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IRAQ: Anti-Corruption Head Gets Tough on Officials

The head of the country's corruption-busting body, the Commission on Public Integrity, says he is determined to clean up widespread back-handers, bribery and embezzlement that are undermining Iraq's chances of a better future.

by Omar AnwarReuters
March 25th, 2005

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - In a move to clamp down on corruption that has worsened in the two years since Saddam Hussein's overthrow, senior Iraqi officials will soon be forced to declare their assets.

The head of the country's corruption-busting body, the Commission on Public Integrity, says he is determined to clean up widespread back-handers, bribery and embezzlement that are undermining Iraq's chances of a better future.

"Next week, we will distribute a form for the declaration of assets to all senior officials in Iraq. They should declare everything," Radhi Hamza al-Radhi told Reuters in an interview.

"Governors, ministers and those above them should state their assets, shares and any expected inheritance.

"If anything is seen to have changed, we will ask where it came from and how. If it was legal then okay but if not we will send him to court to get his punishment," Radhi said, talking tough between sips of limeade in his Baghdad office.

He may be softly spoken, but Radhi is outspoken when it comes to laying out the challenges the country faces if it is to get on top of a burgeoning corruption crisis, with evidence of misuse of public funds and reconstruction dollars piling up.

Iraq's newspapers are full of new corruption scandals almost every week, provoking anger among Iraqis who see their chances of a better future being squandered by a few greedy officials.

"The new Iraq and our commission are based on the rule of law. Anybody that misuses power and public funds will be held accountable. No one is above the law," Radhi said.

Radhi's commission was established in January 2003 by the former U.S. governor of Iraq, Paul Bremer, who wanted to establish an independent body to investigate high-level -- including ministerial -- corruption and abuse of office.

In his tiny, neat office in the fortified Green Zone, Radhi, who was attorney general under Saddam, pointed to the asset- disclosure law, ushered in by the Justice Ministry, as a key tool in his anti-corruption drive.

CLAMP DOWN

Since the commission started work in July, more then 240 cases of misuse of power and public money have been placed under investigation. But the process is slow.

"Big cases need a long time, it might take up to a year. There are cases where senior and junior officials are involved," he said, explaining the complexity of getting convictions.

He blamed the former regime for the widespread corruption but also said it had worsened after Saddam's fall because of the lack of stable government and the massive inflow of cash.

"Corruption in Iraq has deep roots, at least for the last 50 years, because of the former regime's policies," he said.

"For example Iraq's oil revenues were under one person's control. Corruption became worse in Iraq because of the political and administrative vacuum. The change led to a major abuse of power in many state departments."

In the years to come -- if the current case load is any indication -- Radhi is likely to be one of Iraq's busiest men. But the work isn't without its obstacles or interference.

"Our work is new in Iraq and being an observer is not welcomed by many. We were asked many times by the government via official letters or phone calls not to speak to the media or not to speak to ministers. There were too many Don'ts," he said.

"Obstacles and pressure continue, but we will never give up our work."





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