Iraqi Parliament Ousts Defense Minister as Mosul Operation Looms

BAGHDAD (The Washington Post) -

Iraq’s parliament voted to sack its defense minister on Thursday, leaving two of the country’s key security posts empty ahead of an offensive for Mosul, the biggest fight yet against Islamic State terrorists.

Lawmakers voted 142 to 102 to withdraw confidence from Khaled al-Obeidi amid accusations of corruption. It follows the resignation of Iraq’s interior minister in July after a devastating bomb attack in Baghdad.

Iraqi forces are slowly isolating the northern city of Mosul, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday announcing the recapture of the town of Qayyarah, 37 miles south of the city.

With military plans already drawn up, Iraqi officials said they expected Obeidi’s removal to have limited practical impact on the impending fight. However, the sacking highlights Baghdad’s deep political instability as the country’s armed forces try to purge the group from its remaining strongholds.

Abadi has been flailing in his attempts to address entrenched graft and overspending, the main grievances of demonstrators who have been holding large street protests against his government. Trying to stay on the right side of corruption allegations, politicians have been trading accusations in recent months, arriving at parliament with large files allegedly documenting corrupt activity of rivals.

Obeidi was called before parliament earlier this month to answer questions about weapons contracts. During that session, he leveled accusations against several other politicians, drawing public praise for crusading against corruption.

On Thursday, Obeidi claimed that he was voted out because of the allegations he made. He denies corruption.

“The voice of the corrupt people was louder than my voice,” Obeidi said in a statement.

It is the first time Iraq’s parliament has withdrawn confidence from a minister since the current political system was created after the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.

Bashar al-Kiki, head of the provincial council of Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, said he did not expect the ouster to have a significant impact on the offensive there. However, he said, the vote of no confidence should have been delayed until afterward. Obeidi, who is from Mosul, had the confidence of the people, Kiki said.

“He is a son of the city,” he said. “It’s better to have him than not.”

Abadi has pledged to recapture Mosul before the end of the year. The offensive could displace more than a million people, according to the United Nations.