Cablegate: Ngo's Seek Role in Fighting Corruption

DE RUEHGB #2705/01 2801427
R 071427Z OCT 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (A) BAGHDAD 2577; (B) BAGHDAD 2385

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Embassy's Anti-Corruption Coordinator's
Office (ACCO) hosted a half-day seminar on September 28 to advance
coordination between Iraq's anti-corruption institutions and members
of Iraqi civil society. Participants agreed on the need for civil
society to take a more prominent role in anti-corruption efforts,
while acknowledging that both the institutions and civil society
were still nascent entities with only a limited track record for
cooperative engagement. NGO's also complained about the overall
social and political environment which they said was enabling, not
thwarting, corruption. Ideas for next steps included new laws for
the institutions and NGO's, an oversight board for NGO's, an
enhanced role for the media, and broader dialog between NGO's and
the main anti-corruption agencies. END SUMMARY.

UNCAC and the New Strategy

2. (SBU) ACCO hosted a half-day seminar on September 28 to bring
together Iraq's anti-corruption institutions and members of civil
society to discuss national anti-corruption efforts.
Representatives of Iraq's Commission on Integrity (COI), Inspectors
General, and approximately 30 NGO's attended, along with
representatives from MNC-I, POL, ECON, ROL, CLA, and Iraqi media.

3. (U) In opening remarks, ACCO Coordinator Stafford noted the
progress Iraq was making on anti-corruption efforts, hailing Iraq's
ratification of UNCAC (UN Convention against Corruption) last year.
He noted the progress of the primary anti-corruption agencies (COI,
IG's, and the Board of Supreme Audit, or BSA) in gaining capacity
and, in COI's case, bringing greater numbers of cases to court.
Stafford and Deputy COI Director Judge Izzat Tawfiq Ja'afar -- the
senior Iraqi anti-corruption official present -- also hailed the
importance of NGO contributions -- particularly at the recent
UN-hosted Amman Conference (Ref A) -- to the new anti-corruption
strategy that Iraq intends to launch as a means to achieve UNCAC

4. (U) Inspector General for the Ministry of Industry Salim Polis
noted that Article 5 of the Convention requires signatories to
create strategies to combat corruption; he said that thus far, Iraq
had identified 200 challenges that will need further action under
the forthcoming strategy. The first part of the strategy will
outline general needs and address roles of different players,
including NGO's, although ensuring NGOs' active role also requires
Parliament to pass the proposed NGO law. (COMMENT: The draft NGO
law is currently in limbo. It has received a first reading in
parliament, drawing extensive comment from international and Iraqi
civil society and criticism on limits proposed for foreign financing
and support. We believe it is unlikely the bill will have a second
of the required three readings before new parliamentary elections in
January. A new government may initiate a new draft or resume debate
on the current draft. END COMMENT.) Polis reminded the audience
that UNCAC preserves a strong role for NGO's in explaining
anti-corruption to the public and monitoring government execution.

Jostling to Engage on Corruption Strategy

5. (SBU) Polis also observed that NGO's in Iraq until now have
focused most broadly on humanitarian work, with little emphasis on
trying to promote accountable government. To improve their
capacity, he suggested an oversight or governing board for the NGO
community, composed of GOI and NGO representatives, an idea that
prompted strong criticism from NGO reps in the audience.
Qprompted strong criticism from NGO reps in the audience.

6. (SBU) Some NGO's objected to the COI's designating only a select
group of NGO's, all of which are associated with the Alliance for
Integrity Organizations, as the COI's primary interlocutors on the
new strategy, which they said unfairly limited input. Others
criticized the anti-corruption institutions for allegedly limiting
investigations to "minor players" while contending that much bigger
crooks had avoided scrutiny. One participant noted that corruption
would persist until those at the top felt pressure to improve their
own behavior. In response to the criticisms, COI Director of NGO
relations Sameer Farraj disputed that COI had arbitrarily closed the
door to further NGO participation and invited others to join the
UNCAC process. He insisted that the COI was also going after senior
officials, not just the lower-level ones. (COMMENT: There are
signs of late of greater willingness by the COI to act against
upper-echelon officials -- e.g. the arrest of the Deputy Transport
Minister on bribery charges (ref B.) Overall, though, the NGO's
criticism of the GOI's past failure to bring senior officials to
account for corruption has some merit. END COMMENT.)

