- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s top corruption fighter said yesterday that $8 billion in government money was wasted or stolen in the past three years and that he received death threats after opening an investigation into scores of Oil Ministry employees.

In the chaos and lawlessness of Iraq, such threats are taken seriously. Radi al-Radhi, who runs the Commission on Public Integrity, leads one of the more dangerous missions in the country. He told the Associated Press that 20 members have been killed since the organization began its work in March 2004.

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. Mr. al-Samaraie has said Americans helped him escape.

Mr. al-Radhi said the commission has investigated about 2,600 corruption cases since it was established a few months before the United States returned sovereignty to Iraq. He estimated that $8 billion has vanished or been misappropriated.

Corruption is encouraged by constitutional clause 136 B, Mr. al-Radhi said. The clause gives Cabinet ministers the power to block his investigations.

He said ministers have blocked probes into the theft or misspending of an estimated $55 million in public funds.

Two years ago, he asked Iraq’s constitutional court to strike the clause, but the panel has not issued a ruling.

Yesterday, he took the matter to parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who promised to back his efforts before the court, Mr. al-Radhi said. Mr. 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 Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He reportedly orchestrated kickback schemes related to inflated contracts for equipment and services, with millions of dollars purportedly funneled to Sheik al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.

Mr. 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.

Mr. 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,” said Mr. al-Radhi.

He was a judge during dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule, a job that required Mr. al-Radhi to join Saddam’s Ba’ath Party.

” ‘If you don’t stop the investigation, you will be killed,’ ” Mr. al-Radhi quoted the caller as saying. The threat was issued in the name of the little-known Southern Region Movement.

Commission records show that 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 stripped lawmaker Mishan al-Jabouri’s immunity, opening the door for prosecutors to charge him with siphoning off about $7 million a month intended to pay for food for three units of the pipeline protection force. Mr. al-Jabouri’s whereabouts is unknown.

Former Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, who served under Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in 2004 and early 2005, is facing corruption accusations involving $1 billion in missing funds. Mr. Shaalan has denied wrongdoing.

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