Iraq steps up anti-corruption crackdown by issuing 26 arrest warrants for officials

Critics say the move will not make a difference to an entrenched culture of corruption

Iraq's new Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, center, leaves the parliament building in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Iraq's new president has tasked veteran Shiite politician Abdul-Mahdi with forming a new government nearly five months after national elections were held, state TV reported late Tuesday. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
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Iraq issued arrest warrants for 26 individuals suspected of corruption, including 11 former ministers, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced this week, as his government steps up an anti-fraud crackdown.

The Iraqi Integrity Commission, a government body tasked with fighting corruption, had been directed by the previous administration to investigate allegations of corrupt officials misusing state funds.

The names of the suspected officials and or the specific allegations against them will not be released until the investigation concludes, said the premier.

"I think the officials whose names are not released are either former ministers or those of ministerial rankings," Jaber Al Jaberi, a member of the Iraqi parliament, told The National.

Over 1,500 cases have now been referred to the high court by the commission, Mr Al Jaberi said.

The prime minister said that local authorities have arrested nearly 500 officials since the current crackdown began.

Lack of good governance has been central to Iraq’s problems. Transparency International ranks Iraq 168 out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perception Index.

So far the only high profile arrests though were of former trade minister Abdul Falah Al Sudany and former Baghdad Major Saber Al Issawi, both of whom are now released from custody, Hisham Al Hashimi, a security analyst who advises the Iraqi government, told The National.

Mr Al Sudany resigned in 2009 and fled the country in connection with graft allegations involving Iraq’s food ration program.

He was convicted in absentia on corruption charges but was only taken into custody in January 2018.

In 2017, the parliament questioned acting trade minister Salman Al Jumaili over fraud accusations linked to the ministry that steamed from a deal to import Indian rice in 2016.

No charges were laid, however.

The current announcement lacks substance, Mr Al Hashimi said. “What was announced are only numbers used to intimidate opponents.”

Details of the investigation must be revealed to the Iraqi public so they can build confidence in efforts to fight corruption, Ali Al Bayati, a board member of the Independent High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq told The National.

“The Iraqi people do not want slogans from politicians, they need real practical steps to hold the corrupt to account,” Mr Al Bayati said.

"Corruption is widespread in Iraq and we believe that it weakens the state day by day," Mr Al Bayati said.

“Quick and practical solutions are urgently needed,” he said.

Many of the Iraq’s former officials live outside of the country and would need to be extradited to be officially charged.

The announcement comes after the United States imposed sanctions on two former provincial governors and two militia leaders it accused of human rights abuses and corruption last week.

“We will continue to hold accountable persons associated with serious human rights abuse, including persecution of religious minorities, and corrupt officials who exploit their positions of public trust to line their pockets and hoard power at the expense of their citizens,” Sigal Mandelker, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said.

The sanctions target former governors Nawfal Hammadi Al Sultan and Ahmed Al Jubouri.

Mr Al Sultan and Mr Al Jubouri were designated for being engaged in corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, and other misdeeds, the Treasury said.