They shouldn’t beat themselves up over it — just yesterday it took me twenty minutes to find my keys. The Los Angeles Times reports:
In the year after the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration flooded the conquered country with cash to pay for reconstruction — 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. 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, said the missing $6.6 billion may be “the largest theft of funds in national history.”
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.
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, 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.