Iraq VP resigns 'to force slimming of government'


BAGHDAD - One of Iraq's three ceremonial vice presidents resigned just two weeks after being appointed to the post, his political bloc's leader said on Monday, citing a need to reduce the size of the government.
Adel Abdel Mahdi was re-elected as vice-president by MPs on May 12 after several months of wrangling, but the leader of his Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council bloc, a Shiite religious group, said he had decided to step down in the hopes of streamlining the country's bloated cabinet.
"I hope this will start a push to slim down the government," Ammar al-Hakim said in quotes published on the SIIC website.
The bloc added in a statement that Mahdi's resignation was a "response to the popular will, and to the reservations expressed by the Marjaiyah," referring to the four most senior Shiite clerics in Iraq.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani made a rare intervention in politics in February by calling for the government to slash top officials' benefits and improve public services.
At the time, Sistani specifically said politicians must "not invent unnecessary government positions that cost Iraq money."
Iraq's vice-presidents used to retain veto power over legislation, but that is no longer the case, and while the country had two deputies to national President Jalal Talabani during the previous parliamentary term from 2006 to 2010, it now has three.
The country has also expanded its cabinet, which now includes around 50 ministers and ministers of state.
Hakim said Mahdi's resignation would not be official until it was offered directly to Talabani, who is currently in the United States receiving medical treatment.
In addition to Mahdi, Iraq's other vice-presidents are Tareq al-Hashemi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, and former education minister Khudayr al-Khuzaie from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite Dawa party.
Lawmakers had been deadlocked on the issue of vice-presidents since the formation of Iraq's national unity government in December, more than nine months after March 2010 elections.