At the end of November, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi publicly declared a new “war on corruption” in Iraq. Given the timing of this announcement, the new policy to reduce corruption, especially the misuse of public funds, will be a key pillar of his 2018 re-election campaign, with a strong resonance among the public.
It is widely accepted that corruption – the abuse of public power for private benefit – has done more damage to Iraq’s economy and society than the violence of al Qaeda and ISIS combined. Not only did corruption catastrophically undermine the war against these groups by preventing delivery of effective security and governance; corruption leads to much lower living standards as the average Iraqi finds it difficult or impossible to obtain electricity, fuel, clean water, sufficient food as well as quality medical care and education. These corruption related shortages cause immeasurable suffering to the Iraqi people. But while the threat of corruption to the country’s future is well recognized in Iraq, there has been a continuing failure to develop a successful anti-corruption strategy.
While no country has succeeded in eradicating corruption, a few countries with long histories of widespread corruption have, within a single generation, reduced it manageable levels. The city-state Singapore being a notable example. From these few successes and the many failures, two key lessons can be extracted.