As the financial crises in Kurdistan continues, corruption is still a big problem that plagues the political climate. It has come to light, under the claim of Kurdish Prime Ministers, that recently five illegal checkpoints were set-up by political party affiliated officials to collect money for personal gain. The Kurdish regional government’s parliamentary finance committee sent an official letter out calling for an end to the practice. While corruption like this has almost always been common place in Kurdistan, the loss of Kirkuk and it’s oil revenue has expounded on an already tough financial crises that afflicts the autonomous region.
Izzat Sabir, a Prime Minister for the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and head of the finance committee, told local press, “These are the powerful individuals within KDP, PUK, and Gorran. It is not the parties themselves doing this.” He continued with, “After the loss of Kirkuk and its oil fields, the interests of some officials, some groups and some individuals in the Region changed, they have resorted to establishing illegal checkpoints, illegal companies, illegally charging heavy trucks and drivers in most of areas of the KRG [administration].”
The five checkpoints exposed were:
– Hassan Sham, near the Khazir Bridge (Erbil)
– Taq Taq-Shwan, between Taq Taq and Shwan sub-district near the Shiwa Sur Bridge (Erbil)
– Debaga, on the Sargaran road (Erbil)
– Tasluja (Sulaimani)
– Fishkhabur, on the border with Syria (Dohuk)
The amount of monetary extortion that occurred varied between the checkpoints and the types of goods being brought through them. Oil transport tankers were given a fee of $1000, metal scraps from Mosul cost $400, and food related products was charged $25 per ton according to Prime Minister Sabir. Often, the money was collected under the guise of Insurance or Peshmerga aid.
The Ministry of Peshmerga has denied the accusations that the Peshmerga were collecting money in this way or even manning the checkpoints in question. Its media office rep, Halgurd Hikmat, told reporters, “The Ministry of Peshmerga is not aware of what is done under the name of the Peshmerga. We deny this being done under the order of the Ministry of Peshmerga.”
Izzat Sabir claimed that when inspections of the checkpoints finally took place, the inspectors were told to speak with the guards supervisors who were currently on the “fronts,” referring to the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. One truck driver told local media that he had been shot at by thieves and the security forces claimed they could do nothing about it. He went on to explain that the thieves in Taq Taq operate at 12am to 3am only “500 meters” from the official government checkpoint that Asayesh (Kurdistan’s secret police similar to the FBI) and Peshmerga occupy.
Prime Minister Sabir stated that, “It is not known into whose pockets this money goes. We have spoken with the customs directorate of the Region. They say this money does not go into the government’s accounts.”
An individual truck driver told local media, “We are tanker drivers. Every time they charge us 15,000 dinars [about $13]. I work for 30,000 from Kirkuk to Erbil. How is it fair that I get charged 15,000?” Another driver, Mohammed Qadir, said, “At times they keep us [at checkpoints] for two or three hours. They say we have to pay even if we do not have money.”
Prime Minister Sabir hopes that by addressing the issue of extortion like this immediately, further financial strife will not burden Kurdistan while it attempts to get back on its feet in the wake of the war with the Islamic State. Skimming money off the top by high ranking members of government is nothing new to Kurdistan but Sabir and the KRG would like to see that change permanently.