An Iraqi woman's placard reads "How can all the officials account for their funds?" during a demonstration against corruption and poor services on August 7, 2015 in Najaf
An Iraqi woman's placard reads "How can all the officials account for their funds?" during a demonstration against corruption and poor services on August 7, 2015 in Najaf © Haider Hamdani - AFP/File
An Iraqi woman's placard reads
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AFP
Last updated: August 9, 2015

Iraq prime minister calls for sweeping reforms in response to protests

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called Sunday for sweeping reforms, including abolishing the current post of his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki, in response to weeks of demonstrations against corruption and poor services.

The proposed reforms, at least some of which require the approval of the cabinet and parliament, followed a call for tougher measures from Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

But even with popular pressure and Sistani's backing, the entrenched nature of corruption in Iraq and the fact that parties across the political spectrum benefit from it will make any efforts to change the system extremely difficult.

One of the most drastic of the proposals outlined in an online statement was the call for elimination of the posts of vice president and deputy prime minister "immediately".

But the changes would apparently require the constitution to be amended, meaning that rapid action is unlikely.

The three vice presidential posts, which come with more privileges than responsibilities, are held by former top officials -- Maliki, Abadi's main rival, ex-parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and former premier Iyad Allawi.

Maliki said in a statement the night before Abadi publicly outlined his plan that he supported the reform drive, indicating that the proposed changes may have been made as part of a deal that he endorsed.

Abadi also called for a major overhaul of the way senior officials are selected, saying that all "party and sectarian quotas" should be abolished, and the candidates chosen by a committee appointed by the premier.

He also said there should be a "comprehensive and immediate reduction" in the number of guards for all officials.

This has long been a problem, with some officials having massive personal protection units, and others hiring less than the allotted number and pocketing the remainder of the allowance.

And he called for an end to "special provisions" for senior officials, both current and retired.

- Endemic corruption -

He did not specify what these were, but large salaries, government-provided vehicles and generous retirement benefits have all long been bones of contention between the authorities and average Iraqis.

And old and current graft cases should be reopened under the supervision of a high commission for fighting corruption, Abadi said.

Sistani, who is revered by millions of Iraqis, called Friday for Abadi to take "drastic measures" against corruption, saying that the "minor steps" he had announced were not enough.

"He must be more daring and courageous in his reforms," Ahmed al-Safi, a representative of the reclusive Sistani, said in a sermon delivered in the shrine city of Karbala.

But Abadi's efforts face major challenges.

"The entire system of government is rotten. The constitution is decrepit, the legal framework is woefully inadequate and the political class is utterly corrupt and incompetent," said Zaid al-Ali, author of "The Struggle For Iraq's Future".

"All political parties that are part of government profit directly from the current system, which is why it has remained unchanged since 2005," said Ali, a constitutionalist.

Baghdad and other cities have seen weeks of protests against the poor quality of services, especially power outages that leave Iraqis with only a few hours of government-supplied electricity per day as temperatures top 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit).

The demonstrators have blamed the services crisis on corruption and incompetence across the political class.

But various parties and politicians have sought to align themselves with the protesters -- at least in their rhetoric -- to take advantage of the movement and mitigate the risk to themselves.

People have protested over services and corruption before, but the demonstrations failed to bring about significant change.

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