Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 12:01 UK

Corruption undermines Iraqi security

Damaged building near the Iraqi foreign ministry in Baghdad
Bombings in which 100 people died have put the security forces under scrutiny

By Andrew North
BBC News, Baghdad

There was the businessman who says he bribes police checkpoints to get his trucks through without a time-consuming search.

The man who had money and jewellery stolen during a raid by Iraqi soldiers.

The Iraqi army unit which sells its water supplies to supermarkets.

It's telling how easy it is to find these and many similar allegations of corruption involving Iraq's US and British-trained police and army.

For Iraqis, corruption is hardly news.

But after Iraqi forces failed to prevent last week's devastating truck bombings in central Baghdad, in which at least 100 people died, their shortcomings are under mounting scrutiny.

There is a laziness and a slackness, a false sense of the situation
Hoshyar Zebari
Iraqi Foreign Minister

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says the security forces are partly responsible for allowing the worst attack to happen outside his ministry.

Corruption, many fear, may have helped the bombers get through.

Iraqis will tell you that bribes and backhanders are just part and parcel of daily life, especially when they have to deal with any official body.

Need a passport? You can pay the official $20 (£12) and wait up to two months. But you can also get one in just two or three days, if you can afford $250 or $300.

Bribes shock

You could argue these practices smooth things out a little, making a hard life in war-torn Iraq just a bit easier.

But there's also plenty of evidence they are undermining the effectiveness of security measures in Baghdad and other cities.

Baghdad checkpoint
Bribery at checkpoints is endemic police will admit in private

Businessman Ahmed often has to transport large quantities of equipment and materials around Iraq.

It means his trucks going through many checkpoints. Trucks are supposed to get extra attention - because of their frequent use in large-scale suicide bombings.

Ahmed told us he's often shocked at how easy it is to bribe his way through.

"The police let the trucks go without even searching them. And this is common all over the country, not just in Baghdad."

Iraq's state television channel has broadcast what it said was a confession by one of the organisers of the 19 August bombings, who spoke of paying $10,000 to get a truck laden with explosives into the centre of the capital.

Some doubt this confession. Investigations continue. But insurgents are known to have used this tactic many times before to bypass security checks.

And 11 security personnel have so far been arrested in connection with last week's attacks.

'Total system failure'

It doesn't happen here, police insisted, when we filmed a checkpoint in Baghdad.

"God knows if some police take bribes," said one officer.

But with the microphones off, they admitted the problem was endemic. They said one of their own commanders had been charged with regularly taking bribes.

But, he was apparently well connected because the case was dropped.

19 Aug: At least 95 killed in wave of attacks in central Baghdad
31 July: Bombs outside five Baghdad mosques kill 27
9 July: 50 die in bombs at Talafar (near Mosul), Baghdad, elsewhere
30 June: US troops withdraw from Iraqi towns and cities. Car bomb in Kirkuk kills at least 27

The BBC also heard several accounts of people paying thousands of dollars to get relatives released from prison.

The Americans have now taken a back seat, after pulling out of Iraq's towns and cities two months ago. They admit some problems but defend the new police and army units they have built up.

Last week's attacks were "a total system failure" by the Iraqi security forces, says Lt Gen Frank Helmick, who oversees the continuing US training effort.

But he says Iraq is still seeing "the lowest level of violence since we started keeping the statistics" and its security forces are playing their part.

But Iraq's foreign minister is not so sanguine.

"There is a laziness and a slackness, a false sense of the situation," Mr Zebari says, and fears more such attacks to come.

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