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Iraq electricity minister fired over $1.7B deals
Officials: Iraqi PM fires electricity minister over violations in $1.7B power plant deals
By The Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) ' Iraq's electricity minister has been fired and is under investigation for not following government guidelines in the signing of two deals worth $1.7 billion, a move that could stir up new political wrangling in the conflict-ravaged nation, officials said Sunday. Separately, six civilians were killed in a bombing targeting two homes in a central Iraqi town.

Electricity Minister Raad Shalal is an independent, but was nominated by the Sunni Muslim-backed Iraqiya bloc led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's rival, Ayad Allawi. Both men have been at loggerheads since the March 2010 elections over the formation of the government, and Shalal's firing could re-ignite a political firestorm for al-Maliki, a Shiite.

Iraq's deputy prime minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, said the two deals violated government guidelines requiring a contract signing with the manufacturers.

Instead, Shalal signed the deals with the Canadian Alliance for Power Generation Equipment and German firm Maschinebau Halberstadt, neither of which qualify as manufacturers. The Canadian company was awarded a $1.2 billion contract in July to build 10 power stations with a total capacity of 1,000 megawatts while the German firm won a $500 million contract.

Al-Shahristani said the two companies presented false documents about their financial status and technical capabilities. The contracts were annulled on Thursday, he said.

A Cabinet official said al-Maliki's decree, which was issued late Saturday, will be sent to parliament for a vote. The official said an investigation is under way to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media on the details.

Maysoun al-Damlouji, a spokeswoman for Iraqiya, said the bloc "is awaiting the results of the investigation, and it is still committed to hold its ministers accountable for any corruption charges."

Iraq sits atop the world's fourth largest proven reserves of crude oil and has some of the largest gas reserves. But the government has failed to meet demand for electricity since the start of the 2003 U.S.-led war to topple Saddam Hussein. The ensuing daily power outages have enraged Iraqis, with many arguing that the country's oil wealth is being siphoned into the pockets of corrupt officials.

Power outages last year led to deadly demonstrations, with security forces firing into the crowd and killing two protesters in Basra. Since then, the government has been rushing to award contracts to build new power plants.

The unrest comes on top of the general violence in the country.

While the mayhem that defined Iraq's most troubling postwar period ' between 2004 and 2007 ' has largely eased, attacks are still common as insurgents target government forces.

In the central city of Iskandariyah, bombs planted near the homes of Shiite families exploded at around 2 a.m., killing six people and injuring another 14 people, police and health officials said.

A police official said the motive behind the attack was still unclear, but added that a woman and two children under 10-year-old were among the dead.

A doctor at a nearby hospital confirmed the causality figures.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media.

The city, which sits about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Baghdad, was once among the most violent cities during the height of the insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition. It has been fairly stable since mid-2007.

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