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Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Resigns Amid Anticorruption Sweep

One of Iraq's three deputy prime ministers resigned and will be investigated for corruption, officials said August 10, the first tangible result of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's push for reforms in the face of mounting unrest.

Emboldened by widespread antigovernment protests and a call by a leading Shi'ite Muslim cleric for tougher action, Abadi announced measures over the weekend aimed at reforming a system critics say hands high office to unqualified candidates and encourages corruption.

He proposed scrapping Iraq's multiple vice president and deputy prime minister positions, currently shared out along sectarian lines. The departure of Baha al-Araji, deputy prime minister for energy affairs, is a sign that Abadi now is starting to clean house.

Araji is a member of the Shi'ite movement headed by powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and apparently gained his position because of that association.

But Sadr joined forces with Abadi behind the scenes and ordered Araji to resign. The cleric further forbade the minister from leaving the country pending judicial procedures.

Dhiya al-Asadi, a senior member of Sadr's movement, said Araji quickly submitted his resignation.

Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council, said the public prosecutor had ordered a corruption investigation into Araji.

Abadi, who entered office a year ago pledging reform, had struggled to build broad political support. But he received a boost from the burgeoning public demonstrations in the past month calling for an end to corruption and poor government services.

Senior Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also threw his weight behind the cause of reform in a sermon August 7. The octogenarian urged Abadi to "strike with an iron fist" against corruption.

Araji's resignation may be only the first in a string of government departures. AFP reported that officials responsible for electricity and water resources also were put on the chopping block in a meeting August 10 between the speaker of parliament and political leaders.

Parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi called on Abadi to sack more ministers found to be negligent or corrupt as part of a wide-ranging reform drive,

"We asked the prime minister to dismiss a number of ministers who are clearly guilty of dereliction, negligence and corruption," he said in televised remarks, without naming specific ministers.

Jubari said legislators should approve Abadi's reform plan, which includes measures calling for an end to sectarian and party quotas for government positions, the reopening of corruption investigations, and the improvement of services.

The house is scheduled to discuss the reforms August 11.

The speaker said members of parliament also should be removed if they are absent more than a third of the time. Absent members are a perennial problem for the Iraqi legislature.

In June 2014, the parliament even failed to reach a quorum for an emergency session called in response to a sweeping offensive by the Islamic State, which subsequently took control over a third of Iraq.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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