Does Iraq need a president?

Images showing the ailing Iraqi president in good health appear ominous, writes Salah Nasrawi

Dashing in a light blue suit and red tie, the ailing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the video sits with white clad medical staff in a German hospital. The footage released by his office was meant to assure Iraqis that Talabani was responding to medical treatment and is showing signs of improvement.
Talabani remains voiceless in the pictures but the head of his medical team, Najmaldin Karim, was cited by the presidential office as saying the 79-year-old president who was airlifted to Germany for treatment from a critical stroke in December would be able to return home as soon as his treatment was finished.
Karim, a neurosurgeon who oversees Talabani’s medical care and also a senior member of Talabani’s political party and a governor of the Iraqi province of Kirkuk, however, gave no details about the ailing leader’s condition.
There have been conflicting reports about the real status of Talabani’s health amid criticism to the government for its handling of the president’s illness and for keeping the Iraqi public in the dark about the president’s health.
Rumours have been abundant about Talabani’s health condition as his convalescence coincides with one of Iraq’s most serious political crises and its deadliest period of ethno-sectarian strife since the United States pullout in 2011.
Some reports have suggested that Talabani is clinically dead in the Berlin hospital where he is treated, others said the enfeebled president has handed his will to one of the leaders of his party.
Regardless of the furious speculations among Iraqis about Talabani’s health conditions, his prolonged absence has sparked a debate about whether he will be physically able to resume official duties.
According to various medical studies, persons who had strokes mostly develop serious physical and emotional problems occurring after recovery and they will need prolonged treatment.
Common problems among survivors of strokes are partial paralysis and speech and vision disability and in some cases the episode may be recurring.
Talabani is the founder and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish groups that dominate Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region. He was named president of Iraq in 2005, becoming the first non-Arab president of an Arab country. Talabani was re-elected in April 2010 for a second term of four years.
For much of his political career Talabani was a Kurdish guerrilla fighter and an activist opposed to successive governments in Baghdad.
He entered politics as a young student joining the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) that was seeking autonomy under its legendary leader Mustafa Barzani.
Talabani participated in fighting as well as in diplomatic missions in the Middle East and elsewhere to drum up support for the Kurdish national movement.
He later split with Barzani and in 1976 set up along with others, mostly leftist Kurdish activists, the PUK in an attempt to redefine the Kurdish political movement.
Critics say that Talabani has changed sides so often and note that he has a long history of political opportunism. At times he had aligned with Saddam Hussein’s regime only to shift sides with Khomeini’s Iran at various points of the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war.
He had a long history of alignment with such dictators like Syria’s Hafez Al-Assad and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in the various political feuds of the region.
Talabani played a key role as a partner of the US in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later he joined an interim governing council set up by the occupation administration.
But many experts say that his shifting sides and even covert alliances with regional and international secret services was dictated by the necessity to broaden Kurds’ foreign ties and outmanoeuvre their enemies, some of them major Middle East political heavyweights like Iran and Turkey.
In terms of competence, there is probably little credit to go to Talabani’s powerless presidency except probably deals he had brokered with rival sectarian leaders within the government. Under Iraq’s constitution the post of the president is ceremonial, giving key state powers to the prime minister who oversees the government, army and the security forces.
Yet, Talabani’s prolonged illness has highlighted Iraq’s fragile ethno sectarian-based political system as the country continues to be riddled with schisms that split the nation.
Politicians and analysts began debating the validity of Talabani staying in power and if it is time for Iraqis to elect a new president.
Last week Iraq’s Prosecutor-General triggered a constitutional article and asked the parliament to select a new president citing “long absence of the president of the republic from office”. Given Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s documented power grab over Iraq’s judiciary it is possible that he has influenced the judiciary to take the unusual move.
Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shia leaders and a vocal critic of the government urged the parliament to speed up the selection of a new president.
