Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Missing Iraq money( $6.6 billion) may have been stolen, auditors say
U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion, sent by the planeload in cash and intended for Iraq's reconstruction after the start of the war.By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times
June 13, 2011
Reporting from Washington
Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12-billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time.
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.
The U.S. cash airlift was a desperation measure, organized when the Bush administration was eager to restore government services and a shattered economy to give Iraqis confidence that the new order would be a drastic improvement on Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
The White House decided to use the money in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq, which was created by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to hold money amassed during the years when Hussein's regime was under crippling economic and trade sanctions.
The cash was carried by tractor-trailer trucks from the fortress-like Federal Reserve currency repository in East Rutherford, N.J., to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, then flown to Baghdad. U.S. officials there stored the hoard in a basement vault at one of Hussein's former palaces, and at U.S. military bases, and eventually distributed the money to Iraqi ministries and contractors.
But U.S. officials often didn't have time or staff to keep strict financial controls. Millions of dollars were stuffed in gunnysacks and hauled on pickups to Iraqi agencies or contractors, officials have testified.
House Government Reform Committee investigators charged in 2005 that U.S. officials "used virtually no financial controls to account for these enormous cash withdrawals once they arrived in Iraq, and there is evidence of substantial waste, fraud and abuse in the actual spending and disbursement of the Iraqi funds."
Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records. But repeated attempts to find the documentation, or better yet the cash, were fruitless.
Iraqi officials argue that the U.S. government was supposed to safeguard the stash under a 2004 legal agreement it signed with Iraq. That makes Washington responsible, they say.
Abdul Basit Turki Saeed, Iraq's chief auditor and president of the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, has warned U.S. officials that his government will go to court if necessary to recoup the missing money.
"Clearly Iraq has an interest in looking after its assets and protecting them," said Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the United States.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills, pictured last month, has held hearings on waste and fraud in Iraq.
Interview tomorrow on Palestine satellite TV, with Mufid al-Jazairy, member of the Political Bureau of the Iraqi Communist Party .. at 1.00 pm Baghdad time
Demonstrators in Tahrir Square - Baghdad (10 June 2011): Early elections is the way out of the crisis .. and a popular demand
Demonstration in Kirkuk (10 June 2011) - organised by the Iraqi Communist Party and the Kudistan Communist Party
Demonstration in Kirkuk (10 June 2011) - organised by the Iraqi Communist Party and the Kudistan Communist Party .. against the sectarian-ethnic power sharing system, rampant corruption, unemployment (especially among youth and university graduates), and deteriorating services
Repressive measures against Trade Unionists in Iraq's Oil Sector" ... article published in "Tareeq Al-Shaab" (the daily newspaper of the Iraqi Communist Party) - 12 June 2011
Oil & Gas Union in North Oil Company (in Kirkuk - Iraq) condemns the repressive measures by the Ministry of Oil against the trade unionist Jamal Abdul Jabbar
Picket by the Iraqi community in Stockholm - Sweden in front of the Iraqi Embassy (11 June 2011) protesting against the repressive measures taken by the Iraqi government against civil rights and the right of expression, assembly and demonstration
Iraqi Democratic Youth Federation statement - IDYF - (in Arabic) about the Friday demonstration in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on Friday 10 June 2011. The statement demanded that the government stops terrorizing peaceful demonstrators and spreading fear among Iraqi citizens
Demonstration in Muthanna province, Samawah city (10 June 2011), calling for jobs for the unemployed, electricity, services ... and for early elections
Photo - Demonstration in Basra (Friday 10 June 2011) organized by the Democratic Movement .. against corruption and lack of basic services in Basra (Iraq's second-largest city), and calling for early elections.
The banners in Arabic read, "We demand the electricity" and "fighting corruption."
Statement (in Arabic) issued by the Coordinating Committee of the Democratic Movement in Dhi Qar (Nasiriyah) province
Anti-government protest blocked in Iraq
By Tim Craig, Published: June 10BAGHDAD — An anti-government protest scheduled for Friday in Iraq’s capital was quashed after several participants reported being beaten with sticks and clubs to make way for a counter-demonstration.
Following the end of a 100-day cooling-off period requested by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, students and activists had been expected to flock to Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to press for reforms and more government services.
Instead, several thousand Maliki supporters showed up at the square early Friday demanding the execution of a Sunni man suspected of killing nearly 70 Shiites at a wedding in 2006.
Despite being greatly outnumbered, several hundred anti-government demonstrators attempted to hold their protest in a different part of Tahrir Square. But within minutes, they said, groups of men carrying sticks and clubs demanded that they leave.
