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Iraq Report: October 14, 2005

14 October 2005, Volume 8, Number 34

RFE/RL has launched a special page on the referendum for the constitution: The page includes breaking news and analysis on the draft constitution, as well as interviews from RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) and press reviews from the Iraqi media.
IRAQ'S CONSTITUTION AGREEMENT AND THE SUNNI OPPOSITION. This week's agreement between the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party and the Shi'ite and Kurdish leadership in Iraq has done little to sway other Sunni Arab groups to support the draft constitution in the 15 October referendum. The Iraqi government praised the agreement as a success, saying Sunni Arabs now have no reason to vote "no" on the draft, but in reality, the agreement serves to further fracture the Sunni Arab electorate, as those who reject it move further away from the political process rather than toward it.

Sunni Arab groups opposed to the draft constitution were quick to criticize the 12 October agreement, saying that the Iraqi Islamic Party compromised the opposition movement and its own reputation by legitimizing what it described as a fraudulent process.

The negative response of some Sunni Arab groups is not surprising since the Sunnis were never able to agree on their demands for the constitution during the drafting phase. Their inability to reach a consensus and adopt a cohesive position contributed to the frustration of the Shi'ite and Kurdish parties that unilaterally pushed the draft to the referendum stage through the National Assembly.

Shi'ite negotiators had said repeatedly during the drafting phase that Sunni Arab demands could never be satisfied, for as soon as one issue was settled, Sunnis presented another three. An issue would be resolved with some Sunni negotiators, only to have other Sunni groups object vociferously -- saying this or that Sunni group did not represent the viewpoints of all Sunnis.

No group has obstructed the process more than the Muslim Scholars Association. This group refused to join the political process, and worked to obstruct progress at every turn.

Association head Harith al-Dari told Al-Jazeera television in a 12 October interview that he believed the Islamic Party was tricked into the agreement, and that the party acted according to its political interests rather than the national interest. "They have given legitimacy to the political process, which is in crisis, and paved the way to [accommodate] the U.S. desire to pass the constitution successfully, and have saved the U.S. president's face based on their ignorance -- or let us say, non-vigilant understanding of the situation," he said.

A number of Sunni Arab groups, including the Committee of Those Made Absent From The General Elections, the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, and the Iraqi Christian Democratic Party also protested the agreement in a press conference in Baghdad on 12 October, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. The groups called on Iraqis to come out in large numbers and vote "no" in the referendum.

Iraqi National Dialogue Council Secretary-General Khalaf al-Ulayyan claimed that if the UN provided another four months to discuss the draft "without any conditions," then "there would be no obstacle for us to approve it." Meanwhile, council spokesman Salih al-Mutlaq demanded that "some paragraphs" of the draft constitution be finalized at a later date. Al-Mutlaq previously called for empowering the next National Assembly with the ability to amend points of contention in the draft. Minas Ibrahim al-Yusufi, president of the Iraqi Christian Democratic Party, said the constitution's draft failed to represent the ambitions of the Iraqi people, adding that the agreement made with the Iraqi Islamic Party amounted to "additional paragraphs that have not brought any results."

Ayad al-Samarra'i, deputy secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, responded to the criticism, telling RFI in a 13 October interview: "The position in which I want to be does not allow me to assess the attitudes of these forces. I will leave the issue to the coming months, to the judgment of the Iraqi people over this move, and to the judgment of history over the extent to which this step was correct. We have been fully convinced that we have to take this step for the sake of stabilizing Iraq. We are aware of the complex character of the political process: the constitution is a stage in the political process; the constitution is not the whole of the political process. When we see the constitution as a part of the political process, this attitude will leave big and notable traces on the whole of the political process that will be beneficial for Iraq."

The failure to reach a national consensus on the draft constitution equates to another loss for those Sunni Arab groups that remain outside the political process. Just as they lost out after January elections, they will lose again after failing to present a united position during negotiations for the constitution. In the end, Iraqis will lose, too, as the country will continue to fracture -- possibly irretrievably -- along sectarian lines.

The position of groups like the Muslim Scholars Association, which calls for no negotiations as long as multinational forces remain on the ground in Iraq, will continue to stall political development and give confidence to the insurgency. Here again, the biggest losers are the Iraqi people. But make no mistake; there is no appeasing the Muslim Scholars Association. Although the association argues that it would willingly engage in the political process if foreign forces left Iraq, the truth is, it would not. Instead, it would work to support the insurgent movement and use the insurgency to achieve its goals in Iraq. Thus, real change can only come when Iraqis realize the illegitimacy of this group, which cannot be appeased and will not compromise its vision of a future Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI PARLIAMENTARIAN PREDICTS THAT AL-SADR SUPPORTERS WILL ALIGN WITH SUNNIS AFTER ELECTION. Qusay Abd al-Wahhab Abbud al-Suhail -- a member of the Iraqi National Assembly and a supporter of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- predicted in a 14 October interview with RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo that al-Sadr supporters in parliament will align with the Sunni group National Dialogue Council following the December election. Al-Suhail also discussed al-Sadr's position on the draft constitution, as well as Iranian influence in Iraq.

