Thursday, December 10, 2009

Iraq Lacks Will To Confront Corruption

Iraq continues to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In its recent report, Transparency International ranked Iraq the fourth most corrupt nation out of 180, tied with Sudan. While Iraq’s anti-corruption agencies continue their work at the national and provincial level, the real problem is the lack of will and commitment by the country’s leaders to the fight.

From January 1 to August 3, 2009 there were 80 successful convictions for corruption. The problem is that there are 445 other cases waiting to be adjudicated from just this year according to Iraq’s High Judicial Council. Of those found guilty, 45 were in Baghdad, 14 in Ninewa, 6 in Tamim and Babil each, 4 in Wasit, 2 in Muthanna, and 1 each in Karbala, Najaf, and Dhi Qar. In fourteen cases, the value of the crimes together was worth $136,000. The Ministry of Defense was implicated the most with 12 cases, followed by 9 from the Finance Ministry, 7 from Interior, 1 from Oil, 1 from Labor, 1 from Electricity, 1 from Transportation, 1 from Justice, and 1 from Displacement and Migration. A 2008 report by the Integrity Commission, one of three anti-corruption agencies in Iraq, found that the Defense Ministry was one of the most corrupt in the government. In 2008 there were $1.3 billion worth of cases pardoned, most from the Ministry of Defense. The Ministry also accounted for the third most convictions overall in the country last year. A major problem was that 42% of those found guilty in 2009 were absent for their sentencing, probably meaning they had fled.

This year has also seen some of the highest profile cases since the 2003 U.S. invasion. In May the Trade Minister was arrested for corruption charges surrounding the food ration system, which he is in charge of. In September the Deputy Transportation Minister was detained for attempting to obtain a $500,000 bribe from a private security company. The newly elected provincial councils have also indicted a number of people at the local level. In Karbala for example, four officials were arrested for embezzlement. Just recently in November, 13 members of the Baghdad mayor’s office were found stealing $20 million by forging checks for ghost employees.

Despite these successes, the anti-corruption agencies face an uphill battle in Iraq. The greatest impediment is the country’s leadership. Publicly, Iraq’s government says it is committed to dealing with corruption. In June 2009 Baghdad announced it would address bribery in public agencies. The next month the Kurdistan Regional Government said it was creating a program to promote good government and transparency. Then in October Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave a speech warning that political corruption was more dangerous than financial improprieties because it undermine the government. Yet Iraq’s ministries consistently stand in the way of investigations. Article 136B allows any minister to stop an inquiry into corruption. In 2008 210 cases were stopped using 136B, including two involving ministers and one case worth $6 million. Many high government officials also refuse to follow rules and regulations. For instance, only 92 of 275 members of parliament had made their financial declarations this year. Others have also tried to defer blame. Maliki for example, recently answered questions from reporters online, and while he said that corruption was more widespread now than under Saddam, he blamed Al Qaeda and Baathists for spreading fake stories about the government that influenced organizations like Transparency International.

With little to no accountability at the top, lower level corruption is allowed to flourish. In Diyala for example, the two former deputy governors fled after they heard they were going to be prosecuted. A U.S. officer in charge of reconstruction projects there said that he had found several fake projects, or contractors not doing their work because they were paid upfront. Iraqi officials in Diyala also said they suspected the police were extorting money from prisoners.

It’s no wonder than that few Iraqis have any confidence in their public officials taking care of this very serious problem. That is the most costly affect of corruption. It undermines the standing of the authorities, which is especially important in Iraq that is struggling after years of dictatorship to establish a new government. A country is only as democratic as its people want it to be. If they become apathetic or disheartened, then the government assumes more and more power, and becomes more corrupt. This is the situation that Iraq now faces.


Dawlat Al-Qanon, “Al-Maliki Answers Reporters’ Questions Online,” MEMRI Blog, 12/8/09

Inside Iraq, “$1.3 billion is pardoned in Iraq and more,” McClatchy Newspapers, 9/13/09

Al Rafidayn, “Gang steals millions of dollars in Iraq, regardless of names and fake checks,” 11/23/09

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Deputies Chided For Not Making Financial Declarations,” 10/8/09
- “Iraqi Premier Warns Of Dangers Of Political Corruption,” 10/16/09

Al-Shara, Hazim and Mohamed, Abeer, “Iraqis Critical of Anti-Corruption Efforts,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/24/09

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

Tom, Peter, “Graft the next great hurdle to a ‘new’ Iraq,” Global Post, 10/16/09

Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2009,” 11/17/09


Anonymous said...

Your post reminds me of my thoughts when I heard of a new requirement by the Government of Iraq to "license" private security vehicles in the country, many of which were brought in without import documentation. Potentially, there are hundreds, even thousands, of vehicles associated with US funded programs that will need to be registered. Apparently, the registration process is opaque and potential cost (possibly $6,000 per vehicle) is high. One Iraqi law firm is said to be the "sole source" facilitator of the licensing process with the GOI. Unregistered private security vehicles evidently will be subject to seizure by GOI if not registered. Opportunity cost of having to divert economic and social development resources to cover the "vehicle registration" requirement would be high.

Joel Wing said...

I think there are plenty of similar examples. The government is so slow and inneficient that it promotes corruption. All kinds of people pay bribes to get everything from a quick trip through a checkpoint to a government job or license.

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