Cairo, Najaf: Iraq’s Parliament will vote in its next session scheduled on Tuesday on whether to approve the remaining eight candidates for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s Cabinet, the speaker’s office said on Monday.
Lawmakers last month confirmed only 14 out of the 22 ministers Abdul Mahdi initially presented but granted his government confidence, allowing him to become prime minister.
Eight ministries, including the vital defense and interior portfolios, remain vacant. Parliament initially said it would vote on the remaining ministers earlier this month but the vote was delayed due to political disagreements over nominees.
The new government faces the daunting task of rebuilding much of the country after a devastating war against Daesh, as well as solving acute economic problems as well as power and water shortages.
The head of a powerful Iraqi militia wants a formal role for Shiite paramilitaries in securing the border with Syria, a move that could deepen US worries about Iran’s growing sway over a strategic corridor of territory from Tehran to Beirut.
Iraq’s Shiite militias, many of which are supported by Iran and oppose the presence of US troops in the region, have sent reinforcements to the frontier after fighting flared between US-backed Kurdish forces and Daesh militants on the Syrian side.
Qais Al-Khazali, the leader of Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, urged the government to provide a more formal, long-term border protection role for the militias.
“Securing Iraq’s borders with Syria is among the most important duties of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) right now,” he said in an interview with Reuters at his office in Najaf on Saturday.
Asaib Ahl Al-Haq is part of the PMF, an umbrella grouping of mostly Iran-backed and trained Shiite paramilitary groups. The PMF was made formally part of the security forces this year after helping the military defeat Daesh in Iraq in 2017.
It remains separate from the military and police, however, raising questions over whom the militias will answer to and what their exact role will be if they are fully integrated into Iraq’s security structure.
Al-Khazali said paramilitary commanders should retain leadership positions and that “the government needs to provide bases and weapons depots.”
The growing presence of Iran-backed militias on the frontier has caused tensions with Washington, which has special forces on the Syrian side to back Kurdish-led fighters battling Daesh.
A formal PMF border role would exacerbate that friction as Washington seeks to counter Iran’s sway over territory stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean via Iraq and Syria. Iran’s allies in that territory include Iraqi and Lebanese fighters and politicians, and Bashar Assad.
The risks of having Shiite fighters and US forces in close proximity were laid bare in July when the PMF vowed to “not be quiet” over an alleged US airstrike it said killed 22 of its members inside Syria.
The US denied involvement in the strike.
Iraq’s military relied on the PMF support to defeat Daesh. It says the militias are now crucial to securing the sprawling Syrian border.
Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish politicians have called for disarming the PMF. They say the militias are responsible for widespread abuses including extra-judicial killings and displacing non-Shiite populations, and in effect report to Tehran, not the government in Baghdad.
The PMF, estimated at 150,000 members, includes groups which fought the US military after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and individuals against whom Washington has imposed Iran-related sanctions.
Members of Congress have sought sanctions against Al-Khazali’s group. Al-Khazali denied it is currently receiving support from Iran.