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Baghdad set to get first female mayor

Zekra Alwach is being seen as a highly-skilled technocrat who has worked at Ministry of Higher Education
Iraqi women protest against corruption, a key issue the new mayor will have to tackle (AFP)

Baghdad is to get its first ever female mayor, a government spokesman said on Saturday.

Zekra alwach, a civil engineer and director general of the ministry of higher education, will become the first female to be given such a post in Iraq when she begins work tomorrow, a government spokesperson said.

Alwach will be the only female mayor of any Arab League capital.

As mayor - the most important administrative position in the capital - Alwach will deal directly with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and will have similar prerogatives to that of a cabinet minister.

The role, however, is a difficult one. Alwach will take office at a time of rampant corruption, economic difficulty and conflict with the country currently struggling to fight off Islamic State militants who control vast swathes of western Iraq.

Alwach, who holds a doctorate in engineering, is seen as a technocrat and is not regarded as having any political affiliation, in an otherwise highly fraught political climate.

"Abadi sacked the [former] mayor Naim Aboub and named Dr Zekra Alwach to replace him," government spokesperson Rafed Juburi said. 

Aboub's removal was not designed as a punishment, Juburi added, although Aboub was regularly accused on social media and by Baghdad residents as incompetent, the spokesman added.

He made headlines in March 2014 when he described his city, beset by brutal sectarian violence and rife with corruption, as "more beautiful than New York and Dubai".

"Aboub is a clown. Abadi should have sacked him from the start," Yasser Saffar, a Baghdad baker, told AFP. "All his statements were ridiculous."

Alwach's appointment is a breakthrough for gender equality in Iraq, where human rights groups have long complained of widespread discrimination and violence against women.

According to a UN report last year, at least a quarter of Iraqi women aged over 12 are illiterate and just 14 percent enter the workplace.

While the constitution reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for women, only two ministers out of the country’s 29 are headed by women.

 Ooh la la! The mayor of #Baghdad is a woman <3 Great news and congratz 2her. Inshallah our PM in the future will be a woman too. #iraq
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