Iraq's Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s finance minister facing a non-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament on accusations of mismanagement of state funds, warned he will launch a “counterattack” to reveal corruption charges against his rivals.
Zebari threatened to publish documents that would reveal the embezzlement of millions of dollars by his rivals.
“I’ve started my campaign — the counterattack...I didn’t want to galvanise it. But now I’m talking about it, because they [rival politicians] have been playing very dirty,” Zebari told the US Financial Times (FT) in an interview.
Zebari dismissed the accusations of corruption against him, stating that he believes former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the source of the problems that the country is now facing and that he left Iraq’s economy on the verge of collapse.
He claimed that, during Maliki’s tenure, there were “billions of dollars.” But when he was elected finance minister, there was only “$649m in the government coffers."
The FT reported that Maliki’s office dismissed Zebari’s claims, saying “Making accusations without any evidence or proof shows this is nothing more than a miserable attempt to get out of the bottleneck he has fallen into.”
In parts of his remarks to the American newspaper, Zebari warned that the parliament’s motion to strip him of confidence is “damaging” to the government since the country is fighting two “existential battles” – defeating ISIS on the battlefields and climbing out of the economic crisis.
He predicted that “everything will be in a state of chaos if this economy fails,” and said that the disputes in parliament could have dire consequences.
“It’s distracting — they don’t know how much damage they are causing,” he said, adding that Iraq is in a state of war, but “It has no defense minister … And if it will not have a finance minister tomorrow — it means the country is paralysed, basically,” referring to former Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi who was ousted from his post in a no-confidence vote in August.
Zebari has been the finance minister since October 2014. Before that, he was Iraq's foreign minister since 2005.
Lawmakers, in particular from the Shiite Daawa Party, have accused Zebari of mismanaging the country's finances, which the minister denies.
The Iraqi parliament has failed twice to gather enough votes to withdraw confidence from Zebari as Kurdish and Sunni blocs strongly oppose the motion and have boycotted sessions aiming to decide the minister’s fate.
Kurdish parliamentarians call the proposed motion by the Shiite State of Law bloc ‘politically motivated’ and have boycotted two sessions in less than a week.
Kurds hold 62 seats in Iraq's 328-seat parliament and three ministerial posts in Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's government.
To win a no-confidence vote the majority of the parliament -- 165 lawmakers -- need to cast their vote against the minister. But at present only 100 MPs have signed a petition that supports the no-confidence vote.
Efforts are also underway to block the controversial no-confidence vote from taking place.
The influential head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim, is leading negotiations between Shiite and Sunni factions in an effort to end attempts to remove Zebari from his post.
“Hakim began his attempts by talking to the Shiite National coalition in the parliament,” Mohammed Maasudi, an MP from the Shiite Citizen faction in the Iraqi parliament, told Rudaw. “Some elements within the coalition responded positively to Hakim’s call and meetings with others are still ongoing.”
The Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also accused the parliament of overstepping its monitoring role and being dishonest with the Iraqi people for its plans to withdraw confidence from Zebari.
“Questioning is always on political practices, if the political practice of the minister is not satisfactory, if he does not have enough administrative and leadership skills, the questioning should be on this,” Abadi told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad on Tuesday.