Sunday, December 30, 2007

Corruption: Standard Issue?

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that all Iraqi’s are corrupt – it’s just the one’s I work with (and not even all of them, either). Applying a broad generalization like that is no fairer than saying all state department Foreign Service Officers are pansies. I know that there are alot more courageous, patriotic FSOs than there are sniveling cowards, just as I know there is a lot of honest, loyal, hard working Iraqis. By this point you have to be wondering what happened to bring on this rambling rant, and you’d be right to assume there is a story behind it.

As I mentioned before, construction is really starting to ramp up in our area. What used to be a few trucks a day hauling in materials is now dozens, and if you were to look out over the vast area we are in, you’d get a lot of dust in your eyes. It’s annoying. We really need to pave the place. In addition to all of the construction in our area, a massive new construction project has started in the area just beyond ours. To get to this project, though, you need to cross through our area of operations, thus increasing our traffic even more.

Now, our Iraqi commander stonewalls me whenever I tell him we need to allow trucks in for our own projects. So, you can imagine my complete shock when I am called into his office to find both Iraqi commanders and the contractor sitting there, smiling like they all just found out they were long lost brothers. Hint #1 that something was amiss – both Iraqi Colonel’s together in the same room at the same time. It’s kind of like seeing the sun and moon together at the same time – when it happens, it kind of freaks you out. Hint #2 was the enthusiastic manner in which both Colonels insisted we allow these trucks through our area of operations. It went something like this (after I walked into the room, shook everyone’s hand 3 times, spun in a circle and touched my nose):

Colonel #1: “Captain, we must allow these trucks to use our roads.”

Me: “Sir, I agree, we cant just allow these guy to come in here and . . .wait, what? Did you just say we must allow them to?”

Colonel#2: “Yes, yes, it is very important.”

Ok, that was the third thing that tipped me off. The details for the construction project in question are given out on a need to know basis. Meaning, these two have no idea what’s being built. Therefore, they certainly aren’t enthusiastic about letting the trucks through for the good of the project. So, our Aussie Major pulled the contractor outside and gave him the standard “You don’t have to bribe them, we’ll let you through anyway, yadda yadda.” He shook his head and that was that – the deal was done.

So in the passing week’s I haven’t thought much about this meeting until recently. I was driving through our area with the liason from the task force involved in the big project. We were discussing progress and other boring details when he laughed at one of our Iraqi guards with a clipboard.

“Why are you laughing”, I asked him.

He responded “Because, I find it humorous (not so much haha, more so like wtf) that your Iraqi commander charges by the truck. That Soldier there? He’s counting trucks. Reports it to Colonel.”

So I immediately thought back to the meeting and asked “So you think our guys are taking bribes?”

“No”, he answered, “I know they are. One day, none of the trucks were allowed in. The Iraqi in charge pulls all of the drivers into his office and starts in on how all these trucks were making his job hard, and yet he has no benzene, no food. So, they all gave some food or money or gas, and they haven’t had any problems since.”

I thought for a moment, then asked him “How do you think we stop it? We’re out here, but we can’t be everywhere, and damn if these guys aren’t slick.”

His answer was that he doesn’t think we can stop it, not without proof and not so long as the contractor is willing to pay the bribes to make things run smoother. And so it goes, I guess. It’s frustrating, because we’ve tried to collect proof. I’ve personally ridden with the Inspector General in an unmarked, almost unarmed convoy when they were tracking money from Baghdad to here, and we still couldn’t collect any proof. Short of telling my contractors they don’t have to pay the bribes, I don’t see an easy solution. I just hate to think that we represent a microcosm of what happens in the high levels of government, because if that’s the case, this country is off to a troubled start. Ok, you can file that last one away in the “Thanks CPT Obvious department”, because I know there is corruption everywhere in the world. I just think that a country with a fledging government should be working to more honest solutions, not turning a blind eye to corruption.

My camera is MIA, so no more pictures for the time being. Hope everyone has a happy new year, and I’ll sign out with a big good riddance to 2007!!


Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here:

Bag Blog said...

Centuries of coruption - a way of life and very difficult to stop.

Have a Happy New Year!

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 01/02/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,
I came across your blog through a google search of Taji. I was a contracting officer there during 2007. I can completely relate to your experience with corruption. It made me sick to my stomach knowing that I couldn't do anything about it. At least your blog is making people aware of it.