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Sceala Irish Craic Forum Discussion:     You can't trace cash!

The Fog of Accountability

Published: February 8, 2007

The details are graphic: billions of dollars of Iraqi oil revenues — 363 tons of cash — bundled up and urgently flown to Baghdad on 484 pallets from the Federal Reserve Bank to jump-start a new Iraqi government. Four years later, the unanswered questions are just as graphic: Who was responsible for the money? What became of it?

Two years ago, the special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction reported that $8.8 billion of the cash surge could not be adequately accounted for by the Bush administration’s provisional governing authority. The Republican-controlled Congress — which shrugged off oversight responsibilities for President Bush’s failed war — dutifully sidestepped the issue. Thankfully, the new Democratic Congress is finally investigating the disappeared billions and other aspects of the war’s mismanagement.

The details emerging provide a lesson in how easily cash can evaporate into the fog of an unmonitored war. One $500 million outlay was explained away with a one-word record entry — “security” — in the provisional authority’s books. Ten disbursements ranging from $120 million to $900 million have no documentation at all, as if they were petty cash. Paul Bremer III, the former chief of the administration’s provisional authority, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week that Iraq was strictly a cash economy with primitive banking, and that there had been no alternative but to spur reconstruction with a fast and poorly documented infusion of billions. “There are no perfect solutions in Iraq," said Mr. Bremer, still cocky despite the now increasingly apparent and seemingly limitless failures of his tenure.

According to the inspector general and Congressional investigators, Mr. Bremer’s provisional authority, with the full backing of the White House and the Pentagon, doled out an estimated $12 billion to dodgy ministries — duffle bags full, some of it from the backs of pickups. The fact that this was Iraqi money reserved during the United Nations’ oil-for-food program is no comfort to any American taxpayer wondering what’s been happening to the hundreds of billions Washington is pouring into Iraq.

Republican lawmakers at the hearing again tried to gloss over the administration’s mismanagement of the war, complaining that the mystery billions were “old news.” The real news is that — at long last — the truth about the Iraq fiasco is being pursued in public by Congressional investigators.

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