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Why graft thrives in postconflict zones

A report issued Wednesday said Iraq could become 'the biggest corruption scandal in history.'

By Mark Rice-OxleyCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / March 17, 2005



LONDON

Five Polish peacekeepers are arrested for allegedly taking $90,000 worth of bribes in Iraq. Several Sri Lankan officials are suspended for mishandling tsunami aid. US audits show large financial discrepancies in Iraq. Reports of aid abuse taunt Indonesia.

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Two of the world's biggest-ever reconstruction projects - Iraq and post-tsunami Asia - are facing major tests of credibility, as billions of dollars of aid and reconstruction money pour in.

And according to a major report released Wednesday by Transparency International (TI), an international organization that focuses on issues of corruption, the omens are not good.

From Iraq and Afghanistan to Cambodia and Bosnia, from the wrecked coasts of Asia to the kleptocratic carve-up in some African countries, crisis zones are proving to be fertile soil for corruption, the report argues.

"Many postconflict countries figure among the most corrupt in the world," says Philippe le Billon of the University of British Columbia, Canada, in the TI report. "Corruption often predates hostilities and in many cases it features among the factors that triggered political unrest or facilitated conflict escalation."

The report cites weak government, haphazard law and order, armed factions that need appeasing, and a scramble for rich resources as factors that render a country prone to corruption.

Nations that face security threats are even more vulnerable, since they require protection money and may not be able to keep monitors safe.

Bosnia is a good example. During the breakdown of communism in the late 1980s, factions scrambled for assets by plundering state companies, a situation exacerbated by the 1992-1995 war.

Wartime sanctioned nefarious activity. Criminal gangs became cherished paramilitary groups; black markets flourished; underworld players became rich and powerful. After peace was declared in 1995, the world community was wary of upsetting the status quo. It's still unclear how much of the $5 billion spent on aid after the war ended up in the pockets of shady characters.

"These elements were either part of the ruling political parties, or criminal elements that were financing the ruling political parties," says James Lyon, an analyst in Belgrade with the International Crisis Group.

In Iraq, allegations range from petty bribery to large-scale embezzlement, expropriation, profiteering and nepotism. The TI report says it could become "the biggest corruption scandal in history."

"I can see all sorts of levels of corruption in Iraq," says report contributor Reinoud Leenders, "starting from petty officials asking for bribes to process a passport, way up to contractors delivering shoddy work and the kind of high-level corruption involving ministers and high officials handing out contracts to their friends and clients."

The recent elections may help, he adds, but already he notes a tendency for political bargaining indicative of "dividing up the cake of state resources."

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