Washington - Four powerful Democratic lawmakers on Friday warned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that "endemic corruption" in Iraq was fueling the insurgency, and accused her department of covering it up.
The House of Representatives committee chairmen also accused US officials of refusing to answer questions on corruption in Iraq, and complained the department had reclassified data on the issue after it had been released.
They sent their letter a week after the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen testified to a House committee that corruption was imperiling the US mission in Iraq.
"We are writing to express our concern that endemic corruption in Iraq may be fueling the insurgency, endangering our troops, and undermining the chances for success," the four committee chairman wrote.
They complained to Rice that the department had taken steps to suppress information about the extent of corruption in the Iraqi government.
"We have learned that on September 25, 2007, the State Department instructed officials not to answer questions in an open setting" on questions about the ability or determination of the Iraqi government to tackle corruption.
They said the department had also retroactively classified two reports on corruption in Iraq and slapped a classified tag, on sections of a report by a government watchdog body after it had been made public.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey rejected suggestions that the United States was not taking corruption in Iraq seriously, and said the committee had received all the information it had asked for.
"I don't think anyone could argue that the State Department or the US government or the Iraqi government is trying to deny that corruption is a serious problem and is one that needs to be addressed," he said.
Casey also said that two "working-level" officials had been asked not to provide "broad policy assessments" and that policy officials should do it.
"That's hardly a directive for people not to comment on corruption."
Casey also said that it was important that certain data be classified, to preserve Iraq's ability to fight corruption, and to protect the names of certain Iraqi officials.
The letter was signed by Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Ike Skelton, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Tom Lantos chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and David Obey, chairman of the Committee on Appropriations.
© 2007 Agence France Presse