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Beirut has become a recycling station for forged Iraqi certificates

On the morning of December 27, Lebanese security arrested a prominent official in the Ministry of Education to investigate suspicions of corruption in equating the certificates of Iraqi students.

After about 20 days, Amal Shaaban, head of the Ministry’s Equivalencies Department, was released, only to find before her a dismissal decision signed by the Minister of Education, Abbas Al-Halabi, and a sharp dispute between her party, the Future Movement, the Amal Movement, which is indirectly concerned with the certificates file, and the Progressive Party. “Socialist Party,” to which Al-Halabi belongs.

A protest demonstration by Lebanese professors in front of the Ministry of Education (AP)

Iraqi sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Shaaban’s dismissal came “in response to internal pressure exerted by Lebanese parties, and pressure from Iraqi parties that threatened several times to stop the aid they provide to the ministry and public schools.”

Shaaban’s arrest and then release lifted the lid on the mystery of the Iraqi appetite that had been open for years to study in Lebanese universities. A controversy began, and questions were raised as to whether Shaaban was a “scapegoat” to close the file of servitude between powerful forces between Baghdad and Beirut. A file that smelled more than two years ago and still reacts from time to time. This is with the knowledge that suspicions are divided into two parts: The first relates to the passing of forged secondary certificates and their equivalence in Beirut, and the second is the granting of university and higher certificates without attendance and study, in exchange for sums of money.

The Iraqi technocratic complex

The story began in Iraq, when Shiite parties that took power after 2003 discovered that they did not have administrative teams in their ranks, and that the majority of their members were “opposition fighters who were not able to study,” and could not hold positions in government institutions, according to a former official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Iraqi education.

In the few years that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, these parties faced an army of officials accused of loyalty to the Baath regime. Indeed, they were removed in conjunction with an unprecedented migration of employees from the cities of the north and south to Baghdad, and some of the unqualified among them assumed high positions for which it was assumed that their educational level did not qualify them, but their certificates were later treated in suspicious ways.

After the removal of the employees of the “former regime,” the employees of the opposition parties were distributed to most parts of the state, and when competition began between the Shiite parties themselves, there was an urgent need for their leaders to obtain certificates as quickly as possible.

“They needed to prepare their parties in record time (…) and they could not wait for the years of legal study (4 years) because the positions they wanted were offered to them within a matter of months,” says the former official.

In Iraq, it was difficult to obtain certificates “in the blink of an eye” for ordinary employees whose parties wanted to promote them or hand them first-class positions such as the rank of general manager, unlike ministers who could register in any Iraqi university and obtain a certificate from it without requiring their attendance.

In 2016, Shiite forces, most notably the State of Law, led by Nouri al-Maliki, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, led by Qais Khazali, came up with the idea of ​​a “quick service certificate” from Lebanese universities, to begin the journey of “sending Iraqi students to Beirut” in a systematic manner. And unprecedented.

Certificate washing

In Beirut, Amal Shaaban is trying to show that the decision to dismiss her from her position in the Ministry of Education is illegal, but it is difficult to confirm her innocence or involvement in this file that has accumulated for years.

Asharq Al-Awsat learned that her defense team “has completed a legal review that will be submitted to the State Shura Council, to challenge the decision to remove her from her sensitive position.”

A source close to Amal Shaaban’s legal team explained that the latter “does not want to return to her job, but all she wants is to show that the Minister of Education’s decision is illegal, and then she will hasten to submit her resignation from the job.”

A legal source accompanying the investigations expected that “a presumptive decision from the investigating judge will reveal the secrets of dozens of forged Iraqi certificates that passed through the Ministry of Education under the influence of political pressure.”

The Lebanese source indicated to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the internal and external parties behind these certificates are known for their goals and objectives,” and pointed out that Judge Bayram “asked the Information Division of Internal Security to provide him with documents from the education department showing the procedures adopted in the equivalency of the certificates, and the start date.” Equivalency to Iraqi certificates, and why has the demand for them increased so greatly?

According to the source, the investigations will not be limited to what was happening in the Ministry of Education, but will include a number of universities to which Iraqi students were enrolled before the secondary certificates they obtained in their country were amended, and it turned out that a large number of them were forged.

The source explained that “a university close to the Shiite duo attracted the largest number of Iraqi students, and granted them certificates in graduate studies and doctorates,” surprising how this university “granted in the last two years higher certificates that exceed what all universities in Lebanon have issued, and this is what raises doubts about it.” ».

It is known that the majority of Iraqis who applied for the equivalency of certificates and enrollment in Lebanese universities are employees of Iraqi institutions, some of whom are security and police officers. They were requesting to complete the equivalency without coming to Lebanon in exchange for huge sums of money, because these certificates entitle them to promotion in their jobs and a significant increase in their salaries.

On the other hand, Iraqi sources connected to the university degree investigations, which were opened and closed repeatedly without results, say that Beirut has turned into a station for “washing degrees,” even for ordinary young people who did not come through the parties.

