Corruption in Foreign Funded Projects in Iraq

This article is written based on my experience working in Iraq. I write because it is the right thing to do – given the huge damage that corruption inflicts on people, society and things like trust and reputation – but also to inform you about the many ways and cultures of corruption associated with projects in Iraq. When I say Iraq here, I mean all of it, including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  

I use the word ‘projects’ in Iraq rather than ‘Iraqi projects’ because activities can involve both Iraqis and non-Iraqis alike. Many projects are of an ‘international’ nature and by this I primarily mean the involvement of US-European donors, individuals and organisations.

This piece is not intended to be an indictment of Iraqis working on foreign funded projects, though it may come across as that. That is not my intention. It is designed to raise awareness about different forms of corruption, including subtle but deeply damaging systematic pilfering practices that are oriented to resource-extraction for personal enrichment. As I show, the internal systems that inform reasonable practices and procedures in the UK, Europe and the US to hold projects, people and money to account, are not in place in places like Iraq and, as an outcome, corruption is rampant.

The list of corruption oriented practices that are related to international aid-related interventions destroy and degrade projects and their stated goals, aims and outputs in Iraq, a country often referred to as a ‘beneficiary’ of foreign assistance.

Those corrupt practices and lessons described below are evidence-based, and come from real life observation and engagement in foreign funded projects in Iraq. This article is not an opinion piece. It is more a mapping of the ‘aid-game’, if we can call it that. In relation to the amount of foreign money that has been expended by US-European governments and donors since 2003, there are however surprisingly very few studies or articles about this endemic corruption.

The practices listed and explained below are not unique to Iraq. That they appear or happen in other countries, should not however lessen the gravity of the topics and issues raised in this article that shed light on the endemic corruption engulfing foreign funded projects in Iraq and a seeming indifference by US-European donors, universities and organsiations to properly discuss these issues in the open. In this light, this article is designed to open a discussion about the impact that foreign-aid related corruption is having on the country, a phenomenon with long-term repercussions that have not been properly analyzed or assessed.

There is no doubt that as you read through the list you will say ‘ well, this happens in this country, or that country’. I hear this argument from many people in these fields. Perhaps because of their disinterest, or lack of experience and inability to fully comprehend the damage corruption inflicts some might say this is a outcome of human behavior or state that it is something perhaps specific to countries that have weak and/or corrupt states. I don’t subscribe to this fatalistic and frankly speaking naïve position. Corruption is corruption, and should be stamped out wherever it is. Nothing good came out of nonchalance and inaction.

In a war devastated country like Iraq, corruption should be considered as an extension of the damage that war, dysfunctionalism and disorder inflicts on society.  It is damaging, destructive, and corrosive. It undermines good hearted and grounded efforts and the opportunity for good people to rebuild their country, especially when funding for work and activities are limited within the country.

Funding that comes from places like UK, Europe and US should not be filling the pockets of an emerging foreign-monied class or group connected to foreign aid largesse. Perhaps, for some donors and their governmental coffers, that is the just the intention – to craft a new class of organizations and people that are closely connected and affiliated to the West, and can ‘transform’ Iraq in an image of their donors’ choosing.

The idea that foreign money in Iraq starts with project proposals and stops with outputs and a final report is naïve to say the least; there are major repercussions to foreign money in Iraq in terms of its impact on communities, society and on practices, behaviors and the relationships people have to each other. Understanding the non-project dynamics related to foreign funding is something donors have no interest in doing, and again, is indicative of their limited interest in ethics and responsibility to the work they are funding or part of.

When we allow for exceptions and accept corrupt practices to linger in our work, or those close to us – in projects and organizations – then the whole thing becomes rotten. Corruption is best tackled at first sight. The more it is allowed to stick around, and the less action there is to resolve it, the more destructive it becomes, not least because it sets a poor example of management and undermines the ideals that US-European donors and organisations promote.

