- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

Corrupt Iraqi politicians are funneling money to armed militias who support their parties while getting immunity from prosecution, U.S. officials and an Iraqi judge told lawmakers yesterday.

Some of those trying to fight the wrongdoing, or their relatives, have been tortured and killed, they said.

“The corruption has helped fund the sectarian militias,” said Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, head of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity (CPI).

“Corruption has infected our biggest source of money — oil,” Judge al-Radhi told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“In areas where oil is present, such as Beyji, which is Sunni, and Basra, which is Shi’ite, the militias control these areas and they sell oil and take revenues of oil to finance the purchase of weapons to their respective militias,” he said.

“Because these militias are from the parties, the [political] blocs, this is a financial source of revenue for them,” the judge said. “This has resulted in the ministry of oil effectively financing terrorism through these militias.”

Larry Butler, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, refused to say during later testimony whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al Maliki was involved or capable of preventing the corruption, the Associated Press reported.

“Questions which go to the broad nature of our bilateral relationship with Iraq are best answered in a classified setting,” Mr. Butler said.

The judge said several attempts to go after corrupt officials have been blocked by an Iraqi law saying active and former ministers cannot be prosecuted without permission from the prime minister. Ministry employees cannot be prosecuted without permission from the minister of the agency being investigated.

“Officials and agencies in the Iraqi government sent us formal letters forbidding us to take any action against the presidency, council of ministries and former and current ministers,” Judge al-Radhi said.

The rampant corruption has contributed to the failure of the Iraqi government and has cost Iraqis roughly $18 billion, the judge added.

Republican lawmakers noted that the problem was not new to Iraq. “We didn’t bring corruption to Iraq, and it won’t stop when we leave,” said Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican and ranking member of the committee.

Darrell Issa, a California Republican, even hinted that Mr. Radhi’s harsh assessment might be intended to promote his application for asylum in the U.S. for his family.

The congressional panel also heard from U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, who cited a State Department assessment that corruption is robbing the Iraqi government of “needed resources, some of which are used to fund the insurgency.”

Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said corruption had stymied the building and maintenance of Iraq’s infrastructure, deprived people of goods and services and become a “corrosive force” that is directly harming the country’s economic viability.

Despite considerable U.S. and Iraqi efforts, the situation is getting worse, not better, Mr. Bowen said.

Violence, intimidation and personal attacks are making it difficult to rein in the malfeasance, said Judge al-Radhi, who has applied for U.S. government protection.

Out of 4,000 officials hired to fight the problem, 31 employees and 12 relatives of employees have been kidnapped, tortured, killed or gunned down at short range, Judge al-Radhi said.

The father of the security chief of his staff “was recently kidnapped and killed because of his son’s work at CPI. His body was found hung from a meat hook,” the judge said.

Another staff member had his 80-year-old father kidnapped. “When his body was found, a power drill had been used to drill his body with holes,” Judge al-Radhi said.

Mr. Walker, the comptroller general, recommended that future U.S. appropriations be made conditional on the completion of a strategy to improve the running of Iraqi ministries.

In 2005 and 2006, the U.S. provided $169 million to help improve key civilian and security ministries.

Congress provided an additional $140 million in fiscal year 2007 and has been asked for $255 million for fiscal year 2008, Mr. Walker said.

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