Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Staggering Corruption In Iraq

"Everybody Is Stealing From The State"

Americans Arm, Train Former Sunni Insurgents Into Forces Shiites Fear Could One Day Be Capable Of Taking On Government

Kidnappings, roadside bombings, executions, beheadings and civilian massacres are down in Iraq. To a point. Depending on which month of 2006 or 2004 you choose to compare September or October's figures to, you can claim that violence has dropped substantially.

But an average day still sees 40 Iraqis murdered or blown apart, and dozens more wounded and kidnapped.

The Iraqi government is still rife with disputes and crippling walkouts by party members, the most recent by an Sunni bloc. Oil laws have still not been signed, holding back foreign investment to bring Iraq's oil production up to even pre-war levels.

And, as this New York Times story reveals, the levels of corruption in Iraq, where unemployment is believed to be as high as 40%, is staggering in its depth, and reach :

Jobless men pay $500 bribes to join the police. Families build houses illegally on government land, carwashes steal water from public pipes, and nearly everything the government buys or sells can now be found on the black market.

Painkillers for cancer (from the Ministry of Health) cost $80 for a few capsules; electricity meters (from the Ministry of Electricity) go for $200 each, and even third-grade textbooks (stolen from the Ministry of Education) must be bought at bookstores for three times what schools once charged.

“Everyone is stealing from the state,” said Adel Adel al-Subihawi, a prominent Shiite tribal leader in Sadr City, throwing up his hands in disgust. “It’s a very large meal, and everyone wants to eat.”

Corruption and theft are not new to Iraq, and government officials have promised to address the problem. But as Iraqis and American officials assess the effects of this year’s American troop increase, there is a growing sense that, even as security has improved, Iraq has slipped to new depths of lawlessness.

One recent independent analysis ranked Iraq the third most corrupt country in the world. Of 180 countries surveyed, only Somalia and Myanmar were worse, according to Transparency International, a Berlin-based group that publishes the index annually.

And the extent of the theft is staggering. Some American officials estimate that as much as a third of what they spend on Iraqi contracts and grants ends up unaccounted for or stolen, with a portion going to Shiite or Sunni militias. In addition, Iraq’s top anticorruption official estimated this fall — before resigning and fleeing the country after 31 of his agency’s employees were killed over a three-year period — that $18 billion in Iraqi government money had been lost to various stealing schemes since 2004.

The collective filching undermines Iraq’s ability to provide essential services, a key to sustaining recent security gains, according to American military commanders. It also sows a corrosive distrust of democracy and hinders reconciliation as entrenched groups in the Shiite-led government resist reforms that would cut into reliable cash flows.

Of growing concern to the Iraqi government, is the Americans program of training and arming former Sunni insurgents to fight 'Al Qaeda'. The Shiites are worried, and probably rightly so, that the Americans are raising a new army that could won day take on the government forces who had killed so many Sunnis in their peak of their death squad days of 2004-2006 :

The United States, which credits much of the drop in violence to the campaign, is enrolling hundreds of people daily in "concerned local citizens" groups. More than 5,000 have been sworn in in the last eight days, for a total of 77,542 as of Tuesday. As many as 10 groups were created in the past week, bringing the total number to 192, according to the American military.

U.S. officials said they were screening new members — who generally are paid $300 a month to patrol their neighborhoods — and were subjecting them to tough security measures. More than 60,000 have had fingerprints and DNA taken and had retinal scans, American officials said, steps that will allow them to be identified later, should they turn against the government. The officials said they planned to cap membership in the groups at 100,000.

But that hasn't calmed mounting concerns among aides to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who charge that some of the groups include "terrorists" who attack Shiite residents in their neighborhoods. Some of the new "concerned citizens" are occupying houses that terrified Shiite families abandoned, they said.

It also hasn't quieted criticism that the program is trading long-term Iraqi stability for short-term security gains.

"There is a danger here that we are going to have armed all three sides: the Kurds in the north, the Shiite and now the Sunni militias," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who's now at The Brookings Institution, a center-left policy organization in Washington, D.C.

Underscoring the division, Sunni politicians said the creation of the groups was justified because it made up for the U.S. decision to disband Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led army shortly after Baghdad fell in 2003. They also said the groups helped balance the infiltration of Iraq's security forces by Shiite militias during the rapid U.S.-sponsored expansion of those forces in 2004 and 2005.

"Those who fear are the ones who have militias blatantly operating from within the official institutions and law enforcement agencies and outside them," said Omar Abdul Sattar, a leading member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni group in parliament.

The thirst for revenge can last for generations.

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