Iraq corruption allegations open Pandora’s box

Sunday 07/08/2016
Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi touring Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district

BAGHDAD - Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi has accused the par­liament speaker and other law­makers of embezzling money and bargaining with him for commissions from a colossal de­fence contract.
The implication of Speaker Salim al-Jabouri in corruption, squander­ing state funds and using public of­fice for personal gain is a serious development that has rattled Iraq’s feeble political establishment.
The speaker’s name surfaced in numerous previous corruption al­legations but this is the first time that he was singled out for a specific wrongdoing.
Obeidi’s disclosure in parliament could weaken the country’s resolve as it prepares for a momentous bat­tle to liberate the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, from Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists who seized it in January 2014.
The revelations certainly hurt Ja­bouri’s standing as a member of the Islamic Party, a cover he uses to de­flect from his close affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Sceptics voiced concern that the latest corruption revelation would be brushed aside by arguments that Iraq needed a strong united front to withstand domestic challenges.
The Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, along with its parent branch in Egypt, attacked Obeidi in a state­ment made available to The Arab Weekly. “The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Iraq warn the pervert­ed apostate Obeidi that we will not sit idle until his cacophony voice is silenced,” it cautioned.
The group drew comparisons be­tween Obeidi and Egyptian Presi­dent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who, as his country’s Defence minister, toppled Egypt’s elected Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Morsi, as president.
Jabouri and Obeidi are both Sunni Muslims, part of a handful of Sunni politicians not sidelined by Shia-dominated administrations in pow­er since Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled in the US-led invasion in 2003.
Military expert Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the disclosure showed that the Iraqi military “is far distant from the disputes between politi­cians and within political and reli­gious parties”.
“The army has recaptured Rutba, Hit, Falluja and other towns in the Anbar province since May, while lawmakers were busy with their own political disputes, which ham­pered parliament’s duties,” added Khalaf, a retired army major-gen­eral.
He said Obeidi gave Jabouri and other lawmakers a “lesson they will never forget”, pointing out that al­though “we all knew there were corrupt officials, yet the Defence minister was brave to name them”.
Obeidi, a former serviceman who specialised in aviation engineering, on August 1st told the legislature that Jabouri had bargained to spare him questioning if Obeidi gave Ja­bouri and other lawmakers part of a $1.3 trillion contract that involved Iraqi purchases of heavy weaponry, ammunition and vehicles.
Obeidi also said that lawmaker Hanan al-Fatalawi had sent two deputies, Mohammed Karbouli and Alia Nassif, to encourage Obeidi to swindle the state out of millions of dollars. He claimed Fatlawi sent Karbouli and Nassif to tell him that she would withdraw a request in parliament to question the minister if he paid her $2 million.
The questioning was supposedly to find out why the long-awaited battle to recapture Mosul had been on hold.
Shortly after Obeidi spoke out, so­cial media were flooded with com­ments by ordinary Iraqis praising his valour.
Iraqi poet Hameed Qassim urged the government on his Facebook page to launch an investigation into the accused MPs.
Baghdad physician Dr Shatha Jumaa, a retired army officer, said that she, like other Iraqis, was fed up with the corrupt political blocs. She said she hoped Iraqis would see the end of corruption allegations after Obeidi presented his prom­ised documents of proof to the Iraqi Integrity Commission, which has been instructed to continue the in­vestigation.
“Obeidi gave us a glimpse of hope that there are people who care for Iraq and that we’re in good hands and that our country will be saved,” she said.
Hassan Yassiri, head of the Iraqi Integrity Commission, said Obeidi was questioned again on August 4th. He declined to reveal details but insisted that it was a “procedur­al step” aimed at collecting infor­mation on the first specific public case of corruption.