The Iraqi interest in qualifying unqualified employees coincided with the interests of influential forces in Lebanon trying to maximize educational resources. A prominent Shiite leader told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Our Lebanese friends wanted to benefit from all of this (…) Some of them opened additional branches of Lebanese universities, and there were those who established a university (specifically) for this purpose.”

Simultaneously, a network of Iraqi brokers emerged in Beirut to facilitate “the stolen papers.” Some of them have cover from the “Coordination Framework” parties in Iraq, and are in Beirut for “freelance work” or media activities.

A reliable source from the Iraqi Ministry of Education says, “Their mission is to pass on false secondary school certificates brought by Iraqi students to have them equalized in Beirut in preparation for their admission to its universities.”

The Iraqi source pointed out that the flow of such “beaten” certificates is increasing in the year in which Iraq is witnessing legislative elections. The Iraqi election law requires that a candidate for membership in the House of Representatives must have a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent.

The source says that the Iraqi authorities have always failed to track down the secondary certificates that have been equated in Lebanon, and the authenticity of most of them is difficult to verify.

According to the testimony of the former Iraqi official, the Iraqi brokers developed in Beirut a wide network of relationships extending from “Iraqi embassy employees to leaders in the Amal Movement, and junior officials in the Ministry of Education.”

This official states that they organized joint sessions between all these parties to pass false certificates. Sometimes they make a great effort to pass on a single testimony, which may belong to an influential figure in Baghdad.

A scent that can’t be hidden

The file of Iraqi certificates in Beirut has reached the point of glut. Lebanese officials can no longer hide his scent, as described by an Iraqi official in the Ministry of Education, who says that during his work in the government he knew at least 3 senior officials who received promotions thanks to certificates they brought from Lebanon.

“I heard from a senior official in the Ministry of Education that the Lebanese expressed their concern about the expansion of the deal, and about the persistence of the brokers (…) They said let’s close this file, but Shiite party leaders informed their friends in Beirut to consider serving the study file as part of the Iraqi facilities in the export contract. Electricity fuel.

In July 2021, Iraq and Lebanon signed an agreement to sell one million tons of heavy fuel oil at the global price, with payment being in services and goods.

Four months later, the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education summoned its cultural attaché in Beirut, as part of an investigation into the issue of private Lebanese universities granting fake certificates in exchange for money to hundreds of Iraqis, including representatives and officials, in a move that prompted the Lebanese Ministry of Education to open an investigation as well.

It leaked from the investigation at the time that a large number of Iraqi representatives and officials obtained doctoral and master’s degrees from 3 Lebanese universities, and that graduate thesis were sold for $10,000 for each student.

Most of these students studied remotely during that period against the backdrop of preventive measures as a result of the outbreak of the “Corona” pandemic.

According to Agence France-Presse, Iraqi students are distributed among 14 universities in Lebanon, but the number of students at the Modern University of Management and Science, the Islamic University of Lebanon, and Jinan University alone amounts to 6,000 out of a total of 13,800 Iraqi students.

The Iraqi investigation ended with a halt to dealing with the three universities due to “the absence of standards of sobriety,” according to an Iraqi statement issued on November 11, 2021.

Iraq abandons its Lebanese partner

With the formation of the government of Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani at the end of 2022, Iraqi Shiite parties retreated from the university degree market in Lebanon, and the Ministry of Higher Education led by Naeem Al-Aboudi, who is from the Asaib Ahl al-Haq movement, encouraged Iraqi students to study in Iraqi private universities. While the minister himself holds a degree from the Islamic University of Beirut.

In early 2023, widespread controversy arose in Beirut against the backdrop of the failure of officials in the Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese judiciary to stop an investigation into the file of forgery of academic documents for Iraqi students.

A member of the board of directors of a private university in Iraq, who is close to its funder, admits that “the parties were initially seeking to raise the level of their members and those close to them by sending them to Lebanon, but after being satisfied with the universities of other countries, these parties decided to benefit from the experience of private education by establishing private universities inside Iraq to attract students.” Iraqis instead of traveling abroad.

A member of the university’s board of directors adds: “They started saying, ‘We needed a quick service and we were satisfied. Why should we let Lebanon earn more?’” The purpose is not only commercial, as there are several ministries that do not want their employees to travel abroad, especially security and military institutions.”

The senior university employee does not rule out that the Iraqi parties were the ones that decided to turn the tables on the Lebanese universities, to divert Iraqi students from them in favor of Iraqi universities, which are mostly affiliated with political parties and forces or businessmen close to them.

It is likely that “the Lebanese universities were the ones that felt the Iraqi universities were turning against them through their success in attracting Iraqi students, so they decided in recent years to facilitate the granting of degrees to them while reducing wages to attract a larger number.”

It seemed that the Iraqis left their Lebanese “friends” involved in the crime scene, amid piles of evidence and evidence, and the partners in the “Amal Movement” had no choice but to close the file by sacrificing the weak side, as the former Iraqi official concluded.

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