Ferry disaster shines spotlight on corruption in Iraq

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BAGHDAD, March 30, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – A governor on the run, officials
summoned to court and candidates accused of bribing councillors: the Mosul
ferry disaster has brought renewed attention to the scourge of corruption in
Iraq.

Nationwide horror over the March 21 capsizing of the overloaded riverboat
in the northern city of Mosul, which claimed 100 lives, mostly of women and
children, has given way to a clamour for provincial officials to be put on
trial.

Graft is endemic across Iraq, not only in the city the Islamic State group
controlled for three years before their expulsion in July 2017.

The country ranks among the world’s worst offenders in Transparency
International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

Since 2004, a year after the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, a
total of $218 billion has vanished into the pockets of shady politicians and
businessmen, according to parliament.

That is more than Iraq’s GDP.

Few officials have been brought to account, and amnesties have allowed many
to evade justice, only partially repaying the stolen funds.

For the past week, the cry of “corruption is killing us” has been ringing
across Mosul.

A parliamentary report compiled by 43 deputies has warned that corruption
risks re-igniting sectarian tensions long exploited by jihadists.

It could also impede the rebuilding of Mosul, much of which was reduced to
rubble during the year-long battle to evict IS.

The report, seen by AFP, shows economic groups linked to units from the
Hashed al-Shaabi, the Shiite paramilitary alliance which played a key role in
defeating IS in mainly Sunni Mosul, taking over projects and lands.

– ‘Profiteering’ –

Figures close to Hashed are also accused of war profiteering.

Instead of reconstruction, such entrepreneurs have made millions of dollars
from the resale of metallic structures and building materials from damaged
apartment blocks, a local official says in the report.

He said such sales were being conducted by “armed groups and their frontmen
through letters of authorisation from the government”.

At the same time, according to the report, Nawfel al-Akoub, the governor
who has been fired and gone on the run, authorised the construction of two
roads in violation of municipal regulations, for the benefit of oil
smugglers.

The ferry’s capsize in the swollen River Tigris, after operators ignored
warnings of dangerous weather, proved a tipping point.

But Abdel Rahman al-Louizi, an MP who took part in the parliamentary
inquiry, said the sacking of the provincial governor had already been
expected.

“The governor’s dismissal came after the ferry shock but it’s based on
evidence collected well before that,” he said.

According to former defence minister Khaled al-Obeidi, on contender to
succeed Mosul’s disgraced governor is offering $200,000 each to provincial
councillors to ensure his election.

Disenchanted Iraqis on social media expressed doubt the ferry drama will
force authorities to tackle the issue of graft.

“The ferry’s sinking revealed dozens of cases of corruption in Mosul,” one
Iraqi activist wrote on Twitter.

“How many more victims… will it take to uncover all the other corruption
files in Iraq’s other provinces?”