In December 2015 Iraq’s former Finance Minister Rafi Issawi was convicted in two separate court cases. Issawi last ran afoul of the law in 2012 when his bodyguards were arrested and Issawi was charged with terrorism. That led to months of protests across a number of provinces that became one of the major stories in the country for 2013. When Issawi was finally found guilty in 2015 however it was not for involvement with violence, but for rather routine corruption.
At the end of 2015 Issawi was found guilty in two separate corruption trials. First, Issawi was given seven years for manipulating money exchanges. A few days later Issawi received an additional one year sentence in a misdemeanor court for appointing relatives to office and issuing illegal degrees, so people could get government jobs. There were originally 20 other charges against him, but those were dropped. One and seven years were relatively light sentences showing that the charges were not that serious. Like other top officials, Issawi was treated with kid gloves by the courts, and was only convicted after he had left office and was out of the country as the government is not serious about tackling graft and other illegalities. This was anti-climatic compared to what Issawi went through in previous years.
The last time Issawi was faced with charges it was for terrorism, and caused a huge controversy that lasted for nearly a year. On December 20, 2012, ten of Issawi’s bodyguards were arrested. A State of Law member claimed that twenty families in Anbar filed suits against them, which led to warrants being issued. (1) On December 29, one of the guards was shown on Al-Iraqiya TV confessing to taking orders from Issawi’s son-in-law to carry out assassinations with aid from former Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. The arrests led to a series of protests in Salahaddin, Anbar, Ninewa, Diyala, Kirkuk, Babil, Baghdad, and even in the south in Maysan, Dhi Qar, and Basra initially. In January, Moqtada al-Sadr sent a delegation to the protests in Ramadi to express support, and his bloc rejected an offer by Prime Minister Maliki to assume Issawi’s position as Finance Minister. Later, these protests took on a sectarian tone as Sunni demonstrations against Maliki’s Shiite government with a few turning very militant such as in Fallujah and Hawija, with the latter taken over by the Naqshibandi insurgent group and the former featuring some Islamic State supporters. When they started however they were about the prime minister targeting another one of his opponents, and cut across sectarian and political lines. They came after Maliki had chased off Vice President Hashemi into exile the year before on similar terrorist charges, and the premier was pushing the Kurds over oil and the disputed territories. Issawi was actually aligned with Maliki beforehand, but then broke with him. Issawi wrote an opinion piece with Iyad Allawi asking for the U.S to intervene to stop Maliki from grabbing more power, and called for a no confidence vote against the premier, which led to the arrest warrants being issued.
Maliki used the same tactics of intimidation against Issawi in the past. In December 2011 one of Hashemi’s bodyguards claimed that the vice president and Issawi ran death squads in Fallujah in 2006. It was later reported that the bodyguard was tortured to acquire the confession. Maliki had accused Issawi of involvement with violence the year before as well. In 2010 General Ray Odierno sent a letter to Maliki telling him that U.S. intelligence had reviewed Issawi’s case and found nothing against him. In 2005-2006 Fallujah was an insurgent center and Issawi ran a hospital there leading to suspicions that he must have either cooperated with or been with the militants. Maliki constantly played upon that background even though the Americans did not believe there was anything to it.
If the Iraqi government was so committed to taking Issawi to court for terrorism charges in 2012 and threatened to do so in 2011, what changed in 2015? The case against Issawi was always a political move by Prime Minister Maliki. Charging his rivals with involvement with violence would not only force them out of office, but discredit them with the public as well. With Maliki no longer premier however, there was no pressure on the courts to follow through with such a case anymore. Instead, Issawi was found guilty of corruption charges that any Iraqi minister could have been charged with. Still, Maliki ultimately won because Issawi’s political career is probably over for the foreseeable future.
1. Al Rafidayn, “Alfalh: 20 families of Anbar filed lawsuits against al-Issawi and protection elements Hashemi,” 12/22/12
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Alsumaria, “Integrity issued a new jail sentence against former Finance Minister and senior officials,” 1/21/16
Associated Press, “Iraq finance minister says staff members kidnapped,” 12/20/12
- “Sunni demonstrators challenge Iraq’s Shiite-led government, denounce bodyguards’ arrest,” 12/23/12
BBC, “Protests engulf west Iraq as Anbar rises against Maliki,” 1/2/13
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- “Integrity Commission: Issawi sentenced to seven years,” 12/1/15
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- “Protesters from Fallujah cut off the international highway and heading to Baghdad,” 12/21/12
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Al Rafidayn, “Alfalh: 20 families of Anbar filed lawsuits against al-Issawi and protection elements Hashemi,” 12/22/12
- “Missions, palaces and murder topple Issawi .. An arrest warrant waiting for him,” 4/6/13
Rayburn, Joel, Iraq After America, Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance, Hoover Institution Press: Stanford, 2014
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