Iraq Parliament OKs Reform Plan

Iraq Parliament OKs Reform Plan

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved an ambitious reform plan that would cut spending and eliminate senior posts, including the three largely symbolic vice presidencies, following mass protests against corruption and poor services.

Lawmakers approved the plan without debate, in a dramatic departure from the heated arguments and delays that have slowed previous efforts to enact reforms or approve important laws. Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had backed the plan, which was announced Sunday amid mounting public pressure.

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said he hoped that "today's move will be the first and not the last to continue in the path of the reform with the same spirit and without any hesitation."

The plan, unveiled by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, would cut spending and eliminate the offices of the three vice presidents and the three deputy prime ministers, largely symbolic positions where appointments have long been determined by party patronage and sectarian loyalties.

The move came after mass protests across Iraq against corruption and poor governance, focused on frequent power outages which have made a recent heat wave even more unbearable.

The plan further sidelines Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister widely blamed for inflaming sectarian tensions and staffing the military with less-qualified supporters, paving the way for the Islamic State group's rapid advance across northern and western Iraq last year.

Al-Maliki reluctantly stepped aside a year ago, but is widely believed to exert power from behind the scenes. He expressed support for the reform plan, which was approved by the Cabinet on Sunday.

The reforms will dismantle parts of the top-heavy government created in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. The tripartite offices were intended to give equal representation to Iraq's Shiite majority and its Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

The overhaul would reduce spending on the personal bodyguards of officials and transfer responsibility to the interior and defense ministries. The plan also calls for a review of all corruption cases by a committee of experts, with fresh trials for officials suspected of wrongdoing.

(KA)