Archive for May, 2004
I first heard a description of how corruption works in Iraq through an unexpected friendship with one of the country’s richest men, a tribal sheik from the troubled Anbar region. We met shortly after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled and got together a few times a month for the next year in his office — a converted mansion, gone a bit to seed — in Baghdad’s wealthy Mansour neighborhood. The sheik is a large man, overflowing with humor and self-confidence. We’d sit in his office, chain-smoking and drinking sweet Iraqi tea. He seemed to delight in shocking me with tales of backroom deals.
At first it was all history: He explained how Hussein’s regime worked, but he wouldn’t talk about the present, afraid of angering the new American overseers of Iraq. He told me that Hussein’s cronies would invite him to their offices, offer him multimillion- dollar contracts for constructing a new bridge, say, or importing a few million dollars’ worth of medical supplies. The contract was his as long as he kicked back half the money to Hussein’s people.