Iraq issued 98 arrest warrants for government officials last October, the country’s integrity commission said on Thursday, as corruption continues to blight the country after decades of conflict and instability.
The arrests included current and former ministers, undersecretaries and former deputies, as well as former and current governors and director generals of several ministries, according to a statement from the commission.
Nearly 18 years after the US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and with critical infrastructure still neglected, Iraq continues to suffer from rampant corruption amid shortages of electricity, water, schools and hospitals.
Iraq placed 160th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index for 2020.
The country's integrity commission has arrested many senior officials in the past, but many politicians manage to dodge investigation due to their affiliation with powerful political groups that are able to exert pressure on the judiciary.
Some of Iraq's most powerful politicians have made fighting corruption their aim.
Last May, Iraqi President Barham Salih said nearly $150 billion was smuggled abroad from corrupt deals struck in 2019, and Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi launched an anti-corruption committee soon after he assumed office in the same month.
In a sign that the renewed focus on fighting corruption is beginning to bear fruit, a former deputy minister of electricity in Iraq was sentenced to six years in jail for corruption and mismanagement last week.
Raad Al Haris will also be fined $10 million after the Rusafa Criminal Court in Baghdad delivered the verdict, based on the findings of an investigation.
Al Haris received “financial bribes” and his conviction involved “the assignment of the electricity ministry’s project to affiliated sub-companies,” the court said in a statement.
Iraq hosted — in partnership with the Arab League — a conference to combat corruption and recover money looted by corruption last September. It focused on looted state funds and ways to regain them.
The UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, stressed last year how corruption has taken over Iraq's state institutions and the need to overcome it.
“Corruption remains endemic, and its economic cost untold as it continues to steal desperately needed resources from the everyday Iraqi, eroding investor confidence,” she said, in an address to the UN Security Council.
The UN body has warned various times that poverty in Iraq is increasing daily by more than 10 per cent and that more than three million Iraqis do not have enough food.