Iraqi official leading post-ISIS reconstruction dismissed over corruption claims

Mohammed Al Ani’s termination is the highest profile sacking since PM Al Sudani took office in October

An aerial view shows destroyed buildings in the war-ravaged old part of Iraq's northern city of Mosul. AFP
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A senior Iraqi official in charge of postwar reconstruction has been relieved of his duties on suspicion of corruption.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani dismissed Mohammed Al Ani, the head of the state-run fund in charge of rebuilding areas damaged by the war with ISIS on Sunday, a government spokesman said.

Mr Al Ani’s termination following suspected corruption is the first for a senior government official since Mr Al Sudani took office in late October.

In 2015, Iraq established the Reconstruction Fund for Areas Affected by Terroristic Operations to carry out and supervise efforts to rebuild areas damaged by the militant attacks.

Its establishment came amid a gruelling war between Iraqi security forces and ISIS militants, who had occupied nearly one-third of the country a year earlier.

Backed by a US-led coalition, Iraq announced victory over ISIS in late 2017 after three years of fighting that left many occupied cities in ruins.

The war with ISIS left large areas of the north and west in ruins. Millions of Iraqis remain without access to clean water, adequate electricity supply and proper health care.

In early 2018, Iraq appealed for around $88 billion for reconstruction at an international donor summit in Kuwait.

Around $30 billion was pledged in loans and investments following the appeal, although many pledges have not materialised.

But after suffering a severe economic crunch during the Covid-19 period, Iraq has seen record oil revenue since early 2022, at one point reaching $10 billion per month.

Government spokesman Basim Al Awadi said investigation and audit committees were formed “as part of the government measures to scrutinise suspicion of corruption and mismanagement in the use of money allocations (intended) to offer service to citizens”.

He said Mr Al Ani's termination was among recommendations approved by the Prime Minister.

“The government has prepared a detailed programme to introduce management reforms in the fund and to relieve the underperforming employees who wasted the public fund,” he added.

Mr Al Ani, who served as trade minister from 2018 to 2020, will be replaced by Saad Faisal Al Jabouri, the former general director of the state-run Al Mishraq Sulphur Company, he added.

No further details were given.

More than five years after being retaken, construction in the major cities once under ISIS control is continuing, albeit slowly.

Mosul corruption scandal

In addition to REFAATO, the government, UN and NGOs are also spending money for reconstruction efforts which have been mired in corruption allegations.

In 2020, the former governor of Nineveh province, the heavily damaged province in the country's north, was arrested over corruption charges and the embezzlement of millions of dollars.

Nawfal Akoub was accused of taking nearly $64 million in public funds along with officials close to him as well as bribery, profiteering, misuse of power, waste of public money and negligence.

The money he allegedly stole was meant to go towards the reconstruction of Mosul, including the rebuilding of two hospitals and support for those who lost their homes in the war against ISIS.

REFAATO, which was assigned to carry out mid and long-term reconstruction operations for areas liberated from ISIS, started its work in 2015 with a primary amount of 500 billion Iraqi dinars (around $500 million at the time) from the government.

It was later given grants from foreign governments, international bodies and non-governmental organisations as well as from the federal budget.

Iraq endured decades of war, UN-imposed economic sanctions, and political and security instability following the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Iraq was ranked 157 out of 180 in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index in 2022.

Updated: June 25, 2023, 3:31 PM