BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi named Nizar Salem al-Numan as a candidate for the key post of oil minister on Thursday as part of a cabinet reshuffle aimed at fighting corruption, state television said citing its correspondent.
Abadi also named prominent Shi‘ite politician Ali Allawi for the post of finance minister and tagged Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a relative of Iraq’s king deposed in 1958, for foreign minister, state TV added.
Abadi presented his proposals to parliament for a technocrat government in the face of resistance from politicians who fear their entrenched interests could be hurt.
He merged several portfolios and presented a list of 16 ministers while keeping the current defense and interior ministers, state television said earlier.
The established political parties fear a reshuffle could weaken patronage networks that have sustained their wealth and influence for more than a decade.
But Abadi has to deliver on long-promised anti-corruption measures or risk weakening his government as Iraqi forces gear up to try and recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State.
Pressure is also coming from powerful Shi‘ite Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who started a sit-in near parliament on Sunday and leads a bloc which includes three current ministers. He is pushing Abadi to appoint nominees unaffiliated with political parties.
Following Abadi’s speech to parliament, Sadr called on demonstrators to end their sit-in, describing the proposed cabinet lineup as “courageous” and urging lawmakers to put it to a vote.
Sadr, whose opinion holds sway with tens of thousands of supporters, warned party leaders last week that they would face street protests if they obstruct the government overhaul.
Parliament must vote on any cabinet changes but postponed its session until Saturday, state TV said, so that lawmakers could have time to review and possibly challenge the candidates.
“Most of [the nominees] have academic credentials, but they all have experience of working in a senior executive position, managing or administrating,” said Sajad Jiyad, an Iraqi political analyst.
Numan, the candidate for oil minister, is a Kurd from the town of Dohuk. He has held several administrative positions at Dohuk University including currently dean of the college of planning, a university spokesman said.
Allawi, if approved as finance minister, would be coming back to a post he filled a decade ago in Iraq’s transitional government following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The U.S.-educated former banker also served as minister of trade and minister of defense in a previous cabinet.
“The IMF will be immensely happy with Allawi,” said Jiyad.
The International Monetary Fund said this week it could approve as early as June a standby arrangement (SBA) with debt-ridden Iraq, unlocking $15 billion in international assistance over the next three years.
Hussein, the prospective foreign minister, worked as an investment banker in London before the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. He briefly advocated a return to monarchical rule and heads the Constitutional Monarchy Movement.
Lawmakers said they would take up to ten days to respond to Abadi’s proposals.
Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Isabel Coles in Erbil; Editing by Richard Balmforth