Iraq Parliament blocks PM’s proposed Cabinet reshuffle

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi gives a televised speech in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Updated 10 October 2019

Iraq Parliament blocks PM’s proposed Cabinet reshuffle

  • Abdul Mahdi has sought to placate protesters by launching a package of reforms

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s proposed Cabinet reshuffle failed to get the support of Parliament on Thursday. Iraqi lawmakers told Arab News that the prime minister had not provided the necessary legal justifications for replacing the incumbent ministers.

In the past week, violent demonstrations have broken out in Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces in protest against corruption, high unemployment and poor standards of living. 

At least 180 people, including security personnel, have been killed and more than 7,000 injured during the demonstrations, while protesters have set fire to tires from military vehicles and government buildings, according to medical and security sources.

Abdul Mahdi has sought to placate protesters by launching a package of reforms — which he described as “exceptional” — including unemployment benefits, the construction of housing for poor families, the provision of low-interest loans for the poor, and punishment of corrupt officials.

SPEEDREAD

Abdul Mahdi announced three days of national mourning for those who have died in the protests, as well as the release of anyone arrested in the last 10 days who was not implicated in murder or sabotage.

On Wednesday evening, Abdul Mahdi announced three days of national mourning for those who have died in the protests, as well as the release of anyone arrested in the last 10 days who was not implicated in murder or sabotage. He also announced his proposed Cabinet reshuffle.

According to the Iraqi constitution, the prime minister does not have the right to replace any of his ministers without providing legal justification to convince Parliament to ratify his amendments.

On Thursday, the prime minister presented two candidates for the vacant ministries of education and health, while requesting the appointment of new ministers of communications, displacement and migration, and industry. But the request he sent to the speaker of Parliament, which Arab News has seen, did not include any legal justification for that request.

The parliamentary blocs that attended the session on Thursday included Al-Nassir — led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi — and Al-Hikmah, led by the Shiite cleric Ammar Al-Hakim. They approved the proposed appointments for the vacant ministries of education and health, but boycotted the rest of the session.

“We do not want to be a false witness to what this government is doing,” Adnan Al-Zurffai, the head of Al-Nassir parliamentary bloc told Arab News. 

“This (proposed reshuffle) is a prosthetic solution that does not address the actual problems. The ministers that Abdul-Mahdi has requested to be replaced have nothing to do with the political scene or the demands of the demonstrators. The corrupt people are still sitting in their offices and no one has touched them.”

Abdul Mahdi and the leaders of the political blocs reached an initial agreement in June for a Cabinet reshuffle involving six ministries — oil, electricity, communications, health, agriculture, and industry — due to poor performance or suspicions of corruption. But the majority of those blocs now say that Abdul Mahdi did not discuss his proposed reshuffle — which excluded oil, agriculture, and electricity, but included displacement and migration —  with them.

“Abdul Mahdi is playing with fire. Even the Speaker of Parliament did not have any information on the alleged Cabinet reshuffle,” a prominent Sunni politician told Arab News. “The initial agreement was for a real Cabinet reshuffle to depose a number of corrupt and failed ministers, but what Abdul Mahdi did is something else.

“All he proposed was to replace unwilling ministers with candidates from political blocs and armed factions that helped him to survive the recent crisis,” he continued. “He and his allies are doing nothing but working to secure everything necessary to prolong his government. Meeting the actual demands of the demonstrators is their (lowest priority).”


Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

Updated 12 December 2019

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

  • For Oman and other Gulf states dominated by vast deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high cost
  • In Sur, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant

SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.
But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.
In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.
“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”
But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.
The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.
And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.
Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.
For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.
All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”
The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.
Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.
More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.
“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”
This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”
At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.
There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.
Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.
He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.
Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.
Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.
On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.
The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.
The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.
The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”
So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.
“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.
“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”