preading corruption threatens to undermine the significant progress Iraq has made toward reducing violence and strengthening state institutions.
Failing Oversight: Iraq’s Unchecked Government , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the steady erosion of the credibility of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government resulting from the failure to safeguard institutions against corruption and abuse. This, along with the related problems of service delivery, constitutes a serious threat to the legitimacy of state institutions and is giving strong ammunition to Maliki’s critics.
“The revolutions that have spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa since December have given new impetus and a sense of urgency to the call for better governance in Iraq”, warns Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. “To bolster its faltering legitimacy, Maliki’s government will have to launch a vigorous anti-corruption campaign, improve service delivery and create checks and balances in the state system”.
As violence spread following the 2003 U.S. invasion, and in an environment of escalating kidnappings, explosions and assassinations, public services were thoroughly devastated, and Iraq witnessed an explosive and alarming rise in corruption. Longstanding projects were abandoned overnight, and judges and parliamentarians were targeted. Oversight agencies, which should have been less exposed to risk because of their lack of direct contact with the general population, were forced to roll back their operations, leaving state institutions without effective safeguards against corruption or abuse. As a result, state output declined dramatically for a number of years, even as the annual budget steadily increased due to elevated oil prices. The state’s paralysis contributed to the proliferation of graft, nepotism and other criminal activity throughout the bureaucracy.
In order to strengthen its credibility, the government and the Council of Representatives should develop an anti-corruption framework that will allow for greater and more effective cooperation and coordination between the various state institutions. Likewise, reforms of the Council of Representatives, the most important body in the new oversight framework, have to facilitate the formulation of legislative bills and accelerate the lawmaking process. In addition, political parties’ independence should be reinforced by introducing binding financial transparency legislation. The U.S. and other members of the international community should encourage these changes and offer immediate and direct support, while publicly expressing disapproval of the government’s resistance to long-overdue legislation designed to repair the damage caused to state institutions since 2003.
“Until these and other actions are taken, the government will continue to operate virtually unchecked, bringing with it the type of chronic abuse, rampant corruption and growing authoritarianism that is the inevitable result of failing oversight”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “The types of reform Iraqis are demanding are achievable, but they require unity of vision and good faith – qualities desperately lacking today”.