Iraq, racked by violence since the 2003 US-led invasion, and impoverished Haiti, Myanmar and Guinea are ranked as the most corrupt countries in the world in a new survey.
Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) ranks 163 countries based on perceived levels of corruption among public officials and politicians in its 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, was ranked last, just below Iraq, Myanmar and Guinea, reflecting what TI said was a high correlation between violence, poverty and corruption.
"This survey suggests that corruption in Iraq is very bad," TI Chief Executive David Nussbaum told the agency.
"When you have high levels of violence, not only does security break down, but so do checks and balances, law enforcement and the functioning of institutions like the judiciary and legislature.
If all that is under strain the very system that works to prevent corruption is undermined."
Iraq has suffered rising sectarian violence and bloodshed since the invasion, heaping pressure on US President George W Bush ahead of congressional elections on Tuesday.
Nussbaum pointed to US engineering giant Bechtel Corp's decision last week to pull out of Iraq as a sign of how bad the security situation had become.
Fifty-two Bechtel employees have been killed in Iraq since 2003.
Haiti is plagued by armed gangs despite the presence of UN forces brought in after the 2004 ousting of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Just ahead of Haiti and Iraq at the bottom of the rankings, stood Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Bangladesh.
Scoring the best marks were Finland, Iceland and New Zealand, with Denmark, Singapore and Sweden just behind.
TI said several countries had a significant worsening of their ratings, including Brazil, Cuba, Israel, Jordan, Laos, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and the United States.
Countries which saw a major improvement included Algeria, the Czech Republic, India, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Paraguay, Slovenia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uruguay.
Nussbaum, noting the recent Enron trial, said US court cases had highlighted the scale of corruption there and may have contributed to the deterioration in the US score.
The United States was ranked 20th, next to Belgium and Chile.
Enron's former chief executive Jeff Skilling was sentenced last month to 24 years in prison after being found guilty of defrauding investors by using off-the-books deals to hide debt and inflate profits.
Once the seventh largest US firm, Enron collapsed into bankruptcy in 2001 when the deals were disclosed.