Those who saw the picture released by the prime minister’s office of Nuri al-Maliki inspecting fighter jets by knocking on the metal body of the plane should not be surprised that he has decided to halt the deal out of suspicion of corruption.
The picture should have sounded alarm bells for the Russians, Czechs and people of Iraq. He seemed like a man shopping for a car in a sales lot, not a head of state buying strategic weapons. From the start, the deal did not seem to have been examined well or to have gone through the proper procurement procedures.
Former chief of staff Kamaran Qaradaghi told me that a reliable source in Baghdad said the two sides were to put their final signatures on the deal during Maliki’s visit to Moscow.
When meeting with Vladimir Putin, Maliki expressed a wish for the price to be lowered. Putin replied that there was usually a margin for that but, as he understood it, the Iraqi team had already asked for a lowering of prices on Maliki’s behalf.
The source adds that Maliki wanted names. Putin said he would send the director of the state-owned company responsible for the deal. At this point, Maliki said the deal should be postponed until further notice.
Maliki is now stuck between two decisions. If he goes ahead with the deal, it will be clear that some of those close to him and to the minister of defense have made a fortune in commission, as his advisor and various political parties have said.
If he decides to stop the deal, it would be a major blow to him, not to mention his reputation and his government’s as businessmen.
Russia Today, the country’s official news channel, ran a report quoting a Russian military expert saying “if the deal gets axed, it would be an unprecedented event in the history of Russia’s arms trade.”
Igor Korotchenko, the director of the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade, adds, “Self-respecting states and governments don’t act this way.”
Russia’s official news agency RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed arms expert who warned that Iraq may incur harsh sanctions over the move: “If the deals were drawn up in a proper way from a legal point of view, the Iraqi side may suffer multimillion dollar losses by paying off punitive fees.”
The expert added that suspected corruption has never been a legitimate basis for the annulment of contracts, especially in military-technical cooperation.
Maliki could turn this fiasco into an opportunity to regain some of what he has lost with these recent decisions, he was enticed into a shopping spree, which demonstrated a clear lack of judgment.
There is an opportunity to reconsider his actions and clean up his operations by demonstrating that he is against corruption, wherever it is. He should allow a truly independent investigation into the case and depoliticize it.
Events have shown that the main enemy to Iraq, and the most difficult one to tackle, is corruption. It is the one phenomenon that crosses all ethnic and sectarian boundaries. If Maliki decides to take the matter further, he will find out that there are many business partners who are on either side of the political, ethnic and sectarian divide.
He will find that there were people on his trip that had no reason to be there apart from cutting illegal deals. This and much more information would be revealed if a proper independent investigation was conducted into the case.
If this happens, and Maliki takes responsibility for errors in judgment and sends those involved to justice, he could have the legacy of putting the country back on track and would be able to silence many of his adversaries. In short, this is a make or break juncture for him.
In a democracy, the suspected officials named are usually removed temporarily from their posts pending the outcome of the investigation. In this case, nothing has happened yet.