Dramatic comeback for Khalid Al Obeidi, who was tarnished by corruption allegations
Iraq’s former defence minister, who was dismissed over corruption allegations, has made a surprise resurgence in the country’s parliamentary elections.
Khalid Al Obeidi led Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s Victory alliance in Ninewa in Saturday’s polls, winning eight out of the province’s 31 seats in the 328 seat parliament.
On Monday, Mr Al Obeidi led a triumphant press conference to announce that the Victory alliance had won more seats than any other in Ninewa.
The results represent a dramatic comeback.
As rebuilt Iraqi security forces prepared to retake ISIS-held Mosul in 2016, the parliament in Baghdad voted to remove Mr Al Obeidi from office.
He had been appointed in October 2014, in the aftermath of the fall of the northern city months earlier.
But he was blamed for widespread corruption, the pervasive presence of “ghost soldiers” bulking out attendance rolls, and implicated in billions of dollars going missing in arms contracts. It was the second time during his tenure that parliament had opened an investigation into his alleged corruption. No charges in court were ever brought against Mr Al Obeidi, who strenuously denied the allegations.
Mr Al Obeidi accused other political rivals of wrongdoing, including speaker of parliament Salim Al Jabouri. Mr Al Obeidi openly accused several lawmakers and Mr Al Jabouri of trying to blackmail him to secure contracts of their own.
By the time he was dismissed, Mr Al Obeidi said he had cut down on graft, including reducing the number of ghost soldiers, troops who were allowed to stay home by corrupt officers who collected part of their salaries.
“Those who brought Iraq to where it is now have triumphed,” Mr Obeidi said following his dismissal. “I tried with everything to fight corruption but it appears that its masters are stronger, their voices louder and their actions more enduring.”
However he retained political influence and Prime Minister Al Abadi approached him to lead his Victory alliance in Ninewa, as part of a campaign by the prime minister to appeal for votes across sectarian lines.
Mr Al Obeidi, a Sunni, said he joined the alliance as it represents a unifying national vision for Iraq’s future.
On Monday, he cautioned that the results remained provisional due to the large number of votes from displaced Iraqis yet to be counted. “The Independent High Electoral Commission was not prepared to receive this many numbers of displaced voters,” he said.
Iraq was ranked 166 out of 176 nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Index for 2017, which said the country continued to score among the worst in the world on corruption and governance indicators.