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Iraq: Top Officials Rent Public Offices for Low Prices

Iraq: Top Officials Rent Public Offices for Low Prices

Wednesday, 21 November, 2018 - 08:45
Workers tie reinforcement bars at a concrete plant for the Bismayah residential project in Baghdad, February 26, 2015. Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters
Baghdad – Fadel al-Nashmi
State-owned properties in Iraq have come under the spotlight as several officials revealed sales and rents at knock-down prices, a scandal with ramifications on various parties and influential political figures of different sects.

Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a copy of a document which revealed that about 240 Iraqi officials and employees are buying or renting state property at a very low rate compared to market prices.

In June 2015, the Prime Minister’s office submitted a report to the cabinet to adopt a certain mechanism for leasing state-owned properties in the Green Zone and the neighboring al-Qadisiyah and al-Jadriya complexes.

According to Green Zone workers, most of the officials still occupy leased properties at low prices, knowing that all rented houses are owned by the state and by the Ministry of Finance.

The document suggests the employee pays the rent, provided that the amount is deducted from his original salary without considering additional allowances, at a rate starting from 5 percent of the salary for tenants of less than 100 square meters, and 8 percent for over 300 square meters.

These amounts often represent no more than 15 percent of the rent value in the Green Zone and adjacent compounds within Baghdad's premium neighborhoods.

Among the beneficiaries of the low rents cited in the document: An employee at a former vice-president's office rented an 850-square-meter house for only $26, the son of the same former vice president occupies a 400-square for less than $50, a former prime minister rents a 400-square-meter house in the Green Zone for about $670, and a current ambassador rents a 2,000-square-meter house in al-Qadisiyah for about $210.

The document also revealed that some officials occupy more than two houses belonging to the government; for instance a former senior military official and former deputy prime minister rent 3 houses each.

Last week, Sairoon coalition, supported by Moqtada al-Sadr, presented to the parliament a set of proposals on the privileges of deputies and rental and ownership of state property.

During his visit to Karbala last week, Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi discussed real estate owned by the government in the Green Zone and asserted that the parliament will debate the matter.

Former chief of Integrity Commission Rahim Uqaili said in his resignation letter in September 2011 that looting state funds and real estate is the undeclared part of power struggle in Iraq.

According to a judicial expert, corruption in leasing state properties is due to the gross injustice caused by low rent rates, which are not assessed based on the area or location, but on the employee's salary.

Renting these properties violates the principle of equality because the tenants belong to an influential class, while the rest of Iraqis, even if they are public employees, are not equally allowed to rent such properties, according to the expert.

Legal expert Tariq Harb agrees with the judicial expert, and tells Asharq Al-Awsat that selling and leasing land and state-owned property have caused significant losses in the budget.
He revealed a lawsuit filed against a person who has refused to pay the $10 rent for a 2,500-square-meter agricultural land in Jadiriya.

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