How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq
Iraq ranks in the bottom 20 countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. (AFP/File)
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Updated 18 June 2021

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq

How corruption and violence go hand-in-hand in Iraq
  • Iran-backed groups willing to kidnap, kill to protect corrupt revenue streams: Experts
  • Iraq ranked 160 out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index

LONDON: Iran-backed militias in Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) employ assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence in order to protect the income they derive from widespread and deep-rooted corruption in Iraq, a panel of experts said on Thursday.

At an online event hosted by British think tank Chatham House and attended by Arab News, Mohammad Al-Hakim, senior advisor on economic reform to Iraq’s prime minister, said the country’s corruption crisis extends back to the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule, but is now systemic, politically sanctioned and backed by the threat of violence by Iran-backed groups.

“There’s a deep problem with the structure of the Iraqi state. This is very much a legacy that needs to be addressed,” Al-Hakim said. “The Iraqi state system has been deteriorating over 50 years.”

Iraq ranks in the bottom 20 countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Government employees from the bottom to the top of Iraqi governance are engaging in systematic corruption, said Al-Hakim.

At the highest levels of the Iraqi state, civil servants have developed relationships with politicians that they use to line their own pockets and make money for their political allies.

Maya Gebeily, Middle East correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said one of the underpinnings of this system is the PMF, which operates as a “cartel,” using violence to suppress any opposition or attempt to upturn the status quo.

“It’s important to think about this corruption as a cartel. There are players in the cartel who agree with each other on how to divvy up the spoils that are coming in either from tariffs, from a specific project, or into the ministry,” she added.

“That’s why there are no ‘turf wars’ … because everyone is benefitting from this system. As soon as the bodies start showing up, that means an economic loss.”

But that has not deterred the militias from violence, Gebeily said. They just do not use it against each other.

“What they’re doing is using violence against anybody who’s trying to root out corruption. Researchers, activists and others who’ve been extremely vocal about corruption have been kidnapped, murdered or otherwise harassed,” she said.

Law-abiding officials have been physically threatened, beaten up or had their families attacked when they refused to be complicit in corruption.

“Armed groups use violence as an enforcement mechanism to make sure their economic interests are secured,” said Gebeily.

“Let’s say you want to import cigarettes. Cigarettes are extremely lucrative to import, so you need an extremely powerful group — and the one I discovered was importing them was Kata’ib Hezbollah — to be involved in that import.”

Iraq’s most powerful armed militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah has directly attacked US forces in the country.

It is also widely believed to be behind a string of assassinations and kidnappings, including that of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a journalist who described the Iran-backed group as “the strongest and most dangerous group in the so-called Islamic resistance.”

Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, said: “If we’re talking about power and where it lies in the Iraqi state, you only need look at the attempt by the prime minister to arrest Qasem Muslih, the leader of a brigade in the PMF, and why the prime minister was unable to keep someone who he accused of having a role in assassinations in jail.”

Mansour added: “Actually, these aren’t just militias. They have more connectivity to Iraq’s Parliament, to Iraq’s judiciary, than the prime minister does. They’re effectively connected to power in a more central way than the traditional and formal heads of state.”

This reveals the true and farcical nature of power in Iraq, Mansour said. “Those sitting on top of the system struggle with access to the state that they’re meant to be head of,” he added.

“Those apparently sitting outside the state actually have more connectivity to the essence, the power, the core of the state.”


Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
Updated 6 sec ago

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground

Low expectations on nuclear talks as Iran creates facts on the ground
  • Diplomats: Tehran simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how

PARIS: World powers and Iran return to Vienna on Monday in a last ditch effort to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
The US will also send a delegation, headed by Washington’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, to participate in the talks indirectly.
Israel worries Iran will secure sanctions relief in renewed nuclear negotiations with world powers, but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb making potential, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions (of dollars) to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Bennett told his Cabinet in televised remarks.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran.”
Few expect a breakthrough in the talks as Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have escalated in an apparent bid to gain leverage.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other world powers involved.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June.
The latest round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic.
Two European diplomats said it seemed Iran was simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how.
Western diplomats say they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June, and have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, then they will review their options.
Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that the full lifting of sanctions would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one European diplomat.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to re-install monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Several diplomats said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponize it.
Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the US and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.


Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds
Updated 17 min 57 sec ago

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt authorizes Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds
  • Prime minister directs government to take all precautionary measures against new COVID-19 variant Omicron

CAIRO: Egypt authorized on Sunday Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12-15, the cabinet said in a statement.
The step effectively lowers the minimum age of eligibility to receive the two-shot vaccine in Egypt, which was 15 years old previously.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly directed the government to take all precautionary measures against the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, noting the decision to halt all direct flights with South Africa.
His comments came during a meeting of a medical group to combat coronavirus, the state news agency (MENA) reported. 
Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, higher education and acting health minister, reviewed a report on the current local and international epidemical situation and the developments of the new variant, adding that the report confirmed there are no Omicron cases detected in Egypt till now.
He said that about 45.2 million vaccine doses had been administered, with 15.6 million people having received both doses.
On Friday, Egypt suspended direct flights to and from South Africa due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus.
(With Reuters)


At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf
Updated 10 min 39 sec ago

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf

At least 200 Houthis killed in fighting, airstrikes in Marib, Jouf
  • The Arab coalition on Sunday announced that it had killed 110 Houthis in 15 airstrikes that destroyed nine Houthi military targets in Marib and Jouf during the past 24 hours

AL-MUKALLA: At least 200 Houthis were killed in heavy fighting with government forces and in airstrikes by Arab coalition warplanes during the past 24 hours in the Yemeni provinces of Marib and Jouf, as the militia pushed into Marib to seize control of strategic terrain, coalition and local military figures said on Sunday. 

