- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Iraq’s government has issued arrest warrants against a former defense minister and 22 other current and former officials, accusing them of involvement in the misappropriation of hundreds of millions of dollars, mainly in defense contracts.

But one of the accused officials, largely supported by a U.S. specialist who was recently in Baghdad, said many of the warrants were connected to a bid by the two main Shi’ite parties to seize key Defense Ministry positions from independents and Sunnis.

“There are four or five corrupt officials who deserve to be indicted and jailed,” said Mumtaz al-Obeidi, the director general of human resources at the ministry.

“Yet what’s happening is a political purge. Politicians are using corruption as a pretext for putting their own people in place for what amounts to a rapidly developing coup.”

Mr. al-Obeidi, a 53-year-old Sunni who spent eight years in exile in London during the Saddam Hussein regime, spoke from Baghdad by mobile phone while on the run, seeking to evade arrest.

He said he never had authority to approve defense contracts and that it was his whistle-blowing report to the Commission on Public Integrity nearly two months ago that led to the initial revelations of corruption.

That included an accusation that most of the money spent by the Defense Ministry to buy 24 antiquated Polish helicopters had gone into the pockets of officials and politicians. The contract, signed at the end of last year, was for $167 million.

Neither the commission nor Mr. al-Obeidi would make the documents available to The Washington Times.

Former Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, who went on Al Arabiya television yesterday to deny the corruption accusations, has been flying across Europe in a private jet, accompanied by reporters.

Also understood to be accused was Sousan Jassem, former director general of budgets and programming, who was released recently after about a month in detention.

During Mr. Shaalan’s tenure, the Defense Ministry is reported to have spent about $1.3 billion on military equipment. The commission considers much of that equipment to have been inappropriate, out of date and bought from intermediaries rather than directly from suppliers.

Also being sought are at least three other ministers in the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, which served from June last year until April this year, a commission source said.

The arrest warrants were issued through the office of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose Shi’ite-led Islamic Dawa Party has been eager to expose malfeasance under Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi’ite favored by the United States. Both men are running for office in national elections scheduled for mid-December.

Most of those accused were appointed during Mr. Allawi’s period in office or served in the Iraqi Governing Council during the stewardship of U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer.

Iraqi government sources have told The Times that Dawa and the other main Shi’ite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution In Iraq (SCIRI), have been trying to oust the Sunnis and secular Shi’ites held over from the Allawi administration and replace them at the Defense Ministry with their people.

Ten days ago, a Dawa representative and the chief of the Badr Brigade, a powerful Iranian-trained militia controlled by SCIRI, presented Defense Minister Sadun al-Dulaymi with the names of 26 civilian and military officials they wanted appointed to the ministry.

Last weekend, officials from the two groupings presented a similar list with 82 names to the minister’s chief of staff.

Paul Hughes, a U.S. adviser who recently returned to Washington from Baghdad, said yesterday that rules employed by the Commission on Public Integrity “contribute to a politicization of the anti-corruption effort.”

“Individuals suspected of corruption are removed simply on the basis of an accusation and not as a result of an investigation,” said Mr. Hughes, who works with the U.S. Institute of Peace.

In Baghdad last week, he said, he was told that when the commission has ordered a minister to remove an accused person, “the letter also provided the minister with the name of the person who would replace the accused.”

A senior member of Dawa said the party considers it politically important to place more Shi’ites inside the Defense Ministry.

“In all the main positions in the Defense Ministry, not a single one is a Shia,” said the official on the condition of anonymity. “Most of high military officers are not Shia. One has to assume these officials and offers may either have some Ba’athist sympathies, being Sunnis, or else that they are potentially susceptible to threats.”

But Mr. al-Obeidi said four of the seven directors general are Shi’ites and three are Sunnis, while the secretary-general and the chief of staff are Kurds.

“They want to put in Shias who are loyal to their masters’ political agendas,” he said.

• Sharon Behn contributed from Baghdad to this article, which is distributed by World News & Features.

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