Iraq speaker calls on PM to sack 'corrupt' ministers

Iraq speaker calls on PM to sack 'corrupt' ministers
Iraqi parliament speaker called Monday for the sacking of corrupt ministers, a day after the prime minister unveiled a reform plan amid mass protests against his government.
5 min read
10 August, 2015
Protestors in Baghdad carry a portrait of Abadi at a rally by his supporters. [Getty]

Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi called Monday for the premier to sack ministers who are clearly negligent and corrupt as part of a wide-ranging reform drive.

"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 mention specific ministers in his public remarks.

But a parliamentary official said that those responsible for electricity and water resources were both proposed for the chopping block in a meeting Monday between the speaker and political leaders. 

Earlier, Juburi called on legislators to back an ambitious reform plan outlined the day before by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, but the parliament speaker has also said that more steps are needed. 

Earlier, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for sweeping reforms in response to weeks of demonstrations against corruption and poor public services. 

The reforms are wide-ranging and include a new inquiry into offical corruption and the elimination of the sectarian and party quota system introduced by the US after its 2003 invasion. 

Abadi also vowed to eliminate the three largely ceremonial vice presidential positions, one of which is held by his rival Nuri al-Maliki, a previous prime minister of Iraq.

Abadi's proposal comes as the country's first protest movement in years increased pressure for officials to be held accountable for the rampant corruption and abysmal public services, and the war against the Islamic State group has stalled in western Anbar province.

According to a source close to Abadi's bloc, the National Alliance, his plan will see the number of government ministries reduced from 27 at present to 15.

The source told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Abadi would put the plan to the cabinet for approval, "without revealing the names of the ministries that would be abolished or merged."

Meanwhile, deputy president Iyad Allawi called for a government of national salvation and early elections.

Allawi said in a press conference today that he presented a memorandum to the president and the PM a proposal for reforms, among them the formation of an international judicial body to investigate the billions of dollars that have been wasted since 2003.

     Abadi's reforms are good, as long as the reforms are implemented.
- Abd al-Ghani al-Naimi

Do the reforms go far enough?

Top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Friday called for the prime minister to take a tougher stand against corruption and name and shame those impeding reform.

Abd al-Ghani al-Naimi, a political commentator, told al-Araby that "Abadi's reforms are good, as long as they are implemented."

Naimi said the composition of Iraqi institutions, determined by political accords and sectarian allotments, was a significant obstacle to the implementation of these reforms.

He said the talk of reform may assuage the anger of the Iraqis protesting on the street and stop the demonstrations, which have spread throughout the country.

Naimi added that the implementation of these decisions required time, if their implementation was possible at all.

Mahmoud al-Qaisi, another political commentator, said that "Abadi's decisions will be met with the objections of those affected by them."

Baghdad and other cities have seen weeks of protests against the poor quality of services, especially power outages that leave Iraqis with only a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day as temperatures top 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit).

Aside from Baghdad, all the demonstrations took place in southern cities like Najaf, Karbala, Hilla, Nasiriyah and Diwaniyah, the power base of many of Iraq's top political parties.

Combined with Sistani's calls for change, that poses a potentially serious challenge for the Shia-led government.

"All of you together to the court, all of you are thieves," chanted protesters in Baghdad's Tahrir Square.

"Friday after Friday, we'll get the corrupt out." 

Many demonstrators held Iraqi flags, while some caried a coffin covered in black fabric representing the death of the consciences of parliament and politicians, as well the demise of electricity and other services. 

Thousands demonstrated in the southern port city of Basra as well, chanting slogans such as "No, to the parties," and carrying signs including one that read: "It is time for your departure, O you corrupt." 

People have protested over services and corruption before, but the demonstrations failed to bring about significant change.

Baghdad's heavy-handed response to the country's most recent protest movement, by Sunni Arabs demonstrating against their marginalisation by authorities helped set the stage for the jihadist takeover of a third of the country last year. 

Nabil Jassem, an organiser of the latest protest in Baghdad, said their demands include improving electricity service and finding a new means of combating corruption. 

"If anyone thinks this demonstration is against a minister or a certain official, I want to correct this and say it is against everyone who held and dealt with the energy file from 2003 until now," Jassem said.

He urged Abadi to take direct responsibility for energy affairs. 

Abadi took office nearly a year ago promising tough action against corrupt practices that had come to symbolise the tenure of his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.  

 'More daring reforms' 

     All of you together to the court, all of you are thieves.
- Protestors in Baghdad

Observers argue that while graft may be less open than it once was, the mechanisms of corruption remain in place.

In an attempt to assuage protesters, Abadi has imposed programmed electricity cuts on state institutions and top officials but Sistani said more was needed.  

Sistani, who is revered by millions of Iraqis, said Abadi must be firmer in fighting corruption. 

"He must be more daring and courageous in his reforms," Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of the reclusive Sistani, said in a sermon delivered in the shrine city of Karbala.

"He should not be satisfied with some minor steps he recently announced," Safi said. 

Instead, the government should "make important decisions and take drastic measures to fight corruption and achieve social justice," he said.  

"He should make the political parties accountable and identify who is hampering the march of reform, whoever they are," he added.

Abadi reacted immediately and promised to follow Sistani's advice.

"I declare my total commitment to the directions of the religious Marjaiya (Shia religious leadership), which has voiced the concerns and aspirations of the Iraqi people," he said. 

The premier said he would draft a plan to fight graft and invited other political parties to contribute.