Iraqi trade minister resigns in corruption scandal

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki accepted his embattled trade minister's resignation on Monday, the day before a scheduled no confidence vote in parliament.

"It's over," said Maliki media advisor Yaseen Majeed. "They don't have to have the no confidence vote anymore."

The trade minister, Falah al Sudany, is the first ministry head since the founding of the modern Iraqi state in the 1920's who's been forced to answer corruption charges in public. McClatchy reported Saturday that he was expected to resign to avoid the parliamentary censure.

All of Baghdad seemed to have watched the televised, two-day interrogation last week by the head of the parliament's Integrity Committee. Sudany struggled to answer a long list of allegations, including that his brothers, both hired by the ministry, took a $40 kickback for every ton of rice that was brought into the country as ordinary Iraqis went without staples such as rice, wheat and cooking oil.

Sudany also struggled to answer charges that when government investigators arrived at the Trade Ministry, his guards had fired into the air, allowing his brothers to escape out a back door, and about why an inspector general was transferred to Beijing after he asked about shipments of spoiled food.

Some Iraqis saw his public interrogation as a hopeful sign for their country's nascent democracy, a rare case of the powerful being held accountable to voters. Others considered it parliamentary propaganda, convinced that politicians had found a scapegoat for the sake of appearance.

Either way, it made for riveting political theater in a country where government corruption has replaced security as the top concern over the last year and a half. Clerics and politicians routinely denounce corruption as a second insurgency.

"The aim of the questioning was to show that the role of the minister was to serve the people of Iraq," said Integrity Committee member Omar Abdulsadar, "not to serve private interests."

Abdulsadar said he broke out in cheers when he learned of Sudany's resignation on Monday.

The Integrity Committee also plans to question other government agency heads in the near future, including the ministers of electricity and oil.

As for Sudany, the question is whether the parliament will now refer his case to Iraq's general prosecutor. Bahaa al Araji, the head of the parliament's Legal Committee, said he thinks they should.

Sudany's two brothers already face criminal charges. One remains at large; the other was stopped recently driving through a checkpoint in southern Iraq with a trunk full of cash and jewelry.


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