A close confidant of Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, Husain Shahristani lashed out at the Allawi government and singled out Defence Minister Hazim Shaalan as the main offender.

"It is very well known in the country that the corruption is very widespread from the police to the judicial systems ... as a matter of fact Iraq has never known the level of corruption prevailing now," Shahristani said.

"A lot of public funds have gone missing under the Coalition Provisional Authority ... and even now," he said, of the disbanded US occupation authority.

"It is very well known in the country that the corruption is very widespread from the police to the judicial systems ... Iraq has never known the level of corruption prevailing now"

Husain Shahristani
Iraqi Shia politician

Shahristani took Shaalan to task for the defence ministry's transfer of $300 million to Lebanon as part of an arms deal last month.

"The fact that the minister of defence, on the day there were four suicide bombings in the capital, spends all his day at the airport trying to take a few hundred million dollars in cash out of the country before the elections doesn't speak very well for the government's performance," he said.

Shahristani, formerly a nuclear scientist who spent 10 years in the Abu Ghraib prison, vowed the next government would review all suspect contracts made under the Allawi cabinet.

"One thing we are going to pursue is that all suspicious contracts should be properly examined and any funds that have been misused should be returned to the public ... and these things should be explained to the Iraqi people," he said.

No ultimatums please

Shahristani also attempted to reach out to Iraq's Sunni community by suggesting they be given the presidency in the next government.

"If the Sunni Arabs feel the post of the presidency is very important to assure them that they are recognised as equal partners in the government then we are happy to accept that and allow them to put forward what they think are suitable candidates," he said.

On the Kurdish demands for the presidency, he said ultimatums by various groups would not work.

"We refuse the concept of ultimatums and such conditions that his has to be given to the Kurds, the Sunnis or the Shia, or they won't join the process.

"We have to accept the principle we want to work together and we have to accommodate all," he said.