Half a billion dollars in privileges awarded annually to Iraqi MPs – these are the findings of the investigative story that won the top award at last week’s Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism conference. Here is a look into previously unreported levels of corruption in the Iraqi government

Investigation by Mayadah Dawood, female Iraqi journalist and member of Network for Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism (NIRIJ)

On the concrete walls surrounding the headquarters of the Iraqi government and parliament in central Baghdad, unidentified activists have spraypainted the words, in red letters: “Iraq’s MPs are the biggest bunch of thieves in the world.”

This phrase, which became a slogan during demonstrations against parliament’s privileges over the past two years, sums up the current crisis of confidence between Iraq’s highest legislative and regulatory authority and society at large.

The issue here, according to civil society activist and professor of Sumerianology, Salim al-Ameri, is not about salaries and the obscene allowances parliament granted itself. Rather, the insistence on maintaining these privileges has implicated parliament in the broadest corruption scheme of its kind in the Middle East, rendering Iraq a basket case of corruption and bribery, according to a July report by Transparency International.

Through documents and figures analyzed by experts, and acknowledgements and rebuttals by the MPs themselves, this investigative report will reveal how the legislative and regulatory branch of Iraq’s government is costing the country around $2 billion for each four-year parliamentary cycle. According to financial expert Khalil al-Wendawi, this is the main reason why parliament has been unable to curb corruption in the country, or hold accountable a government that oversees a four-year budget of nearly $400 billion.

Indeed, the huge privileges that MPs enjoy, estimated to amount to $1.6 million per MP for each four-year parliamentary cycle, including salaries, earmarks, and personal protection costs, have precluded them from holding accountable those involved in major corruption scandals. This corruption has also placed a heavy drain on the country’s resources, amid an absence of security, dismal public services, and a lack of confidence in the economy. Meanwhile, Baghdad is unable to provide electricity to residents for more than 12 hours per day.

Professor Ameri reckons that that the Parliament of Warka, the first parliament in history (in 3000 BC, according to Samuel Noah Kramer), had a stronger capacity for holding rulers accountable than the current parliament in Iraq. In the three years since 14 June 2010, Ameri said, this parliament proved incapable of punishing a single person in a corruption case, or putting a stop to the waste of public funds, in any branch of the Iraqi government.

Writer and journalist Ahmad al-Muhanna concurs with Ameri. He believes that the current parliament is a “fraud,” and that it has forfeited its ability to hold the corrupt accountable. According to Muhanna, not only does parliament seek to preserve its massive entitlements, but its decisions, from the beginning, have been held hostage by party leaders, who, in turn, have surrendered the sovereign decisions of Iraq to neighboring countries.

Astronomical figures

The figures collated by the author of this report, in collaboration with Wendawi, indicate that the sum of actual annual salaries paid to the current batch of 325 MPs amounts to approximately $180 million, including MP salaries ($54.4 million), living cost increase allowance ($6.2 million), in addition to $125 million in salaries and allowances for MP escorts, according to the 2013 budget.

The amount reported by the 2013 budget ($125 million) in salaries and allowances for escorts, is equivalent to three times the amounts paid out in compensation to the families of 14,000 victims of terrorism in 2012, a quarter of whom lost their lives as a result of bombings and assassinations that have afflicted Iraq for the past years, according to journalist and activist Mustafa Saadoun.

This huge difference in assigning value to Iraqi lives, according to Saadoun, has caused “a chronic crisis of confidence toward Iraqi MPs, and has created a class gap that cannot be bridged while the current parliament desperately clings to its privileges.”

The crisis Saadoun describes was best expressed by a leader from a parliamentary bloc, who gave the author of this report details about her monthly allowances, but who then, minutes later, threatened to sue and have her imprisoned if she dared publish her name.

A vicious circle

The author requested permission from the parliamentary speaker’s office to examine the registry of financial allocations and grants, and the cost of medical treatment for MPs. Initially, the author was told to apply to obtain a permit to enter the parliamentary building, and was later told that due to a mistake, her clearance had not been left at the parliament’s entrance. The author was left to wait outside parliament for three hours, before she was asked to leave. Not even the parliamentary press department agreed to meet with her.

