Nearly $700m Stolen From Iraq State Banks – Graft Body

CBN Plans $100m Sale At Special Auction
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Nearly $700 million in public funds has been misappropriated from state-run banks in Iraq in a scandal implicating more than 40 people, an anti-corruption commission said Thursday, after a three-year probe.

A total of 926 billion Iraqi dinars ($697 million) went missing due to “forgery, embezzlement, manipulation, money laundering (and) abuse of position”, the Commission for Integrity said in a statement.

The alleged fraud took place at a branch of Maysan province’s agricultural bank, as well as four branches of Rasheed Bank in Maysan and the capital Baghdad, the commission said.

The commission did not specify the timeframe of the offences, but a commission official, who did not want to be named, said investigations into suspected illegal activity began in 2019.

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“Arrest warrants will be issued against 41 people suspected” of wrongdoing over the affair, the official added.

The commission said bank employees and even customers were among those implicated in a scandal that amounts to a “process of organised sabotage against the national economy”.

Corruption plagues all levels of the Iraqi state, but middle managers, rather than top officials, tend to bear the brunt of anti-graft campaigns.

Official figures published last year estimated that well over 400 billion dollars has gone missing from state coffers in the near two decades since dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

The country ranks 157 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.

Major anti-regime protests in late 2019 were spurred in large part by anger over corruption and the related dilapidation of public services.


Briton Sentenced To 15 Years In Iraq Antiquities Case

A court gavel



An Iraqi court on Monday sentenced a British retiree to 15 years in prison for trying to smuggle antiquities out of the country but acquitted his German co-accused.

The maximum penalty for the offence is death by hanging but the court decided on a lesser sentence for James Fitton, 66, “because of the advanced age of the accused,” the judge said.

The court found “insufficient evidence” to convict co-accused Volker Waldmann, 60, who was visiting Iraq with Fitton on an organised tour when they were arrested in March at Baghdad airport.

Fitton’s lawyer said that he would appeal.

When the judge asked the men, dressed in yellow prisoners’ clothing, whether they were guilty or not guilty “of trafficking antiquities,” each replied: “Not guilty.”

They were charged under a 2002 law against “intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity”.

According to statements from customs officers and witnesses, Fitton’s baggage contained about a dozen stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics.

Waldmann allegedly had two pieces, but at the trial’s opening on May 15 denied they were his.

When the judge asked Fitton why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, he cited his “hobby” and said he did not mean to do anything illegal.

Their trial comes at a time the war-ravaged country, whose tourism infrastructure is almost non-existent, is timidly opening to visitors.

Iraq has also been trying to recover antiquities that were looted over a period of decades from the country whose civilisation dates back thousands of years.

Six Dead As Scaffolding Collapses At Iraq Pilgrimage Site

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Six people were killed as scaffolding collapsed at a Shiite Muslim mausoleum near the central Iraqi town of Hilla on Thursday, officials said.

The accident struck at the shrine of Imam Hamza, connected to the family of the Prophet Mohammed.

“Scaffolding being used for renovation work collapsed inside the mausoleum, killing six men aged between 20 and 35,” an official of the pilgrimage site said, asking not to be named.

Medical and security sources confirmed the toll, with the latter adding that a woman and three-year-old child were injured.

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A security source, also on condition of anonymity, said an investigation had been opened and that the accident was suspected to have been “the result of negligence on the part of people in charge of installing the renovation structures”.

Corruption and lack of finances in both Iraq’s private and public sectors often lead to the use of poorly equipped and under-qualified maintenance crews in buildings and on infrastructure used by the general public, with safety procedures flouted.


Two Drones Shot Down Targeting Iraq Base – Anti-IS Coalition

A picture obtained from a senior coalition official shows the remains of two armed drowns at the site where the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq said it shot down two drones targeting a compound hosting coalition troups at Baghdad airport early in the morning on January 3, 2022. Handout / AFP


Two armed drones targeting an air base in western Iraq were shot down on Tuesday, an official of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group said.

“Two fixed-wing drones rigged with explosives were engaged and destroyed by defensive capabilities at the Iraqi Al-Asad Air Base early this morning,” the official said.

“The attempted attack was unsuccessful. All forces are accounted for.”

It is the second such attack in 24 hours targeting the coalition in Iraq. On Monday, the coalition shot down two armed drones targeting its compound at Baghdad airport.

The attacks come as Tehran and its allies across the Middle East held emotional commemorations marking the second anniversary on Monday of the assassination of Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Coalition troops switched to a training and advisory role with the end of their combat mission early last month.

“While we have ended our combat mission, we maintain the inherent right of self-defence,” the official said.

“These are attacks against Iraqi installations, and an attack against the Iraqi people and the military that protects them. We maintain a minimal footprint on Iraqi bases —- the coalition no longer has its own bases in Iraq.”

Chinese Firms Build 1,000 Schools In Iraq

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Iraq has signed agreements with two Chinese companies to build 1,000 schools in the country in the space of two years, an Iraqi government official said on Sunday.

