As protests broke out in Iraq against the lack of services and official corruption Prime Minister Haider Abadi attempted to tame the public anger while pushing through some limited reforms that would also help the government’s financial situation. His first step was announcing that the vice presidents (VPs) would be dismissed from office. The fact that the VPs had no real power made the move a seemingly painless one for the government. The vice presidents and the ruling parties welcomed the move publicly, but behind the scenes complained that the premier was threatening the quota system that gives each party a set number of positions, which they then use to enrich themselves and run patronage networks to maintain their supporters. The result is that the presidents deputies remain in office highlighting that even limited change in Iraq’s political institutions will be resisted by the powerful.
At the start of August 2015 Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced his reform program in response to the public protests sweeping the country. He said he would cut the number of bodyguards that officials received, end provision for top politicians, end the sectarian and partisan quotas, cut the number of ministries and agencies, and dismiss the deputy premiers and vice presidents. 1st Vice President Nouri al-Maliki came out in support of Abadi’s vision, but others immediately began criticizing the prime minister’s ideas. President of Iraq Fuad Masum for example, said that Abadi’s reforms violated the constitution because it calls for a vice president so the office can’t be ended, and that the VPs had the right to appeal the premier’s decision. Vice President Iyadl Allawi criticized the prime minister for acting unilaterally, and Abadi’s own State of Law list warned that one vice president had to be kept. Later, Maliki and Vice President Osama Nujafi protested their removals and started court cases to remain in office. That led Abadi to go to parliament to request a bill to end the vice presidencies, which would give him legal backing for his move.
More importantly while all the politicians were going back and forth the vice presidents all remained on their jobs. By October Al Arabiya reported that Abadi gave Maliki an ultimatum to leave his office within 48 hours. Whether true or not Maliki and the others were still there by the end of the month and collecting their salaries.
Prime Minister Abadi is mostly silent about his reform program today. His first moves gained a lot of coverage, but his confrontation with the vice presidents show how little room he had to challenge the political system in Iraq. The ruling parties have all reaped the rewards of power and are set against giving up any of their privileges. Even removing largely meaningless posts like the vice presidencies that have no power was seen as threatening, and have been effectively blocked.
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- “Parliament rejects resignation of Sinead on order of al-Maliki for his parliamentary seat,” 10/18/15
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- “TV: Abadi gives al-Maliki 48 hours to vacate his headquarters,” 10/3/15
- “What did al-Maliki said about Abadi’s measures?” 8/9/15
Sotaliraq, “Presidency: Vice-Presidents have the right to appeal Abadi’s decisions,” 9/15/15