Ex-State officials allege corruption in Iraq
Ex-State officials allege corruption in Iraq
By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer 9 minutes
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
"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.