ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US Justice Department investigated claims last week that major drug companies which provided pharmaceuticals to the Iraqi government during a raging insurgency between 2005 and 2009, in effect, helped fund an illegal armed group that later sold the drugs on the black market.
Drug and medical device manufacturers including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, General Electric, and Johnson & Johnson received government inquiries as a result of being named as defendants in an October 2017 complaint filed by US veterans wounded, or families of soldiers killed, during that time in Iraq, as reported by AFP.
The lawsuit contends that the companies bribed members of the Mahdi Army, led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, to seal deals because it was then in charge of Iraq's Health Ministry. In doing so, it says, the companies actively contributed to the group's capabilities while staging attacks on the US military, and therefore to the injury and death of American servicemen.
"The United States Department of State did not classify the Iraqi Ministry of Health as a Foreign Terrorist Organization," said a Johnson and Johnson spokesperson to the Washington Examiner. "Rather, as part of its foreign policy to rebuild Iraq, the United States government supported the Ministry of Health and encouraged companies to do business with them."
"As such, our companies proceeded with supplying lifesaving treatments to help Iraqi physicians treat their civilian population."
A lawyer for plaintiffs in the lawsuit told AFP that, at the time, “Iranian-backed terrorists have relied on corruption at the Iraqi health ministry to help fund terrorism in Iraq.”
The suit claims the companies violated the US Anti-Terrorism Act and other laws by giving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to the Health Ministry when it was controlled by Sadr's group.
AstraZeneca said in a statement that it “has a robust and dynamic compliance program, and we refuse to tolerate bribery or any other form of corruption.”
Starting in 2004, Sadr's followers took part in fierce fighting with, and thousands of insurgent attacks against, the US military in multiple provinces in Iraq. In May, the political coalition he now heads was the top vote-getter in May's parliamentary elections, according to initial disputed vote counts.