BAGHDAD (Reuters) - As unrest sweeps the Middle East, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he would give up half his salary in a possible bid to head off simmering discontent, and called for a two-term limit to be placed on his office.
Iraqis have held sporadic protests against food, power and water shortages and their plight acquired particular attention this month as a wave of anti-government protests rocked the region.
Unlike other countries in the region, however, Iraq’s former autocratic regime has already been swept away, in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Maliki’s media advisor, Ali al-Moussawi, said the premier would forego 50 percent of his $30,000 monthly paycheck to bring his salary closer to other government employees.
“He feels there is a huge difference and says this leads to a kind of caste system in society,” Moussawi said. Maliki made the announcement in a statement late on Friday.
On Saturday, Maliki reiterated that he supported efforts to seek a constitutional reform that would place a two-term limit on the office of prime minister, Moussawi said.
As things stand, Iraq’s prime minister can run for re-election an unlimited number of times, while the president can only serve two terms.
Hundreds of people gathered in Baghdad on Saturday to demand better basic services. On Thursday, police fired on protesters making similar demands near the southern city of Diwaniya.
Political analyst Mazin al-Shammari said Maliki’s pay cut could be an attempt to soothe public anger.
“The prime minister, by doing this, is trying to put a windshield in front of these protests,” Shammari said.
“Politicians in the Middle East are watching where the jasmine cloud moves,” he said, referring to Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” that overthrew President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Maliki was confirmed for a second term in December after nine months of political squabbling over a new government following an inconclusive parliamentary election in March.
His government is trying to rebuild Iraq but the economy remains shattered economy and infrastructure devastated eight years after the invasion ousted Saddam Hussein.
Iraqis complain bitterly about basic services. The national grid supplies only a few hours of electricity a day in a nation where temperatures rise above 50 degrees Celsius in the summer.
Members of parliament make $27,000 a month, according to Safia al-Suhail, a lawmaker from Maliki’s State of Law political bloc, but have to pay from their salaries the cost of up to 30 personal security guards who make $635 each per month. Teachers earn about $350 a month.
“I admit that there is no social fairness between the government employees,” Suhail said.
Government salaries can be a sensitive issue. “Why do you ask me?” said one MP when asked on Saturday how much he made. “Do you want to judge me?”
Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed; writing by Jim Loney; Editing by Maria Golovnina