The head of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and one of its members were arrested by police on Thursday on corruption charges, IHEC officials said, in the latest apparent move for more government control of independent bodies.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki won a court ruling in January 2011 that put the IHEC and other entities, including the central bank, under cabinet supervision, raising concern over attempts to consolidate power by the Shi'ite premier.
An IHEC official who declined to be named said a judge had issued a court order for police to arrest the head of the IHEC, Faraj al-Haidari, and member Karim al-Tamimi on charges they had given bonuses to some employees of the body.
Haidari confirmed to Reuters by telephone that he and Tamimi had been arrested but denied the graft charges.
"It has nothing to do with corruption at all," he said.
"The whole issue occurred in 2008 when the IHEC council was authorised to give some bonuses... The amount is 100,000 Iraqi dinars ($85.76) for each person, they were five or six only. There was an approval from the Iraqi board of supreme audit."
Haidari and other IHEC members were summoned to parliament last July to respond to questions about the bonuses, but a vote of no-confidence against the commission failed to carry.
Political tensions have been running high in Iraq since December, when Maliki moved against two senior Sunni politicians following the withdrawal of U.S. troops nine years after the invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
Critics fear that the premier may be showing autocratic tendencies in some of his actions and view Maliki's control over key security ministries with suspicion.
On Wednesday, a parliamentary source said parliament had sent a letter to the cabinet reminding it not to interfere in central bank policy and not to assert its authority unconstitutionally.
Europrean Union immediately called the move a 'fundamental step' toward peace
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