For the second time in two months Iraq’s parliament has sacked a minister. On September 21, 2016 Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari was dismissed after 158 parliamentarians voted to remove him versus 77 against. Zebari was called before parliament several weeks earlier for questioning over corruption charges. His responses were considered inadequate leading to his no confidence vote. Leading the charge to get rid of him was MP Haitham al-Jabouri of the Dawa Party. This was part of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s attempt to undermine Premier Haidar Abadi’s government.
Maliki was able to play upon divisions within the Kurdish alliance and dislike of the list to get rid of Zebari. First, President Massoud Barzani has stayed in office after his term expired causing dissension in Kurdistan. The Change party demanded reforms in return for extending Barzani’s term. The president responded by unilaterally dismissing Change’s ministers and barring the speaker of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s parliament from entering Irbil who was also a member of Change. That led Change and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to form a new political alliance. The Kurdish Islamic parties have been unhappy with Barzani’s moves as well. That led those groups to vote against Zebari in parliament. Second, as Kirk Sowell of Inside Iraqi Politics pointed out President Barzani is one of the most unpopular politicians in Iraq. Unhappiness with Maliki’s time in office led Barzani to write off relations with Baghdad. Since then he has increasingly talked about Kurdish independence, his party has called Iraq a failed state, has moved towards independent oil exports, while at the same time complaining that the central government has not shared international military aid with the KRG and demanded its share of the budget. These moves and others have all angered many Arab politicians. Zebari is not only a member of Barzani’s KDP, but the president’s uncle as well making him a prime target. Together this allowed Maliki’s operatives to garner enough votes to oust the finance minister.
This is another big victory for Maliki and a hit for Abadi. In August Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi failed a no confidence vote over corruption charges. Both the defense and finance ministers were important to Abadi’s government. When Maliki was in office he was masterful at playing divide and conquer allowing him to take on nearly every faction in Iraq. He is doing the same now. Maliki’s group was able to play upon the divisions within the two main Sunni parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party and Mutahidun to sack Obeidi. He now played upon the Kurds new splits to do the same to Zebari. That doesn’t mean that Maliki will be able to put the numbers together to get rid of other ministers, but it does open the door to it. Abadi already came into office in a weak position, and now his legs are being further cut out from under him.
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Anagnostos, Emily, “Iraq’s Parliament Ousts Kurdish Finance Minister,” Institute for the Study of War, 9/21/16
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Iraq Oil Report, “Uncertainty after Parliament ousts Iraq’s finance minister,” 9/21/16
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