Such corruption is familiar there. The situation is endemic in the brief, tragic history of Iraq. Since the discovery of the country's liquid wealth, government officials have been dipping into the proceeds. This was true during the monarchy and the successor governments, including Saddam Hussein's. The addiction to corruption also contributed to the United Nations oil-for-food scandal.
The immediate crying need of Iraq's oil industry three years after the invasion is for substantial investment in improvements for infrastructure and technology. It was assumed that once the dictatorial regime was displaced, money from all over the world would pour into Iraq. But there is no inclination by risk capital to put any money in enterprises that are bleeding money to corrupt officials throughout the government.
Everybody with any familiarity with this situation believes the only answer is that the new Iraqi government, still unformed three months after the election, must gain control over corruption. One former U.S. official with experience in Iraq says: "We really have no levers left to pull, except hope that the government we're backing becomes powerful enough to take on the crooks."
Sen. Chuck Hagel, a frequent visitor to Iraq, is well aware of this dilemma. "The future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis," he told me. Hagel is not yet ready to call for a unilateral military withdrawal from Iraq, realizing that the dreary conditions there -- including the oil crisis -- would get worse if the U.S. disconnected today. The pocketing of oil revenues by corrupt bureaucrats will hardly be improved by a quick American exit.
I erred in Monday's column when I wrote that President Bush was mistaken in saying the Hungarian National Day event he attended at the Capitol March 15 celebrated the 50th anniversary of Hungary's 1956 anti-Soviet rebellion. March 15 is actually the anniversary of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution, but the invitation to the president noted the Oct. 23, 1956, uprising.