Ferry disaster shines spotlight on corruption in Iraq

Water levels in Mosul were also blamed by some for last month's ferry drowning that killed more than 100 people
Water levels in Mosul were also blamed by some for last month's ferry drowning that killed more than 100 people (AFP Photo/Zaid AL-OBEIDI) (AFP/File)

Baghdad (AFP) - A governor on the run, officials summoned to court and candidates accused of bribing councillors: the Mosul ferry disaster has brought renewed attention to the scourge of corruption in Iraq.

Nationwide horror over the March 21 capsizing of the overloaded riverboat in the northern city of Mosul, which claimed 100 lives, mostly of women and children, has given way to a clamour for provincial officials to be put on trial.

Graft is endemic across Iraq, not only in the city the Islamic State group controlled for three years before their expulsion in July 2017.

The country ranks among the world's worst offenders in Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

Since 2004, a year after the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, a total of $218 billion has vanished into the pockets of shady politicians and businessmen, according to parliament.

That is more than Iraq's GDP.

Few officials have been brought to account, and amnesties have allowed many to evade justice, only partially repaying the stolen funds.

For the past week, the cry of "corruption is killing us" has been ringing across Mosul.

A parliamentary report compiled by 43 deputies has warned that corruption risks re-igniting sectarian tensions long exploited by jihadists.

It could also impede the rebuilding of Mosul, much of which was reduced to rubble during the year-long battle to evict IS.

The report, seen by AFP, shows economic groups linked to units from the Hashed al-Shaabi, the Shiite paramilitary alliance which played a key role in defeating IS in mainly Sunni Mosul, taking over projects and lands.

- 'Profiteering' -

Figures close to Hashed are also accused of war profiteering.

Instead of reconstruction, such entrepreneurs have made millions of dollars from the resale of metallic structures and building materials from damaged apartment blocks, a local official says in the report.

He said such sales were being conducted by "armed groups and their frontmen through letters of authorisation from the government".

At the same time, according to the report, Nawfel al-Akoub, the governor who has been fired and gone on the run, authorised the construction of two roads in violation of municipal regulations, for the benefit of oil smugglers.

The ferry's capsize in the swollen River Tigris, after operators ignored warnings of dangerous weather, proved a tipping point.

But Abdel Rahman al-Louizi, an MP who took part in the parliamentary inquiry, said the sacking of the provincial governor had already been expected.

"The governor's dismissal came after the ferry shock but it's based on evidence collected well before that," he said.

According to former defence minister Khaled al-Obeidi, on contender to succeed Mosul's disgraced governor is offering $200,000 each to provincial councillors to ensure his election.

Disenchanted Iraqis on social media expressed doubt the ferry drama will force authorities to tackle the issue of graft.

"The ferry's sinking revealed dozens of cases of corruption in Mosul," one Iraqi activist wrote on Twitter.

"How many more victims... will it take to uncover all the other corruption files in Iraq's other provinces?"