The country needs To a total of 8,000 schools “to fill the gap in the education sector”, a housing ministry official, Hassan Mejaham, was quoted as saying by the official Iraqi News Agency.

The deals were signed on Thursday in the presence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, with Power China, to build 679 schools and Sinotech the remaining 321.

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Despite being rich in oil, Iraq has suffered for decades from crumbling infrastructure because of successive wars and endemic corruption.

Construction of the schools is due to be completed in two years, with the first delivered a year after work begins “very soon”, Mejaham said.

He added that Iraq would pay for the project using oil products.

A second phase will see the construction of an additional 3,000 schools, with 4,000 more to be built in a final phase.

“Decades of conflict and under-investment in Iraq have destroyed what used to be the best education system in the region,” UNICEF said on its website, adding that “one in every two schools is damaged and needs rehabilitation”.

In the country of 40 million people, “there are close to 3.2 million school-aged Iraqi children out of school”, it said.

The World Bank warned in October that already low levels of education levels were further threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, and called for international investment in the sector.


12-Year-Old Girl’s Marriage Causes Stir In Iraq

Women demonstrate near the Kadhimiya court in Iraq’s capital Baghdad on November 21, 2021, in protest against the legalisation of a marriage contract for a 12-year-old girl. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP



An Iraqi court adjourned a hearing Sunday to allow a man to formalise his religious marriage to a 12-year-old girl, according to a lawyer for the girl’s mother, who opposes the union.

Rights activists protested outside the Baghdad court with banners such as “the marriage of minors is a crime against childhood”, while lawyer Marwan Obeidi told AFP the case had been postponed until November 28.

The legal age for marriage in Iraq is 18 but can be lowered to 15 in cases of parental or judicial consent, according to charity, Save the Children.

“Religious marriages are not permitted outside civil or religious courts but these types of marriages still happen regularly and can be formalised on the payment of a small fine,” it said in a recent report.

The mother, who refuses to be identified, said her daughter Israa had been “raped” and that the girl’s father kidnapped her.

But a department of the interior ministry dealing with violence against women said in a statement that it had met with Israa, her father and husband, seen the religious contract, and said she had assured them she had not been coerced.

Child marriage is not uncommon in conservative and rural areas of Iraq, as well as in other Arab countries.

Iraq Gets 1.2 Million Doses Of Pfizer COVID Vaccine

File photo of the outside view of the quarantine zone at an hospital in the central Iraqi holy shrine city of Najaf where the first case of COVID-19 documented in Iraq is being treated. PHOTO: Haidar HAMDANI / AFP


Iraq said Saturday it has received 1.2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine through the Covax sharing scheme, amid fears of a fourth wave in the country.

Nearly seven million Iraqis have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, amounting to 17.5 percent of the country’s 40 million population, based on government figures.

Plagued by years of conflict, corruption, and neglect, Iraq’s health system has struggled to cope with the pandemic.

The health ministry announced on Saturday the arrival of a shipment of more than 1.2 million doses of “Pfizer’s anti-Covid vaccine through the Covax programme and UNICEF”, the UN Children’s Fund.

“Iraq is still facing danger from the coronavirus pandemic,” ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said on Thursday.

“We expect to enter a fourth wave, (and) it could be a new variant,” he told state television.

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More than two million Iraqis have been infected with Covid and 23,628 have died in Iraq since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to official figures.

Despite an increase in the number of people getting jabbed, Iraq’s government has been unable to overcome general scepticism about vaccines and measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

There is a high level of public mistrust of institutions in Iraq amid the circulation of misleading information about the pandemic.

Covax was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to low-income countries, and has already delivered more than 80 million doses to 129 territories.


‘Hundreds’ Of Fake Lebanese Degrees Sold To Iraqis

Lebanon map.


Iraq has summoned its cultural attache in Beirut for an investigation into the alleged sale of “hundreds” of fake Lebanese university degrees to Iraqis, including MPs.

“At least three private Lebanese universities are implicated,” an Iraqi academic source, who requested to remain anonymous, told AFP on Thursday.

Lebanese authorities have also launched an investigation into degrees sold to Iraqis enrolled in remote learning courses, the source said.

Several MPs and high-ranking officials paid to obtain master’s or doctorate degrees, particularly in religious subjects, according to another Iraqi official who also requested anonymity.

The fake degrees, numbering in their hundreds, cost “between $5,000 for a master’s degree and $10,000 for a Ph.D.”, the official added.

Higher education degrees are often a prerequisite for coveted government posts in Iraq.

The cultural attache, Hashem al-Shammari, has been summoned to Baghdad, higher education ministry spokesman Haidar al-Aboudi told AFP.

According to Lebanese media reports, the Islamic University of Lebanon — affiliated with the country’s Supreme Islamic Shia Council — has sacked its president and four department heads over the scandal.

Lebanon has 36 private universities, including prestigious institutions such as the American University of Beirut.

