IRAQ’S ANTI-CORRUPTION CZAR: THE JOB SO TOUGH THEY WON’T LET YOU QUIT

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather during a protest against corruption at Tahrir Square in Baghdad

(Reuters) Fighting corruption in Iraq is such a relentless and thankless job that Hassan al-Yasiri has been trying for nearly a year to quit.

Yasiri, head of Iraq’s independent anti-graft body the Commission of Integrity, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in June 2016 just a year after taking the post. It was rejected.

He insisted on resigning anyway, but has agreed to stay until a replacement is found. So he soldiers on, trying to root out graft in a country where bribery and the theft of state resources are blamed for everything from low living standards to the army’s collapse in the face of ISIS.

One of the reasons he wanted to quit, he says, was because the authorities took action in only 15 percent of the 12,000 cases of suspected corruption his commission investigated and reported to the judiciary last year.

“The number is very small. We want the judiciary to speed up the execution of cases to keep pace with the commission,” said Yasiri, 47. “This pains me greatly.”

Yasiri said he has taken bold steps, sending investigators to open up the files of every ministry looking for the slightest sign of corruption, and slapping travel bans on top officials for the first time.

Senior officials have been forced to become more transparent about their finances.

But all the while he faces constant criticism from political blocs, used to using their control of ministries to hand out favors to their supporters. A member of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, he has been accused by Sunnis and Kurds of favoring his own sect, and by other Shi’ites of going after Shi’ites.

A senior Iraqi official approached him at his office in a highly fortified area of Baghdad, he recalls, without identifying the official.

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