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Iraqi parliament approves government reform plan (+video)

The reforms dismantle parts of the top-heavy government created in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

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    Iraqi security forces close the roads in the city center as demonstrators gather to join the pro-Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demonstration at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015. Iraq's prime minister unveiled a bold plan Sunday to abolish three vice presidential posts and the offices of three deputy premiers, hoping to cut spending amid mass protests against his government as the Islamic State group still holds a third of his nation.
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Iraq's parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved an ambitious reform plan that would cut spending and eliminate senior posts, including the three largely symbolic vice presidencies, following mass protests against corruption and poor services.

Lawmakers approved the plan without a debate — a dramatic departure from the heated arguments and delays that have slowed previous efforts to approve important laws. Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had backed the plan, which was announced Sunday amid mounting public pressure.

The government in Baghdad faces multiple challenges amid a war against the Islamic State group, which blitzed last year to capture a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria. Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters, backed by US-led airstrikes have since managed to retake some areas but clashes between the militants and security forces continue.

Tuesday's development came after mass protests across Iraq against corruption and poor governance, focused on frequent power outages which have made a recent heat wave even more unbearable.

After the parliament approved the law, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated Iraqis in a message on his Facebook page, promising "to continue in the path of the reform even if it costs me my life with the trust in God and the people's support."

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said he hoped that Tuesday's "move will be the first and not the last to continue in the path of reform with the same spirit and without any hesitation."

The United Nations mission to Iraq, known as UNAMI, welcomed the plan, saying it will "strengthen national unity and accelerate reconciliation at a time all honest Iraqis need to combine their efforts in the fight against terror."

The acting chief of UNAMI, Gyorgy Busztin, said in a statement that "corruption and inefficiency create widespread and rightful dissatisfaction, which in turn, can be manipulated by terrorist groups for their own ends."

The plan, which was unveiled by al-Abadi and approved by his Cabinet on Sunday, would cut spending and eliminate the offices of the three vice presidents and the three deputy prime ministers, largely symbolic positions for which appointments have long been determined by party patronage and sectarian loyalties.

The reforms dismantle parts of the top-heavy government created in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. The tripartite offices were intended to give equal representation to Iraq's Shiite majority and its Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

The reforms also expand the powers of the prime minister, allowing him to sack provincial governors and the heads of provincial and local councils.

The plan further sidelines Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, al-Abadi's predecessor who was widely blamed for inflaming sectarian tensions and staffing the military with underqualified supporters, paving the way for the Islamic State group's rapid advance across northern and western Iraq last year.

Al-Maliki reluctantly stepped aside a year ago, but is widely believed to exert power from behind the scenes. He expressed support for the reform plan.

Saad al-Hadithi, a government spokesman, told The Associated Press that the plan will be implemented over the coming months and that further reforms are in the works.

The plan would also reduce spending on officials' personal bodyguards and transfer that responsibility to the interior and defense ministries.

In addition, it calls for a review of all corruption cases by a committee of experts, with fresh trials for officials suspected of wrongdoing. It also includes economic reforms aimed at encouraging investment and tax reforms to expand revenue sources beyond the oil industry.

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