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Iraq Approves New Government

Parliament unanimously approves Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his new government, ending nine months of deadlock.

Iraqi lawmakers have unanimously approved a new government to be headed by Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister.

The vote on Tuesday ended nine months of political deadlock after an inconclusive national election in March.

Lawmakers approved 29 ministers, including al-Maliki, to form the new government, which includes members of all of Iraq's major political and sectarian factions, including Shias, Sunnis and Kurds.

Al-Maliki detailed to lawmakers on Tuesday the programme of his new parliament and vowed to make Iraq a truly democratic state that respects human rights and the rights of various ethnic and sectarian groups.

But he criticised the various political blocs for failing to nominate female candidates for ministerial positions. He also warned that there will still be obstacles ahead.

"Given the circumstances it has been created under, this government does not satisfy the people nor the needs of our country," al-Maliki said.

"But the effort and the will to make it work in the best possible way it can, is there."

Controversial appointments

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Baghdad, said al-Maliki will be the acting minister of defence, interior and national security "until appropriate candidates are found".

"This is likely to be a controversial move because the prime minister's critics have been accusing him of what they see as attempts to consolidate his power and have complete control over the security file," our correspondent said.

"Still, there's expected to be some relief in certain quarters among the Iraqi population. People have waited nine months to finally see a government in place to bring them basic services, welfare payments and jobs that have yet to be allocated because of the delay in government formation.

"But concerns linger over the ability of this government to take any effective decisions given the sectarian nature along which the various positions were distributed."

Under the new government, outgoing oil minister Hussein Shahristani is now deputy prime minister for energy, while deputy prime minister Rafi al-Issawi becomes finance minister and foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari remains in place.

The most controversial appointment is Saleh al-Mutlaq to the role of deputy prime minister. Up until two days ago, he was banned from politics altogether for being a former Baathist.

Iraqiya bloc

Former prime minister Iyad Allawi, who failed to gain enough support for a parliamentary majority after his cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc won the most seats in the poll, is still without a proper post.

Allawi has been promised the top position of a strategy and security council - but until it is created, those matters will be handled by al-Maliki.

Despite not having a post yet, Allawi vowed to work with the government and give it his full support.

"We wish the new government all success in meeting the needs of the Iraqi people," he said.

"We, in the Iraqiya list, announce our full support to this government. We will co-operate with the best intentions as long as our political partners treat us with the same spirit."

Until this month, the Iraqiya alliance bitterly fought to prevent al-Maliki from keeping his job, insisting Allawi should have the first shot at forming a government.

Fair representation

However, al-Maliki has yet to decide on permanent choices for some positions. The remainder of the 42-seat cabinet is made up of acting ministers who will replaced at a later date because of ongoing disputes between coalition partners.

Some legislators said they were irritated that al-Maliki did not present a cabinet with names of candidates for all 42 posts.

"An agreement should be reached on all security posts," Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish politician, said. "Why should they remain open and with the prime minister for an unspecified period of time?"

Al-Maliki, who has served as prime minister since May 2006, said the delays would ensure all parties are fairly represented in the government.

"The formation of national unity government in Iraq is a difficult and hard task because we need to find place in the government for all those who participated and won in the elections," he said, speaking just hours after legislators gloomily predicted further delays.