Iraqi PM Mustafa Al Kadhimi launches battle against corruption at borders

Prime minister announces a multi-step plan to stop loss of millions of dollars in import duties

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, center, speaks to the journalists as he stands with Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, the counterterrorism forces commander, left, at thw Iraq-Iran border crossing of Mandali in northern province of Diyala, Iraq, Saturday, July, 11, 2020. Al-Kadhimi launched a campaign in the northern province of Diyala to enforce the proper payment of taxes on imported goods and recover "hundreds of millions of dollars" in revenues lost to bribery and other illicit practices. Security forces from the Interior Ministry would supervise the work of border guards in the first step of the campaign in the Mandili border crossing, he told reporters. (Thaier al-Sudani/Pool Photo via AP)
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi travelled to the border with Iran on Saturday to launch a campaign against corruption in the Customs service, opening a new front in his battle to restore rule of law in the country after taking office in May.

Mr Al Kadhimi said Iraq's frontier had become "a hotbed for corrupt people", with hundreds of millions of dollars being lost by not properly taxing imported goods.

"This is the beginning of our promise to combat corruption. The first phase is to protect border crossings with new security forces," Mr Al Kadhimi said at the Mandali border crossing in Diyala province.

"The second is to fight 'ghosts' trying to blackmail Iraqis, and the third is to automate the crossing with new technology," he said.

Iraq imports almost all of its consumer goods from either its eastern neighbour Iran or its northern neighbour Turkey. But Customs officials are accused of charging little or no duty on imports in exchange for bribes.

Finance Minister Ali Allawi last month listed import duties as one of the ways the government would seek to increase non-oil revenues to make up for the state's loss of income from falling oil prices.

"The ports should give us revenues of seven trillion Iraqi dinar [Dh21.6 billion] a year. We only get one trillion right now," he said.

"To close that gap, we'll need a string of reforms to the Customs administration," he said.

The Mandali crossing is currently controlled by a mix of intelligence forces and the Popular Mobilisation Forces – a state-recognised grouping of paramilitary forces, many of which are aligned with Iran, which were formed to help fight ISIS.

The PMF are taking part in the recently launched Heroes of Iraq operation to flush out remnants of the extremist group from Salaheddin, Diyala, Samarra and Kirkuk provinces. Mr Al Kadhimi announced the start of the fourth phase of the operation during his visit to Diyala on Saturday.