Iraq: Coping With A Culture of Corruption


November 9, 2022: New prime minister Sudani’s anti-corruption campaign was not a surprise to those who remembered the August resignation letter of finance minister Ali Allawi detailing the massive corruption that crippled government efforts to deal with the corruption and made it impossible for him to do his job. Ali Allawi was a well-educated and respected former banker. He was allowed to read aloud his resignation letter at the weekly cabinet meeting and his fellow cabinet members were astounded at such a frank and detailed 30-minute description of the widespread corruption. It was difficult to find Iraqis of Allawi’s stature and competence to serve as cabinet ministers and the Allawi resignation letter made it clear why. Many other honest and capable cabinet ministers simply quietly quit out of frustration over not being able to do their jobs. New prime minister Sudani is rediscovering this as he seeks competent and honest officials for his new cabinet. Many, if not most, of the cabinet appointments are made to satisfy parliamentary coalitions that supported Sudani becoming prime minister. This makes it impossible to eliminate all corrupt or potentially corrupt ministers. The Allawi resignation letter made that clear. For anti-corruption efforts to work there must be support from senior government officials. Corrupt officials and business managers can often evade punishment if they have paid-for friends in high places. Iraq has long been known as the most corrupt Arab state in the region and Allawi explained why,

Prime minister faces a culture of corruption that involves numerous organized groups, especially in the oil industry, that plunder much of the national oil income. Sudani acted quickly and forcefully and ordered an audit of oil revenue and how much of it doesn’t reach government programs to provide basic services like water, sanitation, education and medical care. Many of these programs were crippled because the money appropriated for their operation often did not reach the intended destination. It was relatively easy to find the more blatant efforts to divert funds and the audit continues even as the resistance from the “corruption mafia” increases. In Iraq, finding sources of corruption is one thing, being able to do anything about it is the hard, and often impossible, part.

The new prime minister took office on October 27th. This came after a year of political deadlock, when the Iraqi parliament finally voted to appoint Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as the new prime minister. Sudani began selecting 21 ministers for government departments. Sudani pledged to reduce corruption, reform the economy and improve public services. Corruption and lack of public services were the main reason for years of protests and demands for a new government that would effectively deal with these problems. Sudani is a well-educated Shia who entered politics after Saddam’s Sunni government was deposed in 2003. Sudani led the largest Shia parliamentary coalition after Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al Sadr gave up on his eight-month long effort to form a new government in July and ordered the 73 members of his parliamentary coalition to resign, which they did.

The 2021 national election was a defeat for pro-Iran parties and an unexpected victory for the Sadr coalition, which won 73 of 329 seats in parliament. He had momentum and the best chance of forming a majority coalition and forming a government that would make good on his promise to do something about government corruption. Sadr was unable to get enough ethnic or religious coalitions to join him and form a government. Even then, Sadr would have to achieve a two-thirds vote in parliament to elect a new president. This is seen as a win for Iran and corrupt Iraqi politicians. With the Sadr coalition gone, Sudani was able to get himself elected as prime minister. Sadr and his followers claim that Sudani will be ineffective in dealing with the corruption and continuing influence of Iran in Iraqi politics. It’s up to Sudani to prove Sadr wrong. Mindful of Sadr’s criticism, Sudani began arresting and prosecuting corrupt Iraqis and dealing with the lack of public services, especially in the Shia majority south (Basra province). Sadr’s followers are holding protests against Sudani and that won’t stop until Sudani proves he can do something effective about the corruption and poor government performance. .

Sudani also has to deal with accusations that he will not act against Iranian efforts to operate in Iraq and influence government decisions. Sudani can deal with a lot of those criticisms by effectively reducing corruption and improving government services. That means dealing with the pro-Iran members of parliament who backed him becoming prime minister. Sudani has to move carefully here because as much as he wants Iraq free of Iranian influence, many of his supporters in parliament were more cooperative with Iran. That cooperation includes leaving alone Iraqi oil smugglers who do business with Iran. Iran also wants the small American military contingent in Iraq to leave. Most Iraqis want the Americans to stay in order to keep Iran out.

