FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Latest Crackdown in Iraq

by PATRICK COCKBURN

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.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Diana Johnstone
Macron’s Mission: Save the European Union From Itself
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Andrew Stewart
Health Care for All: Why I Occupied Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Office
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A.
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail