Abadi toughens fight against corruption but challenges remain
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?”