Iraqi premier sacks electricity minister after weeks of protest

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi on Sunday sacked his minister of electricity after three weeks of protests against corruption and chronic power cuts in the energy-rich country.
A statement from Abadi’s office said the premier sacked Qassem al Fahdawi — whose departure was demanded by protesters — “because of the deterioration in the electricity sector”.
Iraq has been gripped by protests over power outages, unemployment, state mismanagement and a lack of clean water. The demonstrations —during which 14 people have been killed in clashes — erupted in the neglected southern province of Basra, home to Iraq’s only sea port, before spreading north including to Baghdad.
On Sunday, protesters held sit-ins outside the governor’s headquarters in Basra and Samawa, in neighbouring Muthana province, AFP correspondents said.
Power shortages are chronic in Iraq, a country devastated by conflicts including the war against the IS group which held a third of the country before Abadi declared victory over the fighters in December.
Hours-long electricity cuts are a source of deep discontent among Iraqis, especially during the scorching summer months when demand for air conditioning surges as temperatures soar past 50 degrees Celsius.
Since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has allocated some $40 billion in state funds to rebuild its power network and meet the needs of a 38-million-strong population, official figures show.
But much of that has been syphoned off by politicians and businessmen in a country listed by Transparency International as the world’s 12th-most corrupt.
A government official said on Sunday that Abadi had also ordered investigations launched into fake contracts.
Fahdawi commended the premier’s call for investigations and called on ministry staff to cooperate with the probes, one of his advisers said.
Political analyst Hisham al Hashemi did not expect Fahdawi’s sacking to appease the protest movement.