January 31, 2011 / 3:55 PM / 9 years ago

Maliki vows Iraqi bank and election body independence

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pledged on Monday that a supreme court ruling to bring autonomous bodies such as the central bank under cabinet authority would not damage their independence.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during a joint news conference with Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi in Baghdad December 20, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen

Maliki was reappointed to a second term in December under a fragile power-sharing deal among Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish political parties and the court ruling triggered criticism from foes who fear the Shi’ite leader wants to consolidate power.

“I want to assure you and all Iraqis that the ruling of the federal court will not strip autonomous agencies of their independence in any way as long as they abide by their (governing) laws,” Maliki told the heads of autonomous agencies.

Maliki had requested a court ruling on the matter just before he was reappointed prime minister.

Iraq is still struggling to stabilize its fragile security while increasing oil production and rebuilding infrastructure in the face of a stubbornly resilient insurgency eight years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Maliki’s new government came to office after months of wrangling among factions over posts just as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of this year.

Under a hastily drafted constitution drawn up after the 2003 invasion, parliament is meant to monitor the independent bodies. But Maliki argued, and the court agreed, that the language defining the legislature’s monitoring powers was too vague.

Key agencies affected by the ruling are the Central Bank of Iraq, the Higher Electoral Commission, an anti-corruption watchdog and the High Commission for Human Rights.

Maliki’s opponents criticized the ruling as a “coup” and the central bank warned the decision could expose the bank’s foreign assets to seizure from Iraq’s creditors.

Politicians and government ministers have previously sought to gain access to the bank’s foreign reserves to cover funding shortages.

“The day will not come when we tell the central bank we want to use any part of the bank’s reserves for the state’s budget,” Maliki said.

Maliki said the cabinet could only intervene in the work of independent commissions if those agencies violated the laws governing their roles. But he warned opponents should not try to politicize the court ruling because it was irreversible.

“There are those who would try to damage relations between the independent bodies and the cabinet,” he said. “But the issue of independence will be preserved and respected.”

Additional reporting and writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Patrick Markey

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