Fadel Nabi, secretary of the ministry of finance, told the author that the ministry is not involved in determining salaries and allocations, saying that each authority has its own internal system, and only it knows its budgets and expenditures, while the ministry’s task is limited to “funding only.” The secretary asked the author to query the parliament itself about its expenditures, because a response “was not within its jurisdiction.”

325 ministers under the parliament dome

According to a young politician and other MPs, including a former member of the finance committee, the privileges enjoyed by the Iraqi parliament include monthly salaries and allowances of up to 12.9 million Iraqi dinars ($11,000), in addition to the salaries of personal escorts ($20,000 per MP).

MP salaries in Iraq were calculated on the basis of the ministers’ salaries. Law No. 7 of 2005 stipulates: “The members of the Provisional National Assembly shall receive remuneration that does not exceed the salary and allowances of a minister.”

Before 2003, the legislative branch was monopolized by the head of the former regime, Saddam Hussein, in accordance with paragraph (a) of Article 42 of the interim Iraqi constitution of 1972. The National Assembly (made up of 250 members selected by the ruling Baath Party) did not enjoy any authority in comparison with the head of the regime. Nevertheless, the former regime gave members of the assembly salaries equivalent to those of director generals and a new car for each four-year cycle.

After 2003, according to writer and journalist Mushriq Abbas, the transition from a sham parliament to an active one that had to legislate hundreds of laws in line with Iraq’s transition from totalitarianism to democracy, was wielded to justify the special privileges granted to MPs. Political and parliamentary work entailed a high risk, with many first-generation post-war politicians losing their lives and the lives of loved ones as a price for shouldering their legislative responsibility.

But now, Abbas reckons, things are completely different. Political work has become a privilege, in terms of a career, as well as social and financial standing. In each election, there are more than 6,000 candidates vying to fill parliament’s seats. For this reason, the privileges should have been reviewed years ago, and not just now.

Currency exchange rate always favours the Deputy

Resolution No. 13 of 2005 added a living standards improvement allowance for MPs, amounting to $50,000 or its equivalent in Iraqi dinars. This law remains in force today.

What is odd, according to Wendawi, is that MPs refuse to be paid in dollars ($50,000), insisting instead on payment in Iraqi dinars, provided that that the exchange rate remains at the 2005 exchange rate (90 million dinars) and not the current one (58 million dinars). This earns each MP a profit at the expense of the Iraqi government of some 32 million dinars ($27,000).

The MPs, along with their spouses and children, also receive diplomatic passports for the duration of the parliamentary cycle and for eight years after its completion, with the right to retain ten personal protection escorts and their salaries.

Pensions crisis

According to Law No. 9 of 2005, after the end of their term in Spring 2014, deputies in the current parliament (325 MPs) are entitled to join more than 500 retired deputies and thousands of provincial council members and senior civil servants, who continue to receive the equivalent of 80 percent of their previous salaries and allowances. Meanwhile, retired presiding officers (e.g. the parliament speaker, prime minister, etc), receive pensions of up to $40,000 a month each, in addition to $40,000 in allocations for 60 security escorts who remain with them after their retirement.

Most retired presiding officers prefer to retain the salaries of presiding officers rather than their salaries as incumbent MPs, such as former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and former parliamentary speakers Ayad al-Samarrai and Hajem al-Hassani. Meanwhile, former President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawar has contented himself with running his companies in one of the Gulf states, while enjoying his pension, having served as president of Iraq for less than a year. Similarly, former parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani has combined his pension of $40,000 per month and an equal amount for personal protection with his new job as a TV show host at a local television station.

Writer and journalist Hassan Abdul-Hamid believes that those who drafted the law concerning MP retirement “know nothing about politics, economics, or sociology – nothing whatsoever.” Indeed, Abdul-Hamid contends, the law effectively means that these MPs and officials will be unemployed and will become a burden on Iraqi society, which already suffers from high unemployment rates that have reached 20 percent.

Here, Abdul-Hamid quotes Mutashar al-Samarrai, a deputy from the Iraqi Islamic Party (affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood). Samarrai said openly that cancelling his parliamentary pension would mean that his wife and kids “will turn into daihin (slang for homeless vagabonds), just like the miserable people of Iraq.”

