Monday, January 05, 2004

A few weeks ago, U.S. soldiers controlling the area west of Baghdad discovered a new kind of enemy when they hired 150 locals to pick up garbage in this unruly city of factories and mosques.

When workers mentioned to soldiers how much they had been paid, the Army realized that the local official it had hired to oversee the cleanup had pocketed a couple thousand dollars of the workers' salaries.

"That was accepted practice here," said Capt. Chris Cirino, a Holbrook native with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. "He just didn't understand when we fired him."

Soldiers and civilian administrators trying to stabilize Iraq are realizing that in their effort to build local governments, they are battling a political culture so steeped in corruption that its participants don't consider it corrupt. The task is further complicated by tribal leaders who often resolve disputes using violence and show little penchant for compromise.

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