Corruption in Iraq: 300billion dollars wasted in a cash-strapped state

Iraq continues to be at the forefront of the world’s most corrupt countries, despite many factors that should have drawn him down on this list- including the deteriorating economic situation and worsening fiscal deficits.

According to reports published by Transparency International, Iraq occupies a leading rank in corruption with nearly 300billion dollars wasted funds thanks to successive governments’ efforts that burdened the state with loans to address the endogenous financial problems.

Unofficial estimates suggest that the embezzled and wasted money at border crossing alone amount to around 100 billion dollars since 2003.

It is not surprising that Iraqis are at a loss because concrete steps have not been taken to get the country out of the most corrupt countries’ category. Iraq is crushing under the weight of a huge fiscal deficit and tens of billions of dollars external debts, while the COVİD-19 pandemic has seriously exacerbated the financial shortfall. The deficit is estimated to be more than 40 billion dollars, while external debt is about 23 billion dollars – excluding the 40.9 billion dollars outstanding debt before 2003.

The logical question is why no real efforts have been made to combat corruption and save Iraq from the brink of an abyss despite its enormous oil resources and recent assurances by Sa’id Yassin Moussa – a member of Iraq’s Supreme Council against Corruption – that there are more than 500 billion dollars of unrecovered looted money in Iraq – a sum that could secure funding for Iraq’s budget for the next five years.

According to the Transparency International report, Iraq ranks 160th out of 180 countries, which means that it is among the most corrupt countries globally, led by South Sudan and Somalia. Although Iraq has made progress in its annual ranking, this does not appear to be sufficient because the situation is extremely serious, especially when considering the Coronavirus (COVİD-19) pandemic’s toll on Iraq.

Reports reveal widespread corruption throughout the pandemic response, and states that perform well on the transparency index are investing more in health care, more capable of providing comprehensive coverage, and are less likely to violate democratic norms or the rule of law.

Despite the small gains made by civil society in the past decade towards building stronger and more sustainable anti-corruption laws and enhancing transparency, the COVİD-19 crisis and the resulting emergency measures essentially eliminated these efforts, bringing the region back years.

Political corruption also remains a challenge throughout the region. In Iraq, for example, entrenched corruption in the system deprives people of their basic rights, including access to safe drinking water, health care, electricity, jobs, and adequate infrastructure.

“Transparency International’s success lies in putting corruption on the world’s agenda. More than two-thirds of countries have scored less than 50 on the (0-100) index, with zero being the highest rate of corruption and 100 is the absence of corruption at all. The organization monitors the prevalence of bribery, embezzlement, and nepotism in the countries concerned”, Khalid Al-Naqshbandi, head of Kurdistan’s Transparency International, told Shafaq News agency.

According to the 2020’s report, Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Singapore, Sweden, and Switzerland are at the top of the list of zero-corruption countries. In the sense that if you are looking for transparency, good governance, and the absence of corruption, they are the characteristics of the mentioned countries, while South Sudan and Somalia are at the bottom of the index.

Analysts and experts have already identified many of the reasons behind the widespread corruption in Iraq, including sectarianism, the political system that causes the waste of vital resources, the regulations of “ghost employees” who receive unreported salaries, and party employment in government sectors and ministries – which have more than 7 million employees under the existing quota system, at the expense of the more experienced – and their salaries consume more than half of the state’s budget.

Perhaps one of the biggest manifestations of corruption in Iraq is the border crossings with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Kuwait, as well as air crossings, taxes, customs, and others – which experts estimated to be wasting about ten billion dollars annually, only few million dollars of which enter into state coffers, as a former member of the Parliamentary Finance Committee, Jamal Kocher confirmed to Shafaq News agency.

“There will be a campaign to restore the border crossings where we will be fighting ghosts. There are billions of dollars wasted in the crossings. Sometimes, there are gangs, bandits, and powerful people controlling the border crossings at the expense of the state”, PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said during a meeting with media figures in June 2020.

Al-Kadhimi, like many Iraqis – including supporters of anti-corruption demonstrations – understands that such problems are structural and cultural and that the media has a great challenge to rely on influential figures and statements to clarify the level of corruption and its negative impact and expose it.

There is general skepticism among Iraqis about the seriousness of the Iraqi judiciary and political forces in fighting corruption and holding the thieves of public money accountable. However, Iraq has made some progress in its steps – albeit a small one – which helps this country conduct legal reviews of the legislation and direct the executive institutions. Especially after the popular demands in Baghdad, the south, and Al-Sulaymaniyah, as the latter has exceeded its steps towards reducing the size of corruption, adapting its accounts with the federal authorities, and the organization of its functional and financial records.

“The problem of corruption in Iraq is very complex because the anti-corruption mechanisms do not live up to the many and complex corruption sources, where the parties involved in corruption extend from some parties participating in powerful government positions as well as militias backed by foreign actors”, Hussam Al-Barzanji, director of the Kurdistan Economic Organization (KEDO), told Shafaq News agency.

The anti-corruption forces are – according to Al-Barzanji, “limited in the center as well as in Kurdistan. There is indeed a commitment to international transparency standards in the center regarding sales and contracts. However, corruption lies in the mishandling of revenues represented by the waste of money, money-laundering, and bribery, creating poverty by 38%, unemployment by more than 20%, high crime rates, and poor public services where the provision of electricity to citizens still does not exceed 8 hours in general – despite the waste of billions of dollars—also wasting and not investing domestic gas and buying Iranian gas instead equivalent to 5 billion dollars a year”.

The Brookings Institution published a report warning that Iraq may be suffering from the curse of its wealth through the combination of government corruption and the weakening of its private sector and that this is a recipe for a fall in conflict and economic turmoil.

It is only normal to question now whether Iraq still has a chance to declare a real war on corruption before its elections – nine months from now – possibly taking it out of transparency international’s list of the most corrupt states.

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