State Department investigators in Iraq have concluded that the government of Nouri al-Maliki is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anti-corruption laws. The investigators also say that corrupt civil servants with connections to the government are seen as untouchable, and that employees of Iraq's watchdog Commission on Public Integrity have been murdered in the line of duty.
The U.S. investigators lay out their conclusions in a draft report obtained by NPR's Corey Flintoff in Baghdad. The report was marked "sensitive, but unclassified, not for distribution to personnel outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." The State Department report was leaked at a politically sensitive time, when Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is preparing to brief Congress this month on progress since the U.S. troop surge.
The U.S. draft report leaves the impression that corruption is sapping Iraq's resources. An employee of the Ministry of the Interior, which supervises the police, told NPR that senior ministry officials are making money off of contracts to buy equipment. He said rank and rile police officers have to pay bribes to be promoted.
The State Department investigation found that Iraqi ministries routinely refuse to cooperate with Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, and the watchdog agency's investigators are often unable to enter government offices because they don't have enough firepower to defend themselves.
Debbie Elliott speaks to NPR's Corey Flintoff, who has read the draft report.
Give us a little background on this report — who produced it?
It was produced, at least in part, by the people at the Embassy's Office of Accountability and Transparency, which advises the Iraqi government's corruption watchdog that's called the Commission on Public Integrity. The embassy spokesman stressed to me that this is only a draft report, and he pointed out that it's not a secret. As a matter of fact, it says "sensitive but unclassified, not for distribution to personnel outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." I'd say the reason that it's marked "sensitive" is that it paints a very negative picture of the Maliki government, saying that, right now, Iraq is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anti-corruption laws.
Why is that?
Well, It's a lengthy report and it offers a lot of reasons, but it says the single biggest hurdle to prosecuting these anti-corruption cases is that the Commission on Public Integrity — that's the watchdog agency — can't get its investigators inside the ministries. It says some ministries, such as the Interior Ministry are seen as untouchable because of their political connections to the government. The Ministry of Oil, which is supposed to safeguard the country's major source of wealth, has allegedly manipulated investigations against it. The report goes on to say the departments of the government routinely ignore requests for information, and they do that with impunity, and that investigation teams can't go into their offices because they don't have any firepower to protect them.
What kinds of crimes are we talking about? How serious is this corruption?
If you believe the report, and you listen to people who work at these ministries, you get the impression that corruption is completely sapping the country's resources. I had a long talk this afternoon with someone who works at the Ministry of Interior — that's the department that supervises all of Iraq's police forces. And he told me that it's corrupt from top to bottom — that officials at the top of the pile are making money from things like contracts to buy equipment. One example of that was that a top official got a contract to buy armored vests for the police. And when the vests arrived, they were much cheaper quality than the ones he was paid to deliver.
This doesn't sound like it bodes well for the security situation there. What is the U.S. Embassy saying about the information in this document?
Well, they're basically saying that it's not that big a deal. The embassy spokesman stressed that this is a report that's put out every six months, so he's painting it as rather routine. But what's out of the routine here is that Ambassador Ryan Crocker is about to present his part of a report on how well the current administration strategy in Iraq is working, and anti-corruption efforts are bound to be a serious issue. This report was produced by people in his own embassy, so you'd assume it will have to be looked at. One thing the Embassy spokesman did tell me is that there's some concern at the embassy over the truthfulness of some of the sources that this report used from the various ministries. He said that, given the fractious politics here, it's not uncommon for government agencies to accuse one another of corruption.
Does the draft report offer any solution to this problem?
It offers some recommendations, including giving more U.S. backing to the Iraqi watchdog commission. It says the Maliki government has attempted to undermine the commission's independence by starving it of resources for one thing, and it also quotes government officials who say that the commission shouldn't be independent, and it's supposed to be independent under the Iraqi constitution, but people in the prime minister's office says it should be under their control. It also says that U.S. forces should be used, when possible, to give protection to the commission's investigators so they can do their job.