Iraq PM backs off sacking threats in political row


Iraq’s premier backed off threats to fire ministers boycotting cabinet, instead naming temporary replacements Wednesday, as the UN voiced concern over a row that has stoked sectarian tensions. Nuri al-Maliki’s decision was the latest in an apparent calming of Iraq’s political crisis, which has seen the country’s Sunni Vice President charged with running a death squad and the main Sunni-backed bloc boycott parliament and cabinet, shortly after US troops completed their withdrawal.
Despite ministers belonging to the Iraqiya bloc skipping Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Maliki declined to follow through on an earlier threat to sack them, instead declaring they were on “extended leave”, Maliki’s spokesman said.
“We cannot allow the government’s work to stop,” Ali Mussawi said. “Their absence gave us two choices — either fire them or consider them on leave. The cabinet voted that they were considered to be on extended leave.”
Their portfolios were temporarily handed to other sitting ministers, with deputy premier responsible for energy Hussein al-Shahristani handling the electricity ministry, and Planning Minister Ali al-Shukri taking over finance, a parliament official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Trade Minister Khayrullah Babakir Mohammed was handed the industry portfolio, while Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb takes over education and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Safaldin al-Safi is charged with Provincial Affairs.
For the past two weeks, Iraq has been engulfed in a political crisis sparked by authorities’ decision to issue an arrest warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on terror charges.