March 24, 2016 / 5:40 PM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 1-Iraqi oil minister suspends participation in cabinet meetings

(Adds minister statement)

BAGHDAD, March 24 (Reuters) - Iraq’s oil minister said on Thursday he was suspending his participation in cabinet meetings and asking a deputy to carry out his functions at the ministry which oversees some of the world’s largest oil reserves.

Adel Abdul Mahdi said he would not participate until parliament votes on his resignation, which he offered last summer, according to a post on his official Facebook page.

His move comes after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a plan last month to replace ministers with technocrats unaffiliated with political parties to try to tackle systemic political patronage that has fostered corruption.

The premier asked political blocs in parliament and “influential social figures” on March 11 to nominate technocrats, but his room for manoeuvre appears limited by pressure from political factions not to erode their influence.

Abdul Mahdi said his decision was aimed at “confronting an atmosphere of anxiety and chaos” in anticipation of the heavily criticised reshuffle.

Last week, supporters of powerful Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr began a sit-in outside the walls of Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone to pressure the government to see through efforts to combat endemic corruption.

Graft is eating away at the central government’s financial resources at a time when revenues are declining due to lower oil prices and Abadi needs to ramp up funding for the U.S.-backed war against Islamic State militants.

Major OPEC exporter Iraq, which relies on oil exports for most of its revenue, ranked 161 out of 168 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2015.

Abdul Mahdi, who belongs to the powerful Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) party, said he had asked Deputy Oil Minister Fayadh al-Nema to fill in for him at the ministry. (Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Stephen Kalin; editing by David Clarke)

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