updated 11/6/2006 10:03:17 PM ET 2006-11-07T03:03:17

Nearly three-quarters of 163 countries ranked in a new survey suffer from a perception of serious corruption, while in nearly half it is seen as rampant, a watchdog group reported Monday.

Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index gives the worst scores to many of the world's poorest countries, including almost all African nations, indicating a strong correlation between corruption and poverty.

The stragglers also included several so-called "failed states," including Iraq, which dropped from place 137 last year to second-last as the situation there continues to deteriorate.

"Corruption traps millions in poverty," the agency's international chairman Huguette Labelle said in a statement. "Despite a decade of progress in establishing anti-corruption laws and regulations, today's results indicate that much remains to be done."

The agency's scale is based on the perceptions of the degree of corruption by businesspeople and country analysts. Countries are ranked out of 10, and anything below five indicates "serious" perceived levels of corruption, and anything below 3 "rampant," the agency said.

Several former Soviet republics fared relatively well, with Estonia ranking 24th with a 6.7 rating, Lithuania with 4.8 in 46th and Latvia with 4.7 in 49th. Estonia's place was the highest of the 10 mostly former communist countries that joined the EU in 2004.

In contrast, the perception of corruption in Russia was a dismal 2.5, putting it in a 121st place tie with several other nations including Rwanda and Swaziland. Even Kazakhstan fared better, scoring 2.6.

Faring the best were Finland, Iceland and New Zealand, in a first-place tie with rankings of 9.6.

Filling out the top 10 were Denmark, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands.

Britain was 11th with an 8.6 rating, Germany 16th at 8.0 and the United States 20th with 7.3.

France tied with Ireland with a 7.4 rating in 18th place, while Italy mustered only 4.9 in 45th place.

The only African countries to score more than 5 were Botswana and Mauritius.

At the bottom of the list in place 163 was Haiti with a 1.8 rating, just slightly worse than Guinea, Iraq and Myanmar, which tied in second-to-last with a 1.9.

Transparency International did not rank countries for which not enough data was available, including Afghanistan, Somalia and North Korea.

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