Nineveh investigative team – Translated by Walaa Rayya
Months after Mosul liberation from ISIS in the summer of 2017, local TV channels broadcasted a video that showed, Nawfal al-Akoub, the governor of Nineveh who is known for his tribalism, promising his opponents, members of the Provincial Council to “cut their horns” because they accused him of corruption.
More than three years later, on Tuesday, 16 February 2021, the Criminal Court of the capital Baghdad handed down a custodial sentence to him following article 340 of Iraqi Penal Code 111 of 1969 for misuse of public funds.
Al-Akoub was appointed by the Nineveh Provincial Council in October 2015 to succeed his predecessor, Atheel Al-Najifi who had been removed from parliament, which observers of the city of Nineveh consider as a prelude to militia control of the province’s capabilities, especially since militias had pressured the Nineveh Council to deploy him as a governor.
The total duration of the two sentences was five years, while he is awaiting eight judgments in other court proceedings, which the same court will consider.
The most prominent accusations in it are embezzlement, waste of public money and malpractice during his tenure as governor of Nineveh, the central city of Mosul (405 km north of Baghdad), between 2017-2019.
“Al-Akoub was a tool in the hands of factions in the Popular Mobilization Forces “PMF” such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and when his role ended, he was left alone to face dozens of corruption charges by himself.” Said Lazem Hamdoun, an expert on corruption cases.
After the liberation of the city in the summer of 2017, factions affiliated with Popular Mobilization Forces emerged as an alternative to ISIS, they seized the land, imposed absolute control over the administrative and security decisions, and financed themselves through their economic offices that extended their arms deeply and mainly in the areas of real estate, projects, and government positions.
During this period, these factions have taken over the amount of money allocated for reconstruction, most of which was international grants to finance reconstruction projects, compensation, and support for the displaced people. They did it with the participation of parties, representatives, officials, and government employees.
This investigation traces the path of some movable and immovable public property and funds lost in Nineveh after its liberation from ISIS, in particular the “scrap” file, the parties involved in seizing or wasting it, and the judicial measures adopted in this context.
The ferry shipwreck disaster
The sinking of a tourist river ferry carrying more than 200 citizens of Mosul in the Tigris River (the tourist island) in the forest area in the center of Mosul on March 21, 2019, caused the death of 120 people, most of them was women and children.
According to the political expert Adel Kamal, the incident has caught the attention to the extent of corruption in which the city of Mosul is sinking in, structurally destroyed, and psychologically exhausted from its liberation war, and the influential parties needed to present a scapegoat!”
Security investigations confirmed that the maximum capacity of the sinking ferry was 50 people, but it was loaded four times its capacity. This was done without any supervision from the local government.
Governor Nawfal al-Akoub was held responsible for this, and popular demonstrations called for his dismissal, and practical steps have been initiated to achieve this in the House of Representatives.
The reactions and measures that were taken revealed the fact that militias affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces in Nineveh (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq) own stakes in the tourism island where the ferry sank, and in other places, which allowed violations to pass without any accountability, but what happened is that Security forces (Asayiş) arrested Abed Ibrahim Ali in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan province, late March 2019 with his son, Rayan, as they are the main owners of the island.
In the meantime, a consensus occurred in the parliament in Baghdad devoted to dismissing Governor Nawfal al-Akoub, who fled to Erbil to escape judicial arrest warrants issued against him.
In a statement issued on April 22, 2019, the Integrity Commission revealed the loss of 64 million dollars, equivalent at the time to 76 billion Iraqi dinars, from the budget of the Nineveh Governorate, embezzled by employees close to the prosecuted governor.
The commission explained that the embezzlement took place in the form of checks or deposits in personal accounts and that approximately 45 billion Iraqi dinars (37 million dollars) belongs to the regional development funds for the year 2018 related to the governorate, and only about eight billion dinars (six million dollars) have been recovered.
This was the main reason for his arrest by members of the Judicial Investigation of Integrity Commission, following the provisions of Resolution 160 of 1983 taken by the Judicial Investigation Commission formed under Order 126 of 2020 to look into major corruption cases.
Al-Akoub is tried in cases before the Anti-Corruption Criminal Court in the capital, Baghdad. He was sentenced in two suits in February 2021.
