Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Officials in all parts of the government often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and investigation of corruption was not free from political influence. Family, tribal, and religious considerations significantly influenced government decisions at all levels. Bribery, money laundering, nepotism, and misappropriation of public funds were common.
Corruption: On August 25, the COR used secret ballots to remove Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi from his office, and on September 21, it also removed Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari. The questioning and subsequent no confidence votes were reportedly to root out corruption, but media reported that some thought it was to advance the politically motivated agenda of former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The Commission of Integrity (COI) refrained from releasing the names of government officials in its semiannual report. In July the COI published a semiannual report covering activities from January to June. The commission investigated 13,226 cases of corruption, adjudicated 7,088 cases, and referred 1,891 cases to courts for trial. Six of the cases referred to the courts involved ministers, and 99 director general-level officials. The COI reportedly recovered 135.3 billion dinars ($130 million).
There were reports alleging that senior officials involved in bribery schemes held illicit funds in overseas accounts, making bribery more difficult to detect. In 2015 international media reported that the government launched a corruption investigation against the former deputy prime minister for energy affairs Baha al-Araji, accusing him of nine crimes, including property racketeering and financial corruption. Araji publicly acknowledged owning as many as seven houses, a hotel, and other properties. He also had 300 guards whose salaries were paid by the state. In February the COI announced Araji had been referred to the integrity court on charges of corruption, but at year’s end, no charges or arrest warrants had been filed against him. In 2015 the judiciary announced it had issued an arrest warrant for Minister of Trade Milas Muhammad Abdul Karim on corruption charges. The minister left his post, but the result of the corruption investigation by Iraqi Kurdistan Independent Human Rights Commission was not made public.
The Central Bank leads the government’s efforts to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. Through the offices of Banking Supervision and Financial Intelligence, the Central Bank worked with law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to identify and prosecute illicit financial transactions. The investigatory capacity of authorities remained extremely limited, although they were successful in prosecuting money-laundering cases linked to financial transfers to Da’esh-controlled territories. The COI, which prosecutes money-laundering cases linked to official corruption, suffered from a lack of investigatory capacity. There also was a lack of political will to prosecute senior officials.
The Council of Ministers Secretariat has an anticorruption advisor, and the COR has an Integrity Committee. The Joint Anti-Corruption Council reporting to the Council of Ministers oversees and monitors compliance with the government’s 2010-14 anticorruption strategy. The secretary general for the Council of Ministers led the anticorruption council, which also included the chairperson of the Federal Board of Supreme Audit, the commissioner of the COI, and representatives from the offices of the inspectors general (IGs). When the agenda of the anticorruption council calls for high-level government participation, the Ministry of Interior’s head of economic crimes may attend. Despite the council’s mandate, the public generally regarded it as having little effect due to the scale of official corruption. The COI’s National Strategy to Combat Corruption (2015-19) aims to increase training and development of staff of the IG’s office and COI.
Lack of agreement about institutional roles, insufficient political will, political influence, poor transparency, and unclear governing legislation and regulatory processes hampered joint efforts to combat corruption. Although anticorruption institutions increasingly collaborated with civil society groups, organizing workshops, surveys, and training courses, the impact of expanded cooperation was limited. Media and NGOs continued to attempt to expose corruption independently, although their capacity to do so was limited. Anticorruption, law enforcement, and judicial officials, as well as members of civil society and media, faced threats and intimidation in their efforts to combat corrupt practices (see section 2.a.).
Government officials frequently contended that corruption investigations were highly politicized. In December 2015 the COI formed an investigative and oversight committee, consisting of the Iraqi High Judicial Council, the Board of Supreme Audit, and the parliament’s integrity committee, and, earlier in the year, added the public prosecutor. The results of the oversight committee’s investigations were not made public. The chairman of the COI investigative committee said the COI investigated 630 corruption cases from January through September, resulting in 18 arrest warrants against 18 ministerial-level officials, and 137 arrest warrants for directors general.
On August 11, the UN Development Program and the government signed an agreement to strengthen the capacity of the government to detect, investigate, and prosecute high-profile and complex corruption cases.
In August 2015 the prime minister announced, and the COR approved, a series of reforms designed to eliminate official corruption and to improve public services. The reforms went into effect in 2015, but implementation was inconsistent. Prime Minister Abadi’s plan called for the end of sectarian quotas in determining senior positions, as well as the establishment of an executive committee to select ministers, advisors, and directors general based on merit and competence.
The reforms reduced the number of government ministries from 33 to 22. Although the eliminated ministries lost their official mandate, working-level employees continued to be paid while the Council of Ministers engaged in protracted negotiations to merge ministries and reassign employees from eliminated ministries.
Approximately 500 staff members from the Ministry of Human Rights were transferred to the Iraq High Commission for Human Rights, whose Board had not met since May. The reform package authorized a high commission to reopen and investigate old corruption cases. The government subsequently referred 2,000 corruption cases to the courts for prosecution; however, the vast majority of these cases dated from 2003 to 2005.
The prime minister also called on the judiciary to appoint expert judges known for their integrity to investigate and prosecute corruption cases. In 2015 authorities appointed 34 new judges to courts across the country, and 19 integrity judges to Baghdad courts. The Baghdad Integrity Court–an investigation court that specializes in integrity cases–announced it was investigating dozens of corruption cases involving many government ministries. On March 22, the Integrity Court announced it had adjudicated 611 cases; the results of the court decisions were not publicly available. The court in Basrah had not issued any opinions by year’s end.
On July 7, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund approved a three-year $5.34 billion stand-by arrangement that calls for the government to take measures through June 2019 to combat corruption.
