Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Rise And Fall Of Iraq’s Inspector Generals, Part I Of Washington And Baghdad’s Failed Attempt To Fight Corruption

In 2004, the United States under the auspices of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) created three agencies to fight corruption in Iraq. One of those was the Inspector Generals (IGs), which were to operate within each ministry and government body. That would put them at the forefront of investigating crime. The IGs instantly caused resentment and suspicion, and a fierce battle erupted over who would control them. That undermined their independence, and made them largely ineffective overseers of Baghdad.

The Coalition Provisional Authority created the Inspector Generals to monitor the work of Iraq’s ministries. Order 57 issued in February 2004 created an IG office in each ministry. They were supposed to conduct audits, recommend cases and investigate them, and then pass on the information to the Integrity Commission, the premier anti-corruption agency, and the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. They were given extra authority by having subpoena power. CPA head Paul Bremer appointed the first 29 IGs in June just before he closed up shop, and went back to the United States. It turned out the inspectors didn’t have much authority, because they were not independent, but rather part of the ministries. CPA Order 57 also did not allow cooperation between inspectors from different ministries. The rules and responsibilities were so oblique that many IGs believed that they had to go to their ministers to get permission before they gave any information to the Integrity Commission, putting a huge barrier to any serious anti-corruption work. The Commission set up a coordinating committee to try to solve some of these problems, but it is just for consultation, so its decisions do not have to be followed. The Americans believed that the Inspector Generals in Iraq would operate much like their American counterparts. This was to be a basic check upon the new government’s excesses. It turned out the planning behind its implementation was poor to say the least. The CPA set up a new institutions without giving much thought on how it was going to work within the existing Iraqi bureaucracy, because like too many decisions at that time, the U.S. went ahead with a plan without consulting with the Iraqis.

The faults with the United States’ strategy were immediately apparent. The most important problem was that the Americans did not provide any real support to the Inspector Generals. The Justice and State Departments along with the CPA gave little to them in terms of funds, leaving only the Pentagon, which gave them some money. It wasn’t until the very end of the CPA that $11 million was given to both the IGs and Integrity Commission to train some of the staff. That neglect continued for the next several years. The State Department for example, did not set up an adviser to the inspectors until 2007. He had no budget, and the office saw constant turnover in officials. Not only that, but the United States would sometimes interfere in the IGs work. For example, the Pentagon told the Defense Ministry Inspector General to stop looking into corruption according to a 2007 U.S. Embassy report. (1) The U.S. also did nothing as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki systematically tried to undermine all of the anti-corruption agencies. Basically, the U.S. set up the infrastructure for fighting graft and theft, but then did nothing to help it or stand up for its own creation. The IGs were almost a stillbirth as a result.

The rules the CPA created for the Inspector Generals proved difficult to say the least. The IGs were to investigate the ministries. It then had to turn over its findings to the Integrity Commission. The Commission would review the case, and then try to gain more information if necessary. If it thought it was worthy, it would then go to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, another American creation, which deals with government corruption. An investigative judge would go over the findings once again, before finally deciding whether the case would be prosecuted. This was a huge amount of red tape to go through before any real action was taken. The process was so cumbersome that if corruption was found in say a government contract, it would probably be finalized, and large amounts of money expended, and perhaps even be completed, before anything was done about it. That means there is no real check upon the government’s procurement process, which is one the largest sources of corruption within Iraq. The amount of time it takes for a case to ever go to court also provides ample opportunity for an official under suspicion to call in political favors to stop the investigation or flee the country. This was yet another sign that the CPA did not think through what it was doing when it established the Inspector Generals.

The fake bomb detectors that the Interior Ministry purchased were a perfect example of how the Inspector Generals were ineffective in their job. Beginning in 2007, Iraq bought over 1,500 ADE-651 bomb detectors from an English company for $122 million. The Ministry’s IG said that they could have been bought for $18,500 a piece, but Iraq ended up spending nearly $60,000 on each one. (2) Immediately, there were criticisms of the purchase including from the United States, which tried to convince the Ministry against their use. Eventually, Great Britain banned the export of the devices, and the maker was indicted. By 2011, the Interior IG discovered that 75% of the money spent on the ADE-651’s went to kickbacks to Iraqi officials. At the head of this scam was allegedly the Director General of the Explosives Department, which the Integrity Commission wanted to prosecute. (3) Interior Minister Jawad Bolani however, invoked Article 136(b) of the Iraqi criminal code that allows ministers to stop any investigations from going to court. The result is that the anti-bomb devices are still used in the streets of Iraq to this day despite the fact that they have proven to be fakes, and they were part of a scam by Interior Ministry officials to steal public money. This showed that even in the most public of cases, the anti-corruption agencies have little leeway in overseeing the government’s actions, nor stopping powerful interests from carrying out their illegal deeds.

