DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
A State Department report obtained by NPR gives fresh evidence of just how entrenched corruption is in the Iraqi government. The report finds that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is not only failing to stop officials from committing crimes, it's hindering its own watchdog agency from conducting investigations.
NPR's Corey Flintoff, who has read the draft report, joins us now from Baghdad.
Hello, Corey. Can you give us a little background on this report? Who produced it?
COREY FLINTOFF: Yes, Debbie. It was produced - well, at least in part, by people at the embassy - the embassy's office of accountability and transparency, and they advised the Iraqi government's anti-corruption watchdog - that's called the Commission on Public Integrity.
The embassy spokesman that I talked to 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 its anti-corruption laws.
ELLIOTT: And why is that?
FLINTOFF: Well, it's a long report, and it offers a lot of reasons. But it says the biggest single 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 that some of the 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 be safeguarding the country's major source of wealth, has allegedly manipulated investigations against it. The report goes on to say that 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 the firepower necessary to protect them.
ELLIOTT: Corey, what kinds of crimes are we talking about? How serious is this corruption?
FLINTOFF: Well, if you believe the report, and you listen to the people who work at these ministries, you'd get the impression that corruption is completely just 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 controls all of Iraq's police forces. And he told me, basically, that it's corrupt from top to bottom. Officials at the top of the pile are making money from things like contracts to buy equipment. One example that he gave me was that a top official got a contract to buy armored vests for the police. And when the vests arrived, they turned out to be much cheaper quality than the ones that he was paid to deliver.
ELLIOTT: That doesn't sound like it bodes well for the security situation there. What is the U.S. embassy saying about the information from this document?
FLINTOFF: Well, basically, they are saying that the report is not that big a deal. The embassy spokesman stressed that it's put out every six months, so he is painting it as a rather routine report. But, you know, what's not routine about this is that Ambassador Ryan Crocker is about to present his part of this report on how well the current administration strategy in Iraq is working. And anti-corruption efforts are bound to be a serious issue. You know, this report is produced by people in his own embassy so you'd assume that it'll 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, there's -it's not uncommon for government agencies to accuse one another of corruption.
ELLIOTT: Corey, does the draft report offer any solution to these problems?
FLINTOFF: It does offer 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 supposed to be independent under the Iraqi constitution. But people in the prime minister's office are saying 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 that they can do their job.
ELLIOTT: NPR's Corey Flintoff in Baghdad. Thanks so much.
FLINTOFF: Thank you, Debbie.
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