Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Iraqi graft breeds terrorism

Corruption and a sect-based system allowing the unfair appropriation of public funds may be leading to another Sunni insurgency in Iraq, writes Salah Nasrawi


Civilians between destroyed buildings in Mosul (photo: Reuters)
Civilians between destroyed buildings in Mosul (photo: Reuters)

In the wake of key successes over the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq, it seemed that the whole world had discovered that corruption was one of the main reasons behind the rise of the brutal terror group and its proclamation of a “caliphate.”

It has always been known that government inefficacy and malpractices by Iraq’s security forces had allowed IS terrorists to make their advances in 2014, including capturing Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul, but more importantly the world has now grasped how that has been feeding terrorism.

Last week, the British newspaper The Independent revealed that Iraqi security forces had killed IS prisoners during the Mosul campaign because they believed that if the militants were sent to prison they would bribe the authorities in Baghdad to release them.

The belief by Iraqi soldiers that their own government is too corrupt to keep captured IS fighters in detention was one reason why the bodies of so many IS suspects had been discovered after the Mosul drive, the paper said.

It quoted a former senior Iraqi official as saying that he could name the exact sum that it would take for an IS member to buy papers enabling him to move freely around Iraq.

Revenge and the hatred provoked by IS atrocities are the motives for extrajudicial killings by death squads, but so is distrust of an Iraqi judicial system that is notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional, the paper added.

The US magazine Foreign Policy and the news agency Associated Press have also carried similar stories about Iraqi soldiers taking justice into their own hands by killing IS suspects because they do not trust the country’s judiciary and security forces.

It has always been known that corruption has been at the root of Iraq’s problems. Together with political turmoil, it has squandered the country’s potential and was a key reason for turning the country into a failed state.

Since 2004, the international NGO Transparency International has listed Iraq among the most corrupt countries in the world out of the nearly 200 surveyed.

Corruption has become deeply entrenched in the bureaucratic and political systems of the country, and few Iraqis believe their political leaders are capable or willing to tackle the endemic problem.

Most of Iraq’s political elites are believed to be involved in one type of corruption or another, manipulating the country’s rich resources in order to create rents they can use to secure control of the government.

Corruption in Iraq in all its forms of bribery, embezzlement, extortion, patronage, cronyism, fraud, legal plunder, nepotism and plutocracy has become systematic and institutionalised in the country.

Corruption has benefited the ruling political groups, their cronies and their allies in business and hurt ordinary Iraqis.

Out of the nearly trillion US dollars Iraq has made in oil sales since 2003, just a small fraction has gone to development or reached the country’s public services. The rest has been lost to local patronage.

Iraqi and international integrity watchdogs have extensively reported on rampant corruption in the Iraqi security forces, which they consider as one of the most corrupt organs of the state apparatus.

Suspicions of corruption have been reported as being behind a rash of jailbreaks in recent years which have allowed extremists to rejoin radical groups including IS.

Reports following the fall of Mosul to IS in June 2014 showed how corruption in the security forces had been partially responsible for the terror group taking over the sprawling city. 

The media revelations about extrajudicial killings supported by evidence provided by human rights groups explain why so many Iraqis are convinced that dangerous IS militants can always bribe their way to a comeback.

International rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said the killings risk tipping Iraq back into the cycles of violence that have plagued the country for over a decade.

The terror group was able to attract recruits in the past because of people’s anger over abuses, including arbitrary detentions, torture and unlawful killings.

But while corruption has been making a direct impact on security and fuelling terrorism, a quota-based system that has empowered the Shia majority has complicated Iraq’s long-running tensions between the two Muslim communities.

This system, institutionalised after the US-led invasion in 2003 and used by Shia political groups to create a communal popular base, has been largely responsible for feeding bitterness by the Sunnis for what they perceive as marginalisation and exclusion.

The trend of the last 15 years has been to empower the Iraqi Shias through a system of cronyism, nepotism, patronage and favouritism that has left the Sunnis underfunded.

One of the measures under attack recently has been a law passed in 2013 which allows the government to give lucrative salaries and other bonuses and privileges to Iraqis who deserted after the failure of the Shia uprising against the regime of former president Saddam Hussein that followed the 1991 Gulf War.

It is estimated that some 30,000 Iraqi Shias sought protection from the US army that took control of many parts of southern Iraq during the War. The US forces moved them into neighbouring Saudi Arabia before most of them were resettled in Western countries.

Under the controversial law, thousands of these Shias and their families receive a monthly salary of thousands of dollars in compensation, supposedly for what they endured during their exile.

 A public campaign on social media has criticised the remuneration as being inflated, especially when compared to the pensions paid to the families of those who fell in the war against IS.

In addition to the monthly payment, any former deserter receives some $65,000 as an advance, free healthcare abroad and free education for his siblings.

Under another law, any Iraqi who had been imprisoned for up to a year under the former Saddam regime can receive a retirement pension that could be up to $2,000 a month.

Reports on social media have suggested that some of those who are believed to have been receiving these salaries are not even Iraqis, the insinuation being that they could be Iranians.

Most of them are living abroad, the reports have claimed.

While many Iraqis criticise these laws as being tailor-made by the Shia ruling parties for profiteering purposes and to bribe their power bases, most Sunnis believe that they are sectarian.

Even Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric, has criticised such discriminatory practices and described them as a means of corruption.

“Citizens from all ethnic, sectarian and religious backgrounds should be dealt with as equals. Efficiency and integrity should be the criteria for public service,” Sistani said through his representative Mahdi Al-Karbalaei during last week’s Friday prayers.

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