- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

BAGHDAD - Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on unnecessary and overpriced equip- ment for Iraq’s new army at a time when the United States and its allies are struggling to get the force in shape to battle insurgents, Iraqi officials say.

Iraqi authorities have opened inquiries into several cases of corruption at the Defense Ministry. The ministry official thought to be behind most of the questionable deals was removed from his job in June and is banned from leaving the country.

“Corruption is widespread at the ministry. One of the cases alone is worth $226 million. The investigation is still going on,” said legislator Kamal al-Saaidi, a member of the independent Supreme Anti-corruption Commission.

Most of the purchases in question were made under interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who took office after occupation authorities turned over sovereignty to Iraqis on June 28, 2004.

When new Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi took office in May, an investigation was opened into several cases of corruption.

Former National Security Adviser Qassim Dawoud refused to speak about corruption at the ministry, citing the ongoing investigation.

Iraqi investigators are looking into several weapons and equipment deals engineered by procurement officer Ziad Cattan and other defense officials. Mr. Cattan has been dismissed.

One case involves Polish weapons maker Bumar, which signed a $236 million contract in December to equip the Iraqi army with helicopters, ambulances, pistols, machine guns and water storage tanks. Added to deals signed last year, Bumar’s contracts with the Iraqi army totaled nearly $300 million.

Iraqi officials said that when Iraqi analysts traveled to Europe to check on their purchase of the transport helicopters, they discovered that the aircraft, which cost tens of millions of dollars, were 28 years old and outdated. The Iraqis refused to take the aircraft and returned home empty-handed.

A Defense Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said the helicopter deal was “canceled after the ministry discovered that the helicopters are not needed at the moment.”

In Warsaw, a spokeswoman for Bumar denied that her company 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.

Iraqi authorities wanted them at “half the price and wanted to get them quickly,” spokeswoman Roma Sarzynska told the Associated Press.

It would have taken the company longer to provide new helicopters, she said.

“The Iraqis paid us the full amount of money for the machines; they are in good condition, standing ready to be picked up, but no one seems to want to come to claim them,” Miss Sarzynska said. “In the deal signed with the Iraqis, it was specified that the helicopters were to be built between 1978 and 1992, so the age element of the helicopters was well-known in advance.”

She said the helicopters were renovated, but when the Iraqi delegation arrived, “they unfortunately could not take them back with them to Iraq because they said that they themselves did not have the authority to do so.”

Another case involving Mr. Cattan was a deal to purchase 7.62 mm bullets, used in machine guns and rifles. Iraqi officials said the bullets should have cost 4 to 6 cents apiece, but the ministry eventually was charged 16 cents per bullet.

Jawad al-Maliki, who heads parliament’s Security and Defense Committee, said that despite spending huge sums, “we did not see weapons on the ground.”

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in charge of training and equipping the Iraqi military, declined to comment on the corruption accusations, saying it was a matter to be resolved by the Iraqi government.

Since U.S. authorities turned over sovereignty last year, Iraqis have obtained weapons in three ways — procurement through the auspices of the multinational force command, donations from other countries and purchases by the Defense Ministry.

A U.S. military officer who used to work with the Defense Ministry said equipment that could have been useful — such as new armored vehicles or good ammunition — was not being purchased.

The U.S. official spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was an internal Iraqi issue. He said there appeared to be little oversight and accountability in the procurement of equipment.

Repeated attempts by AP to contact Mr. Cattan in recent weeks were unsuccessful. However, in a telephone interview in May, he spoke with pride of his efforts to procure equipment.

Mr. Cattan said that in six months, he had signed contracts worth $600 million and that he led military delegations to 15 countries, including Russia, Poland and Germany.

He added that he signed contracts to buy 500 Humvees, 600 armored personnel carriers from Poland as well as transport planes from Russia and Poland.

Earlier this year, another scandal broke when press reports revealed that Mr. Allawi’s defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, transferred $500 million to a bank account in Lebanon to buy weapons. Ahmed Chalabi, the current deputy prime minister, demanded an investigation into that case.

Mr. Shaalan left Iraq after a new government was formed and remains abroad.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari recently complained about administrative and financial corruption, but also blamed former dictator Saddam Hussein.

“Just as a house that is burned down takes time to rebuild, so it will take us time to clean out the culture that Saddam brought to Iraq,” he said.

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