One senior official, who asked not be named, confirmed the resignation, but gave no reason for al-Raghib’s decision.

King Abd Allah, the official has said, is to appoint his royal court chief Faisal al-Fayiz as prime minister to lead a new-look and streamlined government with more women members.

Al-Fayiz, 51, is currently Royal Court Minister and a member of a prominent East Bank tribe with historically close links to the Hashemite royal family.

He will be appointed on Thursday and start consultations on forming a government with a maximum of 20 members.

Real change

The information ministry will be scrapped in the new government, which will include two or three women, compared with the sole female minister in the current line-up, according to the official.

“The new government composition will signal the start of a real change in the performance of governments in Jordan,” the state news agency Petra reported, quoting a government source.

Al-Raghib's administration was accused of spawning corruption

Ministers will be chosen “on the basis of ability and their work programme, not their geographic roots” the official said, referring to the custom in Jordan of distributing posts among regions.

And in a break from tradition in Jordanian politics, the new ministers would spend two days in a countryside retreat to dwell on their tasks before getting down to the business of governing, Petra said.

Business ties

Al-Raghib, described as a business-friendly politician, formed his 28-member government in June 2000 with a mandate to boost the economy and attract foreign investment.

But his administration was accused by liberal, Islamist and conservative opponents alike of spawning corruption.

Many politicians also questioned al-Raghib’s known business ties with influential Iraqi businessmen and officials in former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s government.

They also accused the government of enforcing tough curbs on public freedoms, which authorities justified on security grounds.

Jordan is a close ally of the US. Although the country opposed the war on Iraq, it still allowed American special forces access to Iraq from Jordanian soil.