Panel told State Department lacks plan to fight Iraq corruption

The State Department lacks a functional plan to fight corruption in Iraq, despite increasing crime in the government that harms U.S. reconstruction efforts, according to a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee memorandum released Thursday.

Current and former State Department officials told the committee that many embassy officials are not "serious about going forward on" anti-corruption efforts, the memo says. State employees report that "almost no one shows up" at meetings of the U.S. Embassy's anti-corruption working group.

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the department's attempts to stem corruption "are dysfunctional, underfunded and a low priority."

Government Accountability Office Comptroller General David Walker and Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen offered similar assessments, calling lack of coordination the key problem. Walker said U.S. efforts to build up the Iraqi government's capacity are characterized by "multiple U.S. agencies leading individual efforts without an overarching direction from a lead entity or a strategic approach."

"Congress, we believe, should consider conditioning future appropriations on the existence of such a strategy," Walker said, in a statement highlighted by Waxman.

Bowen said corruption in the Iraqi government is rising due to the "politicization of the rule of law" under the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki also faced criticism from Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, Iraq's commissioner of public integrity, who said his office has uncovered $18 billion in Iraqi revenue lost to corruption. Radhi said while his office is nominally independent, the prime minister has blocked multiple corruption investigations of senior Iraqi officials, including some relatives of Maliki.

Speaking through an interpreter, Radhi said 31 of his employees have been killed, many slain for their work with Americans. A clerk who had received protection learned that his 80-year-old grandfather had been killed, his body marked by holes from a power drill, Radhi said.

Some Republicans questioned the judge's motivation for testifying. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked him about a letter to U.S. Customs and Immigration signed by Waxman and other senior House Democrats that helped Radhi bring eight family members to the United States for their safety.

Committee Republicans argued that corruption is a longstanding Iraqi problem that the United States can do little to control.

"We didn't bring corruption to Iraq and it will be there when we leave," Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., said.

The corruption probe is the latest in a series of committee investigations into State Department activities in Iraq. The committee this week held a hearing on the department's oversight of security contractor Blackwater USA and has charged the State Department's inspector general blocked investigations into agency activities in Iraq and Afghanistan because they might embarrass the Bush administration.

Committee Democrats on Thursday ridiculed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's request to treat assessments of corruption in Iraq as classified because they might harm relations with Maliki's coalition.

"Her position is that all information that reflects poorly on the Maliki government is classified," Waxman said. State Department officials had not testified by presstime.

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