Iraqi Fights Graft, Crime in Interior Ministry

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Missy Ryan and Muhanad Mohammed

2010-01-13T225914Z_513309992_GM1E61E0J8I01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ-MINISTRY

Interior Ministry Inspector General, Aqeel al-Turaihi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad January 11, 2010. Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated. Picture taken January 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Outside the office of Aqeel al-Turaihi, inspector general at what is seen as a corrupt country’s most corrupt government agency, hangs a ‘Board of Honour’ showing photos of slain colleagues. Since he began probing theft, human rights abuses and police infiltration by militias in Iraq’s Interior Ministry in 2006, more than 40 members of Turaihi’s team have been assassinated.

“We are targeted from two sides: by terrorists because we are part of a security agency and by unscrupulous officials because we fight corruption,” he said.

Assailants have tried several times to kill Turaihi himself, an amateur poet and one-time activist against dictator Saddam Hussein, including a bomb attack on his convoy two years ago. The most recent threat on his life was less than a month ago.

Yet, Turaihi said, big strides had been made in combating malfeasance in the ministry, a vast bureaucracy that includes more than 300,000 police and about 200,000 other employees.

“There has been a big improvement. When we talk about the problems that might exist in the ministry, we need to note that we’re watching them closely and working hard to correct them.”

As Iraq battles a stubborn insurgency and takes on greater responsibility for security from U.S. troops, it must face not just corruption but allegations police or soldiers take bribes from militants or even collude in bloody attacks on civilians.

In a new report, parliament’s security and defense committee charges security forces were at least indirectly responsible in recent attacks on state buildings that have added a new element of uncertainty before national elections in March.

Seven or eight members of security forces remain in police custody after those attacks, committee member Falah Zaidan said.

Ammar Tu’ma, another lawmaker on the committee, said security forces were infiltrated.

“There are elements complicit with terrorists in implementing these explosions,” he said.

While officials deny any systemic wrongdoing among uniformed Iraqis, they acknowledge shortcomings in keeping Iraqis safe and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed dire consequences for those taking part in such attacks.

EJECTING CRIMINAL ELEMENTS

In the bloody years after Saddam’s ooverthrow, when U.S. officials disbanded security forces and rebuilt them anew, the Interior Ministry was widely believed to be in the grip of Shi’ite militias that went after adversaries with impunity and targeted Iraqis from the once-dominant Sunni minority.

Turaihi said most criminal elements were ‘cleansed’ from the ministry.

“There was a time when the ministry may not have been so professional and its loyalties might have been weak, but those loyalties have now come together under a national banner.”

Critics are skeptical about how zealous Turaihi and other anti-corruption officials in Iraq have been in that fight.

Zaidan said Turaihi, whose 2,600 inspectors oversee a ministry of 500,000 employees, and his Defense Ministry counterpart were not up to snuff and may need to be replaced.

While graft is sure to be a hot issue in the March 7 national polls, Iraq’s record on going after iniquitous officials, especially those from senior levels, is poor.

Iraq is still ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries even as it stands on the verge of signing energy deals that could bring a flood of new oil revenue.

The Interior Ministry has been especially problematic. An independent panel reported there were more Interior employees convicted of corruption in 2008 than any other ministry.

The same year, senior officials shut down 135 suspected corruption cases across the government, and another 1,552 were abandoned because suspects were covered by an amnesty law that has been morphed to become a corruption shield.

Turaihi said he did not support a full cancellation of the controversial article that allows ministers to protect subordinates, but said it should be used only to protect prosecution of ‘unintentional’ crimes.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim, Suadad al-Salhy and Khalid al-Ansary; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

sexslaves2603_468x477 This past month the US State Department released it’s 9th annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which lambasted 4 Middle Eastern countries for their blatant human rights abuses. Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria have found themselves strange bedfellows on America’s ‘blacklist’, which means that unless these governments change their domestic policies to meet the minimum criteria for human rights they face a slew of sanctions.

According to the report, the global economic turndown has fueled the flames of an already exasperating situation. As a result, many traffickers in the Gulf region have moved underground to avoid detection and continue the slave trade. It’s no secret that the construction boom that has heralded many countries of the Middle East into a new modern age has been built with the blood, sweat and backbreaking work of poor migrant workers primarily from Southeast Asia. The sex industry is also flourishing in the Middle East, especially in Iran where ‘temporary’ marriages are legal and women are exploited by being denied the rights that a married woman possesses. Underground prostitution rings are present in all four of the blacklisted countries. Visa trading is also a major problem as migrant workers are lured to the Gulf with the promise of high salaries and a better life. However, once they arrive they soon learn that they are only paid a fraction of the salary that they were promised and are forced to live in deplorable conditions not fit for an animal let alone a human being.

This week the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia set itself apart from the other countries on the blacklist. The Saudi government has toughened its stance against human traffickers within its borders. New laws recently put into effect will punish traffickers with up to 15 years in prison and fine of more than one-quarter of a million dollars.

Saudi Arabia has long been fodder for critics accusing the kingdom of ignoring human rights abuses that are often well publicized in the media, but routinely ignored by the ruling government. The kingdom has also clearly defined, in writing, what constitutes human trafficking in the country. Sexual servitude and slavery, forced organ donations or forced medical experimenting and involuntary begging are all instances of trafficking under the new law, which metes out harsher punishments based on the victim of the crime. If the victim is disabled, a woman, child or elderly then the penalty is substantially increased. However, many critics still lament the fact that the definition does not better define the trafficking of children into the kingdom who are forced to work as sex slaves, beggars or street vendors. The new law also makes zero reference to women and children who are exploited or abused within their own family unit.

Following the cabinet meeting that signed the new law into action, the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying about the new law, “It embodies the principles of Islamic Sharia law which prohibit attacks on the rights of another human being to protect the rights of citizens and residents under Islamic law.”

The remaining three countries have done little to improve their human rights records since inclusion at the top of the list of human rights abuses. Kuwait, for example, does have a set of laws to defeat human trafficking within the tiny Gulf state. Unfortunately, the laws are difficult to enforce when so many citizens have influence to bend the laws in their favor. The phenomenon of ‘wasta’, or friends in high places, is too often the grease that moves the cogs of society no matter who gets hurt in the process.

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