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What Role for the Interior Ministry?

Faris Harram
Cases of corruption revealed some days ago by the Iraqi Red Crescent have revived a series of significant accusations against the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
23.07.2008  |  Najaf

Local Iraqi newspapers, most prominently al-Sabah, last week published news on the involvement of Interior Ministry officials in providing cover for 'Adnan al-Kathimi, Deputy Chief of the Red Crescent, to escape charges of financial and administrative corruption. According to the reports the Interior Ministry helped al-Kathimi escape the arrest operation following the issue of an arrest warrant. Al-Kathimi later surrendered himself to the police.

The arrest warrant issued against al-Kathimi (who was also a former press advisor of former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’fari), was not the first related to corruption and embezzlement. A similar arrest warrant had earlier been issued by the Central Investigation Court against Dr. Said Ismail Haqi, the Red Crescent Chief, who used his American passport to travel outside the country and avoid arrest.

The cases have raised fears among the public and Iraqi media that security forces are acting leniently in dealing with officials accused of financial embezzlement.

The case of al-Kathimi has deepened these fears. Sources at the Red Crescent said that the deputy chief came to the Red Crescent premises after the issuance of the warrant “accompanied by some forty members of his protection force in eight four-wheel drive cars. All members were heavily armed, and they confiscated the computers and mobile phones of the staff.” The sources added that “the operation was conducted with the help of a security officer who claimed that he worked for the Ministry of Interior and held the rank of Major, as well as the director of the Red Crescent legal services department.”

Police and intelligence force waiting for al-Kathimi to emerge out of the Red Crescent premises in order to arrest him, stopped his convoy and confiscated the weapons of his protection force. However, al-Kathimi and the director of the legal services department immediately called Adnan al-Asadi, senior deputy minister of the interior ministry, who directed police officers not to arrest al-Kathimi and to suspend the arrest order.

These events came at the same time as a Ministry of Interior statement on the results of an opinion poll assessing the performance of the ministry. The results of the poll, organized by the ministry and the Orient Center for Opinion Polls, revealed that the majority of respondents were confident that the image of the Iraqi police force, as perceived by Iraqis, has improved.

Regardless of whether this poll is accurate or not, the Red Crescent case will undoubtedly have an impact on the level of trust in the ministry’s apparatuses. How can one interpret the acts of a senior deputy minister of interior ordering officers not to arrest al-Kathimi?

Issuing an order contradicting that of the judiciary is certainly not within the responsibility of a senior deputy minister of interior, nor is it the responsibility of the interior minister himself. Strikingly, the suspension gave al-Kathimi the opportunity to reap the legal advantages of surrendering himself instead of being arrested. Secondly, al-Kathimi entered the Red Crescent premises to confiscate any document that could be used against him. The nature of these documents or their fate has not yet been revealed. Did he keep these documents with him after the “postponement” of the arrest warrant or were they confiscated?

The deputy minister of the interior justified his actions by saying that al-Kathimi “was on his way to the court to give a testimony when the police force charged with executing the arrest warrant stopped him.” However, such a statement only raises deep regrets and is a painful insult to average Iraqis. How can an accused person be released to go by himself to the police? If the accused person was an ordinary citizen, would he have been treated in the same manner?

By this, we are not trying to raise doubts on the integrity of the senior deputy minister of interior, as we have no interest in doing so. We only want officials in our country to speak to us in a convincing way and to explain to us why there are double standards when it comes to arresting influential people such as al-Kathimi. Why would officials of the interior ministry cover the escape of a man accused of embezzling public funds, and why would they facilitate the escape of a higher ranking official, with his American passport, through airport gates?

The Interior Ministry has not yet been able to rid itself of security infiltration accusations suffered over the last five years, which reached a peak in 2006 with mass kidnapping operations, organized assassinations and significant thefts committed by people wearing Iraqi police uniforms. Clarifications by the ministry, an admission of mistakes committed and holding perpetrators accountable, would strengthen Iraqi citizens’ trust in security agencies much more than any opinion poll.

I sincerely hope that al-Kathimi will be able to prove his innocence through legal means, protected by dedicated people applying the law. I also hope that not one charge of corruption against the Red Crescent will be proven. Firstly, because I am unable to comprehend the existence of corruption at the highest level of an organization dedicated to helping disadvantaged people; and secondly, because I will not be able to comprehend the level of moral degradation reached by our government, in case these accusations prove to be true.