Iraq’s Shia cleric Sadr calls for government reforms

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Baghdad, Feb 13 (IANS) Iraq’s firebrand Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, on Saturday called for government reforms, stressing on the need for a technocrat government, among other demands.

Sadr’s comments follow similar demands from Iraqi political and religious elite after the failure of previous reform packages announced last summer by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Xinhua reported.

The reforms aimed at enabling Abadi’s cabinet to confront the country’s economic crisis due to the sharp decrease in oil prices in the world markets.

Among his several economic and political reforms, Sadr called for “forming a technocrat government away from partisanship to powerful leading parties, or their influence.”

Sadr also called for the country’s powerful Shia militias to be formally incorporated into Iraqi security forces, including his own Saraya al-Salam militia, which was formed following the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State (IS) group in June 2014.

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He said the arms “must be in the hand of the state exclusively,” and that all kinds of arms must be delivered to the government after the end of the war against terrorism.

Sadr warned that if the government failed to implement his proposal, it “would be a betrayal to Iraq and its people, and would be disappointed to our hopes and the hopes of the poor and oppressed people of Iraq, and then our withdrawal from the political process and politics as whole would be a duty,” he said.

Late on Tuesday, Abadi called on the parliament and the leading political blocs to help carrying out substantial reshuffle in his cabinet to confront the country’s economic crisis.

“The ministers of the current government have been chosen by the political blocs, but it is my responsibility and for the higher interest in order lead the country to safety, I call for substantial reshuffle to include professional, technocrat and academic personalities in the cabinet,” Abadi said.

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Abadi said his government has managed to avoid full economic collapse due to the sharp decline of oil prices during the past year and a half.

He also promised to carry out a new package of reforms based on a comprehensive study that would restructure the ministries, reassuring the people of Iraq that he has a “clear vision and detailed policy that would enable Iraq to pass the (economic) crisis.”

Abadi pledged to fight corruption and activate the economy by using international and local expertise that would help the government in the next stage.

Last year Abadi launched several package of reforms after massive demonstrations in Baghdad and several other cities in the south to protest against slack public services, power shortage, and massive corruption.

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His reforms included abolishing the posts of vice president and deputy premier and cutting 11 of his cabinet posts, in addition to slashing the number of guards for senior officials.

Abadi’s reform plan, first, gained popular support but with the passing of time the reforms fell short to convince many demonstrators who continued their protests and demanded that Abadi be more aggressive against the political parties that benefited from corruption and could reverse the reforms to their own good.

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