US House chides US officials on Iraqi corruption

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WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) The U S House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly yesterday to rebuke the Bush administration for allegedly hiding information about the extent of corruption in Iraq.

The nonbinding resolution said it was ''an abuse'' for the Bush administration to withhold broad government assessments of corruption in Iraq's government from the US public, especially by retroactively classifying some reports on the subject after some of the material appeared on the Internet.

The measure passed 395-21 after some Republicans who charged it was partisan nonetheless voted for it rather than trying to defend the actions of the State Department, the main actor in the events.

''We must stop the pattern of dissembling and the misuse of classified information,'' Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and the sponsor, told the House.

Earlier this month, an Iraqi investigating judge told Waxman's Oversight and Government Reform Committee that corruption was rampant in the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who the judge said had shielded relatives from investigation.

With U S President George W. Bush asking for ever more money for the Iraq war, the ''administration is not being honest about the level of corruption in the Maliki government,'' Waxman said.

The State Department denies it has covered up corruption in Iraq to protect Maliki's fragile government. Corruption is a ''pernicious, endemic'' problem in Iraq, State Department Iraq coordinator David Satterfield said earlier this week.

Some Republicans charged the resolution was part of the House Democrats' push to embarrass the Bush administration on Iraq because Congress has not been able to muster enough votes for legislation dictating a change in policy or a troop pullout there.

But Rep. Tom Davis, the ranking Republican on Waxman's committee, announced during debate that he was voting for it with reservations, because he shared Waxman's concerns about corruption in Iraq and had his doubts about whether the State Department should have retroactively classified some reports on the problem. ''It's probably counterproductive to try to put that genie back in the bottle,'' Davis said.

The State Department has come under increasing criticism from the Democratic-controlled Congress on this issue and also over the conduct of its lead security contractor, Blackwater.

Opponents of the legislation, such as Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, noted that State Department officials had volunteered to discuss Iraqi corruption in a closed-door hearing of Waxman's committee, but Waxman had refused.

REUTERS RSA RN2025

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