Kirkuk's Integrity Court issued an arrest warrant June 16 for Rakan Saeed al-Jabouri, the acting governor of Kirkuk, on charges of corruption, including wasting 950 million Iraqi dinars in public funds allocated for reconstruction in areas retaken from Islamic State (IS) control.
The multiethnic and oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 145 miles north of Baghdad, is an area disputed between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution requires the final status of Kirkuk and other areas in dispute between the two governments to be resolved in a referendum to determine whether they will remain part of federal Iraq or the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region.
After IS controlled much of northern and western Iraq in 2014 and Iraqi troops withdrew, Kurdish peshmerga forces filled the gap and took control of Kirkuk and other disputed areas. Iraqi forces expelled Kurdish forces from the city in October 2017 following the independence referendum in September that also included Kirkuk. Jabouri, an Arab, was appointed by Baghdad as acting governor after it retook the province, and Kirkuk's former governor, Najmadin Karim, a Kurd, fled the city.
Dilan Ghafoor, a member of the Iraqi Council of Representatives from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), raised the case against Jabouri last February. She addressed the Federal Board of Supreme Audit of Iraq and the Iraqi Commission of Integrity (COI), which issued to her a detailed report on the one-year expenses of Jabouri’s guesthouse in Kirkuk.
Ghafoor confirmed to Al-Monitor she raised the case against Jabouri after she reviewed details of the report, which included “breaches” of the Iraqi federal budget law for 2018. She said Jabouri illegally transferred to the guesthouse a total amount of 950 million Iraqi dinars ($798,319), which was originally allocated to rebuilding Kirkuk's districts and subdistricts.
Ghafoor said she will hold a press conference soon, publish all the documents for the public and wait for the Iraqi judiciary to bring Jabouri to justice.
Copies of receipts signed by Jabouri were recently published on social media, indicating that various sums of money were spent on banquets at the governor’s guesthouse.
Arif Qurbani, a Kurdish writer and political analyst from Kirkuk who published dozens of receipts on his personal Facebook page, told Al-Monitor, "The case against Kirkuk's acting governor is related to misuse of his authority for his own benefit and misuse of money, including incredible expenses for daily food as well as an amount of money expended for an unreal project — i.e., the money has been expended, but the project is missing."
Qurbani said Jabouri did not attend court even after he was summoned several times; thus, an arrest warrant has been issued for him.
Afrasiaw Kamal, spokesman for the Kirkuk police, told Al-Monitor, "We did not receive any arrest warrants for Jabouri, and we knew about the issue on social media."
Al-Monitor tried but was unable to contact Jabouri. Al-Monitor also tried to contact Abdul Karim Khedher Aziz al-Mafraji, head of Kirkuk's Appeals Court, but he would not speak to us unless we went to Kirkuk.
Burhan Mazhar al-Asi, head of the Arab bloc in Kirkuk's Provincial Council, told Al-Monitor he was not aware of an arrest warrant against Jabouri, saying there are sides that are “taunting” the administration in Kirkuk. He did not mention those "sides" and insisted they will not let anyone “play with the fate of Kirkuk and its sons.”
Al-Monitor also attempted to contact the COI via email, but no one responded.
This is the second time arrest warrants have been issued for Jabouri. In December, an arrest warrant was issued for him by the Iraqi Integrity Commission as per Article 340 of the Iraqi penal code, which relates to wasting public funds.
Since Iraqi troops took over Kirkuk on Oct. 16, 2017, following the failed bid for independence from Baghdad, the main Kurdish parties — the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) — have not been able to settle the issue of naming the next Kirkuk governor. Both parties had reached an agreement March 4 to form the new KRG and appoint a new governor for Kirkuk. The KDP had accepted the PUK's demand that Kirkuk's governor must be a PUK member; however, now the KDP insists that Kirkuk’s Provincial Council (KPC) should elect a joint candidate governor. KDP members have boycotted KPC sessions since 2017 because they consider Kirkuk a city "occupied" by Baghdad.
In the 2005 provincial elections in Kirkuk, the Kurdistan Brotherhood list consisting of the KDP, the PUK and other Kurdish parties in the governorate won the majority with 26 out of 41 seats. Turkmens won nine seats, and Sunni Arabs won six. Due to instability, no other provincial elections had been held in the province since, but Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced Monday that provincial elections will be held across the country on April 20, 2020.
Currently, the Iraqi parliament is amending the election law for provincial elections, including Kirkuk. The parliament’s legal committee set a date for the elections in consultation with government and the IHEC.
Qurbani cautioned that — taking into consideration the current situation in Iraq — Jabouri’s case might become “politicized," arguing that some sides in Iraq want Jabouri to remain in his position to fulfill the “Arabization” policy in Kirkuk. However, he said such small cases would not deteriorate ties between Baghdad and Erbil.
An example of politicizing legal issues in Iraq is the legal case against former PUK politburo and former Kirkuk Gov. Najmadin Karim — who was dismissed by Iraqi parliament after backing the Kurdish referendum. In May 2018, Kirkuk’s Appeals Court issued an arrest warrant for Karim on charges involving security and corruption issues. He was arrested by Interpol in Lebanon last month but freed after political efforts by the KDP and other Iraqi politicians. He recently returned to Erbil and has met with KRG President Nechirvan Barzani — a meeting considered by some Kurdish and Iraqi politicians to be an insult to the Iraqi judiciary and the politicization of Karim’s case.
Peregraf, an independent news website, reported that Jabouri attended court early Thursday but was later freed on bail after the court’s first judge, Sabah Majid, he had been pressured by senior Iraqi officials to withdraw and hand over the case to a second judge. The second judge freed Jabouri on 200 million Iraqi dinars. According to Transparency International’s 2018 corruption index, Iraq is the world's 12th most corrupt country and ranks 168 out of 180 countries. Most cases of corruption are politically bound, and senior political figures are normally involved. Weak governments in Baghdad and Erbil, weak judiciary systems, feeble parliamentary observations, and lack of free and independent media have all made Iraq a safe haven for corrupt officials, who easily escape justice.
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