Global Policy Forum

Iraq Loses $8 Billion Through Corruption


By Bassem Mroue and Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Associated Press
April 4, 2007

Iraq's top corruption fighter said Wednesday that $8 billion in government money was wasted or stolen over the past three years and claimed he was threatened with death after opening an investigation into scores of Oil Ministry employees. In the chaos and lawlessness of Iraq, such threats are not taken lightly. Radi al-Radhi, who runs the Public Integrity Commission, leads one of the more dangerous missions in the country. He said in an interview with The Associated Press that 20 members of the organization have been murdered since it began its work.

In perhaps the most publicized recent case, an estimated $2 billion disappeared from funds to rebuild the electricity infrastructure. Former Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samaraie, who holds both U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, was convicted in that case and sentenced to two years in prison. He escaped from an Iraqi-run jail in the Green Zone on Dec. 17 and turned up in Chicago on Jan. 15. Al-Samaraie has said the Americans helped him escape.

Al-Radhi said the commission has investigated about 2,600 corruption cases since it was established in March 2004, a few months before the United States returned sovereignty to Iraq. He estimated $8 billion has vanished or been misappropriated. Corruption in the country, while traditionally rampant, is encouraged by constitutional clause 136 B, al-Radhi said. It gives Cabinet ministers the power to block his investigations. So far, he said, ministers have blocked probes into the theft or misspending of an estimated additional $55 million in public funds. Two years ago he asked the Constitutional Court to strike the clause, but the panel has never issued a ruling.

On Wednesday, he took the matter to Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who promised to back his efforts before the court, al-Radhi said. Al-Mashhadani's office confirmed that they met and said the parliament speaker promised to support the anti-corruption move. Senior government officials and Cabinet ministers are accused of a variety of schemes.

In February, for example, U.S. and Iraqi forces seized Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili, a supporter of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He reportedly orchestrated kickback schemes related to inflated contracts for equipment and services, with millions of dollars allegedly funneled to al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Al-Zamili was suspected of employing militiamen who used Health Ministry facilities and services for ``sectarian kidnapping and murder,'' the U.S. military has said.

Al-Radhi said that after starting an investigation of 180 Oil Ministry employees in the southern province of Basra, he and another colleague received death threats. ``I and Haidar Ashour, our representative in southern Iraq, have received threats by telephone accusing us of being former regime elements (supporters of the late Saddam Hussein),'' said al-Radhi. He was a judge during the former leader's rule, a job that required al-Radhi to join Saddam's Baath party. ``'If you don't stop the investigation, you will be killed,''' al-Radhi quoted the caller as saying. The threat was issued in the name of the little-known Southern Region Movement.

Commission records show arrest warrants have been issued for about 90 former Iraqi officials, including 15 ministers, on charges of corruption. Most have fled the country. In October, parliament removed immunity from lawmaker Mishan al-Jabouri, opening the door for prosecutors to charge him with siphoning off some $7 million a month intended to pay for food for three units of the pipeline protection force. Al-Jabouri's whereabouts are unknown; he has not been arrested. Former Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, who served under then-Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in 2004 and early 2005, is facing corruption allegations involving $1 billion in missing funds. Shaalan has denied wrongdoing.

The Iraq war has proven a temptation for many in the United States as well. A quarterly audit released Jan. 31 by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, found the $300 billion U.S. war and reconstruction effort continues to be plagued with waste and corruption.

According to Bowen's report, the State Department paid $43.8 million to contractor DynCorp International for a residential camp for police training personnel outside of Baghdad's Adnan Palace grounds. The camp has been empty for months. About $4.2 million of the money was improperly spent on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size pool, all ordered by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior but never authorized by the U.S.

U.S. officials spent an additional $36.4 million for weapons such as armored vehicles, body armor and communications equipment that cannot be accounted for. DynCorp also may have prematurely billed $18 million in other potentially unjustified costs, the report said. Early in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted on unnecessary and overpriced equipment for the Iraqi army. Much of that waste came during Allawi's tenure as transitional prime minister.

Iraqi investigators probed several weapons and equipment deals engineered by one-time procurement officer Ziad Cattan and other defense officials. Cattan is believed to be in hiding. One case involves Polish weapons maker Bumar, which signed a $236 million contract in December 2004 to equip the Iraqi army with helicopters, ambulances, pistols, machine guns and water tanks. Added to other deals, Bumar's contracts with the Iraqi army totaled nearly $300 million.

Iraqi officials said that when Iraqi experts traveled to Europe to check on their purchase of the transport choppers, they discovered the aircraft, which cost tens of millions of dollars, were 28 years old and outdated. They refused to take them and returned home empty-handed. At the time, a spokeswoman for Bumar denied the company ever provided Iraq with poor-quality helicopters and said that although they were several years old and used, this was at the request of the Iraqi Defense Ministry. Another case involving Cattan was a deal to purchase 7.62 mm bullets for machine guns and rifles. Iraqi officials said the bullets should have cost between 4 and 6 cents apiece but the ministry was eventually charged 16 cents per bullet.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on the Reconstruction of Iraq
More Information on State Sovereignty and Corruption


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.