This crisis affects all layers of society, armed forces and government

Corruption and violence are structural in Iraq

AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE - Iraqi security forces contain protesters in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on May 25, 2021, during a demonstration to demand accountability for a recent wave of activist killings.

Iraq ranks 160th out of 180 countries in Transparency International's 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, making it one of the most corrupt countries in the world. According to Mohammed Al-Hakim, the Iraqi prime minister's chief advisor on economic reform, the system has been deteriorating for 50 years since the time of Saddam Hussein. Violence arises as a consequence of corruption, with the aim of protecting the revenues that come from corruption. For this reason, corruption and violence are now a structural problem in Iraq, affecting all layers of society, the armed forces and the government. 

Government employees, from the bottom to the top of Iraqi governance, are involved in systematic corruption, said Al-Hakim. At the highest levels of the state, officials have developed relationships with politicians that they use to line their pockets and make money for their political allies.

PHOTO/ Oficina de Medios del Parlamento Iraquí via REUTERS  -   El primer ministro designado de Irak, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, pronuncia un discurso durante la votación del nuevo Gobierno en la sede del Parlamento en Bagdad, Irak, el 7 de mayo de 2020

The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were created in 2014 to fight Daesh, although some militias had been active against the United States since 2003 and before that against Saddam Hussein. Since 2016, by law, the PMFs have been under the command of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, which, according to the constitution, is the prime minister, currently Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and under the direct control of the head of the PMF commission, however, they have been acting independently.

The Iranian-backed militias of the PMF carry out assassinations, kidnappings and other forms of violence to protect the revenues they derive from Iraq's widespread and entrenched corruption. They operate as a 'cartel', using violence to suppress any opposition or attempts to improve the status quo. 

REUTERS/THAIER AL-SUDANI-Un manifestante fuma un cigarrillo cerca de un incendio durante una protesta antigubernamental en Bagdad, Irak, el 25 de mayo de 2021

According to Maya Gebeily, Middle East correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, violence is used against anyone trying to root out corruption in Iraq, so researchers, activists and anyone trying to dismantle the system are put at risk; "they have been kidnapped, killed or otherwise harassed". Law-abiding officials and their families have been physically threatened, beaten or assaulted when they refused to be complicit in corruption.

Anti-corruption protests in Iraq that took place in Nasaf, Nasiriya, and Basra were met with violence, where activists faced numerous dangers to make their voices heard. More than 500 people were killed during the months-long movement that began in 2019, where security forces used live ammunition and tear gas against the population. As a result of the demonstrations, Abil Abdul-Mahdi resigned as prime minister and Mustafa al-Kadhimi took over. 

PHOTO/AFP-Manifestantes iraquíes queman neumáticos frente a la sede de la gobernación de Karbala, en la ciudad central de Karbal

When al-Kadhimi formed the government he promised early elections and electoral reform, as well as maintaining state control of weapons and addressing violence against protesters, as repression by the armed forces is incompatible with a democracy. 6 June 2021 was proposed as the date for early elections, for which the prime minister required the support of the Iraqi Council of Representatives. It was finally agreed that parliament would be dissolved on 7 October this year, with elections to be held on the tenth, so this may be the beginning of renewal and change in Iraq. 

Simultaneously, Kata'ib Hezbollah, Iraq's most powerful armed militia, has directly attacked US forces in the country. It is also believed to be behind a series of assassinations and kidnappings, including that of Hisham Al-Hashimi, a journalist who described the Iranian-backed terrorist group as "the strongest and most dangerous group of the so-called Islamic resistance".

Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative at Chatham House, said that in reality Hezbollah is not just a militia in Iraq, as "they have more connectivity with the Iraqi parliament, with the judiciary, than the prime minister. They are effectively connected to power in a more central way than the traditional, formal heads of state.