Spotlight on Iraqi PM As Parliament Bars Passing of Reforms

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Iraq's Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi (C) faces new challenges in his quest to fight corruption that is allegedly rampant in the country. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

A political crisis between Iraqi parliament and the prime minister is likely to challenge the government

BY Suadad Al Salhy

Newsweek Middle East Web Exclusive

For the first time since 2003, Iraqi parliament has publically challenged the will of the Najaf Shiite Marjiyaa (the top four clergymen in Iraq) by voting on a resolution that bars the passing of financial and administrative reforms made by Prime Minster Haider Al Abadi without its approval. Abadi’s reforms were a response to massive demonstrations held across the country over the past three months.

The Marjiyaa, which has been backing the political process in Iraq since 2003, had announced its support for protestors who have been demonstrating every week since August in Baghdad as well as in other Shiite dominated provinces. Protestors have been calling on the government to address the lack of basic services and an end to corruption that Iraqi officials admitted is rampant in all ministries and departments. They also complained about the absence of any strategic plans, which they argued, had bankrupted the treasury.

Four of the leading religious leaders in Najaf, headed by Ayatullah Ali Al Sistani, the most revered Shite cleric in Iraq, had extended his full support to Abadi for creating the necessary reforms that would enable him to fight corruption. Abadi worked on issuing several administrative and financial reforms that would enable his government to pay the salaries of more than four million government employees. These steps included the removal of the post of his predecessor and Islamic Dawa party colleague, Nuri Al Maliki as deputy president.

The constitution states the Iraqi president’s role is purely ceremonial and that he, along with his three deputies, have no authority. These presidential deputies are appointed by the various political blocs after they’ve reached a consensus amongst themselves. While the removal of these posts would save the government a lot of money, it would not impact its performance. Abadi’s move was thus seen as an attempt to alienate Maliki.

The reforms also included downsizing Abadi’s cabinet by half, a move that will likely impact the power sharing agreement between the parties that formed this government. Abadi’s reforms were also threatening those who enjoyed the patronage of top officials, political figures and members of parliament. All these reforms would affect the interests of Abadi’s political partners as well as his detractors who have been taking advantage of the political and legal scenario–created by the American invasion—to build their finance and terror empires. The Maliki administration, over both terms, created thousands of posts, both senior and junior, and handed out benefits to political blocs in a bid to retain his power.

Both Abadi’s partners and opponents in parliament, came together last week to stop him from pursuing his reforms. They pointed out that most of the proposed reforms have no legal basis: to pass them requires changing related laws first. Abadi is in violation of many laws when he downsizes his cabinet, removes the posts of presidential deputies, decreases the benefits and salaries of the top officials as these issues were approved in legislation that was passed after 2003. Any reform thus needs parliamentary approval as it requires new legislation.

The move by parliament on Monday has undermined Abadi’s reforms while also challenging Najaf’s Marjiyaa which authorized Abadi to move forward with the reforms in a bid to fight graft. Trying to pass the reforms will require making compromises with political blocs that have corrupt members within and this will be unacceptable to the Marjiyaa. They have been calling for these reforms for over a year after Daesh militants seized control of almost a third of the Iraqi territories in the west and north.

Many analysts are watching to see what the Marjiya will do next Friday. Will it continue to back parliament or ask people to come to the streets to demonstrate against this parliament. The latter could give Abadi the green signal to announce the State of Emergency and dissolve parliament and call for an early election.

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