Samarrai, whose statements garnered widespread outrage, believes that denying him his pension will undermine his ability to resist blackmail from corrupt figures, who embezzle billions.  In order to immunize himself against temptation, Samarrai requires receiving enough for him and his family.

MP Karima al-Jawari has placed a high ceiling on what is sufficient for an Iraqi deputy to resist temptations, as Mustafa Saadon said. Appearing on television, Jawari swore that her salary was not even enough to cover her expenses “until the middle of the month.”

Expenses – a closely guarded parliamentary secret

Corruption is not solely caused by the “extravagant salaries and pensions MPs receive,” according to academic researcher Dr. Moussa al-Obeidi, but also concerns their expenses – the details of which parliament is keen not to disclose.

For example, Parliament Speaker Osama Abdul-Aziz Najafi travelled to London in 2011, and from there to Switzerland, with a delegation of 11 persons. These included two of his brothers as advisers, Ahmed Abdul-Aziz Najafi and Mohammad Abdul-Aziz Najafi, and his son Sinan Osama Abdul-Aziz Najafi as a personal secretary – in addition to two bodyguards, a private photographer, an MP, and staffers. Another delegation then joined them from Baghdad, consisting of eight MPs and staffers (Parliament Decree 438 Number 1/7/438 dated 26 September 2011).

Hanan al-Feltawi, head of the Deputies Affairs Department in parliament, estimates that travel expenses amount to 3 billion Iraqi dinars ($2.5 million), according to submitted receipts. For his part, Kamal al-Saeidi, member of the Parliamentary Integrity Committee, estimated the cost of repeated visits by the speaker to Turkey – 11 visits between November 2010 and November 2011 – to be in the vicinity of 3 billion dinars ($2.5 million).

At the end of last year, MP Haidar al-Mulla criticized a visit conducted by the speaker to India with 40 MPs. At the time, Mulla doubted that relations between the two countries justified a visit with that many MPs.

The expenses issue does not involve the speaker alone, but nearly all the MPs, according to a senior officer in parliament who declined to be named, fearing the retribution exacted against some of his colleagues who had spoken to the media. A large proportion of the trips, according to the source, are designed so that the MPs can take part in events in countries where their families reside. This means that MPs during these trips have the chance to see their relatives, funded by travel, accommodation, and per diem allowances, which can reach up to $600 per day.

Most trips, according to activist and legal expert Tareq Harb, are unnecessary, including conferences held by NGOs, which are usually not attended by MPs other than from Iraq.

For this reason, perhaps, Dr. Obeidi posits, there was little outcry in parliament when a classified document was leaked by the presidency, exposing what became known as the “Presidential Plane” scandal. The document indicated that $2 million were spent to cover the expenses of President Jalal Talabani’s participation in the sixty-sixth session of the UN General Assembly (President’s Memo No. M.R.D. 708 dated 11 September 2011).

Obeidi believes that parliament “has avoided delving into the scandal or questioning the president to avoid scrutiny of its own travel expenses, which also cost huge sums. But no one knows exactly how much, because parliament, unlike the rest of Iraq’s state institutions, does not publish data on its expenses online.”

Parliament ‘cosmetic surgery’

MP Alia Nassif believes that some of the advances and grants that the MPs receive were used to pay for cosmetic surgery. The enclosed document indicates that MP Ahmad al-Alwani received nearly $8,000 for orthodontic surgery to straighten his upper teeth, which had been misaligned before he became MP (Office of MP Alwani/ No. 30 dated 3 February 2011).

According to the parliamentary source, Hassan al-Suneid, a leader in the bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, received $40,000 to correct a misalignment in a leg joint, which he had suffered before entering parliament.

Just ‘gifts’

In a television appearance, MP Haidar al-Mulla admitted to receiving an armored Land Cruiser in 2010 with a plaque that said “made specially for Mr. Haidar al-Mulla.” The car was a gift from the extremely wealthy businessman Khamis al-Khanjar. Mulla even pondered out loud whether receiving the gift, worth tens of thousands of dollars, constituted something he could be “accused” of.

