BAGHDAD (AFP) -- A woman has been named as mayor of Baghdad for the first time, a government spokesman said Saturday, amid widespread corruption and rampant violence.
Zekra Alwach, a civil engineer and director general of the ministry of higher education, becomes the first female to be given such a post in the whole country.
As mayor -- the most important administrative position in the capital -- Alwach will deal directly with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and holds has the prerogatives of a cabinet minister.
She will begin work Sunday, according to a municipal source.
"Abadi sacked the (former) mayor Naim Aboub and named Dr Zekra Alwach to replace him," government spokesman Rafed Juburi said.
Aboub's removal was not designed as a punishment, although he 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," said Yasser Saffar, a Baghdad baker. "All his statements were ridiculous."
Alwach's appointment is a breakthrough for gender equality in Iraq, where rights groups say discrimination and violence against women is widespread.
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 world of work.
The status of women has declined precipitously since the US invasion in 2003, which triggered a series of internal conflicts that have made violence a part of daily life across Iraq.
Baghdad is currently plagued by car bombings and sectarian killings, and militants from the Islamic State group have seized much of Anbar province to the west, menacing the capital.
Prior to the US invasion, educational and professional opportunities were common among women, a legacy of the social programs of the leftist-oriented regimes that previously ruled.
Ma'an staff contributed to this report.