One official told Arab News that at least 100 Houthis were killed when the militia launched a string of attacks on government forces in Thana, west of Marib city, on Saturday, in a bid to break the government’s lines and reach Al-Balaq Al-Qibili Mountain to high ground over parts of the city.

“All waves of the Houthis failed to advance or capture an inch in Thana. Many Houthis were killed when our forces and the (Arab) coalition’s warplanes wiped out those waves,” the official said, adding that most of the Houthi fatalities were caused by “precise” airstrikes. 

The Houthis have recently focused attacks on areas west of Marib after failing to make territorial gains in Juba, Um Raesh and Al-Amud, south of Marib.

In September, the Houthis pushed into districts such as Abedia, Rahabah and Hareb after making rapid gains in neighboring Al-Bayda province.

The Houthis once again were drawn into a military stalemate in Juba after facing stiff resistance from army troops and local tribes. Hundreds were killed in heavy fighting during the past week, and the militia was forced into decreasing attacks due to high losses, the official said. 

The Arab coalition on Sunday announced that it had killed 110 Houthis in 15 airstrikes that destroyed nine Houthi military targets in Marib and Jouf during the past 24 hours.

The coalition has intensified raids against the Houthis across Yemen, hitting ballistic missile depots, drone workshops and ammunition stores in Sanaa and dozens of military vehicles and fighters heading to various battlefields.

Based on the coalition’s daily updates on its airstrikes, hundreds of Houthis have been killed and dozens of vehicles destroyed in Marib and other flashpoints in Yemen this month.

The heavy aerial bombardments of Houthi targets have shored up government troops on the ground, allowing them to repulse Houthi attacks and make territorial gains.


Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources

Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources
Updated 28 November 2021

Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources

Sudan’s Burhan dismisses senior intelligence officers: Sources
  • The decision by Al-Burhan comes a week after he struck a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok
  • He also mets with EU envoy for the Horn of Africa to discuss transitional process, elections

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s military leader has overhauled top intelligence positions, dismissing at least eight general intelligence officers and replacing the head of military intelligence, two official sources told Reuters on Sunday.
The decision by Sovereign Council head Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan comes a week after he struck a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who had been placed under house arrest in an Oct. 25 coup.
Of the officers dismissed, five were in senior positions and had been in place since before the 2019 overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar Al-Bashir, the sources said. On Saturday, official sources said Al-Burhan had replaced the head of the general intelligence service.
It was not immediately clear what impact the decisions could have on the balance of power following Hamdok’s return. Hamdok replaced the country’s top two police officials on Saturday, following deadly violence against anti-military protesters in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Al-Burhan held talks with EU envoy for the Horn of Africa Annette Weber to discuss the need to complete the structures of the transitional authority, including the formation of the transitional legislative council, especially those related to the election process.
During the meeting, Al-Burhan “pledged to protect the transitional period until free and fair elections are held,” and stressed his support for the government that will be formed by Hamdok to perform its national tasks, satae news agency SUNA reported.
Weber affirmed the EU’s continued support for the political transition process in Sudan in order to hold the elections, especially in the logistical and technical aspects. She said “Sudan is an important country for the security of the region and the Red Sea.”
Before the coup, the military had been sharing power with civilian groups that took part in an uprising against Bashir. Many within those groups have opposed the deal between Al-Burhan and Hamdok, saying they want the army to exit politics.
One condition of the deal was that political prisoners arrested since the coup should be freed. Some have been released but others remain in detention.
The US, Britain and Norway, which lead Western foreign policy on Sudan, called for the release of all those imprisoned for their political beliefs across Sudan.
“These are necessary steps to rebuild trust and return Sudan to the path of freedom and democracy,” they said in a statement.
(With Reuters)


Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded
Updated 28 November 2021

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded

Daesh roadside bomb in Iraq leaves 5 Peshmerga dead, 4 wounded
  • The Peshmerga fighters were killed in the Garmian district in Iraq’s Kurdish-run north late Saturday

BAGHDAD: A roadside bomb attack by Daesh group fighters in northern Iraq killed five Kurdish forces and wounded four others, Kurdish state news agency Rudaw reported Sunday.
The Peshmerga fighters were killed in the Garmian district in Iraq’s Kurdish-run north late Saturday. Daesh militants then attacked a peshmerga post, wounding four, according to the report.
Attacks targeting Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish peshmerga fighters, are common and have been on the rise since Daesh was defeated on the battlefield in 2017. Militants remain active through sleeper cells in many areas, especially across a band of territory in the north under dispute between federal Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
Militants from Daesh still conduct operations, often targeting security forces, power stations and other infrastructure.
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani offered condolences to the families of the dead Sunday.
“The increase in the (Daesh) attacks sends a dangerous and serious message and brings forth a serious threat in the region. Therefore, further cooperation between the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi security forces with support from the global coalition is an urgent need,” he said in a statement.
The US-led coalition to defeat Daesh announced the end of its combat mission and said troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of December. Advisers will remain to continue to train Iraqi forces.