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November 18, 2008

About those Iraqi Corruption Problems
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The New York Times is reporting today that Iraq's anti-corruption officials are being systematically dismantled.

The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is systematically dismissing Iraqi oversight officials, who were installed to fight corruption in Iraqi ministries by order of the American occupation administration, which had hoped to bring Western standards of accountability to the notoriously opaque and graft-ridden bureaucracy here.

One important thing to note here is Sam Parker's very prescient analysis from this past summer about the Power's that Be (PTBs) and the Powers that Aren't (PTAs).  As Sam argues, the PTBs, are the groups currently in power:  ISCI, parts of Dawa, the two Kurdish parties and the Sunni IIP.  The PTAs are everyone else, most notably the Sadrists and the Awakening groups.  As Sam notes the PTBs have continued to use the mechanisms of government to consolidate power.  Using the financial resources available to them and developing patronage systems that keep them in power are a critical part of that.  The Maliki government's purge of anti-corruption officials is just another significant step in that direction.


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The United States seems to be making the same mistake that it made in Vietnam by believing that military victories could somehow change the nature of the national government. The Americans, like Iraq after the surge, won military victories in the late sixties and early seventies in Vietnam, but that still led to any improvements in the government. The United States is facing a similiar problem in Iraq in that there is no poilitcal solution or a clean and efficient government.

Using the financial resources available to them and developing patronage systems that keep them in power are a critical part of that.

And it sounds like a very good idea to me. After years of weakness, the Iraqi government seems to have finally gotten its feet under it. It is getting richer and gaining in respect and authority. It seems to me that this is a process we want to encourage, and that it is our most reliable route out of the country. I don't think we should be trying to engineer "political reconciliations" that reflect our own biased conceptions of who ought to have power, and how much, and that are likely to be destabilizing despite ourselves. Iraq has a democratically elected government. Let that government govern as it sees fit.

I spent two years over in Iraq, and from my experience people there in higher profile positions always look for kickbacks or are skimming off of the top. I think that the oversight was a good idea but it was doomed from the beginning.

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