June 23, 2011 / 3:10 PM / 8 years ago

Iraq's Maliki wants to downsize government

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Thursday he wanted to shrink his government and fire weak ministers to meet protesters’ demands for improved government services.

In a final evaluation of his fragile government coalition following the passing of a 100-day deadline to improve performance, Maliki said most ministries had performed well, but weaker ones needed to be eliminated, and called on political blocs to support him.

“The shrinking of the government and all unnecessary and honorary posts at the state has become an urgent necessity,” Maliki said in a speech broadcast on state television.

In late February, Maliki told his ministers they had 100 days to step up reforms or face the sack. The deadline came and went earlier this month with few signs of improvement.

Inspired by unrest across the Middle East and North Africa, Iraqis hit the streets in nationwide protests earlier this year to demand their new, elected government improve electricity, food rations and other basic services.

Maliki’s government is a fractious coalition of Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions that came together in December after more than nine months of political wrangling following a March 2010 election that produced no clear winner.

Maliki said from the start he was not satisfied with his cabinet of 43 ministers, complaining he was forced to accept some just to appease coalition partners.

He has no authority to cut ministries or change any of the cabinet members without the blessing of parliament.

“I faithfully call on the political blocs to cooperate as soon as possible to meet these necessary demands,” Maliki said.

Maliki did not offer details on how many or which ministries he wanted to cut. His mainly Shi’ite State of Law bloc has previously said he could trim most of the 15 ministers without portfolio without affecting the political balance.

Maliki’s opponents will object to any change to the government that appears to consolidate his power — particularly if he tries to eliminate ministers from his main rival, the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc.

Iraqiya, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, won the most seats in the 2010 election but was unable to muster a governing coalition. As part of the government formation deal, Allawi was promised a share of power with the leadership of a strategic policy council.

Allawi and Maliki have since clashed over the job, the council has not been formed and Allawi has accused Maliki of reneging on the deal.

Increasing political tensions could hamper the governing coalition as it decides whether to ask some U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond an end-year deadline for their withdrawal.

Violence has ebbed since the peak in 2006-2007 but Sunni Muslim insurgents and Shi’ite militias still carry out attacks, killings and bombings daily in the OPEC oil producer.

Editing by Jim Loney and Andrew Heavens

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