Friday, February 13, 2009

Iraq’s Anti-Corruption Agencies

Iraq’s anti-corruption agencies continue to struggle with their job. The Minister of Planning Ali Baban told the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) that he thought corruption was worse now than under Saddam. He said that corruption was rampant throughout the government, and that Baghdad had failed to stop it. The investigative group Transparency International supports Baban’s claims. They look into corruption in governments across the world. In 2003 they ranked Iraq 113 out of 133 governments on its annual corruption index with one being the best and 133 the worst. By 2008 Iraq was tied as the second most corrupt government in the world out of 180 nations. According to SIGIR’s evaluation, of Iraq’s three anti-corruption agencies only one was doing its job.

Iraq has three offices that are tasked with stopping corruption. Those are the inspector generals, the Board of Supreme Audit, and the Commission on Public Integrity. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) created the inspector generals in 2004. They were fashioned after the investigative bodies that work in the United States government. There is one inspector general for each Iraqi ministry and agency. The Board of Supreme Audit is run by Dr. Abdul Basit, and looks into the government’s finances. It is similar to the American Government Accountability Office. The third agency is the Commission on Public Integrity led by Judge Raheem al-Ogaili. It was created by the CPA as well, and is an independent group that is tasked with investigating corruption throughout the government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared 2008 the year of fighting corruption, but SIGIR found little evidence of that. SIGIR said that the Board of Audit was the only reliable anti-corruption agency, and provided the best information. The inspector generals are caught in the middle of a controversy. Since 2008 six have been fired, but only a few of those have been replaced, leaving those agencies and ministries with no real oversight. The government claims they were not doing their job, but critics claim Prime Minister Maliki removed them for political reasons. Judge Ogaili of the Public Integrity Commission was definitely a political appointee. He took over from Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi who actively pursued corruption cases, but was constantly foiled by ministers, Maliki, and sometimes by the United States. In 2007 Judge Radhi fled Iraq due to threats. His successor was Judge Ogaili. He has been in office for over a year but has never been confirmed by parliament. The judge has said that corruption gives Iraq a bad image. His response has been to keep all the work of the Commission secret. He said his agency would only discuss cases after people have been found guilty. That rarely happens in Iraq. In 2008 only 300 officials were charged with corruption, and out of those 87 were found guilty. All were low-level officers. No high-level officials have ever had to go to court. That’s largely because of Article 136, a hold over from the Saddam period that allows ministers to stop any case from going to trial. This has consistently been used to stop corruption investigations. The Amnesty Law passed in 2008 that was supposed to foster reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis has also been used to stop hundreds of corruption cases. The Commission on Public Integrity said it had to drop half of its investigations as a result of the law. By the end of 2008 the Prime Minister pardoned 1,023 government workers. Those included a group of Interior Ministry officers that were collecting salaries of 50,000 fake policemen, and Defense Ministry officials that skimmed money off of arms sales to Iraq. Maliki’s position is that corruption is all the result of Saddam Hussein, and would like to have the issue quietly disappear.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also criticized Iraq’s fight with graft and fraud. The IMF has an agreement with Iraq to reduce its debt that includes better accounting of its oil profits. In 2008 the IMF said that Baghdad had not moved forward on this, and did not have a plan on how to create greater transparency. In December the organization said that Iraq had not done enough to fight corruption in the petroleum sector as a result.

The U.S. has often said it is committed to fighting corruption in Iraq, and has several programs to do so, but that appears to be more rhetoric than reality. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad has an anti-corruption coordinator, but there have been ten of those since the office was created. On average they have only served six months in Iraq, with the latest one just arriving in the country. That provides no continuity in effort. In May 2008, two State Department officials who worked in Iraq on this task said that the U.S. was never committed to the fight. The Americans have also stopped some investigations because of political concerns. A U.S. official told Reuters in December 2008 that if the U.S. or Baghdad really went after corruption, it could bring down the government because of the high officials that would be implicated.

Corruption has taken a great toll on Iraq. The former head of the Public Integrity Commission said that $13 billion had been lost in the reconstruction effort. The agency found oil workers in Basra stealing up to 500,000 barrels of oil a day in early 2008. No one of standing has been held accountable for these crimes. Instead, Prime Minister Maliki has attempted to silence the investigations fearing the bad image it creates for his country. That hinders development in a country that has mass unemployment and poverty despite its oil wealth, and undermines the public’s belief in the government. This was seen in the recent January 2009 provincial elections where corruption was a major issue. With no leadership from either the United States or Baghdad, this problem will continue to fester.


Adhoob, Salam, “An Inside View of the ‘Second Insurgency’: How Corruption and Waste Are Undermining the U.S. Mission in Iraq,” Senate Democratic Policy Committee Hearing, 9/22/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraq among countries with highest levels of corruption – report,” 9/23/08

Brinkley, Joel, “Iraq quietly tackles rampant corruption,” San Francisco Chronicle, 1/24/09

Flahert, 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

Human Rights Watch, “The Quality of Justice, Failings of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court,” December 2008

O’Hanlon, Michael and Campbell, Jason, “Iraq Index,” Brookings Institution, 11/20/08

Ryan, Missy, “U.S. Says Iraq Fails to Tackle Corrupt High Officials,” Reuters, 12/19/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/08
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/09

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

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