Iraq PM calls for sweeping reforms in response to protests

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the cancelling the positions of vice-president and deputy prime minister on Sunday, Aug 9, 2015.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the cancelling the positions of vice-president and deputy prime minister on Sunday, Aug 9, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called Sunday for sweeping reforms, including abolishing the current post of his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki, in response to weeks of demonstrations against corruption and poor services.

The proposed reforms, at least some of which require the approval of the cabinet and parliament, followed a call for tough measures by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

But even with popular pressure and Sistani’s backing, 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.

One of the most drastic of the proposals outlined in an online statement was the call for elimination of the posts of vice president and deputy prime minister “immediately”.

Maliki, who preceded Abadi as premier, is currently one of the vice presidents.

Scrapping his job would apparently require the constitution to be amended, meaning that rapid action is unlikely.

Maliki, who belongs to the same party as Abadi and still wields significant influence, said Saturday evening – before Abadi outlined his plan publicly – that he supported the reform drive.

Abadi also called for a major overhaul of the way senior officials are selected, saying that all “party and sectarian quotas” should be abolished, and the candidates chosen by a committee appointed by the premier.

He also said there should be a “comprehensive and immediate reduction” in the number of guards for all officials.

This has long been a problem, with some officials having massive personal protection units, and others hiring less than the allotted number and pocketing the remainder of the allowance.

Abadi also said that “special provisions” for senior officials, both current and retired, should be ended.

He did not specify what these were, but large salaries, government-provided vehicles and extremely generous retirement benefits have all long been bones of contention between the authorities and average Iraqis.

And old and current graft cases should be reopened under the supervision of a high commission for fighting corruption, he said.

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 C.

The demonstrators have blamed the services crisis on corruption and incompetence across the political class.

Sistani, who is revered by millions of Iraqis, called Friday for Abadi to take “drastic measures” against corruption, saying that the “minor steps” he had announced previously were not enough.