US-occupied Iraq, Afghanistan among world’s most corrupt countries

By Bill Van Auken
18 November 2009

US-occupied Afghanistan is the world’s second most corrupt country—after Somalia, where no government has functioned for two decades—while Iraq is the fourth worst, according to a report released by an international watchdog group.

The annual report conducted by the Berlin-based organization Transparency International ranks countries according a Corruption Perceptions Index, which is based on a survey of business and government experts. A score of 10 represents minimum public sector corruption, and zero the maximum. New Zealand, ranked the least corrupt country, scoring 9.4, while Somalia ranked the worst, scoring 1.1.

“Fragile, unstable states that are scarred by war and ongoing conflict linger at the bottom of the index,” the organization stated in its report. “These are: Somalia, with a score of 1.1, Afghanistan at 1.3, Myanmar at 1.4 and Sudan tied with Iraq at 1.5. These results demonstrate that countries which are perceived as the most corrupt are also those plagued by long-standing conflicts, which have torn apart their governance infrastructure.”

Afghanistan received a worse rating this year than last, falling from 176th place to 179th. The report stated in relation to Afghanistan that “Examples of corruption range from public posts for sale and justice for a price to daily bribing for basic services.” It continued, “This, along with the exploding opium trade—which is also linked to corruption—contributes to the downward trend in the country’s CPI score.”

The findings corroborated those issued by numerous other groups. Integrity Watch Afghanistan, for example, estimated that the average Afghan household is compelled to pay $100 in bribes to police and officials every year—an immense burden in a country where 70 percent of the population lives on $1 a day or less. The group estimated that as much as $250 million is paid in bribes each year, a sum equal to the country’s entire 2006 national development budget.

In relation to Iraq, the report found rampant corruption as well, with corrupt government officials operating with impunity. It cited a recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation stating that in Iraq “non-security institutions remain weak and debilitated. The Iraqi leadership faces many structural constraints on governance, such as a massive brain drain, a high level of political division, and extreme poverty.”

The release of the report will provide further grist for the mill in Washington’s public pressure campaign on Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai—who is to be inaugurated this Thursday for a second term based on an openly rigged election.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday demanded that Karzai crack down on a culture of “impunity for those who are corrupt,” and threatened to cut off non-military aid if he does not. She proposed that the Afghan regime form an anti-corruption task force to do the job.

Just a day later, the regime’s interior minister announced the creation of just such a task force at a press conference where he appeared together with the US and British ambassadors.

There is a strong element of farce in such gestures. This is the third such task force that the Karzai government has created over the past five years. The first one had to be disbanded after it was learned that its chief had been convicted on drug charges and imprisoned in the US. A second such commission was created last year, to little or no effect.

The report’s assessment of corruption in Afghanistan and Iraq is no doubt accurate. It ignores, however, the essential fact that both countries have been subjected to protracted US military occupation—Afghanistan for eight years and Iraq for six and a half.

With Washington exercising immense power in both countries, it seems logical that it would join them at the bottom of the list. Transparency International, however, ranked the US at 19, roughly equivalent with the ranking given to Japan. The organization seems also to have turned a blind eye to the intimate complicity of the US government in the massive and catastrophic fraud carried out on Wall Street.

There is an undeniable connection between the blatant corruption of the Afghan and Iraqi officials and the corrupt character of the entire US project in both Afghanistan and Iraq from the outset.

In both cases, wars were launched based upon lies—the claims that the mission in Afghanistan was to hunt down Osama bin Laden, and in Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. The real motive behind the invasion of both countries was the pursuit of the geo-strategic interests of US imperialism in the world’s two greatest energy producing regions.

Alongside this essential goal, US corporations pursued their own interests through war profiteering.

Among the most well known examples is KBR, the subsidiary of Halliburton, the corporation formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. KBR has reaped more than $31 billion for contracting services in building and maintaining bases for the US military occupation in Iraq. Even after Pentagon probes have uncovered massive overcharges, waste and negligence, the company saw its multi-billion-dollar contract renewed in 2008.

On Monday, the company that serves as the main food supplier for the US troops in Iraq, Public Warehousing Company, was indicted for carrying out tens of millions of dollars in overcharges and other fraud in the multi-billion-dollar contracts that it signed with the Pentagon.

In Afghanistan, the US has appropriated more than $39 billion in non-military aid since 2001, even as conditions of life for the country’s impoverished people have further deteriorated.

According to a recent study made at the request of the Afghan regime’s ministry of finance on the impact of international aid, three quarters of all US non-military aid is funneled through international contactors. The study found that while aid provided directly to the Afghan government saw approximately 85 percent of the money used directly in local projects, with funds channeled through international contractors and NGOs, the rate was just 20 percent.

Such figures have convinced the Afghan population that the US government is every bit as corrupt as its puppet regime in Kabul and is complicit in the graft of Karzai’s ministers and local officials.

It is estimated that as much of 54 percent of the $39 billion in aid money for Afghanistan has gone to international security contractors and to pay for other means of protecting US assets and personnel. Private security contractors outnumber US troops today in Afghanistan.

The amount of money being siphoned off by US corporations and contractors makes the graft that has enriched Afghan officials pale by comparison.

Washington’s demand that Karzai crack down on corruption is as hypocritical as it is futile. Those most implicated in corruption—including Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, a leading official in Kandahar province, who has been described by US officials as a heroin trafficker—are among the closest collaborators of the US occupation and the CIA.

Washington’s demand for a crackdown on Afghan corruption is aimed, on the one hand, at placating American public opinion, which is heavily opposed to the Obama administration’s deployment of more troops in Afghanistan. On the other, it may yet serve as the pretext for putting an end to Karzai’s presidency and the shapi ng of a regime even more tightly under the control of the US embassy and the American military.

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