BAGHDAD: With Iraq rocked by months of protests against corruption and nepotism, the judiciary is investigating allegations ministries are up for sale as politicians wrangle to form a new government.
These “sales and purchases,” which insiders say have dogged Iraqi politics for years, are again a hot issue as Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi seeks to build a Cabinet acceptable to both protesters and the political class.
Similar allegations have surrounded other governments formed since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003 — but this is the first time the judiciary has questioned Iraqi politicians over the matter.
Political commentator Ibrahim Al-Soumeidihi, who is close to the negotiations, claimed on Twitter that one group had offered him $30 million in return for a ministerial portfolio. He was followed by Kazem Al-Sayadi, a lawmaker with the State of Law Alliance of former Premier Nouri Al-Maliki — bitterly opposed to Allawi.
“The Oil Ministry is selling for 10 billion dinars (around $8.4 million), who wants to buy?” Al-Sayadi tweeted.
With unprecedented diligence, the judiciary swiftly launched investigations with Al-Soumeidihi and urged authorities to lift Sayadi’s parliamentary immunity so he too can be questioned. Al-Sayadi has since deleted his Tweet.
Since October, the country of 40 million has been rocked by unprecedented protests that have seen nearly 550 Iraqis killed and 30,000 injured, the vast majority protesters.
The government of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned late last year, bowing to pressure from the street and the country’s highest Shiite authority.
But despite almost five months of rallies, political leaders continue to rely on old techniques to remain in power, said Hisham Al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert.
Political “brokers” include parliamentarians and politicians paid by candidates to lobby on their behalf, he said. Heads of parliamentary blocs also sell ministerial posts to affiliated candidates, he added.