BAGHDAD/BEIRUT (Reuters) - An Iraqi parliamentary panel called on Sunday for former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and dozens of other top officials to stand trial over the fall of the northern city of Mosul to Islamic State last year.
Separately, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi directed military commanders accused of abandoning their posts in Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province which was overrun by Islamic State in May, to face court martial.
The moves come a week after Abadi launched a sweeping campaign to reform the governing system, and are the most drastic steps yet taken by Baghdad to provide accountability for the loss of nearly a third of the country’s territory to the radical jihadists.
Abadi also slashed 11 ministerial positions on Sunday, cutting the three deputy prime ministers and four other posts while combining four ministries with other similar ones.
A year in office, Abadi is seeking to transform a system he complained has encouraged ethno-sectarian party patronage, spawning graft and incompetence that deprived Iraqis of basic services while undermining government forces in the battle against Islamic State.
The million-strong Iraqi army, trained by Washington at a cost of more than $20 billion, has been hobbled by low morale and corruption that impedes supply lines. Its effectiveness is hurt by a perception among Sunni Muslims that it pursues the hostile interests of the Shi‘ites, a majority in Iraq.
Islamic State’s seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, in June 2014 as it swept across the Syrian border and declared a modern “caliphate”, exposed once and for all the brokenness of the system left in place by the 2003-2011 U.S. occupation.
It has left the Baghdad government dependent on Shi‘ite militias, many funded and assisted by neighboring Iran, to defend the capital and recapture lost ground.
The panel’s findings allege that Maliki, who remains a powerful figure despite having his vice president position canceled last week in Abadi’s reforms, had an inaccurate picture of the threat to Mosul because he chose commanders who engaged in corruption and failed to hold them accountable.
The report, seen by Reuters and confirmed as accurate by three of its members, also placed responsibility for the fall of Mosul with former Mosul Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, former acting defense minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi, former army chief General Babakir Zebari and Lieutenant General Mahdi al-Gharrawi, former operational commander of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.
Others accused include Nineveh police commander Major General Khalid Hamdani, former Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi, former army intelligence chief Lieutenant General Hatam al-Magsousi and three other Kurdish members of the Iraqi security forces.
The report also accused Kurdish peshmerga fighters of confiscating weapons and ammunition abandoned by the military, and called on Abadi to recover them or discount their value from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s share of the budget.
There has been no official accounting of how Mosul was lost, or of who gave the order to abandon the fight. Maliki has accused unnamed countries, commanders and rival politicians of plotting the city’s fall.
An investigation by Reuters in October showed how troop shortages in Mosul and infighting among top officers and Iraqi political leaders played into Islamic State’s hands and fueled the panic that led to the city’s abandonment.
The parliamentary report was approved by 16 of the 24 members of the panel who voted, lawmaker Muhsin Sadoun said. Two were absent. Parliament was expected to vote on the findings on Monday and then refer it to Abadi and the public prosecutor.
“No one is above the law and accountability to the people,” said Parliament Speaker Saleem al-Jabouri in a statement upon receiving the report. “The judiciary will punish perpetrators and delinquents.”
Abadi was selected as prime minister in part because he lacked strong ties to the armed groups that fought a sectarian civil war during the U.S. occupation, and was therefore seen as better able to promote conciliation than his predecessor Maliki.
But that has made it harder to stamp his authority on a country enduring war with Islamic State, chronic corruption, Kurdish separatism, personal rivalry among political leaders and a financial crisis caused by collapsing prices for oil exports.
In May, nearly a year after Mosul’s shock capture, Ramadi fell to Islamic State, dampening Baghdad’s hopes of quickly routing them and pushing north following earlier victories in eastern provinces.
Abadi ordered security forces to hold their positions in Anbar, but some troops fled from the militants, abandoning their vehicles and weapons.
On Sunday, Abadi approved the findings of an inquiry into the defeat and directed military commanders to face court martial for abandoning their positions against orders. A statement released by his office did not name those accused.
Baghdad-based analyst Jasim al-Bahadli said he was wise to focus on reforming the security forces.
“Abadi’s decision to refer military commanders to trial is a clear attempt to send a strong message to all other army officers that he will show zero tolerance with any future retreat in the fight against Daesh (Islamic State),” said Bahadli, a former army general.
Yet in a sign of the opposition to Abadi’s plans, lawmaker Talal al-Zobaie, who heads the committee referring corruption cases to the courts, said his motorcade was attacked with a bomb and gunfire on Saturday evening west of Baghdad, killing a bodyguard.
“It’s understood I was targeted because I‘m going after corrupt people,” he told Reuters. “This vicious attack will never make me relent in pursuing my job in going after corruption cases.”
Abadi’s cut to the Council of Ministers will see the elimination of the minister of human rights, ministries of state for women’s affairs and provincial affairs, and another minister of state.
In addition, the ministry of science and technology will combine with the ministry of higher education and scientific research. The ministries of health and environment will merge. The municipalities ministry will combine with the ministry of construction and housing. The ministry of tourism and antiquities will merge with the culture ministry.
Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Tom Heneghan