Even if they don’t care, donors have a major responsibility to tackle these issues. Their interventions in countries like Iraq should come with a  great deal of responsibility and ethics, primarily because they are interventions in a society and in communities that they are ultimately not of their own or responsible for or answerable to. There is, in this context, an onus on donors to put in place adequate monitoring structures and systems, and not expect that those would be in place because of how seemingly amazing their projects are or how effective their project partners are. Donors have to understand that in places like Iraq, where is a weak state, and where foreign project money isn’t even monitored and regulated by the state, corruption is likely to take place on a grand scale.

There should also be a serious discussion about how projects are designed. If US-European donors genuinely care and treat the funds they have access to with a semblance of adequate responsibility then the practices listed here are practical ways to understanding the nature of Iraq’s endemic corruption. Some, however will not be interested in this article because they are merely concerned with public relations and getting Iraqis to clap for them.

The money they receive to spend in Iraq is from their governments, private foundations and private sector. Some donors will care even less and their basic work orientation revolves around making the country they come from or the organisations they represent merely have good public relations in Iraq. There are surprisingly many such organisations that are less concerned with good outputs and effectiveness on the ground than media and looking good.

For those that care and want to make a difference however, the list below are common practices – which could be also seen as ‘identifiers’ – of corruption in Iraq and of the aid game more generally.

Among many US-European donors, there is a naive tendency to promote certain partners and individuals in ways that are not commensurate to their actions. This phenomenon is closely tied to donors’ perception of themselves. This includes primarily that they are doing ‘good’ through the partners they are working with, and as such they too are engaged in making sure their outwards image to the world is characterized by ‘success’ and effectiveness on the ground. This constant self-wounding amounts to a blinding obfuscation of basic facts on the ground. I believe that many donors and those working with external aid in places like Iraq require new forms of learning and training, though donor organisations need to first realise they are part of this major problem rather than saying this is just something that happens ‘out there’ or denigrating the ‘Iraqis’ for it, the common way US-European organsiations and donors absolve responsibility.

For the purposes of making this article easier to read, I have used the term ‘Corrupt Project Designers’ to refer to those who pursue money extraction as a priority. They can be project managers, including Iraqi NGO leaders and/or academics and others working with foreign funding.

As mentioned, these are common and commonly repeated practices that Corrupt Project Designers  – whether in Iraqi NGOs, in Iraqi universities, or as academics or experts working with foreign donors – pursue. Having said that, these perverse extraction-oriented practices can be addressed through a thorough institutional and project-systems approach that should strengthen basic standards regarding how funds are spent and improving things like monitoring mechanisms. Those need however another discussion, which is beyond the scope of this article.

Corrupt Project Designers – those who design and secure funding from external donors for the purposes of self-enrichment – can be situated within a spectrum of ‘grant-eating’ skills. Corrupt Project Designers with advanced skills in extraction tend to have good English language skills, have experience working or being in US-European countries (sometimes they have PhDs from places like US, Canada and UK, for example) but who now live and work in Iraq. These are the most dangerous types – they speak the language donors want to hear (they can relate to them in ways other Iraqis, especially with poor English or an absence of knowledge of Western donor practices or Western cultures cant). Naïve donor organizations and individuals think that they are closer to them because of their English language skills or Western oriented disposition.

Corrupt Project Designers are also generally experienced in project ‘management’, though some are better than others at this. They exploit their positions of power (vis-à-vis others in society or in their communities), they use their English language skills and ability to have access and proximity to donors and US-European organisations and individuals to benefit materially from these external windfalls that find their way to Iraq without proper monitoring or scrutiny controls or accountability systems. There are of course individuals who are equally corrupt but without the advanced skills of Corrupt Project Designers who manage one way or another to secure funding. They too are in that spectrum mentioned above.

Though some US-European donors would like to look the other way, or are nonchalant about these issues, the fact of the matter, foreign money in Iraq is a major source of income for people who are aggressively competing with each other to socially and financially climb. In an absence of adequate controls and accountability, foreign project funding induce the situation where individuals are able to not only climb faster than others but jump – or even leap – from the positions they are into those they aspire to have. Foreign funding provides a ‘quick route’ to social climbing, and because it is relatively easy to secure compared to other ways of ‘making money’, Corrupt Project Designers become experts at what they do, and will do whatever it takes to secure external funding.

