Iraq corruption allegations open Pandora’s box
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.