Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, released his latest report Saturday. He said he found millions of dollars worth of fraud by US officials and companies. As if to comfort Iraqis, he added that, "The reconstruction for Iraq is peaking, 1000 projects are completed and 1000 more are ongoing." Of course, since we're "staying the course," Iraqis could construe that to simply mean millions of dollars more fraud coming down the pike by US officials and companies as long as it's business as usual.
Bowen also found billions of dollars of waste in Iraqi reconstruction. Cash airlifted to Baghdad from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York in shrink-wrapped bundles of $100 bills can't be properly accounted for. Intended to pay Iraqi bureaucrats, fix power lines, and build schools, instead U.S. Special Forces Major Robert Caffrey tells us that he could not even get money to foster local government or pay for small clean-up projects and schools.
If you recall, Congress apportioned $21-billion dollars specifically for the reconstruction of Iraq a couple of years ago. The Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, gathered statistics that show us what that's bought the Iraqis. A year ago, Iraqis stood in line to buy gas an average of six minutes; today they wait an hour. Eighteen months ago, electricity powered lights and air conditioning across Iraq an average of 13 hours a day. Today, the nationwide average has sunk to 9.4 hours.
What about vice president Cheney's former employer, Halliburton? Surely they are demonstrating impeccable ethics to the Iraqis. Let's see what Pentagon investigators have found. They found $219-million in "unacceptable" charges under a contract with Halliburton for the $2.5-billion Restore Iraqi Oil program to supply Iraq with fuel and rebuild its oil industry. An additional $60-million in claims were "unsupported" by documentary evidence.
This just scratches the surface of the theft, greed, and corruption Bowen has found, but here's a sampling of what a close inspection of his report uncovers:
- A third of the $10-billion in contracts signed in fiscal 2003 were awarded without competition.
- A contractor charged the U.S. $3.3-million for phantom employees assigned to an oil pipeline repair contract.
- Iraqi construction firms allegedly paid U.S. soldiers to help steal construction equipment from the interim government.
- At least a third of the government-owned vehicles and equipment that Halliburton was paid to manage was believed lost.
- The U.S. failed to keep track of nearly $9-billion it transferred to the new Iraqi government, much of which appears to have been embezzled.