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Iraqi PM calls for 'fundamental' cabinet overhaul

Prime Minister Abadi called on political blocs to support his reforms [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 February, 2016

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Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for a 'fundamental' cabinet overhaul on Tuesday after Iraqi forces announced the complete recapture of Ramadi from the Islamic State group.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called Tuesday for the inclusion of technocrats and academics in the government in a "fundamental" reshuffle to his cabinet.

"I call for fundamental change to the cabinet to include professional and technocratic figures and academics," Abadi said in a speech broadcast on state television.

The premier called on parliament "and all the political blocs to cooperate with us in this serious phase."

Iraqi ministries are divided up between the country's leading political blocs, which are often more concerned with distributing patronage than effective governance.

Attempts to change the status quo will likely be met by resistance from politicians and their supporters who have a stake in the continuation of the current state of affairs.

Abadi has announced various other reforms over the past six months in response to wide scale protests against government corruption and lack of services, which have ultimately resulted in little lasting change.

Ramadi liberated

Abadi's statement comes on the same day Iraqi security forces announced the complete recapture of Ramadi, in Anbar province, after pushing Islamic State group (IS) fighters out of the city's outskirts.

The announcement, more than a month after Ramadi was first declared liberated in December, underscores the slow nature of Iraqi ground operations despite heavy backing from US-led coalition airstrikes.

The governor of Anbar province praised Iraqi security forces and the US-led coalition for their work to "liberate Ramadi completely," but was quick to emphasize that critical security and humanitarian issues remained.

Violence has emptied Ramadi of civilians and much of the city remains blanketed in improvised explosive devices or IEDs, which IS laid in retreat.

Iraqi government troops, led by the country's elite counterterrorism forces, pushed IS out of the center of Ramadi in December, but struggled to take control of the city's outskirts.

Explosives were a main factor that slowed the clearing of neighborhoods.

Now, Anbar's governor says the bombs are preventing civilians from returning home.

"The issue of IEDs is an extremely challenging one," Suhaib al-Rawi told reporters in Baghdad.

Iraqi forces have clawed back pockets of territory from the extremist group in recent months, but destruction and insecurity in many of the liberated areas has prevented large-scale returns of civilians.

The US-led coalition estimated last year that IS had lost 40 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq, but the United Nations estimates more than 3 million Iraqis remain internally displaced by violence, insecurity and destruction.

Efforts to clear Ramadi of explosives have been slowed by a lack of funding, Rawi said, explaining that Iraq's economic crisis has left the province in debt and entirely reliant on international aid donations to rebuild.

Picking up the pieces

An Initial assessment of destruction in Ramadi carried out by the UN last month said more than 4,500 buildings has been damaged or destroyed during the battle to reclaim the city.

"The level of destruction in Ramadi is as bad as anything we have seen in Iraq," said Lise Grande, the UN's deputy special representative to Iraq.

Iraqi and coalition officials estimate that rebuilding Ramadi could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Col. Steve Warren, the US-led coalition spokesman, said despite the gains, the threat of counterattacks on Ramadi remains high.

Just 50km to Ramadi's east, the city of Fallujah remains firmly under IS control more than two years after it fell to the group.

The city is under siege by Iraqi government troops, but Iraqi officials say the northern city of Mosul is the government's next priority.

Iraq announced plans to send thousands of additional troops to a base outside Mosul on Monday in anticipation of an operation to liberate the city.

Ramadi fell to IS in May 2015 in the largest defeat for Iraq's military since Mosul fell in 2014.

At the height of the group's strength, IS controlled more than a third of Iraqi territory.

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