Iraq MPs Discuss Plans to Downsize Government

Iraqi MPs discussed plans on Monday to reduce the cabinet, following criticism that the months-old national unity government has been stuck in paralysis as it tries to rebuild the war-battered country.

Lawmakers symbolically voted to support the principle of slimming the government, following proposals by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to slash the size of his government by a third, with the premier openly acknowledging that the bloated cabinet has become a "burden."

"In principle, no one is against slimming the cabinet," independent Kurdish MP Mahmud Othman told Agence France Presse.

"He (Maliki) has to come to parliament to explain what he has, what are the reasons for it -- we haven't voted on his proposal," he said, noting that MPs had invited the premier to parliament next week to respond to questions over the plans.

Othman said lawmakers had passed an initial vote showing support for the principle of downsizing the cabinet, but noted that no vote had yet been taken to push the measures through.

A parliamentary source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Maliki had sent a letter outlining his proposal to MPs on July 13 to reduce the size of the cabinet to 30 members from 46 at present.

"We note as a result of our work that this number of ministers has become a burden on the state's work generally and the council of ministers especially," Maliki wrote in his letter, published in full by the al-Bayan newspaper on Monday. "Also, it represents a burden on the state budget."

Maliki's plans would require removing all but three ministers of state -- parliamentary affairs, provincial affairs and women's affairs -- and firing three cabinet ministers and replacing them with his three deputy prime ministers.

Iraq's national unity cabinet was initially approved in December, after more than nine months of political wrangling following March 2010 elections, but several key positions remain unfilled, with Maliki remaining interim minister of defense, interior and national security.

The government, meanwhile, has been criticized for inaction on key issues to do with rebuilding the country after 30 years of war and sanctions, with nationwide protests since February railing against official corruption and ineptitude.

The inaction has also affected the issue of whether or not U.S. forces will be asked to stay beyond a year-end deadline for their withdrawal, with American officials pressing their Iraqi counterparts to decide soon.

Source: Agence France Presse

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