BAGHDAD - One of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi's signature initiatives has been a campaign to reduce corruption and reinforce government authority at the country's border ports.
The effort could have wide-ranging consequences. If the state can come close to securing all of the customs revenue generated from Iraqi imports, it would not only help address a dire financial crisis but also deprive armed groups and criminal gangs of a major source of funding and power.
As the director of the Iraqi Border Ports Commission, Omar al-Waili is overseeing the campaign. In an interview with Iraq Oil Report in Baghdad, he said the results so far are encouraging.
"In 2020 we managed to achieve revenues of 1.194 trillion Iraqi dinars [$1.01 billion]," he said. "The increase that was achieved is about 71.5 billion dinars [$60 million], despite the coronavirus pandemic, the curfew, and economic challenges."
Waili said he has ordered a series of changes that have contributed to the improvements: dismissing chiefs at Basra’s Umm Qasr port, whom he described as "corrupt," deploying new security forces under the Joint Operations Command to border crossings, increasing inspections and auditing, and ensuring that security forces don't stay in one place long enough to become co-opted by corrupt actors.
He conceded that border crossings remain a point of contention with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, however. The semi-autonomous region controls Iraq’s official border crossing with Turkey, Ibrahim Khalil, as well as the Haji Omran, Bashmakh and Parwezkhan crossings with Iran; those ports do not come under al-Waili’s field of responsibility.
Below is a full transcript of the interview.