Iraq PM succeeds in nominating two new ministers

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BAGHDAD, Oct 30 (Reuters) Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki succeeded today in filling two of the ministerial posts left vacant after walkouts by large Sunni Arab and Shi'ite blocs this year that plunged his government into crisis.

It was the third time Maliki had tried to fill some of the empty posts as he strives to rebuild his cabinet and get feuding politicians to reach agreement on laws seen by Washington as vital to fostering national reconciliation.

Parliament approved the appointment of Saleh al-Hasnawi as health minister and Ali al-Bahadeli as agriculture minister, both Shi'ites who were presented to parliament as independents.

The posts were previously held by Sadrists, politicians loyal to fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who quit the government in April in protest at Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for a US troops to leave Iraq.

The appointments mean Maliki has filled two of the six cabinet posts left vacant by the Sadrists. However the prime minister has indicated he will not replace three Sadrist ministers of state, leaving just one post to fill.

The Sadrists were followed in August by the biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, the Accordance Front, which pulled out its ministers out of government accusing Maliki of sectarianism. Five of those posts remain vacant.

''Maliki has a list of new ministers to fill the empty ministries. It won't be a new government,'' said Sadeq al-Rikabi, political adviser to Maliki. ''He has selected new technocrat ministers.'' Besides setting back attempts to pass new laws, the walkouts also dealt a blow to efforts to bridge the deep divide between Iraq's Shi'ite and Sunni Arab communities.

Maliki has been under pressure to show political progress to match improvements in security since Washington poured 30,000 more troops into the country to lead a crackdown on militants responsible for daily violence.

However, the appointments today were not without controversy. The Accordance Front said parliamentary procedure had been flouted because not enough lawmakers were present when the vote was taken.

''This vote was made against the constitution and against the law of parliament. There wasn't a quorum,'' said Saleem al-Jubouri, a prominent Sunni lawmaker and spokesman for the Accordance Front.

Parliamentary officials said 144 of the parliament's 275 lawmakers were in the session, which would constitute a quorum, but Jubouri said there were only 110 present when the vote was held.

In addition, members of the Accordance Front and the Sadrist bloc boycotted the vote, raising further doubts about its legitimacy, he said.

''We will deliver an objection to the presidency council of the parliament asking them not to accept the vote.'' REUTERS RJ BD2310

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