Al-Suhail: As you know, we don't believe in coalitions. Since the last period, the United Iraqi Alliance has been weak, and many of its decisions were not executed. We believe that the Iraqi constitution [produced] a great [result for] Kurds as compared to the Iraqi [Shi'ite] coalition. Therefore, we decided to enter the elections individually [ -- rather than as part of a coalition -- in order] to see [what our impact is] on the Iraqi people [in terms of support for our movement]. This is the first [point]. The second is to enhance the infrastructure construction and safeguard our country. Therefore, we think that entering a coalition before the election is not useful. But when we enter the election individually, we can see our weight in the Iraqi public and...we can make our alliance with other Shi'a parties and some Sunni movements, such as the Iraqi National Dialogue Council. We have a continuous discussion and dialogue with other parties in Iraq.

RFE/RL: So, there's a possibility that after the election you will join with the National Dialogue Council?

Al-Suhail: Yes.

RFE/RL: Will Muqtada al-Sadr also participate in the election?

Al-Suhail: No. Personally he doesn't [want] to enter politics. He has a belief that any political participation under the occupation is not [legitimate]...but the door is open for his followers [to participate].

RFE/RL: It seems lately when we look at al-Sadr, he is moving much closer to the Sunnis than to the Shi'a [politically] in Iraq.

Al-Suhail: No, that's not completely true. As you know, Muqtada al-Sadr is a national leader. Therefore he has a national vision for all Iraqi people, not respect for the Shi'a only. Since he is a national leader, he will see all Iraqi people as equals, qualified to do everything for their country.

RFE/RL: What will his position be on the [referendum on the] constitution?

Al-Suhail: Muqtada al-Sadr leaves this decision to his followers for themselves. You have to know that Muqtada al-Sadr is not a marji' [religious authority], he's just a national leader. Therefore, he decided to call on his followers to follow their marji'. Most of Muhammad [Sadiq] al-Sadr's [Muqtada's deceased father, a well-known ayatollah] follow the Shi'ite maraji' such as [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani, and [ayatollahs] Kazim al-Ha'iri, Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayyad, Muhammad al-Ya'qubi. Therefore, everything that these Shi'ite marji' decide, the followers should obey.

RFE/RL: Ayatollah al-Sistani has asked the Shi'a to vote in favor of the constitution.

Al-Suhail: Yes, he called on them to vote "yes" on the constitution, and I think it's the most important decision.

RFE/RL: But, still, al-Sadr is saying to his people, "You can vote 'yes' or 'no'." He's not following the line of al-Sistani.

Al-Suhail: Yes, he believes so much in democracy.

RFE/RL: Will you participate in the next election?

Al-Suhail: Yes.

RFE/RL: As an independent, or will you join a coalition?

Al-Suhail: No, we [al-Sadr supporters] will enter the election as an individual list. Our list will be called "Al-Sadr Masses" [Kutlat Al-Sadr]. Many Iraqi people are preparing to [become] Kutlat al-Sadriyin, those who [followed] the [late] Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Muhammad [Sadiq] al-Sadr.

RFE/RL: How many people will run with you for seats in the National Assembly?

Al-Suhail: If we run, it will not be less than 32-40 individuals. This is only for Baghdad and [some] other governorates. In other governorates such as Al-Hillah, Al-Najaf, Al-Diwaniyah, Samawah, [we] may enter into coalitions with other parties such as the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party in its two branches -- Al-Da'wah-Iraq, which belongs to Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, and Al-Da'wah Al-Islamiyah, which belongs to [Prime Minister] Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. We have entered into a coalition with them in some Iraqi governorates, but in Baghdad, we are prepared to enter [the election] as an individual list.

RFE/RL: But based on what you said, the coalition will not be with the Shi'a but with the National Dialogue Council?

Al-Suhail: Yes, as I said, the Shi'a coalition was so weak [in its performance in the transitional government] as compared to the Kurdistan list. Therefore, our constitution is [written] from a Kurdish [stance], not a Shi'a one.

RFE/RL: The Al-Najaf Tribal Council this week criticized Iran for interfering in Iraqi affairs in Al-Najaf.

Al-Suhail: Iran's interference in Iraqi issues was highly exaggerated by the media. When you [visit the holy cities] of Al-Najaf and Karbala, you will not see any Iranians. The Iranian interference in Iraq is so exaggerated, and it's not true on the ground. The Iraqi field now is open for the intelligence of all the surrounding countries, such as Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, all of the intelligence [services] of these countries are [active] in Iraq, and I think the Iranians are not [as] effective as the media [claims].

