Iraq Struggles with Widespread Bribery

By Wassim Bassem for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s government, society struggle with widespread bribery

With shocking innocence, Ali al-Sultani from Babil, a city 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Baghdad, told Al-Monitor what he does to have official documents dealt with in state agencies.

“I often carry large sums of money and hand them over to employees in the state agencies, where I go to take care of my affairs such as transferring the ownership of a property, obtaining civil status cards for my children or amending their school grades,” Sultani said.

Sultani does not consider what he is doing “bribery,” but described it as “a token of gratitude for the employee who gives me special assistance.”

Bribery is considered morally wrong in Iraq, and it is against the law and social and religious norms. For this reason, the word “bribery” is often replaced with less offensive terms that legitimize the act.

Sociologist Ali al-Khafaji told Al-Monitor, “Bribery has become commonplace in Iraq, and it is covered up with justifications or special arrangements.” He added, “Many Iraqis have grown accustomed to visiting a [state agency] employee at home or in an agreed-upon place to give him a commission for expediting an administrative procedure and overcoming legal obstacles."

Another Babil resident told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “I got my driver’s license while sitting at home, after paying $600 to an employee in the traffic police department.”

The Commission of Integrity confirmed the extent to which bribery is present in Iraqi state agencies in a statement it issued Feb. 1: “Offices in Baghdad that issue driver's licenses top the list of bribed parties. There are indications of bribery in all state agencies, and these acts exceed 3% of the [regular] administrative transactions.”

To test the phenomenon of bribery, Al-Monitor met with a retired employee who was willing to help in obtaining a passport; he asked for $400 to “spare us the hassle of waiting for months as well as the trouble of [filling out] papers.”

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