x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Maliki plans to cut size of Iraq's government to improve efficiency

Iraqi prime minister¿s move may upset delicate balance of power as he trims most of 15 unnecessary ministries that are without a portfolio.

An Iraqi fisherman directs his dug-out to shore on the al Huwaiza marshes northern Amara, 420km south of Baghdad. The marshes were drained by the regime of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the Iraqi-Iranian war. After the entrance of the US-led forces into Iraq in 2003, the water source was opened with half the marshland flooded, allowing for the return of migratory birds and the local fishing tradition. Ahmad al Rubaye / AFP Photo
An Iraqi fisherman directs his dug-out to shore on the al Huwaiza marshes northern Amara, 420km south of Baghdad. The marshes were drained by the regime of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the Iraqi-Iranian war. After the entrance of the US-led forces into Iraq in 2003, the water source was opened with half the marshland flooded, allowing for the return of migratory birds and the local fishing tradition. Ahmad al Rubaye / AFP Photo

BAGHDAD // The Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki plans to cut ministries and streamline his government to try to meet protesters' demands to improve efficiency and basic services, officials and lawmakers said.

Many Iraqis, encouraged by popular protests sweeping the rest of the Arab world, have staged demonstrations since February to demand improvements in public services and the food-rationing system, and have called for an end to corruption.

Mr Maliki's opponents will most probably criticise the move as an attempt to consolidate his position in the power-sharing government by cutting the ministries belonging to parties such as the Sunni-backed Iraqiya party.

But Mr Maliki's Shiite State of Law alliance said the plan would trim most of 15 unnecessary ministries that are without a portfolio, and would not affect the political balance.

"The prime minister's opinion and desire is to shrink the number of ministries while keeping the political balance," said the cabinet general secretary, Ali al Alaq. "It will just be removing the excess or surplus as necessary."

Iraq's power-sharing coalition consists of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish parties who formed a government in December nine months after an inconclusive election.

Mr Maliki from the start said he was not satisfied with his cabinet, complaining he was forced to accept some ministers just to appease coalition members.

He has clashed with the Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi, who says the prime minister has circumvented a deal that would allow him to share power by leading a strategic policy council. That council has yet to be formed.

"Maliki has been criticised for centralising government and this will certainly be interpreted in that way. Tensions are rising on many sides," said Gala Riani, a Middle East analyst at IHS Global Insight in London.

"It is a fragile balance. In the unity government any move he makes will be watched very carefully," she said.

Mr Maliki gave his ministers 100 days to find solutions to the main complaints of protesters, but the time limit ended last week without many signs of improvement.