Iraq’s cabinet held a live televised meeting on Tuesday to discuss progress made over a 100-day timeframe set by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who pulled back from a threat of ministerial firings.
Analysts have warned that while short-term progress has been made, little in the way of landmark legislation has been passed, key issues remain unresolved and protests have already been called for Friday.
The televised cabinet meeting, which Maliki said would set out ministers’ accomplishments and future plans, had an early focus on energy and electricity, issues which loom large in a country which relies on oil exports for 90 percent of government income but suffers a massive power shortfall.
“Today, we will show to the people the explanations of the ministers about what we have accomplished, what we want to do, and the obstacles,” Maliki said, before Hussein al-Shahristani, deputy premier with responsibility for energy issues, took over.
Maliki had set the timetable on February 27, noting that reviews would be carried out based on ministerial performance over the ensuing 100 days and warning that “changes will be made” based on those assessments.
But on Monday, the day before the deadline was set to expire, he signalled that no top politicians would be dismissed for poor performance, insisting that his remarks had been misunderstood.
“There are those who want to confuse the concept of this initiative,” Maliki said in comments broadcast on Iraqiya state television.
“We think that they want to push people to force ministers to be accountable for a few things that naturally should take more time.”
Newspapers have insisted, however, that the government must show concrete progress, with the independent Al-Alam daily noting in an editorial: “The government of Mr al-Maliki obliged itself to these 100 days.”
“Therefore, after the end of the 100 days, it must provide real and tangible achievements for the public, and not only give slogans and speeches, and must stop talk of fake achievements, or even to ask for a new 100 days.”
Maliki issued the 100-day warning amid widespread protests across Iraq over poor basic services, high unemployment and rampant corruption, in some of the biggest rallies since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
At the time, it was seen as an effort to galvanise his cabinet, after Iraq had languished without a new government for more than nine months following March 2010 elections.
In any event, analysts believe that firing ministers would be politically difficult for Maliki, who heads a fragile national unity government with all of Iraq’s main political blocs.
“Despite the combative words when he first announced the deadline, there’s a realisation that he doesn’t have full executive power to dismiss members of the cabinet,” said Ali al-Saffar, an Iraq analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.
“If he were to sack a minister, what would that mean for the coalition? So I think realism seeped through in his latest remarks.”
Protests have already been planned for Friday, with a group set up on social networking website Facebook called “Great Iraqi Revolution” drawing 35,000 members and urging supporters to take to the streets.
Other similar groups drew thousands of users, although it was impossible to verify how many were inside Iraq.
In response to the February rallies, Iraq rerouted $900 million originally earmarked to buy fighter planes to food for the poor, reserved $400 million for generator fuel to power air conditioners over the hot summer, and started projects that showed visible change such as the roadworks and sewage repairs.
But key questions have still not been addressed.
These include the future status of the 45,000 US troops left in Iraq, the disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk, and efforts to diversify Iraq’s economy away from crude oil, which accounts for two-thirds of revenues but just one percent of jobs.