The post-Saddam Hussein constitution states that a new president should be elected whenever there is a vacancy in the post of the president for any reason to complete the remaining period of the mandate of the president.
Under a power-sharing package reached by the country’s main ethnic and sectarian groups, the president must be a Kurd while the prime minister is a Shia and the speaker of the parliament is a Sunni Arab.
Under another power sharing deal the KDP agreed to back Talabani’s bid for Iraq’s presidency in return for its leader Masoud Barzani becoming president of Kurdistan region.
All that makes Talabani’s succession a complex matter, involving national and Kurdish politics as well as regional powers and interests.
The Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on 14 May that arrangements were underway to choose a successor to Talabani among leaders of his party.
The paper said that Kurdish politician and a long time close aide to Talabani Barham Saleh who is also the PUK’s second deputy secretary-general is the party’s only candidate for the position.
The paper suggested that Iran, Baghdad’s Shia-led government key ally which is believed to have stakes in northern Iraq and enjoys close ties with Talabani’s party is showing interests in Talabani’s succession. Iran apparently tries to secure influence to encounter Turkey’s clout with the KDP and Iraqi Sunni Arabs.
The paper said Iranian officials have discussed the successions with both Saleh and Talabani’s wife Hiro Ibrahim Ahmed who visited Tehran this month. Iran is working on the assumption that even if Talabani returns to Kurdistan in good health, he will not be able to return to his post as president of the country, Asharq Al-Awsat quoted a source as saying.
Another striking factor in Talabani’s succession is the dichotomy of opinion within Kurdish parties. On 23 May Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reported that Iran has proposed a temporary leadership council for the PUK in the absence of Talabani, and “has set preconditions for approving” Saleh as Iraq’s president.
Under a banner headline “Iran Calls the Shots on PUK Leadership Issue” the outlet quoted Fareed Asasard, a PUK leadership member as saying that “Iran has suggested a collective leadership for the PUK through a proposed council, which is currently being discussed within the party.”
The outlet quoted another party leader as saying that Iran’s preconditions for backing Saleh as a new president of Iraq includes pledges to support Tehran’s policies in Iraq, cooperation with Iraqi Shia groups and distancing himself from the US and Turkey.
On 13 May Rudaw reported that Talabani’s return remains unclear and quoted his German doctors as saying his recovery is slow and difficult because he did not receive adequate treatment immediately after the stroke.
Rudaw is known to be close to the KDP whose leaders are in the midst of serious disagreements with their ruling partners in the PUK over the re-election of Barzani for a third term as president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.
In a statement, Saleh said that talking about Talabani’s succession while the president is recovering “is inappropriate and unfeasible”, underlying tension between the two main Kurdish parties.
The mess surrounding Talabani’s health condition and succession, therefore, begs the question: Does Iraq really need a president?
Is it necessary that a politician be paid some $1 million a month in salaries and allowances to do ceremonial duties such as attending international conferences and receive accreditations of foreign envoys?
This report will argue that Iraqis are just wasting their money and resources on a mere ceremonial post that is dividing rather than uniting them and it is time to try to find an alternative.

Iraq’s civil war in motion

The level of tit-for-tat sectarian killings shows Iraq’s worst fear — civil war — is already underway, writes Salah Nasrawi

A group of militants attacked and killed eight policemen including one officer on Monday in Rawa, a town of a few thousand in Iraq’s Western province of Anbar, the heartland of the country’s Sunni Arabs and the centre of nearly five months of protests against the Shia-led government. The bodies of the dead soldiers were later found mutilated and dumped in the desert, a murderous scene reminiscent of the level of savagery in violent attacks that pushed Iraq to civil war following the 2003 US invasion which toppled the Sunni-controlled regime of Saddam Hussein and empowered Shias.
Seven policemen were also killed when militants attacked checkpoints and patrols in the nearby town of Haditha. Elsewhere in the Anbar province, armed groups attacked police posts and pro-government Sunni militias. The outbreak of violence in Anbar has raised fear that the anti-government insurgency has grown into a larger war as Iraq remains deadlocked in its worst ethno-sectarian struggle over power and wealth sharing.
