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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Sacked defence minister shrugs off corruption impeachment in election resurgence

Dramatic comeback for Mosul's military man once scapegoated for army corruption

Iraqi Defence minister Khalid Al Obeidi (C) visits a training camp for Kurdish peshmerga troops with Minister of Peshmerga Affairs Mustafa Said Qadir on November 3, 2014. Obeidi has performed well in Iraq's 2018 elections. Safin Hamid / AFP
Iraqi Defence minister Khalid Al Obeidi (C) visits a training camp for Kurdish peshmerga troops with Minister of Peshmerga Affairs Mustafa Said Qadir on November 3, 2014. Obeidi has performed well in Iraq's 2018 elections. Safin Hamid / AFP

Iraq’s ousted defence minister, who was controversially dismissed over corruption allegations, has made a roaring comeback in the country's elections.

Khalid Al Obeidi led Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi's Victory alliance in Ninewa in Saturday's polls, winning eight out of the province's 31 seats in the 328 seat parliament, demonstrating the enduring support for Mosul’s military man.

On Monday, Mr Al Obeidi led a triumphant press conference to announce that the Victory alliance had won more seats than any other in Ninewa, although he cautioned the count was still preliminary.

The results represent a dramatic comeback for Mr Al Obeidi, who was dismissed from office by parliamentary vote in 2016. Accused of rampant military corruption – which he told MPs he was battling – Obeidi was removed as Iraqi security forces prepared to re-take his northern hometown city of Mosul from ISIS.

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He took office in 2014 to replace former acting defence minister Saadoun Al Dulaimi who, along with former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and dozens of other top officials, was accused of being responsible for the fall of Mosul.

Yet, Mr Al Obeidi took the fall for widespread corruption in the armed forces, including the pervasive presence of "ghost soldiers" bulking out attendance rolls, and implicated after billions of dollars were missing after arms contracts.

His dismissal was the second time that parliament opened an investigation into allegations of corruption against him. No charges in court were ever brought against Mr Al Obeidi and he strenuously denied the claims.

Mr Al Obeidi hit back at political rivals, accusing serving and former officials - including speaker of parliament Salim Al Jabouri - of wrongdoing.

He claimed numerous lawmakers and the speaker of trying to blackmail him to secure contracts of their own.

By the time he was dismissed, Mr Al Obeidi said he had cut down on graft, including reducing the number of ghost soldiers, troops who were allowed to stay home by corrupt officers who collected part of their salaries.

“Those who brought Iraq to where it is now have triumphed,” Mr Al Obeidi said following his dismissal. “I tried with everything to fight corruption but it appears that its masters are stronger, their voices louder and their actions more enduring.”

However, he retained political influence and Prime Minister Al Abadi approached him to lead his Victory alliance in Ninewa, as part of a campaign by the prime minister to appeal for votes across sectarian lines.

Mr Al Obeidi, a Sunni, said he joined the alliance as it represents a unifying national vision for Iraq’s future.

On Monday, he cautioned that the results remained provisional due to the large number of votes from displaced Iraqis yet to be counted. “The Independent High Electoral Commission was not prepared to receive this many numbers of displaced voters,” he said.

Iraq was ranked 166 out of 176 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Index for 2017, which said the country continued to score among the worst in the world on corruption and governance indicators.

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