Iraq Faces the Mother of all Corruption Scandals May 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: Iraq, iraq corruption, iraq food rationing, iraq government, Iraq occupation, iraq refugees, iraq scandal, iraq starvation, iraq trade minister, Iraq war, maliki, patrick coburn, roger hollander, sadr city
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Allegations of kickbacks rock key government department as 1,000 officials face arrest and Trade Minister is forced to resign
by Patrick Cockburn
BAGHDAD – Iraq plans to arrest 1,000 officials for corruption after a scandal which has forced the resignation of the Trade Minister and is threatening the food supply of millions of Iraqis.
Corruption at the Trade Ministry is an important issue in Iraq because the ministry is in charge of the food rationing system on which 60 per cent of Iraqis depend. Officials at the ministry, which spends billions of dollars buying rice, sugar, flour and other items, are notorious among Iraqis for importing food that is unfit for human consumption, for which they charge the state the full international price.The scandal first erupted in April when police, entering the Trade Ministry in Baghdad to arrest 10 senior officials accused of corruption and embezzlement, were greeted with gunfire by the ministry’s own guards. The shoot-out allowed several officials, including two brothers of the Trade Minister, Abdul Falah al-Sudany, time to escape out the back gate.
The political crisis over corruption has escalated after a video surfaced showing Trade Ministry officials at a party, apparently drinking alcohol, cavorting with prostitutes, and deriding the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The voice of the man shooting the video, widely viewed and sent from phone to phone in Baghdad, is heard shouting to the dancing girls: “You before Maliki”. Guests at the party who were captured on the video are said to include one of Mr Sudany’s brothers and the ministry’s spokesman.
“We have the video of Trade Ministry officials hosting a party that is unethical and out of control,” said Sabah al-Saadi, the chairman of the Commission for Public Integrity. “This party represents the impact of nepotism on the government and wasting of funds by senior officials’ family members.”
Mr Sudany, who has not been charged and denies all wrongdoing, resigned on Sunday soon after his brother and aide Sabah Mohammed, who had earlier escaped from the police, was arrested with his bodyguards when his car was stopped at Samawa, 140 miles south of Baghdad. Security and police officials said cash, gold and identity cards were found in the car.
Iraq is deemed the third most corrupt country in the world after Burma and Somalia, out of 180 countries, according to the corruption index compiled by Transparency International.
Although it is an important oil producer, many Iraqis are on the edge of starvation; 20-25 per cent of Iraq’s 27 million people live below the poverty line on less than $66 (£41) a month.
Amid claims that Mr Sudany’s relatives had made millions out of kickbacks from sugar purchases, Mr Maliki visited the leaderless Trade Ministry this week saying that his office would take over its functions. A committee is to take charge of Iraq’s large import programme for grain and foodstuffs. “We will not keep silent about corruption after this day and we will chase all the corrupt and bring them before the judiciary,” Mr Maliki said.
The Integrity Commission says it issued 387 arrest warrants in April, including warrants for 51 officials who are department heads. In addition, it has 997 arrest warrants not yet issued and Mr Maliki has told the security forces to arrest all those named.
The committee in charge of food purchases will draw its members from the Prime Minister’s office, the cabinet secretariat, the corruption watchdog and the audit department. “It will buy foodstuffs in a swift and proper manner and sign agreements with the world’s big companies to buy essential foodstuffs without the use of intermediaries,” Mr Maliki said.
Iraqis will be sceptical about the anti-corruption campaign until they see senior officials convicted and punished. It is not only the Trade Ministry which is corrupt but the entire government system. Officials have often purchased their jobs, which they see as a way of making money through bribery or payment for awarding jobs and contracts. The last anti-corruption boss in Iraq was forced to flee the country.
And supply of tainted goods is not confined to the Trade Ministry. Refugees living in Sadr City, the great Shia slum with a population of two million in east Baghdad, were expecting food and clothing from the Ministry of Displacement and Migration but when the shipment arrived, the refugees were enraged to discover that it consisted of scratchy thin grey woollen blankets smelling of mould which were useless in the torrid heat of the Iraqi summer. There were also an assortment of children’s shoes and 25 boxes of canned tuna. Locals suspect that officials had pocketed most of the money intended to help them.