Quasi-permanent immunity

Iraqi MPs enjoy special immunity, which journalist and writer Ayyad Tareq says is “permanent and stronger than steel.” Rarely does parliament lift immunity from an MP, even if he or she is accused of involvement in terrorism, inciting violence, or corruption and extortion of state institutions (the government failed to persuade parliament to lift immunity from 13 MPs over the past two years, thanks to the protection they enjoy from their blocs in parliament).

Tareq recalls an incident during which MP Mohammad al-Daini was smuggled out of the country, after his security chief and nephew confessed to staging the bombing of the parliament cafeteria that killed two MPs and eight staffers, and injured twenty others. (After the bombing, according to the parliamentary source, the MPs were sent to Amman to receive treatment and medical examinations, and were allowed to stay at Le Royal, one of the most expensive hotels in the Jordanian capital. However, some of the MPs there had not even been present at the parliament when the bombing took place.)

At the time, the Iraqi prime minister ordered the plane carrying Daini to turn back 20 minutes after departure, but Daini evaded arrest, fleeing the airport within ten minutes of landing. Parliament subsequently issued a decision to lift his immunity.

$10,000 per parliamentary working day

The Iraqi Parliament Monitor NGO counted 93 total working hours since parliament convened on 14 June 2010 until the end of that year; 205 hours during the first seven months of 2011; 302 in 2012; and 74 hours during the first half of 2013.

In 32 months, parliament worked for no more than 676 hours, or 21 hours per month. This means that each MP worked for an average of three actual days of every month.

With a monthly salary of $11,000 per month and $20,000 for protection, each MP is effectively paid $10,000 per working day.

The figure above is based on a scenario in which an MP attends each parliamentary session. But MPs enjoy a special privilege that distinguishes them from other government employees. For the latter, if they fail to come to work for one day, a penalty is deducted from their salaries. But according to Article 18 of the parliament’s bylaws, MPs who are repeatedly absent without a legitimate excuse for five consecutive sessions, or ten non-consecutive sessions, are given only a warning calling on them to “commit to attendance.”

The extended absenteeism of numerous MPs, sometimes exceeding one year, has never been a cause for dismissal. At the end of last year, a report by the Iraqi Parliament Monitor noted that MP Falah Hassan al-Naqib (a former interior minister) was absent from 108 sessions without an excuse, from the beginning of the parliamentary term in the summer of 2010 until the end of 2012.

Parliament did not take any action against Naqib, or any of the other MPs, even those who failed to attend 50 sessions, such as MP Ayad Allawi, who missed 56 of 61 parliamentary sessions during the first year of its term, while MP Ahmad Chalabi was absent 46 times, followed by MPs Hajem Hassani and Ojail Hamidi, each with 43 absences, all “without an excuse.”

In the past six months, the speaker of parliament has refused to dismiss MP Ahmad al-Alwani, who has been absent from parliament since the end of last year. In a video recording posted recently, the speaker responded to calls by MP Hanan al-Feltawi to punish Alwani by saying that the latter might be on “sick leave.” When Feltawi asked whether this was possible for “six whole months,” the speaker replied: “There are fifty MPs in the same situation, taking advantage of sick and ordinary leave to the maximum extent possible.”

Responding to a recent question from a local television station whether he was not attending parliament sessions, MP Alwani said: “I do as I please.”

Part II: Half a Billion Dollars in Annual Privileges Implicate Iraq’s Parliament in Biggest Corruption Scheme in the Middle East (2/2)

Despite popular demand and threats to protest parliamentary pensions and privileges, the Iraqi parliament approved its budget for 2014 in July. At the time, this was widely viewed as contrary to the wishes of the Iraqi people. Indeed, parliament even increased its budget from 387 billion dinars ($330 million) in 2013 to 528 billion dinars ($450 million) for the 2014 budget.

The 38 percent increase approved by parliament greatly exceeded the expected increase in MPs for the next session (4 percent), as well as estimated inflation in Iraq (5 to 6 percent). Parliament did not provide sufficient justifications for this increase, and responded to its critics by saying only that the budget “was much lower than the budgets of the presidency and the premiership.” (Parliament employs only 1,400 in addition to 325 MPs).

