- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister has accepted the resignation of his trade minister, shortly before an expected move in parliament to oust him over purported corruption in his department, the government said Monday.

Trade Minister Falah al-Sudani submitted his resignation May 14. But Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki delayed accepting it to allow parliament to review the allegations, a government statement said.

Those allegations include claims that the minister’s two brothers skimmed off tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks on food and other goods imported by the Trade Ministry.

One of his brothers, Sabah al-Sudani, was arrested this month reportedly trying to leave the country. The other brother, Majid al-Sudani, remains at large. Both were members of the minister’s security force.

Mr. al-Maliki has promised a major crackdown against corruption, which opinion surveys have identified as one of the major public complaints against the government.

Security and corruption are emerging as the major issues ahead of next January’s national elections. Mr. al-Maliki’s supporters scored major electoral successes in January’s provincial elections by promising to tackle the two issues.

At least nine officials of the Trade Ministry - including the minister’s two brothers - have been charged with corruption. Last month, a gunfight broke out in the ministry when authorities went to serve the warrants.

Falah al-Sudani has not been charged, but has been accused of tolerating widespread corruption and mismanagement in the ministry, The head of parliament’s integrity commission described the office as “a remarkable source of corruption and squandering of public funds.”

Lawmakers had planned to call a vote of confidence in Mr. al-Sudani this week.

The head of the integrity commission, Sabah al-Saedi, told the Associated Press that the minister’s resignation “is good news for the Iraqi people” because he “failed in carrying out his duties.”

“We think that the resignation is not enough, and al-Sudani should be banned from traveling abroad,” Mr. al-Saedi said. “He should be subjected to an investigation for the breaches and financial embezzlement committed in the Trade Ministry.”

The Trade Ministry is also responsible for managing the monthly food-ration program, which was begun when Saddam Hussein’s regime was under international sanctions imposed after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Many Iraqis complain of poor quality and shortages in the monthly rations.

Also Monday, fighting broke out when Iraqi security forces raided a suspected insurgent hide-out, killing at least two people, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told the AP. Mr. al-Bolani said one of those killed was a suspected Syrian insurgent.

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