Iraqi PM: political crisis could hinder war on ISIS

Iraq’s PM Abadi warned that a ‘crippled parliament’ could hamper the country’s forces ‘heroic’ war on ISIS

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned that a political crisis engulfing his country over anti-graft reforms could hamper the war against ISIS militants.

The crisis escalated this week with the cancellation of two voting sessions in parliament over a planned cabinet reshuffle sought by Abadi as part of his anti-corruption drive.

Tussles between lawmakers broke out on Wednesday, a day after the first attempted vote. After a second cancellation of the vote on Thursday dozens of lawmakers held a mock session where they removed the speaker.

“The conflict has crippled parliament ... and could obstruct the work of the government, impacting the heroic operations to free our cities and villages (from ISIS),” Abadi said in a statement issued late on Thursday.

Iraq, a major OPEC exporter which sits on one of the world's largest oil reserves, ranks 161th out of 168 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

Corruption became a major issue after global oil prices collapsed two years ago, shrinking the state budget at a time when it needed additional income to wage war against Islamic State, the ultra-hardline Sunni group that controls swathes of northern and western Iraq, including the city of Mosul.

Abadi announced a government overhaul in February under pressure from the clergy of Iraq’s Shiite majority.

He initially proposed independent technocrats as candidates to try to free the ministries from the grip of a political class that built its wealth and influence on a patronage system put in place after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Abadi then modified his list to include candidates nominated by the dominant political groups, prompting protests inside parliament by lawmakers who say it will again result in corruption.

The United Nations also warned Friday that political turmoil that has repeatedly delayed efforts to change the Iraqi cabinet is a threat to the country’s war against ISIS.

“The only party that benefits from the political divisions and chaos as well as the weakening of the state and its institutions is Daesh. We should not allow this to happen,” Gyorgy Busztin, the acting head of the UN Iraq mission, said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

“The political leaders of Iraq should place the high national interest over any other consideration and work relentlessly to ensure the political process produces solutions that would lead Iraq out of its crisis and strengthen the state and its institutions. Only through unity can Iraq win,” Busztin said.

On Thursday, MPs voted to sack parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi and his deputies, but the speaker says the session at which the vote was held lacked a quorum and was therefore invalid.

An “emergency” session on Wednesday ended with lawmakers shouting, shoving and throwing punches in the parliament chamber, leading Juburi to call a recess.

Abadi presented a first list of cabinet nominees at the end of March, but the political blocs put forward their own candidates, and most of the premier’s original list was replaced on a second presented to MPs on Tuesday.

Some MPs demanded the opportunity to vote on Abadi’s original list -- from which at least two candidates had already withdrawn -- but the session was adjourned Tuesday without a vote.

Dozens of lawmakers then began a sit-in and spent the night in parliament.

Iraqi ministries have for years been shared out between powerful political parties that run them as their personal fiefdoms, relying on them for patronage and funds.

(With AFP, Reuters)

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