STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And let's go next to Iraq, where the country's new parliament convened for the first time, today. That comes three months after the general election and the country still has no new prime minister. What the country does have is a lot of new parliamentarians or MPs. More than 65 percent are newcomers, because voters rejected so many well-known names from the past. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on the lawmakers who lost their jobs.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mithal al-Alousi's offices were once bustling with petitioners and others trying to curry the favor of this former parliamentarian. Now the halls echo in emptiness, his many retainers finding little to do.
Unidentified Woman: Hello.
Mr. MITHAL AL-ALOUSI (Former parliamentarian): How are you?
Unidentified Woman: How are you?
Mr. ALOUSI: Good. Good. How are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alousi has always been known as an outspoken critic of what he sees as the wastefulness and corruption that has characterized the government here. Instead of a democracy, what has been born in Iraq, he says, is a kleptocracy. And he now speaks openly of how regional governments, including Iran, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia, bribed members of the parliament to do their bidding.
Mr. ALOUSI: I'm serious now. The Iranian influence and the pan-Arab influence was huge in the Iraqi old parliament. We have seen it. We have feel it. And we did pay a huge price because of that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean are you talking people paying money to parliamentarians?
Mr. AL-ALOUSI: Of course, paying money, pushing them under pressure, helping them to do something here, of course.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The outgoing parliament toke over just as Iraq's civil war broke out in 2005. Alousi says that affected everything the legislators did. The acrimony between the different sides paralyzed them.
Mr. AL-ALOUSI: What we did start in the last forty(ph) years was a sectarian issue - a sectarian government, a sectarian parliament. We lost the real standards. That's why we did lost the trust by our people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wathab Shaker is another MP who did not make into the new parliament either. He's also been an outspoken critic of his former colleagues. A businessman by trade, Shaker says what was most shocking to him was the brazen corruption among many parliamentarians.
Mr. WATHAB SHAKER (Former Parliamentarian): (Through Translator) I'm a trader who became a politician, but there were many politicians who, in the parliament, became traders.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he says they made a lot of money doing it.
Mr. SHAKER: (Through Translator) Unfortunately, a big number of them built houses outside Iraq. Politicians would use their influence to push certain deals through. The proof is that there has been so much money spent on reconstruction in Iraq. But where are the buildings, the hospitals, the schools, the electricity, the water? We could be the richest country in the world, but our people are digging through the trash.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Joost Hiltermann is the Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Dr. JOOST HILTERMANN (Iraq Analyst, International Crisis Group): What is telling is that so many of the senior parliamentary leaders did not make it in the elections this time.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Men like former National Security Advisor Moafaq al-Rubaie, the former Speaker of Parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.
Dr. HILTERMANN: And the question is those that have less than stellar records and maybe have engaged in corruption, the question is, will they be indicted or will they even be in Iraq by the time the judiciary gets around to pursuing them.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hiltermann predicts many of them will skip town to live in those houses they have bought abroad.
The real damage is, of course, to the trust the Iraqis have in their fledgling institutions.
(Soundbite of traffic and conversation)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the streets of the Iraqi capital, there was not a single person who expressed confidence in Iraq's parliament. Ahmed Dawood is a 20-year-old wedding photographer.
Mr. AHMED DAWOOD (Wedding Photographer): (Through Translator) The former parliament did not give anything for our nation, and I expect that the new parliament to be the same.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hassan Mohammed is a supermarket owner.
Mr. HASSAN MOHAMMED (Owner, Supermarket): (Through Translator) The former parliament succeeded in funding them well, now they have money and villas. For example, one Member of Parliament just bought a villa for $5 million in my neighborhood. How did he get that money?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As Iraq's Parliament convenes today, the new members are being met with incredibly low expectations. But the challenges they face are still huge. Major legislation like the oil law still needs to be resolved. Jobs need to be created. And Iraq's devastated infrastructure still needs to be revamped.
It's a tall order, and many here are pessimistic that it can't be filled.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.