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Iraq’s parliament approves reform plan in rare show of unity

BAGHDAD (Neo Web Desk) Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved an ambitious reform plan that would cut spending and eliminate senior posts, including the three largely symbolic vice presidencies, following mass protests against corruption and poor services.Lawmakers approved the plan without debate, in a dramatic departure from the heated arguments and delays that have slowed previous efforts to approve important laws.Iraq’s most revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had backed the plan, which was announced on Sunday amid mounting public pressure.Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated Iraqis in a message on his Facebook page, promising “to continue in the path of the reform even if it costs me my life with the trust in God and the people’s support.”Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said he hoped that “today’s move will be the first and not the last to continue in the path of reform with the same spirit and without any hesitation.”The plan, which was unveiled by al-Abadi and approved by his Cabinet on Sunday, would cut spending and eliminate the offices of the three vice presidents and the three deputy prime ministers, largely symbolic positions for which appointments have long been determined by party patronage and sectarian loyalties.The reforms dismantle parts of the top-heavy government created in the wake of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator 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, a former prime minister 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.Al-Maliki reluctantly stepped aside a year ago, but is widely believed to exert power from behind the scenes. He expressed support for the reform plan.The move came after mass protests across Iraq against corruption and poor governance, focused on frequent power outages which have made a recent heat wave even more unbearable.Saad al-Hadithi, a government spokesman, told The Associated Press that the plan will be implemented over the coming months and that further reforms are in the works.“There’s been a buildup during the past 12 years in Iraq due to wrong policies and a political system that led to incorrect decisions, throwing Iraq into a very dangerous situation,” he said.The overhaul approved Tuesday would reduce spending on the personal bodyguards of officials and transfer responsibility to the interior and defense ministries. The plan also calls for a review of all corruption cases by a committee of experts, with fresh trials for officials suspected of wrongdoing.It also includes economic reforms aimed at encouraging investment and tax reforms to expand revenue sources beyond the oil industry.

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