Iraq PM sacks senior official in reform push

The senior cabinet official was a close aide to Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi’s predecessor and rival Nouri al-Maliki

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has sacked a senior cabinet official who was a close aide to his predecessor and rival Nouri al-Maliki, the premier’s office said in a statement Wednesday.

Abadi issued an “order to relieve the secretary general of the cabinet and his two deputies from their positions,” the statement said, referring to Mohammed Khalaf Ahmed, who headed Maliki’s personal office during his premiership.

The statement did not provide a reason for the dismissals, but the announcement comes during a major reform drive by Abadi aimed at curbing rampant corruption and streamlining the government.

Khalaf’s responsibilities included providing advice and support to the premier, administrative services to the cabinet and managing state properties, according to a description of the post on a government website.

Maliki served two terms as prime minister and is widely viewed as having exacerbated sectarian tensions between the country’s Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority.

Widespread discontent among Sunni Arabs, who say they were marginalized and targeted by Maliki’s government, played a major role in worsening the security situation in Iraq, culminating in a disastrous jihadist offensive last year.

Despite having the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group overrun a third of the country during his second term, Maliki nonetheless tried for a third.

But he stepped aside last August under major international and domestic pressure, ushering in Abadi’s term in office.

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