There are plenty of other cases where inspectors revealed corruption within their ministers, but no action was taken at all. In 2006, the Interior Ministry’s IG found officers selling U.S. supplied weapons and vehicles on the black market. The head of the intelligence unit in the Ministry went to the inspector’s office, and intimidated him into dropping the case. In 2009, the inspector at the Higher Education Ministry discovered 2,000 forged degrees had been given to government officials and university faculty, so that they could get their jobs. That same year, the IG at the Health Ministry uncovered workers stealing drugs to sell on the black market, bribery, construction contracts never being completed, and the purchase of expired medicines. In 2011, the Labor Ministry inspector said 190 workers, including 4 director generals, were involved in a money laundering operation worth $246.5 million. (4) Around the same time, the Electricity Ministry IG looked into the theft of fuel meant for power plants being re-sold on the black market. Most of these stories briefly appeared in the press, and then disappeared from sight, never to be heard of again. Some inspectors were obviously doing their work, and finding huge amounts of theft and waste going on in their ministries. Without support from their ministers or other influential parties however, their work went for naught, as nothing transpired with any of these cases.

Even in the rare cases where the inspectors were able to uncover high-level corruption, and get it to court, there was little chance that the prosecution would be successful. In June 2009, then Trade Minister Falah al-Sudani resigned under a cloud controversy involving manipulation of the national food ration system, which he oversaw. (5) He ended up being arrested at Baghdad airport along with his brothers who also worked at the ministry as they attempted to leave the country. The Inspector Generals office at Trade originally found that Sudani’s brother and nephew were taking kickbacks on sugar imports, but he was threatened to keep quiet about it. Later, when the inspector questioned why the ministry was buying spoiled food, he was transferred to an office in China. Eventually, the IGs work paid off, and charges were brought against Minister Sudani and his family members. In April 2010, a court dropped the case due to lack of evidence, and in September an appeal by the Integrity Commission failed as well. This was the first time a minister had ever been brought to court since the 2003 invasion for corruption. It was a huge matter as well as Minister Sudani and his relatives were suspected of stealing anywhere from $4-$8 billion. Still, the Iraqi justice system was not willing to take on the case, probably because of political pressure as Sudani was from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party. That showed that the country’s courts were just as ineffective in dealing with corruption as the inspectors.

A major impediment to the inspectors carrying out their work was the opposition they created within the Iraqi government. Many officials believed that the IGs worked for the United States since the CPA created them. Later, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attempted to assume control over the hiring and firing of the inspectors, which led ministers to believe they were spies for the premier. Finally, since the ministries were run like personnel fiefs by their leaders, many of which were corrupt or allowed theft and graft by their underlings, they too were against the existence of the IGs. One inspector told the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) that if he did his job, his minister would either try to fire him, or worse, kill him. As a result, many officials attempted to limit investigations by the Inspector Generals, their independence was attacked, and corruption charges were sometimes used to attack political rivals. In 2007, Maliki told American staffers that he opposed the idea of independent agencies looking into corruption. The result was that a 2011 report by SIGIR found that most inspectors had been cooed by this harsh environment, and refused to investigate anything involving high officials. Besides the Board of Supreme Audit, which had been created by the British in the 1920s to look into the country’s finances, Iraq was un-used to the idea of transparency, let alone anti-graft agencies. When the CPA came along and created the Inspector Generals in 2004, it was correctly interpreted as a foreign effort to check the government. The negative response by the ministers and premier could have been predicted.

