BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday ordered his Cabinet reduced from 33 members to just 22, consolidating the body as part of a major reform push in response to mass protests against corruption and poor governance.
The decision, announced by his office, would eliminate four ministries, including those of human rights and women’s affairs, and consolidate others. The announcement did not mention whether there would be any changes to the remaining ministries.
The move follows a far-reaching reform plan approved by parliament last week that eliminated the country’s three vice presidencies and three deputy prime ministers. The plan also reduced the budget for the personal bodyguards of senior officials and transferred it to the interior and defense ministries.
The reform plan cut positions held by a number of prominent Iraqi politicians, including Nouri al-Maliki, who was prime minister of Iraq for eight years before he was pushed out last August in response to growing outrage over the fall of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, to the Islamic State group.
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Earlier Sunday, Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said lawmakers would release a report later this week implicating senior officials in the fall of Mosul. He said the report “will document an important and dangerous phase of the history of modern Iraq.”
“No one is above the law and the accountability of the people,” al-Jabouri said in a statement. “The judiciary will punish perpetrators and delinquents.”
Al-Maliki will be implicated in the report, along with more than two dozen other officials, including army chief Babikar Zebari and Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Ninevah province, where Mosul is located, according to a lawmaker who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to brief the media.
Iraqis have held massive protests in recent weeks against corruption and poor government services, focusing in particular on power outages that have made a recent heat wave even more unbearable. In response, al-Abadi proposed the first round of reforms targeting reckless spending on government officials.
The country’s supreme judicial council said Sunday that it would hold a special session Monday to review proposed reforms by all its branches across Iraq.
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has lent his support to demands for reform, and parliament unanimously approved the wider reform package last week in a dramatic show of unity for a country riven with sectarian and political rivalries.
Those reforms dismantled much of the top-heavy government erected in the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The three vice presidencies, one of which was held by a-Maliki, were intended to give equal representation to the country’s Shiite majority and Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
Iraq is struggling to roll back the Islamic State group, which swept across the border from Syria last summer and seized around a third of the country.
IS militants attacked Iraqi troops on Sunday outside the militant-held city of Fallujah, killing at least 17 soldiers, officials said.
Four suicide attackers drove explosives-laden military vehicles into government barricades outside the city west of Baghdad, setting off heavy clashes, a police officer and an army officer said. The officials said 15 other troops were wounded.
Both officers spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.
The IS group captured Fallujah in January 2014, months before its main blitz across Iraq. This past May the extremist group captured the nearby city of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, where U.S. troops fought some of their deadliest battles of the eight-year Iraq intervention. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the province amid continued fighting.
Earlier on Sunday, al-Abadi said he would launch an investigation into commanders who allegedly withdrew from Ramadi against orders. A statement from his office said he approved “decisions to refer a number of leaders to military tribunal for leaving their positions without a warrant and contrary to instructions, despite several orders not to withdraw.”
The ministries of defense and interior will form investigative boards to look into why troops abandoned their weapons and equipment while fleeing, the statement added.
Iraqi troops backed by Shiite and Sunni paramilitary forces last month launched a wide-scale military operation to dislodge militants from Fallujah and other key cities in Anbar province. U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Pat Ryder said Friday that Iraqi security forces are “encircling” Ramadi, in order to “tighten the noose around ISIL’s neck in this city before commencing…the seize aspect of the operation.”
Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.