This document is a work in progress in that I will develop and add to it, and if you feel like you want to contribute your thoughts, let me know (mehiyar@gmail.com), and I will find a way of including your points here too. In sum, it analyses not only the act of stealing money but the cultures that revolve around it. It is a mapping of those practices.

All of us who work with aid, money and projects, should be responsible for making sure projects actually realise good things for the people and communities that they claim to be helping, not least for a country as devastated as Iraq.

Foreign funding is an Outlier in the Iraqi state

The money in foreign funded projects in Iraq is an external windfall and therefore will be approached (or predated on) as such. Incentive-structures are skewed to corruption because funding from US-European organizations are an outlier in the Iraqi state system, and no existing laws regulate international funding to Iraq. As an outcome, there are no internal monitoring mechanisms regarding foreign funding in Iraq.

Also related to this, but a different point altogether, external funding is an ‘external windfall’, meaning that as it is not derived from Iraq itself, it will be treated with less domestic scrutiny and accountability.

Corrupt Project Designers understand well the different contexts in which they work – one associated with strong state structures and institutions (namely US-European countries from where ‘external’ funding is mostly from) and weak state institutions (in this case Iraq). As such, Corrupt Project Designers understand that money spent in Iraq has no national or local basis and can thus be predated on without any major legal implications. They will deliberately exploit these context-based differences to their advantage. What stands between them and the money they receive from outside the country are not local institutions, laws or regulations but the donors and the systems they put in place, making donors effectively patrons of funding largesse.

There is perhaps, however, something much deeper and corrosive to the outcomes of foreign funding as an external windfall and outlier. Foreign money – because it is often considered by Corrupt Project Designers and others in this field in Iraq to be ‘free cash’ – produces a convulsive disorder (identified by the perverse practices it induces) among Iraqi grant-eaters. They worship foreign projects and the money it offers because it is relatively much easier to secure than through other options available to them. It induces behaviour that are completely bizarre and irregular to local society. In effect, it fundamentally changes people, their thinking and behavior.

Self-Enrichment as the Single Most Important Thing

Corrupt Project Designers will first treat external funding as an income-augmenting and self-enrichment opportunity before they negotiate its possible benefits to society or intended target groups. Indeed because of their orientation to money-extraction, when Corrupt Project Designers secure funding, they see it as a personal win for themselves rather than for whatever cause or project they are ostensibly championing.

Because of this practice, Corrupt Project Designers will make sure they are paid as much as it is possible from foreign projects, including taking salaries of 80% to 200% (and at times much more) of their existing salaries (especially if they are employees of the state, such as academics).

Multiple Concurrent Salaries from Different Projects

This is a common practice of Corrupt Project Designers working to maximise their incomes. They will seek multiple salaries from each project they work on and secure funding for. As an outcome, some Corrupt Project Designers will have a salary from each project they have – sometimes up to 3 or 4 or 5 and many more salaries – at any single point in time. The more projects they have, the more salaries they will obtain.

Filling their pockets is an everyday work pursuit. Indeed, Corrupt Project Designers will do whatever it takes to keep hold of the funding they have access to. They will keep suggesting projects and activities to donors to extract even more resources. This is why some donors have put a cap on the number of times a person or organization can apply.

Corrupt Project Designers are the most damaging; they are professional grant-eaters, moving from project to project, donor to donor, feeding off the good will of many foreign donors and organisations.

Most Corrupt Project Designers will generally not employ a ‘smash and grab’ approach to funding, and will ensure their actions can be sustained over time. Those who employ a smash and grab approach are generally less dangerous to projects and funding than Corrupt Project Designers. Smash and Grab project people have less interest in protecting their reputations than Corrupt Project Designers.

