BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament has suspended work for a week and sent lawmakers to their home areas to help soothe rising anger over corruption, food shortages and poor services, the speaker of parliament said on Monday.
Iraq has been hit in recent weeks by a growing wave of protests inspired by anti-government uprisings across the Arab world. While Iraqi demonstrators mostly have not called for the ouster of the elected federal government, installed just two months ago, they have demanded that local officials step down.
Three people were killed and dozens wounded in Sulaimaniya, in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region, in the last three days as hundreds of protesters took to the streets.
Demonstrations have taken place in Basra, Falluja, Kirkuk and other cities.
The new government was formed in December, nine months after an inconclusive national election. Iraq is struggling to establish democratic institutions nearly eight years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
“We asked all members to head to all Iraqi provinces ... They will be working for more than a week,” speaker Osama al-Nujaifi told a news conference.
The lawmakers will be in their provinces “until they receive all complaints and see the weaknesses and problems ... to look for solutions in partnership with non-governmental organisations, local governments (and other parties).”
The suspension of parliamentary sessions is the latest in a series of moves by politicians, unnerved by uprisings across the Arab world, to curb rising anger.
The government has offered Iraqis free electricity, bought sugar to support food rations and diverted $900 million from the purchase of combat jets to the ration program. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also said he would cut his pay by half.
Nujaifi said the $82.6 billion national budget passed on Sunday contains ambitious plans to help Iraqis, including reduced salaries and benefits for the prime minister, president and speaker, their deputies, and ministers.
“I’d say that this budget will create a new situation for the Iraqi people, to achieve the legitimate demands of the people for a dignified life,” Nujaifi said.
He also said parliament would reopen corruption cases from past years and asked Iraqis to give lawmakers time.
“The government just started, about two months ago ... we have to give it a chance,” he said. “The Iraqi people are smart, courageous people, but they have to be conscious of the need to support the government’s proposal for reform.”
Editing by Jim Loney and Mark Trevelyan