Iraq parliament bars Abadi government from passing reforms unilaterally

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi listens to remarks to reporters by U.S. President Barack Obama after their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Ahmed Rasheed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament voted unanimously on Monday to bar the government from passing important reforms without its approval in an effort to curb Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi amid discontent over his leadership style, lawmakers said. The chamber acted after Abadi unilaterally enacted reforms in August that it deemed a violation of the constitution including his dismissal of the vice presidents and deputy prime ministers and cuts to salaries of government employees. “Under this resolution no more absolute authorities for the prime minister," one member of parliament, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters. Any rise in political tensions could undermine Baghdad's efforts to tackle an economic crisis and form a united front against Islamic State militants posing the worst threat to Iraq since a U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. Last week over 60 members of Iraq's ruling State of Law coalition threatened to pull parliamentary support for Abadi's reforms - aimed at stamping out corruption and incompetence - if he did not heed their demands for wider consultation. Many of the lawmakers who signed the letter are supporters of Abadi's predecessor, Nour al-Maliki, whom critics branded as a polarizing and authoritarian figure, allegations he denies. Abadi announced his reform campaign in August after popular protests gathered steam over graft and poor water and electricity services in Iraq, a leading OPEC oil producer. The reforms aimed to scrap senior political offices that have become a vehicle for patronage for some of the most powerful people in Iraq and root out incompetence which has undermined the battle against Islamist militancy. But while parliament had now "put the brakes" on Abadi's authority, a showdown could loom, said Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies think-tank. "The question will be, is he is going to survive? I think parliament's move today is a test. The next likely scenario could be withdrawing confidence from Abadi," he said. Hashimi added that growing parliamentary objections to Abadi's statecraft and a severe shortage of cash will eventually lead Abadi "to direct a confrontation with his own party". Graft and poor morale in the armed forces were significant reasons why Islamic State insurgents swept through northern Iraq last year virtually unopposed, and then proceeded to seize about a third of the country. The ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim group, which also controls large parts of neighboring Syria, has been fuelling a sectarian civil war ravaging parts of Iraq. Some of Abadi's reforms have been implemented, while others appear to have stalled. Iraq's three vice presidents, whose positions were to be cut, remain in place. When he took office in September 2014, Abadi was seen as a consensus builder who could heal divisions between Iraq's Shi'ite Muslims, Sunnis and non-Arab Kurds that sharpened during Maliki's tenure. But senior officials have said they are not consulted about Abadi's reforms and often learn about them through the media. "Parliament rejects any parties, including the government, overlooking its authorities," said another MP. "The resolution was passed unanimously and it dictates that any decision needs the approval of parliament." (Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)