A government minister has openly lambasted U.S. occupation of the country, blaming it for the upsurge in violence and rampant corruption.

Transport Minister Salam al-Maliki said that the presence of U.S.-led forces was as detrimental to the country's well-being as the devastation of terrorist attacks.

"Corruption, terror ... and occupation are taking their daily toll on the lives of Iraqi citizens," Maliki said in an interview.

He said that the worsening conditions in Iraq along with the upsurge in terror, insurgent attacks and violence, "are a product of the occupation."

Maliki is the first government minister to publicly condemn U.S. forces, saying that they shoulder responsibility of the chaos in the country.

Maliki is a Shiite and was former deputy governor of administrative affairs of the southern city of Basra.

In the January elections he won a seat in the National Assembly, and was a candidate of the political party of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has staged two uprisings against U.S. troops, one in Baghdad and another in the holy city of Najaf. The cleric is a strong opponent of the presence of foreign troops and has repeatedly called for their immediate withdrawal.

Maliki said the occupation has turned "Iraq into a station for all international terrorist organizations and an arena for score-settling. "As for the issue of administrative corruption … Iraq now tops the list of the most corrupt countries in the world," he said.

Maliki said the U.S. and its administration of the country bear the responsibility, "for the chaos that has engulfed the country." The U.S., he said, divided power in Iraq along religious, ethnic and sectarian lines, "and this division has been a factor leading to its destruction."

It is not clear whether the Sadr movement, with large following in Baghdad and several other cities, will take part in the next elections. But Sadr himself has been closely following events, often issuing statements on what kind of administration he thinks the country should have.

He recently criticized the Iraqi lawmakers drafting the constitution, saying that their desire to set up a federal system would lead to the division of the country.

Maliki said he would prefer to see a secular constitution rather than one in which Islam is the main source of legislation. But he said he would reject a constitution that pursues western secularism.

"While I do not call for the establishment of an Islamic state, this does not meant that Islam should not be in the constitution at all," he said.