Abadi toughens fight against corruption but challenges remain

Sunday 03/12/2017
Popular pressure. An Iraqi protester holds a poster during an anti-corruption rally in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. (AFP)

London- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi upped the ante against corruption with a series of measures and statements in recent days but he will likely face serious challenges in rooting out a problem that has plagued the country for years.

Abadi vowed that Iraq’s next war would be against corruption after the country’s security forces de­feat the Islamic State (ISIS) in the desert of Anbar province. The Iraqi prime minister warned that the fight against the “mafia” of corrup­tion would be more difficult than the war on ISIS.

In a meeting with Iraqi anti-cor­ruption officials, Abadi asked that they “don’t go easy on the dossiers of big corrupt figures.”

“Everyone knows who the cor­rupt figures are. We must stop (the practice of) not holding the big corrupt figures accountable while being satisfied with punishing the small corrupt figures only,” Abadi said.

Iraq’s judiciary handed prison sentences to Iraqi officials con­victed of corruption charges, the Integrity Commission, one of the country’s anti-corruption bodies, announced.

Among those sentenced were former directors of the Media and Communications Authority, a for­mer director-general of the admin­istrative and financial department in the Ministry of Finance, a for­mer president of the administra­tive body of the Army Sports Club, a former director of real estate reg­istration in Karbala province and a customer service officer at the Elaf Islamic Bank.

Abadi called on those accused of corruption — without naming them — to return money they had embezzled if they want to have a chance of being pardoned. The alternative, he warned, would be prison sentences, if they are found guilty in court.

Abadi’s renewed reform drive appears to have drawn wide popu­lar support. Abadi has also won the explicit support of influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is of­ten described as the government’s kingmaker as he enjoys a strong following among Iraq’s electorate.

“I got a promise from Dr al-Ab­adi that fighting corruption will follow the fight against ISIS… I’m sure he will not break his prom­ise and I will back him with all my strength,” Sadr told Al Sharqiya TV.

“(Abadi) must finish what he be­gan in the past four years… Yes, I back him for a second term,” said Sadr. “I believe the coming elec­tions would [help him] complete the reform project that he began.”

Sadr, however, did not underes­timate the challenges ahead.

“We need a long war to fight cor­ruption, not a day or two, we don’t have a magic wand,” he said.

“The problem was the reform project was restricted by not tak­ing Iraq back to square one. I could have brought the govern­ment down in the storming of the Green Zone (by anti-corruption protesters in 2016) but then what? Will Muqtada form a new govern­ment [with the same mix]? We would have achieved nothing. We aim to build a proper state not bring it down.”

Sadr said Iraq needed new faces in parliament and government, vowing not to field candidates from his bloc in general elections on May 15.

“I can’t stand or imagine that the same faces come to power again. This will end Iraq,” he said.

He said he would only support independent technocrats who are not part of the established parties.

“We tried the Islamists and they failed miserably. So let us try an­other way, that of independent technocrats. They could be Islam­ist or secular technocrats, any Iraqi who is a specialist in his ministerial work, in order to be productive,” Sadr said.

Other Iraqi politicians are not as optimistic despite their support for reform.

“There are security institutions headed by murderers and ban­dits… There are anti-corruption bodies headed by thieves,” Izzat al-Shahbandar, a former Iraq par­liament member, told Al Ahad TV.

Shahbandar called on Abadi not to suspend the anti-corruption drive again, as he did in August 2015. He urged the prime minis­ter to start with his own party and supporters.

“Your anti-corruption direction will not work if your political allies are corrupt,” Shahbandar said.

When asked if a big anti-corrup­tion drive might end the entire po­litical system, Shahbandar replied: “Will we be really upset with the fall of those who have been de­stroying Iraq from 2003 till now?”