At the end of April 2011, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stated that the government had to fight corruption. Currently the ministries, the cabinet, and the main anti-corruption agency, the Integrity Committee, are dealing with fake documents people use to get jobs in the government. This is a major problem, because it means unqualified people are getting positions in the bureaucracy. There are disagreements however, about the extent to which this issue should be pursued.
Fake diplomas and other documents have become common in Iraq since 2003. The Integrity Commission said that it believes that 20,000 government employees have used them, while the Justice Ministry places the number as high as 50,000. The bogus papers can easily be bought on the black market. A high school diploma can cost around $1,500, while a Ph.D. can be purchased for $7,000. There is a market in Sadr City for example, that is infamous for selling forged papers. According to press reports, many of the forgers there have contracts with certain public departments to provide fake papers to their workers. One forger told a reporter that the local police and government officials protected him and others. If proven true, that would show implicit support by the authorities for this illegal practice. Since the ministries and various offices are run like fiefs by the parties that run them, it’s probably they who have sanctioned the use of faked papers to get their supporters official jobs as part of patronage systems.
The scope of this practice within the public sector is becoming more and more apparent. Recently various ministries have announced the use of fake documents by their workers. The Ministry of Justice said that 4,000 of their employees had used forgeries. The Ministry of Industry fired a group of workers for fake certificates. The Ministry of Public Works stated that it had laid off 92 workers for using bogus documents. The Election Commission found 73 candidates who ran in the March 2010 parliamentary elections tried to use fake diplomas. The Integrity Commission claimed that it is not just the rank and file that have used these fakes, but high officials and members of parliament as well. This is a sign of the bureaucratic corruption that is rampant within Iraq. It goes from the top to the bottom, and means that people that may not have the needed skills, or might just be incompetent, but with connections can be placed throughout the government.
The Integrity Committee and the prime minister are now debating who should be prosecuted for this crime. In December 2010, Maliki proposed to the cabinet that only high-ranking officials be held responsible, and that low level ones should be excused for any fake papers. The Integrity Commission opposed this move. It responded in March 2011 by saying that it would finally pursue this issue at all levels. A reason why the premier might have pushed a compromise solution to the cabinet is because his Dawa party is just as guilty as the others of employing forgeries. It was recently revealed that 37 officials in the prime minister’s office had used fake diplomas, and they were all from Maliki’s party.
Iraq is ranked the fourth most corrupt country in the world for a reason. Corruption is an epidemic that deprives the government of millions of dollars, leads to nepotism and cronyism, and undermines public trust in the authorities. The case of fake papers is just one specific example, but it does highlight the extent of the problem. The use of forgeries is prevalent at the lowest levels of the government because they are necessary to get jobs. It then extends to the highest positions such as the premier and ministers who condone them so that their followers can be placed throughout the bureaucracy. The wide use of false documents, and their general acceptance amongst the country’s leadership poses an additional problem. Some public employees may be fired as some ministers have recently done, but punishing anyone, or ending the practice is unlikely until those at the top no longer condone it.
Abdul-Kadir, Saad, “Some 20,000 govt employees in Iraq, including to top posts, investigated for fake documents,” Canadian Press, 3/13/11
Alsumaria, Al-Zaman, “Al-Maliki Hints He’ll Dismiss Government If It Fails To Implement Programs,” MEMRI Blog, 4/27/11
Brosk, Raman, “All involved in forging certificates punishable, member of integrity committee,” AK News, 3/27/11
Ramzi, Kholoud, “iraq gets tough on fake qualifications, up to 50,000 jobs at risk,” Niqash, 4/18/11