The latest sectarian rift in Iraq is evidenced by a string of tweets by the Minister of Electricity who has been forced to answer to claims of preference due to changing two director generals, as he says he just wants to reform the corrupt and dysfunctional sector.
“The Minister of Electricity starts his journey of sacking exclusively Sunni cadres and experts. We will never accept discrimination between Iraqis,” Mohammed al-Karboli, a Sunni MP, tweeted on Tuesday after the Iraqi Minister of Electricity Luay al-Khatteeb replaced two Sunni director generals.
The MP doubted that the changes were for “reform and change,” claiming the individuals appointed by the new minister are shrouded in past corruption and “people like them can’t improve the national electricity grid.”
Iraq’s electricity grid is outdated and increasingly overwhelmed by a growing population. Temperatures hovering around 50 Celsius force Iraqis to use air conditioners and water coolers to bear the extreme heat.
“Next summer is the real test for the competency of that minister. Then we will have a reckoning with him in the Council of Representatives,” said the MP, hash tagging #Technocrat_with_Double_Standards.
Last summer, electricity shortages prompted wide protests in Iraq’s south, causing former Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi to lose popular support for a second term in office.
Khatteeb was one of the few technocrats who Iraqi PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi was able to insert into his government. He is leading an energy sector known for corruption and inefficiency. Long standing disagreements between provincial authorities have been exasperated when Sunnis performed poorly in the first election after the ISIS conflict.
“I replaced two Muslim affiliates with a more competent Muslim and another Christian purely based on professional criteria,” the minister tweeted on Tuesday.
The minister reiterated that he has “inherited the heaviest” governmental portfolio. “I don’t bear the consequences of mismanagement and corruption that engulfed the electricity sector for 15 years.”
The success of the electricity sector is dependent on a commitment to the law, transparency, and professionalism, and for the sector to be insulated from politics and other ministries.
“I have said it and will say it again. Electricity in Iraq is a national security case. All are responsible to help it succeed just as many have contributed in its failure and political bravado,” said Khatteeb in another tweet.
Precedent for sectarianism in Baghdad
Post-Saddam Iraq has de facto power sharing agreements between the majority Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurdistani parties. Since the liberation, a Shiite Arab has been premier, the president a Kurd, and parliament speaker a Sunni Arab.
“Fighting institutional corruption, trespassing on the [electricity] network, fending political intervention and imposing the law isn’t a sole individual’s duty!” Khatteeb implored.
Last year’s election followed the tradition among Iraq’s three highest offices. However, Abdul-Mahdi’s ascension to power was seen as a moderate choice with his varied political past.
Some 1.8 million predominately Sunni Arabs remain displaced in Iraq. Concerns over Sunni disenfranchisement have already been espoused. Many predominately Sunni areas remain unstable, while many of the security forces across the country are increasingly Shiite.
The issue has come to the forefront by Abdul-Mahdi’s inability to get three critical minister posts filled — interior, defense, and justice. Sunnis and Shiites continue to squabble over which politicians should get the first two ministries, while Kurdish support hinges on obtaining the third ministry.