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Iraqis skeptical that rule of law will be applied to all

Saturday, 05 September 2020 04:42
Anti-government demonstrators protest deteriorating public services and spread of corruption in Basra, Iraq. (AP) Anti-government demonstrators protest deteriorating public services and spread of corruption in Basra, Iraq. (AP)

The families of murdered, assassinated, kidnapped and forcibly disappeared protesters fear that only some employees and even ministers will be used as scapegoats to appease the anger of the public.

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council revealed Thursday that the former interior and defence ministers were summoned as part of the government’s ongoing investigation into the violent protests that swept the country late last year and led to the killing of hundreds of protesters.

The chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Faiq Zaidan, said in a statement that he had met with National Security Adviser Qasim Al Araji, National Security Agency chief Abdul Ghani Al Asadi and the head of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service Brigadier General Abdel-Wahab Al-Saadi to discuss litigations over the killing and wounding of protesters and law enforcement personnel.

“The investigative bodies specialising in these cases have issued a number of arrest warrants for a number of employees in the ministries of defence and interior, but under the Military Notices Law and the Internal Security Forces Notifications Law, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Minister of Interior must approve them before they are implemented,” Zaidan said.

He explained that the judicial investigative body in Rusafa in Baghdad had summoned both former Defence Minister Najah al-Shammari and former Interior Minister Yassin al-Yasiri to seek clarification from them about information related to the investigation into the cases of killing and wounding of protesters.

Zaidan added that the commission had also issued a number of arrest warrants against defence and interior ministry employees, as well as arrested officers pending investigation and issuing judgments against others.

The defence and interior ministers in the government of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi are the most senior officials to be summoned in the investigation of the violence that took place during the protests.

Last May, the Iraqi government announced the formation of committees to investigate the violence that left 565 protesters and security forces dead during protests, according to an official count.

The government of Prime Minister Mustapha al-Kadhimi says it is serious about ensuring the rule of law, fighting corruption and ending the chaos caused by the spread of weapons, but many doubt the government’s ability to reach these objectives given the deep-seated power of rival parties and armed militias.

These forces believe that the state is contesting their power and threatening the interests of their leaders, many of whom stand accused of corruption and major crimes, including the killing of protesters and assassination of activists.

Iraqi activists have often questioned the likelihood that militia leaders who are found guilty of involvement in the killing of protesters will be held accountable. They believe it is possible that investigations and punishments will be limited to state officials and some security leaders.

A few days ago, Kadhimi’s government indicated that higher ups could indeed feel the brunt of the law, as Iraq’s Central Bank froze the assets and seized the property of nine former and current officials, including the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over failing to pay debts owed to the state.

The Central Bank’s decision stated: “The seizure of movable and immovable assets for each of Yasser Sakheil (Al-Maliki’s son-in-law), his brother Luqman Sakheil (former governor of Karbala) Aqeel Al-Taraihi (close to Al-Maliki), MP Zuhair Al-Araji and Hajem Al-Hasani (former head of the Governing Council).”

The list of names also included Ali Al-Quraishi, an official at the foreign ministry, Walid Rida, an official in the prime minister’s office, and Saeed Khedr and Abdullah Muhammad Abdullah, whose positions are unclear.

The targeting of Maliki’s close circle is viewed as a bold move, as the former premier, who headed the Iraqi government for eight years between 2006 and 2014, had long been able to shield himself from accountability by infiltrating various state institutions.

Maliki is accused of widespread corruption and squandering hundreds of billions of dollars of oil money. He is also blamed for weakening the country’s security and military establishments, paving the way for ISIS to tear into Iraq and cause untold disaster and tragedy.

Since assuming office in May, Kadhimi has pledged to refer all those suspected of corruption to the judiciary, regardless of their position within the state. However, Iraqi observers do not believe his campaign will grow into a confrontation with Maliki at a time when the premiere is seeking to appease tensions with political parties and militias close to Iran.

Kadhimi’s recent move, however, could be an attempt to reassure protesters that his government is serious about meeting their demands, of which fighting corruption is at the forefront.

Well-informed Iraqi sources told The Arab Weekly that Maliki had previously distributed his wealth among his relatives in anticipation of his downfall.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Kadhimi’s most recent move did not miss its target, even if it did not aim directly at Maliki, who now knows that he is not completely safe.

The majority of Iraqis often disregard measures taken by their country’s authorities to fight corruption and combat crime, ignoring the media frenzy that generally accompanies such measures.

Some Iraqis believe the procedures are superficial, formal and circumstantial, and that their purpose is to embellish the tarnished image of authorities.

The families of murdered, assassinated, kidnapped and forcibly disappeared protesters fear that only some employees and even ministers will be used as scapegoats to appease the anger of the public, which has been demanding accountability and justice for the victims.

The most pessimistic Iraqis say that achieving concrete results in the fight against corruption is impossible, as those conducting the fight are corrupt themselves or hold positions within corrupt institutions, such as the judiciary.

Political activists and opinion leaders have always described anti-corruption measures as selective, challenging authorities to hold accountable one of those most widely accused of corruption, like Maliki, the leader of the Dawa Party.

Most of the cases that the judiciary has opened so far concern low-ranking officials, according to many Iraqis, who say that “big corruption whales,” in reference to senior political officials and leaders of parties and militias, have remained untouchable.

Iraqis have reason for their scepticism, as many of those being tried on corruption charges are former rather than current officials, and it is customary to give some of them the opportunity to flee outside Iraq and transfer money they stole abroad before their files are opened and the sentencing is done.

Source: Arab Weekly