2009/10/29

Pervasive Corruption Rattles Iraq’s Fragile State

Money is skimmed off of salaries. Contracts are manipulated and fudged to wring personal profit. Ghost police officers are listed on payrolls so commanders can take the salaries, and other police officers are told they are fired even as commanders continue to take their pay. Criminals and insurgents are freed with a well-placed bribe, criminal records are expunged for payment, detainees are abused by guards in order to extort money from relatives.

Beyond the outright financial corruption, there is also political corruption, in which the parties vying for power here look to secure the loyalty of large chunks of the security apparatus, according to Iraqi and Western officials.

Police officers corroborated much of what is in the report and gave other examples of the kind of corruption that threatens the stability of the security forces.

“Our brigade commander steals $34,000 out of the $41,000 allocated monthly for the food,” said one police officer. “He replaced our battalion commander four times because they were not cooperating with him.”

Another officer described how some people on the payroll never showed up for work but came only to get their pay, which they shared with their patron.

“Every officer with the rank of a colonel or higher has at least 10 policemen from whom he takes all or part of their salaries,” said the officer. “We call those policemen ‘fadhaei,’ ” which translate roughly as aliens from outer space.

The corruption runs from the highest officials to the street corner police officer, according to senior investigators, but the report itself is careful not to name officials directly.

Mr. Bolani defended his ministry’s efforts to cut down on corruption, progress that Western officials and other experts also recognize. He cited the elimination of death squads, which used to operate from within the ministry, as a “revolution.” Over the last two years roughly 62,000 employees who had criminal records were fired.

Despite the purge of the ministry, Aqeel al-Turaihi, the ministry’s inspector general, said there were thousands more people on the payroll with troubling backgrounds.

In the first half of this year alone, inspectors have found $122 million in stolen funds, only a fraction of what corrupt officials have siphoned off from the immense bureaucracy, according to the report.

Experts say there are parts of Iraq’s government that have shown slow improvement.

In the first six months of this year, 1,455 arrest warrants have been issued by the Iraqi Commission of Public Integrity, in charge of corruption prosecutions (though only 397 people have been convicted on corruption charges since the commission began its work in 2004 until the end of last year).

Earlier this year, the minister of trade was forced to resign after a fraud scandal relating to the distribution of food. The New York Times

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