In their 2021 corruption perception index (CPI) published on Tuesday, the Berlin-based NGO ranked the perceived levels of corruption in Iraq as equal to the levels of abuse of power for private gain in Zimbabwe, Cambodia, and Honduras. With a score of 23 out of 100, the nation has gained two points in the index over the last year and is subsequently up three places from the bottom of the table.
Despite this gain, Iraq still falls far below the global average of 43 and remains perceived as one of the most corrupt countries on earth, in a country plagued by corrosive principles of “wasta” (personal connections) and politicians who appear to serve themselves above their elected representatives.
Albeit minor, the improvement bucks the broader trend of a stagnating fight against corruption both regionally and globally. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has received the same average result for the fourth year in a row. Worldwide, 131 countries are assessed as having made no significant progress against corruption over the last decade.
Compared to the 2020 report, Syria has fallen one point to rank the joint second most corrupt country in the world, Iran has recorded the same score to come in at joint twelfth, and Turkey is two points lower than the previous year, ranking joint twenty-fifth most corrupt. Over the past decade, all three countries have seen their CPI scores fall, whilst Iraq has seen a cumulative five-point rise.
More broadly, the organization stresses that for the spiral of corruption to stall, human rights abuses must be addressed appropriately. The release of the CPI comes only a fortnight after Human Rights Watch’s 2022 world report, which stated that the Iraqi government failed in 2021 to deliver on promises to hold to account those responsible for the abuse of protesters, activists, journalists.
Despite Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s belief that corruption during the previous Maliki era was responsible for the nation’s woes, it may be difficult for Iraq to significantly overcome corrupt pathways that are embedded within governance structures. Such a stance is corroborated by the CPI report, which explicitly identifies the propensity of Iraq’s power-sharing governance system to result in “institutions being staffed by officials appointed because of sectarian allegiance and connections rather than competence.”
Kadhimi’s financial advisor, Mazhar Mohammed Salih, this month declared that the country was now “free of money laundering”, following the delisting of Iraq from the European Union index of countries at high risk of money laundering and financing terrorism, although it remains to be seen if this statement rings true.
The impact of this high-profile move will be incorporated into the calculations of the next annual CPI report.
Transparency International utilises a 0-100 scale – denoting a gradient from highly corrupt to very clean - in order to measure perceived levels of public sector corruption. The CPI collates date from 13 different data sources from 12 different institutions that capture perceptions of corruption within the past two years.
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