RFE/RL: But, [Shi'ite leader] Ali al-Dabbagh said there is Iranian interference in Iraq.

Al-Suhail: As I said, there is Iranian interference in Baghdad, but it is little compared to the others such as Syrian, Jordanian, and Saudis.

RFE/RL: Why would the Al-Najaf Tribal Council say something like this about Iran, if it were not true?

Al-Suhail: In Iraq now there are more than 400-500 political parties and movements. Therefore, any four or five persons can form any council they want. [Iranian interference] is not the expressed view of a considerable [amount of] people in this area. I think [the tribal council] expressed their own opinions.

RFE/RL: What about in Al-Basrah? We hear that there are many Iranians in Al-Basrah.

Al-Suhail: In Al-Basrah, according to the electoral process, the local council of Al-Basrah [is composed of] many movements. But the support for Iranian movements is little. The Al-Basrah governor is from the Al-Fadilah (Islamic) Party. The chairman of the local council of Al-Basrah is from the Al-Da'wah movement, the other members of the council are from the [Iraqi] National Accord, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI], and Badr [forces -- the former armed wing of SCIRI now considered a political organization], but their role is so little compared to Al-Fadilah and other parties. The Badr [forces] and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq were effective only in Al-Najaf, Karbala, and Samawah.... There is a great conflict between the Al-Fadilah and the Al-Sadr movement in Al-Basrah and [SCIRI] because [SCIRI] is supported by Iran. The Al-Fadilah and the Al-Sadr followers can be regarded as purely Iraqis. They don't have any support from outside Iraq.

RFE/RL: And you are saying that the Badr Organization is supported by Iran?

Al-Suhail: Yes -- partly. [Badr] is a political movement now, not a military movement now. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-SADR SUPPORTERS DEMONSTRATE IN AL-HILLAH AGAINST CONSTITUTION. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 14 October that thousands of al-Sadr supporters were demonstrating in Al-Hillah, demanding the death penalty for Saddam Hussein. Demonstrators also circulated an official statement, which said:

"O believers! Verily this constitution is neither Islamic nor legal! May you not be seduced by the sweet words of its preamble that have been laid down but will neither nurture nor relieve the hunger of those whose rights have been ruined since the establishment of a modern Iraqi state to this day. For this reason, the constitution is not Islamic. His Excellency Grand Ayatollah [Imam Kazim al-Ha'iri] has not approved of voting "yes" [on the constitution], so it [is] clear to the Muslim community that the measures and norms of Islam have not been [addressed] in this constitution. His Excellency Grand Ayatollah [Imam al-Ha'iri] has added: 'Even if I am cut into pieces, I will not approve this constitution.'"

(Translation by Petr Kubalek and Samira Balay)

THE CORRUPTION QUANDARY. Iraq's transitional government has issued arrest warrants for former Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan and 23 other officials for the misappropriation of more than $1 billion during the administration of the interim government that ruled Iraq from June 2004 until April. Al-Sha'lan has denied any role in the corruption scandal and has claimed that the allegations are politically motivated by the current Iraqi government and Iran.

According to media reports, between 28 June 2004 and 13 February 2005 the Defense Ministry under al-Sha'lan signed 89 contracts worth $1.271 billion. Hadi al-Amiri, a member of Iraq's Integrity Commission, said last month that a contract worth $949 million was signed with a firm identified as Al-Ayn Company. The firm was paid in full in advance, he said, and the ministry failed to secure guarantees from the firm on the contract.

Another contract worth $226.8 million was reportedly signed for the purchase of 24 new helicopters, of which only four were delivered to Iraq. Other outdated helicopters in disrepair, he said, were also marked for delivery by the contractor -- which is in a former Soviet republic. According to al-Amiri, the second contract was also paid in full without guarantees. The contractor now wants to replace the undelivered helicopters with technical instruments and equipment, "Al-Zaman" reported on 19 September.

Allegations Could Thwart Comeback

Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's party, the Iraqi National Accord, has claimed that the scandal is part of a campaign by Iranian-supported political parties in Iraq to smear secular parties such as Allawi's, which object to Iran's growing influence in Iraq. The scandal threatens to thwart Allawi's attempt to move back to the forefront of Iraq's political landscape in December elections after he and his party were largely kept from power in the current transitional government.

While he has not been directly linked to the corruption allegations, if such transgressions occurred under his administration Allawi and his party would be marred by the scandal. Allawi has worked to position himself for a comeback on the political scene in December's elections, and media reports have indicated that he is pursuing an alliance with Kurdish parties in the next Iraqi government.

Allawi has called on the Iraqi government to publicly open the corruption files. Allawi expressed concern that the al-Ja'fari government will use the scandal for political gain, telling Al-Sharqiyah television in an interview aired on 2 October: "Just as there are accusations [against the interim government], we also have accusations against ministers in the current government who abused power and misused state funds. But we do not come to announce this and talk in this matter on television, in the press, and other media."

