When Bremer Ruled Baghdad
When President Bush announced “Mission Accomplished,” and the end of the war in May 2003, he also said we would help the citizens of Iraq rebuild their country. “Now that the dictator’s gone,” he stated, “we and our coalition partners are helping Iraqis to lay the foundations of a free economy.”
….Bremer granted himself the authority to run the government ministries, appoint Iraqi officials and award contracts for reconstruction. Next he fired 500,000 Iraqis, most of them soldiers, but pink slips also went out to many doctors, nurses, teachers and other public employees as well.
For the most part, the CPA financed its activities with billions of dollars that belonged to the Iraqis. On May 22, 2003, a UN Security Council passed a resolution that directed the proceeds from Iraqi oil to be placed in a Development Fund for Iraq, and the CPA was granted authority to control the fund and decide which profiteers would get contracts. During the year that Bremer controlled the purse strings, the Iraqi Development Fund received $20.2 billion, including $8.1 billion from the UN’s oil-for-food program, $10.8 billion from Iraqi oil, and the rest from repatriated funds, vested assets and donations.
The CPA accounting system was cash and carry and a steady stream of cash was flown into Bagdad from the US. Inspector General, Stuart Bowen later said that he knew of one $2 billion flight. A report released by the House Government Reform Committee in February 2007, shows that in the 13 months that Bremer ruled, from May 2003 to June 2004, the Federal Reserve Bank in New York shipped nearly $12 billion in a cash to Iraq. One can only imagine the Bank service charges associated with these shipments because to accomplish this feat, according to the Democratic chairman of the Reform Committee, Henry Waxman, the cash weighed 363 tons and the Bank had to count and pack 281 million individual bills, including more than 107 million $100 bills, and then load them onto wooden pallets to be shipped to Bagdad on C-130 cargo planes.
….In June 2004, the Government Accounting Office estimated that more than $1 billion in had been wasted due to illegal overcharges by contractors since the war began. A later audit by the Iraqi government found that as much as $1.27 billion was lost to accounting irregularities between June 2004 and February 2005.
….Not surprisingly, Cheney’s Halliburton remained the top profiteer under Bremer’s rule. A July 23, 2004, audit conducted by Bowen, showed the company had received 60% of all contracts paid for with Iraq money, including 5 no-bid contracts worth $222 million, $325 million, $180 million, and the last 2 together totaled $194 million for the last two. In comparison, the audit showed that the CPA awarded only 2% of the reconstruction contracts to Iraqi companies. In one example of blatant fraud, an audit found that Halliburton was charging for more than 41,000 meals a day for soldiers when only about 14,000 were served.
….Senator Robert Byrd said he was outraged over the inability to monitor CPA spending. “There is no reason why any arm of the executive branch charged with making such significant spending decisions,” he said, “should not be working directly with Congress.” “Former Bush Administration officials,” he warned fellow Senators, “are even setting up consulting firms to act as middlemen for contractors hoping to take part in the bonanza.” “Are we turning the U.S. Treasury into a grab bag for favorite campaign contributors to be financed at taxpayer expense?” he asked.The answer was yes, and what a grab bag it was. Media reports revealed that Bush’s ex-campaign manager and Feith’s former law partner had set up consulting firms to profit off the war by lining up contracts for clients through their partners in crime within the CPA. Other reports revealed that contracts worth $407 were awarded to a firm called Nour that was formed less than 2 months after the war began. The names linked to the profits from Nour, among many others, included former Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, Ahmad Chalabi via a $2 million kickback, his nephew Salam Chalabi as the attorney handling the deal, and the money trail even led to the First Brothers, Marvin and Jeb Bush. But come to find out, Doug Feith the ringleader on the ground in Washington, had awarded a batch of no-bid contracts to a favored company the month before the war began for the purpose of controlling the media in post-war Iraq.
The favored companies enjoyed a fraud-free-all. For instance, Halliburton said it had lost over $60 million worth of government property including trucks, office furniture and computers. Inspector Bowen reported that 6,975 items valued at $61.1 million were lost, and in June 2005, the Defense Contract Audit Agency reported that the Halliburton had overcharged or presented questionable bills for close to $1.5 billion.
In the end, Bowen’s audit concluded that “the CPA’s internal controls for approximately $8.8 billion in DFI funds disbursed to Iraqi ministries through the national budget process failed to provide sufficient accountability for the use of those funds.”
As of February 2007, according to Bowen, audits of the CPA have resulted in 300 criminal and civil investigations, 5 arrests and convictions, and another 23 cases are currently under prosecution at the DOJ, and he is working on 76 on-going investigations. One of the convictions involved Robert Stein, a former CPA comptroller and funding officer, who recently pleaded guilty to 5 felony counts including conspiracy, money laundering, and bribery in stealing more than $2 million of reconstruction funds and taking more than $1 million in kickbacks to rig the bids on contracts that exceeded $8 million.
….The whistleblower case against Custer Battle went to trial and a jury found that Custer had committed 37 acts of fraud and filed $3 million in false claims, and rendered a verdict with a $10 million penalty. However, the verdict was overturned by Republican appointed US District Court Judge TS Ellis III, who ruled that the CPA was not a US entity and therefore the false claims act does not apply to it. In the ruling, the judge said Custer’s accusers “failed to prove that the U.S. government was ever defrauded. Any fraud that occurred was perpetrated instead against the Coalition Provisional Authority, formed to run Iraq until a government was established.”
Legal experts say this ruling is great news for the CPA and contractors because from now on anyone charged with any act of fraud related to the Iraqi money doled out by the CPA in Bagdad will use it in attempt to avoid civil or criminal prosecution.
Evelyn Pringle can be reached at: email@example.com