Multi-Layered and Multi-Phase Project Extraction

Corrupt Project Designers generally approach projects as a multi-layered, multi-phased process of money extraction. Extracting money from a project isn’t just once but throughout the project cycle, and they will claim as much as possible from donors (if they can get away with it, and are given the space to do so).

Often those who engage in corruption will generally take the salaries of others or only give them a smaller share to what they are supposed to be in receipt of from donor funded projects. A times, and this regularly happens, Corrupt Project Designers will include names of members of a project team without even informing or consulting with them (and then plunder their salaries when they get projects funded).  

In some cases, Iraqi academics who are in receipt of US-European money designed to support research at their universities will set up locally registered NGOs and then redirect funds to their own organizations, which helps them better extract money and resources from projects. At times, a university vice-president or president, or a head of department, will be in cahoots with the academic being ‘supported’ by US-European funding, and will then be paid handsomely for their support. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see particular individuals working with each other at different levels of the university to extract resources for themselves.

Master Information Manipulators

This situation emerges from uneven information exchange which in Iraq’s situation makes it ripe for corruption. Corrupt people rely on the absence of information and lack of co-ordination between different parties. They assess the chain of information flows, and make decisions based on the nature of those networks that they are part of or have access to.  Indeed, because of this situation in Iraq, Corrupt Project Designers, are experts in the distribution of information to donors, and deliberately craft information for donor consumption only. Beyond what they are told by grantees and, if in place, a generally technical framework of assessing ‘outputs’, donors don’t know what is going on in the projects they fund.  

Because of those goals to accumulate as much money from international projects, Corrupt Project Designers will use their knowledge of grants and international funding as a major resource of money -making, and hoard that information in ways that benefit them and their pockets.

Exaggerating Costs and Expenses

This is an obvious and straightforward practice that is at the heart of activities pertaining to Corrupt Project Designers. They will nearly always exaggerate costs of activities, especially when donors do not check (or are at times not interested) prices and costs.                         

Manipulation of Project Budgets to Maximise ‘Profits’

When a grant is ‘won’, Corrupt Project Designers will think they have rightfully earned it, and are therefore entitled to all of its money. They will believe the project money is for themselves, rather than for the project, and they can do whatever they can with it, if they can get away with it.

As such, corrupt Project Designers are experts at carefully preparing budgets, and generally include categories that are unnecessary or can easily be forged (such as buying a laptop or camera or equipment purchases) or have salaries as a high cost expenditure. Some donors know these games, and will generally stipulate how much expenditure is allowed for capital purchases like equipment, or limit salaries. Others don’t have these caps, and fall victim to grant-eating predatory practices.

Maintaining Close Relations but A Watchful Eye on Donors

Corrupt Project Designers are nearly always afraid of being exposed. Their deceitful practices are often marketed in professional language oriented to donors’ interests. They also attempt to build good and at times personal relationships to donor organisations (especially when donors are prompting them as amazing local partners). They however use this to outsmart unwitting members of donor organisations.

Donors sometimes like to describe themselves as partners when in fact they are a funding organization with a significant leverage on power and resources. Corrupt Project Designers have no illusions about this, however. They are realistic, and will think of donors only as money-givers, not partners, or friends, or anything of the like. They always have seemingly convincing answers to questions that donors ask.

Corrupt Project Designers will keep a careful watch of donor activities on social media (particularly individuals) to understand their behaviour and practices. Any information obtained is then used to feed into money-extraction tactics and strategies and communication with donors – they often try to tell them what they want to hear to keeping winning trust.

Inexperienced foreign professionals who believe they themselves are changing the world through their programmes are desperately searching for success stories, and are more likely to be preyed on. They are more likely to be justifying working with Corrupt Project Designers, and more likely to be forgiving of any outlier or strange actions.

