x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Iraq's prime minister vows to fight corruption 

High profile corruption cases include governor of Basra and head of Iraqi Airways

Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi has vowed to fight corruption amid ongoing scandals involving senior officials.

“Those that are corrupt have abused the country’s freedom to serve their own personal interests,” Mr Al Abadi tweeted.

He made his pledge as the country is steeped in a series of high-profile investigations into alleged corruption by Iraqi politicians and businessmen, including the trade minister and the governor of Basra.

“We will fight those who are corrupt and urge the judiciary to support the government in prosecuting them.”

Iraq is ranked 166 out of 176 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Index.

“Corruption is a scourge and we will work to combat it and to defend justice and prevent corruption from creeping in," Mr Abadi said. Despite the billions spent, “there has not been evidence of development… Inequality and injustice leads to the destruction of society."

The prime minister said Iraq was entering a new era by "delivering a devastating blow to terrorism and corruption”.

Acting trade minister Salman Al Jumali was questioned in parliament on Tuesday over corruption allegations, mostly stemming from a deal to import contaminated rice from India in 2016.

The minister, a Sunni Muslim in a government dominated by Shiites, has denied any wrongdoing.

Parliament voted on Thursday to end their questioning of Mr Al Jumali, with 104 out of 202 members saying they were convinced of his innocence.

In another high-profile case, the director general of Iraqi Airways, Samir Kubba, was arrested on Tuesday and referred to trial on charges of bribery and job violations.

Last Thursday, the governor of Basra, Majid Al Nasrawi, fled to Iran hours after he resigned amid a corruption probe.He is facing charges linked to projects to build and improve services in the south-eastern city. Mr Al Nasrawi said he fled because he did not trust the judiciary, and because of attempts to terrorise his employees into testifying against him. He also said he had received threats after his resignation.

Iraq’s integrity commission has requested the foreign ministry in Baghdad to seek Mr Al Nasrawi's repatriation from Iran.

“A large number of corrupt politicians who took ill-gotten money and fled Iraq are now living in western countries,” said Dr Abbas Kadhim, senior foreign policy fellow at the Wilson Centre, a Washington-based think tank. “There must be a faithful effort to track those who stole Iraq’s money and hold them accountable. They're no less harmful than terrorists.”

Endemic corruption in Iraq has further damaged an economy already badly hit by falling oil prices and the war on ISIL.

"Corruption pervades every level of state and society in Iraq," said Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore.

"Whatever the problem and whatever the proposed solution, corruption is an ever-present part of the equation and an evergreen hurdle when it comes to implementation in today's Iraq."

As long as Iraq retained "an economy of corruption with broad and deeply vested interests and complex patron-client networks", the country would remain in "permanent crisis," Mr Haddad added. "The pervasive culture of corruption has been at the heart of many of Iraq's most pressing issues such as security, poor service delivery, economic growth, political reform."