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Iraqi lawmakers approve new ministers; key security posts still remain

From Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
Demonstrators march Sunday in Ramadi, Iraq, protesting against the government's inability to provide basic services.
Demonstrators march Sunday in Ramadi, Iraq, protesting against the government's inability to provide basic services.
  • Security posts in Cabinet remain unfilled
  • Protesters have rallied in recent weeks over lack of basic services
  • Al-Maliki's new government was approved in December
  • Iraq

(CNN) -- Amid public outrage over government corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services, Iraq's parliament approved the appointments of eight new ministers to the Cabinet on Sunday -- but key security posts remain empty.

The lawmakers greenlighted candidates tapped by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for ministries that include electricity, trade and municipalities. The first female minister was approved for the Cabinet to oversee women's affairs.

Candidates for the ministries of defense, interior and national security have not been named, though parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi told his colleagues that al-Maliki promised to submit nominees for those posts in the coming days.

Meanwhile, hundreds of angry demonstrators took to the streets of Ramadi -- about 100 kilometers west of Baghdad -- on Sunday, protesting against the government's inability to provide basic services.

Similar demonstrations have been held across Iraq in recent weeks, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in the region.

In December, after nearly a year fraught with political infighting, the parliament voted to approve al-Maliki's new government, despite the vacancies.

The long-awaited legislative action came more than nine months after a hotly disputed national election that threatened to inflame the country's deep sectarian tensions.

The government composition is inclusive of Iraq's major ethnic and sectarian groups, brought together by a fragile U.S.-backed power sharing deal agreed on in November.

But it is clear that sectarianism remains, as the posts were divided along ethnic and sectarian lines.

The prime minister has three deputies -- a Shiite, a Kurd, and a Sunni Arab, representing the three largest entities in Iraq.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, who has been one of al-Maliki's critics, is the Sunni deputy. He had been barred from politics because of alleged ties to the Baathist party, the outlawed political movement of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Parliament lifted that ban in December.

On Sunday, the parliament failed to hold a vote on three vice presidents under the power-sharing deal after some lawmakers had reservations on a Shiite candidate.

At the end of 2011, the United States is set to withdraw all of its troops from Iraq as part of a bilateral agreement with the Baghdad government.

It is too soon to predict whether that will happen or whether the United States and Iraq will negotiate an agreement to keep some U.S. soldiers there after next year.