Iraq's president says country has lost $150 billion since 2003 due to corruption

Barham Salih called for an international anti-corruption coalition to tackle the problem

Iraqi President Barham Salih gestures during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 22, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)
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Iraq has lost $150 billion since 2003 due to embezzlement, President Barham Salih said on Sunday.

He called for the formation of an international anti-corruption coalition to help track and return the funds.

"One-hundred-and-fifty billion dollars has been smuggled out of the country – especially from the oil sector – due to corrupt deals," Mr Salih said during a press conference in Baghdad.

Widespread corruption has crippled Iraq’s efforts to recover from decades of wars and sanctions.

The anti-corruption civil society organisation Transparency International ranks Iraq 20th from bottom globally in its Corruption Perceptions Index.

“Corruption is not less dangerous than terrorism, it is the political economy of violence. State institutions must take a serious, decisive and resolute stand to confront this,” Mr Salih  said.

“It is corruption that pushed thousands of protesters to leave their homes and to demand a homeland that is free of corruption.”

In late 2019, thousands of mostly young Iraqis took to the streets to vent their anger and frustration at the government’s inability to provide basic public services and employment opportunities.

They called for the removal of a ruling elite that they see as corrupt and for an end to foreign interference in the country's affairs.

Mr Salih said Iraq would be able to track and recover stolen funds more easily if an international anti-corruption coalition was created.

A draft law is being submitted to ensure that practical, proactive and deterrent measures will be taken to recover the stolen money, according to the Iraqi president.

The law includes practical measures to deter corruption, as well as methods to recover stolen funds and provide the necessary tools to Iraq's legal system and relevant institutions to combat the problem, he added.

“The bill seeks to recover corruption funds through agreements with states and co-operation with international bodies,” Mr Salih said.