The News
Saturday 24 of February 2024

Baghdad is Burning

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone, Saturday, April 30, 2016,photo/Khalid Mohammed
Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone, Saturday, April 30, 2016,photo/Khalid Mohammed
Iraq’s bottomless pit of money is on the verge of running out

Over the weekend, hundreds of disgruntled Shi’ite Muslim protesters stormed Iraq’s parliament inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses the most secure part of that country’s capital city, wreaking havoc, destroying thousands of dollars’ worth of property and triggering lockdowns inside U.N. and embassy compounds inside the 10-square-kilometer district.

The Shi’ite assault, led by the extremist cleric and militia leader Moqtada Sadr and inspired by the country’s rampant corruption and political paralysis, came just two days after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s unannounced visit to Baghdad, supposedly to shore up Iraq’s war against the Islamic State, but in actual fact to offer a show of support for the feeble and inept government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The proximity in time between Biden’s visit and the Shi’ite attack on parliament was no accident.

Ever since he came to power, replacing the equally incompetent Nouri al-Maliki in September 2014, with lofty promises to eradicate corruption and bridge sectarian divides by installing a balanced cabinet based on qualified credentials rather than nepotistic favors, Al-Abadi has not only not tamed graft, but has been milking it even more than his predecessor, expanding the country’s rosters of diplomats and bureaucrats with unqualified, do-nothing fat cats with padded expanse accounts and bogus marriages to justify their extravagant lifestyles, while average Iraqi citizens cope with daily scarcities of water, medicine, electricity shortages and shuttered classrooms.

(In the last two years, the number of Iraq diplomats abroad has increased by nearly 40 percent, and here in Mexico – a country that has virtually no trade, no investment and no significant cooperation ties with Iraq of any kind – the number of accredited Iraqi diplomats has increased by a whopping 100 percent.)

The Al-Abadi administration’s payroll currently includes a staggering 7 million government employees (in a country with a population of just 32 million people).

Despite lame promises to implement austerity measures to curb Iraq’s notorious financial malfeasance, Al-Abadi and his cronies continue to hemorrhage money through corruption, including nearly $700 billion in oil revenues and a seemingly endless supply of cash pouring in from the West.

In an I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine labyrinth of bribery, extortion and financial payoffs, Iraqi politicians award themselves with bloated salaries that would make Donald Trump blush and openly prop up state-owned corporations and ghost contrasts, while dishing out salaries to phantom employees in exchange for votes.

A full 60 percent of the country’s $99 billion budget is earmarked for state wages used to lubricate political favors, and in the Kurdish region of the country, government payrolls absorb an even more outrageous 70 percent of the budget.

Corruption in Iraq is so endemic that the global civil watchdog Transparency International has ranked it the sixth-most corrupt country on Earth, right behind North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and South Sudan (see “What to Do About Iraq,” which ran in this space on April 1).

But Iraq’s bottomless pit of money is on the verge of running out.

In the last 12 months, Iraq’s government revenues dropped by 60 percent, while civil servant salaries decreased by just 3 percent.

The International Monetary Fund (which, along with the World Bank, is expected to shell out a hefty sum of $15 billion to Iraq this year) has warned that the country’s economy will contract for the third year in a row in 2016, and there are even predictions that OPEC’s second-largest producer of oil could face outright bankruptcy by December.

And all this time, the United States and Europe continue to turn a blind eye to the unscrupulous profiteering and ruthless jobbery of Al-Abadi and his fellow pilferers, more concerned about keeping the bumbling Iraqi prime minister on their side than salvaging a nation or encouraging justice.

Greed and avaricious self-interests have led to an Iraqi government gridlock and bickering regarding any attempts to reshuffle the cabinet or curtail corruption, and meanwhile the Islamic State is proceeding with its plan to usurp the country for its nefarious objectives of perverse repression and savagery.

Just like the first century Roman emperor Nero, Al-Abadi is fiddling away his country’s future as his people’s anger erupts in an uncontrollable inferno of rage and indignation.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]