The Iraqi government fails to tackle the rampant extortion and bribe taking at the checkpoints between Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and Baghdad, which is considered a big hurdle for trade.
Truck drivers passing through those checkpoints, either have to pay extortion money, or have to bribe various entities to be allowed to pass. Complaints by truck drivers and merchants to the Iraqi government have been fruitless so far.
Abd Ali, an Arab truck driver who transfers goods between Parwezkhan border crossing and Baghdad and other provinces, said: “We pay [official] customs levies; our loads are legitimate and we don’t transfer smuggled goods, yet we are not allowed to pass at the checkpoints [without paying more].”
Abd Ali spoke to KirkukNow reporter on Friday (7 August): “They force us to stop at the checkpoint, we show them our official [customs] papers, yet they won’t allow us to pass and demand a payment. This practice has put us under a lot of pressure.”
“They take 25,000 to 100,000 Dinars [around $21 to $85] from us at each checkpoint; we pay up to 300,000 Dinars [around $250] as extortion money until we reach Baghdad.”
Extortion and bribing at the checkpoints between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad are open secret. The practice has become routine, truck drivers are openly stopped and extorted.
Unless you coordinate with those groups, it is impossible to get goods to Baghdad
Ahmad Garmiyani, a Kurdish merchant transferring goods between KRI and Baghdad, told KirkukNow: “There exists groups in Baghdad whose job is getting goods pass the checkpoints between KRI and Baghdad [through bribery]. Unless you coordinate with those groups, it is impossible to get goods to Baghdad.”
According to Ahamd the checkpoints are in cahoots with those groups. “[Even] if you have paid for customs; if you have legitimate papers, they don’t count at the checkpoints; you have to pay.”
Ahmad pays those groups $800 for each load of sweets he sends to Baghdad. He said: “I work legitimately and pay that amount; those who transfer smuggled goods and don’t have customs papers, pay more.”
On 11 July, the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi visited the border crossing of Munthiriya border crossing in Khanaqin district, and ordered the dismantling of several checkpoints between Khanaqin and Mandali districts. Truck drivers had complained about being extorted at those checkpoints. The checkpoints were removed, but were later reinstated.
Many of the personnel at those checkpoints that practice extortion wear official military uniforms, but they are affiliated with armed militia groups that use the checkpoints as a source of income.
On 26 July, the defence ministry sent a force to dismantle a checkpoint (Maftul) in Tuz Khurmatu district and arrest its personnel on charges of taking bribes, but they were released the day after and the checkpoint was restored.
Azad Hamid, a member of Iraqi Parliament on al-Sadr’s Sa’iroon list and former head of the municipality of Mandali subdistrict, told KirkukNow: “Extortion and taking bribes at checkpoints all over Iraq has become rampant. Corruption has passed the point of prevention.”
He opined that the number of checkpoints should be reduced and merchants should be allowed to do their work.