Iraqi currency. Photo: Public Domain
Iraqi currency. Photo: Public Domain

Joe Fathallah

On 5 August, the government of Iraq called for the extradition from the UK and US of four former officials accused of embezzling over $2.5 billion of public money between September 2021 and August 2022, in one of the worst cases of corruption in the history of the country.

Five companies cashed 247 different cheques written by state employees, and the funds were then withdrawn from the company accounts. Most of the business owners concerned have also fled Iraq. Interpol red notices have already been issued for three of the suspects. These are Raed Jouhi, cabinet director for former prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Ahmed Najati, al-Kadhimi’s personal secretary, and Ali Allawi, who held the offices of finance minister and deputy prime minister. Jouhi and Najati hold American citizenship, while Allawi is a dual British national. The final suspect Mushrik Abbas, al-Kadhimi’s media advisor, is believed to be in the United Arab Emirates.

Corruption is endemic at the top of Iraqi society. Former president Barham Salih claimed in 2021 that $150 billion of money from the oil industry had been illegally exported from the country since the US-led invasion in 2003. Transparency International’s corruption perception index scored Iraq 157th out of 180th countries ranked, with one being the least corrupt.

US president George Bush led the invasion of Iraq as part of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, but it was clear that US imperialism’s main objective was to guarantee lucrative contracts to American companies in the oil industry, as well as in ‘reconstruction’ and private security. To achieve this, it was necessary to push political figures to the forefront who would co-operate in this process. Nouri al-Maliki was handpicked as prime minister in 2006 with close US involvement, including an interview with the CIA! Almost by definition the occupying forces had to create a new corrupt political class in Iraq.

Since the invasion and occupation, Iraq has suffered from chronic political instability, with sectarian parties, representing different sections of the capitalist elite, vying for power. Current prime minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani is the 7th since the most recent incarnation of the country, the Republic of Iraq, was founded in 2004. This series of corrupt, pro-capitalist regimes has offered nothing but insecurity and poverty to working-class Iraqis. In the period between 2014-17, much of the country’s territory was overrun by Islamic State.

The Iraqi working class has a proud history of struggle. In the 1950s, the trade union movement played a key role in the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy, bringing to power the left-wing government of Abd al-Karim Qasim, which introduced reforms improving the lives of working and middle-class Iraqis. For many years Iraq had one of the best organised, most powerful working classes in the Arab world, especially based in and around the oil industry. Iraqi trade unions are the only major institution in the country not split along religious-sectarian lines. To escape from this impasse of instability and deep-rooted corruption, these traditions need to be rediscovered and built on, to fight for a socialist Iraq run by and for the working class, without corruption, poverty, and political repression.