DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The ever-growing, secret defense budgets and poor oversight of militaries in the Middle East make them susceptible to corruption and more vulnerable to extremist violence, a watchdog group warned Thursday.
The report by London-based Transparency International comes at a time of multiple military conflicts in the region, including the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Syria's civil war, Libya's militia chaos and a Saudi-led coalition's air campaign against Shiite rebels in Yemen.
All those conflicts fuel military budgets, the report said. Last year, the 17 countries stretching from Morocco to Iran spent more than $135 billion on their militaries, it said. The report did not include Israel or the Palestinian territories.
With the exception of Jordan and Tunisia, the region's countries provide no information about military spending or at best vague figures, the group said. For example, in Egypt, the military's budget, estimated at $4.4. billion, is a state secret, and the military maintains its own bank accounts and remains independent of oversight.
Spending is often unchecked. Saudi Arabia uses arms purchases to solidify its alliances, so it buys similar weapons systems from different nations. Also, a single member of the royal family can carry out arms purchases, increasing the disorder and raising the potential for corruption, the report said.
"Defense corruption really, really seriously undermines the legitimacy of defense institutions," said Katherine Dixon, Transparency International's director of defense and security.
The Islamic State group and other militants can feed on public discontent over corruption in their propaganda.
"Over time it can increase the risk of instability where people don't trust their institutions," Dixon said. "We've seen corruption having a big impact on the rise of terrorism."
Transparency International: www.transparency.org
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