An amnesty issued by Iraqi President Barham Salih to the son of the al-Najaf province governor after he was convicted of drug dealing has turned into a political scandal in the country.
The president had issued the amnesty at the recommendation of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, but the affair has blown up in their face, sparking widespread criticism.
Their rivals were soon to pick up on the criticism for their political gain.
Salih’s rival for the presidency and leading member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Hoshyar Zebari was quick to slam the president. The scandal erupted days after Zebari was barred from running for president over corruption allegations that he disputes.
Observers have speculated that Salih and Kadhimi had pushed for issuing the “unjustified” amnesty as part of a political deal with head of the Sadrist movement cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The deal would see the governor of Najaf removed from his post and the release of his son, in return for Sadr supporting Salih and Kadhimi running for a second term in their posts.
Media leaks exposed the amnesty, which Salih issued for Jawad Louay in January. It covered Jawad and two of his associates, who have been convicted of dealing drugs.
Kadhimi has yet to respond to the criticism, while Salih on Saturday cited legal articles that back his decision, while also attempting to shy away from his move by saying that a legal error may have occurred in the process.
He pledged to announce the results of the probe to the public as soon as possible, vowing that he has never and will never be lenient in fighting the drug trade given the threat it poses to society.
Legal experts said the president does not have the jurisdiction to pardon drug convicts.
Addressing Kadhimi, independent MP from Najaf, Hadi al-Salami asked how he had the authority to request a pardon when his government is operating in a caretaker capacity.
Drug dealing is viewed as an international crime, he added.
In a tweet, he even accused the president and government of supporting drug dealers.
Sunni figures, meanwhile, said the scandal was an opportunity to criticize the government and demand a similar pardon to people who have been unjustly held on alleged terrorism charges in the predominantly Sunni western and northern provinces.
MP Mashaan al-Jabouri said: “Salih’s pardon of drug dealers demonstrates the lowest depths that our state has reached.”
He charged that thousands of victims of confessions made under duress lie in jail, while the president has not once thought about pardoning them or addressing their plight.