NEW: U.N. Secretary-General's spokesman hails "positive step towards political stability"
Nuri al-Maliki is now one of Iraq's three vice presidents
Parliament approves a new government, but several key Cabinet posts are vacant
Kerry: New Iraqi government is "unquestionably a major milestone"
Iraqi lawmakers approved a new government Monday and tapped former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as one of the country’s three vice presidents.
Several key Cabinet posts remain vacant.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed to have nominations for the defense and interior minister posts ready to present to Parliament within a week.
Monday’s Parliament vote, just a day before a constitutional deadline, comes as Iraq faces political turmoil and battles a surge of Islamist militants from ISIS.
Along with al-Maliki, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and former speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi will also serve as vice presidents. Allawi and Al-Maliki are longtime political foes.
The vice presidential post is largely ceremonial, but al-Maliki’s appointment leaves him in a visible position of power.
Critics have accused al-Maliki of consolidating power and persecuting political rivals, blaming him for fueling Iraq’s problems with sectarian policies that alienated Sunni Muslims.
Iraqi politicians have been under intense pressure from the United States to form an inclusive government representing Sunni, Shia and Kurds. U.S. President Barack Obama has said that would be a key condition for more U.S. support, and an important step in fighting militants from ISIS, the Sunni extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the government’s formation is “unquestionably a major milestone,” adding that it “has the potential to unite all of Iraq’s diverse communities.”
“Now is the time for Iraq’s leaders to govern their nation with the same vision and sense of purpose that helped bring this new government together in the first place,” Kerry said. “In that effort they should know that the United States will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqis as they implement their national plan.”
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the new government is a “positive step towards political stability and peace” in Iraq.
It’s too soon to say whether Monday’s reshuffling will quell tensions and win over members Iraq’s Sunni minority, who bitterly complained of being marginalized and cut out of the political process by al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government.
A more inclusive government, Obama said last month, would give confidence to Sunnis that ISIS “is not the only game in town.”
Outlining his government program Monday, al-Abadi vowed to rebuild security forces, stamp out corruption and make sure weapons were only in the hands of the state – not militia groups.
Iraq is “under a vicious attack,” he said, and security forces will fight until “victory.”
Whether the new government will be able to settle political differences and bring the country together remains to be seen.
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CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq, Chelsea J. Carter, Catherine E. Shoichet and Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.