Iraq’s Abadi rides out summer of wrath

Friday 14/08/2015
Demonstration against corruption and poor services

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.