“They dragged me from the fence and beat me,” said Wafa Sheba, a women’s rights activist. “We went to the security forces and tried to complain, but security forces said they were not going to interfere.”
Daniel Smith, an American freelance journalist and activist, said the scene was reminiscent of the violence in Cairo when men armed with crude weapons tried to disrupt the demonstrations that forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power in February.
“There were lots of people with sticks,” Smith said. “They were saying: ‘We’re with Maliki. You’re Baathists.’ ”
The violence coincides with efforts by Maliki, a Shiite, to keep Iraq’s relatively small anti-government protest movement from spreading.
In February, nearly two dozen people were killed in violent clashes between demonstrators and security personnel across Iraq. To quell the unrest, Maliki asked protesters to give his government 100 days to evaluate the performance of ministers in addressing concerns such as a lack of clean water and electricity.
The 100 days were up this week, but Maliki has yet to announce whether he plans to ask any ministers to resign.
In recent weeks, human rights officials have accused Maliki of trying to stifle dissent through detentions and raids on protest organizers’ offices.
Two weeks ago, four men were thrown in an unmarked van in Tahrir Square when they tried to attend an anti-government demonstration. The men, including three students, were detained for 10 days for allegedly carrying false identification. They were released Tuesday following pressure from international human rights organizations.
Earlier this week, protest organizers had predicted that thousands of demonstrators would gather in Tahrir Square on Friday to mark the end of the cooling-off period.
Late Thursday, however, security forces imposed a tight cordon around the square. According to one security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter freely, police and Iraqi army personnel were told the square was being reserved for the Shiite demonstrators. Thousands of people were bused in for the counter-demonstration, which included signs and chants in support of Maliki, TV footage showed.
Janaat Basim, 28, an anti-government protester, did not know about the pro-Maliki event until she and her friends arrived in Tahrir Square about 9 a.m.
After a thorough security screening, Basim said, they were allowed into the square but were quickly surrounded by “nine or 10 men with sticks.” After calling her and her friends “communists” and “prostitutes,” she said, the men began hitting them.
At least one of Basim’s friends had part of a tooth knocked out, she said. She questioned how the men were allowed to get weapons into the square.
“If security forces were doing their jobs, how can these people enter the square with sticks?” she said.
Demonstrators in Najaf (10 June 2011) foil attempt by security forces to arrest a student activist
Mass demonstration in the city of Nasiriyah, 10th June
calling for political reform and early elections, denouncing violations of democratic rights and the Constitution, and demanding better services
Four Young activists hold press conference in Baghdad (8 June) after their release
.. exposing "kidnap", maltreatment by security forces, and demanding official apology and compensation
Interview with Raid Fahmi, member of the Politburo of the Iraqi Communist Party
“Al-Ittihad” newspaper - 6 June 2011
Friday, 10 June 2011
Thursday, 9 June 2011
Iraqi Four Youth activists released.. and describe maltreatment during detention
- We were arrested for participating in demonstrations
- Security forces fabricated the charge of forging false identity papers
The Iraqi authorities released yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 7th May 2011) the four young activists who had been arrested in Baghdad on 27th May 2011 while on their way to participate in a demonstration in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad. But their release was made on a “bail guarantee”.
In an interview with the Iraqi CP's daily newspaper “Tareeq Al-Shaab” (8 June 2011), the four youths stressed that the charge against them (forging identification papers) was "fabricated.”
They said that they were arrested for participating in the peaceful demonstrations calling for political reform, combating corruption and the provision of services to the people.
Ali al-Jaf, one of the released youths, said that the morale of his colleagues has been high because of the big local and international solidarity which their cause received, noting that the solidarity campaign helped to stop the maltreatment to which they were subjected.
He described the treatment they received during their detention in the Intelligence headquarters of Karkh district as being "like the treatment of terrorists.” He confirmed that they were beaten and insulted, and subjected to blackmail and intimidation by security men.
Al-Jaf, who is a university student, said that the process of their release took two days, and that the "fabricated" charge against them has not been dropped.
His colleague Jihad Jalil said that they were "not satisfied" with their release on bail, "because we are innocent of this charge which was fabricated against us.” Jihad demanded an apology from the government "for the physical and psychological harm that was inflicted on us, as well as defaming our reputation.”
He explained that “it was not an arrest, but an act of kidnapping. Plain-clothed security agents arrested us and hit us, in full view of security forces present near Tahrir Square, and they shoved us into ambulances.”
Jalil, a worker, described how they were treated during their detention. He said that in "the first day of our detention, we spent nearly ten hours in the prison yard, under the scorching sun, while being handcuffed and with our heads covered in black bags. This continued for three days."