In Iraq, Corruption Dies Hard

January 14, 2016

When Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi vowed to step up the efforts to stamp out corruption in 2016, some Iraqis thought that the prime minister might be well intentioned, but in reality he has a huge mountain to climb up.

‘2016 is the year of eliminating corruption,’ al-Abadi said on January 9.

Last summer’s public protests forced the political class to make a start towards clipping the ever increasing levels of corruption and inefficiency. However, these efforts were soon strangled by the same parliamentarians who agreed initially to the reform package.

Hence, the criticism that has been levelled at al-Abadi by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who confirmed that the former has done little to eradicate graft.

In previous announcements, the top cleric called on the prime minister to ‘strike with an iron fist’ against corruption.

It is difficult to see how al-Abadi and his government can manage to control, let alone wipe out, corruption in the year 2016. So far, his achievements mount to little more than 5 percent.

Critics say the dramatic drop in oil prices is the driving force behind what has been achieved so far, rather than actual success in the battle against corruption.

In Iraq, every single sector, be it manufacturing, agriculture, services, construction projects, or standard of living, is falling behind. The war with Daesh has aggravated matters.

Some societies witness corruption and mismanagement of state funds occasionally, but in Iraq corruption remains systemic, as evidenced in public contracts, phantom projects, and it is pervasive in all the financial and administrative government ministries. Petty corruption is massively institutionalised.

So far, al-Abadi government barely scratched the surface. The Integrity Commission, the government’s Ombudsman, has failed to bring any present or past ‘big wig’ to account.

The ‘Business Anti-Corruption Portal’ maintains that: ‘the judicial system itself is plagued by corruption and political interference, while Iraq’s public administration is corrupt, weak and inefficient. It is plagued by nepotism and politically motivated appointments, which hamper efficiency and credibility.’

The question that begs itself is how can this level of corruption be terminated in 2016, when it is imbedded in every corner of Iraq’s society?

Reforming Iraq’s institutions: political, legislative, judiciary, administrative, and organisational institutions, is where the focus should be.

For al-Abadi’s mission to succeed it is important that public institutions and resources are kept under scrutiny by having transparency and accountability procedures, and by strengthening the power and involvement of an independent non-sectarian judicial system, with civic societies playing a monitoring role.

Otherwise corruption will remain beyond 2016.

Muhamed Hassan is a writer, journalist and poet. During his career, he has written on the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. He used to edit a few newsletters, both in English and Arabic. He believes in democracy ‘tooth and nail‘. For more see below.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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