BAGHDAD: Iraq’s prime minister warned his cabinet on Sunday to shape up within 100 days or face "changes" as a third provincial governor stepped down following massive nationwide demonstrations.
Nuri al-Maliki’s remarks came as protest organizers called for a fresh set of rallies on Friday, March 4, to mark a year since landmark parliamentary elections that led to nine months of political impasse, with several key ministerial posts still unfilled.
Demonstrations across Iraq in recent weeks, the biggest of which were held last Friday, have railed against poor public services, rampant corruption and high unemployment.
"Mr. Maliki specified a 100-day period after which an assessment of the work of the government and ministries will be carried out to find out the level of their individual success or failure in performing their jobs," a statement from his office said, specifying that the 100-day period began on Sunday.
"Changes will be made based on the assessments."
The statement also specified new measures would be taken to combat corruption, such as forcing ministries to advertise all job openings publicly to fight cronyism.
Maliki ordered ministers to root out corruption in their own ministries before Iraq’s anti-graft watchdog got involved, and said they would be held responsible for whatever happened in their departments.
His call came after a cabinet meeting dedicated to massive protests on Friday that saw thousands of Iraqis take to the streets to rail against poor public services, rampant graft and high unemployment.
It came on the same day the governor of Babil province, south of Baghdad, stepped down, the third such resignation this month, all from members of Maliki’s State of Law coalition.
"I have decided to resign because of weak public services and technical problems that have prevented us from completing projects like the construction of roads and bridges," said Salman al-Zargani.
Basra’s governor stepped down on Friday amid protests in the provincial capital, while Kut’s leader resigned early in February.
New appeals went out for fresh rallies across Iraq next Friday, billed as a "Day of Regret" by organizers on social networking site Facebook, to mark one year since Iraq’s March 7 elections.
It took politicians more than nine months to form a government after those polls, and even now, several key positions, such as the ministers of interior, defence and planning, remain unfilled.
Last Friday’s protests took place in at least 17 cities, bringing thousands of Iraqis onto the streets, with the biggest gathering in Baghdad where around 5,000 demonstrators rallied in central Tahrir Square.
A total of 16 people were killed and more than 130 wounded as a result of clashes on the day, with Maliki promising on Sunday that investigations would be launched. He vowed that those responsible, whether they be security forces or demonstrators, would be brought to justice.
In a bid to head off the protests, Iraq earlier cut politicians’ pay, increased food aid for the needy and delayed a planned law that would have raised import tariffs with knock-on effects on the price of basic goods.