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Democracy Be Damned: Rampant Corruption In Iraq

I understand the desire to be optimistic about the situation in Iraq but when each day brings a new scandal, a new article detailing the growing obstacles, or a call for more time to achieve our objectives, I simply cannot muster a smile. Frankly, if it weren’t such a serious situation, it would be laughable.

Try as they might, the war apologists simply lack the ability to plug each emerging hole in a rationale that is long on rhetoric and sorely lacking in reality. Today’s news about the rampant corruption in the fledgling Iraqi government is more of the same.

Supplies and medicine in strife-torn Baghdad’s overcrowded hospitals have been siphoned off and sold elsewhere for profit because of “untouchab le” corruption in the Iraqi Ministry of Health, according to a draft U.S. government report obtained by NBC News.

The report, written by U.S. advisers to Iraq’s anti-corrupt ion agency, analyzes corruption in 12 ministries and finds devastating and grim problems. “Corruption protected by senior members of the Iraqi government remains untouchable, ” the report sad.

The draft report obtained by NBC said the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which oversees the country’s hospitals, is in the “grip” of the Mahdi Army, the anti-America n militia run by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

“Contract fraud and employee theft of medicines, food, vehicles are viewed by investigator s as the greatest problems,” the report said, adding that “military sources have reported that the Mehdi Army [sic] finances operations from diverted medicines.”

In the Ministry of Oil — the most important agency for Iraq’s economy — the report said “corruption is a major problem” when it comes to refined oil products, such as gasoline and kerosene. The report said corruption in the oil ministry is partly to blame for lines of cars stretching for miles as Iraqis wait hours to fill up their tanks.

My recollection of the pre-war rationale was that Saddam Hussein was a corrupt tyrant who ruled the country with a strong and brutal military and an array of insider alliances…al l of which led to great wealth for the chosen few and much less for the powerless masses.

As we approach five years of American occupation, I’m afraid little has changed for the Iraqi people. In reality, one can make an argument that the situation is no better than it was under the Hussein regime. Reports suggest that there is significantl y less electricity, gas and oil are in short supply or rationed, unemployment is outrageous, security is at best sporadic, and a select few use their power and authority to amass wealth while depriving others of basic necessities.

Saddam may be gone but his absence seems to have provided little more than an opportunity for others to step in and fill the power vacuum…and assume the all important role of plundering the wealth that the Bush administrati on once suggested would not only provide for the comfort and care of the Iraqi people; but would also pay for our costs to prosecute the war.

Given the state of corruption being reported, as well as the $10 billion per month we are spending to maintain our presence in Iraq, I would suggest that we completely miscalculate d the potential obstacles and underestimat ed the level of lawlessness that would ensue.

An entire battalion of Iraqi police “was found to be nonexistent” and corruption in the army is “widespread, ” with ghost employees and a shortage of supplies, according to the report.

The law allows the prime minister to exempt Cabinet ministers from prosecution and allows ministers to exempt their employees from prosecution.

“This is tantamount to a get out of jail free card,” Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstructi on, told NBC.

The top Iraqi anti-corrupt ion investigator  , Judge Rahdi al Rahdi, told NBC that “in many important cases, ministers did not give us the permission to take their employees to court, the prime minister’s office did not give us permission to take ministers to court.”

Rahdi said the total amount of missing money involved in his investigatio ns into government misconduct is $11 billion.

Corruption is so serious that it is difficult for the government to function, according to Ali Allawi, a former Iraqi government minister.

“The Americans who are supporting this political class, I believe really have no choice. This is a group they have been saddled with, or supported in power, and must grin and bear it,” he said.

History tells us that this isn’t the first time the United States hitched its wagon to a government of scofflaws with the thought that it would ultimately be to our benefit. Unfortunatel y, history also tells us that such regimes rarely endure as their greed and disregard for the people they govern makes them targets for overthrow…of ten by other groups intent on doing more of the same…all the while leaving the citizenry scrambling to survive while suffering through the excesses of each new governing body.

Delivering democracy and liberty may be the fundamental goal of George Bush, but the people of Iraq may be years away from embracing such a system. No doubt there are those who favor a fair and equitable society but as so often happens they are overwhelmed by those who have learned the art of manipulation and found their way into positions of power.

Sadly, in our efforts to achieve our objectives, we are likely supporting a number of people who could care less about the good people of Iraq and our noble goal. I may be a pessimist, but I’m at a loss to envision the process whereby the thugs and thieves that have infiltrated the Iraqi government will suddenly elect to enact an equitable democracy.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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