There has been a development in the most under-reported incident of the post-invasion phase in Iraq. To wit: In 2003 and 2004 the Bush administration appropriated $12 billion in cash from the Federal Reserve, shrink-wrapped it into bricks — 363 tons of $100-dollar bills — loaded it into C-130 Hercules transport planes and flew it into the Iraqi hot zone, where most of it disappeared.
This was easily the most money ever air-lifted into a war zone. It may also prove to be the most lucrative heist of all time. Investigators say a little over half of it — $6.6 billion — is missing.
That’s right — $6.6 billion in
taxpayer dollars funds seized by the UN from Iraqi oil revenues was either lost or stolen:
This month, the Pentagon and the Iraqi government are finally closing the books on the program that handled all those Benjamins. But despite years of audits and investigations, U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion in cash — enough to run the Los Angeles Unified School District or the Chicago Public Schools for a year, among many other things.
For the first time, federal auditors are suggesting that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just mislaid in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be “the largest theft of funds in national history.”
The mystery is a growing embarrassment to the Pentagon, and an irritant to Washington’s relations with Baghdad. Iraqi officials are threatening to go to court to reclaim the money, which came from Iraqi oil sales, seized Iraqi assets and surplus funds from the United Nations’ oil-for-food program.
It’s fair to say that Congress, which has already shelled out $61 billion of U.S. taxpayer money for similar reconstruction and development projects in Iraq, is none too thrilled either.
“Congress is not looking forward to having to spend billions of our money to make up for billions of their money that we can’t account for, and can’t seem to find,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who presided over hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq six years ago when he headed the House Government Reform Committee.
Theft of such a staggering sum might seem unlikely, but U.S. officials aren’t ruling it out. Some U.S. contractors were accused of siphoning off tens of millions in kickbacks and graft during the post-invasion period, especially in its chaotic early days. But Iraqi officials were viewed as prime offenders.
So here we are again. It is unclear whether the money vanished due to malfeasance or incompetence — the dual hallmarks of the Bush administration. As Rep. Waxman asked in 2007: “Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone?”
UPDATE: In related news, the Iraqi government has asked Reaganaut GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher to leave the country after he offended them yesterday by demanding that they repay the United States for the costs of Bush’s bogus invasion and occupation of their country.