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Iraq's missing billions



Published: Tue, February 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: On the day that Iraqis went to the polls for their first democratic election after Saddam Hussein's fall, U.S. auditors released a report that detailed how $8.8 billion in Iraqi cash was funneled from U.S. authorities to Iraqi ministries without proper financial controls.

The cash, disbursed during the particularly intense period of October 2003 to June 2004, came from Iraq's oil sales and was to be used to fund Iraq's government, reconstruction projects and humanitarian relief.

The revelation of accounting sloppiness was contained in the audit overseen by Stuart Bowen Jr., special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. The auditors didn't contend the Iraqi cash was lost, but they did find there was no effective system in place to account for the money that was quickly disbursed to the Iraqis. Billions went to pay for Iraqi government salaries, and operating and capital expenditures, but no one was quite sure how the cash was spent.

No verification

The most egregious examples involved payments to Iraqi government employees. The report noted that CPA officials authorized payments to 74,000 members of the Facilities Protection Force, but the real number of employees was not verified. At one ministry, there were 8,206 guards on the payroll, but only 602 of them were verified.

It appears that salaries were paid to guys with guns in an Iraqi version of political "street money," unleashing cash to get quick results, in this case, stopping the bullets from flying.

L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the occupation team, the Coalition Provisional Authority, has disparaged the findings.




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