The selection and dismissing of the inspectors also came under dispute. When Prime Minister Maliki took office in 2006, he assumed the authority to hire and fire the IGs. In 2009, he got rid of inspectors at the Water, Culture, Trade, and Youth and Sports Ministries, along with the Central Bank of Iraq, and the Sunni and Christian Endowments. The official reason was incompetence. The premier has also demanded control over their work. In 2007, the U.S. Embassy reported that Maliki’s anti-corruption advisor said all investigations by the IGs should be under the auspices of the prime minister’s office. In late-2008, the National Anti-Corruption Board was created to monitor the inspectors. Many thought the Board was set up to pick new inspectors after their five-year terms expired in 2009. In October 2012, a parliamentarian from the legal committee told the press that most Inspector Generals were now under the control of Maliki. Ministers have also hired and fired IGs. Attempts to fix this problem have been ineffective, because no laws have been passed to deal with it, even though the legislature has discussed the issue. From the beginning, the autonomy of the inspectors was questioned. Since so many were opposed to their very existence, it was no surprise then that the ministers and prime minister would try to bring them under their sway and limit their activities. Attempts by parliament to reform the selection process, and protect their integrity have gone nowhere due to political differences between the major parties.

At the same time, there have been several initiatives to get rid of the Inspector Generals all together. Judge Rahim al-Ogaili, the third head of the Integrity Commission, was opposed to the inspectors even though his office relied upon them to conduct investigations. He suggested doing away with them. In 2011, a government review found the inspectors useless, and both it, and the integrity committee in parliament proposed shutting them down. At the beginning of the next year, Maliki fired eight more inspectors, and threatened to get rid of the rest. In October, the cabinet created a committee to decide whether the inspectors should be abolished. The inspectors have been able to do little to stop real corruption going on within the government. At the same time, this is largely because so many oppose their work. The real reason why the prime minister and others have likely proposed putting an end to the IG offices is that they want the freedom to do as they please without anyone checking on their activities.

The United States had good intentions when it created the Inspector Generals, but it failed to plan, implement, and support the idea. The result has been the emaciation of the offices within the government. They are now under the sway of their individual ministers and the prime minister. They often turn up corruption cases, but can do nothing about them unless they involve low-level officials. Again and again, it has been proven that there is no political or institutional support for their work. That has led to continuous discussion of getting rid of them, along with other threats and intimidation. Corruption in Iraq started under Saddam, and expanded after the U.S. invasion since so much money suddenly became available for rebuilding the country. Iraq’s elite took advantage of that situation to enrich themselves, and have staunchly protected their right to do so since then. It’s for that reason that the Inspector Generals will always be limited in the scope of their activities.


1. U.S. Embassy, “Review of Anticorruption Efforts in Iraq Working Draft,” 2007

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

3. Brosk, Raman, “Plan to abolish immunity from corruption charges for state officials,” AK News, 3/15/11

4. Shamari, Yazin, “Board investigations financial charges against 190 employees,” AK News, 7/15/11

5. AK News, “Federal Appeals court discharges former Iraqi Trade Minister,” 9/2/10


AK News, “Federal Appeals court discharges former Iraqi Trade Minister,” 9/2/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “Lawmaker says trade minister misled authorities, violated the law,” 5/17/09

Brosk, Raman, “Plan to abolish immunity from corruption charges for state officials,” AK News, 3/15/11

Dolan, Jack and Hammoudi, Laith, “Iraq’s disgraced trade minister expected to step down,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/23/09

Flaherty, Anne, “Ex-officials: Bush admin. ignored Iraq corruption,” Associated Press, 5/13/08

Glanz, James and Mohammed, Riyadh, “Premier of Iraq Is Quietly Firing Fraud Monitors,” New York Times, 11/18/08

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

Ibrahim, Haider, “Plans to link inspector generals to regulatory bodies instead of abolishing offices,” AK News, 2/23/12

Ibrahim, Ibrahim, “Congress: Inspector General has become a complement to corruption and his irony,” Al-Mada, 10/23/12

International Crisis Group, “Failing Oversight: Iraq’s Unchecked Government,” 9/26/11
- “Iraq’s Secular Opposition: The Rise and Decline of al-Iraqiya,” 7/30/12

Al-Jawari, Hadeel, “Iraq government hit by graft; 4,000 forged university degrees uncovered,” Azzaman, 1/31/09

Al-Jourani, Flayeh, “Iraqi parliament to address job organization,” AK News, 3/14/11

Reilly, Corinne, “Iraq’s once-envied health care system lost to war, corruption,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/17/09

Shamari, Yazin, “Board investigations financial charges against 190 employees,” AK News, 7/15/11

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Hard Lessons, 1/22/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/11
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/10

U.S. Embassy, “Review of Anticorruption Efforts in Iraq Working Draft,” 2007

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