The breakdown of the rationing system, started in 1995 under Saddam Hussein, threatens millions of Iraqis with malnourishment. The rations consist of items sold for a small sum of money at retail outlets on production of a ration card. They include rice (3kg a person), sugar (2kg), flour (9kg), cooking oil (1.25kg), milk for adults (250 grams), tea (200g), beans, children’s milk, soap, detergents and tomato paste.
A survey by the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation found that 18 per cent of people had not received the full food ration for 13 months and 32 per cent had not received it for seven to 12 months. When rations do come, they are often of poor quality and Iraqis say that the tea supplied tastes disgusting.
Iraq’s Shocking Human Toll: About 1 Million Killed, 4.5 Million Displaced, 1-2 Million Widows, 5 Million Orphans February 3, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: roger hollander, Iraq war, Iraq, United Nations, Iraq occupation, bush administration, john tirman, iraqi refugees, iraq body count, iraq refugees, iraq deaths, iraq orphans, iraq widows, iraq displaced
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We are now able to estimate the number of Iraqis who have died in the war instigated by the Bush administration. Looking at the empirical evidence of Bush’s war legacy will put his claims of victory in perspective. Of course, even by his standards — “stability” — the jury is out. Most independent analysts would say it’s too soon to judge the political outcome. Nearly six years after the invasion, the country remains riven by sectarian politics and major unresolved issues, like the status of Kirkuk.
We have a better grasp of the human costs of the war. For example, the United Nations estimates that there are about 4.5 million displaced Iraqis — more than half of them refugees — or about one in every six citizens. Only 5 percent have chosen to return to their homes over the past year, a period of reduced violence from the high levels of 2005-07. The availability of healthcare, clean water, functioning schools, jobs and so forth remains elusive. According to Unicef, many provinces report that less than 40 percent of households have access to clean water. More than 40 percent of children in Basra, and more than 70 percent in Baghdad, cannot attend school.
The mortality caused by the war is also high. Several household surveys were conducted between 2004 and 2007. While there are differences among them, the range suggests a congruence of estimates. But none have been conducted for eighteen months, and the two most reliable surveys were completed in mid-2006. The higher of those found 650,000 “excess deaths” (mortality attributable to war); the other yielded 400,000. The war remained ferocious for twelve to fifteen months after those surveys were finished and then began to subside. Iraq Body Count, a London NGO that uses English-language press reports from Iraq to count civilian deaths, provides a means to update the 2006 estimates. While it is known to be an undercount, because press reports are incomplete and Baghdad-centric, IBC nonetheless provides useful trends, which are striking. Its estimates are nearing 100,000, more than double its June 2006 figure of 45,000. (It does not count nonviolent excess deaths — from health emergencies, for example — or insurgent deaths.) If this is an acceptable marker, a plausible estimate of total deaths can be calculated by doubling the totals of the 2006 household surveys, which used a much more reliable and sophisticated method for estimates that draws on long experience in epidemiology. So we have, at present, between 800,000 and 1.3 million “excess deaths” as we approach the six-year anniversary of this war.
This gruesome figure makes sense when reading of claims by Iraqi officials that there are 1-2 million war widows and 5 million orphans. This constitutes direct empirical evidence of total excess mortality and indirect, though confirming, evidence of the displaced and the bereaved and of general insecurity. The overall figures are stunning: 4.5 million displaced, 1-2 million widows, 5 million orphans, about 1 million dead — in one way or another, affecting nearly one in two Iraqis.
By any sensible measure, it would be difficult to describe this as a victory of any kind. It speaks volumes about the repair work we must do for Iraqis, and it should caution us against the savage wars we are prone to. Now that Bush is gone, perhaps the United States can honestly face the damage we have wrought and the responsibilities we must accept from it.