Iraq speaker calls for new polls

Parliament speaker urges provincial elections to be held in three months amid rising anti-government sentiment.

    Anti-government protests are set to continue across Iraq amid repeated calls for reform [AFP]

    The head of Iraq's parliament has called for new provincial elections within three months.

    Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker, made the announcement on Sunday at a news conference in the capital Baghdad.

    It comes as anti-government protests are held across the country, where local residents have rallied against corruption, a lack of basic services, and the perceived unapproachability of the Iraqi government based inside the fortified Green Zone where the US embassy is also based.

    Also on Sunday, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, gave his cabinet a period of 100 days to improve services or face changes.

    Al-Maliki's remarks came as protest organisers called for a fresh set of rallies on March 4, to mark a year since parliamentary elections that led to nine months of political impasse. Several key ministerial posts remain unfilled.

    "Mr. Maliki specified a 100-day period after which an assessment of the work of the government and ministries will be carried out to find out the level of their individual success or failure in performing their jobs," a statement from his office said, specifying that the 100-day period began on Sunday.

    "Changes will be made based on the assessments."

    The statement also specified new measures would be taken to combat corruption, such as forcing ministries to advertise all job openings publicly to fight cronyism.

    Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said that al-Nujaifi's comments are a sign that politicians in the country are taking notice of protests.

    Cabinet meeting

    "However, al-Nujaifi is a member of the opposition, and it would also be two years early to replace provincial councils," she said.

    "Anger from anti-government protesters is being mainly directed at local officials, for primarily corruption, lack of services and high unemployment."

    Al-Maliki's call came after a cabinet meeting dedicated to massive protests on Friday that saw thousands of Iraqis take to the streets.

    It also came on the same day the governor of Babil province, south of Baghdad, stepped down, the third such resignation this month, all from members of al-Maliki's State of Law coalition.

    "I have decided to resign because of weak public services and technical problems that have prevented us from completing projects like the construction of roads and bridges," said Salman al-Zargani.

    Basra's governor stepped down amid protests in the provincial capital, while Kut's leader resigned early in February.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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