Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a venally corrupt political class that has systematically pillaged public revenues has ruled the country. Plummeting oil revenues and a deteriorating security situation have created further chaos with little hope or expectation that things will improve. With no sign of historically low oil prices rising in the short term, Iraq looks set to run out of money, defaulting on payments to its civil servants and abandoning pledges to build roads, bridges and power stations. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling and major cities like Baghdad have less than 2 hours of electricity supply daily. The gravity of the crisis is such that many Iraqis are now wondering where 13 years of oil income worth hundreds of billions of dollars has gone.
They will not have to search far. Despite repeated warnings, the UN, US and EU backed Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister in Iraq for 8 disastrous years. Maliki is the Godfather of the gangster class of politicians who have robbed Iraq. He was a puppet of the theocratic Iranian regime, doing their bidding by opening a direct route for Iranian troops and equipment heading to Syria to bolster the murderous Assad regime. Maliki’s policy of genocide against his own Iraqi Sunni population aided and abetted by the Iranian mullahs and their sectarian Shi’ia militias, started a civil war in Iraq that opened the door for Daesh/ISIS.
Maliki also became a serial thief, systematically robbing the Iraqi people of their oil wealth. The Iraqi Commission of Integrity told the Parliament in Baghdad last year that Maliki stole a staggering $500 billion during his term in office between 2006 and 2014. This was corruption on an industrial scale and according to Transparency International, Iraq is now considered as the third most corrupt country in the world. And yet the West insisted Maliki should remain as Prime minister, because he was the favoured candidate of the mullahs in Tehran and the UN, US and EU couldn’t contemplate doing anything that might upset the mullahs! Maliki is still a manipulative force in Iraqi political circles using the vast wealth he corruptly accumulated during his eight years in office to finance his own private army and continually to undermine his successor Haider al-Abadi.
The former Vice President of Iraq – Ayad Allawi said last week: “There are organised corruption syndicates running the country, let alone militias. I tell you very frankly, no Iraqi power can take action on this.” Allawi says he recently handed a plan to Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, which would involve inviting forensic auditors to examine Iraq’s books. “I was met by silence and blank stares,” Allawi said. “It was like a bomb went off in the room.” Such is the frustration and contempt of the Iraqi people with their political leaders that there have been massive demonstrations and even assaults on Baghdad’s Green Zone and Party headquarters and offices, forcing al-Abadi to replace many ministers with supposedly non-corrupt technocrats.
Abadi’s attempts to expose government corruption and hold the guilty to account have been encouraged by Iraq’s most revered religious leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose increasingly strident condemnation of dishonest government officials has become a central theme of his Friday sermons. Now Abadi’s Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari has been given the unenviable job of finding a solution to a budget shortfall that threatens to plunge the country into civic unrest. Last week Zebari said: “This year, our situation is far more difficult than in any other year. We have exhausted our domestic borrowing. We need to go through a soul-searching process. We need to lose our dependability on oil.”
Iraq’s public sector is – per capita – one of the biggest in the world, employing around 7 million people out of a population of just over 21 million. It is here that Zebari believes much of the systemic corruption is hidden. “Our biggest issue is ghost soldiers,” he claims. “There is maybe $500-$600m in salaries being paid to soldiers who don’t exist.” It is believed that the salaries of the estimated 30,000 ‘ghost soldiers’ are collected by corrupt military officers. In other cases, soldiers pay officers half their salaries so they don’t have to show up for duty. This scam was held to be partly responsible for the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to Daesh (ISIS) two years ago. There were far fewer Iraqi soldiers protecting the city than declared in the military accounts. But the generals and other senior officers responsible for this scam have yet to be brought to justice. There have also been many scandals involving inflated tenders for weapons and civic projects. Billions of dollars were paid for warplanes that never arrived. Money for roads and power stations simply vanished. Corruption is deep-rooted and endemic.
Edmund Burke – the eighteenth century Irish statesman famously said: “Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.” After 13 years of venal corruption, the concept of liberty has become almost as rare to Iraqis as the concept of peace. Corruption has brought Iraq to its knees and only a major onslaught against the criminal classes will have any chance of restoring order. Haider al-Abadi must start by ordering the arrest of his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki on charges of crimes against humanity, dishonesty and corruption. He should then systematically root out the senior government ministers, military chiefs and religious leaders who have robbed Iraq of its oil wealth and hold them to account. Only then can there be any hope of restoring law and order and stability to the affairs of state.
President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)
(Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014.)
Image from Middle East Eye.