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Abadi Seeks To Seal Sweeping Reforms With Constitutional Change

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi says he respected the current constitution implemented in 2005, but believes "it is incomplete."
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi says he respected the current constitution implemented in 2005, but believes "it is incomplete."

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, after winning quick approval of his sweeping government reform legislation in parliament, says he wants to correct what he calls "mistakes" in the country's constitution.

His announcement on August 12 came as he dismissed three senior cabinet officials -- including a close aide to his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki -- in the latest move aimed at answering calls from citizen protesters and clerics to purge the government of corruption and inefficiency.

Maliki himself, who was widely blamed for inflaming sectarian tensions and staffing the military with underqualified supporters during his two terms as prime minister, is also being purged as a result of the reform legislation approved unanimously by parliament on August 11.

The legislation eliminates Iraq's three vice-presidential offices -- including Maliki's -- as well as three deputy-prime-minister posts that had been established during the years of U.S. occupation to give equal representation to Iraq's Shi'ite majority and its Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

The reforms greatly enhance the powers of the prime minister, giving Abadi authority to dismiss provincial governors and the heads of provincial and local councils, many of whom are the political chieftains who have largely run Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Fresh from his legislative victory, Abadi called for some changes in the constitution, saying he respected the current constitution implemented in 2005, but believes "it is incomplete."

"Any change in the political process should be in need of a change in the constitution," Abadi said at a conference in Baghdad. "It is possible to delete paragraphs from the constitution that were written in a hasty way."

Abadi said "the constitution has so many mistakes, we have to correct them," but he did not specify the changes he will recommend.

"I hope that I'll get a mandate from people to alter the constitution," he said.

Thousands of street demonstrators in the past few weeks have called for drastic changes, from summarily removing corrupt officials to dissolving a parliament widely viewed as useless.

While Abadi since taking office a year ago has been forced to focus on waging a military campaign to counter the deep inroads made by Islamic State in the north and west of the country, attention was drawn away from the discontent that apparently was rising rapidly in his Shi'ite home terroritory in Iraq's south, from Baghdad to Basra.

It is in the Shi'ite south that the street protests have been concentrated. Also, in a critical development, Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on al-Abadi last week to strike "with an iron fist" anyone who tampers with the people's money.

Sistani threw his support behind Abadi's legislative reforms, and they also garnered public praise from across party and sectarian lines as well as from Western governments.

But in a televised speech August 12, Abadi said he still expected resistance from those who profited from the system he inherited.

"The corrupt will not sit idly by," he said. "Those with interests and privileges will defend their interests and privileges. Some of them will even fight for them. They will attempt to sabotage every step we take."

While he did not name those he accused of plotting sabotage, he issued a warning against the politicization of Shi'ite militias, whose leaders have become far more powerful over the past year as their forces have played the main role in battling IS.

"We should remove the Hashid Shaabi from the political field," he said, referring to a government body that acts as an umbrella for the militias. "There should be a dividing barrier. We cannot involve fighters in a political strife."

The government management system set up during the U.S. occupation which Iraq is now jettisoning, with numerous overlapping posts to be occupied by the country's main ethnic and religious groups, was intended to reduce strife by keeping the government inclusive.

But Abadi said it encouraged ethno-sectarian party patronage, which led to corruption and incompetence so pervasive that it put Iraq's future in peril.

Despite hitting hard at his precedessor Maliki, Abadi insisted the reforms are not targeted at anyone in particular. But he said he expects opponents to portray him as hostile to particular communities to stir up resentment.

"I fear some will try to direct my words towards one individual or another, against a certain group or organization. I do not have anyone specifically in mind," he said.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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