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In Iraq, Corruption and Sectarianism Blamed for Ongoing Instability

Iraq corruption suicide attack in Baghdad IS
People gather at the site of a suicide attack claimed by the Islamic States in Karrada district in southern Baghdad, Iraq, 4 July 2016. Photo Khalil Dawood/XINHUA/SIPA

Corruption and sectarianism are jeopardizing Iraq’s security, according to several Iraqis interviewed by Fanack. In remarks made in late August and early September 2016, the interviewees said lasting peace and stability can only be achieved if there is a consensus among politicians.

Ali Jaber, a resident of Baghdad, said corruption is Iraq’s biggest problem. “Because of corrupt politicians, there is no security in Iraq. They want us to live in fear so they remain in power and can continue to steal money,” he said, lashing out at security and military officers who have failed to bring stability to the country which has been torn by conflict since the American-British invasion in 2003.

Jaber cited the 3 July 2016 bombing in Karradeh, Baghdad’s popular commercial district, which he said could have been avoided if corruption were not so widespread. The attack, claimed by the terror group Islamic State (IS), was carried out after fake security wands used by the Iraqi police failed to detect explosives in the bus used in the bombing. Almost 300 people were killed, according to the Associated Press (AP), making it the single deadliest attack in the capital in 13 years of war.

Following the attack, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi finally issued an order to ban the bogus wands, which had been in use for nearly a decade. Iraqis mocked the device from the start, joking that too much aftershave could set off the antenna, AP said. The wands were sold in Iraq by two British men, who were convicted in 2013 in the UK on fraud charges for selling the detectors, according to AP. Even after warnings by US military commanders, the Iraqi government continued to use the devices.

Falah Saadi, another Baghdad resident, agreed that corruption is Iraq’s biggest challenge, accusing politicians of looking after their own interests rather than the security and safety of Iraqi citizens. “It’s been 13 years since Saddam Hussein was toppled. We were supposed to live in a democratic country, a stable country. Unfortunately, this is not happening,” he told Fanack.

For Saadi, living in a secure dictatorship is preferable to a democracy where fear and terror rule. It is common knowledge that Iraqi politicians and security personnel have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars in fake deals. They are unconcerned by the fact that people live in fear, he added.

Fanack tried to contact Iraqi officials about the wands, but no one was available for comment. However, an official at the Iraqi embassy in Jordan, who requested anonymity, said authorities in Baghdad are now investigating the deal for the wands and that those responsible would be held accountable. He said that al-Abadi has tasked the Interior Ministry with carrying out the investigation, but refused to give further details.

Sunni-Shia Divisions

Aziz Jaber, a political analyst based in Baghdad, believes that sectarianism is the cause of the country’s continued instability. The majority of Iraqis are Shia. Sunnis (Arabs and Kurds) are estimated to make up around 41% of the population. The Sunni-Shia divide is a major threat to the country’s security, Aziz said, explaining that neither group trusts the other.

Politicians representing both groups are more loyal to neighbouring countries than to their own, he said. For example, the majority of Shia leaders are loyal to Iran, while Sunni politicians are loyal to the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia. “I think the conflict in Iraq will continue for years, because there is no indication that the differences between the Iranians and Saudis are going to be resolved any time soon,” he said.

Iraqi political analyst Ibrahim Sumaidei believes the greatest danger facing Iraq is its politicians, who try to divide the country in order to protect their personal interests. “By creating division in Iraqi society, these politicians think they will gain more supporters based on sectarian beliefs,” he told Fanack.

Sumaidei says some ministers and officials in charge of the defence and security portfolios had been involved in several major corruption cases, and the Iraqi people had paid the price either by being killed or displaced.

Hassan Abu Haniyeh, an expert in Middle Eastern politics and Islamic groups, blames Iran for the turmoil in Iraq. Iran is the main player in Iraq. It controls not only the political landscape but also military operations fighting terrorists and Sunnis, he said, explaining that Iran is home to the world’s largest Shia population and sees Sunnis as it main enemy. “The problem in Iraq is that Shia political leaders are supported by Tehran. They carry out its orders,” he said, adding that the rise of IS in Iraq and now in the region was due to the betrayal of Iraqi politicians loyal to Iran, mainly Nouri al-Maliki. Iraq is also an important market for Iranian products, with exports worth tens of billions of dollars, he noted.

The Iraqi army and security agencies are fragile, Abu Haniyeh said, suggesting that the fall of Mosul in northern Iraq two years ago was due to corruption in these agencies. “How can a large city like Mosul be occupied by a few hundred Islamic State militants?”