Iraqi parliamentarians have approved all the remaining positions in Prime Minister Haidar al-Abbadi’s government, sanctioning a Sunni Muslim to become the new defence minister and a Shia to be the interior minister.
The parliament voted on Saturday to approve the appointment of Khaled al-Obeidi, a Sunni from the northern city of Mosul that is now under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as the defence minister. Mohammed al-Ghabban of the powerful Shia political party, the Badr Organisation, which has a militia wing, is to take over the interior ministry.
Obeidi belongs to the party of Vice President Usama al-Nujaifi and is a confidant of his brother Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh province that was overrun by Sunni ISIL forces.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said news of the appointments “will be relieving to the international community, especially countries involved in the coalition fighting the ISIL,” adding that it reflects Abaddi’s efforts to “form an inclusive cabinet.”
He said the Iraqi air force carried out air strikes on ISIL positions in Anbar and Salahuddin provinces, killing 94 fighters from the Sunni armed group.
“This is the first time we see such a large number of ISIL fighters to be killed by Iraqi air strikes, and not US-led,” our correspondent said.
The Iraqi strikes came as US-led air raids continued to pound ISIL positions to foil the group’s goal of establishing a caliphate that expands into Syria.
‘Iraq the priority’
The US commander overseeing the air war on the armed group said Iraq remained the coalition’s priority, as similar operations pound ISIL’s strongholds in Syria.
“Iraq is our main effort and it has to be, and the things that we’re doing right now in Syria are being done primarily to shape the conditions in Iraq,” General Lloyd Austin said.
But Iraqi troops have been struggling to retake and hold ground, despite coalition air support.
Security in the capital also remains a problem with bombings killing nearly 50 people in the past two days alone.
Our correspondent said “there is a slight change in tactic, with the Iraqi army being encouraged to abandon their positions in Anbar and elsewhere, and take on the figth with the ISIL. The national army is growing more outgoing in its battle with ISIL.”
The Pentagon insisted Baghdad faced no “imminent threat” from the fighters.
“There are not masses of formations of [ISIL] forces outside of Baghdad about to come in,” spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.