Corruption and theft have never really been out of favor in Iraq, but occupied Iraq has become nothing short of a kleptocracy. According to an independent analysis, Iraq is the third most corrupt nation in the world - of 180 countries surveyed, only Somalia and Myanmar were more corrupt.
The scope of the theft is staggering. It is estimated that as much as 1/3 of what American taxpayers are spending on reconstruction contracts ends up stolen, with a healthy cut going to militias. The top anticorruption official in Iraq estimated that $18 Billion had been filched since 2004.
That official resigned his position and fled the country a few weeks ago, after 31 of his agencies employees were hunted down and executed over the past three years.
All this stealing and pilfering undermines the ability of the nation to provide essential services, yet providing the basics is integral to sustaining the recent perceived advances in security. It also facilitates a distrust of government and throws up roadblocks to reconciliation as groups with an established foothold in the Shiite dominated government resist reforms that would rein in the systemic corruption.
The average Iraqi, for the most part, finds the thieving to be a major source of embarrassment. They feel like the corruption and thievery affects them on an emotional and moral level, and point to what the Q'uran says about theft - Allah is against it. "God does not love the corrupters," is a theme that runs throughout the Q'uran. The Iraqis who were horrified at the looting in the wake of the invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein are doubly ashamed of the libertarian free-for-all their country has turned into because the tentacles of corruption reach into every nook and cranny of the society.
If you have children in school, you have to buy their textbooks from a profiteer at three times the price charged by the ministry of education. If you want to wash your car, chances are the carwash is stealing the water from the degraded infrastructure that supplies water to homes and citizens. If you have a loved one with cancer, their pain medications are only available on the black market and are devastatingly overpriced. If you need a job, pay a $500 bribe and become a policeman.
And it has degraded so far that corruption is no longer a means to wealth, it is a way of life. It has created an endless spiral of dishonest dealings, and everyone feels the taint.