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Iraq’s new prime minister vows to clean up the country

Tonhe puzzle How to smuggle the billions of dollars they have stolen out of the country has been a problem for kleptocrats in Iraq. Foreign banks have been wary of accepting large transfers from Baghdad. Withdrawing large amounts of cash overland is risky; the Kurds keep a close eye on the border with Turkey. Now there is a new pipeline. A British security company, G4S, for checking cargo leaving Baghdad airport. But in his final weeks as prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi approved a replacement for Biznis Intel, a company with no apparent experience in airport security. “It’s easy to get things in and out now,” said one airport worker. “A lot of money has been smuggled out.”

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Iraq has long suffered under a greedy ruler. Saddam Hussein regarded the country’s resources as his own. Since he was ousted by the US military in 2003, successive democratically elected governments have been riddled with corruption. Officials withhold money from contracts or hire ghost workers and pocket their wages. Even so, the latest case of suspected theft is still difficult to calm down. Iraq’s new prime minister, Mohammad Sultani, cited a Finance Ministry investigation showing that the country’s tax deposits amounting to 3.7trn Iraqi dinars ($2.5 billion) have been raided since September 2021. Corruption on this scale helps explain why many of Iraq’s 41 million people do not have reliable water or electricity, even though their country is the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).OPEC).

Ostensibly, the funds handled by the tax board were paid through five shell companies, some of which were set up by Iraqi businessman Nour Jassim. Investigators believe the funds were then distributed to various politicians and officials demanding hush money and bribes to facilitate the scam and foil investigations. The volume of transactions has been so high that the dinar has lost value against the dollar, while the cost of property in Baghdad’s luxury neighbourhoods has risen. CongressmanNeither the s nor those in the Chancellery at the time were able to sound the alarm.

“A vast underground network of high-ranking officials, corrupt businessmen and politicians operates in the shadows … and siphons billions of dollars from public purses,” Ali Allawi wrote after he resigned as finance minister in August in protest. Government mischief. After leaving office, Kadhimi is thought to have moved to Europe. He and officials in his office have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Sultani, the first permanent Iraqi prime minister since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, has vowed to root out corruption. One investigator, skeptical that more shell companies will be found, estimates that a third to a quarter of last year’s $92 billion government budget has gone astray. Speaking on television last month, Mr Sultani (pictured) stood between two trays piled high with cash, some of which had been taken from Jassim as he was preparing to fly out of Baghdad on his private jet retrieved.

Mr Sultani has pledged to get back the remaining cash. He will seek the extradition of suspected corrupt former officials who are currently abroad, including some in the United States, his advisers said. He is said to have purged some 900 officials, including civil servants and security officials, within six weeks of taking office. Friends of Mr Kadhimi say Mr Sultani is trying to tighten his grip on his office by bringing corruption charges to his former circle.

it tends to start at the top

Few believe this will stop corruption. The legitimacy of Mr Sultani’s new government is questionable because it is made up of factions that lost an election last October and includes many groups that suffered during the previous government’s downturn.same CongressmanThose who voted for Mr Sultani as prime minister also voted to oust Mr Allawi from his position as acting finance minister when Mr Allawi attempted to release the findings of an investigation into tax theft.

Mr Sultani also started a state-owned company to manage government projects. It is run by a caucus of pro-Iranian Shia militias known as Hashd al-Shaabi (People’s Mobilization Forces), whose political wing controls Mr Sultan’s coalition. After helping defeat Islamic State jihadists who conquered large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014, Hasid insisted his mission was to rebuild Iraq.

It is allowed to create its own business company. This is known as al-Muhandis, after Qassem Suleimani, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces and commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed in a drone strike by Americans at Baghdad airport in 2020.Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps).

After winning the upper hand in Iraq’s factional struggle over politics and security, Hashid’s leaders hope to control much of the economy, including the oil industry and housing construction, as Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Did it in Iran. Al-Muhandis is bent on winning a series of lucrative government contracts. “It will kill what’s left of the private sector,” said Mohammad Kopelli, a Baghdad-based lawyer. Some worry that the new company will tie the Iraqi economy more closely to the Iranian economy. Others doubted it would work. “It’s going to be another crazy corrupt fund,” said one former official.

Mr Sultani appears reluctant to let the investigation into a massive tax fraud extend to the upper echelons of his own government. Under his supervision, Mr Jassim has been released on bail and is believed to have fled the country. Several of the tax office officials overseeing the transfer were appointed by Bader, a pro-Iranian party that spearheads Mr. Sultani’s ruling coalition, but none of them have been charged so far. A former official doubted the sincerity of the new prime minister. “They couldn’t follow the leads because the whole house would collapse,” he said.

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