BAGHDAD—Iraq’s parliament rejected two appointees to head the critical defense and interior ministries on Tuesday, a sign the prime minister is struggling to set up an inclusive government to better confront Islamic State insurgents.
whose cabinet was approved last week with five of 33 seats unfilled, was trying to fill the two top security posts in the government. But the nominations by Mr. Abadi, a Shiite, got bogged down in divisions within rival sects.
The U.S. has pressed politicians in Shiite-majority Iraq to form a government that better represents Sunni and Kurdish minorities, hoping a unified front will be more effective in combating the Sunni extremists of Islamic State who have captured large tracts of territory since June.
The U.S. military, which has conducted more than 150 airstrikes on Islamic State in Iraq since early August, unleashed a new round of attacks near Baghdad early Tuesday local time. The strikes were the first since President
announced an expanded mission last week.
The debates over filling the two cabinet posts offered another example of how the pressing need for a political consensus in Iraq has done little to overcome sectarian squabbling. Within Iraq’s tightly prescribed sectarian and ethnic political power-sharing, the Ministry of Interior—which controls the police—typically goes to a Shiite Arab.
The Badr Corps, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia, had demanded that one of its leaders take the post after the group helped the Iraqi military confront Islamic State fighters. The Badr Corps is part of the Shiite National Alliance, a coalition of parties that nominated Mr. Abadi for prime minister.
On Monday, the group threatened to pull out of the alliance if one of its members wasn’t appointed interior minister. But Mr. Abadi was reluctant to nominate a Shiite militia leader to the post, worried this would alienate Sunnis rather than draw them into the government. Sunni politicians have accused Shiite militias of abuses against Sunnis.
Mr. Abadi instead nominated Riyadh Ghareeb, a Shiite engineer and former labor minister, hoping for consensus.
“The problem with Riyadh Ghareeb is that he has no experience or background in the security field,” said Ihssan al-Awadi, a Shiite lawmaker from Mr. Abadi’s State of Law bloc.
Mr. Abadi pressed ahead with a vote after promising parliament last Tuesday that he would fill the cabinet positions within a week, said Mr. Awadi.
Sunni lawmakers faced a similar challenge to fill the defense minister position, which is traditionally given to a Sunni. Divisions among Sunnis prompted Mr. Abadi to force a vote on a candidate who, while less divisive, was also considered by many to be less qualified.
Mr. Abadi nominated
Because Mr. Jaberi is Sunni Islamist, lawmakers hoped he might be able to mend ties between the central government and long-alienated Sunni tribal leaders.
Some Sunni tribal leaders had supported Islamic State’s insurgency because they resented Shiite domination of the central government. Iraq’s government and the U.S. now hope to woo the Sunni leaders back as a central part of their strategy against Islamic State.
a Sunni parliamentarian and former parliament speaker, said lawmakers voted against Mr. Jaberi because U.S. diplomats tried to push his candidacy.
“It’s a shame on America to try to impose such a person on us,” he said. “This is why today we punished them all by not voting for al-Jaberi.”
Mr. Mashadani said he didn’t expect lawmakers to agree on new candidates before the next vote, expected on Thursday.
—Jay Solomon contributed to this article.
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