Constant ‘Testing’ of the Parameters of the Donor and Grant-Recipient Relationship

Corrupt Project Designers will constantly ‘test’ the donor to see if their corrupt practices are noticeable, and, if donors are blind to them or nonchalant, they will continue taking incremental liberties. They always make sure to test the ground and do this on a regular basis. This, of course, depends on how much leeway they are given in their relationships with donors. Indeed, Corrupt Project Designers are quickly able to sniff the weaknesses of foreign donors and their project and funding systems and commonly exploit them for their benefit.

Corrupt Project Designers Manipulate Formal Letters and Documents

This practice entails a careful crafting and wording of formal letters, often making sure letters that are issued say by a university or a partner organization or by an NGO suffices for the purposes of convincing donors their work is legitimate. A common practice is that Corrupt Project Designers who are academics will secure a letter of support from their university departments or university presidents and then, when they ‘win’ a grant, never inform their universities of the grant and find ways of channeling funds to their own pockets or to a local NGO, bypassing altogether university systems and existing institutional structures.

Forging Receipts

Forging receipts is the easiest thing one can do in Iraq, and donors (especially those that don’t have an office or a real presence in the country) hardly check prices and costs in Iraq.

Spending As Little As Possible

Foreign funding opportunities are nearly always generous in terms of the funding they offer. Corrupt project designers will however make sure that they spend as little as possible of the money they secure but show to donors through media and PR that they are engaged in transformative change. In actual fact, most projects rarely achieve what they purport to realise in their fundraising proposals and applications. Connected to this practice is that Corrupt Project Designers would rather employ unqualified and low-skill friends or family members rather than expend resources on such things as experts.

Manipulation of Outputs and Exaggerating ‘Success’

Corrupt Project Designers frame their outputs and activities not in relation to what is seen to be successful in their communities and wider society, but in relation to what they think donors expect want. Corrupt Project Designers will generally present their work to donors as a ‘success’ when in local society it is merely seen as basic activities. ‘Success’ often takes the form of ‘bums on seats’ in terms of attendance in organised events. Even those numbers are doctored (now also calculated through the number of individuals that attend online seminars, workshops, for example). Such events including online Zoom events that cost next to nothing to organise are often billed to donors as paid for activities.

Corrupt Project Designers (who are often also project managers) will exaggerate their the amount of work they do as much as possible, feeding on the assumed ‘transformative change’ being applauded or promoted. In this light, Corrupt Project Designers are masters at manipulating the truth, and work to re-frame the size of small and low-impact activities into large and high-impact outputs.

Undermining the Reputation of Competitors

This is a common practice and Corrupt Project Designers – especially those that have the good ear of donors – will undermine those that may compete with them in the future. Corrupt Project Designers will also attempt to undermine the reputation and image of those who are not corrupt and do not take bribes, and they nearly always have a watchful eye on them as they could be a major liability to their aid-extraction games.

Corrupt Project Designers Give Bribes

This is also an obvious practice and because Corrupt Project Designers treat foreign grants as external windfalls that accrue to their pockets, they would pay bribes when they are requested to rather than challenge those who request them. Time is money for them, and bribes paying helps, particularly for those that are oriented to grant-eating practices.

Exploiting ‘Free Labour’ and People Unaware of the Aid Game

Corrupt Project Designers love volunteers (including academics, experts, speakers, etc) who give such things as free talk and seminars. Corrupt Project Designers will market these activities to donors as paid for events and as outputs.

In the field of academia, academics in receipt of foreign money will abuse their students to do the leg work, and use their names for such things as expenses and salaries. Corrupt Project Designers will at times use the names of their students in project proposals, and pocket most of the money allocated to them.

Master Project Design Manipulation and Craftsman(woman)ship

For Corrupt Project Designers, project design and grant writing is really at the heart of their corruption game. This involves deliberate, calculated construction and design of projects to ensure activities implemented (if they are implemented at all) are geared to look great but which in practice produce only hot air. At other times it’s a combination of hot air and some tangible outputs (such as a webinar, a festival, an event of some sort). They are smart, the pick and mix activities and only the most astute budget readers – donors with experience – can understand and comprehend those processes.