Violent Deaths Decline

Deaths from terrorism violence continue to decline throughout Iraq, to the dismay of Iran and diehard Saddam supporters who founded and run ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The sharp fall in violent deaths began in 2017. That was when ISIL power in Iraq was broken. Ever since then small groups of ISIL fighters survive in the north and west, mainly by avoiding the security forces and concentrating on raising money via extortion and kidnapping so they can rebuild and recruit. The fundraising has been more successful than the recruiting and ISIL in Iraq is evolving into another organized crime network. Gangsters tend to prefer a lower body count than terrorists. This year, some months see only a few terrorism-related deaths, often the result of police activity where Islamic terrorists would not surrender.

Saudi Cooperation Increases

While Iraq resists Iranian offers for economic and military cooperation, Saudi Arabia is welcomed. The Saudis have the cash to invest in rebuilding war torn Iraq and, along with Iraqis, have to deal with Iranian opposition to any Saudi presence. This conflict gets little media attention because the Saudis have no military forces in Iraq, just investors and Saudi personnel managing the new investments. These are often attacked by Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias. The government is trying to disband these militias but that has proved difficult because of continued Iranian support for these groups.

Israel Strikes Back

A convoy of fifteen Iranian operated fuel trucks was hit by a UAV air strike shortly after crossing the Iraqi border into Syria. At least ten people were killed, all of them Iranian. No one took credit for the attacks and that leaves Israel, which has been using such UAV attacks in Syria against Iranian forces.

November 7, 2022: A pro-Iran Shia militia took credit for the murder of an American foreign aid worker in Baghdad. The militia said this was revenge for the death of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.

November 3, 2022: In the north (Nineveh province) a Turkish UAV near Sinjar used a guided missile to kill at least three PKK men traveling in a vehicle.

November 2, 2022: Police in Basra province arrested members of an oil-theft group that had been stealing up to 19 million gallons (75 million liters) of oil a month by punching holes in oil pipelines and exporting them on tankers. That’s about three percent of total oil production, which generates about $9 billion a month. The stolen oil amounts to as much as $90 million a month although in some months the losses were only $60 million. The corruption investigation is also going after officials working for the banks where the checks were cashed as well as those who founded the fake companies. The government is also looking into other government officials involved in this massive theft. Many of those arrested had funds in their bank accounts frozen. This is the largest known theft of government oil revenues. There have been many other organized thefts of oil revenue and those missing billions are the reason why promised government services never seem to exist. All this means nothing if the accused are not prosecuted and convicted and some of the stolen money recovered. The judicial process is often derailed by the liberal use of bribes or other forms of influence. Previous anti-corruption operations were also found to be sidetracked by bribes. Sudani has a massive task ahead of him to see that his anti-corruption effort actually works.

October 25, 2022: Police arrested five men suspected as being involved in a corruption scheme that involved five fake companies stealing $2.5 billion (3.7 trillion Iraqi dinars) from the government bank accounts. The thieves received 247 checks from government bank accounts between September 2021 and August 2022. Prime minister Sudani ordered the removal of a senior police official believed responsible for blocking investigations of the companies that were stealing the oil revenue.

October 20, 2022: In the Kurdish north, Turkey reported that since April 17, Turkish forces have seized 1,043 weapons from the PKK. This Turkish operation has seriously damaged the PKK in northern Iraq. The weapons recovered include 22 grenade launchers, 50 DShK machine guns (Dushkas), 31 Zagros sniper rifles, 85 PKC machine guns, 519 Kalashnikov rifles, 79 M16 rifles, 73 Dragunov SVD sniper rifles and two SA-18 Igla shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles.

October 11, 2022: In the northeast (autonomous Kurd territory), Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) forces in Kurdistan province have been making attacks on the Iraqi side of the border for the last 17 days. To distract attention from their own responsibility, Iran falsely blames Iraqi and Iranian Kurds for the anti-hijab protests that have taken place since mid-September. Most of the ten million Iranian Kurds live in the northwest, on the Iraqi border with Iraqi Kurdistan. Most of the five million Iraqi Kurds live across the border in autonomous Kurdish Iraq. Iraq has continuing problems with Iranian (IRGC) interference. Most of the Iraqi problems are caused by Iraqis, in particular the many interrelated corrupt Iraqi politicians and businessmen. Such corrupt families are a minority in Iraq but all that stolen cash is used as a defensive weapon and that is what has been happening for the last year. Iran takes advantage of this to obtain economic, military and political goals in Iraq.

October 6, 2022: In the Kurdish north two Turkish soldiers were killed by a PKK roadside bomb.

October 5, 2022: In the north (Nineveh province) security forces raided an underground ISIL hideout in a remote area. Troops killed an ISIL emir (leader) and two of his associates.




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