Popular drive in Iraq to criminalise politicians’ lies, false promises

False promises have become so rampant that citizens are refusing to accept them and have taken to the streets to denounce them.
Sunday 02/09/2018
Fed up. Iraqis shout slogans during ongoing protests in the southern city of Basra, on August 24. 									    (AFP)
Fed up. Iraqis shout slogans during ongoing protests in the southern city of Basra, on August 24. (AFP)

One of the many bewildering oddities in Iraq is the incredible number of false promises made by politicians and senior officials. It is so out of proportion that there are demands for a law that would criminalise lying by officials and enable citizens to sue officials accused of lying and seek compensation for physical and moral damages.

As a serious manifestation of corruption in Iraq, false promises have become so rampant that citizens are refusing to accept them and have taken to the streets to denounce them.

Iraqi social scientists, psychologists and legal experts said they expected a wave of demonstrations to erupt when the new cabinet is announced, considering that it will likely include the usual faces, whose inventory of unfulfilled promises is endless and who have often been accused of corruption and incompetence in running the country’s affairs.

Abdul Kadhum Alaboudi, secretary-general of the Iraqi National Front, an opposition party, admitted that politicians lie and make false promises. Afif al-Douri, a professor at Zarqa University in Jordan, concurred: “It is very common for an official or a member of parliament or a candidate to take the podium and deliver a first-rate nationalistic revolutionary speech replete with allurement, flattery and promises.

“Some of these promises would not even fall under the prerogatives of what a given politician can or cannot do or even the prerogatives of the forces backing him up, therefore, the total public indifference to the promises made by Iraqi politicians,” he said.

Douri said Iraqis have had it with politicians lying to them. Bereft of options, the only means of action to secure their rights are protests and strikes, which could escalate into a civil disobedience movement if crises remain unresolved.

Poet-psychiatrist Rikan Ibrahim expressed the belief that “the more a person climbs up the hierarchical ladder, the more he needs to lie.” He said society should strip liars of any responsibility.

Mouna Ainji, a former professor of sociology at the University of Mustansiriyah, said the most horrendous lie she heard from a politician was from the minister of health who claimed there had been no more than 1,500 cases of severe diarrhoea in Basra even though residents were dying because of water contamination.

Writer Raeed Alhashmy said he would support a law allowing citizens to sue lying officials.

However, political activist Souad Al-Azzawi said corrupt politicians are subject to influence from more nefarious powers and do not have the leeway to execute political programmes serving the interests of Iraqi citizens. They are mere puppets and must execute the wishes of those who introduced them to the political scene and financed their sectarian parties. That is why most of them are loyal to Iran, he said.

Azzawi added that the insatiable greed of corrupt individuals pushes them to fight each other to ensure their stay in power so they can pilfer public funds and persecute Iraqi patriots, scientists, professionals and all those who demand their departure and the elimination of US and Iranian influence from Iraq.

Azzawi recalled the lie perpetrated by Hussain al-Shahristani, a minister in Nuri al-Maliki’s cabinet, who proudly announced that Iraq would export electricity by the beginning of 2013. Five years later Iraq is worse off in terms of electricity; it is an electricity importer.

Azzawi also said promises by politicians regarding the enactment of constitutional freedoms for Iraqi citizens resulted in nothing being done. Iraqi jails are overflowing with citizens falsely imprisoned and there have been assassinations of individuals who dared to criticise the government or denounce the dictatorship of sectarian militias of various pro-Iranian parties that go unpunished.

Former professor of philosophy at the University of Baghdad Abdessatar al-Raoui said corrupt politicians lack the simplest skills for running public affairs so they focus their efforts on remaining in power by making gilded promises. He said a politician who has been parachuted onto the political scene by outside forces can do nothing but lie. That is his role and the role of his makeshift party.

Opinions about the criminal character of political lies differ. Former appellate Judge Awni Bazzaz said that politicians’ lies and false promises do not constitute crimes in the eyes of the law. He argued the acts can be considered “white lies” meant to calm tense situations.

Legal expert Amer Ali al-Delimi disagreed, saying political lies come under Paragraphs 243 and 245 of the 2009 amended Penal Law Number 15, which authorises sentencing lying officials to ten years in prison or to the same term as the crime being reported. In other words, each lie deserves a sentence according to the context of the crime in which that person or official had lied.