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US House committee launches probe of State Department inspector general

[JURIST] The US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee [official website] Tuesday announced [press release] an investigation into whether State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard [official profile] interfered with a fraud investigation related to construction of a new US embassy in Baghdad to protect the Bush administration from "political embarrassment." In a letter to Krongard requesting his cooperation in the investigation, Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) [official profile] said that the allegations span "all three major divisions of the Office of Inspector General — investigations, audits, and inspections," and were made by former and current Office of Inspector General employees of varying ranks. Waxman listed concerns that included Krongard's refusal to investigate wasteful spending or procurement fraud in State Department contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his refusal to cooperate with a Justice Department fraud investigation into the construction of the new US Embassy in Iraq.

Security firm Blackwater USA [corporate website], charged with protection of US diplomats in Iraq, is also under investigation by the committee and was implicated in the letter to Krongard. The Iraqi government Monday ordered the firm out of the country [CBS report] after eight Iraqi civilians were shot in an incident following a car bomb targeting State Department officials. Though not named, Blackwater is reportedly the firm to which Waxman referred in accusing Krongard of impeding efforts by "investigators to cooperate with a Justice Department probe into allegations that a large private security contractor was smuggling weapons into Iraq." Waxman said [press release] Tuesday that the Blackwater controversy is "an unfortunate demonstration of the perils of excessive reliance on private security contractors." AP has more.

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