Iraq MPs block Maliki nominees for cabinet posts
(Adds rocket attack paragraphs 7-8)
By Waleed Ibrahim
BAGHDAD, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Iraqi legislators thwarted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's attempts to get approval for nominees to fill two vacant cabinet posts on Thursday, indicating deep political divisions remain despite falling sectarian violence.
Legislators from several parties boycotted the session, ensuring parliament did not have a quorum to vote on nominations for the justice and communications portfolios.
Infighting has paralysed both the cabinet and parliament this year, derailing efforts to get major laws passed that the United States considers important to help reconcile majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs.
"Those two ministerial nominations were imposed without political consensus and consulting other parliament blocs," Noureddin al-Hayyali, a member of the main Sunni Arab bloc, the Accordance Front, told Reuters.
"If there is no political consensus, I think it will be hard to name new ministers."
Other legislators said they did not object to the nominees, but had boycotted the session over rules that would allow the two candidates to be approved by less than half the 275-member parliament.
In fresh violence, 12 people were killed and 25 wounded when militants fired multiple Katyusha rockets at a village near the city of Baquba in Diyala province north of Baghdad, police said.
They said about a dozen rockets hit the village of al-Salam, damaging at least five houses. U.S. commanders say ethnically and religiously mixed Diyala is still one of the most violent areas of Iraq.
More than a dozen ministers have quit Maliki's Shi'ite-led government this year, including several members of the Accordance Front who withdrew in August. Maliki's cabinet is now made up largely of Shi'ite Muslims and Kurds.
It was unclear if Maliki would try to submit the names of the two nominees again. He has been trying to coax the Accordance Front back into the cabinet for months.
MESSAGE FOR SUNNI BLOC
In a move seen as showing that he would not wait for ever, his nominee for communications minister, Qassim al-Fahdawi, was recommended by Sunni Arab tribal leaders in western Anbar province, legislators said.
A senior government official said the idea was to show the Front there were alternatives from the Sunni Arab community if the bloc did not want to rejoin the government.
Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar have gained prominence since getting their young men to join local police units to help the U.S. military largely drive al Qaeda militants out of Anbar.
The communications job was previously held by a secular Shi'ite bloc, not the Accordance Front.
The Front has said it will not return to the cabinet unless Maliki meets demands such as giving the bloc a greater say in security matters.
The political deadlock has contrasted with improving security in Iraq, something noted by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte during a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan.
"We are hopeful there will be progress on the political front in Iraq commensurate with the security gains that have been achieved in recent months," he said late on Wednesday after talks with Kurdish leaders near the northern city of Arbil.
The key laws Washington wants passed include measures to reform a law banning former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party from holding office, agreeing how to share Iraq's oil wealth equitably and setting a date for provincial elections.
Attacks across Iraq have fallen by 55 percent since a "surge" of 30,000 extra U.S. troops fully deployed in mid-June. (Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Aseel Kami, Alaa Shahine and Paul Tait, Writing by Dean Yates, editing by Tim Pearce)