Kadhimi goes full steam against barons of corruption

The task of executing arrest warrants has been entrusted with to the Counter-Terrorism Service, led by Staff Lieutenant General Abdel Wahhab al-Saadi, who had gained notoriety during the war on ISIS.
Saturday 05/09/2020
Armed members of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service in position during a deployment in Baghdad. (AFP)
Armed members of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service in position during a deployment in Baghdad. (AFP)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has formed a special committee to focus on corruption and investigate its major cases, and gave instructions to grant it exceptional powers, thus preparing for a crackdown on the major corruption bosses in the country.

Looking at the list of the members of this new committee and considering the security authority that will carry out the tasks of hunting down and arresting the guilty parties, one gets the impression that there is real intent to go after names who may turn out to be front-row figures.

To head this committee, Kadhimi chose Lieutenant General and legal expert Ahmed Taha Hashem, who had previously served as a high-ranking intelligence officer within the Ministry of the Interior. To second Hashem, Kadhimi appointed a senior official in the intelligence service, and gave the task of executing the arrest warrants to the Counter-Terrorism Service, led by Staff Lieutenant General Abdel Wahhab al-Saadi, who had gained notoriety during the war on ISIS.

Staff Lieutenant General Abdel Wahab al-Saadi, head of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (ICTS). (AFP)
Staff Lieutenant General Abdel Wahab al-Saadi, head of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (ICTS). (AFP)

The PM reinforced the committee with representatives of other oversight and security agencies, and manned its offices and services with a large number of employees.

The executive order signed by Kadhimi gives the Special Investigative Committee the right to summon any Iraqi to give his testimony, except for those who were actually accused as primary culprits in cases that fall within the jurisdiction of this committee; these are handled by the judiciary.

According to interpretations by law experts, the new committee can summon all former heads of the republic, government and parliament, along with all ministers, officials, employees, politicians, merchants and businessmen, who have not been formally charged with corruption.

The committee can also reopen previous cases that had been suspended and summon and investigate former defendants who were either acquitted, convicted, or still under trial, provided that judicial orders are issued to do so, to prevent interfering investigations.

The news of the formation of this committee, and especially its composition, have sparked an enthusiastic reaction on social media sites, and many bloggers and online activists cheerfully announced that the real war on corruption barons has started.

Lieutenant General Saadi and his US-armed counterterrorism units are considered to be the main opponents of the pro-Iranian militias and politicians close to Tehran. Observers saw in assigning him the mission of going after the suspects an indication of the approaching confrontation.

Political science professor at Baghdad University, Ihsan al-Shammari, believes that “mandating the Counter-Terrorism Service to execute decisions related to corruption cases is an indication of coming armed showdown with the leaders and mafias of corruption.”

Observers place this development in the context of the countries of the region and the world urging Iraq to stand up to the militias loyal to Iran, and put an end to their dominance over the country’s political, security and economic decisions.

Political analyst Ahmed al-Abyadh says that the zero hour seems to have drawn very near in Iraq, pointing to the link between these developments and the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Iraq.

Abyadh added that the French president’s visit can be understood as him playing the role of “mediator to convey the final warning to the militias.”

“The real tough test for Kadhimi’s seriousness about imposing the power and prestige of the state begins now,” he explained.

Kadhimi’s government had on one previous occasion tested its power by going after one of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s in-laws, when it had seized the man’s properties after charges of exploiting state properties illegally were filed against him.

Maliki is among the most prominent targets that the angry Iraqi street demands to pursue, for letting one third of the country’s territory fall in ISIS hands during the last year of his eight years as prime minister, in addition to his responsibility for the theft and squandering of about a thousand billion dollars in public funds between 2006 and 2014.

However, doubts about the chances of success of Kadhimi’s campaign against the lords of corruption still persist, essentially due to the political immunity these individuals enjoy, and to the close ties most of them have with Tehran, which can confuse the situation by ordering its militias in Iraq to take action.

This is why observers remain sceptical regarding the usefulness and efficiency of any legal campaign to bring the lords of corruption to justice as long as doubts linger about the willingness and readiness of the Iraqi armed forces to engage in a direct confrontation with the Iranian-backed militias protecting these criminals. The coming few months will definitely turn out to be a real test of whether this is warranted.