Iraq's disgraced trade minister expected to step down

McClatchy NewspapersMay 23, 2009 

BAGHDAD — Iraq's trade director, who made history last week as the first government minister ever forced to answer corruption charges before a nationwide television audience, is expected to resign before a no confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament on Tuesday, a top party official said Saturday.

"The Minister of Trade presented his resignation letter" before he was grilled by the parliament's Integrity Committee last weekend, Dr. Ali al Adeeb, a high-ranking member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's ruling Dawa party, told McClatchy. "I expect that he will be deposed before the no confidence vote."

The trade minister, Falah al Sudany, also a Dawa party member, couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.

All of Baghdad seemed to watch last weekend when Sudany appeared on state TV to answer questions about his two brothers allegedly skimming millions from a national food program 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 the 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.

Resignation may not spare Sudany further humiliation. Integrity Committee member Kamela Kadhem Mohammad, who belongs to the Fadhila party, which is based in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, said parliament would proceed with the vote on Tuesday even if Sudany has stepped down.

"This is not a good, or honest thing done for the sake of the country," said Adeeb. "It has only political aims."

Political humiliation and the loss of his job might not be the end of the trade minister's problems. Criminal charges could still be filed against him.

Both of Sudany's brothers already have been charged. One remains at large; the other was caught trying to drive through a southern checkpoint with a trunk full of cash and jewelry.

Dolan reports for The Miami Herald. McClatchy special correspondent Jenan Hussein contributed to this report.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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