There may, however, be one difference between post-Saddam corruption and the period under the Baathist regime. Under Saddam, the ruling Takriti clan claimed the lion's share in corruption, leaving others with mere crumbs. At the same time, Saddam funnelled funds to some officials at the UN and several hundred politicians and opinion-makers in Western Europe and the Middle East. Today, corruption has become "democratised" in the sense that the oil "rent" is divided among sects and ethnic and religious communities through political networks at national and local levels.
The number of outsiders receiving a share of Iraqi corruption has also multiplied, as Baghdad has become a top destination for all sorts of snake-oil merchants. In the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, a visitor can run into a European gentleman charging $1.5 million for an 11-page report on how to resume archaeological digs in southern Iraq. Another gentleman, once an adviser to a former French president, has received almost as much in consultancy fees to tell Iraqis to increase their oil production, which they were trying to do in any case.
Worse still, part of the corruption money goes into financing terrorist groups that are either kept dormant for a rainy day or unleashed every now and then in support of a political scheme at local and/or national level. Here, too, the Iraqi media often provides chilling reports indicating that the nation's political elite has not yet fully liberated itself from the violence that has marred the country's politics for six decades.
A good part of the new elite comes from clandestine political parties and armed groups that operated outside the law, often with bases in exile, against successive despots. Unable to engage in normal political activity, they were often forced to resort to violence, and terrorism, to exert pressure on the government or simply to prove that they continued to exist.
In today's Iraq there is no need for such tactics as the system of power-sharing allows everyone a place in the system. The Iraqi parliament is the only one in the region where Communists sit alongside monarchists, liberals and conservatives. As for ethnic and religious communities, even the smallest have representation. The decentralised system introduced by the post-Saddam constitution also allows for greater and more active political representation alongside the central government in Baghdad. All the 56 registered political parties in Iraq receive an allocation to finance their publications and election campaigns. In other words, a party no longer needs to murder an official or blow up a building to hit the news. Nevertheless, a tradition of faith in violence as the most effective means of political communication is not easy to shed. The hope is that a new generation of politicians raised in a different and democratic atmosphere may be able gradually to gradually shed that tradition.
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