BAGHDAD – Clamor for political change across the Arab world has reached Iraq, where protests against poor government services have broken out in the capital and other cities.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed not to run for a third term, a day after he announced that he would cut his pay in half. Other officials agreed to decrease their salaries in a bid to stave off the kind of unrest erupting elsewhere in the region.
“We will also enact a law that guarantees equilibrium between the salaries of officials and ordinary Iraqis,” said lawmaker Abbas Bayati. “The current circumstances are pushing us to decrease expenses and salaries, and spend them on the low income classes.”
The popular uprising that overthrew the government of Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali helped spark the unrest that now threatens the rule of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. At a conference in Munich, Germany, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Saturday of a “perfect storm of powerful” economic and demographic trends that could envelop the Middle East.
But the popular demands for change have played out differently in various countries. In Jordan and Yemen, authorities appear to be making compromises to stave off social explosions. With protests planned for next Saturday, Algeria has vowed to end a years-long state of emergency that has restricted political liberties. Bahrain’s state-run news agency said Friday that the government had increased food subsidies and vowed to widen social welfare programs. Protests there are scheduled for Feb. 14.
Some Iraqi officials earn tens of thousands of dollars a month and receive generous perks. One former official estimated that the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament earn between $500,000 and $700,000 a year. In comparison, President Barack Obama’s salary is $400,000.
On Friday, al-Maliki ordered the prime minister’s salary to be decreased by 50 percent and the difference returned to the Iraqi state budget starting this month. A day later, he announced that he would not run for a third term even though he is not barred from doing so by law.
Al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party also issued a statement in support of a peaceful transition of power in Egypt, which has traditionally had enormous political, cultural and educational influence in Iraq.