BAGHDAD -- Lawmakers from several Iraqi parties boycotted a parliamentary session yesterday, essentially derailing efforts by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get approval for nominees to fill two vacant Cabinet posts.
At least 196 legislators signed their names as present at the parliament, but almost 100 of them failed to show up for the session when they learned that voting for new ministers of justice and communications would occur, according to those in attendance.
Without a simple majority of its 275 members present, the parliament could not hold the vote.
Parliament had been disrupted the day before by lawmakers protesting what they said was overly aggressive behavior toward them by U.S. soldiers guarding the Green Zone, the high-security area in Baghdad where parliament meets.
Yesterday's boycott underscored the entrenched political divisions that remain despite reduced sectarian violence. Lawmakers have failed to make significant progress in tackling key legislation that Washington views as crucial for fostering reconciliation among the country's majority Shiites and minority Sunni Arabs.
Rasheed Azzawi, a legislator with the Iraqi Accordance Front, a major Sunni bloc in parliament, insisted that the boycott had nothing to do with the affiliations of the nominees. Both candidates - a Shiite Muslim to fill the justice post and a Sunni Arab for the communications position - are considered independents.
"Some lawmakers were surprised that voting for the nominees was on the agenda," he said. "That was the cause of the boycott."
In other news, 12 people were killed and 25 wounded when militants fired multiple Katyusha rockets at a village near the city of Baqouba in Diyala province, according to local police sources.
The rockets reportedly hit the village of Al Salam, which has a Shiite majority and has been experiencing a power struggle between tribes and militants aligned with al-Qaida in Iraq, local leaders said.
Diyala, a province that borders Iran, is an al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold and has been wracked by sectarian violence in the past. U.S. commanders there have reported success in stemming attacks.
About 5,000 U.S. combat brigade troops are expected to complete withdrawal from Diyala next month, but the overall number of soldiers there will increase as other forces are redeployed from elsewhere in the country to cover the pullout.
In a separate incident, gunmen dressed in Iraqi army uniforms stopped a minibus at a fake checkpoint outside Baqouba and kidnapped 14 passengers, Diyala province police officials said.
Ann M. Simmons writes for the Los Angeles Times.