WASHINGTON - Widespread corruption in Iraq stretches into the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an Iraqi investigating judge told US lawmakers, and an American official said US efforts to combat the problem are inadequate.
Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, who was named by the United States in 2004 to head the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, said his agency estimated corruption had cost the Iraqi government up to US$18 billion ($24.21 billion).
Maliki has shielded relatives from investigation and allowed government ministers to protect implicated employees, said the judge, who left Iraq in August after threats against him. He told a Capitol Hill hearing that 31 employees of his agency had been killed.
Radhi said he did not have evidence against Maliki personally, but the prime minister had "protected some of his relatives that were involved in corruption."
One of these was a former minister of transportation, Radhi told the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The US official who testified, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said he also saw a "rising tide of corruption in Iraq." He said US efforts to combat it were "disappointing," lacking funding and focus.
Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the panel, questioned whether the Maliki government was "too corrupt to succeed" and charged that US efforts to address the problem were in "complete disarray."
He criticised what he said was State Department resistance to the panel's investigation, saying the US government apparently was afraid the corruption revelations "might embarrass or hurt our relations with the Maliki government."
Larry Butler, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, declined to publicly answer questions about whether Maliki had obstructed corruption investigations, saying he could only respond in a closed session.
Waxman called the request "absurd," but the State Department defended Butler's position. Spokesman Sean McCormack said in corruption investigations it was best to handle matters privately at first to protect the rights of those under suspicion.
Radhi said he did not return to Iraq because of threats to his security, but he also suggested Maliki was behind efforts to prosecute him if he went back.
In his statement, he said 31 of his co-workers and 12 of their relatives had been killed because of their work.
"This includes my staff member Mohammed Abd Salif who was gunned down with his seven-month pregnant wife," he said. The body of the father of another worker was found on a meat hook, he said.
Radhi also said it had been impossible for the commission to adequately investigate oil corruption because Sunni and Shi'ite militias had control of the distribution of Iraqi oil.