Politically sanctioned corruption and barriers to reform in Iraq

Research paper Updated 5 November 2021 Published 17 June 2021 ISBN: 978 1 78413 472 3
An image of anti-government protesters in the Iraqi city of Nasiriya, 2020

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This paper explores the pernicious effects of politically sanctioned corruption on governance in Iraq. This type of corruption is more consequential for the coherence of the state, and for its everyday functioning, than petty or personal corruption. It is the key barrier to reform.

The post-2003 ethno-sectarian power-sharing arrangement – designed to ensure communal stability – instead sustained an elite pact in which political parties captured and compromised formal institutions of state.

One key feature of this type of corruption has been the abuse of the ‘special grades’ scheme within the bureaucracy, with political parties competing to appoint officials to senior civil service positions to then divert state resources for their own purposes. Their links to party bosses make these civil servants the real decision-makers in ministries and agencies, and release them from any accountability.

Without a fundamental grasp of the dynamics of power across the whole Iraqi system and then a coherent effort to make the civil service more accountable, any local or national reform effort will not succeed. 

An Arabic translation of the paper is also available as a PDF via this link.