Iraqi reconstruction effort is crippled by industrial-scale corruption

In investigative report by the Washington-based Al-Monitor website, which reports on the politics of the Middle East and North African region, has found that corruption is endemic throughout Iraq’s construction industry, and the effect is undermining the ability of the country to recover from the effects of the American invasion and the civil war that followed it.  

An Iraqi contractor who works on roads and water projects in Baghdad told Al-Monitor: "Government officials as well as senior contractors related to them have stakes in most, if not all, of Iraq’s construction projects, which are sold to contractors at a price that guarantees their implementation with the minimum level of specifications and at the lowest cost." 

Bahaa al-Shammari, a civil engineer who has worked on reconstruction projects, said: "It’s not just about financial corruption, but administrative corruption and circumvention of the law as well." He said government officials formed ghost companies that obtained work from other officials, then sold them on to real contractors at much less than the price budgeted for. The result is that the amount of money that is actually spent on reconstruction can be as little as 20% of the figure given in official statistics.  

The Iraqi author Hussein Husseini told Al-Monitor, "Investment projects are monopolised by a group of parties and influential people in power. They finance themselves through these contracts, while each party covers for the other." He said the first step in a contract was to set the likely cost, then double it to "make room for bribery, embezzlement and manipulation". 

He added that, when the project came to be built, it was carried out with the lowest possible quality of materials so as to allow the contractor carrying out the work to make its own profit. 

Although there is widespread recognition of the effect of corruption on the ability of Iraq to recover from its recent conflicts and regain its territorial sovereignty, there are little practical measures in place to curb it. Ali Alobodi, the director of media relations for the Najaf government, said the parties to the corruption were able to cover for each other, and this led to a doubling in the cost of contracts.  

The issue of bribery and kickbacks extends beyond the Iraqi industry. John Dowd, the former attorney general and Supreme Court justice of New South Wales in Australia, last week resigned as chairman of a construction company Lifese after the federal police charged his fellow directors with bribing Iraqi officials to win a multimillion dollar contract. 

The directors, Mamdouh and Ibrahim Elomar, are facing "foreign bribery" offences over an attempt to win a contract in Iraq worth several hundred million dollars. 

Corruption in the Iraqi armed forces is credited with allowing the takeover of much of northern and central Iraq by Islamic State. In December last year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi dismissed 24 top Interior Ministry officials after it was revealed that the country’s army had been paying salaries to 50,000 non-existent soldiers. 

Abadi called the huge list of imaginary reservist soldiers "the most serious instance of corruption anywhere in the security apparatus," according to Al-Jazeera Arabic. 

Photograph: Work to rebuild a school in Arfwan. The money available to do the work may be as little as 20% the amount budgeted for (Wikimedia Commons)

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