In Global, Rudaw 

Iraqi graft investigators doubt 752 tons of missing wheat was ‘eaten by birds’

When 752 tons of wheat went missing from a state grain silo in Najaf this year, the site manager claimed it had been pilfered by flocks of hungry birds. Anti-graft officials aren’t convinced.

Iraq’s integrity commission, parliament, and provincial officials in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf have launched a probe into the alleged avian antics, which seem a little farfetched.

As the missing grain is said to be worth at least $350,000, investigators believed it was stolen by corrupt officials.

On Thursday, Iraq’s Federal Commission of Integrity (FCOI) said its officials completed an audit of the silo’s stocks between May 4, 2019 and April 1, 2020.

“The Office confirmed that there was a shortage in wheat material that amounted to (752 tons and 498 kg), and that its total value reached (421,120,000 IQD) [$353,744],” the commission said in a statement.

Investigators have submitted their findings to the Najaf Investigation Court and called for legal action against those deemed responsible.

Salam Hadi, head of the agriculture committee in the Iraqi parliament, told Rudaw on Thursday they have launched their own investigation.

Claims that the wheat was eaten by birds simply won’t fly with MPs, he said.

“It is not clear what happened to the wheat. The inquiry investigation has not submitted its findings yet. No one believes that the 752 tons of wheat was eaten by birds,” Hadi said.

“We will surely carry out serious investigations and those responsible for the shortfall will be held accountable and sent to court.”

Luay Yasri, the governor of Najaf, told reporters on Wednesday: “An independent investigation will be launched regarding the eating of wheat by birds.”

In a statement on Facebook on Tuesday, Najaf’s deputy governor Hashim Najim al-Karawi said: “We always support the monitoring authorities to ensure that money is not tampered with and corruption is not widespread.”

He thanked Qaid Jalil al-Hadrawi, head of the provincial trade and finance monitor, for “his great role in noting a large shortage, 752 tons, of top-grade wheat.”

The silo manager and staff have all been dismissed by the trade ministry, Karawi said.

“There will be strict punishment for those who steal the public money,” he added.

Transparency International’s corruption index ranks Iraq as one of the most crooked countries in the world, with a weak capacity to absorb aid money and little political will to fight graft.

Successive Iraqi cabinets, including Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s new government, have highlighted the fight against corruption in their agendas, but the issue still dominates.

Corruption has also been one of the major factors behind anti-establishment protests in recent years.

Toby Dodge, associate fellow at the UK-based Chatham House, said in October that “up to now, political corruption has been primarily treated as an individual crime” in Iraq.

“This focus on personal greed and a propensity to break the law fundamentally mistakes the nature of the problem. Corruption is primarily driven forward by the structure of the political system itself and the role that Iraq’s political parties play in it,” he added. Source