MP Alia Nassif gave the lowdown on the budgetary increase. Comparing it to the budget of 2012, she said that sanitation costs rose by 636 million dinars ($540,000), in addition to uniforms ($318,000). The cost of security barriers rose from ($8,500) to ($425,000), and the cost of equipment and machinery rose from ($580,000) to ($10 million). In addition, the budget included $2.45 million for clothing allowances, $8.5 million for maintenance, $24 million as grants and aid, and $19 million in extraordinary expenses whose exact nature could not be determined.

The budget even included provisions for purchasing bicycles. This clause is reminiscent of the incident when a parliamentary staffer was sent to the city of Erbil to buy a German-made bicycle, which newspapers said at the time cost $10,000. Parliament responded by claiming that the real cost did not exceed 2.318 million dinars ($2,000), but failed to elucidate the cost of the trip.

 ‘Land for peace’

Academic researcher Moussa al-Obeidi believes that MPs’ attempts to preserve their privileges “have made it easier for the government to escape accountability.” He cites how the prime minister agreed to grant MPs a plot of land along the Tigris River, with 600 square meters per MP, at a time when parliament was debating the possibility of a vote of no confidence.

Obeidi thinks the land was a “bribe,” since the plots in question were worth more than $3,000 per square meter ($1.8 million for each plot).

The same thing happened when the current parliament began its term, says journalist Ayyad Tareq. According to Cabinet Memo No. 29349 dated 23 August 2010 (the period during which the prime minister was locked in tough negotiations to stay in office for a second term), the prime minister’s office announced that ownership of al-Basatin district in the upscale area of Adhamiya, located on the Tigris River, would be transferred from the ministry of finance to parliament.

Less than a month after the prime minister was sworn in for a second term, the finance ministry agreed officially to hand over the land to parliament, pursuant to decrees no. 85 dated 2 January 2011, and 779 dated 10 January 2011. Ownership was transferred to parliament under deed 4/K2/2011/701.

The land in question was not uninhabited. Nearly 6,000 families lived illegally on the land, and did not have any other shelter, in part because of the severe housing crisis that the government has proven incapable of resolving over the years.

Obeidi, who lives in the city of Kadhimiya along the Tigris River, wondered how a parliament that engages in this kind of bargaining can ever hold Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Vice President Khudair al-Khuzai, and Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani accountable for expropriating one of the most expensive pieces of land in Kadhimiya, with an area of approximately 2,000 square meters – originally meant to be a public park for the residents.

Parliamentary paralysis

Researcher Asaad al-Fadeli argues that the parliament’s oversight role, stipulated in Article 32 of the constitution, is weak, and that parliament “failed completely to punish those involved in the Russian weapons deals brokered by former government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.”  Fadeli recalls that the spat in the media between the government and powerful parliamentary blocs “ended with an agreement to close the books on the Russian arms deal, which was said to involve people close to the prime minister, in return for closing the books on the involvement of prominent MPs in blackmailing the central bank to obtain huge profits by manipulating currency exchange rates.”

To the list of parliament’s failures, as he calls it, Fadeli adds “the failure to hold accountable individuals implicated in corruption cases involving $25 billion, according to the Commission on Parliamentary Integrity.” Here, Fadeli recalls the scandal involving former Minister of Electricity Raad Shlal, who signed two huge contracts in July 2011 with Capgent (Canada) and MBH (Germany), worth a total of $1.7 billion.

The scandal went undetected by parliament, the authority entrusted with oversight in such matters. It was former Iraqi Minister of Planning Jawad Hashim who noticed the irregularities and submitted evidence to the prime minister showing that the Canadian company (which won a $1 billion contract) was a fictitious entity that existed only on paper, and that the German company (which won a $700 million contract) had filed for bankruptcy six month prior to signing the contract.

The case ended with the prime minister sacking the minister of electricity. Parliament scrambled to remedy the embarrassment; the bloc to which the minister belonged announced that it would not fail the Iraqi people and would hold him accountable. The case has remained closed ever since.

Fadeli says parliament has also failed to question those responsible for the deterioration in security in Iraq, particularly in light of the number of victims in 2013, which reached the highest casualty levels since 2008.

When MPs called for questioning the prime minister and holding him accountable for the security deterioration, the prime minister threatened to expose the MPs involved in supporting terrorism if he were forced to appear before parliament, Fadeli says.

