Iraq's parliament rejects prime minister's picks for key posts of defense, interior ministers

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BAGHDAD — The Iraqi parliament rejected the prime minister's nominees for defense and interior ministers, leaving the two crucial posts unfilled as a U.S.-led coalition prepares to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic States group that controls vast parts of the country.

Lawmakers convened Tuesday, even as U.S. jets carried out an airstrike near Baghdad for the first time since launching an aerial campaign in early August, and French warplanes flying from the United Arab Emirates began reconnaissance missions over Iraq.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi put forward Sunni lawmaker Jaber al-Jabberi as his candidate for defense minister, and Shiite lawmaker Riyad Ghareeb as his pick for interior minister. Parliament, which could confirm the nominees with a simple majority, voted 118-117 against Ghareeb, and 131-108 against al-Jabberi.

"The failure of the parliament to agree on the candidates to fill the posts of interior and defense ministers shows clearly that the gap among and inside political groups are still huge and that each bloc is pursuing its own ambitions," said lawmaker Mutashar al-Samarie. "I think that the posts of defense and interior minister should be kept away from sectarian power sharing. Iraq's problems in Iraq can be solved only by bringing independent and efficient people to fill ministerial posts."

Ahead of the vote, two lawmakers, Hussein al-Maliki and Mohammed Saadoun, told The Associated Press that the selection of Ghareeb met with some contention, mostly from the Shiite Badr Brigade.

Mohsen Laftah Asfour, a lawmaker with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc, was the only lawmaker approved in Tuesday's session and will assume the role of Water Resources Minister. Parliament adjourned until Thursday.

Lawmakers approved the majority of al-Abadi's Cabinet on Sept. 8 and officially voted him in as the country's prime minister, bringing a formal end to the eight-year rule of Nouri al-Maliki, but al-Abadi requested a delay in naming a defense and interior minister because lawmakers had not agreed on the proposed candidates.

Al-Maliki, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and former Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujeifi were given the largely ceremonial posts of vice president. Kurdish politician and former Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was named one of three deputy prime ministers, while former premier Ibrahim al-Jaafari was named foreign minister.

The U.S. and other countries have been pushing for a more representative government that will ease anger among Sunnis, who felt marginalized by al-Maliki's administration, helping fuel the dramatic sweep by the Islamic State extremist group over much of northern and western Iraq since June.

The U.S. began conducting airstrikes on Aug. 8, providing aerial support to struggling Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the Sunni militants. U.S. Central Command said it conducted a strike Monday in support of Iraqi forces southwest of Baghdad.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim said the strike took place in the town of Sadr al-Yusifiya, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Baghdad. There was also an airstrike Sunday near Sinjar in northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, French reconnaissance planes, equipped with cameras able to collect both day and night images from low and high altitude, left from al-Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates Monday as part of France's commitment to start providing aerial support to the Iraqi government as it seeks to eliminate the militant group.

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