May 4, 2009
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s top anti-corruption official vowed Monday to detain senior Trade Ministry officials even though most of them disappeared last week after Iraqi forces tried to serve them arrest warrants.”We are going ahead with pursuing the arrest of the wanted officials. We are especially determined after what happened a few days ago at the ministry,” Rahim al-Ugaili, a judge and head of the Iraqi Integrity Commission, told Reuters. Last Wednesday, guards at the Trade Ministry in central Baghdad fired shots into the air when the Integrity Commission sent forces to serve arrest warrants for nine ministry employees, including the head of the Iraqi Grain Board and Trade Minister Abdul Falah al-Sudany’s two brothers. The commission forces responded by firing into the air as most of the officials facing arrest orders escaped out the ministry’s back exit. Only the ministry spokesman was arrested.
The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to curb rampant corruption in Iraq, a fledgling democracy whose government was rebuilt from the ground up after the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, but very few officials have been prosecuted.
Iraq has been awash in opportunities for corruption since 2003, due to huge U.S.-funded reconstruction projects, billions of dollars in oil revenues, and weak government oversight. In 2008, only Somalia and Myanmar were seen as more corrupt than Iraq, according to Transparency International. In a country where tens of thousands of people have died since 2003, and armed groups have vied for control of state resources, many anti-corruption officials have been killed or threatened. One former anti-corruption boss fled the country.
The Trade Ministry has denied wrongdoing in the corruption charges, which include allegations of fraud related to the import of food used in Iraq’s public rations program. Sudany, who was not charged, denied in the state newspaper Monday that he was preparing to flee the country and said he was ready to answer any questions about the ministry, which includes the state Grain Board.
An employee of the Trade Ministry, requesting anonymity, said she had not seen any of the officials facing arrest since last Wednesday. Iraq is one of the world’s top importers of rice and wheat. The Grain Board regularly tenders for millions of dollars worth of grain, which is shipped to its southern Basra port and distributed across the country.