US urges probe over computer gift to Iraq schools

Corruption has been a major problem for Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Updated: Aug 28, 2010, 10:51 AM IST

Baghdad: The US military called on Friday for an investigation into how USD 1.9 million of computer equipment destined as a gift for Iraqi schoolchildren had ended up being auctioned by a senior Iraqi official.

The official sold the equipment, which should have gone to schools in the southern province of Babil, for less than USD 50,000 on August 16 at Iraq`s main port Umm Qasar, the military said in a statement.

"Confirmed through documents provided by senior Iraqi customs officials, the containers were auctioned ... before delivery to Babil could be arranged," it said.

"The computers arrived at the port sealed in containers with numbers matching those on the shipping documents. US officials were in the process of coordinating delivery to Babil area schools when the computers were discovered to be missing."

Corruption has been a major problem for Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. Transparency International`s 2009 corruption perceptions index ranked Iraq as one of the world`s most corrupt nations -- 176th out of 180 countries.

Companies using Umm Qasr, near the southern oil hub of Basra, to import grain have complained of heavy bribes being demanded, poor service and high handling costs that make the port one of the most expensive in the world for shippers.

US forces are preparing to end their combat mission in Iraq on August 31 and a total withdrawal is due next year.

Bureau Report