//Corruption costly by product of war in Iraq

Corruption costly by product of war in Iraq

May 24, 2006,  LOS ANGELES TIMES

EACH day hundreds of visitors fly into Baghdad on state-owned Iraqi Airways planes that Transportation Ministry officials say were bought for $US3 million each.

Anti-corruption officials say they should not have cost a cent over $US600,000 ($A800,000) and wonder where the rest of the money went.

Inside the terminal, customs officials routinely hassle disembarking passengers for a "customs fee".

Beyond the airport, city streets teem with cars. A good portion of them, 17,000 according to anti-corruption officials, were stolen from the Government since the 2003 invasion.

Corruption is among the most critical problems facing Iraq's newly formed government, US and Iraqi officials say.

Government documents reveal the breadth of corrupt crimes, from epic schemes involving hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to the more ordinary, including university students accused of buying better grades from their professors.

"We are seeing corruption everywhere in Iraq — in every ministry, in every governorate," said Radhi Hamza Radhi, the head of Iraq's anti-corruption agency, the Commission on Public Integrity. He said Defence Ministry officials spent $US1 billion on questionable arms purchases, and the Interior Ministry paid for at least 1100 ghost employees, at a cost of $US1.3 million a month.

Transparency International, a non-governmental watchdog group, said: "In Iraq, public institutions are even struggling to find out how many employees they have on their payrolls."

Mr Radhi said corruption also helped fuel the insurgency. "Without corruption, we would have been able to defeat the terrorists by now."

Of the 3000 corruption cases investigated by the commission, only about 780 have been registered with the nation's courts, and only about a dozen have reached a verdict.

To some extent, courts have been reluctant to take on corruption because they are overloaded with terror cases.

But intimidation is also a major factor, with more than 20 judges killed since 2003.

Many Iraqis say they cannot imagine society without a certain level of corruption. Iraqis pay off officials to lower phone bills and to expedite paperwork, to free imprisoned relatives from jails.

"I think giving bribes is part of our everyday life," said Mohammed Jassem Rasheed Doulami, a Baghdad businessman. "About a week ago, I had to register my car. The whole process could have taken me three days, but I made a deal with a police officer to fix the whole thing in a half-hour if I paid him $17."