Six ministers face sack in Iraq Cabinet shake-up

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. (Reuters)
Updated 08 May 2019

Six ministers face sack in Iraq Cabinet shake-up

  • US flexes muscles in turf war with Iran

BAGHDAD: Six Iraqi government ministers, including Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban and Electricity Minister Luay Al-Khatteeb, are expected to lose their jobs in a major reshuffle of the Cabinet in Baghdad.

The shake-up in Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s government is part of a turf war between the US and Iran for power and influence in Iraq, which has hamstrung his attempts to form a government since he was sworn into office in October 2018, five months after bitterly contested elections.

“Iraq is the chessboard that Iran and America are wrestling on. Upcoming interrogations of ministers and dismissals are part of this wrestling,” a leading negotiator told Arab News. “Both sides have tools in Iraq and both are trying to trim each other’s nails.”

The government in Baghdad was formed last year, after months of wrangling, in a deal finally thrashed out between Reformation, the largest parliamentary bloc led by the anti-Iran Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, and Al-Binna’a, the largest pro-Iranian bloc led by Hadi Al-Amiri, head of Badr organization.

Even then, the two blocs were unable to agree on candidates for the two key security ministerial posts of defense and interior. They are now expected to be filled as part of the latest agreement.

Tension between Washington and Tehran is rising as the anniversary approaches of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and the reimposition of crippling economic sanctions.

Iraq is at the center of that tension. On Monday the US announced deployment of an aircraft carrier strike force to the Gulf in response to an “escalated threat” from Iran. US officials did not specify the location of the threat, but are known to be concerned about the activities of Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

Against this background, the US and its allies in Iraq believe Abdul-Mahdi has moved too close to Tehran, and changes in the government to restore balance are the solution, negotiators told Arab News. The ministries involved will be oil, electricity, water resources, industry, health and communications.

“Abdul-Mahdi himself will not be toppled, no one is able to do so, but the Cabinet reshuffle will take place soon,” a key negotiator told Arab News. “The situation is serious and our discussions have focused on the importance of fortifying the internal situation.

“Iraqi and European mediators are trying to reach understandings and calm the situation between Iran and America, because we believe Iraq is in the midst of the storm and we Iraqis will pay the biggest price as a result.”


Financial Action Task Force tightens screws on Tehran over terror financing

Updated 8 min 36 sec ago

Financial Action Task Force tightens screws on Tehran over terror financing

  • Watchdog says Iran failed to fulfill its promises to curb terror financing despite repeated warnings
  • Iran central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati said the decision will not affect the country

PARIS: An international agency monitoring terrorism funding announced tough new financial scrutiny of Iran on Friday and added seven countries to a watch list.

Pakistan, meanwhile, won a reprieve from the Financial Action Task Force at its meetings in Paris this week. The monitoring body gave Pakistan’s government another four months to crack down on terrorism financing and did not put the country on a damaging “black list.”

Iran and North Korea are the only two countries currently on the agency’s black list. That means international financial transactions with those countries are closely scrutinized, making it costly and cumbersome to do business with them. International creditors can also place restrictions on lending to black-listed countries.

The FATF decided on Friday to further tighten the screws on Iran, imposing extra measures that could require audits or more transactions and make it even harder for foreign investors to do business there.

The group made the decision because Iran failed to fulfill its promises to the FATF despite repeated warnings. In a statement, the organization said that Iran hasn’t done enough to criminalize terrorist financing, require transparency in wire transfers or freeze terrorist assets targeted by UN sanctions.

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The head of Iran’s central bank, Abdolnasser Hemmati, said the decision will not affect the country.

“Such incidents will create no problem for Iran’s foreign trade and currency,” he said in a statement. Hemmati said the FATF decision was based on the “enmity” of the US and Israel toward Iran.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has been trying to get off the FATF gray list, the color code for countries that are only partially fulfilling international rules for fighting terrorism financing and money laundering.

Pakistan’s government has been working to shore up the country’s faltering economy and attract foreign investment and loans, making the FATF’s assessment especially important.

The FATF said that Pakistan had fulfilled 14 of 27 steps to get off the watch list, but still must do more to track money transfers and investigate and prosecute terrorism financiers.

The Pakistani government said in a statement that it “stands committed for taking all necessary action required” to fulfill the remaining steps. “A strategy in this regard has been formulated and is being implemented.”

The Financial Action Task Force also put seven new countries on its gray list because of gaps or failures in stemming the financing of terrorist groups or money laundering. The countries — Albania, Barbados, Jamaica, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nicaragua and Uganda — were ordered to take a series of legal and other steps to be removed from the list and avoid further financial punishment.