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Ex-State officials allege corruption in Iraq

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080512/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_iraq_corruption Ex-State officials allege corruption in Iraq By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , May 12, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080512/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_iraq_corruption

      Ex-State officials allege corruption in Iraq

      By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer 9 minutes
      ago

      WASHINGTON - The Bush administration repeatedly
      ignored corruption at the highest levels within the
      Iraqi government and kept secret potentially
      embarrassing information so as not to undermine its
      relationship with Baghdad, according to two former
      State Department employees.

      Arthur Brennan, who briefly served in Baghdad as head
      of the department's Office of Accountability and
      Transparency last year, and James Mattil, who worked
      as the chief of staff, told Senate Democrats on Monday
      that their office was understaffed and its warnings
      and recommendations ignored.

      Brennan also alleges the State Department prevented a
      congressional aide visiting Baghdad from talking with
      staffers by insisting they were too busy. In reality,
      Brennan said, office members were watching movies at
      the embassy and on their computers. The staffers'
      workload had been cut dramatically because of Iraqi
      Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's "evisceration" of
      Iraq's top anti-corruption office, he said.

      The State Department's policies "not only contradicted
      the anti-corruption mission but indirectly contributed
      to and has allowed corruption to fester at the highest
      levels of the Iraqi government," Brennan told the
      Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

      The U.S. embassy "effort against corruption —
      including its new centerpiece, the now-defunct Office
      of Accountability and Transparency — was little more
      than 'window dressing,'" he added.

      Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the
      administration takes the issue of corruption seriously
      and pointed to its recent appointment of Lawrence
      Benedict as coordinator for anti-corruption
      initiatives at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

      Benedict's appointment "is another demonstration that
      we are working at very senior levels to help the
      Iraqis deal with this issue," Casey said. "Any
      assertion that we have not taken this issue seriously
      or given it the attention it deserves is simply
      untrue."

      The Office of Accountability and Transparency, or
      "OAT" team, was intended to provide assistance and
      training to Iraq's anti-corruption agencies. It was
      dismantled last December, after it alleged in a draft
      report leaked to the media that al-Maliki's office had
      derailed or prevented investigations into
      Shiite-controlled agencies.

      The draft report sparked hearings in Congress and
      prompted a showdown between Democrats and senior State
      Department officials on whether the public has a right
      to know the extent to which al-Maliki was involved in
      corruption cases.

      Brennan charges the State Department never responded
      to his team's report, which was retroactively
      classified because agency officials said it could hurt
      bilateral relations with Iraq. Other recommendations
      by the group also were kept secret, including a
      negative assessment of Iraq's Joint Anti-Corruption
      Committee, Brennan said.

      In July 2007, the OAT team concluded that the
      committee's only purpose was to provide a forum for
      complaints against Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, a top
      anti-corruption official in Baghdad whom many U.S.
      officials have hailed as the most effective in
      exposing fraud and abuse.

      But information later released by the embassy ignored
      the team's assessment and ultimately "failed to even
      mention what a disaster" the committee "really was,"
      Brennan said.

      Brennan said he approved the embassy report against
      his better judgment but later regretted it.

      Mattil, who worked with Brennan, made similar
      allegations. Specifically, he said the U.S. "remained
      silent in the face of an unrelenting campaign" by
      senior Iraqi officials to subvert Baghdad's Commission
      on Public Integrity, which had been led by al-Radhi.
      Then, the U.S. turned its back on Iraqis who fled to
      the United States after being threatened for pursuing
      anti-corruption cases, he said.

      "Since we have done so little (to undercut
      corruption), it's easy to see why the government of
      Iraq has not done more," said Mattil, who left the
      accountability office last October after having served
      for a year as its chief of staff. "We have demanded no
      better."

      Brennan was appointed as OAT director last summer and
      arrived in Baghdad in July. He left only a few weeks
      later after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He
      stepped down from his position in August.

      Iraqi government officials could not be reached for
      comment.

      Sen. Byron Dorgan, head of the Democratic Policy
      Committee, said the testimony was critical in light of
      upcoming legislation that would appropriate more than
      $170 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The
      Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Dorgan is a
      member, is expected to approve the legislation
      Thursday.

      "It is a cruel irony if we are appropriating money
      next Thursday or did appropriate money last month or
      last year and that money ends up actually providing
      the resources for an insurgency in Iraq which ends up
      killing Americans," said Dorgan, D-N.D.
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