The Political Power Struggle Endangering Iraq’s Poorest Province

Manar al-Zubaidi, Diwaniya

 

A complicated conflict in the province of Diwaniya shows again how local politicians use accusations of corruption to protect interests.

The governor of Diwaniya, considered Iraq’s poorest province, has been at odd with members of his own provincial council lately. There had been multiple dismissals and appointments to senior positions on the council but the worst stoush came over the position of director of education in Diwaniyah.

The council voted to remove Aqeel al-Jibouri from this position and to appoint Ala Kochan as acting director for the next three months. However Diwaniya governor, Sami al-Hasnawi, said that Kochan should be investigated by the authorities for breaching the rules of his civil service. The highest court in Diwaniya then decreed that al-Jibouri be returned to the job.

After this conflict, al-Hasnawi took a month’s leave of absence ostensibly for medical reasons. Earlier council members opposed to him had accused him of corruption and said he should face his critics’ questions on this. His medical leave was just an excuse to “evade an interrogation by council members” they said. The date al-Hasnawi said he would be out of office was the same date as his appointment for questioning by council members, al-Hasnawi’s critics pointed out.

On June 27, 16 out of 28 members of the council voted to dismiss al-Hasnawi altogether because he had not turned up to their questioning. They agreed to have his deputy take over. Al-Hasnawi had previously sent a letter to the council saying the whole body should be dismissed as they were exceeding their legislative powers.

On August 5, 17 out of 28 provincial councillors elected a new governor, Zuheir Ali Shalan, who represents the State of Law coalition. Other council members were quick to file a complaint about the process.

A local political analyst, Ali al-Jaberi, says the handling of the situation has been highly questionable. The whole conflict started around the time that the 2019 provincial budget was being decided upon and many of the senior bureaucrats were worried that their finances could be cut off, he suggested. Many of their practices are considered dubious, al-Jaberi told Al Menassa – accounting in the health, education and policing is under particular suspicion.

In fact, al-Jaberi has a conspiracy theory. He believes the different parties prearranged the argument in order to oust the governor and to look after their own interests.

The truth of the matter is difficult to discern. A member of former governor al-Hasnawi’s party also accuses the province’s other parties of masterminding the coup. “The questioning of the governor over corruption was not legal,” Inad al-Nayeli says. “It is just a politically motivated accusation.”

Meanwhile Siham al-Moussawi, a member of parliament from Diwaniya, says removing the government was the right thing to do. “The governor’s party had taken over the province,” she argues. “They even shared the benefits of government departments among one another. For example, in the department of health, they had taken over purchasing medicines and other transactions, but all without any benefit to the province’s people.”

Al-Moussawi says there were plenty of other instances too. She says that some schools were turned into retail stores and certain public facilities were used only for the financial benefit of the politicians and their followers. Some of these issues were referred to the authorities in Baghdad but they seem to have “simply disappeared”, she says.

 

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