Iraq’s Abadi rides out summer of wrath
AMMAN - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s bold plan to slash spending, improve public services and sack corrupt officials was a master stroke that earned him much-needed popularity in the face of protests calling for the removal of his government.
Perhaps the most significant of Abadi’s reforms, unveiled on August 9th, is the abolition of the offices of three deputy prime ministers and three vice-presidential posts, effectively dismissing his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki.
Maliki is widely seen as a sectarian leader who alienated the country’s once powerful Sunni Muslim minority. Fed up with Maliki, many Sunnis sided with Islamic State (ISIS) militants when they captured their cities, hailing them as “liberators”.
Removing Maliki could help Abadi win back the Sunnis but having a powerful foe like Maliki could also backfire.
Maliki served as prime minister from 2006 until he resentfully stepped aside, dropping his quest to stay on and paving the way for Abadi to form his cabinet, in August 2014. The former prime minister is widely alleged to have undermined Abadi in a bid to return to power. Maliki denies this. On August 11th, Iraq’s parliament approved Abadi’s wide-ranging reforms by acclamation.
The plan followed more than two weeks of street protests demanding the government fix recurring electrical problems. Protesters also demanded improved health care, while others called for cleaner tap water, better paved streets and higher salaries.
“Al-Abadi is much stronger today,” Fadel al-Badrani, a professor of communication science and media at the Iraqi University in Baghdad, told The Arab Weekly.
But Badrani warned that if Abadi “hesitated or slackened, his cabinet will be doomed”.
This may well happen.
Iraq’s power outages are unlikely to be fixed anytime soon. Iraqi natural gas could easily cover the 10 gigawatt deficit the country currently suffers but the gas sector has never been developed because nobody could figure out how to commoditise it.
Iraq also faces a swelling budgetary deficit, which has hampered investment in the energy sector.
Iraq commands the world’s second largest proven oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and hopes to become the world’s largest oil producer by 2020, but much of the oil revenue was withered due to alleged official corruption.
The power cuts are blamed on factors ranging from official corruption to insurgent attacks on power lines. Iraqi households receive electricity for an average seven hours a day.
Under Abadi’s plan, several top government posts must be filled with independents, a step designed to rid the state of rife corruption. Previous appointments were determined by party sway and sectarian allegiance.
Abadi’s plan would also reduce spending on bodyguards for officials and calls for a review of all corruption cases with fresh trials for accused officials.