Corruption Rivals Violence as Threat to Iraq

ByPIERRE THOMAS

Aug. 2, 2006 — -- While sectarian violence has left Iraq teetering on the edge of civil war, another problem has grown like a cancer.

"Corruption in Iraq is endemic. We call it a pandemic," said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general to Iraq who today told a Senate hearing that the country is losing $4 billion a year to corruption.

Iraqi investigators have launched 1,400 investigations in their country, targeting billions lost to bribery and fraud by government officials. An Iraqi judge recently convicted a senior defense ministry official of accepting $400,000 in bribes. And, according to the inspector general, one recent poll found that one-third of Iraqis said they had to pay bribes to get basic services.

"It is a story of mistakes made -- of plans that [were] either poorly conceived or overwhelmed by ongoing violence," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during the hearing, "and of waste, greed and corruption that drained dollars that should have been used to build schools and health clinics "

Bowen said Iraqi officials have told him corruption -- not just violence -- threatens the state.

"For democracy to succeed there must be integrity at its core," he said. "As long as there is corruption. It is going to be difficult to succeed."

And it's not just Iraqi corruption.

U.S. investigators have identified more than $300 million of your tax dollars that have been spent on reconstruction projects that are suspect. American government officials and contractors working in Iraq have been accused of overcharging for projects and pocketing kickbacks, with 82 such investigations now under way in the region.

Even the good news about reconstruction is tempered. Oil production now exceeds prewar levels, but 10 percent of it is being stolen and sold on the black market. And, since March 2003, 575 contractors have been killed in Iraq, 185 of them American.

"If you put all this material together in Iraq," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, "you really get a witches' brew in which people can't live a decent life. … It's a lawless, corrupt society in so many ways."

Iraq, it seems, is under siege on many fronts.

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