BAGHDAD — After weeks of negotiations, Iraq’s parliament approved two nominees Saturday to lead ministries responsible for the nation’s security forces, filling voids that highlighted sectarian tensions in the government as the country tries to mount an effective military response to the Islamic State.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had struggled to fill the powerful Cabinet posts as he sought candidates with enough support to win approval but not so contentious as to undermine the tenuous unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
The ministries — interior and defense — are particularly important because each controls an array of security forces fighting the Islamic State, known as ISIS or ISIL. Many lawmakers, regardless of their misgivings about one candidate or the other, welcomed the vote as a matter of survival for the country.
“We have two names for two ministries and it’s not about their personalities,” Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni lawmaker, said. “It’s about Iraq and about the situation we are in right now.”
Al-Abadi, a Shiite, has been under pressure to form a more representative government that can bridge the country’s divides and win the trust of Sunnis alienated by the highly sectarian policies of his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki. The advance of Islamic State was enabled in part by disenchantment among Sunnis.
For interior minister, a coveted post overseeing the nation’s police forces, the lawmakers approved Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, a member of the Badr Organization, a Shiite political group that controls a militia fighting alongside government forces against the Islamic State.
In the vote for defense minister, lawmakers approved Khalid al-Obeidi, a Sunni member of Parliament and an engineer in the Iraqi air force for 18 years. He represents Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which has been under the control of the Islamic State since June.
Both men were approved by wide margins.