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MP pensions issue becomes political football
score? nil all

Haider Najm
Has public pressure finally worked on the Iraqi government? Will demonstrators who say Iraqi MPs’ pensions are too high get their way? Maybe not. Analysts say PM Nouri al-Maliki is just using this issue to…
5.09.2013  |  Baghdad

There’s been a nationwide wave of protests about the fact that Iraqi MPs get such high pensions after they retire from Parliament.

Apparently each of the 325 MPs in Iraq gets a salary after he or she leaves office, as high as US$72,000 a year. And that\'s even if the MP doesn\'t complete a full term in office. Adding all of the salaries together equals around US$23 million a year in MPs\' salaries. Iraqi MPs get these payments as long as they live and the number getting these pensions obviously rises with each new batch of parliamentarians. MPs also get a housing allowance and a security allowance which can add up to around another US$6,000, to hire bodyguards.

This seems extreme in a country where the average wage was around US$6,000 per annum in 2012 and where many locals cannot access basic services like electricity.

And now several weeks after campaigning on this issue began, it seems that a number of high ranking politicians are jumping on the bandwagon – interestingly, this group includes Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Just one day after demonstrations on this issue, al-Maliki gave a speech during which he agreed that, “the salaries of ministers and MPs, as well as the salaries of those who occupy special positions in the government need to be re-evaluated. They are burdening the national budget,” he noted.

Of course, this also led the Prime Minister’s critics to ask why the PM was suddenly voicing this opinion? Had he not know about this matter for the seven long years he has been in power?

Al-Maliki then went on to list the protestors\' specific demands and even brought them to the table at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday this week. A draft law amending the pensions and prepared by a special committee was approved there and will now be sent to Parliament. There the MPs, who benefit from these pensions, will be forced to debate it and possibly pass it.

“It’s a way of making himself look good and a way of trying to gain voters’ trust back,” says local political analyst, Taher al-Budeiri. It is also a way of putting the ball back in Parliament’s court. It’s a way for al-Maliki to get back at Parliament and it is part of the ongoing conflict between the executive and legislative branches of Iraqi government. Al-Maliki looks to have won this round,” al-Budeiri concludes.

Recently MPs have been trying to wrest power away from al-Maliki; many of them have criticized the Prime Minister for his autocratic ways and his attempts to control all the most important Iraqi government ministries.

Parliament’s response was relatively quick though – the push for a date for voting on the draft law has already started. And in something of a tit-for-tat move, opposition politician, Osama al-Nujaifi, who is one of the most senior Sunni Muslim politicians in government, argued that the Iraqi Parliament had already passed a similar motion in the past.

Parliament passed a law in March this year stipulating the salaries of the top politicians in the country – the Prime Minister and Presidents – should be reduced by as much as a quarter. However Iraq’s highest court, the Federal Supreme Court, had rejected the law – leading to further accusations that the court was in the Prime Minister’s pocket.

The Al Ahrar bloc, in the Iraqi Parliament, which is associated with the Sadrist movement - supposedly allied with al-Maliki’s party but which has been very critical of him more recently - promised to file a further law suit about the law on top salaries. It plans to do this with help from the Iraqi Bar association, Iraq’s lawyers’ union.

Al-Nujaifi and al-Maliki were not the only politicians on this anti-pension bandwagon. A slew of current and former MPs appeared on television and in other media decrying the pensions and claiming they had been one of the first to criticize them.

Of course, there were also a small number of MPs who argued that they should be allowed to keep their pensions. Some of them said that the demonstrators had been motivated by foreign parties who wished to destabilize the country. Although that complaint is usually made by Sunni Muslim politicians who are actually commenting on interference from Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, in an undercover way, in this particular case some of al-Maliki’s own party, which is mostly Shiite Muslim, were among those saying this.

There were also a number of MPs who said that a pension was their right and although they were happy that they be reduced, they felt they should be retained. MP Karima al-Jiwari, who is part of the opposition Iraqiya bloc, also got a lot of flak when she said that her salary was actually insufficient for her needs.

Meanwhile down on the street, the demonstrators who protested against the high pensions around the country said that they were beaten and abused by security forces. Despite this the protestors say they will continue to come out against the high pensions and they expect that the crowds will only get bigger if politicians don’t pay the issue some attention.