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KAI RYSSDAL: The White House will tell you it's been a year of progress for liberty and freedom in Iraq. The new choice for prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, will tell you there's still much work to be done. The average Iraqi would probably tell you that it's business as usual.
A year ago this week, Iraq formed its first democratically elected government. And al-Maliki said today he hopes to have a permanent cabinet in place within a week. The bickering over how to govern that country has put almost all other questions on hold. Like, how to weed out everyday corruption.
Ben Gilbert has the story.
BEN GILBERT: If you think dealing with bureaucracy in the US is bad, just try this. . . .
Getting a three month visa here at the residency office in Baghdad is no easy task. On the third floor in this bland, smokey maze of offices, greasing the wheels with kind words and a pocketful of cash can make the experience a little less painful. Foreigners navigate the dark hallways and scurry up and down two flights of stairs to obtain signatures, stamps, and hand out bribes to officials with little else to do.
Getting stamped on this trip cost about $20 and about 90 minutes in the office. It would have taken a lot longer without the inducements.
In Iraq, this type of petty corruption permeates society at every level, and Iraqis wrestle with it daily — especially with the police, says Colonel Jeffrey Snow, commander of an American Army brigade in northwest Baghdad.
COL. JEFFREY SNOW:"They are corrupt. There are numerous reports of them bribing drivers and others that try to pass through their checkpoint. There are a number of reports of police that are stealing fuel."
Snow says police corruption extends beyond just monetary bribes and bullying. Sometimes it amounts to life and death. Snow suspects the police have been infiltrated by, or have links to, militias responsible for some of the violence between Iraq's religious sects. Running into a police patrol in the wrong neighborhood could possibly prove fatal to a person of the wrong ethnicity, something that most Americans don't need to worry about.
SNOW:"I'm from New Hampshire and I roll into Mississippi and I'm pulled over by a sheriff . . . Well, there's always going to be this fear that this guy's going to treat me differently because I'm from New Hampshire. But I'm not afraid of being shot. Well, I'm telling you, here there are some people that are afraid of being shot."
At Baghdad's international airport, two American police officers stand in a chaotic crowd of passengers. They've just spent the last year in Iraq training Iraqi police. They're trying desperately to get from Baghdad to Jordan on one of the few remaining flights today. Jack, who wouldn't give his real name, finally gets fed up as he watches airport police officers take part in the corruption he's tried to stamp out for the past year.
JACK: It's just hellish, man. The Iraqis are buying their way on, bribing the freakin' ticket people. We're sittin' here, going, "Hey, we're supposed to be let on with our boarding pass and what not . . . One guy laid out a thousand US dollars."
One of Jack's main goals in training the Iraqi police was to try to bring them up to American police standards. He says they've got a long way to go.
JACK:"If you were broken into, you come down to the station, you want to make a breaking-and-entering report. . . . You pay the Iraqi police officer to investigate it, after he's still getting paid from the ministry of interior."
Jack expects it will take eight to 10 years for the police to stand up without American assistance. He's confident the corruption problem in Iraq will eventually be weeded out. He just thinks it will take about four or five generations.
In Baghdad, I'm Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.