It also has many institutions with religious affiliations authorised by the government after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.


Biden Condemns ‘Terrorist Attack’ On Iraqi PM

File photo of US President Joe Biden. Credit: AFP


US President Joe Biden on Sunday condemned the attack that targeted Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi and said his administration would help Iraqi security forces identify those responsible.

“I strongly condemn the terrorist attack targeting the residence of Iraqi Prime Minister al-Kadhemi,” Biden said in a statement.

“I am relieved the Prime Minister was not injured and commend the leadership he has shown in calling for calm, restraint, and dialogue to protect the institutions of the state and strengthen the democracy Iraqis so richly deserve.”

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Kadhemi escaped unhurt when an explosives-packed drone struck his Baghdad residence early Sunday. But the attack marked a substantial escalation in the country’s post-election turmoil.

The prime minister’s office described the attack as a “failed assassination attempt,” while Iraqi President Barham Salih called the strike, which was not immediately claimed by any group, an attempted “coup against the constitutional system.”

Biden said that “the perpetrators of this terrorist attack on the Iraqi state must be held accountable,” as he condemned “in the strongest terms those using violence to undermine Iraq’s democratic process.”

The US leader said he instructed his national security team “to offer all appropriate assistance to Iraq’s security forces as they investigate this attack and identify those responsible.”

Iraq PM Unharmed After ‘Failed Assassination Attempt’ By Drone – Official

A handout picture released by the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Press Office on November 7, 2021, shows damage to the residence of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi following a drone attack, in the capital Baghdad. The attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone was the first to target the residence of the prime minister, who has been in power since May 2020. Khademi said he was unhurt and appealed for “calm and restraint” after the attack, as political tensions mounted in the country. Handout / IRAQI PRIME MINISTER’S PRESS OFFICE / AFP


Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi was “unharmed” in a “failed assassination attempt” after a drone attack on his official residence Sunday night, his office said.

“A drone tried to target the residence” of the premier, who was not injured, his office said in a statement.

Earlier, two security sources confirmed the attack, which came as several hundred supporters of pro-Iranian groups protested near the entrance of the Green Zone against the results of general elections on October 10.

Colin Powell: War Hero, Historymaker Haunted By Iraq

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 7, 2005, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell addresses a press conference at Katunayake Military Airport in Colombo. AFP


As much of the world remembered Colin Powell with respect and affection, Donald Trump on Tuesday attacked the late US statesman, calling him a disloyal Republican who made the case for war in Iraq.

Powell, who died aged 84 on Monday, was a frequent critic of Trump and called on him to resign after the January 6 Capitol insurrection that the then-president instigated.

“Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday,” Trump said sarcastically in a statement.

Powell, who was the United States’ first Black secretary of state, died of complications from Covid-19 after suffering cancer.

He was widely hailed a national war hero, global diplomat and trail-blazing African-American leader.

Trump branded Powell a “classic RINO” — Republican In Name Only — and added, “He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!”

Powell found it hard to live down his February 2003 speech to the UN Security Council about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — evidence which was later proven to be false.

Trump rarely holds back from attacking former enemies even immediately after their death.

After Senator John McCain died in 2018, Trump repeatedly disparaged the much-admired Arizona Republican who was also among his fiercest detractors.

“I have to be honest: I’ve never liked him much,” Trump said about McCain in one address in Ohio that was nominally about a rise in manufacturing jobs.


IS Attack Kills 13 Iraqi Police – Security, Medics

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Thirteen Iraqi policemen were killed in an Islamic State group attack against a checkpoint in the country’s north early Sunday, security and medical sources said.

The attack, in the region of Al-Rashad around 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Kirkuk city, took place just after midnight, a senior Iraqi police officer told AFP.

“Members of the Islamic State organisation targeted a federal police checkpoint,” said the officer, who did not want to be named.

“Thirteen were killed and three wounded” among the security forces, the officer added.

A medical source based in Kirkuk confirmed the toll.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

IS seized swathes of Iraq in a lightning offensive in 2014, before being beaten back by a counter-insurgency campaign supported by a US-led military coalition.

The Iraqi government declared the Sunni extremists defeated in late 2017, but they retain sleeper cells which continue to hit security forces with asymmetric attacks.

Jihadist cells regularly target the Iraqi army and police in northern Iraq, but this attack was one of the most deadly this year.

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A July 19 bombing claimed by IS officially killed 30 people in the Al-Woheilat market in Sadr City, a Shiite suburb of Baghdad.

International coalition troops in Iraq currently number around 3,500, of which 2,500 are US troops.

But Washington has been drawing down its military presence amid attacks on facilities it uses by Iran-aligned armed groups and has said that from next year the role of US troops will be limited to training and advising their Iraqi counterparts.

Last Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Iraqi Kurdistan and expressed concern about an IS “resurgence” in both Iraq and Syria.

He also said that French soldiers deployed in Iraq as part of the international coalition will remain in the country “no matter what choices the Americans make”.