Iraqi cleric plans ‘slow coup to end corruption’

Members of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces take part in a military parade in Taza, south of the northern city of Kirkuk. (Reuters/File)
Updated 01 July 2019
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Iraqi cleric plans ‘slow coup to end corruption’

  • Al-Sadr targeting financial mafia in move on top jobs, senior leader says
  • Iraqi political factions are embroiled in a bitter struggle for control of thousands of top government jobs

BAGHDAD: The influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr wants to replace senior government staff with independent professionals in a bid to improve services and fight corruption, according to supporters.

However, a prominent Sadrist leader told Arab News on Monday that Al-Sadr has ruled out demonstrations to pressure Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi into accepting the changes. 

Iraqi political factions are embroiled in a bitter struggle for control of thousands of top government jobs, including heads of independent security and inspecting bodies, deputy ministers, ambassadors, university heads, and military and security commanders.

Most of the positions have been run by proxy under the control of the Islamic Dawa Party, which has headed four out of the six governments formed since the 2003 US-led invasion. 

Al-Sadr, who has millions of followers and controls the largest parliamentary bloc Sairoon, blames the Dawa party’s appointments for financial and administrative corruption along with a decline in basic daily services. 

He believes that “replacing all those senior employees by independent professional technocrats will improve government performance,” the Sadrist leader said.

Al-Sadr also wants to “dismantle the mafia of financial and administrative corruption that controls the ministries and loots public money,” he said.

“We can say that Al-Sadr is leading a peaceful and slow coup to correct the government,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The government has been wrongly built and this must be corrected. We are working to achieve change by changing the government decision-makers.”

Under the 2019 general budget, Abdul Mahdi had to end the file of the special grades and the administration run by proxy by June 30.

However, negotiations on the sharing of positions between political factions and powerful parties, including Sairoon and the pro-Iranian parliamentary bloc of Al-Fatah, ended in deadlock.

The three presidencies — the president, speaker of the parliament and the prime minister — on Saturday agreed to extend the deadline until the end of October, political leaders told Arab News.

The Parliament on Sunday initiated voting to approve the extension which will allow senior officials who run their proxy sites to continue working until new staff are decided.

Abdul Mahdi and his government were the result of an agreement between the two largest parliamentary coalitions, Reform led by Al-Sadr and the pro-Iranian Construction led by Hadi Al-Amiri. 

Lawmakers for both Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri have said repeatedly in recent months that they are working to dismantle what they called the “deep state,” formed by Nouri Al-Maliki, former Iraqi prime minister.

“All the key players inside Iraq are convinced the situation will not change unless the heart of the government is changed,” a key Sairoon negotiator told Arab News. 

“The position of the minister is a political one, and the real power is in the hands of the deputies of ministers and general directors. If we change those, the performance of the government will change, and that is what Al-Sadr wants,” he added.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets in Iraq’s southern provinces over lack of basic services, including drinking water and electricity, and high unemployment.

While activists across the country have been counting on Al-Sadr’s support for the protests, Sadrist offices have not received any directives to join demonstrations in Basra, Nassiriyah and Diwaniyah.

“We have not received any instructions to participate in any demonstration,” Saad Al-Maliki, manager of the Sadr media office in Basra, said. 

Protests backed by Al-Sadr have been an effective way of pressuring the government and key leaders since 2003, but often turn violent. At least 22 protesters and security staff were killed last summer in clashes outside government offices, including the Iranian consulate in Basra.

“If he (Abdul Mahdi) rejects Al-Sadr’s project, then the Parliament is there and demonstrations are there. The street is already boiling. It will revolt and the government will be overthrown in days,” the Sadrist leader said.


Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Sudan is heading in the right direction but much work remains, says US envoy

CHICAGO: US Special Envoy for Sudan Donald E. Booth on Tuesday said that leaders of the military government and the opposition in the African nation are moving toward a reconciliation, but added “there is a lot” that still needs to be done.
Booth, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in June, is charged with leading the US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people.
Both sides in Sudan agreed a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new “Sovereign Council,” before constitutional changes can be made. Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.
“That political declaration really addresses the structure of a transitional government and not the entire structure,” Booth said. “(The July 17 agreement) has put off the question of the legislative council. It is a document that is the beginning of a process. We welcome the agreement on that but there are still a lot of negotiations to be conducted on what the Sudanese call their constitutional declaration.”
The envoy said he expects the Sovereign Council “will have to address what the functions of the different parts of the transitional government will be,” such as the roles and powers of “the sovereign council, the prime minister, the cabinet and, ultimately, the legislative cabinet. Who will lead that transitional government is still undecided.”
The crisis in Sudan came to a head in December 2018 when President Omar Al-Bashir imposed emergency austerity measures that prompted widespread public protests.
He was overthrown by the Sudanese military in April 2018 as a result of the unrest but the protests continued. Demonstrations in Khartoum turned violent on June 3 when 150 civilians were killed, sparking nationwide protests in which nearly a million people took part.
Booth said these protests had changed the dynamics in Sudan, forcing the military to negotiate with the people.
“The 3rd of June was a signal of the limits of people power,” he said. “But then there was the 30th of June, in which close to a million people took to the streets outside of Sudan and I think that demonstrated the limits of the military power over the people.”
Some have asked whether individuals might face prosecution for past human-rights violations, including Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Gen. Hemeti, who was appointed head of the ruling transitional military council in April after Al-Bashir was removed from power. Booth said this would be a decision for the new transitional government.
“One has to recognize that General Hemeti is a powerful figure currently in Sudan,” he said. “He has considerable forces loyal to him. He has significant economic assets as well. So, he has been a prominent member of this transitional military council. But he has been one of the chief negotiators for the forces of Freedom and Change.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Both sides in Sudan agreed on a political power-sharing deal on July 17 that set out a 39-month period of transition, led by Sudan’s new ‘Sovereign Council,’ before constitutional changes can be made.

• Under the agreement, a military general will lead the council for the first 21 months, a civilian for the following 18 months, and then elections will be held.

• We will have to wait and see what type of agreement Sudanese will come up with, says US envoy.

“We will have to wait and see what type of agreement they will come up with…we don’t want to prejudge where the Sudanese will come out on that. It is their country and their decision on how they move forward. Our goal is to support the desire for a truly civilian-led transition.”
Booth noted that although sanctions on Sudan have been lifted, the designation of the nation as a state sponsor of terrorism remains in force. He also said he expects the pressures and restrictions on journalists covering Sudan’s transition to ease as progress continues toward redefining Sudan’s government.
“As you can see, there is still a lot that the Sudanese need to do,” said Booth. “But we fully support the desire of the Sudanese people to have a civilian-led transitional government that will tackle the issues of constitutional revision and organizing elections, free and fair democratic elections, at the end of the transitional period.”
He added that the US is working with other governments in the region to build support for the transitional process, including expanded religious freedoms, an end to the recruitment of children for military service, and improving Sudan’s economy.
“I think it is important we give the Sudanese space to negotiate with each other, and to continue to express our support to get to the civilian-led transition government that will be broadly supported by the Sudanese people,” said Booth.