Since then, voices calling for Maliki to be questioned have fizzled out, save for some timid demands usually made in the immediate aftermath of each wave of car bombs, which now strike Baghdad nearly every week, at a rate of 20 car bombs detonated by al-Qaeda at the time and place of their choosing.

Furthermore, according to Ahmad al-Shammari, a spokesperson for a group working to have bombings in Iraq designated as genocide, parliament has failed to hold the government accountable for the use of fake bomb detectors by the security services, despite having acknowledged that the devices are “defective.”

Nor has parliament, as writer Ahmad al-Muhanna believes, been able to curb the prime minister’s hold over the security services and his move to form unconstitutional security agencies that report directly to him. The Iraqi prime minister is also the minister of defense and the minister of interior (the government has had no ministers of defense or interior since it was formed three years ago), in addition to controlling the army, the internal security forces, and the intelligence service.

The causes of failure

Researchers and journalists reckon that parliament’s failures cannot be reduced to a single cause. According to writer Mushriq Abbas, “though parliament has the right to rebuke, monitor, and replace the executive branch, it has so far failed to control the executive branch as a whole.”

Unlike parliamentary systems where the president and parliament are elected separately, which could lead to a dispute between the presidency and parliament, Iraq has a system based on the direct election of parliament, which alone, and supposedly willfully, chooses all members of the executive branch.

This, according to Ahmad al-Muhanna, means that parliament’s failure to create a government is something that parliament itself should be criticized for. Muhanna believes that 2010, when the current parliament commenced its term, was a “moment of ascent” that has deteriorated into a “moment of descent,” having produced an “incapable parliament and corrupt government pursuant to a decision that is not at all Iraqi.” Meanwhile, writer Hafal Zakhuy believes that the government is ultimately the product of parliament, and the latter’s inability to hold the government accountable “doubles its responsibility for the crisis blighting the country.”

But the academic Firas al-Yassi objects to solely holding parliament responsible for these failures. Instead, he says, if the government was truly seeking to lay the groundwork for a sound polity, it would not have accused parliament of being responsible for everything that is happening now.

However, Yassi argues, a parliament that does not have an opposition bloc cannot be described as a real parliament. In truth, Yassi is convinced that the crisis began when the blocs opposed to the prime minister became independent in order to obtain a share in the cabinet, and then started playing the game of “one foot in the government and one foot in the opposition.”

The Iraqi parliament lacks an opposition. All blocs that won seats in the elections are represented in the current government, with each bloc’s share – and whether it obtains a sovereign or non-sovereign ministry – determined in accordance with the number of won seats. Blocs that do not have enough seats to qualify for a ministerial post are appeased with the posts of deputy ministers, or general directors.

Researcher al-Sumaidaie reveals that the ministries and government positions in Iraq “generate substantial financial revenues for political parties, allowing them to garner favor with new supporters and finance their electoral campaigns.” For this reason, he adds, “Political parties often relinquish real opposition roles to obtain a share in the spoils of power, and play the role of opposition only in front of the media.”

Writer Mushriq Abbas is not optimistic that the parliament will prove capable of exercising its legislative and regulatory duties during its remaining time in office. He blames parliament’s failure to enact the most crucial laws, governing issues such as laws on oil and gas, and political parties, as well as dozens of others that remain on hold, on the decision-making monopoly wielded by a number of political leaders, “despite the fact that most of those leaders have not once partaken in parliamentary deliberations.”

This means – again according to Abbas – that a decision-making process in which laws are examined and discussed thoroughly and flexibly, as happens in parliaments around the world, is unheard of in Iraq. To be sure, meetings among prominent political leaders are a rare occurrence, and sometimes estrangement among them lasts for years, causing chronic paralysis in parliament.

In this vein, the writer Zakhuy recalls a falling out between the prime minister and the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani, which aggravated the disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, to the extent that sandbags were erected between the Iraqi army positions and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, while the area teetered on the brink of a military confrontation.

Moreover, according to Zakhuy, estrangement between the prime minister and the leader of the Sadr Movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, and with parliament speaker Osama Najafi and other leaders, lasted for a very long time, requiring mediation by several parties.

