In May 2013, Jim McCormick the owner of the company that sold 7,000 fake bomb detectors to Iraq was sentenced to ten years in prison by a British court on three counts of fraud. The fallout in Baghdad is just beginning to be felt. The government is trying to act like nothing happened, while two anti-corruption groups are pushing for new investigations, and implicating Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and other top officials. Unfortunately, while committees can look into these matters there is little likelihood that anything substantive will happen.
A fake bomb detector still being used at a checkpoint in Baghdad, May 2013 (AFP)
After the news broke in Iraq that Jim McCormick had been convicted there was little change on the ground. Deputy Interior Minister Adnan Asadi, who is the de facto head of the ministry told the press that the bomb detectors would eventually be replaced, but he did not mention how or when. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the authorities took care of the bomb detectors a long time ago seemingly blowing off the McCormick conviction. Later he told a press conference that some of the detectors actually worked. This was despite the fact that the British court proved that there were no working parts within the so-called detectors. Agence France Presse quoted a policeman in Baghdad who said that they were under orders to continue to use the anti-explosive devices even though they knew they did not work. Only in Dhi Qar did the police announce that they would stop using the detectors, and would be using bomb-sniffing dogs instead. That province happens to be in the south where there are hardly any attacks, so its decision would not have a real effect upon security in the country. Baghdad on the other hand sees the most violence, yet the government is acting like the McCormick case means nothing. The premier’s statement is a perfect example since the detectors are still in daily use, so obviously they have not been dealt with properly.
Parliament and the anti-corruption Integrity Commission are taking the matter much more seriously. Immediately after the sentencing of McCormick Iraq’s integrity committee in the legislature said that officials from the Office of the Commanding General of the Armed Forces and former Interior Minister Jawad Bolani were involved in buying the fake detectors. Parliamentarian Jawad Shihili stated that both the inspector general at Interior and the Science Ministry objected to the purchase, but higher officials insisted upon it. Al-Mada received a memo from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office as commander and chief that okayed buying the devices. That was despite a British officer warning the Interior Ministry that the detectors did not work. This new evidence led the integrity committee to form a joint committee with the Interior and Defense Ministries’ inspector generals to investigate the matter. The independent Integrity Commission went on to issue arrest warrants for five directors of companies involved with buying the anti-bomb equipment. A further look into the matter is definitely required as the McCormick trial revealed that at least 15 Iraqi officials received bribes from his company to finalize the deal. So far only General Jihad Jabiri the former head of the explosives department at the Interior Ministry and two others have been jailed over the devices in 2011. That occurred after Minister Bolani was removed from office, because he was protecting Jabiri and the others from prosecution.
The problem with investigating corruption in Iraq is that it can only go so far. Bribes and thievery are so imbedded within the government that it has actually become part of the way of running the country as pilfering from the state is considered part of the payoff of holding office, and a way to reward followers. That severely limits the ability to charge and successfully prosecute people, because the political parties and their leadership will block it just as Minister Bolani did. New documents can be uncovered, people can be named, new information revealed about the fake bomb detectors, and maybe even some company heads might be taken to court, but those that were truly responsible will never be touched. That would open the door to everyone involved in the system being charged, and that simply won’t happen in Iraq right now.
Agence France Presse, “Iraq PM insists some fake bomb detectors work,” 5/20/13
- “Iraq province to ditch fake bomb detectors,” 5/14/13
- “Iraq still using James McCormick’s fake bomb detectors at checkpoints,” 5/3/13
AIN, “Shihaili: Maliki’s assistants, MOI officials involved in corruption,” 5/5/13
Booth, Robert, “Fake bomb detector conman jailed for 10 years,” Guardian, 5/2/13
Al-Mada, “A document proving that Maliki’s office instructed to purchase sonar despite warnings from British inability for detecting explosives,” 5/12/13
- “Iraq’s Integrity Committee pursuing the inventor of explosives detectors and 5 local companies,” 5/14/13
Morris, Steven, Jones, Meirion and Booth, Robert, “The ‘magic’ bomb detector that endangered lives all over the world,” Guardian, 4/23/13
Al Mustaqbal News, “The names of directors of companies involved with explosives detection devices,” 5/14/13