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

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.


Mosques in Iran to resume daily prayers, president says

Updated 14 min ago

Mosques in Iran to resume daily prayers, president says

  • Rouhani also said on state television that the hours of shopping malls will be extended
  • He did not say when they are due to reopen

DUBAI: Government employees went back to work in Iran on Saturday and President Hassan Rouhani said mosques are to resume daily prayers throughout the country, even though some areas are seeing high levels of coronavirus infections.
Rouhani also said on state television that the hours of shopping malls, which had been allowed to open only until 6 p.m., will be extended, a further step in the government’s plans to ease coronavirus restrictions.
“Doors to mosques across the country will open to public for daily prayers,” Rouhani said, adding that social distancing and other health protocols should be observed. He did not say when they are due to reopen.
Authorities are taking tougher measures to ensure that health regulations are observed, including barring commuters not wearing masks from buses and metro trains, Iranian media reported.
Alireza Zali, head of the government-led Coronavirus Taskforce of Tehran, told state TV the situation in the capital was “still not favorable,” adding that the easing of restrictions should be accompanied by “more serious observance” of regulations.
As of Friday, Iran had recorded 146,668 infections, with 7,677 deaths.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said Friday there had been no deaths in the previous 24 hours in 15 of the country’s provinces and one in each of five provinces.
The provinces of Khuzestan in the southwest, and Baluchistan in the southeast of the country, have been declared “red” areas where there are still high levels of infection.
The health ministry has divided the country into white, yellow and red areas based on the number of infections and deaths.