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The Iraq Report: Systemic corruption may threaten reconstruction funds

Date of publication: 15 February, 2018

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This week in Iraq: The US has admitted that Islamic State is far from being defeated while the Iraqi interior ministry claimed that IS leader's health is deteriorating.
The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

Click here to receive The Iraq Report each week in your inbox


As the Iraqi government aims to show the world it is steering the war-torn country towards safer waters and looking to rebuild after years of warfare against Islamic State group militants, there are concerns that systemic corruption may see very little cash of that pledged by international donors reach those worst affected. Further, the continuing fighting may make investors and donors wary about investing in a country that has not yet dealt with its problems of internecine strife. 

Despite announcing its military drawdown in Iraq following Baghdad’s declaration of victory against IS, the United States has maintained its role as the most powerful military actor in the country. Washington has used this standing to further the interests not only of the Iraqi government, but also regional power Iran.

Considering American punitive actions against Tehran, the continuing convergence of US and Iranian interests show that there is more to the politically charged rhetoric coming out of Washington than the Trump administration would like to acknowledge.

Kuwait holds Iraqi reconstruction conference

Kuwait hosted a four-day reconstruction conference on Monday, attempting to assist its larger, unstable Iraqi neighbour raise almost $90 billion in redevelopment funds.

Iraqi Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili said that his country was attempting to rebuild after years of devastating warfare against IS, and was seeking international investment.

The conference was hosted by Kuwait, but jointly organised with Iraq, and sponsored by the United Nations, European Union, and the World Bank. More than 1,500 private companies, organisations and international governmental institutions were in attendance, with Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia already pledging just under $10 billion between them.

Iraq is still reeling from more than a decade of corruption, mismanagement, and a ruinous three-year war against IS which has led to millions of Iraqis displaced, and cities reduced to rubble during the government campaign to reclaim these largely Sunni Arab cities.

The Iraqi authorities claim that $22 billion is needed urgently, while the rest of the enormous sum it is attempting to drum up is needed for medium-term projects.

Iraq is still reeling from more than a decade of corruption, mismanagement, and a ruinous three-year war against IS which has led to millions of Iraqis displaced, and cities reduced to rubble

However, it was only last month that The New Arab reported Iraqi Shia Islamist parliamentarians attempting to derail any significant funds from reaching cities and communities most affected by the war against IS. According to these deputies representing the ruling coalition government, Shia-dominated areas should be entitled to the same amount of money as the now-ruined Sunni-dominated regions because Shia men died recapturing these areas from IS.

Not only was this highly sectarian charged rhetoric, but it placed doubt on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s promises of unity. Shia districts were left largely intact, and evidence from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights groups and media sources indicates that government forces and allied pro-Iran Shia Islamist militants participated in the wanton destruction of Sunni cities without any clear military objective – actions which may yet constitute war crimes.

Further, Iraq has been riddled with corruption since the US-led invasion in 2003 installed the new government. Funds have gone missing from public coffers for a decade-and-a-half with many politicians becoming overnight millionaires in a country widely perceived as being one of the most corrupt in the world

There are, however, signs that there may be some more positive changes afoot in order to tackle corruption in Iraq. Abdel Falah al-Sudani, a former trade minister, was recently sentenced to 21 years in prison after being found guilty of corruption weeks after Interpol handed him over to Iraqi authorities.

However, there are concerns that Iraqi authorities have targeted Sudani for political reasons, as they have left entire ministries under the control of allegedly corrupt officials without launching any investigations. Further, Iraq has an amnesty law that allows any official to escape jail time by paying back whatever they embezzled, which could see repeat offenders simply learning how to better cover their tracks next time.

Considering the ongoing violence in the country as well as rife corruption, the destination of the $90 billion that Kuwait and Iraq want to raise for redevelopment is uncertain, as Iraq has an unfortunate history of haemorrhaging public funds.

Iraq has an amnesty law that allows any official to escape jail time by paying back whatever they embezzled, which could see repeat offenders simply learning how to better cover their tracks next time

IS ‘caliph’ allegedly suffering from poor health

The New Arab reported on Monday that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may be witnessing his “darkest days” and facing rapidly declining health, according to suggestions made by Iraqi officials. The officials believe that Baghdadi may even be living his final hours.

The US government alleged that it badly wounded the self-proclaimed “caliph” in an airstrike near Raqqa, Syria, in May, forcing Baghdadi to relinquish control of the group due to the grievous nature of his injuries.

“US intelligence agencies have assessed with a high degree of confidence that the world’s most wanted man [Baghdadi] was near Raqqa, Syria, in May when the missile struck,” a CNN report claimed, quoting a US official. 

On Monday, a senior intelligence official in the Iraqi interior ministry claimed that Baghdadi was living in the desert area between Iraq and Syria, and that he had sustained “fractures and serious wounds”.

The official added the Iraqi government believed that the IS leader may be suffering from depression, and had been admitted to hospital to treat his “deteriorating psychological state”.

It is wise to be wary of reports of the demise of Baghdadi, however, as this is not the first time that it has been claimed that he was severely injured or even killed.

Apart from the alleged US airstrike in Raqqa, the Russian government also claimed that it had killed Baghdadi in May last year after two of its bombers attacked a war council meeting that the IS leader was apparently attending. This claim has not been given much credence by experts.

Further, the reports regarding Baghdadi’s deteriorating physical and mental health originate from the Iraqi interior ministry, which is controlled by the Iran-backed Badr Organisation. Badr – a virulently sectarian Shia Islamist group – may be seen as an unreliable source due to their own chequered history.

Because it is impossible to corroborate and confirm these reports, they have the propensity to be discounted as propagandist in nature. 

It is wise to be wary of reports of the demise of Baghdadi, however, as this is not the first time that it has been claimed that he was severely injured or even killed

US helps Baghdad clear oil route to Iran

Whatever the state of the IS leader’s health, the United States has confirmed that the militant group is far from being defeated, and more must be done to ensure their enduring collapse. 

Speaking at the Iraqi redevelopment conference in Kuwait City on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged regional partners – including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar – to set aside their differences and to focus on defeating IS. 

“The end of major combat operations does not mean that we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Tillerson said, using another acronym for the Islamic State group.

“Without continued attention and support from coalition members, we risk the return of extremist groups like ISIS… and their spread to new locations.”

As a demonstration of their ongoing efforts to defeat IS, the United States has continued to assist the Iraqi Security Forces and pro-Iran militant organisations, despite previously indicating that they were drawing down their military commitment. This direct military support includes providing intensive air cover for an operation that began last week to clear IS militants from near Tuz Khurmato, in north-east Iraq.

Interestingly, the US military is also working alongside Baghdad, allied Shia militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga to clear an oil trucking path between the disputed northern city of Kirkuk and Iran. This would assist in the fulfilment of a deal between Baghdad and Tehran that would see some 60,000 barrels of oil exported daily to Iran’s Kermanshah province, according to Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaibi.

While US President Donald Trump has gone to great lengths to appear to be tough on Iran, in Iraq it is clear that he is continuing the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama, by providing support to Tehran’s proxies and by aiding and facilitating its lucrative deals with Iraq. Such actions show that the United States views Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs as a given, and as something Washington must work with.

However, it further raises questions and doubts regarding true Iraqi sovereignty and independence - promised to the Iraqi people in the aftermath of the invasion in 2003. Unfortunately for Iraqis, such promises remain unfulfilled.

 

The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

Click here to receive The Iraq Report each week in your inbox
 

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab

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