Iraq parliament approves PM's anti-corruption plan
Iraq's parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's reform programme aimed at curbing the corruption and government waste that sparked widespread anger and weeks of protests, AFP reports.
Abadi on Sunday proposed a series of measures to combat graft, streamline the government and improve services after the protests and a call from Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for drastic change.
But both Abadi's reform programme and an additional list of measures also approved by parliament only outline steps to be taken. Actually implementing them will be a difficult process fraught with potential political and legal challenges.
"It was unanimously approved," parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi announced to applause after the vote, which was held without a debate as soon as the plan was read in a session attended by 297 of 328 MPs.
Abadi issued a statement congratulating the Iraqi people on the passage of the plan and pledging "to continue the path of reform even if it costs me my life".
Later in the day, the premier called in another statement for the country's anti-corruption body to present the names of those suspected of wrongdoing so they can be prevented from leaving the country and referred to the judiciary.
One of the most drastic of Abadi's reform proposals, which were approved by the cabinet on Sunday, was a call for the posts of vice president and deputy prime minister to be eliminated "immediately".
UN welcomes reforms
Abadi's plan also calls for an end to unofficial but prevalent "political and sectarian quotas" for senior officials, for increased oversight to prevent corruption, and for services to be improved.
Juburi had urged MPs to sign off on the reforms, but said that a "complementary" parliamentary reform plan was needed to add to and "adjust" Abadi's measures in keeping with the law and the constitution.
That plan overlaps with Abadi's proposals on various points, while adding others.
New measures include calling for "negligent and corrupt" ministers to be presented for no-confidence votes, the "activation" of a law providing for the removal of excessively absent MPs, and limits of two terms for the premier, president and parliament speaker.
The parliamentary plan was also read and approved without debate, and the session -- most of which was taken up by the reading of the two plans -- ended some 30 minutes after it began.
The acting head of the UN Iraq mission, Gyorgy Busztin, said in a statement that he welcomed Abadi's reform proposals.
Busztin said that dissatisfaction over corruption "can be manipulated by terrorist groups for their own ends," at a time when the country is battling to regain ground from jihadists from the Islamic State group.
The approval is a victory for Abadi, but the question now becomes how thoroughly the measures will be implemented, and what politicians and other officials may do to try to thwart them.
"All Iraqi politicians officially support reform and the fight against corruption but they all engage very heavily in corruption," said Zaid al-Ali, author of "The Struggle For Iraq's Future".
"They have to say that they support reform, but they will work against it."
Ali also said that removing the post of vice president would require an amendment to the constitution, a process that includes a popular referendum that is unlikely to be held at this time.
Amid a major heatwave that has seen temperatures top 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), protesters have railed against the poor quality of services, especially power outages that leave just a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day.
Thousands of people have turned out in Baghdad and cities in the Shiite south to vent their anger at the authorities, putting pressure on them to make changes.
Various parties and politicians have sought to align themselves with the protesters' calls for reforms to benefit from the movement and mitigate the risk to themselves.
People have protested over services and corruption before, but the demonstrations failed to bring about significant change.
Protestors' demands were given a boost on Friday when Sistani, who is revered by millions, called for Abadi to take "drastic measures" against corruption, saying that the "minor steps" he had announced were not enough.