Allawi has defended his administration of the interim government, telling Al-Sharqiyah in a 22 September interview that his administration did everything in its power to combat corruption. "We referred a number of ministries to investigation. We also adopted important decisions on the nature of contracts. I recall, for example, issuing a decision stating that any contract of more than $5 million must be referred to a higher economic committee made up of a number of ministers. It banned signing agreements of a higher ceiling. Contracts amounting to less than $5 million [were] handled by a ministerial committee headed by the minister," he said. Meanwhile, Hadi al-Amiri told "Al-Zaman" that the Defense Ministry's own committee had rejected the contract with Al-Ayn Company, the daily reported on 19 September, leaving it unclear as to how the contract was approved.

The allegations of corruption at the Defense Ministry go far beyond the illicit contracts. Al-Amiri said that charges have been filed against one Defense Ministry official for some 60 million dinars ($40,827) paid to ghost employees. One ministry officer put his three-year-old daughter on the payroll and, another, his seven-year-old son.

Accusations Against Other Ministries

While the Defense Ministry scandal may amount to the largest misuse of public funds, at least five other ministries face allegations of corruption, including the interior, public works, trade, oil, and electricity ministries. According to Integrity Commission officials, the committee has identified more than 1,100 cases of administrative corruption and crimes.

There are at least 450 cases under investigation at the Interior Ministry, including investigations into officers who funneled equipment and other property to insurgent groups. Trade Ministry employees are under investigation for selling off goods from the ration-card program -- some of which have ended up in neighboring states, or for replacing goods with lower-quality substitutes. There are also discrepancies within Oil Ministry accounts and investigators are looking into reports of widespread oil smuggling across Iraq's borders.

The Public Works Ministry has been under investigation for months, and Minister Nisreen Barwari was accused in a 3 October National Assembly session of failing to cooperate with the Inspector General's office. Barwari, who has admitted to at least two cases of corruption in her ministry, has said that the inspector general was the uncooperative one, adding that he did not accept explanations presented to him by the ministry.

Lack Of Controls Hampers Reforms

The blame for Iraq's corruption scandal cannot be laid entirely on the Allawi administration. Improper control mechanisms, poor accounting procedures, and inexperience coupled with a huge influx of money into Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime made it impossible for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to track disbursements. According to a report ( issued in 2004 by the International Advisory and Monitoring Board for Iraq (IAMB), $5 billion in reconstruction funds disbursed by the CPA in the first half of 2004 were unaccounted for, including $1.4 billion deposited into a Kurdistan Regional Government bank account in northern Iraq.

In the same audit, the IAMB discovered that the Finance Ministry was maintaining two sets of accounting records -- "manual records for transactions post-hostilities [the U.S.-led invasion] and computerized records representing the continuation of the official records." The IAMB found significant discrepancies when reconciling the two sets of accounting records. "The accounting systems at the Iraqi ministries, including their divisions, were primarily manual-based with limited computerization," the report noted.

The Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., concluded in a 30 January report to the U.S. Congress that some $9 billion in funds earmarked for the reconstruction of Iraq went unaccounted for due to inefficiencies and bad management by the CPA between April 2003 and 28 June 2004. "The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial, and contractual controls to ensure that [Development Fund for Iraq] funds were used in a transparent manner," Bowen said. CPA Administrator Paul Bremer responded to the report by saying the auditors presumed "the coalition could achieve a standard of budgetary transparency and execution that even peaceful Western nations would have trouble meeting within a year, especially in the midst of a war," reported on 30 January.

In addition to poor accounting procedures, it appears that ministries are either unaware of, or ignore, proper contracting procedures, leading to systematic chaos. Inspector generals assigned to review contracting procedures at ministries are ineffective due to staffing shortages and incompetence. Reports indicate that inspector generals may also face intimidation and, in some cases, are unable to work without government interference.

It is not surprising that Iraq's postwar administrations have been marred by chaos and corruption, whether in the CPA, the interim government, or likely, what has yet to be revealed about the administration of the current transitional government.

The CPA, by all accounts, was unprepared to administer the enormous influx of cash coming from outside in the form of donor aid, unfrozen Hussein-era assets, and millions of dollars left over from UN oil-for-food funds, which were doled out to ministries with outdated accounting practices, little to no oversight, and almost certainly, records maintained in a foreign language. And, as Bremer said, in the midst of a war. The interim government inherited the system and, it appears, some took advantage of it.

But greed, incompetence, and poor mechanisms are only part of the problem. Iraqi society, like the rest of the Middle East, remains entrenched in a system of patronage and clientelism, where contracts are doled out on the basis of personal and professional relationships rather than competence. Until that mindset changes -- something that could take generations -- corruption will remain a problem in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)