Earlier this month community leaders in Anbar announced that they are forming a tribal army and warned that they will fight the Shia dominated and controlled government troops if they will not leave the predominantly Sunni populated province. Anbar offers a snapshot of what is going on among the Sunni groups elsewhere in Iraq. Tensions have grown in recent months between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shias, especially after Sunnis waged protesters to demonstrate against what they perceive as marginalisation and mistreatment by the government.
As the government refused to comply with the Sunnis’ demands to rescind the US-orchestrated political process which Sunnis believe had propelled Shias to power at their expense, the protests have turned to violence. On Monday, a wave of car bombings targeted Shia areas, army and police posts and pro-government Sunni militias across Iraq, leaving dozens of people killed or wounded. The attacks, some of which hit mosques, market places and crowded bus stops during the morning rush hour, pushed the death toll in Iraq in four days to nearly 300.
Monday’s shootings and bombings followed three days of attacks that killed and wounded hundreds of people in both Shia and Sunni areas. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, they look like retaliatory sectarian violence. On Friday dozens of people were killed when bombs struck as worshipers were leaving a Sunni mosque and attending a funeral in the city of Bakuba, about 60 kilometres north of Baghdad. A day earlier a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the main entrance to a Shia mosque in Kirkuk. Six others were killed in Baghdad’s Shia neighbourhoods. These attacks followed blasts and roadside bombings that targeted mosques, cafes and commercial areas in predominantly Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere.
In other violence, gunmen killed Sahwa militia fighters in several towns in the Sunnis triangle that include Anbar, Nineveh, Salaheddin and Diyala. Sahwas are Sunni tribesmen who helped government troops subdue Al-Qaeda and are often targeted by Sunni militants who view them as collaborators with the Shia-led government.
Three men of a Shia family who were travelling to Jordan for treatment were kidnapped on Saturday after their car was stopped in the Anbar province on the highway linking Iraq with the neighbouring country. Family members told local media that they received calls from their abductors saying the hostages will be killed. Gunmen also ambushed and kidnapped 10 Sunni policemen near Ramadi, the capital of Anbar. Their bullet-ridden bodies were found later, dumped in a remote desert area.
Tribesmen clashed with security forces across Sunni areas apparently in bids to drive the government troops out and entrench themselves instead in that zone. The deadly attacks continued throughout the week causing more death and destruction in several parts of Iraq. The spate of attacks committed by both sides reveals that sectarianism, for so long a main factor in the Iraq conflict, is now a driving force for substantial elements of both the disgruntled Sunnis and politically dominant Shia.
The flare-up raised concern about the potential for another wave of deadly conflict in Iraq amid rising fear that the sectarian strife in neighbouring Syria will further strain Iraq’s fledgling ethno-sectarian balance. Iraqis might have been able to live up with daily bombings, but the longer and more vicious the new wave of violence turns the more likely it is that extremists on both sides will come to the fore.
This week Sunni Tribal leaders have given the government until Friday to meet their demands and warned of war unless the country splits into a federation. The London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Monday quoted a local tribal chieftain in Anbar as saying that a military confrontation between the newly formed tribal army in the province and the government troops is “inevitable”.
The tribal chief said that some 1,000 well trained volunteers have already joined the “Army of Dignity and Honour”, some of them former officers from Saddam’s army, the rest insurgents. The disclosure came a day after Sheikh Abdel Malek Al-Saadi, who is considered the Iraqi Sunnis’ spiritual leader, announced he was withdrawing his proposal for a negotiated settlement with the government.
“News Iraq”, an Internet news outlet reported Sunday that Sunnis in Diyala had formed the “Revenge Battalion”, a militia to avenge government forces accused of killing Sunnis. In addition to the Al-Qaeda terror network there are several other Sunni armed groups, some of them linked to Saddam loyalists, which are already active in insurgency. Some hard-line Shia groups have joined the chorus calling for civil war and issuing similar undisguided threats.
