Iraq government watchdog says nearly 12,000 officials investigated over corruption

Commission of Integrity looked at more than 15,000 alleged incidents involving ministers and other officials last year

Universities students hold the Iraqi flag as they take part in a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Kerbala, Iraq October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deeen     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Nearly 12,000 Iraqi officials — including 54 who had been ministers — were investigated over alleged corruption last year, the country’s Commission of Integrity said on Wednesday.

The anti-corruption body announced that it conducted probes into 11,605 officials over 15,290 alleged incidents.

Conviction rates for corruption by the commission are typically very low despite high number of probes. The commission's report says that despite high numbers of people investigated, only 632 were convicted — including a minister.

Many are investigated in their absence.

“Among the defendants were 54 ministers that are facing 101 charges, in addition to 422 defendants of special ranks and general managers who are facing 712 charges of corruption,” said a report by the Iraqi News Agency.

The non-ministerial ranks refer to special appointments within ministries that are often awarded on the basis of loyalty to political parties.

Iraq has 22 Cabinet positions but some ministers have faced ongoing accusations despite being out of office.

In some cases, ministers who have been convicted were sentenced on charges that date back years.

On February 14, former minister of Construction, Housing, Municipalities, and Public Works Riad Al Gharib was sentenced to two years in prison for alleged misuse of public funds during the first term of former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, in 2007.

“Forty-two judgments against 32 high-ranking people in government including those who are general managers were also made,” the report said.

Of those convicted 224 officials were tried in their absence.

The commission has opened 116 cases against convicted officials abroad, including six former ministers.

The corruption body has also arranged cases to “recover smuggled money especially from ministers and those of high rankings,” said the report.

Although arrest warrants have been issued to ministers and senior officials in the past, many politicians manage to evade justice due to their affiliation with powerful political groups who are able to exert pressure on the judiciary.

Some of Iraq's most powerful politicians have made fighting corruption their aim, but to date successful prosecutions have mostly brought in against low-ranking officials.

Corruption is rife in Iraq and where ministers have been arrested or removed from office. They frequently say accusations against them are politically motivated.

Last May, Iraqi President Barham Salih said nearly $150 billion was smuggled abroad from corrupt deals since 2003.

Since the US-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein, abuse of public funds has become part of the political culture in the war-torn country.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi launched an anti-corruption committee soon after he assumed office, following similar initiatives by former prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi and former prime minister Haider Al Abadi.

Iraqis are facing shortages of electricity and water. Hospitals, schools and critical infrastructure have been neglected for years.

Iraq was placed 160th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index for 2020. The survey is based on interviews with figures in the business community as well as experts and consultants.

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.

Last month, the former head of Baghdad’s investment commission was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption by an Iraqi court.

Shakir Al Zamili, who is being investigated in six other corruption cases, was sentenced late on Sunday.

“The Criminal Court in Karkh sentenced the accused, Shakir Al Zamili, to four years in prison and a fine of 10 million Iraqi dinars ($6,860),” the court said.

The sentence was issued based on the findings of the integrity commission.

Updated: February 16, 2022, 9:13 PM