In the troubled province of Ninawa, the head of the finance committee has just been charged with corruption. But like so many similar cases in Iraq, it’s suspected the motives for the arrest are political.
After four extraordinary sessions of the Ninawa provincial council, the council’s head of the financial and economic committee has been dismissed and will be charged with corruption. Mahasen Hamdoun al-Dalli was accused of nepotism – apparently she appointed her own relatives and others to positions within various government departments and was allegedly paid well for doing so.
As head of the committee, al-Dalli was responsible for filling around 11,000 positions. A number of local authority managers were interviewed and the council concluded that al-Dalli had also misused her position by sending official documents out for personal gain.
The council said it would also submit all the related information to the Integrity Commission in Baghdad, which has the task of conducting investigations into cases of government corruption.
Twenty-one members of the council voted for al-Dalli’s dismissal. Meanwhile al-Dalli herself had been hospitalized due to ongoing health issues.
But as with so many issues of official corruption in Iraq, some suspect that the charges are politically motivated.
Al-Dalli is a member of the Hadba list headed by Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Ninawa. The Hadba list is mainly Sunni Muslim and it is currently allied with the Ninawa Brotherly List, a mostly Iraqi Kurdish bloc.
After the last local elections, Kurdish politicians got 12 seats on the 37 seat council and around a quarter of the votes in the province. But after Arab parties – who got 19 seats - took all of the major positions of power on the council, the Kurdish walked out saying they would boycott the council operations indefinitely due to the unfair imbalance in leadership positions.
However earlier this year al-Nujaifi managed to convince the Kurds to return to council business after a three year boycott. This effectively gave his party and the Kurds a majority on the council.
A source close to al-Nujaifi told NIQASH that al-Dalli recently decided to change her allegiances. She wished to join the State of Law list that is headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The State of Law list is a mainly Shiite Muslim one and its main opposition in Parliament is the Iraqiya list, a mainly Sunni Muslim list. The Hadba list is one of Iraqiya’s main supporters.
And in fact it was a leading member of the Hadba list who first suggested that charges be brought against al-Dalli. Members of the Hadba list were joined by other politicians from local Islamic parties and by Shabak and Yazidi politicians, who are on the council due to ethnic quotas. However it seemed that Kurdish politicians were not as enthusiastic about the idea.
Of course council members were quick to justify their decision to indict al-Dalli. “She employed her family members illegally,” Hamir al-Taha, a Ninawa council member, told NIQASH. “In doing so, she has stained the reputation of all of the council members. That’s why we needed to take decisive action, to re-establish the council’s good reputation.”
Al-Dalli’s supporters also protested outside the Ninawa council buildings. There were also news reports broadcast that showed al-Dalli herself in hospital.
However council members said the demonstrators should be disregarded, pointing out they were some of the people who had been temporarily employed by the government whom al-Dalli had given permanent jobs.
“They are afraid of being dismissed,” al-Taha explained. “And in fact their slogans were not even in support of al-Dalli. They were just demanding justice for themselves – they don’t want to lose their jobs.”
He pointed out that the council\'s decision to dismiss al-Dalli serves the interest of the temporary support employees because in case the central government interferes in the corruption charges investigations, it will freeze the appointment procedures of all of those employees whose number reaches 11000 and who have been impatiently waiting since three years for this unique chance of being appointed.
Mahjoub continued saying that “we wanted to prevent this from happening and this is why the council has issued its decision which serves the interests of the majority of the employees.”
As for al-Dalli herself, when she appeared for questioning at the council sessions, she told council members there was a conspiracy against her. In a voice shaking with anger, al-Dalli said that she had not even been notified in advance of the charges and that she had not been able to prepare a defence of any kind.
Al-Dalli told NIQASH that she had indeed appointed 11,000 employees to government jobs over the past two years and that she had been shuttling between Mosul and Baghdad to do so. She also said that she would submit evidence to prove she was not guilty and that the case against her had been fabricated.
However she never did so. That was the last time al-Dalli appeared in public. In fact, during the council session where al-Dalli was voted out of her own job, al-Taha told attending journalists surreptitiously that he had heard that al-Dalli was applying for a Turkish visa.
Perhaps the disgraced committee head is thinking of another similar case from 2007, when former governor, Salem Haj Issa and several others, were arrested on similar charges; they were found guilty of embezzling millions of dollars and sentenced up to 16 years in prison; some managed to flee the country.