For those who don’t know, I am Christian Assyrian born in Iraq. I worked with the U.S. Army for about 5 years in Iraq as a linguist and the last two years as an Iraqi Advisor. Throughout that time, many new U.S. Army Generals and commander rotated in and out. For many of them, it was their first tour in Iraq.
I think first impressions are interesting from the new arrivals in Iraq. And, I enjoy watching the facial expressions on people’s faces during their familiarization period in Iraq.
One of these factors is cultural difference. Many people assume Iraq and other third world nations are corrupt nations. I understand and agree with that assertion.
But, for a moment let us look at corruption from a different perspective with two tangible examples of business in both Iraq and the US.
Getting a passport in Iraq is difficult. You fill out applications and submit three to four documents to the passport agency, and you wait. The process takes about one month in Iraq. However, there is a more efficient way for an Iraqi citizen to get a passport. I understand America’s love with the word efficient, in Iraq it is called, “rashwa” or translated in English, “bribe.” Bribery is unaccepted in the U.S.
However, in Iraq, an Iraqi citizen will use his relatives, friends and tribes network to find a connection to an official working at the passport agency. Once that connection is established, a negotiation is reached for the asking price and time of delivery. Hence, an Iraqi citizen will pay X amount of money in return for getting the passport delivered home via a courier, and that courier will most likely be a friend.
When I explain this custom to new Americans in Iraq, they are surprised by the corruption about 90% of the time. While I enjoy their surprised look, I ask them how it is in the US. And when they are silent for about three seconds, I ask: How about a third-party 24-hour service to get your American passport? Or expedited 3 day delivery?
What are these accelerated services in America? Somehow, somewhere, someone made a deal with the passport agency to allocate specific time for expedited service. This time is given at the expense of the public. If there is a limited amount of time to interview the public, then the public will lose some of the allotted time to third-party passport businesses. What is the difference between paying an Iraqi official extra money to expedite a passport than paying a third-party company in the U.S.? When I tell this to new arrivals, I enjoy watching their face as they begin to understand, “Aha! I never looked at it that way?”
Secondly, to open a small business in Iraq, you need to give money, “rashwa,” to many people and officials to expedite the government bureaucracy methods. The paid mediator who works on your behalf will process all the paper work between government agencies. Otherwise, your business application will die in the “Cemetery of Bureaucracy”. And the more you pay, the faster your application moves between government agencies. It requires more people’s involvement and more people to please.
In America, many of my friends are small business owners. They range from liquor stores, restaurants, hookah places, mechanics, construction companies, hair hairstylists, and more. Small businesses have been the backbone of the American economy since the emergence of America.
I witnessed the creation of their business and the suffering of obtaining licenses, being approved in different zones, or other legal issues. Part of their struggles to get their business approved requires them to pay some type of “donations” to an alderman or other officials. “In the name of a donation” I will get your business approved.
At the end, it was worth a smile. 🙂