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Iraq Trade Minister Resigns Over Corruption Scandal

Iraqi Trade Minister Abd al-Falah al-Sudani
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has accepted the resignation of his trade minister over allegations of corruption relating to the country's massive food import program, his office said.

Trade Minister Abd al-Falah al-Sudani submitted his resignation on May 14, the office said in a statement, before being grilled by parliament over a scandal that has led to the arrest of one of his brothers and the flight of another.

Facing parliamentary elections early next year, Prime Minister Maliki is under pressure to tackle corruption that has become endemic in the oil-producing nation.

The violence unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has dropped dramatically, but shoddy public services, unemployment, flagging oil exports, and the widespread corruption present serious hurdles to progress and stability.

Iraq's corruption watchdog accused officials in the Trade Ministry, including two of the minister's brothers and a nephew, of taking kickbacks in return for contracts. The ministry buys hundreds of thousands of tons a year of sugar, lentils, grains, and other foodstuffs and basic household goods.

Sudani himself has not been charged. The ministry has denied the accusations, blaming them on disgruntled employees or political opponents.

When Iraqi security forces went to the ministry earlier this month to arrest the suspects, the ministry's guards shot into the air and prevented them from entering while the officials escaped out the back. One of the brothers was later arrested at a checkpoint.