Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Stopping Corruption in Iraq: Every Little bit Helps!

Bill Ardolino has just returned from an embed with Marines in Fallujah. Bill blogs from: INDC Journal. It appears that one of his posts caused quite a stir with a certain Iraqi Army General.

January 30, 2007
Ghost Soldiers Follow-Up: Backstory and Hopeful Signs of Accountability in Iraq

Posted by Bill

I'd learned about how ghost soldiers were bleeding manpower and pay from the Iraqi Army on the 17th of January, when an outgoing Military Transition Team (MiTT) member angrily complained about security operations compromised by thin Iraqi Army units that were purposefully undermanned to skim payroll. Within 24 hours, his gripe had been verified to me by several American and Iraqi sources, and it quickly became apparent that logistical and manpower difficulties partly stemming from corruption were a major impediment to the success of Iraqi Army units operating in Falllujah.
I was awakened late at night on the 18th by a marine corporal who informed me that Brigade MiTT Commander Lt. COL Clayton Fisher requested my presence as soon as possible. I walked over to Fisher's office and found the MiTT leadership in a state of slightly tense animation; the Lt. COL asked me to use my web research skills to find an article about Iraqi Army Second Brigade Commander General Khalid Juad Khadim that was apparently causing quite an uproar among the Iraqi soldiers, the Arab media and the general himself. Searching on the name of the former MiTT commander quoted in the piece, it wasn't long until I'd found Ned Parker's Times of London article exposing endemic corruption in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Iraqi Army.

Having learned of the extent of this corruption in the days prior, I could see that the article was accurate except for one significant piece of information: the Iraqi general specifically accused of stealing payroll in Fallujah was not "ousted," as the article claimed, but was in fact still in command and sitting in an office 30 yards from me as I read the premature report of his professional demise. And boy, was he ticked off.

In between initially futile diplomatic missions to the general's office by the MiTT leadership, the marines staged their weapons in "Condition One" (loaded and ready) and moved me from my solo bunk to share a room with a marine; the coincidence that a journalist was embedded with the Iraqi Brigade on the same day that the Times story broke was not lost on the Americans nor the Iraqi Army officers, and the marines were prudently cautious about the potential for flaring tempers. In addition, the direct quotes in the Times article from former MiTT commander Lt. COL Teeples caused a rift of suspicion and distrust between the Khalid's staff and the current MiTT members. In my case, aside from receiving a few poisonous looks from members of Khalid's security detail, nothing came of the ill will.

Eventually the general calmed down enough to speak to the MiTT leadership, several senior officers and State Department officials. He denied all charges and demanded to file a complaint with the Marines and the US government, apparently misunderstanding the relationship between a free press and governmental entities in Western society. He vowed to fight the charges and went ahead with a planned trip to Habbaniyah the next morning. Over the next 24 hours he refused two of my interview requests, a group of men in civilian vehicles robbed his house of all valuables and the general lit a pyre of documents behind his office late at night. He then left for Baghdad early Monday morning, continuing to assert via telephone his intent to fight the charges and open the books to investigators.
On Tuesday, Iraqi First Division Maj. General Tariq Abdul Wahab Jasim announced that Khalid had been relieved.
And just this morning, I learned of the official appointment of his successor, a General Ali, who one marine describes thusly:

"He's got a great attitude and is a true leader. He's been shaking things up around here, chewing Iraqi butt like it's cool, getting the Jundi to PT and making the brigade staff ... work."
So what happened to the Iraqi Army in Fallujah?

To some extrent, General Khalid was scapegoated. While he was certainly guilty of corruption given his position's authority over the Brigade payroll, he's far from the only one; skimming is so common in the Iraqi Army and Ministry of Defense, I'd bet that you'd be hard pressed to find a senior officer without a hand in the pot. But that said, the Times article called out Khalid by name. From there, the Arab media picked up the story and ran with it, which caused quite a stir among the general's staff as well as other Iraqi Army, marine and American civilian officials. I added a very minor contribution, and within several days, the general had been relieved and replaced.

Thus begin stirrings of accountability in the Arab world.
It would be naive to think that such an event will stop corruption in the Iraqi bureacracy, but it may help curtail it; General Khalid's demise could serve as a cautionary tale to his successor and other general officers and bureacrats up the line. Instead of misreporting and skimming 50% of the pay intended for the Jundi, they might skim 20%. Instead of selling half of the fuel budgeted for operations, they may cut back to a third. And so it goes. The more the media can specifically expose individuals who prioritize criminal activity and personal gain over the establishment of Iraq's security, the better chance Iraq has to build a working government, defeat the insurgency and find stability. And it's important to note that it while the initial article appeared in a Western news outlet, it was the Arab media's repetition of the story that really generated heat among the IA officers.

Regionally, this is a new paradigm. And this exposure of and quick accountability for General Khalid's corruption were among the more encouraging things I saw during my time in Iraq.


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