Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday proposed a series of drastic reforms that could be a turning point in the dysfunctional politics of Iraq that have persisted since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
BAGHDAD — Facing widespread protests against government corruption and poor services as well as calls for change by Shiite clerics, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday proposed a series of drastic reforms that could be a turning point in the dysfunctional politics of Iraq that have persisted since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Al-Abadi’s proposals, which came as the war against Islamic State group extremists has stalled in western Anbar province, were wide ranging. They included the elimination of three vice-presidency positions, largely ceremonial jobs that come with expensive perks, and the end of sectarian and party quotas that have dominated the appointments of top officials.
They are held by three figures that have dominated Iraqi politics since the United States toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime: the former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; Ayad Allawi, a Shiite whose Sunni-dominated bloc won the most seats in national elections in 2010; and Osama al-Nujaifi, a prominent Sunni leader.
“We are witnessing the end of the post-2003 Iraq,” said Maria Fantappie, the Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group.
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“There is a really strong and growing sentiment of mistrust among the Iraqi public against the political class,” said Fantappie, who recently visited Iraq.
The protests, which began in recent weeks in reaction to the searing heat of Iraq’s summer — temperatures have consistently been above 120 degrees — and the lack of electricity to power air conditioners, grew into a wide-scale rebuke of corruption and an ineffective political system. The Shiite religious leaders in the holy city of Najaf quickly backed the protest movement, which seemed to emerge from a grass-roots effort rather than a political party, forcing al-Abadi to act.
Al-Abadi’s proposals were greeted with statements of support across the political spectrum, including from al-Maliki and al-Nujaifi, a reflection of the mandate al-Abadi has been given from both the demonstrators and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite cleric, whose representative called for change in an important sermon Friday. The plan was immediately approved Sunday afternoon by al-Abadi’s Cabinet, but some of the measures, including the elimination of the vice presidencies, need to be approved by Parliament, which is to vote on the proposals Tuesday.
With Iraq facing a financial crisis as oil prices drop, al-Abadi, a Shiite, also said he would drastically eliminate government jobs and some ministries, and reduce the perks of politicians, including their large and expensive security details. The proposal goes to the heart of grievances expressed in peaceful rallies in Baghdad and other cities in the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq.
Al-Abadi’s seven points of reform, which he released on his Facebook page Sunday and included reopening corruption cases against top officials, seemed to transcend the particulars and represent a wide statement of rebuke against the entire political system that has taken root since the U.S. invasion. Notably, al-Abadi pushed for the elimination of one of the system’s hallmarks: the quotas used in the selection of top officials.
Al-Abadi became prime minister last year after calls by the international community for a more inclusive leader to replace al-Maliki in the face of the threat by the Islamic State, the group that seized on the resentments of the Sunni community to capture much of Iraq’s north and west.
In acting so decisively, al-Abadi strengthened his position in Iraq’s political scene, but analysts note that power also lies with an assortment of Shiite militias and their leaders, including Hadi al-Ameri, who leads the Badr Organization and has close ties to Iran. These groups have proved far more effective in fighting the Islamic State group than the army that al-Abadi commands, and they have enjoyed immense popularity.
Ali said that in eliminating so many government jobs, including that of the Sunni vice president, and promising to abolish sectarian quotas, al-Abadi risks further marginalizing Iraq’s Sunni minority, whose disenchantment with the policies of al-Maliki’s government played a critical role in the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.