Iraq’s parliament has approved a partial cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, bowing to mounting public pressure for reform, including mass protests led by an influential Shia cleric.
Parliament spokesman Emad al-Khafaji told the AP news agency that politicians approved nominees for six ministries: health; labour and social affairs; water resources; electricity; higher education; and culture. Khafaji added that Abadi has until Thursday to submit other names.
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It is unclear how many members the new cabinet will have.
Thousands of followers of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who have been holding a sit-in in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, crossed bridges on Tuesday to mass in front of the Green Zone, where parliament, government offices and many foreign embassies are located. They are calling for political reform and an end to corruption.
The protesters back Abadi’s planned reshuffle, which would hand key portfolios to independent technocrats in a bid to root out patronage and corruption that have hindered the provision of public services since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Last month, Abadi proposed reducing the number of cabinet ministers to 16, from the previous 21-member government. He submitted the names of independent technocrats for 14 ministerial positions, but said he would hold off replacing the defence and interior ministers because of the tense security situation.
His plans have faced opposition from Iraq’s entrenched political blocs as well as dozens of politicians who have demanded the resignation of Abadi and other top officials, and who interrupted the parliamentary session earlier on Tuesday.
The political crisis has hindered the government’s efforts to address a worsening financial crisis resulting from low oil prices and combat the Islamic State Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, which still controls much of northern and western Iraq.