Conditional amnesty is needed in Iraq

Friday 11/03/2016
Tracking corruption without offering amnesty is almost impossible

Iraq is reaching a boiling point after 13 years of bloodshed and a cycle of corruption, among the worst seen anywhere in the world, according to most transpar­ency ratings.
Estimates vary but they all indicate that average Iraqis have seen little of the billions of dollars in state budgets since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Public protests seeking to hold to account all sectarian groups run the risk of pushing the country towards anarchy at a time when it is battling the Islamic State (ISIS).
There are two options facing Iraqis. It is either to slide into an endless revenge cycle or to drop all personal animosities and pending criminal investigations in return of recouping as much looted money as possible. Doing the latter would give the country a chance to turn the page on a dark part of its his­tory and start anew on a blank sheet.
The international community has an obligation to help Iraq take the latter option and to track looted money anywhere in the world. The global banking system can do a great deal to find the smuggled funds.
The revenge and punishment op­tion would push corrupt politicians to unite and fight. They would most likely go to the limit in falsify­ing the evidence to justify their positions and influence investiga­tions.
If they find themselves in a cor­ner, some would probably mislead the inquiries, using their resources to reach a dead end or to offer some scapegoats. Some could assas­sinate potential witnesses. And they might even manage to stay in power.
Tracking corruption without offering amnesty is almost impos­sible, considering that the number of people involved is likely to be in the tens or even hundreds of thousands in the country and abroad. Those who embezzled $1 will fiercely defend those who stole billions in their effort to avoid punishment.
On the other hand, a conditional amnesty predicated on the return of looted assets would make the guilty think again about their actions and opt for freedom and come clean. Amnesty would also encourage witnesses to come forward without fear of revenge. Dropping the fear of punishment, would crack corrupt groups, with any number of accomplices coming forward. Threatening with a big stick of punishment would make it difficult to sack a large number of unqualified officials.
Those who want to save the country must realise they have to choose between the two options.
The Iraqis have to choose be­tween giving the country a new start or continuing the endless cy­cle of a revenge, which could lead to even a worse disaster than what has already been experienced.

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