May 7, 2009 / 3:25 PM / 10 years ago

Corruption seen at root of Iraq's lack of services

BAGHDAD, May 7 (Reuters) - Widespread corruption is at the root of Iraq’s persistent, destabilising lack of basic services, Deputy Prime Minister Rafie al-Esawi said on Thursday. "The biggest challenge is not just the budget, which we were obliged to cut because of the drop in oil income, so that’s beyond our control, but also corruption," he said.

Speaking at a conference on services in Iraqi provinces, Esawi cited a host of reasons for the lack of proper water, electricity and other basic services across the country.

Another major problem, he said, is continued violence, even though the bloodshed unleashed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 has fallen from its peaks in 2006-2007.

As violence fades, Iraqis focus more and more on problems plaguing daily life, such as intermittent electricity, a lack of clean drinking water and an outdated and overwhelmed sewage system.

Health and education are in a sorry state after suffering an exodus of professionals. Add to that high unemployment and a struggling economy, and Iraq faces a dangerous threat to its future stability.

"The challenge now is to provide services, which is hindered by administrative and financial corruption," Esawi said.

Many Iraqis speak bitterly of unchecked malfeasance they perceive from the lowest to the highest levels of government.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to curb corruption, and officials have taken steps to prosecute a small number of lower-ranking officials.

But officials acknowledge the problem has been dire ever since the chaotic early years after the invasion, when billions of dollars in U.S. reconstruction funds went missing and U.S. and Iraqi officials acted with little oversight.

In 2008, only Somalia and Myanmar were seen as more corrupt than Iraq, according to Transparency International.

U.S. officials say Iraq has good anti-corruption laws on the books, but aggressive enforcement has yet to take place. (Reporting by Aseel Kami; writing by Missy Ryan; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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