On July 22 of the same year, the British government imposed sanctions on him and four other personalities, accusing them of corruption, which has been confirmed by the British foreign minister, Dominic Raab.
A source in the Nineveh Integrity Commission mentioned that one of the charges Al-Akoub faces is the embezzlement of 11.3 billion dinars (9.4 million dollars) of funds that were intended for the displaced persons and to rehabilitate two hospitals in Nineveh.
But there is no accusation against him by the Integrity Commission or the judiciary so far related to his role in facilitating the process of seizing the scrap by the armed factions affiliated with the Popular Mobilization, whether for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq or the Peace Brigades, which was mentioned by Mansour Al-Murayed, the parliamentarian and the interim governor of Nineveh:
A cover for looting
Political researcher Mutasim Abdullah Jamal says that Governor Nawfal al-Akoub was just a cover for massive looting operations of public and private money after the liberation of Mosul from ISIS.
He mentioned that the Popular Mobilization militias, most notably Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which has economic offices inside Mosul, as well as other militias such as Al-Khorasani, Al-Salam, and Brigade 30, took advantage of many facilities provided by Governor Al-Akoub and his two deputies to control real estate and movable property belonging to the state because they are remnants of ISIS.
During the months after the fighting stopped, the main city streets and military facilities were emptied of damaged vehicle structures, mechanisms, and rebar from the ruins of destroyed public and even private buildings, and they were moved by trucks towards the Kurdistan region in the north and Baghdad in the south, some of them were melted in local factories other were on their way to Iran.
The ruins of (12,925) destroyed public and private buildings in the city due to the missiles that fell on the city during the war, were easy spoils for the leaders of the factions affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces imposing their absolute authority on the place.
The scenes of the large trucks loaded with these spoils are still present in the memory of “S.H.”, a university teacher who used to travel several times every week between his place of residence in Erbil and his work in Mosul. “The trucks were moving at night and some days during the day,” he says. “For several times, they were the reason we were late on the road., especially at locations where security barriers have been placed in front of them.”
He adds, with a bit of intensity: “The scrap was transported in front of everyone without anyone daring to stop it… We knew that it was being collected and sold outside the law, but reacting was impossible at that time, as many were members wanted by the authorities.
The spoils of economic offices
These spoils were financed by armed factions through the so-called economic offices that were distributed in separate parts of Mosul, taking advantage of real estate that ISIS had seized during its control of the city, and most of it belonged to expatriate or displaced Christians.
Abu Ayoub (43 years old), a resident of the Cairo neighborhood in northeastern Mosul, worked between 2017 and 2018 collecting iron, or what is popularly known as scrap, from the rubble of buildings and selling it in a collection area in favor of the economic offices in central Mosul.
He says that he used to deliver what he “grabbed” daily to a yard near the Old Bridge (the oldest bridges of Mosul) to be weighed there by a heavyweight scale, at a price ranging between (60-70) dollars per ton.
What Abu Ayoub was doing was a common practice at the time for hundreds of Mosul citizens who considered it as a temporary solution for the severe unemployment due to the decrease in business. The Economic offices were relying on them for this after they had taken over the largest quantities of machinery and scrap that were supposed to be owned by the state.
Even the workers of the Mosul municipality were forced to collect the scrap under the title of collecting rubble, and this government effort was set aside in the militias and their economic offices ‘ favor. They are the first beneficiary of the scrap and its sale, according to parliamentarians and citizens.
Trucks were transporting scrap from those yards after 11 pm to the smelting factories in Erbil in the north and Baghdad in the south, or other destinations, according to merchants and contractors.
Volunteers in rubble removing campaigns which was mainly in the Old City, confirm that they raised huge amounts of rubble that their price doesn’t exceed 1% of the 20 billion dinars that the Nineveh government announced spending.
“It’s a double loss,” says Azzam Abdullah, one of the volunteers. The amount, according to his perception, is exaggerated, and it can be implicated in corruption. Azzam was in the place during his participation in the voluntary campaign to remove the rubble, and he witnessed how the government’s participation was shy, and it was through the municipal workers who receive their wages from the state.
