Iraq—Where Construction Projects Go Awry
Roopinder Tara posted on August 04, 2020 |
An effort to rebuild Iraq is mired in corruption.
Not quite as promised. Baghdad’s Sadr al Qanaat was to be a beautiful park with sports fields and a canal. Photo by Moises Saman/Magnum, for The New York Times.
Not quite as promised. Baghdad’s Sadr al Qanaat was to be a beautiful park with sports fields and a canal. Photo by Moises Saman/Magnum, for The New York Times.

In the power vacuum left after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government, a thicket of corruption has erupted. The corruption took hold during the end of Saddam’s reign, when international sanctions against Iraq resulted in the slashing of government officials’ incomes and the workers resorting to taking bribes, according to a recent report in The New York Times.

The World Population Review report ranks Iraq the 11th most corrupt country in the world in 2020.

In 2011, a $148 million project was planned to turn Baghdad’s Sadr al Qanaat thoroughfare into an idyllic outdoor park with sports fields, restaurants, playgrounds and a canal with decorative bridges over it. But that site is now “a dismal dumping ground with little sign that anything was ever spent on it.”

Where did the money go? According to The Times, it went into the pockets of corrupt officials who, with the backing of militias, funnel billions of dollars supplied by the United States for construction projects into their personal international bank accounts.

One contractor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, who was awarded 40 billion dinars ($34 million) of the Baghdad’s Sadr al Qanaat project, says that his firm spent “only about 10 billion dinars ($8.4 million) on construction. Of the rest, most went to paying off government and party officials, along with other expenses. The remainder, about five billion dinars ($4.2 million), was pure profit.” The reporter who interviewed him was warned that pursuing her investigation could cost her her life.

The U.S., anxious to rebuild Iraq in 2003, is reported to have handed out bricks of $100 bills to restart the country’s economy after the war. This largesse continued as the U.S. backed Iraq in its fight against ISIS. The practice of using cash transactions makes it hard for regulators to follow the money and expose corruption.

Construction projects, such as Baghdad’s Sadr al Qanaat, are just some of the ventures being hijacked. Almost no sizable project seems immune, from oil fields to airport concessions. The Baghdad International Airport, in particular, seems to have been totally corrupted, with legitimate business owners ousted and replaced with government cronies.

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