Corruption, 'ghost contractors' sink Baghdad after rains

After the first rainfall of the season, Iraqis have blamed flooding on corruption that is delaying construction projects.

al-monitor Vehicles are seen along a flooded street after heavy overnight rains in Baghdad, Nov. 11, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Saad.

Topics covered

schools, islamic state, iraq, infrastructure, isis, environmental issues, corruption, baghdad

Dec 12, 2014

BAGHDAD — The first rainfall of the season swept Iraqi cities Nov. 21, causing flooding in schools, houses and streets.

Siham Ahmed, a student from al-Diwaniya city south of Baghdad, couldn’t get to class since the roads flooded and the school itself was submerged. “The students’ school uniforms and books were ruined in the mud,” she told Al-Monitor.

The flooding of schools in al-Diwaniya and other parts of Iraq has become an annual phenomenon that local authorities have failed to resolve. A video of a school flooding in Basra province went viral on YouTube and Facebook. Ghayath, a digital activist, commented on the video: “Where is the custodian of Basra?” in reference to the Basra governor and officials.

As Iraqis wage war against the Islamic State (IS), they are also engaged in another war against nature, as streets, city centers and sewage systems flood. Financial corruption has stalled infrastructure projects, and Iraqi infrastructure has subsequently collapsed following first rainfall of the season.

The flooding has even become good material for jokes, despite the tragedy. A YouTube video described the virtual lakes in the streets as an Iraqi “Titanic.”

The people blame corruption and ghost contractors who coordinate with officials to get tenders in return for financial kickbacks, and then sell subcontracts to other people. Jawad al-Chamri, the media officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq, confirmed this practice. “Corruption in infrastructure [projects] is not just a waste of money, but also a a failure of human rights,” he told Al-Monitor. “The floods in newly built schools have pushed Iraqis to lose trust in their society, as it derogated their right to education.”

Chamri said that projects were referred to "bogus companies and fake names," and that contracts were then sold "to companies other than those to which the [infrastructure] projects were referred."

“The other more serious issue is that there are officials whose relatives and associates own companies using fake names,” he added. “The report of Iraq’s Supreme Audit Board reveals the rampant corruption, as the percentage of bubble projects reached 80%, to which huge sums were allocated.”

Jassem al-Musawi, a political author and analyst, told Al-Monitor, “Observers of Iraqi affairs are aware of the massive and fearsome financial corruption, and the floods in the Iraqi cities are a normal product of the bubble projects that do not exist on the ground.”

He added, “Corruption gangs and mafias have devastated the country more than terrorism. The rampant corruption in the state has weakened the national spirit among citizens and incapacitated the state itself.”

Regarding the benefits of these projects, Mehdi Aakul Sultani, a member of Babil’s provincial council, gave a positive image of the infrastructure projects in the province. He said, “The most important rainwater drainage project is the installation of channels and the expansion of drainage networks by linking them to houses in different parts of the province.”

He added, “The designs of sewage projects and drainage networks were awarded to an Italian company, and the provincial council allocated more than 500 billion dinars [$433 million] to install the networks within the 2014 plan. Yet, since the [general] budget has not been approved yet, the project has not been implemented."

Sultani demanded that “the federal government allocate a contingency budget of nearly 6 billion dinars [$5.1 million] for the rainwater drainage project across the province.”

Officials in Baghdad province refused to answer Al-Monitor's questions regarding the corruption in many infrastructure projects in the Iraqi capital.

Safa Abdul Hadi, head of the news department at the Al-Iraqiya TV channel, told Al-Monitor, “The government campaign against corruption should include a follow-up on the lagging services and infrastructure projects, of which nothing has been achieved so far, despite the tens of billions of dollars that were allocated.”

“The most serious corruption case is the strategic water drainage projects, leading to a tragedy. The accumulation of water in winter is impeding the citizens’ movement, which reflects on their daily activities,” he added.

Abdul Hadi said, “Most major cities in Iraq still lack such projects, including the capital, Baghdad, for various reasons, most notably corruption and mismanagement.”

In light of the oil price decline and the large financial burden resulting from the war on IS, financial corruption in Iraq will have a greater impact on the projects’ work flow and citizens’ standards of living. This requires decisive measures to halt the corruption.

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