BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's main Sunni Arab bloc on Saturday ended an almost year-long boycott of Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government, in a major boost for reconciliation in the deeply divided country. Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the appointment of six ministers from the country's main Sunni bloc, the National Concord Front, in a session attended by 190 of the assembly's 275 MPS. The lawmkers also approved the appointment of four independents to replace ministers from the political bloc of radical Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, which has boycotted the government since April last year. One of the six Sunni ministers, Rafie al-Issawi, was voted in as a deputy prime minister to Maliki. Issawi was minister of state for foreign affairs between 2005 and 2007. Sunnis will also hold five other posts " the higher education, culture and communications portfolios, as well as ministers of state for foreign affairs and women's affairs. Sunni lawmaker and spokesman for the bloc, Salim Abdullah, said they had agreed to end the boycott as the government was "walking in the right direction." "The Front decided to return after the government struck out at armed groups in the past few months," he told AFP, refering to assaults on Shia militiamen ordered by Maliki since March. He said Maliki and Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi had agreed to a "mutually committed relation between the Front and the government." Hashemi is also the head of Iraqi Islamic Party, the main political party in the Sunni bloc. In a statement issued by his office, the vice president urged the six ministers to work for Iraq and the "Iraqi people from all the sects." "The goal must be to serve the country...the ministry and the ministers belong to the Iraqi people." The Sunni bloc, which has 44 MPs in the parliament, withdrew its ministers in August last year in protest at what it viewed as the monopolisation of power by the other factions in government " the Shias and Kurds. One of the six ministers later rejoined the cabinet and was expelled from the Sunni bloc. Sunni leaders had been insisting that the Iraqi security forces release many Sunni prisoners they believed had been unjustifiably detained. The National Concord Front also wanted a general amnesty declared as well as greater Sunni participation in the decision-making of a government dominated by Shias. The Sunni boycott dealt a severe blow to Maliki's claims that he headed a unity government and with a series of other walk-outs, including by the Sadrists, his 40-member cabinet last year shrunk to almost half. Sunni Arab leaders regularly accused Maliki and his government of turning a blind eye towards Shia militias which allegedly kidnapped and killed members of their community after sectarian conflict erupted in 2006. But in recent months the relations between the Sunni leaders and Maliki have warmed after hundreds of prisoners were released under a general amnesty and after the premier launched military crackdowns against Shia militiamen. The military assaults against Shia fighters started in the southern oil city of Basra on March 25 and later in Sadr's Baghdad bastion of Sadr City, and the focus is now on the southern province of Maysan. The four independents to replace the Sadrists will hold the posts of transport minister and ministers of state for tourism, provincial affairs and civil society. Sadrists continue to boycott the government while the Sunnis appear to have lost the planning ministry to the Shias after they expelled Ali Babban, the minister who refused to keep last year's boycott and rejoined the cabinet. Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, spokesman for the Sadr group in the holy city of Najaf, when contacted said he was "unaware" of the latest political developments in Iraq.