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Corruption cloud on Iraq authority

Baghdad/Washington, Nov. 23: American-led efforts to establish a civilian government in Iraq were further damaged yesterday by reports in Washington that the Pentagon is investigating allegations of high-level corruption within the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).

The CPA refused to comment yesterday on the claims that two of its officials and a senior Iraqi politician are being investigated for allegedly taking bribes over contracts for mobile telephone networks.

The award of lucrative licences to build and operate mobile telephone networks has been dogged by delays and recriminations.

A complaint over the handling of the process was filed by Turkcell, an Istanbul-based company which, with two American partners, bid in August for the right to build mobile telephone networks in Iraq.

The allegations of foul play — the first against any award by the CPA — were made to the US Congress General Accounting Office (GAO), which evaluates federal expenditure.

The GAO announced last month that it had opened its own review into whether the Bush administration followed procurement rules.

After the mobile network contracts were awarded to three West Asian companies, Turkcell lawyers said that the licensing process had been “erroneous, irrational, arbitrary and capricious”.

Earlier this month, in response to pressure from the US Congress, President George W Bush authorised the creation of a new office of inspector-general within the CPA, which operates under the authority of the Pentagon.

The move came after widespread allegations of price inflation by US contractors and favouritism in the awarding of contracts. Iraqi companies have persistently reported a lack of transparency in the awarding of contracts.

Any bribery investigation will hamper US efforts to garner international support for Iraq’s reconstruction, the cost of which has been estimated at $55 billion by the World Bank.

Germany’s ambassador to the UN, Gunter Pleuger, said recently that “the necessary international support will only be forthcoming if full transparency in the decision-making process is assured”.

In Baghdad, a CPA spokesperson said: “We can’t say anything about a Pentagon investigation. We think that the process to award the contracts was fair and we went through a lot of steps to ensure it was properly and transparently completed. If there are allegations of corruption out there, it is entirely appropriate that they are investigated.”

US soldiers killed

Attackers today killed two US soldiers as their car stood in traffic in the Iraqi city of Mosul, and a roadside bomb killed another north of Baghdad. A spokesperson for the 101st Airborne Division said two soldiers were shot dead in their vehicle in the centre of Mosul. But several Iraqi witnesses said the soldiers were stabbed and had their throats slit in broad daylight.

Locals then stole items from the dead soldiers’ pockets, and smashed the windows of their white civilian car. One man was seen brandishing bloodstained Iraqi dinars he said were taken from the bodies.

“People were taking things from the car. I looked inside and saw two soldiers with blood all over them,” said a local fireman who ran to the scene after hearing gunshots.

US troops quickly surrounded the scene, in the bustling centre of the city, and interrogated Iraqis in the area.

In Baquba, 65 km north of Baghdad, one 4th Infantry Division soldier was killed and two wounded when a roadside bomb was detonated as their convoy drove past, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel William MacDonald said.

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