FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Latest Crackdown in Iraq

The Iraqi government is seeking to silence critics who accuse it of rampant corruption by removing officials who try to prosecute racketeers and intimidating politicians and journalists who support them.

This month alone it has forced the head of its anti-corruption watchdog to resign. And a prominent Iraqi journalist, who had been threatened for leading anti-government protests, was shot dead in his home in Baghdad.

There is growing anger that the ruling elite is stealing or embezzling much of the country’s $2bn (£1.3bn) a week in oil revenues, depleting funding for electricity, water, health care, housing, education and even rubbish collection. Transparency International says that last year Iraq was the fourth most corrupt country in the world, out of 178 countries surveyed.

The Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and his government have apparently decided to deal with the accusations by hitting back at their accusers. They are trying to remove the parliamentary immunity of an independent MP, Sabah al-Saadi, formerly head of the parliamentary committee on integrity, so that they can arrest him for making allegations against Maliki.

So few officials in Iraq are prosecuted or lose their jobs for corruption that it is difficult to prove how widespread it is, though most Iraqis assume that no job or contract is awarded without a bribe. A report this week by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, called Failing Oversight: Iraq’s Unchecked Government, relates how the Electricity Minister was forced to resign “accused of having signed multibillion-dollar contracts with a Canadian shell company [one with a physical address but no assets or operations] and a German company that had declared bankruptcy.”

Earlier this year,  Saadi embarrassed the government by revealing that the general in charge of its rapid reaction team had been arrested in a sting for accepting a $50,000 bribe.

The ICG report says that Maliki’s government has fought long and hard to prevent official theft being curbed by blocking efforts to strengthen state institutions in charge of investigations and prosecution. An Iraqi inspector general is cited as saying that the anti-corruption framework is “like an aspirin to Iraq’s cancer”.

Judge Rahim al-Ugaili, the head of the Integrity Commission, one of the principal oversight bodies, was forced to resign his post on September 9. He said he had had to give up his job because the government was not supporting his anti-corruption work and was interfering politically in his work.

A senior US embassy official testified before Congress that the Prime Minister’s office had issued “secret orders” to the Integrity Commission, prohibiting it from referring cases to the courts involving “former or current high-ranking Iraqi government officials, including the Prime Minister… The secret order is, literally, a licence to steal.”

Critics of the government say they have all been threatened with violence. On the day  Ugaili was forced out of his job, a popular radio journalist, Hadi al-Mahdi, was shot twice in the head in his flat in the normally safe Karrada district of Baghdad. His killing happened just before he was due to lead a pro-democracy demonstration against corruption and authoritarianism.

Mahdi had run an outspoken radio show called To Whoever Listens, which was highly critical of the government. Two months ago, he was forced to take it off the air because of fears for his safety. He had told Amnesty International this year that he and three other journalists had been arrested at a protest rally and taken to a military headquarters, where they were beaten, given electric shocks and threatened with rape. Several hours before he was shot  Mahdi posted a note on Facebook saying he felt he was in danger. “I have lived the last two days in a state of terror,” he wrote.

The reason for Ugaili’s resignation shows that corruption in Iraq has reached saturation level. The ICG report, citing government sources, says that in 2011 the Integrity Commission and the Board of Supreme Audit had identified hundreds of shell companies abroad linked to senior government officials in the Defense Ministry and Prime Minister’s office. These were winning contracts in Iraq, many of which were never implemented despite being paid for. When  Ugaili sought to get the courts to prosecute, the government blocked him and he resigned.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail