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An Iraqi official stole US-purchased computers worth almost two million dollars that were a US donation for Iraqi schoolchildren and sold them off for less than 50,000 dollars, the US army said on Friday.

In a highly unusual press statement, the American military said an unnamed senior official at Umm Qasr port had misappropriated the 1.9-million-dollar gift and auctioned the computers for only 45,700 dollars.

Documents provided by senior Iraqi customs officials proved that the auction took place on August 16 and the theft was discovered eight days later, the statement said.

It also said the US army commander in southern Iraq, Major General Vincent Brooks, wanted “an immediate investigation into the actions of the Umm Qasr official” to discover how computers meant for children had been auctioned.

Corruption is a major problem in Iraq, which ranked 176th out of 180 countries in international anti-corruption NGO Transparency International’s 2009 corruption perceptions index.

The computers arrived at the port sealed in containers with numbers matching those on the shipping documents and US officials were starting to coordinate delivery to schools in Babil province, south of Baghdad, when the computers were found to be missing, the statement added.

Umm Qasr is a large port, and corruption issues led the British military to dismiss many officials there when they administered the facility following the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Khlaeej Times

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