Iraq's finance minister dismissed amid economic crisis
Posted 12:53 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 12:59 p.m. Wednesday
BAGHDAD — Iraq's parliament dismissed the finance minister after a no-confidence vote on Wednesday, a move that risks further upsetting the country's already precarious economic situation.
Hoshyar Zebari, a former foreign minister and prominent Kurdish politician, was ousted after weeks of political wrangling over corruption allegations and accusations of misuse of funds. Zebari's opponents did not file formal charges or publicize any evidence. Zebari has denied any wrongdoing.
Zebari played a key role in securing a badly needed $5.34 billion loan from International Monetary Fund in July. The IMF has established a series of benchmarks connected to the three-year loan, requiring Iraq to reduce public spending, improve collection of tax and customs revenues and fight corruption and money laundering.
Another $18 billion could potentially be unlocked, but each step will take longer to implement without a finance minister.
Following Zebari's dismissal Wednesday, IMF mission chief for Iraq Christian Josz said in a statement that the organization remains "committed to working with (Iraqi) authorities" to meet the benchmarks required for the loan.
Zebari is the second minister to be dismissed by parliament, which voted to fire the defense minister last month. In July the prime minister accepted the resignation of the interior minister after a bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in Baghdad killed hundreds of people.
The no-confidence vote was supported by 158 parliament members, more than the simple majority required to remove Zebari from his post. Seventy-seven voted against the measure while 14 abstained, parliament spokesman Emad al-Khafaji told The Associated Press.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called the parliament speaker earlier on Wednesday from the U.N. General Assembly in New York, asking to postpone the vote given the economic crisis, al-Khafaji said.
A number of parliamentarians said the dismissal of Zebari and the defense minister were politically-motivated, aimed at undermining al-Abadi's government. Sunni lawmaker Dhafir al-Ani said Zebari's ouster could jeopardize negotiations with the IMF. "The dismissal of Zebari will derail long-sought economic reforms," he added.
Like other oil-reliant countries, Iraq's economy has been hit hard by plummeting prices since 2014. The crisis has forced al-Abadi's government to introduce austerity measures by eliminating government posts, merging some ministries, halting spending on construction projects and imposing new taxes.