Iraq's parliament is investigating some 20,000 government employees who appear to have used fake diplomas and other forged education certificates to get their jobs, a lawmaker said Sunday.
Layla Hassan, a lawmaker and member of an investigatory panel, said employees with fake credentials may include ministers, deputy ministers and other top lawmakers.
"Some of those who have fake education certificates are senior officials in the current and former government," Hassan said in an interview, declining to name any until the investigation is complete.
"These people should not be pardoned. Otherwise, others will do the same in the future," she said.
Officials from Iraq's higher education ministry could not be reached for comment.
The revelation could further anger many Iraqis, as frustration with shoddy government services, corruption and high unemployment have prompted dozens of protests across the country in recent weeks.
The use of fake diplomas has become widespread the last several years, creating a thriving black market in a country with 15 percent unemployment.
The use of such documents "has a devastating effect on the country, because it means that it is being run by inefficient and even illiterate people," said Baghdad political analyst Hadi Jalo.
Jalo blamed the surge in forgeries on the lack of law enforcement that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. During Saddam Hussein's government, when life-threatening penalties were imposed against criminals, the use of fake documents was mostly limited to passports to leave Iraq, Jalo said.
The costs range from $1,500 for a high school diploma to $7,000 for Ph.D. credentials, according to a forger interviewed Sunday in Baghdad's poor Sadr City neighborhood. The man, who would identify himself only as Abu Haidar, claimed that the forgers are protected by police and some government officials.
Parliament may not require offenders to return their paychecks if they voluntarily acknowledge getting their government jobs with fake credentials, said Hassan, the lawmaker. But they will face jail time if convicted, she said.
Iraq is struggling with solidifying its fragile democracy, while insurgents seek to undermine it with attacks.
Authorities said five people died Sunday evening in a spate of unrelated bombings and shootings in Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq's third largest city located 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of the capital. In Mosul, an Iraqi army lieutenant colonel and a medic were shot in separate attacks, while an off-duty policeman was killed by a bomb that was hidden on his car, according to police and hospital officials.
In Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded in a majority Shiite neighborhood in the capital's west, killing two people and wounding four, police and medical officials said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.
Yacoub reported from Amman, Jordan. Associated Press writer Lara Jakes in Baghdad contributed to this report.