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Baghdad Mayor Angered at Dismissal

Shia group takes over mayor's office after apparently winning power struggle.
By Salam Jihad

Iraq’s government commission in charge of ethics has defended the dismissal last week of Baghdad mayor Ala Mahmood al-Tamimi.

Tamimi reacted angrily when armed men loyal to his successor Hussein al-Tahaan stormed the mayor’s office on August 8, the same day that his removal from the post was announced by the Public Integrity Commission.

“The [integrity] commission has treated an Iraqi official in an insulting manner,” said Tamimi, who was not in his office when Tahaan’s supporters arrived. “The commission is displeased that I don’t pursue methods that would be inappropriate for an honest Iraqi.”

But commission spokesman Ali al-Shabut said Tamimi’s dismissal was justified, citing concerns about competence and the way public funds were spent.

Tamimi countered that what he called “hidden hands” inside the commission - which he would not identify further - were responsible for orchestrating his removal.

The new mayor, Tahaan, is a member of the Badr Organisation, the militia arm of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, one of Iraq’s two major Shia parties. The previous week he had been elected governor of Baghdad – the city has the same status as a province and so has a regional administrator as well as a mayor.

Tahaan is an ally of Mazin Makiya, a Shia politician who is the elected head of Baghdad city council. Makiya had been involved in a long-running power struggle with Tamimi, a secular politician with no political party affiliation who was appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority before an Iraqi administration took charge.

The Baghdad council voted to oust Tamimi on July 1, but the decision was not implemented immediately because it required approval from the Iraqi government.

Two weeks later, while on his way to the Iraqi donors’ conference in Amman, al-Tamimi was arrested in connection with the integrity commission’s enquiry and detained for 24 hours. He was released after questioning.

Finally, the government – in the shape of the commission – gave its blessing to Tamimi's removal, and Makiya quickly acted on it by leading the armed group that seized the mayor’s office.

In political terms, gaining control of the capital's most important post is a significant win for SCIRI in particular, and more generally the Shia-led bloc which came first in the January parliamentary election. But it is unclear whether Tamimi was removed for purely political reasons or because he had powerful adversaries in Baghdad's governing structures.

Baghdad residents have good reason to complain about the quality of public services delivered by the city authorities – they have suffered months of shortages of water, electricity and fuel.

“Services in this area are very poor, and the municipal office is not doing anything,” said Ali Nasir, a resident of Sadr City, a poor, mainly Shia area of the capital.

Tamimi had threatened to resign because of what he said were shortfalls in central government spending on services for the city. While Baghdad received more than 80 million US dollars from the government budget, Tamimi insisted it should have got one billion dollars.

Adil al-Ardawi, a spokesman for the mayor's office, said the reasons for collapsing public services were twofold: lack of funding, and sabotage by insurgents.

“There is not enough money allocated for next winter,” said Ardawi. “But staff at the municipal office, technicians and engineers are working day and night to fix everything.”

Salam Jihad is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.