Thursday, February 03, 2005

In an email from Laurie Mylroie

Zaab Sethna was in Iraq, working on the election campaign with the United Iraqi Alliance.

Dear All,
I am sorry to say that corruption in Iraq is worse than ever. As I was leaving Baghdad airport this morning the Iraqi officials refused to let me leave unless I paid a bribe. I refused and they kept me waiting over half an hour until I made a big enough fuss and they let me check in. Then at the second passport check they again asked me for payment and threatened to off-load me from the flight. I have never encountered this kind of blatant extortion anywhere in Africa, Asia or the Middle East.

Zaab Sethna

Agence France Presse
February 2, 2005
Iraqi PM contender brands Allawi government most corrupt ever

Baghdad: A top Shiite candidate to become Iraq's next prime minister on Wednesday branded the interim government of premier Iyad Allawi the most corrupt in Iraq's history.

Hussein Shahristani, a former nuclear chemist who was jailed during Saddam Hussein's regime, also said Sunnis should be granted the presidency in a gesture to the disgruntled minority.

But Shahristani lashed out at the Allawi government and singled out defense minister Hazem Shaalan as the main offender.

"It is very well known in the country that the corruption is very widespread from the police to the judicial systems... As a matter of fact Iraq has never known the level of corruption prevailing now," Shahristani told AFP.

"A lot of public funds have gone missing under the Coalition Provisional Authority... and even now," he said, of the disbanded US occupation authority.

Shahristani took Shaalan to task for the defense ministry's transfer of 300 million dollars to Lebanon as part of an arms deal last month.

"The fact that the minister of defense, on the day there were four suicidebombings in the capital, spends all his day at the airport trying to take a few hundred million dollars of cash out of the country before the elections doesn't speak very well for the government's performance."

The charges have already been raised by another leading member of the front-running Shiite coalition list, Ahmed Chalabi. The defense minister threatened to arrest Chalabi last month over the comments.

Shahristani, who spent 10 years in the dreaded Abu Ghraib prison for refusing to work on Saddam's weapons programme, vowed the next government would review all suspect contracts made under the Allawi cabinet.

"One thing we are going to pursue is that all suspicious contracts should be properly examined and any funds that have been misused should be returned to the public... and these things should be explained to the Iraqi people."

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