During the five years the United States has occupied Iraq, the Bush administration has created a new state with a number of notable features: A venal, dysfunctional government. A terrorist haven and training ground. A nation so violent and dangerous that 10 percent of the population has fled.
Add to that a new hallmark: Nearly the most corrupt nation on Earth.
Only two states out of 180, Somalia and Burma, outrank Iraq in Transparency International's latest worldwide corruption index. They are tied for last place. But Iraq has plummeted through the rankings since 2004, when it was near the middle of the pack, and is now within a hair's width of crashing to the bottom.
Along the way, U.S. officials say, Iraqi government officers, from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on down, have embezzled not only uncounted billions of dollars from their own treasury -- but also $18 billion in U.S. aid. That's about equal to the annual budget for Colorado.
Radhi al-Radhi, an Iraqi judge who provided that figure, was the state's chief anti-corruption official, until death threats forced him to flee last year. He called the theft among the largest in modern history.
In recent months, several U.S. government reports have detailed the problem, and Congress has held hearings. The conclusion: Not only has the United States provided much of the money Iraqi officials have purloined, U.S. officials have aided and abetted the theft.