Zakhuy purports that the vast majority of MPs were elected thanks to the leaders of political parties and various factions (300 of the current 325 MPs who were voted in did not even pass the electoral threshold).  This means that those MPs became “exactly like pawns,” Zakhuy says, “fully compliant with the will of political leaders.”

In this regard, writer Sumaidaie alludes to what he was told by the leader of a prominent bloc when asked why he selected an MP with mediocre experience. The leader told him that he needed MPs who chase after him and who do not second-guess his decisions, rather than nominate people who are “a headache” and who question the details of every decision.

Sumaidaie believes that the way parliament is chosen itself is “a failure,” arguing that there will not be any change if electoral laws remain unaltered. Indeed, the current law allows inexperienced uneducated individuals to become MPs, even if they are completely unknown to voters. This places the loyalties of MPs solely with the party leaders who place them in parliament, rather than the voters who cast ballots for the main leaders, irrespective of the rest of the names on their electoral lists.

In the March 2010 elections, the prime minister received 622,000 votes in Baghdad, while three of the Iraqi List leaders received 881,000 votes.

The vast majority of MPs, according to Sumaidaie, were not involved in partisan or political work before entering parliament. Most of them had non-political careers, for example in teaching, trading, farming, contracting, and even real estate. Sumaidaie wonders how such MPs can conduct sophisticated discussions of a legal and political nature that affect the fate of Iraq, which suffers from conflicts that require veteran statesmen and thinkers to resolve.

This is corroborated by writer Hassan Abdul-Hamid, who recounted how he met MPs at a workshop in the Lebanese capital Beirut, and discovered that some of them do not even enjoy a secondary school student’s grasp of political issues.

Abdul-Hamid is therefore not surprised that parliament holds frequent sessions to train MPs, including on how to converse, dress, and stand in front of a camera. Abdul-Hamid said, “Let’s just imagine how many MPs entered parliament without ever debating a single idea in a university lecture hall.”

According to the current Iraqi electoral law, running for parliament requires that candidates have at least a high school diploma.

The parliament, according to writer Obeidi, has completely failed to tackle the major problems the country faces, and will probably fail in regards to future problems as well, such as the possibility of a presidential vacuum, a position that is designed to balance out the prime minister’s authority. Obeidi indicates that the parliament has so far failed to come up with solutions for the presidential crisis.

At the outset, Obeidi said, Iraq had a president and three vice presidents. Now, there is only one vice president left in the entire presidential branch. This began with the resignation of the first vice president, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, after one of his bodyguards robbed eight billion dinars ($6.5 million) from al-Zouya Bank in downtown Baghdad, killing eight security guards in the process. Later on, the post of second vice president was vacated when Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death. Hashemi fled the country. Then, since the end of last year, President Jalal Talabani has been lying in a hospital in Germany, in complete isolation. It is believed that the president is clinically dead.

According to Obeidi, only Vice President Khudair al-Khuzai is left, who is a member of the prime minister’s party. Despite all this, parliament has not yet dared break the norm and agree to appoint substitutes for the president and two vice presidents.

Waiting for the Elections of 2014

Parliament’s composition, as testified to by al-Muhanna, Sumaidaie, Abbas, Zakhuy, Dr. Obeidi, Abdul-Hamid, and Professor Ameri, as well as a host of observers, intellectuals and politicians, has denied Iraq an effective legislative authority that can curb corruption or exercise oversight over the executive branch.

The country has also been deprived of the chance to enact laws that affect the future of Iraq, such as the Oil and Gas Law, the Political Parties Law, and a comprehensive and consistent electoral law, in addition to dozens of other laws that determine how to run the country, distribute power and wealth, and which could spare the country from partition or civil strife.

According to the experts cited here, everything will remain paralyzed pending the elections set for Spring 2014, and Iraq will not budge from its position as one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

This investigation was conducted under the auspices of the Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism (NIRIJ) supervised by Mohammad al-Rubaie. NIRIJ is supported by International Media Support (IMS). The investigation was published first in the Al Hayat newspaper from London, then in Alalam, Almashriq Alarabi, Alghad, Alnahar and 20 other newspapers and agencies.