Nearly one in five Iraqi workers are employed by the government, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday, as he attempts to reform the country's bloated and often-corrupt civil service.
"We have a state with more than four million employees," Abadi said in televised remarks from a conference on implementing economic reforms.
"Neighbouring countries, whose populations are maybe two-and-a-half times that of Iraq, have maybe half the number of our (government) employees," he said.
Abadi, who has announced a series of reforms aimed at curbing corruption and streamlining the government, said the aim was to improve efficiency rather than cut jobs.
Planning ministry spokesman Abdulzahra al-Hindawi said Iraq's workforce was estimated at some 21 million people, out of a total population of about 36 million.
That represents a significant burden for a country struggling with low oil prices and a costly war against jihadists.
Abadi's office also elaborated on his decision to remove 123 senior officials as part of reform efforts, saying that "a large portion of the positions have been cancelled."
The officials removed included eight deputy ministers and 110 director generals, 34 of the latter group from the industry ministry alone, it said in a statement.
Parliament signed off on Abadi's reform plan as well as additional measures, and the premier has begun issuing orders for changes, including cutting 11 cabinet posts and slashing the large number of guards for officials.
But even with popular support and backing from top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the fact that parties across Iraq's political spectrum benefit from graft is a major obstacle to the nascent reform effort.