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Carnegie Endowment: Iraq's Quest for Democracy amid Massive Corruption

Author: Abbas Kadhim
March 3, 2010


Abbas Kadhim outlines the sources of local and systemic corruption in Iraq and its effects on the nation's prospects for democracy and the rule of law.

Among the many challenges to establishing democracy and the rule of law, promoting economic and human development, and abolishing terrorist safe havens in Iraq, corruption ranks among the highest.  According to Transparency International, Iraq ranked as the third worst country in the world for corruption in 2006, 2007, and 2008-and the fourth worst in 2009.  The World Bank also placed Iraq at the bottom of the list.

Political corruption and abuse of power stem from several structural deficiencies.  To secure the passage of Iraq's constitution and bring the opposition to the table, U.S. mediators encouraged Iraqis to commit two blunders.  First, Iraqis agreed to pass a number of substantial changes to the constitution within a short period after its ratification, undermining the authority of the constitution and making it essentially a provisional document.  Second, Iraqis abandoned the constitution following the very first election in favor of forming a "national unity government," a euphemism for a quota system of power-sharing to appease the Sunni Arabs who opposed the political process. Accordingly, government ministries were farmed out to various parties without any significant oversight over the way the ministers conducted their daily business. Third, it is extremely difficult to prosecute Iraqi officials for corruption due to a provision of law that effectively gives ministries a veto over investigations.

The result has been abysmal performance in every ministry.  Generally, corrupt ministers were protected by their respective parties in the parliament and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki looked the other way.  Even when ministers' corruption was too significant to ignore, there were no prosecutions.  After astounding revelations about the corruption of former Minister of Trade Abd al-Falah al-Sudani, al-Maliki still opted to protect al-Sudani (a member of Maliki's party), who was briefly arrested, but eventually released and allowed to leave Iraq for London.

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