Corrupt Project Designers – those who know the aid game well – will design projects around donor interests (and in particular around what the people they know in donor organisations like) to appease them and win their support. They are oriented to securing money even if they know that their activities will have near zero impact on the ground or are relevant to Iraqi society.

Corrupt Project Designers Design Weak but Media Savvy Projects  

Designing and then implementing a good project is hard work, especially in Iraq. Corrupt Project Designers have no interest in such endeavors. They want to win fast and easy. In this context, Corrupt Project Managers will carefully write project proposals in a way that promise much but deliver very little. They learn to sell their projects well on paper and in person. This is a common practice that inexperienced but well-meaning donor managers often do not notice. Some donors don’t care as long as Corrupt Project Designers continue to clap for them and make them look good on social media etc. Corrupt Project Designers learn to massage the egos of donors, often by locating their soft spots.

As outputs or deliverables are expected from those implementing projects, Corrupt Project Designers will make sure outputs are the type that are not expensive or too troublesome to realise.

Encouraging ‘friends’ to apply for the same funding streams

Corrupt project designers encourage (often very carefully) a small number of people to apply to the same sources of funding, in return for extracting additional shares from any new funding secured.  It’s a business.

Corrupt Project Designers who understand the ‘rules of the game’ of aid and foreign funding encourage those that they are close to apply for funding, creating a network of corrupt ‘partners’ and organisations and individuals all tied to foreign aid largesse. They will enlist both corrupt and unwitting members, and manage them in different ways. They take a share of the money in whatever projects that ‘win’ money from donors.

Corrupt Project Designers Are Smarter than Donors

Iraqis who are in this field tend to be very smart, intelligent and experienced. They however use their skills merely to acquire funding and resources for their own personal enrichment. They are smarter than donors, as they have lived through adversity and have survived and even been ‘successful’ in their jobs or in relation to their working with US-European organisations. One of the common characteristics is that they nearly always project an image directed specifically to disarm and lower the defenses of donors. This is often characterised by assertiveness and initiative (the type donors like) mixed with appeasement. They make sure that their actions (and outputs, activities, etc) are seen to be as an result of the good will and money of donors, hence satisfying the US-European liberals that they were part of whatever ‘achievements’ that were seemingly realized. They make will always try to make donors feel good about themselves.

Corrupt Project Designers are not confrontational. They will ensure their practices are characterized by an outwards appearance of diplomacy, kindness and care. They pursue their extraction-oriented practices with a semblance of quiet inclination, thinking and cunning.

Corrupt Project Designers will Deliberately Confuse Donors

Corrupt Project Designers (especially those who speak English and have lived in the West) – some of them with PhDs from Western universities – are masters at looking professional and transparent, but in fact their whole operations revolves around ensuring they can extract as much as possible and for as long as possible. The most dangerous of the Corrupt Project Designers are those who navigate both Iraq and the West – they understand both worlds, and can navigate and maneuver in ways that are hard for others to do.

Experts at Storytelling

Activities and work relating to foreign funding revolve to a large extent around story-telling. Stories are told of activities, events and about outputs and successes. Donors are eager to learn about what they have realized in a place like Iraq, to satisfy their own egos and conventional liberal orientation to ‘help’ others, but also to report to their own funding bodies (often government agencies or private organisations) that they are doing amazingly well. Those stories are key to this chain of information flow and Corrupt Project Designers will promote activities that often have nothing to do with the projects they are funded to work on.

Often, Corrupt Project Designers will present such things as their participation in conferences, or in webinars, or any other type of engagement that they are involved in as activities pertaining to the projects they are funded for, but which in fact are part of other funded activities or have absolutely nothing to do with funded activities in the first place.

Donor-Oriented Image-Crafting is Key to ‘Success’

As funding comes from outside Iraq, Corrupt Project Designers are more interested in how they are viewed by donors than they are locally. Corrupt Project Designers elevate their image in targeted and specialized US-European audiences but try to minimize the footprint of the work they are doing locally, so that it doesn’t raise questions from peers, or wider society. The more people in the country know about the inner dynamics of their work, the more likely they will ask questions.

