Geneva – The Iraqi Federal Supreme Court has disbanded a committee formed to investigate corruption cases and major crimes by the Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, about one and a half years ago, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said Monday in a statement expressing grave concern.

The court issued a decision on 2 March invalidating Diwani Order No. (29) of 2020, which included the "formation of a permanent committee to investigate corruption cases and important crimes […] for violating the provisions […] of the Constitution that guarantees the protection of human freedom and dignity, the principle of separation of powers stipulated in […] the Constitution, and the principle of judicial independence and its competence to undertake investigation and trial […], because the aforementioned order is considered an amendment to the Law of the Integrity Commission as it is a constitutional body with jurisdiction in the investigation of financial and administrative corruption cases."

   The Federal Court's decision is a retrograde step in the fight against corruption in Iraq   

Omar Al-Ajlouni, Legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor

The decision to abolish an anti-corruption committee cannot be seen as normal when we are not seeing much focus on more urgent issues, such as holding accountable those involved in the killings of demonstrators, the rising death toll in prisons due to poor incarceration conditions, and other critical issues. It is feared that this decision might be a result of pressure from influential parties.

Any abuses that the committee may have committed during its work could have been referred to the competent authorities for investigation, and those responsible could have been held accountable. As such, the alleged violations cannot justify abolishing the committee.

Headed by Lieutenant-General Ahmed Abu Ragheef (with officers from the Ministry of Interior, the Intelligence and National Security Services, and the Integrity Commission as members), the PM had granted the committee wide powers. The committee has made remarkable progress that resulted in the arrest of well-known senior officials and politicians on corruption charges, including former ministers, heads of bodies, businessmen, and a prominent leader in the Popular Mobilization Forces.

Last September, the PM announced that within one year, the committee was able to recover funds looted from abroad and uncover corruption files that had been undisclosed for 17 years.

From a legal point of view, the establishment of the committee does not contradict the powers granted to the PM under the Iraqi constitution. Article (80/1) of the Constitution stipulates that the Council of Ministers has the powers "to plan and execute the general policy and general plans of the State and oversee the work of the ministries and departments not associated with a ministry."

If the prime minister has the power to "execute the general policy of the State," then he\she is also allowed to form an anti-corruption committee since fighting corruption falls within the public policies that Iraqi officials are supposed to address.

Moreover, it seems that the formation of the committee was supplementary rather than suppressive to Integrity Commission, as the Diwani order stipulated that one of the committee's members must be a representative of the Integrity Commission, whose ranking should not be less than a general manager.

And since the committee’s role was limited to investigating cases and then referring the accused to the judiciary, the committee had not infringed on the judiciary, if not supported its work. The Supreme Judicial Council, represented by the Federal Court, had formed a committee to investigate the cases presented by the canceled committee on October 15, 2020.

Omar Al-Ajlouni, legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said: "The Federal Court's decision is a retrograde step in the fight against corruption in Iraq. It represents an acquiescence to the objections of the beneficiaries of the absence of effective oversight over public money. The legal justifications given by the Federal Court to dissolve the committee have clearly departed from the application of the spirit of the law.”

"All authorities in the country should overcome difficulties in achieving the integrity and transparency standards by holding those involved in financial and administrative corruption cases accountable, especially in light of suspicions of alleged corruption cases of up to hundreds of billions of dollars according to unofficial estimates. In this case, decision makers should take exceptional measures to address it."

Iraq is ranked 157th out of 180 in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2021, indicating a widespread outbreak of corruption in the various branches of the State.

The Iraqi authorities should enhance, maintain, and support efforts to combat corruption rather than obstructing them, since corruption is one of the most important factors impeding the country's development efforts.

The authorities should take exceptional measures to combat rampant corruption in the country by making necessary amendments to the Law of Integrity Commission—especially in terms of addressing corruption charges—and focus investigations on larger cases and address them.