By Raheem Salman
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sacked 26 military commanders on Wednesday for corruption and incompetence, in an apparent effort to improve the army's performance against Islamic State militants.
"The military leadership should have competence, and this is an important thing, as it is not possible for someone who is not efficient to do his work properly," Abadi said in comments to army officers broadcast on state television.
"The second thing is integrity, as efficiency without integrity produces a vacuum. The third is courage, so that the soldier will fight in a proper way when he sees his commander has such qualifications."
Abadi, who heads a Shi'ite-led government, did not elaborate and officials in his office were not immediately available to comment on which commanders had been removed.
Islamic State militants have taken control of large areas of Iraq in recent months, facing little resistance from the U.S.-trained army. The Sunni Islamists also hold territory in Syria.
Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on Friday corruption in the armed forces had enabled Islamic State to seize large chunks of Iraq, in criticism that added to pressure for reforms.
Sistani has become increasingly critical of Iraqi leaders since Islamic State’s advances plunged the country into crisis.
The performance of the army, recipient of $25 billion in U.S. training and funding, is crucial to the long-term stability of Iraq.
"There are widespread accusations of corruption inside the military institutions," said Abadi. "Nobody should be afraid to fight corruption. Whoever is fighting corruption, I will stand with him absolutely."
Islamic State gains and the beheading of Western hostages triggered U.S.-led air strikes which have slowed down the group in recent weeks.
"After we defeat Islamic State the army will move away from a domestic conflict and will defend the country," said Abadi.
(Writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Andrew Roche)