Former Iraqi government official escapes from Baghdad prison

Ex-head of the Sunni Endowment was jailed for four years after being found guilty of corruption

Saad Kambash, former president of the Sunni Endowment, in 2020. Getty
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A former Iraqi government official found guilty of corruption fled from a detention centre in Baghdad on Tuesday night, Interior Ministry officials have said.

Saad Kambash, head of the Sunni Endowment from February 2020 to March 2022, was arrested last month and sentenced to four years in prison on charges of financial and administrative corruption.

He was being held at Karadat Maryam police station on the perimeter of Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, the officials said.

The complex is home to the cabinet, parliament and key government offices, as well as foreign embassies and the homes of senior politicians.

Interior Minister Abdul Amir Al Shammari ordered an investigation and the arrest of all officers and policemen who were in charge, they said.

Security forces were heavily stationed in and around the Green Zone, as well as outside Mr Kambash’s house in Diyala province, in eastern Iraq.

Mr Kambash's sister, an MP, visited him at the police station at sunset during iftar, Maj Gen Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Armed Forces, said in a statement.

A few hours later, "the convict escaped with the help of three people from behind the [police] station and reached two cars that were waiting for him to secure his escape", said Mr Rasool. His whereabouts is still unknown, he added.

No more details on how many officers and policemen were arrested were given.

Corruption has become one of the main features of the political landscape following the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The country was ranked 157 out of 180 on Transparency International's corruption perception index in 2022.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani has described corruption in his country as a “pandemic” and the fight against it as “our biggest battle”.

It has hampered Iraq’s efforts to recover from decades of war and UN economic sanctions imposed during Saddam's regime.

In 2021, former president Barham Salih estimated that Iraq had lost $150 billion to embezzlement since 2003.

The UN Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, has described corruption in the country as “pervasive, structural and systemic”.

Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said any attempt to push through serious reforms would not succeed if corruption was not tackled.

“This is really the cause by now of Iraq’s dysfunctionality,” she said.

Since late last year, two corruption scandals have rocked the nation.

A former minister revealed that 3.7 trillion Iraqi dinars ($2.5 billion) had been embezzled from the tax office in a fraud described as “the heist of the century”.

Senior government officials and businessmen have been arrested but less than 10 per cent of the money has been repatriated.

In the second scandal, the National Security Service exposed a criminal network that siphoned crude oil from pipelines in remote areas of southern Iraq and smuggled it out of the county.

Senior Interior Ministry and intelligence officers were allegedly involved.

Updated: April 19, 2023, 9:21 AM