Free to Complain, Much to Complain About

7. (SBU) Jamil Auda a technical advisor to the Minister of State

BAGHDAD 00002705 002 OF 002

for Civil Society Affairs, indicated that corruption in Iraq
involved government, private sector, and external actors. He
asserted the GOI's commitment to protecting freedom of expression
that permitted discussion of corruption by government officials and
publicizing cases against them. Both Auda and William Warda of
Hammurabi Rights Organization highlighted aspects of Muslim and
Christian doctrine that stigmatized corruption.

8. (SBU) Azara Sheikhly, who represents the Mihaniyat Organization
(an NGO), sharply criticized the idea of NGO supervision through
establishment of an oversight board, claiming that misconduct in
civil society was much less egregious than in government. She also
said that the government was seeking to muffle NGO's with its
proposed law that would prevent them from taking outside help; she
also charged the GOI with failing to give adequate weight to NGO's
in its decision-making. Another NGO participant said NGO's were
crippled by low capacity and needed significant training.

9. (SBU) William Warda said that COI's NGO department needed to
establish closer contact with NGO's. He argued against senior
officials being allowed to maintain dual nationality, as some
corrupt officials had been able to establish safe-havens for
themselves and their ill-gotten funds in their "second homeland."

Personnel System Needs Attention

10. (U) Participants offered several concrete recommendations for
strengthening anti-corruption efforts by NGO's, namely:

-- NGO's should participate in decisions relating to the allocation
of reconstruction funds and economic reforms
as well as monitor expenditures of major projects;
-- NGO's should have advisory roles in the crafting of new
-- the COI should have a role in amending the electoral law to boost
transparency in the selection of senior government officials;
-- civil society must raise public awareness of the need for truly
independent IG's in all ministries;
-- NGO's who want to contribute to anti-corruption strategy should
have routine meetings with the IG's and COI;
-- the COI should engage the media more actively on behalf of its
anti-corruption efforts;
-- COI must publish names of corrupt individuals;
-- COI and others should exploit social pressure points to fight
corruption (i.e., draw in tribal authorities);
-- COI should obtain greater authority -- similar to anti-corruption
institutions in Egypt -- to pursue cases;
-- donors and a/c institutions should educate the government as well
as private citizens on anti-corruption issues;
-- government agencies should make greater use of e-government tools
for transparency.

Press Coverage

11. (U) Embassy Public Affairs Section arranged press coverage of
the conference and individual interviews that were carried by Iraq
of Tomorrow wesbsite, al-Rasheed TV, Iraq Media Network and al-Sabah
newspaper. The televised reports included exclusive remarks from
the ACCO highlighting the important role of civil society in
combating corruption and the progress Iraq had made to date on the
issue. Coverage of the event spurred interest from other outlets
including Al-Sharqiya TV, which did an exclusive follow-on interview
with ACCO Coordinator.

Background on NGO's in Iraq

12. (SBU) (NOTE: A survey conducted in Baghdad among 180 NGO's in
mid-2009 by Al-Amal Association provided a useful snapshot of NGO's
today in Iraq. The survey showed that a large portion (47.4%)
operate on a budget of less than $10,000, with an additional 12.1%
managing budgets of under $25,000. Only 7.5% have budgets up to
Qmanaging budgets of under $25,000. Only 7.5% have budgets up to
$200,000 a year. The organizations who were polled reported
receiving most of their funds from the U.S. (13.9% from IRI-NDI-NED,
5.2% from ICSP, and 3.5% from ARD), followed by the UN (19.7%), 8.5%
from religious institutions, 3.5% from parliament, and 2.9% from the
government. The largest portion (36.4%) had a membership of less
than 15. The majority of organizations working in Baghdad are
engaged in charitable work (45.7%) followed by development (38.7%),
and most organizations had carried out fewer than ten projects since
they were founded. Both constraints on capacity and funding
constrain NGO activity, as well as the habit of many organizations'
shifting activities to mirror prevailing foci of external donors.
Also, lines between government and NGO's are blurred in Iraq, with
many politicians jumping back and forth between government and
NGO's, or pursuing both simultaneously. Three of the NGO
representatives attending the ACCO seminar September 28 were sitting
members of parliament. END NOTE)

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