Corruption Adds to Baquba’s Problems

BAQUBA — Facing violence, unemployment and poverty, the capital city of Iraq’s volatile Diyala province now finds itself confronting also corruption.

This follows the failed promises of reform, reconstruction and rehabilitation at the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Billions of dollars of U.S. and Iraqi funds were set aside for rebuilding Iraq, ruined by four years of occupation, 12 years of sanctions, and 30 years of dictatorship. There is little to show for these vast amounts of aid money.

The infrastructure is clearly worse on all measurable levels than it was pre- invasion.

Under the Coalition Provisional Authority, more than 7 billion dollars went “missing” in the first year of occupation alone. Now Iraqi authorities are blamed for adding to the corruption.

Contractors in Baquba told IPS they believe the governor’s office is directly involved in the corruption.

“I’m not quite sure about the governor (Ra’ad Hameed al-Mula Jowad al- Tamimi) himself,” the owner of a security contracts company, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “What is certain is that his protection group plays a big role in taking the money using his name.”

“In contrast to all the contractors, a large number of projects go to the governor’s nephew,” contractor Abu Ahmed told IPS. “This contractor often tries to influence the monitoring committee to sign his invoice even if it is inconsistent with the specifications of the job.”

Payments for roads and bridges have been made even when the job was badly done or left incomplete, he said.

Companies and contractors submit their bids to the government committee. The committee as a whole is then supposed to examine the tenders according to the terms announced. But in Diyala province, contractors say the committee divides the projects among its members.

“Every committee member takes a number of projects, and makes deals with contractors,” co-owner of the al-Khadra company for general contractors, who did not wish to give his name, told IPS. “If the contractor does not pay them a bribe, he won’t get the contract.”

The usual rate, he said, is 10 percent of the value of the contract to be paid to the one who awards it. The company owner said he had seen this process first-hand.

“Imagine, in a project of one million dollars, the contractor should pay 100,000 dollars to be awarded the project to begin with,” he added.

Governor al-Tamimi was nearly killed Sep. 27 by a suicide bomber outside a mosque in Shifta village nearby Baquba. He was injured, but 24 people were killed, and 37 others wounded.

A city official told IPS that a senior member of the department of planning in the governor’s office has been accused of blackmailing contractors, “and his name is on the list of the minister’s council for investigation.”

Abu Shaima, who has worked for some of the companies that have been awarded contracts, said there are four contact persons “in the north” who make deals with contractors. Local workers, most of whom are now jobless, told IPS that government employment is itself affected by corruption.

“You have to pay to be a policeman,” former policeman Abu Qassim told IPS. “You bring your CV, with a few hundred dollars.” Or, he said, “the first salary will be for the officer who is in charge of nominating volunteers.”

There are all sorts of variations. “Sometimes, there are hundreds of false names whose salaries go to the senior officers. Or, one may be told that he can have half of the salary without coming to the office.” Meanwhile, basic infrastructure, from water to electricity to security, barely functions.

On Oct. 25, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was questioned by lawmakers over claims that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was shielding top ministers from corruption probes.

Senator Henry Waxman said Maliki had issued a decree requiring his approval before any minister or official in the presidential office was brought before a court on corruption charges.

Rice refused to respond directly, and instead claimed that U.S. officials took all allegations of corruption in Iraq seriously.

(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq’s Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)