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Corruption threatening progress in Iraq, Rumsfeld says

WASHINGTON—Corruption and graft threaten to sink any progress that Iraq has made in trying to create a democracy, and U.S. military forces lack the expertise needed to build civilian government, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.

Rumsfeld, testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee, discussed corruption, lack of basic services and the looming threat of civil war in Iraq with members of the committee. Although the hearing was not exclusively about the war, much of it focused on how far Iraq had to go before it has a stable, functioning government.

Corruption in Iraq has claimed hundreds of millions of dollars. Last year, for example, fraudulent weapons purchases all but emptied the Iraqi Ministry of Defense's treasury.

Specialists from U.S. government agencies and other countries are needed to work together with U.S. troops, Rumsfeld said.

"If the task is a military one, we can do that. If the task then becomes one of creating a justice system in a country, or border patrols or customs, and things that are different, off-line from the Defense Department's major responsibilities, the task is more difficult," he said.

Iraqi infrastructure suffered decades of neglect and will take years to rebuild, the defense secretary said. In the end, he added, the task of rebuilding Iraq will be up to the Iraqi people.

"It's our job to do what we've been doing: to help create an environment where they can do that, to launch them on the path for democracy, to train up their forces so that they can provide security while the building process takes place in the years ahead," Rumsfeld said.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee chairman, said he believed a lack of jobs was responsible for a recent upsurge in criminal activity and graft in Iraq. He also said that failing to provide clean drinking water and adequate health care threatened to overshadow any progress that U.S. military forces had made against the insurgency.

"It is just not matching the efforts of the military, and it's going to obscure the gains that have been made," he said.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee's top Democrat, said U.S. officials must continue to pressure Iraqi leaders to make political compromises that give Sunni Muslims in Iraq, who are a minority of the population, a fair share of political power and the country's oil reserves.

Kurds and the majority Shiites hold power in Iraq. The only way to stop the insurgency and avoid all-out civil war is to build a government that includes all religious and ethnic groups, Levin said.

Charges of corruption have arisen since U.S. officials handed authority over to an Iraqi-led government in June 2004.

Several Iraqi politicians have been charged with stealing nearly $2 billion from government funds. Most recently, the government charged that National Assembly member Mishan al-Jubouri and his son stole at least $150 million from money intended to protect oil pipelines by listing fake employees and taking their allotted salaries. Al-Jubouri denies the charges.

Knight Ridder reported in August 2005 that at least $1.2 billion disappeared from the Ministry of Defense through falsified contracts for military projects.

Meanwhile, electricity, gas and water services have worsened in Baghdad. Many Iraqis say they are angry that these services are poor because money is not being spent to improve them.

Leaders in Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's government charge that most of the corruption occurred under interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's administration, saying there was no system to check the validity of contracts and how the money was spent. Now any contract over $3 million must be approved by a committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi.

"We have a perfect way to monitor these contracts," State Minister of National Security Affairs Abd al-Kareem al-Anzy said Tuesday in Baghdad. Corruption "doesn't happen anymore."

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Nancy A. Youssef in Baghdad contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): RUMSFELD

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