The Integrity Commission disclosed Azzam’s doubts, and it gave the evidence to the Central Court in the capital, Baghdad, according to which Al-Akoub was criminalized for fake projects in cleaning and rehabilitating buildings in Nineveh Governorate during the period from 2017 to 2019.
A member of the Mosul District Council, who asked to remain anonymous, mentioned based on what he wrote about the scrap trade in Mosul, that what was circulated in international press reports about the amount of looted scrap (seven million tons) is not exact because he believed that the quantity was twice that.
He said, “if we suppose that the price of one ton is 160 thousand dinars, and transportation fees are 40 thousand dinars per ton. The total becomes two hundred thousand dinars, which is the cost borne by the traders connected to the Mobilization forces.”
He also confirmed that they were selling each ton at a price lower than 320,000 dinars, which means that the earned profit is (120,000) dinars per ton, less than $100 at the time. The total will be 840 billion Iraqi dinars per 7 tons.”
He asked, “How many bridges or buildings can be rebuilt with this amount?”
In Mosul, the residents called the scrap (the scrap) seized by the militias by “Al-Abadi’s scrap” after the former Iraqi Prime Minister “Haider Al-Abadi” during the liberation of Mosul and its aftermath.
During this period, movable public funds remnants of war have been stolen, especially military and civilian vehicles and iron in the ruins of government or civilian buildings.
Nuri al-Abed Rabbo, MP for Nineveh, confirmed the role of factions of Mobilization Forces in the sales operations: “The economic offices of the Popular Mobilization had a large share of scrap and they also collected money from merchants in Mosul. It is only after giving payment or a share to one of these economic offices that any economic project is launched in Mosul.
Al-Abed Rabbo accused the brother of the former governor, Nawfal Al-Akoub, called (Basman Al-Akoub), of obtaining between 20% and 30% of the value of any project that was referred by Nineveh Governorate, “although he did not have any relation to the governorate and was not even an employee.”
A senior employee in the Nineveh Governorate Office, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said that the economic offices imposed benefit rates on projects undertaken by the local government in Nineveh or referred to contracting companies, which start from 20% and rise according to the project.
He explained that these offices “interfere in many details, including, for example, providing projects with rebar, meaning that they benefit from selling scrap iron and then reselling it after recycling.”
The employee sarcastically stated that nothing had changed in Nineveh. Before 2014, ISIS imposed a 20% benefit on contracting projects in which the governorate office is a party, after which the armed factions did the same.
Zuhair Jalabi, head of the Umm al-Rabeein Reconstruction Committee in Nineveh, affiliated with the premiership, accused the Nineveh Operations Command and the military units under its command of corruption, and said that the scrap “ran away every day before the eyes of these units and they didn’t do anything.”
Jalabi posted on his private account on Facebook: “Strangely, the Operations Commander, Major General Najm al-Jubouri (who became governor of Nineveh on November 28, 2019) was part of a crisis cell formed by the Iraqi government at the end of 2018 to combat and reduce corruption, but its members are already among the causes of the crisis, so they can cover themselves!!”.
Jalabi asked: “It is assumed that the crisis cell was formed after a parliamentary report revealed that corruption was behind the security forces. So how was this crisis cell formed with the membership of the operations commander and police chief?”
Jalabi described Mosul as a “prize” for those he said were “corrupt” and that the vast majority of projects planned by international civil society organizations for the post-liberation stage from ISIS were stopped due to corruption.
The parliamentary report that Jalabi talked about was submitted by the Mosul Fact-Finding Committee that was formed by Parliament Order (130) on November 22, 2018, headed by the former Speaker of Parliament (Osama al-Nujaifi) and the membership of forty-three deputies.
The 36-page report that was submitted to the council’s presidency (we got a copy of it) mentioned that the economic offices threatening citizens to prevent their participation in public scrap auctions.
The parliamentary report accused economic offices of looting the public property of scrap iron and other amounts that value billions. It also stated that the Office of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers gave grants approvals and sent their cables.
The report also mentioned the testimony of Mahmoud al-Shibli, the official of the Security and Defense Committee in the Nineveh Governorate Council, in which he confirmed that the economic offices in Nineveh are partisan offices whose work is mainly trading and smuggling scrap iron.