Leader of the extremist Iraqi Hizbullah Wathiq Al-Battat has warned that more than 3,000 of the party’s members are ready to fight against “those who are waiving their arms. They are bloodthirsty to confront the enemy,” he was quoted as saying by Baghdad’s Al-Mada newspaper on Tuesday.
Another radical Shia group, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, or the “League of the Righteous”, also said that it will fight alongside the government forces if war broke out with Sunni groups. “We are ready to back the army and the police,” Firas Al-Saidi, spokesman for the group told Al-Sharqiya television on Sunday.
Now the question is whether Iraqis have exhausted all their options to secure a political solution to their problems and started their descent to civil war which many believe could also be a march toward self destruction. Broadly defined a civil war is an armed conflict involving domestic political groups fighting for political or identity causes which entails massive numbers of casualties.
If that is the criteria, Iraq’s current wave of violence seems to be a civil war. First, the failure of the contentious sides to reach a political compromise. Iraqi sectarian groups have displayed an alarming degree of intransigence in recognising the legitimate concerns and fears of each other.
Second, the exhaustion of peaceful means to end the bloodletting is giving violent groups legitimacy and public support and encouraging others to join in. This increases polarisation, and the conflict thus becomes a true ethno-sectarian conflagration.
Third, the sharp rise in the number of people killed in political violence discredits the political process and increases motivation of people to engage in violence. With the UN claiming more than 700 people killed in April and probably double that number this month, Iraq’s bloodshed has surpassed the known average number of casualties in many previous civil wars.
Given the ongoing carnage, deepening sectarian hatred and the chronic political conflict, Iraq’s quagmire is getting worse every day and if it won’t turn into an all-out civil war soon it could become a prolonged Somali-like situation with a high cost to both Iraq and the region.

Turkish-PKK truce irks Baghdad

Apart from anger, Al-Maliki does not seem to have a strategy to deal with the PKK’s deployment in northern Iraq, writes Salah Nasrawi

When Turkey gave refuge to fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tarek Al-Hashimi last year Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki wondered in an interview with a Turkish newspaper how Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would react if Iraq grant imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan asylum in Baghdad. Al-Maliki’s rhetorical question came amid rising tension between the Iraqi Shia leader and Erdogan after Ankara provided shelter to Al-Hashimi and over its engagement with Iraq’s autonomous Kurds and Sunni Arabs who are at loggerheads with the central government over power sharing.
This week thousands of Ocalan’s guerrillas started deploying into Iraq under an agreement which Erdogan’s government signed with the Kurdish rebels without prior consultation with or even notification to the Baghdad government. The Turkish Kurdish rapprochement now poses a stark challenge to Al-Maliki as the Iraqi leader seems to be lacking a strategic thinking and effective diplomacy towards Iraq’s powerful northern neighbour.
Under the deal reached by Ocalan and the Turkish government in March, the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, agreed to end a nearly three-decade armed struggle against Turkey in expectation of granting the Kurds in Turkey political and cultural autonomy. The PKK, which is considered a terror group by Turkey, agreed to withdraw all its fighters from Turkish soil to a safe heaven in the mountains of northern Iraq where the group has maintained bases as springboards for its attacks against Turkey for nearly three decades.
Iraq’s initial reaction to the retreat came in a softly worded statement from its Foreign Ministry. While Iraq supports the peace deal, the ministry said, “it does not accept the entry of armed groups into its territories that can be used to harm Iraq’s security and stability.” Al-Maliki had probably preferred not to speak out for now but the leader of his Shia bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari criticised the transfer of the PKK guerrillas as an infringement on “Iraq’s sovereignty and interference in its internal affairs”. “We refuse to let Iraq to be a scapegoat,” he said in a statement.
