Iraqi president approves controversial 2019 budget

Government remains in stalemate over vacant ministerial posts

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, Iraqi President Barham Salih waves goodbye to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, after their meeting in Baghdad, Iraq. Salih speaking Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, at a forum in Baghdad slammed comments by U.S. President Donald Trump in which he said he wants to keep U.S. troops in Iraq "to watch Iran." Salih said the U.S. president did not ask Iraq's permission for American troops stationed there to watch Iran. He said the Iraqi constitution forbids the use of Iraq as a base to threaten the interests or security of neighboring countries. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)
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Iraqi President Barham Salih ratified the country’s controversial budget on Tuesday, as parliament remains in deadlock over key ministerial positions.

Politicians approved one of the country's largest-ever budgets of $111.8 billion last month, which was increased by 27 per cent over last year's.

The bill envisions an increase in spending of $24bn and a deficit of $22.6bn for the next year.

Yet lawmakers say the plan fails to address the country's most urgent problems.

Upon ratifying the budget Mr Salih stressed the “need to provide basic public services and to start a new phase of reconstruction,” according to a statement from his office.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has calculated that Iraq would need more than $88 billion to rebuild areas that were devastated by the war against ISIS.

Some politicians in Baghdad say the budget fails to distribute sufficient funds for the reconstruction of areas that were damaged under ISIS.

Nearly half of the funds will go towards public salaries including to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which lawmakers believe could help ease tensions between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region, which in 2017 held a controversial referendum on independence.

The 2019 budget projects oil exports of 3.88 million barrels per day, up from 3.8 million bpd from last year, at a price of $56 per barrel, an increase from the $46 the 2018 budget was based on.

The draft budget was first introduced to the cabinet in October. Parliament approved the vote in late January.

It was fiercely disputed by lawmakers from two Shiite dominated political blocs who cannot agree on the remaining cabinet posts.

Five key ministerial positions include interior and defence, seen as the most vital positions in government, are yet to be confirmed before a full cabinet can be formed.

The delay in forming a government raises concerns about the stability of the country as it suffers from poor infrastructure after years of war and corrupt governance.

Thousands of civilians are often left without running water or electricity, a situation which  resulted in violent demonstrations throughout the country last summer. 
Protesters were frustrated not only with poor public services but over the rampant corruption and foreign interference they believe contributed to the country's dire economic sitation.