Corruption Corrodes Iraqi Society
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
And we begin this hour of our program with Iraq. Corruption is widespread there. Today there was a sign that at least some members of the Iraqi parliament are determined to crack down on corruption. The Iraqi trade minister has resigned. He was accused of taking kickbacks. NPR's JJ Sutherland reports from Baghdad.
JJ SUTHERLAND: Everyone talks about fighting corruption here. It's just that little seems to be done about it, until now.
Mr. NOURI AL-MALIKI (Prime Minister, Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)
SUTHERLAND: That's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He accepted the trade minister's resignation today. A few days ago he went on TV saying terrorism and corruption are two sides of the same coin. They both destroy the country, he says, one through violence, the other through cynicism. Mithal al-Alusi is seen as one of Iraq's cleanest politicians. He says the cynicism has grown so great, it threatens the very idea of an Iraqi state.
Mr. MITHAL AL-ALUSI (Politician, Iraq): If people they do believe there is no country, there is no Iraq, then we'll have a vacuum. We'll have a chaos. And this is the situation. The people, they are nervous, they don't trust the policy. And we didn't deliver.
SUTHERLAND: We didn't deliver. That's an indictment of three and a half years of inaction on parliament's part. Trade Minister Falah al-Sudani was long suspected of corruption. He and a number of his top aids, including two of his brothers, are accused of corruption on a massive scale. They allegedly skimmed cash of imports for Iraq's ration program - everything from baby formula to sugar - they got a cut. When police were sent to arrest them, a gun fight broke out. Some of the ministry officials are still on the loose.
By resigning, it looks likely al-Sudani will not be prosecuted. But despite what just about everyone sees as blatant corruption, some are saying the motive for the parliament's moves and corruption is not clean up, it's politics. Haider al-Abadi is a member of parliament from Prime Minister's Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party, as is the trade minister.
Mr. HAIDER AL-ABADI (Parliament Member, Iraq): Although this is, yes, serious, but don't forget, I mean, some political blokes are doing it for political reason, because it is election year. That's why they haven't done it before, they're doing it now.
SUTHERLAND: Part of the argument that it's just politics is that people think everyone is corrupt.
(Soundbite of tea shop)
Mr. HUSSAIN HASAN(ph): (Foreign language spoken)
SUTHERLAND: The corruption is everywhere. It can be found in all the government offices.
Hussain Hasan owns a tea shop in the Karrada district of Baghdad. On a recent afternoon, a group of men gathered to sip sweet tea, play dominoes and complain about the government.
Mr. HASAN: (Foreign language spoken)
SUTHERLAND: I have to pay money with an application or a document. If I have to renew an ID, I have to pay money. A new license plate, I have to pay money -the help office, the local council, the service office, it's the same thing.
It's the same thing. It's not just the highest levels of government that are corrupt, all levels are. Students bribe teachers for good grades. Having a baby - better slip the doc an envelope with cash. Get pulled over, don't want to pay property taxes, need to get a passport? Resam Saber(ph) did.
Mr. RESAM SABER: (Foreign language spoken)
SUTHERLAND: Some employees wait for you at the door of the office. They offer you their services to issue you your passport. It's better to give them the money to finish your work rather than waiting for a long time.
A long time - try forever. One woman who didn't want to go on tape said she tried to get her passport without a bribe. It was a matter of principle. She was told to wait for Judgment Day. She decided to pay up.
Mithal al-Alusi, the MP with a clean reputation, says those in power became drunk with it, after taking control of a country that was already ripe with corruption before the U.S. ousted Saddam Hussein.
Mr. AL-ALUSI: (Foreign language spoken) We keep it, so the most danger in Iraq - the terrorists, the corruption, the political mafias - I will compare ourselves now with Chicago in the '30s.
SUTHERLAND: But if Alusi is right in an apt comparison as Capone's Chicago, it's hard to imagine who is going to play Eliot Ness.
JJ Sutherland, NPR News, Baghdad.
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