Iraqi Sunni leaders who enjoy good relationships with Turkey and look for Ankara’s support in their standoff with the Shia-led government in Baghdad maintained silence on the PKK’s move. The Kurdistan Regional Government which controls northern Iraq also has kept a tight lip despite media reports that an understanding has been reached with its leadership prior to the deal.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blasted Baghdad’s reaction as dubious. He said Baghdad has no right to object because the PKK troops have already came from inside the Iraqi territories to attack Turkey. “So, why is the Iraq government is now objecting to their return to these territories?” said Davutoglu.
The PKK, meanwhile, tried to mitigate Iraq’s concern by promising that the deal will not come at Iraq’s expense. “The (peace) process is not aimed against anyone, and there is no need for concerns that the struggle will take on another format and pose a threat to others,” PKK spokesman, Ahmet Deniz said in a statement. “A democratic resolution will have a positive effect on the region,” Deniz said. “We understand the concerns, but the process is related to the resolution of the Kurdish issue and won’t cause harm to anyone.” Deniz urged both Baghdad and Erbil to support the agreement.
Relations between Baghdad and Ankara deteriorated after Ankara refused to extradite Al-Hashimi who has been sentenced to death on charges of terrorism including murder. In addition, several bones of contention, including the Syrian conflict and Turkey’s close relations with Iraqi Kurds have strained ties between Ankara and Baghdad.
Tensions have flared recently between Al-Maliki government and Turkey after Baghdad accused Ankara of sowing sectarianism in Iraq over Turkey’s support to Iraqi Sunnis. Last week Iraq’s Acting Defence Minister Saadun Al-Dulaimi accused Ankara of fuelling sectarian tensions in Iraq by supporting Arab Sunnis. Al-Dulaimi accused Turkey of dealing with Iraq as if it is still “a part of the Ottoman Empire”.
The rift deepened in April when Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) started shipping oil to international markets via Turkey in independent export deals. The move has aggravated tensions between the KRG and Baghdad, which considers the sales to be illegal and a challenge to its claim to full control over Iraq’s oil.
Turkey, on the other hand, hopes that closer economic and political relations with Iraqi Kurds may shift regional power in its favour. To complicate things Ankara has struck the deal with the PKK without bothering to inform Al-Maliki’s government, as if it is a regime that is not worthy to deal with. 
Iraq has happily taken a pacifist bent on the PKK presence in northern Iraq and was determined to keep that as long as the PKK was fighting Turkey. Now the ceasefire will have a far reaching impact on Iraq including contributing to strengthening Turkey and deepening Iraq’s ethno-sectarian division. The main threat facing Baghdad is clear: Turkey’s increasing leverage in Iraq will invoke fears of superiority close to domination.
The agreement between the Turkish government and the Kurds is expected to bring Ankara closer to Iraq’s northern region of Kurdistan and allow it to boost ties with Iraq Sunni Arabs and Turkmen. Also, there are fears that the retreating PKK fighters will now join forces with the Kurdish Pehsemrgas in Iraq’s north, adding tension to already souring relations with Baghdad.
In addition to the rebels, thousands of pro-PKK Turkish Kurds have sought safe heaven in northern Iraq since the US invasion in 2003 benefiting from a power vacuum in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. In many parts of Iraqi Kurdistan the PKK operates political and security offices, increasing its influence in Iraqi Kurdistan’s domestic politics.
Iraq’s main concern is that a power struggle between the PKK and Iraq’s Kurds could ensue as the group becomes more powerful, bringing Turkey closer into Iraq’s ethno-sectarian rivalry. There are reports that the PKK is already taking side in the dispute over a controversial presidential election in Kurdistan later this year. Major Kurdish parties such as Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union and the opposition Goran (Change) Party are opposed to President Masoud Barzani’s efforts to get elected for a third term. The controversy could spark a leadership struggle in Kurdistan.
