Middle East

Iraq speaker to Abadi: Sack corrupt ministers

Iraqi demonstrators gather in the streets of the holy city of Najaf.

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s parliament speaker called Monday for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to sack ministers found to be negligent or corrupt as part of a wide-ranging reform drive.

Abadi Sunday proposed a series of measures aimed at curbing corruption, streamlining the government and improving services after weeks of protests and a call from Iraq’s top Shiite imam Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for drastic change.

Parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi urged MPs to approve Abadi’s measures and said even more reforms were required. The legislature is to discuss the reforms Tuesday.

“We asked the prime minister to dismiss a number of ministers who are clearly guilty of dereliction, negligence and corruption,” Juburi said in televised remarks.

Juburi did not name specific ministers in his public statement.

But a parliamentary official said those responsible for electricity and water resources were both proposed for the chopping block in a meeting Monday between the speaker and political leaders. Juburi also called for MPs who are absent for more than a third of the time to be removed.

Absent MPs are a problem for the Iraqi legislature, which even failed to reach a quorum for an emergency session called in response to a sweeping offensive by ISIS in June 2014.

Amid a major heat wave that has seen temperatures top 50 degrees Celsius, protesters have railed against the poor quality of services, especially power outages that leave just a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day.

Thousands of people have turned out in Baghdad and various cities in the Shiite south to vent their anger at the authorities. People have protested over services and corruption before, but the demonstrations failed to bring about significant change.

Demonstrators’ demands were given a boost Friday when Sistani, who is revered by millions, called for Abadi to take “drastic measures” against corruption, saying that the “minor steps” he had announced were not enough. Abadi rolled out the reform program two days later.

One of the most drastic of Abadi’s proposals, which were approved by the Cabinet Sunday, was the call for the posts of vice president and deputy prime minister to be eliminated “immediately.”

The plan also calls for the elimination of “political and sectarian quotas” for senior officials, for increased oversight to prevent corruption, and for services to be improved, among other measures.

Various parties and politicians have sought to align themselves with the protesters’ calls for reforms – at least in their rhetoric – to benefit from the movement and mitigate the risk to themselves.

“I expect that the proposals will be formally accepted, with perhaps one or two amendments,” said Zaid al-Ali, author of “The Struggle For Iraq’s Future.”

“I also expect that the political parties that are in control of parliament and government to work behind the scenes to prevent any real change,” Ali said.

Even with popular support for change, the entrenched nature of corruption in Iraq and the fact that parties across the political spectrum benefit from it will make any efforts to change the system extremely difficult.

Ultimately, Abadi’s “credibility is at stake” in the Tuesday parliamentary session, Ali said.

“Considering the challenges that Iraq is facing, his proposals are modest. So if they are not accepted, then he will essentially not be able to achieve anything.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 11, 2015, on page 8.

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