Tuesday, June 21, 2011

‘Did I say I was missing $7 billion? Sorry, make that $17 billion.’ Did America steal Iraq’s American money?

Alarabiya.net English

US marines wave US and Iraqi flags in front of al-Faruq Palace in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on April 14, 2003. (File photo)
US marines wave US and Iraqi flags in front of al-Faruq Palace in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on April 14, 2003. (File photo)
Iraq’s parliament is searching for some $17 billion of oil money it says was stolen after the 2003 US-led invasion and has asked the United Nations to help track it down.

Previously, US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen estimated that around $7 billion funds derived from Iraq’s oil and gas money, the UN oil-for-food program, and revenues channeled from the country’s former regime’s seized assets might have been stolen.
Due to Iraq’s vulnerable situation and lack of a banking system as a safe haven post the 2003-invasion, the money in question was administered by the US Department of Defense between 2004 and 2007. The first months after toppling of former President Saddam Hussein, around $12 billion in cash – or more than 360 tons of $100 bills – was airlifted to Iraq, according to Mr. Bowen.

In Iraq, the money was stored at US military bases and in the basement of one of Mr. Hussein’s former palaces and then disbursed to Iraqi ministries and government contractors. But almost half of it, $6.6 billion, disappeared.

While the initial US probe by Mr. Bowen cited Iraq’s reluctance to cooperate over the undergoing probe, the Iraqi government came forth with full force and is now striking back with an inflated figure of around $17 billion.

In a letter to the UN office in Baghdad last month, parliament’s Integrity Committee asked for help to find and recover the oil money taken from the Development Fund of Iraq (DFI) in 2004 and lost in the chaos that followed the invasion.

“All indications are that the institutions of the United States of America committed financial corruption by stealing the money of the Iraqi people, which was allocated to develop Iraq, (and) that it was about $17 billion,” said the letter sent to the UN with a 50-page report.

The committee called the disappearance a “financial crime” but said UN Security Council resolutions prevent Iraq from making a claim against the United States.

“Our committee decided to send this issue to you ... to look into it and restore the stolen money,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.

UN officials were not immediately available for comment.

Osama Al Nujaifi, Iraq’s parliament speaker, said a committee was investigating what happened to some $20 billion of DFI money.

“Some of these funds were spent and are documented. But some do not have such documents,” he said. “We as a parliament are working together with the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audits and with coordination of SIGIR to know where this money ended up.”

The appeal to the UN could help Iraq recover its money by putting its case before the international community, said Bahaa Al Araji, the head of the Integrity Committee.

“We cannot sue the Americans. Laws do not allow us to do that. All we want is to get this issue to the UN,” Mr. Araji said. “If this works, it will open the way for Iraq to restore its stolen money.”

In 2003, the CPA issued an order granting immunity to US personnel and institutions working in Iraq. Despite the decreased incidents of corruption and irregularities by military and security private firms in Iraq, on Thursday a panel of UN experts advised Iraq that it should keep on regulating these firms.

In 2009 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Iraq and the US contained a new provision, which removed the immunity of some private foreign security contractors in Iraq.

According to a 2010 report, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said that the US Department of Defense is unable to account properly for 96 percent of the money, and that the funds missing were placed at $8.7 billion by the US federal watchdog.

This is not the first time that allegations of missing billions have surfaced in relation to the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

(Dina Al-Shibeeb, a senior editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: dina.ibrahim@mbc.net)

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