Iraq removes Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi amid corruption controversy

LONDON, England — Iraq’s parliament voted to re­move Defense Minister Khalid Obeidi from office over corruption allegations as the country’s armed forces geared up for a major offensive to retake the Islamic State stronghold Mosul.

Parliament voted 142-102 in a secret ballot on Thursday to impeach Obeidi, accusing him of wasting billions of dollars on weap­ons contracts and weakening Iraq’s military.

Obeidi denied any wrongdoing and said the charges were politi­cally motivated, accusing his politi­cal foes of targeting him because he was fighting corruption.

“Finally, those who have brought Iraq to where it is now have won,” Obeidi said in a series of posts on Twitter. “I tried to fight corruption as much as possible but it seems they are stronger, their voices are louder and their actions more en­during.”

The people of Iraq, not Parlia­ment, should be the judges of his record in office, he said.

“God is my witness that I exerted every effort to rebuild the army and the military institution, along with tireless efforts to fight corruption and the corrupt, prevent nepotism and clientelism that caused Iraq in 2014 to lose 40 percent of its land,” Obeidi tweeted.

Obeidi said he had cut salaries collected on behalf of nonexistent members of the military, a phe­nomenon thought to be common during the government of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Obeidi’s removal came as the army, backed by Shia militias, pre­pared for a military offensive to re­capture the northern city of Mosul from IS. Iraqi officials said the of­fensive could begin as early as Sep­tember, although observers said that was unlikely.

Although Obeidi has been lead­ing the military campaign against IS, Iraqi and U.S. officials insisted his removal from office would not hinder the battle to retake Mosul. It was reported, however, that U.S. offi­cials tried to delay his sacking until after the liberation of Mosul.

Obeidi reportedly sought to per­suade Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to refrain from using Shia militias — known as the Popular Mo­bilization Forces — in the military efforts in Mosul, following reports of human rights violations commit­ted by the fighters when capturing other areas in Iraq from IS.

Obeidi’s impeachment is seen by his supporters as punishment for his vocal criticism of corruption among the ruling class in Iraq, in­cluding members of his own Arab Sunni community and most nota­bly Parliament Speaker Salim al- Jabouri.

However, the corruption case against Jabouri and five other mem­bers of parliament was closed by a court in early August, citing “lack of evidence.”

Iraq ranks 161st out of 168 coun­tries on Transparency Internation­al’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Obeidi is viewed by his support­ers as a strongman who did not believe in the political system that he was serving under because it is divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. His critics are less sympathet­ic, however, viewing the episode as a fallout among corrupt elites.

This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.

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