Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Iraq’s Leaders Impede Anti-Corruption Efforts

Corruption has been one of Iraq’s most pressing issues in the past several years. A recent survey found that 27.8% of Arabs and 37.9% of Kurds thought it was the top problem facing the country. In January 2011 Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned its pervasive affects in a meeting with President Jalal Talabani. It has also been one of the main complaints of protests throughout the country. The head of the Integrity Commission, one of the top anti-corruption agencies in Iraq, recently said that there is no commitment by the country’s political leadership to deal with it.

Judge Rahim al-Ogaili, the head of the Integrity Commission, told the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that his organization and others were hindered in investigating corruption in the country. He presented a long list of barriers that he and others faced. That included officials with political connections that were off limits, the lack of transparency amongst ministers and high officials, political pressure to stop investigations of high-ranking officials, judges and inspector generals within ministries who are afraid to act on cases because of possible retaliation, Article 136(b) of the criminal code that allows ministers to block any inquiries, inadequate and untrained staff within the commission itself, and the lack of political will. As a result of these difficulties, Ogaili said that he was only able to go after low-level officials and small cases.

Parliament is presently trying to eliminate Article 136(b). Twice before the legislature voted to get rid of the clause, but because they didn’t finish the necessary procedures they were never finalized. There is a move within the government to have President Jalal Talabani stop the latest measure. The President no longer has veto power however.

On the more positive side, the integrity committee within parliament has promised to conduct wide ranging investigations into corruption within the government. In March 2011, it stated that the most corrupt offices were Health, Trade, Defense, Youth, and the Baghdad municipality, and that all of them would be looked into. Currently the committee is asking questions about the fake bomb detectors that the Interior Ministry bought. They could have been purchased for $18,500 a piece, but Iraq ended up paying $60,000 for them. The devices were found to not work, former Interior Minister Jawad Bolani used 136(b) in 2010 to shut down an investigation, and the general who was the Director General of the Explosives Department in the Ministry was arrested, but he was then cleared by the Integrity Commission. Not satisfied with that, the parliament’s committee re-opened the case. It is also asking about the use of fake documents by thousands of government workers, a $200 million housing project in Sadr City, Baghdad, the purchase of airplanes and other military equipment, and possible graft in the sale of land in the capital. It’s yet to be seen whether the parliament can do a better and more effective job than the Integrity Commission in actually prosecuting any wrong doing they discover.

Corruption has wide ranging affects throughout Iraq. It has cost the country billions of dollars, set back reconstruction projects, hindered the development of the private sector, and undermined public confidence in the authorities. The political elite has only given lip service to addressing these issues, and behind the scenes actively works to end anything that might touch them or their followers within the bureaucracy. It’s that lack of political will that Judge Ogaili said was the most detrimental to his work. Until that changes, graft and fraud will remain institutionalized within Iraq.


Azzaman, “Arrest warrants issued against 11 senior officials on corruption charges,” 4/20/11

Brosk, Raman, “Integrity commission names most corrupt ministries,” AK News, 3/6/11

Hadi, Laith, “Iraqi MP reveals defect in importing arms deals,” AK News, 3/9/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11

Visser, Reidar, “Anti-Corruption Measure Sparks Constitutional Confusion in Iraq,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 5/10/11

Al-Zaman, “Iraqi Parliament Reveals Massive Corruption In Government,” MEMRI Blog, 4/6/11


Zaid said...

Hi Joel:

the parliamentary commission on integrity you refer to is actually a parliamentary committee. the commission on integrity is the hai2a al-nazaha, which is the independent agency that is headed by al-ugaili.

the parliamentary committee is currently acting like a judicial authority whereas its real responsibility is supposed to be oversight of government performance and help formulate policy. there are serious problems with the legal framework on corruption, but it's not following through.

Joel Wing said...

oops that was a typo now fixed

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to avoid total corruption in an oil-based economy, where all the money comes from a free resource and is distributed from the top downward?

Joel Wing said...

If a country has strong institutions and rule of law than it's not that much of an issue. The U.S., Canada, England, Norway for example are all oil countries. It's in the developing world where it's a problem because they don't have that. Not only does it lead to corruption, but it also distorts the economy. It's called the resource curse. With so much money made off of oil, there's very little drive to develop the rest of the economy, plus oil only provides a miniscule amount of employment. In Iraq, only 1%. All that money also usually goes to the state, which leads to quasi socialist economies and the government providing everything for stability, patronage, etc. That's what's going in Iraq and many other countries like it that have oil.