Iraq’s Abadi bids to abolish vice presidencies
The plan would result in sacking his predecessor, former PM Nouri al-Maliki
Iraq's cabinet on Sunday approved a package of sweeping reforms proposed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in response to weeks of protests against corruption and poor services, his office said.
"The cabinet unanimously approved the first package of reforms presented by... Abadi in an extraordinary session," his office said in a statement.
But at least some of the changes apparently require amendments to the constitution, which would necessitate action by parliament before they take effect.
Haider al-Abadi's plan would result in sacking his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, who begrudgingly stepped aside a year ago and was appointed to the largely symbolic role of vice president. Al-Maliki is widely alleged to have undermined his successor in a bid to eventually return to power, charges he denies.
In remarks made on state TV, Abadi also announced the formation of a committee to "open" past and present "corruption files." 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 Celsius.
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.
In June, Abadi “retired” the army’s chief of staff General Babaker Zebari, the most senior officer removed since jihadists overran large parts of the country last year.
Abadi has sacked dozens of army and police officers in an effort to restructure and improve security forces that performed disastrously when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group launched an offensive last June, overrunning major areas north and west of Baghdad.
But it is unclear if Zebari was removed as part of that effort, or for other reasons.
A former high-level official and analysts told Al Arabiya News on Saturday that the bold reforms could lead to a dramatic change in the country’s entire political structure.
“Maliki and the others cannot do anything in the presence of such great support from the protestors and Sistani,” said Ali Al-Dabbagh, a former Iraqi government spokesman and official who is now one of Maliki’s most outspoken critics.
Yet the prime minister’s vaunted move - which came after consultation with the influential spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani- would require the constitution to be amended, meaning that sudden action is unlikely.
Additionally, some experts believed that Abadi’s bid to abolish the top posts is constitutionally dubious and could be delayed by judicial wrangling.
“[Abadi] cannot unilaterally eliminate posts, especially that of vice presidents, as he pleases,” said Ali Khedery, chief of Dubai-based consultants Dragoman Partners and the longest continuously serving American official in Iraq in the years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.