Iraq cabinet holds first post-Saddam meeting outside Green Zone

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Iraq’s cabinet met Thursday for the first time outside the Green Zone, the fortified Baghdad district set up 15 years ago in the wake of the US invasion.

The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and 14 new ministers whose positions were approved overnight by parliament.

The cabinet meeting was held in the highly symbolic former parliament complex that was used under former dictator Saddam Hussein.

After Saddam’s fall from power in 2003, ongoing violence and insecurity in Iraq ensured the Green Zone endured as an enclave for dignitaries and officials, cut off from the rest of capital.

The US and Britain built diplomatic missions in the zone, while Iraq’s government and parliament similarly retreated behind its blast walls, barbed wire and checkpoints.

Under pressure from competing parliamentary factions who are clamouring for a place in the cabinet, Abdel Mahdi has yet to ask the legislature to approve his candidates for key ministries including interior and defense.

No female candidates have so far been nominated for cabinet portfolios, prompting the United Nations to send a letter registering its concern over the fledgling government’s lack of gender balance.

The prime minister is required to put forward his choices for a vote in parliament on November 6, six months after national elections.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Abdel Mahdi and the new foreign minister- Mohamed Ali al-Hakim, a former ambassador to the UN- in separate phone calls.

Pompeo pledged to work closely with Abdel Mahdi to “help his government deliver stability, security and prosperity for all Iraqis,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Iraq in December 2017 declared victory over ISIS terrorist group, after dislodging the extremistss from swathes of territory and key urban centers seized during a lightning 2014 offensive.

Since he was confirmed as prime minister, Abdel Mahdi has sought to bolster confidence in the security situation, as his country seeks investment for reconstruction.

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