Iraq appoints new education and health ministers in response to protests

Experts believe the changes will do little to calm anti-government anger

FILE - in this Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, file photo, Iraqi lawmakers attend a parliament session in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq's parliament on Thursday, Jan. 24 has approved a national budget for 2019 after weeks of wrangling over how to apportion revenues between the regions damaged by the war against the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)
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The Iraqi Parliament has appointed new ministers of health and education in response to anti-government protests that have left scores of people dead.

Officials and experts say the Cabinet reshuffle is an attempt to build confidence between the government and the public after the rallies rocked Baghdad, but will probably do little to calm popular anger.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi responded to anti-government protests by proposing a reshuffle in the ministries of health, education, communication, migration and industry, parliamentary sources told The National.

Politicians voted for Suha Khalil as Education Minister and accepted the resignation of Health Minister Ala Al Alwan, before electing Jaafar Allawi to replace him.

“The proposed changes will reinforce democracy in our country, ensure accountability and push individuals to serve their public,” Mr Abdul Mahdi said in a letter to Parliament.

Parliament delayed the vote on proposed ministers of industry, communications and immigration because of disputes between political factions. It is scheduled to reconvene in two weeks.

But analysts remain sceptical about the Cabinet changes.

"The problems are too systemic," said Kirk Sowell, an Iraq expert at Utica Risk Services. "It is the same corrupt Parliament that would have to approve new ministers and there is no guarantee they will.

“One of the government's honest ministers, Health Minister Ala Al Alwan, resigned just three weeks ago because Abdul Mahdi wasn't supporting him against corrupt elements.

“Maybe some ministries will be better off with new ministers. Unless Abdul Mahdi wholesale changes his governance style, it probably won't make much difference."

The prime minister promised the public that the government would refer hundreds of officials to the judiciary for a corruption investigation.

But this is not the first time an Iraqi head of state decided to reshuffle Cabinet to bring in technocrats.

"In April 2016, former Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi decided to appoint technocrats after protesters stormed the Green Zone," Renad Mansour, senior research fellow at London's Chatham House, told The National.

“But of course, protesters don’t forget that this has been done before. It will be a challenge and the whole idea of technocracy is becoming discredited."

This week Mr Abdul Mahdi announced a plan for jobs, training and welfare.

He posted the reform ideas on social media after a Cabinet meeting, even though the authorities have cut off the internet and disrupted mobile phone networks.

On Tuesday, Parliament approved a second reform package that included the suspension of the country’s 19 provincial councils until the 2020 elections.

Other reforms were granting soft loans to factory owners and providing financial support for unemployed Iraqis and students.

“Iraqis will not see immediate changes made as the level of corruption so high it almost makes it difficult to implement,” an Iraqi official said.