively.

The stalemate over choosing candidates for the security posts was widely predicted by political observers who noted Abadi’s difficult task after the eight-year premiership of Nouri al-Maliki whose policies were widely regarded as polarizing and partisan.

The key posts have been vacant since late 2010; Maliki had served as the acting defense and interior ministers.

Filling the posts has become even more pressing following the lighting seizure of Iraqi territory this June by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

On Sunday, U.S. ambassador to Baghdad told Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi that the international anti-ISIS coalition needs to deal with a defense minister to help in the fight against the militant group, urging Iraq to speed up the process of choosing a candidate.

“Although it is a new prime minister, and new faces, the actual power is in the hand of pro-Iranian political circles or circles that have Iranian priorities [and] political agendas as priority,” Walid Phares, an advisor to the U.S. Congress on the Middle East, told Al Arabiya News.

“So for the appointment of these ministries, the person that must be appointed must not cross the red line of the Iranian regime in Iraq and this is why there is no consensus on these positions,” Phares, who is author of “The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid,” said.

Al-Ghabban, who received 197 votes in the parliament, hails from the powerful Shi'ite political party, the Badr Organization, which has a militia wing with an estimated force of between 10,000 and 50,000 men.

A number of its commanders occupied posts in Maliki’s security forces.

Phares said many of those militia commanders under Maliki’s regime were “very concerned” of change.

“They have accepted Maliki’s resignation but they want ministers who could continue with the same policies that serve their own interest,” he said.