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Iraqi PM gives gov't 100 days to improve _ or else

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By REBECCA SANTANA
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 12:53 PM

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's prime minister on Sunday gave his ministers 100 days to improve their performance or risk being fired - an apparent response to a string of deadly anti-government protests against poor public services.

Also Sunday, Iraq's parliament speaker called for new provincial and municipal elections as a way of addressing the public's growing frustration over corruption, high unemployment and electricity shortages.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's warning to his ministers and Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi's call for elections came two days after thousands participated in the largest anti-government protests in Iraq since unrest began spreading in the Arab world several weeks ago.

Iraqi leaders appear increasingly concerned that the protests, inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, could spiral out of control. They are now scrambling to show that they are responsive to the public's demands.

Al-Maliki told his Cabinet on Sunday he would hold each minister accountable.

"The performance of the government and the ministries will each be evaluated separately in order to know the extent of success or failure in carrying out the duties given to them," said a statement by his office. It also stressed that each minister must answer for corruption - a key complaint for Iraqis - in their ministries.

"Changes will be made in light of the evaluation results," the statement said.

In a press conference later Sunday, the parliament speaker, al-Nujaifi, said elections for the provincial and city councils should be held within three to four months. That would first require parliament to amend the election law. The last elections were in 2009.

A spokesman for al-Nujaifi said parliament would begin discussing the matter within days, but another member of parliament dismissed the idea of holding such elections within months as unrealistic.

"He just wanted to show the people in the governorates where they had demonstrations that he can find solutions," said Mahmoud Othman, an independent member of parliament. "I don't think it could be done even this year."

Another lawmaker, Bahaa al-Araji, who is aligned with al-Maliki's coalition, said early elections are feasible but that many of protesters' demands, such as increasing food rations, are outside the purview of the provincial councils.

Two provincial governors have already stepped down over the ongoing demonstrations, as well as the entire city council and the mayor of Fallujah.

More clashes erupted Sunday in the southern city of Amarah, 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad. A resident in the city said protesters who were demanding more jobs started chanting in front of the provincial council building: "You are a government of liars who give only false promises!"

He said the protesters then started throwing stones at the building, and guards opened fire to disperse them. After demonstrators left the scene, security forces imposed a curfew in the area and ordered all nearby shops to be closed, the resident said. He did not want to be identified due to security concerns.

The top health official for Maysan province, Zamil Shia, said 27 people, including seven policemen, were injured in the clashes.

--

Associated Press writers Mazin Yahya in Baghdad and Sameer N. Yacoub in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.


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