Billions in Iraq funds unaccounted for

  • Tue Jul 27th, 2010 10:10pm
  • News

Associated Press

BAGHDAD — A U.S. audit has found that the Pentagon cannot account for over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraq reconstruction money, spotlighting Iraqi complaints that there is little to show for the massive funds pumped into their cash-strapped, war-ravaged nation.

The $8.7 billion in question was Iraqi money managed by the Pentagon, not part of the $53 billion that Congress has allocated for rebuilding. It’s cash that Iraq, which relies on oil revenues to fuel its spending, can ill afford to lose.

The report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction accused the Defense Department of lax oversight and weak controls, though not fraud.

“The breakdown in controls left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss,” the audit said.

The Pentagon has repeatedly come under fire for apparent mismanagement of the reconstruction effort — as have Iraqi officials themselves.

Seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, electricity service is spotty, with generation capacity falling far short of demand. Fuel shortages are common and unemployment remains high, a testament to the country’s inability to create new jobs or attract foreign investors.

Complaints include fraud, awarding of contracts without the required government bidding process and allowing contractors to charge exorbitant fees with little oversight, or oversight that came too late.

The $9.1 billion in question came from the Development Fund for Iraq, which was set up by the U.N. Security Council in 2003. The fund includes revenues from Iraq’s oil and gas exports, as well as frozen Iraqi assets and surplus funds from the defunct, Saddam Hussein-era U.N. oil-for-food program.

Iraq had given the U.S. authorization to tap into the fund, which is held in New York, for humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, withdrawing that approval in December 2007.

With the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq shortly after the start of the U.S. invasion in 2003 until mid-2004, about $20 billion was placed into the account. The $9.1 billion audited by the Iraq reconstruction inspector general were funds withdrawn from that account between 2004 and 2007.

The report found that the Defense Department could not “readily account for its obligations, expenditures and remaining balances associated” with the fund. At issue was $8.7 billion, or 95 percent of the withdrawn funds.

Of this amount, the Pentagon could not account at all for $2.6 billion, according to the audit.

The Defense Department, in responses attached to the audit, said it agreed with the report’s recommendations to establish better guidelines for monitoring such funds, including appointing an oversight organization, mostly likely by November.