Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric warns parliament not to stall Abadi's reforms

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2015 5:11 AM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric warned parliament on Friday not to use concerns over the legality of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's reforms as a tactic to block them.

Parliament voted unanimously on Monday to bar the government from passing important reforms without its approval, in an effort to curb Abadi, who has unilaterally tried to reshape a governing system that he said encouraged corruption.

"The need to protect the constitution and the law must not be used by the legislative or any other authority to circumvent or delay the reform steps," Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said through an aide.

Emboldened by popular protests and a call by Sistani, whose opinion few Iraqi politicians would openly challenge, Abadi announced measures in August aimed at dismantling a patronage system and rooting out the incompetence that has undermined Baghdad's battle against Islamic State militants.

The reforms included eliminating a layer of senior government posts, sacking a third of the cabinet, cutting politicians' security details and perks, and reopening corruption probes.

Some of the reforms have been implemented, while others appear to have stalled. Iraq's three vice presidents, whose positions were to be cut, remain in place.

Demonstrators in Baghdad and other cities braved the threat of violence and extreme heat last summer to protest against graft and demand better water and electricity services.

But as Abadi's initial response to those calls got bogged down by political infighting and legal challenges, the demonstrators' momentum dissipated.

Parliament has deemed some reforms a violation of the constitution, including the dismissal of the vice presidents and cuts to government employees' salaries.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin and Saif Hameed; Editing by Michael Georgy and Kevin Liffey)