With Congress and the White House engaging in yet another round of debate on the Iraq War, a former Iraqi judge who was–and who still may be–the chief anti-corruption officer of the Iraqi government has a tough message for anyone concerned about Iraq: The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is so riddled with corruption it ought to be totally scrapped. Radhi al-Radhi, who since 2004 has headed the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI), an independent Iraqi institution that tries to investigate and prosecute corrupt Iraqi officials, offers this damning indictment of the Iraqi government at a time when Maliki and his allies are mounting a fierce attack against him and attempting to replace Radhi with a Maliki loyalist who himself has been arrested on corruption charges.
Last week I posted an article disclosing that a team of officials at the US embassy in Baghdad had drafted a secret report detailing rampant corruption and criminality throughout the Iraqi government. The embassy report notes that corruption is “the norm in many ministries” and that Maliki has consistently blocked the work of Radhi and the Commission on Public Integrity. Four days later, Maliki held a press conference in Baghdad and fiercely denounced Radhi. He accused Radhi of corruption–without offering any specifics. Maliki announced that Radhi would be prosecuted and that the Parliament was about to forcibly retire him. The prime minister also claimed that the CPI chief had fled the country. Three days after that, the Iraqi government named Moussa Faraj to replace Radhi.
While all this was happening, Radhi, who is depicted in the secret embassy report as a diligent and brave investigator, was in the United States, not fleeing but leading a delegation of CPI investigators attending a training session in Washington. I spoke with him yesterday about his own predicament and that of his nation. He laughs off Maliki’s charges as a bogus and transparent attempt to end investigations probing Maliki’s political allies, and he is quite blunt in his assessment of the Maliki government.
Radhi, a secular Shia, is a compact, 62-year-old man with a salt-and-pepper mustache and receding gray hair. It’s easy to see the dent on his head where he was smashed by a rifle butt one of the two times he was imprisoned during the Saddam Hussein years. He rolls up a sleeve to show a long deep scar that he says he received during torture sessions and notes that his back is covered with similar marks.
The first point he wants to make–and he does so emphatically–is that he did not slip out of Iraq to escape prosecution, as Maliki has implied. Radhi explains that he came to the United States with ten CPI investigators who are being taught how to use a lie detector. (I’ve confirmed that such training is under way.) He takes out his passport. It contains an Iraqi stamp indicating he legally departed the country on August 22. “Maliki is making up stories to blame me for stuff,” Radhi remarks. The prime minister’s press conference, Radhi says, was a stunt designed to pressure Radhi not to return to Iraq: “They want to get rid of me because I have lots of important files that could be used to indict his ministers.”