Iraq sacks trade ministry officials in graft probe - officials

Iraq's acting trade minister has sacked seven senior ministry officials wanted on graft-related charges, including the head of the grain board, two ministry officials said on Tuesday. Iraq is one of the world's biggest importers of wheat and rice. The grain board is responsible for procuring grain internationally and from local farmers, and any disarray in the ministry is bound to raise concerns over Iraq's ability to secure strategic commodities. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the move by minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani was part of "a comprehensive operation... to cleanse the ministry of officials who have any hint of corruption". Iraq issued an arrest warrant last month for then Trade Minister Milas Mohamed Abdul Kareem after a corruption investigation into bribes, illegal benefits and the misuse of his position.
"This corruption and violations smear the reputation of the country," one of the officials told Reuters. "If this situation continues, it could lead to dire consequences in the Iraqi trade sector." Several Trade Ministry officials have faced corruption allegations in the past, and four ministry security guards are being prosecuted for allegedly killing a ministry media adviser in September with a bomb attached to his car. Abdul Kareem is among the most senior officials to face judicial action since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a reform campaign in August after nationwide protests erupted over corruption, poor electricity and water services and unemployment. The upheaval at the trade ministry is an important test of whether Abadi will be able to push through the reforms, which have exposed the country's political fault lines.