The Iraqi government has fired its defense minister at a highly inopportune time. On Aug. 25, the Iraqi National Assembly moved against Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi in a vote of no confidence, held in secret because of continued political haggling aimed at preventing the decision. Of the 262 lawmakers who participated in the vote, 142 elected to withdraw confidence in al-Obeidi, who has been repeatedly accused of corruption. According to the Iraqi Constitution, the absolute majority reached will trigger the minister's immediate resignation.
Al-Obeidi gained the bulk of his military experience serving as an officer in the Iraqi air force under Saddam Hussein. Hailing from Nineveh province and belonging to one of Iraq's most important Sunni tribes, al-Obeidi specialized in engineering aircraft engines until he accepted a job in 2003 as a professor in the Ministry of Higher Education. Four years later, he became a member of the Ministry of Education's Technical Education Authority, and in October 2014, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appointed al-Obeidi to his ministerial post.
During al-Obeidi's tenure, the Iraqi parliament has twice opened investigations into corruption charges against him regarding defense procurement contracts. In the course of the second investigation, al-Obeidi openly accused several lawmakers and the parliamentary speaker of trying to blackmail him to secure contracts of their own. But after reviewing the case, Iraq's judiciary released the parliamentary speaker citing a lack of evidence, and a number of lawmakers demanded a vote of no confidence be held against al-Obeidi.
The United States, for its part, has taken the official stance that the dispute is an internal matter that must be decided by Iraq alone. Unconfirmed reports have said, however, that Washington tried to persuade Iraqi officials to keep al-Obeidi in office for the sake of continuity at such a critical juncture in Iraq's fight against the Islamic State. (Baghdad is preparing to launch a major offensive to recapture the city of Mosul from the jihadist group.) Finding his replacement will likely be a lengthy process, given the political disagreements and jockeying that will undoubtedly take place after his departure. Moreover, al-Obeidi was a key Sunni figure within the mostly Shiite government. Many fear that his dismissal will be interpreted as yet another move to marginalize Iraq's Sunnis, though that concern is largely unfounded. Al-Obeidi's departure was precipitated by infighting among the country's Sunni political parties, rather than by friction between Sunnis and Shiites.