Former ministers flee as Iraq begins corruption inquiry

By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad

09 May 2005

Independent

Former Iraqi ministers are fleeing the country because of reports that the new administration may prevent them going abroad while accusations of corruption are being investigated.

The incoming government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who completed his cabinet yesterday, has pledged to fight pervasive corruption among officials. The outgoing administration of Iyad Allawi was regarded as highly corrupt by Iraqis.

Officials say that some former ministers have left Iraq in the past few days because they fear they will be detained if they try to leave later. "I have heard that [the government] are considering preventing any minister of the former government leaving the country," said Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and veteran political leader. The new administration is able to do this under emergency legislation introduced by Mr Allawi.

Iraqi businessmen say that since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein the government machinery has become corrupt. "I am thinking of pulling out of business entirely in Iraq," said one businessman. "Officials at every level demand bribes just to do their jobs so there is no profit left for my company at the end of the day."

The corruption relates to the awarding of contracts and jobs. Political parties treat the ministries they control as a source of patronage and funds. The collapse of civil order after the war in 2003 meant that until now there had been little fear of punishment.

Mr Pachachi says he suspects that some allegations of corruption against former ministers may be a settling of scores by government ministers against rivals whom they dislike.

Many ministers in Mr Allawi's government spent so much of their time on foreign trips that it is difficult to identify precisely who will stay abroad for fear of investigation in Iraq. A diplomat in Baghdad said there was another reason for the sudden departures: "They feel they will not have enough protection. The insurgents will find it difficult to kill a serving minister, so they may see a former minister as an easier target."

The new government will have to tackle corruption if it is to get the state machinery operating again. Two years after the US invasion, electricity blackouts in Baghdad are longer than under Saddam Hussein, fuel was in short supply over the winter and security is worse than ever. Although large sums have been spent on reconstruction, no cranes are visible in Baghdad.

The Iraqi parliament finally approved the last six members of Mr Jaafari's cabinet yesterday, including his nominees for the important posts of oil minister and defence minister. The cabinet includes four Sunni Arabs whose community boycotted the election on 30 January.

The new defence minister is Saadoun al-Duleimi, from the powerful Duleimi tribe in Anbar province. Once a lieutenant-colonel in the General Security Directorate he was in exile from 1984 until 2003.

The new oil minister is Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, a Shia and son of an influential opposition cleric. He was the oil minister in the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shibli turned down the job of human rights minister, saying he was appointed only because he was a Sunni. Positions have been allocated after prolonged wrangling. It includes 17 Shia ministers, eight Kurds, five Sunnis and a Christian. The President is a Kurd, with two Vice-Presidents who are a Sunni and a Shia.