BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister announced Wednesday he will seek a popular mandate to change the country's constitution amid widespread calls to fight corruption and curtail government spending. The announcement came as Islamic State militants ambushed a military convoy in Iraq's western Anbar province, killing at least 14 soldiers.
Iraq has been gripped by a major economic crisis and a crippling war with the IS, which has put a choke on domestic services in recent months. Discontent is rising, even among the country's Shiite majority, with protests springing up in cities from the capital, Baghdad, to Basra in the south.
In Baghdad, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he respects the current constitution, implemented in 2005, but believes "it is incomplete."
"Any change in the political process should be in need of a change in the constitution," al-Abadi said, speaking at a conference in Baghdad. "I hope that I'll get a mandate from people to alter the constitution."
Last week, tens of thousands took to the streets across the country, calling on al-Abadi to dissolve parliament and remove corrupt officials.
On Tuesday, lawmakers unanimously approved a reform plan proposed by al-Abadi that eliminates the three vice presidencies and the three deputy prime minister posts, dismantling part of the top-heavy government established after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The tripartite offices were intended to give equal representation to Iraq's Shiite majority and its Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
The reforms also expand the powers of the prime minister, allowing him to sack provincial governors and the heads of provincial and local councils.
The plan further sidelines Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, al-Abadi's predecessor who was widely blamed for inflaming sectarian tensions and staffing the military with underqualified supporters, paving the way for the Islamic State group's rapid advance across northern and western Iraq last year.
Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on al-Abadi last week to strike "with an iron fist" anyone who tampers with the people's money.
"It is possible to delete paragraphs from the constitution that were written in hasty way," al-Abadi said Wednesday. "The constitution has so many mistakes — we have to correct them."
As the call for change intensifies in Baghdad, Iraqi forces are carrying out a massive operation to retake the country's western Anbar province from the Islamic State group.
But the fighting has come with heavy losses — the Sunni militant group ambushed a military convoy in Anbar early Wednesday, killing at least 14 soldiers.
The attack was carried out with several roadside bombs that targeted a military convoy as it was traveling on a highway outside the militant-held city of Ramadi, a military officer and a police officer told The Associated Press.
It took place in the Khabaz area, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) west of Ramadi, they said, adding that 10 soldiers were also wounded. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The Islamic State group holds about a third of both Iraq and Syria. The Sunni militants assault Iraqi security forces and Shiite communities almost near-daily, seeking destabilize the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.