The second insurgency

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) is the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Two truths have emerged from Iraq in recent months. First, corruption is so pervasive in Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government that political progress in Iraq may be impossible. Second, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and our embassy in Baghdad are inexplicably neglecting this corrosive threat.

Confronting these facts is difficult. Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have been killed and another 28,000 wounded in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. No one wants to believe that these sacrifices were made to establish and support a regime riddled with fraud and graft. But as President Bush asks for an additional $153 billion for the war, we can’t shrink from this reality.

Hearings in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, of which I am chairman, have revealed a devastating cycle of corruption. Rampant theft in Iraqi ministries undermines political reconciliation and diverts billions of dollars from the rebuilding effort. Even worse, the stolen money funds terrorists who attack our troops.

Yet no one in our government is holding Iraqi ministers to account.


The faltering efforts to restore integrity to the Iraqi government suffered a major blow when the chief anticorruption official, Judge Radhi Hamza Radhi, was driven out of Iraq in August and replaced by a Maliki crony. In graphic testimony, Radhi told the oversight committee that 31 of his investigators were assassinated after implicating Iraqi officials in the theft and diversion of $18 billion. The father of one investigator was found hanging from a meat hook. Radhi’s own family was targeted in two rocket attacks.

Radhi showed the committee secret orders signed by Maliki’s chief of staff that prohibited probes into misdeeds by top Iraqi officials, including the prime minister. He described evidence implicating the ministers of defense, electricity and labor in schemes to steal hundreds of millions of dollars. The oil ministry, he said, is now “effectively funding terrorism.” He also reported that Maliki personally blocked an investigation of his cousin, the transportation minister.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, shares Radhi’s alarm. The rising tide of corruption in Iraq is, in Bowen’s words, a “second insurgency.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. State Department, which should be leading the battle against corruption, is missing in action. Its Office of Accountability and Transparency, which is supposed to support Iraqi anticorruption efforts, has been led by four different directors in the last 10 months. (Incredibly, the most recent acting director previously worked as a paralegal.) The only permanent director of the office, Judge Arthur Brennan, told the committee that there is no “coordinated U.S. strategy to fight corruption in Iraq.”

The director of the State Department’s Anticorruption Working Group provided a similar assessment, stating: “I would like to be able to say that we’ve done quite a bit in this area, but unfortunately, we have not. ... [T]o be completely, embarrassingly honest with you, there’s not a lot of conversation going on.”

Independent audits by Bowen and the Government Accountability Office also have reached disheartening conclusions, finding that the State Department’s efforts suffer from poor coordination, lack of overall direction and duplication.

The secretary of State seemed completely unaware of the extent to which her own department’s anticorruption efforts are in disarray when she testified before the oversight committee on Oct. 25. Rice acknowledged that there is “a very bad problem of corruption in Iraq. It is a problem in ministries, it is the problem in government, it is a problem with officials.” Yet she endorsed Maliki’s performance, asserting that “Prime Minister Maliki has made the fighting of corruption one of the most important elements of his program.” She promised to cooperate with the committee’s investigations, but then insisted that discussions of corruption take place in closed session, which would defeat the purpose of oversight.

The Maliki government is our ally in Iraq, so I understand why she and President Bush find the mounting evidence of fraud and graft inconvenient. But the moral, political and practical implications of this corruption cannot responsibly be ignored.

Military success in Iraq isn’t an end unto itself: It is a bridge to the ultimate goal of a lasting peace. If the Maliki government is too corrupt to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq -- and political reconciliation is an illusion -- can we in good conscience continue to ask our troops to risk their lives and our taxpayers to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in this war?