In March media reported on a corruption scandal involving the Ministry of Oil, South Oil Company, and Minister of Higher Education Hussein al-Shahristani. Unaoil, a company based in Monaco, allegedly funneled millions of dollars from U.S. and European clients to government officials as bribes for government contracts. No arrests were made by year’s end.
Widespread and pervasive corruption and lack of government transparency, including with regard to oil revenue, were major problems in the IKR. According to the Kurdistan Commission on Public Integrity, corruption in the IKR was extensive. Weak budgetary oversight and lack of training for personnel further hindered the commission from fighting corruption effectively. Allegations and rumors of missing oil revenue were rampant. On October 5, in an effort to improve its capability to deal with corruption, the KRG signed a master service agreement with major international accounting firms to conduct an independent audit of its oil production, marketing, and revenues.
According to local media reports, the KRG made efforts to prosecute corruption cases. On January 24, the IKR presidency confiscated 251 billion dinars ($276 million) from the ex-wife of the KRG minister of natural resources over allegations of corruption. On April 13, the head of the Kurdistan Region’s Central Bank and his deputy were arrested on charges of corruption related to an alleged illegal bond-trading scheme. During the year KRG officials at the director general level and below were arrested on corruption charges at the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs and Sulaimaniyah Immigration Department.
Financial Disclosure: The law authorizes the COI to obtain annual financial disclosures from senior public officials, including ministers, governors, and parliamentarians, and to take legal action for nondisclosure. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment. A unified system for enforcing annual financial disclosures did not exist. The COI has no jurisdiction over the IKR, but Kurdish members of the central government were required to conform to the law. The law obligates the COI to provide public annual reports on prosecutions, transparency, accountability, and ethics of public service.
The Kurdistan Commission on Public Integrity is responsible for distributing and collecting financial disclosure forms in the IKR. The commission reported that the Kurdistan region’s president, all members of its parliament, and all cabinet ministers had submitted financial disclosure reports for 2015. There was no information available indicating that public officials faced penalties for financial nondisclosure.
Public Access to Information: The law does not provide public access to government information. The IKR Information Law expands citizens’ rights to request information from the regional government, parliament, and court system, except in cases of national security or classified information. According to the IKR’s Human Rights Commission, the government had not implemented this law.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Domestic and international NGOs operated in most cases with little government interference. Due to the humanitarian crisis, the majority of local NGOs shifted their focus to providing assistance to IDPs and other communities the conflict has affected. In some instances these local NGOs worked in coordination with central government and Kurdistan regional government authorities. A number of NGOs also investigated and published findings on human rights cases. When NGOs alleged human rights abuses that concerned government actions or actions of ethnic or religious groups allied with the government, there were some reports of government interference.
NGOs faced capacity-related challenges, did not have regular access to government officials, and did not systematically serve as bulwarks against failures in governance and human rights abuses. Sustainability of domestic NGOs remained a key factor hindering the long-term development of the sector. The government rarely awarded NGOs contracts for services. While the law forbids NGOs from engaging in political activity, political parties or sects originated, funded, or substantially influenced many, although not all, domestic NGOs.
Some NGOs in the South alleged government officials interfered and harassed them, particularly regarding finances. One NGO representative in Dhi Qar said ISF frequently visited the NGO’s office, claiming that they needed to “check on things.” The governor of Maysan reportedly tried to control funding for local NGOs from international organizations. On September 21, the Maysan Provincial Council voted to limit the governor’s authority over NGOs operating in the province, according to the provincial council’s spokesperson, in order to curb the governorate’s interruption of local NGOs’ work.
Another NGO reported the government refused to register and license its women’s shelters. The government periodically asked the NGO to close them down, even though government officials “unofficially” referred women to the shelters. After each such closure, the shelters would reopen a few days later.
The IKR had an active community of mostly Kurdish NGOs, many with close ties and funded by the PUK and KDP political parties. Government funding of NGOs is legally contingent upon whether an NGO’s programming goals conform to already-identified priority areas. The region’s NGO Directorate established formal procedures for awarding funds to NGOs, which included a public description of the annual budget for NGO funding, priority areas for consideration, deadlines for proposal submission, establishment of a grant committee, and the criteria for ranking proposals. During the year local and international NGOs did not report difficulties registering with the regional government and obtaining permits for their operations in KRG-administered areas.
Reports indicated that Da’esh continued to threaten NGOs and civil society activists in areas under its control throughout the year.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government and the KRG sometimes restricted the access of the United Nations and other international bodies to sensitive locations, including Interior Ministry detention facilities.
Government Human Rights Bodies: In August 2015 the prime minister abolished the Ministry of Human Rights as part of his reform program to reduce the number of governmental ministries. Ministry staff and files were transferred to other ministries, including the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), which had not met since May 2015.
The constitution mandates the creation of an independent IHCHR. The law governing its operation provides for commissioners with four-year nonrenewable terms. No less than one-third of the 11 full-time and three reserve commissioners must be women, and at least one full-time member and one reserve member must be from a minority community. The law provides that the IHCHR be financially and administratively independent and have broad authority, including the right to receive and investigate human rights complaints, conduct unannounced visits to correctional facilities, and review legislation. By the end of the year, the commissioners had not been selected.
The KRG Human Rights Commission, which began operating in 2013, issues periodic reports on human rights, trafficking in persons, and religious freedom. The Commission reported KRG police and security organizations had generally been receptive to human rights training and responsive to reports of violations. In February, however, a court convicted the deputy head of the commission’s Dahuk office for interfering with a police investigation; his sentence was suspended.