Meanwhile, the Turkish-PKK deal will have another geopolitical ramification mainly on Iraq’s two other neighbours Iran and Syria, where Kurdish rebels affiliated with the PKK are also fighting for autonomy. Iraq will most certainly view a larger Turkish-PKK involvement in its two neighbours as game-changing and a threat that will keep it hostage to unresolved regional issues. 
However, apart from the political rhetoric voiced by leaders of the Baghdad government, Al-Maliki has exhibited an essential lack of strategy in dealing with this issue reflected in a complete absence of initiatives and engagement. On Tuesday the first patch of the PKK guerrillas arrived in northern Iraq, yet Baghdad’s political class shows little sign of knowing or caring how the country’s political clout should be deployed to face up to the Turkish contempt.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry which should be crucial to informing the country’s strategic vision, is puny. It didn’t even bother to summon Turkish diplomats in Baghdad to protest the violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. A decision by the Baghdad government on Tuesday to file a complaint to the UN Security Council about the Turkish move can hardly be a robust response to Ankara’s challenge.
With about $10.8 billion of Turkish goods and services were exported to Iraq last year. Iraq is Turkey’s second largest trade partner and its single biggest export destination. Yet Baghdad seems unable to encourage its ungrateful neighbour to stop being a thorn in Baghdad’s side.
This policy and diplomacy muddle is in part a consequence of key policy-makers’ short term thinking to try to keep the Baghdad government in power, rather than to serve strategic national interests — a major feature of the Al-Maliki administration.

                                                     صفوة القول (16)
                                     مختارات من اراء وقضايا                 
                         “جمهوريات وراثية” ….ولكن كيف ولماذا؟
نشرت في الحياة في 18 نوفمبر 1999

Corruption or incompetence?

Why do Al-Maliki’s security forces still use a bogus detector which puts Iraqis’ lives at risk, asks Salah Nasrawi

With some 712 Iraqis killed in violence last month, April was Iraq’s bloodiest month in almost five years as ethno-sectarian tensions continue to rise and plague the sharply divided nation. Most of the victims were Shia Muslims who were killed in horrific bomb attacks that rocked cities across Iraq, which are widely believed to be the work of Al-Qaeda terrorist network. Some lethal bomb attacks also targeted Sunni mosques.
The attacks, which came amid a lingering Sunni-Shia government crisis, were reminiscent of those that led to a sectarian civil war following the US invasion in 2003 that toppled the Sunni-controlled regime of Saddam Hussein. The escalation has revealed widespread concerns about Iraq’s security forces’ failings; in particular, their inability to curb the terrible bombing operations which are responsible for the high death tolls.
Amidst the controversy lies a plastic pistol-shaped detector that Iraqi army and police have been using for years to detect explosives that experts have long ruled was not suitable for bomb detection. Iraq’s Interior Ministry began importing the British-made device through a front trading company based in Jordan in 2007 at a time when the country was gripped in its worst sectarian strife when terrorists were carrying out nearly daily sporadic bombings.
From the start, many Iraqis insisted the device was useless in detecting bombs, and joked at checkpoints as false alarms were raised over other things found in their cars such as perfumes, air fresheners or gold fillings in the passengers’ teeth. Last week the small hand-held device came into the limelight again when a London court ruled that the machine is bogus and sentenced its manufacturer Jim McCormick to 10 years in jail for selling the faked device to Iraq and other countries.
The court said the device is modelled on a £15 toy golf ball detector sold in the US as Golfinder and is utterly useless at sniffing out explosives. It said McCormick netted an estimated £60 million selling the cheap US novelty dowsing rods as sophisticated bomb and drug sniffing devices for up to $30,000 a piece. “The device was useless, the profit outrageous and your culpability as a fraudster has to be placed in the highest category,” a presiding judge told McCormick after issuing the sentence.