Also, it noted the statement of the Director of Nineveh Police, General Al-Names, who declared that the economic offices seize lands in Mosul and smuggle scrap. This statement was similar to the Nineveh Operations Commander’s statement. In addition, it showed the statement of the mayor of Mosul regarding the fact that economic offices threatened citizens to not attend public auctions in government departments, and this was the reason why the local government conducted auctions inside the governorate building.
The report also mentioned the commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Nineveh “Sayed Ali” recognition’s, of the fact that a leader in the PMF called “Aba Ruqayya” (his full name Tahsin Ali Habib al-Daraji) owned official letters from the Prime Ministry to work and seize the oil.
Those corruption operations referred to by the Parliamentary Committee took place during the era of Haider al-Abadi and continued during the premiership of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, which indicates that everything took place with the knowledge of the government, – willingly or unwillingly.
For about three years, the conversations and complaints of Nineveh’s representatives, officials, some of its activists, and the general public focused on the smuggling of scrap because it was taking place before their eyes, and the hills of scrap were gradually disappearing from the streets and squares until they were finally emptied. But other organized corruption operations took place quietly and had not been addressed, such as the real estate and oil sectors.
The parliamentary revealed that factions in the PMF were involved in the theft and smuggling of oil in the same way used by ISIS, as well as falsifying official records in the Real Estate Registration Department, seizing lands in cooperation with the director of the department and its employees, and selling the homes and lands that were under the control of ISIS before the liberation of Mosul.
The report called for immediate treatments, identification of the unit in charge of security in the province. It also requested for moving Mobilization Forces units and its economic offices outside Nineveh, holding the employees cooperating with them accountable for personal benefits and returning the real estate to its previous state.
As a consequence of the report, the Iraqi Council of Deputies voted on March 24, 2019, for a set of resolutions related to Nineveh, including: “Stopping all forms of smuggling, especially iron, scrap and oil”, but they neglected many other paragraphs related to real estate. The resolution remained unfulfilled due to the militias’ influence and power in Nineveh.
Instead of holding it accountable, a large number of state employees, including employees in the Nineveh real estate and its municipality, had been handed over to the Court, although most of them were carrying out the orders of offices’ leaders that have the decision-making power in the governorate at the administrative and security levels.
Corruption with local signatures and the silence of the central government
The scrap file was closed without anyone being held accountable despite the accusations and the amount of money looted through it. Complaints against the MF’s factions and the committee’s decisions regarding stopping smuggling remained unfulfilled, no one was held accountable and the Iraqi courts did not record any judgment related to the theft and smuggling of scrap, and Nineveh lost tens of millions of dollars that could have contributed to rebuilding some sectors.
Even in the case of the ferry sinking, which forced government agencies “under the pressure of tragedy” to open some files of corruption in Nineveh and the militias’ influence in it, no one was held accountable and the case was closed less than one year later, even if it caused the death of 120 people.
Ahmed, B‚ a lawyer‚ says that the owner of the tourist island project, Obaid Ibrahim Ali Al-Hadidi, who was known for his relation to the “Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq” militia, was released with his son less than a year after his arrest, after giving each of the families of the ferry victims an amount of 10 million dinars along with residential plot.
The lawyer believes that the sinking of the ferry revealed to the public the connection of some armed groups, not only with the investment of tourist sites in the forests of Mosul and on the banks of the Tigris, or their role in granting licenses for restaurants and commercial establishments but also in reconstruction and business deals.
He assured that the families of the victims of the ferry have accepted the deal, because of direct and indirect threats they received, to give up the lawsuits they filed against Al-Hadidi, who is backed by the militias, and this is what he says that he heard himself from many of them in private meetings: “they fear the consequences if they refuse or even talk about it in public.”.”
” Bribing people by blood money or threatening them to give up their right under government agencies radar, is considered at least a public corruption if we do not say that it is a crime in itself.”
After being released and getting his criminal file closed, Obeid Ibrahim Ali al-Hadidi run for the seventh circle sequence 49 as an independent nominee for the parliamentary elections held in October 2021.
His electoral program was based on the distribution of blood money and land plots for those victims and promises to deliver services like water and electricity to them if he wins, but that did not happen because he lost the electoral race and gathered only 3654 votes, which were not sufficient to get him to the House of Representatives.