Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Bitter harvest of Iraqi corruption

Twelve years after the US-led invasion, corruption continues to plague Iraq, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad

Al-Ahram Weekly

Is the situation in Iraq survivable? The answer is ambiguous. Every postwar country goes through hardships until stability is restored, but the situation in Iraq cannot be explained this way. Here, war is the stable and ordinary state, while security and reconstruction is the exception.

Destruction is everywhere, especially in the capital Baghdad. Any street shows that 12 years after the US-led invasion, Iraq’s reconstruction has failed and the country has not provided a better life for its citizens.

“Corruption is the reason. The corrupt political blocs are responsible for spreading corruption,” says Mosa Faraj, former acting head of the Iraqi Commission on Integrity, adding, “The Iraqis are responsible for its continuation.”

Faraj, who has written two books on corruption in Iraq, says that the ongoing violence and terrorism has prevented reconstruction and improvements in living standards.

“But the political and financial corruption caused the violence and the terrorism. The conflicts among the political blocs created the corruption. The politicians steal to finance terrorism as a way of twisting each other’s arms,” Faraj says.

“The ministries in charge of protecting citizens and providing services have been at the top of the list for corruption. The Ministry of Defence was the first, followed by the ministries of the interior, oil, commerce and health.”

The Special US Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) was set up by the US Congress in November 2003 to monitor the vast sums of Iraqi and US money spent by the US occupation authorities to rebuild Iraq.

In its final report, released in 2013, the office says that US General Stuart W. Bowen and his staff worked hard, over nine years, to track down what had happened to the $146 billion in Iraqi money and the $60 billion in US funds spent in the country.

“Much of it was airlifted to Iraq in pallets of shrink-wrapped $50 bills,” the report says, but these billions of dollars did not give the Iraqis a better life and they failed to rebuild Iraq.

As soon as the report was released, confirming that “the money had underperformed,” former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki said that “the money was misspent.” According to the report, $25 billion was spent on training and equipping the new Iraqi armed forces.

“During the months preceding the outbreak of the present situation and the IS [Islamic State] occupation of Mosul and other cities, the bitter harvest of corruption became clear,” Faraj says.

“Corruption stands at the forefront of the reasons for the present situation, including through the fake projects and salaries for nonexistent employees which squandered $245 billion, in addition to the loss of $150 billion, representing the revenues from federal budgets in previous years, plus the unknown fate of the $95 billion in cash balances at the Ministry of Finance.”

As a result of falling international oil prices, the 2015 Iraqi national budget of $105 billion now foresees a deficit of $22 billion. Parliamentarian Abdel-Hadi Sa’dawi, of the National Alliance Bloc, was quoted as saying, “The daily cost of the war against IS is about $5 million to $10 million.” He added that “38 per cent of the federal budget is allocated to military expenditure.”

“The biggest challenges facing Iraq over the next decade are providing adequate housing for its citizens and increasing the rate of employment,” official reports say.

In a previous report, the Ministry of Planning estimated the current budget shortfall as ranging from $2 billion to $5 billion. Iraqi investors have begun hundreds of housing projects all over Iraq, in addition to government housing projects, but this sector still needs international investment, which is not likely to flow into Iraq during the ongoing violence.

Unemployment is lower now than it was in the first couple of years after the US-led invasion. According to official figures, whereas the rate was 25 per cent in the years after the invasion, by 2014 it had dropped to 11 per cent. However, many NGOs consider the official rate incorrect and use another, higher, one.

“Corruption is not new in Iraq. According to former regime officials, there was corruption before 2003, but it was not at the level it became after the US-led invasion,” Faraj says.

“The Americans were not angels. There were many corrupt individuals among them, as can be seen by the contracts handed out to the companies of former US vice-president Dick Cheney.”

During the last visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to the United States, press leaks said that US President Barack Obama had given him a list of 22 high-ranking Iraqi officials suspected of having stolen billions of dollars. Al-Abadi was asked to take action against them.

“The names were not unknown,” Faraj says. “The US has been sheltering many corrupt Iraqi ministers. Why don’t the Americans submit their names to the Iraqi authorities?”

“If Al-Abadi discloses the names of the most corrupt politicians and officials, he will face the threat of a withdrawal of confidence.”

Once again, one wonders if the situation is survivable in Iraq.

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