WASHINGTON — Rampant corruption in the Iraqi government is funding attacks against coalition forces and stalling reconstruction efforts across the country, U.S. and Iraqi investigators told Congress on Thursday.

The researchers estimate nearly $18 billion has been lost over the last three years through stolen funds, phony reconstruction projects and other illegal activities.

Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former head of Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity, told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that government money has been funneled to sectarian militias and family of lawmakers while vital projects go unfunded.

“When you go to the field or you go to the ground, you don’t see signs of reconstruction,” he said. “You don’t find electricity, you don’t find water, you don’t find fuel.”

Radhi said in several instances he was blocked from prosecuting family and key political allies of top government officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Meanwhile, officials from the Government Accountability Office said U.S. agencies haven’t developed any clear strategy to help the new Iraqi bureaucrats battle corruption.

And Stuart Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told the committee that many suggestions made by his office have not been implemented or have been ignored by U.S. officials.

“That support has been disappointing,” he said. “Corruption is a serious and significant problem … it’s an issue that can fundamentally undermine our efforts to build a democracy.”

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the committee chairman, said the goal of the hearing was to take a look at whether any long-term security progress can be achieved in Iraq if the political system there is already too flawed to succeed.

“If the Maliki government is corrupt, we need to ask whether we can in good conscience continue to sacrifice our blood and tax dollars to prop up his regime,” Waxman said.

But Republicans on the committee questioned the need for the hearing, noting the problems seemed to be purely Iraqi ones. Witnesses testified that U.S. money being spent there was not as susceptible to the corruption problems.

“We didn’t bring corruption to Iraq, and it won’t stop when we leave,” said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., ranking minority member. “Good government democrats in Iraq don’t need to be lectured by this committee on the extent of corruption in their country.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up