The Iraq Report: MPs fearing corruption charges flee Iraq en masse

The Iraq Report: MPs fearing corruption charges flee Iraq en masse
7 min read
05 July, 2018
Our weekly round-up of events in Iraq
The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

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As the partial manual vote recount begins to finally settle the controversy-ridden general elections held in May, Iraqi parliamentarians have been leaving the country in large numbers.

Iraq has suffered from a plague of corruption since the US-led invasion in 2003 installed a new government, and many lawmakers are concerned they will be caught in the net of the incoming parliament, who have many political scores to settle by way of corruption allegations and scandals.

Meanwhile, the terrible story of the rise and fall of the Islamic State group continues to trouble Iraq as a key witness to events leading to the fall of Mosul to the extremists was found murdered. The witness allegedly had evidence that could have implicated the administration of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, blaming his government for severe shortcomings that led to Iraq's second city falling under the sway of dangerous jihadists.

Vote recount begins as lawmakers flee

With the Iraqi Supreme Court's decision late last month to conduct a partial manual recount of the votes cast in last May's general election, the process has finally begun in the oil-rich disputed city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

Iraqi officials began a hand recount on Tuesday, state television reported, in a move that is set to prolong the already lengthy formation of a new government.

Footage of dozens of ballot boxes lined up on the ground in a sports hall were televised, with the government stating that the recount would be undertaken before representatives from the United Nations and other political parties. The sports hall was also covered by security cameras and protected by elite counterterrorism soldiers.

The high security came as a suicide bomber attempted to blow up a truck in the warehouse where the ballots were being held on Sunday, just days before the recount was set to begin. Although the bomber failed to destroy the ballots, he succeeded in damaging the facility and killing at least two security officers and wounding 21 bystanders.

The fact that the manual recount process has begun in Kirkuk will not be lost on the Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish parties who contested the elections in the divided governorate. Immediately following the release of the election results, Arab and Turkmen communities cried foul as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party swept the majority of seats, including in ethnically non-Kurd districts.

A fire in June destroyed a warehouse where many of the ballot papers due for recounting had been stored [AFP]

These fears were substantiated by the International Crisis Group, which reported several disturbing incidences of potential voter fraud a little over a week after the elections. ICG also reported how electoral results history showed that ethnically Arab and Turkmen districts tend not to vote for Kurdish political parties in Kirkuk, and therefore there was a high possibility of fraud in these districts where the PUK swept the opposition away.

The delay in verifying the election results has led to Iraq facing a parliamentary vacuum for the first time since the 2003 invasion, as parliament held its last session on Saturday. Although the recount has begun, that has not stopped the winning coalitions from attempting to cut deals with each other to form a new government, showing the recount is unlikely to change the outcome significantly.

However, the process has caused panic among dozens of former lawmakers, who have flocked to Baghdad International Airport and departed to a range of countries on one-way tickets.

The New Arab's
Arabic-language service reported on Sunday that around 45 politicians from various blocs had taken to the skies, heading for destinations including Turkey, Egypt and Iran, often with their families. An airport official said they could be fleeing the country before their parliamentary immunity expires, leaving them open to prosecution on charges of corruption levelled against them by the incoming parliament.

The New Arab meets: Haifa al-Amin, the communist preparing to take a seat in Iraq's parliament

Iraq has been riddled with corruption, particularly since the US deposed the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and installed a new government. Rather than having a transparent democracy, Iraqis have long complained of corrupt officials profiting from dipping into public coffers and becoming overnight millionaires in a country struggling with poverty, unemployment and economic instability.

Key witness 'assassinated'

A major witness in an investigation into the 2014 fall of Mosul to Islamic State group extremists has been assassinated, The New Arab reported on Tuesday.

Mohammed Salim al-Fatlawi's corpse was found last week dumped on the side of the road between the cities of Babil and Karbala, a security source revealed. Foul play is suspected.

"The killing is directly related to his role in the investigation into the fall of Mosul," claimed the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Fatlawi was a military communications officer in Mosul just before the city fell to IS militants in 2014 as Iraqi military and police personnel fled the city and left it to its fate. He had already spoken to a parliamentary commission about the circumstances that led to the city's fall, and was due to give evidence about the final transmissions received from central command before the militants took over.

Fatlawi's murder is suspected to be part of a cover-up, protecting senior political and security officials in the government of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a pro-Iran Shia Islamist politician from the same party as outgoing Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

A parliamentary report in 2015 held 36 officials - including Maliki - responsible for the fall of the city, but no action was taken against them.

Maliki has been accused of an array of failures, including failing to provide military units with clear orders for the defence of Mosul, as well as allegations that a general retreat was ordered despite some estimates placing the Iraqi army as having a 3,000-to-one advantage against IS. Maliki has also been blamed for cultivating a hyper-sectarian environment in which Shia security and governmental officials mistreated Mosul's Sunni majority, allowing IS and other insurgent groups to infiltrate and recruit.

The aftermath of an explosion in Baghdad's Sadr City in June [AFP]

With the fall of Mosul being overshadowed by the triumphalism of its recapture - even though Mosul is now the scene of mass devastation - it is unlikely that any government failures will be highlighted and punished. This is particularly so as witnesses to these failures are now turning up dead, sending a clear message of the price one must pay for talking to investigators.

Operations against IS resume

Iraq's IS woes are far from over, however, as the country launches another major operation supported by the US-led anti-IS coalition to tackle the group that the government declared defeated last December.

The "Vengeance for the Martyrs" operation was launched on Wednesday after the bodies of hostages executed by IS were found late last month on a highway north of the capital, Baghdad. IS had threatened to kill hostages if the government failed to secure the release of female prisoners, and carried out their threats when the authorities ignored them.

In retaliation, Baghdad expedited the execution of a dozen prisoners last Friday. The authorities also declared on Sunday the development of a Trump-like wall along the Syrian border, allegedly to keep militants from traversing the porous frontier.

However, the main issue attracting controversy is Iraq's record in dealing with the wives and children of IS militants. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Iraqi government to deal with foreign women and children on a case-by-case basis rather than issuing blanket death sentences as a "one size fits all" solution.

Iraq has incarcerated 833 children from 14 different nationalities, and on Tuesday called for those countries to repatriate their charges. Iraqi law renders children criminally liable from nine years old, according to HRW, and many are being held without charge or trial in a shocking contravention of international law. They may be punished for up to 15 years in prison for violent acts, and many of them are being accused of being members of IS by virtue of having adult relatives who were militants.

The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.

Click here to receive The Iraq Report each week in your inbox