Recycling Projects

Corrupt Project Designers will generally make sure to secure funding for the same activities they have been funded for, often with carefully crafted tweaking of project proposals. Sometimes entire texts from project proposals will be copied and pasted into new applications and proposals for funding.

Recycling Project Money to Make More Money

Corrupt Project Designers will recycle money illicitly obtained from donors to employ people to write for them project proposals (especially when they don’t have time to do it themselves).

Copying Text and Plagiarizing Other People’s Ideas

By this I mean not only recycling old project proposals that have ‘won’ grants – which is a common practice among grant-eaters – but also using and claiming other peoples ideas, concepts and proposals to develop grant proposals. Donors are generally unaware of such practices, as Corrupt Project Designers will tweak the language here and there to make the paragraphs in their project fundraising proposals seem different. Others, with less time on their hands, will copy and paste from other people’s applications (if they can get their hands on them). Project recycling is a common practice and amounts to a huge wastage of funds and opportunities for others to conduct work in the country.

Promoting A flurry of Non-Funded Activities to Donors

Corrupt Project Designers and managers will create for donor-consumption an image of implementing a flurry of activities, events and outputs but in actual fact they are nothing more than daily work related activities. They often claim multiple activities when in fact they’ve done one thing and just repackaged it slightly for different projects/audiences.

Indeed, Corrupt Project Designers will use activities associated with their daily work as activities and outputs pertaining to funded projects they have secured, thus obfuscating donor perceptions. They are experts in image-making and perception-crafting and understand how to employ manipulative measures depending on an assessment of the individuals representing donors that work with them.

Serial Exploitation of Western-interested Concepts and Topics of Concern

Corrupt Project Designers will fundraise only for projects that donors are more likely to support, and in Iraq, this includes things on gender and women, small ethnic or religious communities – such as Christians, Yezidis  – and so on, and on topics that donors deem worth supporting in Iraq. Donors make priorities based on their own perceptions of things in Iraq, and as such, are more likely to offer funding for those causes. Corrupt Project Designers are, in this context, more likely to secure funding by using (and exploiting) those causes and interests. They make calculated, rational decisions as to which projects and topics are most likely to be funded. As a outcome, Corrupt Project Designers will claim to champion a cause or interest when in fact they have little if any relationship to those target groups or issues.

Whatever is currently fashionable and whatever donor money is designated for, Corrupt Project Designers will pursue those for the purposes of money-extraction. Those who exploit currently fashionable funding opportunities for their personal enrichment grossly abuse the empathy (even at times if it misplaced or constructed on the basis of Western purview of things) of US-European donors and the people that work for them.

Concealing Corruption Through Credibility-Oriented Activities

Corrupt Project Designers will attempt to legitimize and lend credibility to their activities as a major priority of concealing their corruption practices. This includes, especially for those with good English language skills and access to Western expertise, lending credibility to their work by having seemingly credible people on board their projects, often from US-Europeans, who are unbeknownst to the ways of corruption. They do this to make their work look good and have US-European experts or academics lend credibility to the project, which is then heavily marketed.

About Mehiyar

Dr Mehiyar Kathem is a researcher at University College London (UCL). Mehiyar completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where he researched peacebuilding interventions and the formation of Iraq’s domestic NGO sector after the 2003 War. During this research, he looked at the gradual evolution of Iraq from totalitarian dictatorship through the country’s emerging domestic organisations. His research interests include statebuilding, civil society peacebuilding and the ways in which development, politics and money interact at a local level. In 2012 and 2013, Mehiyar conducted field research in Iraq for his PhD programme, spending a year meeting with and interviewing domestic NGO actors, political parties, government officials and international donors. Previously, Mehiyar worked on a number of grassroots programmes geared to build the capacity of civil society organisations and continues to advise international donors on the effective design and delivery of projects in Iraq. He tweets at @mehiyar

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