Yet, Iraqi soldiers are still walking past a line of cars checkpoints carrying the alleged bomb detector looking for its antenna to swing left, indicating a threat. Back in 2007, Iraq’s Interior Ministry spent over about $119.5 million on some 1,500 devices known as Advanced Detection Equipment, or ADE 651. Major General Jihad Al-Jabiri, head of the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate for Combating Explosive at the time, praised the device as very effective.
The device which McCormick claimed would detect all known drug and explosive based substances was instantly ruled as fake by experts. Research done by American forces in Iraq and Iraqi experts at the Ministry of Science and Technology also found that the device was not effective and did not work. Other studies concluded that the instruments had no working electronics in them that could detect bombs or anything else and do not provide more than a random chance of detecting a bomb.
The experts said daily shootings and bombings in Iraq have also been a testament to the failure of the device which is used at main checkpoints in Baghdad and many other cities. Al-Maliki’s government dismissed reports that the device was useless and its spokesman at the time Ali Al-Dabbagh told reporters that a government inquiry had found that “more than 50 per cent of the devices are good, and the rest we will change.”
Nevertheless, the bogus bomb detectors are still in use at checkpoints in place of physical or other inspections of cars. Policemen and army soldiers still stand under sheds erected over the roads with the device with its telescopic antenna on a swivel, pointing parallel to traffic, checking cars as they pass. If the device’s antenna points to a vehicle, it is usually directed to a second team in the checkpoint where thorough inspection is carried out by policemen or soldiers who also ask for identification.
Because it was not effective, McCormick’s bogus bomb detectors are believed to have contributed to the shedding of Iraqi blood. There is no way to know exactly how many innocent lives have been lost as a result. But Iraqi Body Count estimates that some 122,000 Iraqis have been killed in Iraq’s violence since 2003, many of them in bombing attacks or blasts.
Many Iraqis would love to see Iraqi officials responsible for the fraud behind bars for their role in the waste of Iraqi blood. Al-Jabiri, who was involved in the purchase of the devices, was referred to the judiciary and in 2011 he was jailed for four years, but no proper investigation was conducted, including the role of a Jordan-based firm which was an intermediary in the deal. Many Iraqis believe Al-Jabiri got a relatively light sentence in exchange for concealing names of alleged accomplices.
Corruption in post-US invasion Iraq has gone on for so long that it has lost some of its power to shock. Most of Iraq’s political elite are believed to be involved in one type or another of corruption, manipulating the economic system in order to extract rents they can use to secure control of the government. Some are believed to have set up bogus companies abroad to run dodgy business deal with the government through cronies.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which is headed by Al-Maliki himself, is among the most corrupt government departments in Iraq, raising concern that a greater security threat may come from within the system from the top commanders down to soldiers who man checkpoints. Internal reports on corruption by the ministry’s inspector general have specifically cited the bribery of checkpoint guards.
Senior police officers are reportedly buying their authority over particular neighbourhoods by bribing politicians while junior officers pay their seniors monthly stipends and everyone gets a return on their investment by extorting money from families of detainees who are arrested on false charges. The government inaction to investigate and bring criminal charges against Iraqi officials and businessmen who are believed to be responsible for the death of so many people and the reluctance to remove the device from checkpoints are quite puzzling.
Many Iraqis wonder why only one official was convicted and sent to jail for his part in the detectors’ scandal. They believe that the case involves many top officials at the Interior Ministry and the government whose signatures are required to make the deal. Other Iraqis question the security strategy of army and police commanders who have kept the devices operational at checkpoints despite the fact that they are ineffective.
Suicide bombers are still able to get explosives through checkpoints where these devices are used to kill people and destroy buildings. Demands are increasing for investigation and retribution.
On Saturday, Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr told Al-Maliki, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, to apologise for the bogus detectors’ deal and “to exonerate” himself before the country’s judiciary and parliament. Al-Sadr also urged the government to order security forces to stop using the device at checkpoints, and demanded compensations to the victims and their families.