Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bush Asleep While Iraqi Fraud Funnels Millions To al-Qaeda

A hearing held Monday by the Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) and featuring former Iraqi officials revealed that more than $18 billion intended to rebuild Iraq may have been lost to local fraud and that millions have been funneled to al-Qaeda by corrupt Iraqis.

"It is a matter of grave concern for those of us who are responsible for ensuring that American tax dollars are well spent, and not needlessly wasted on overpriced contracts, corrupt practices, poorly made products, or worse, passed along in the form of dollars or weapons directly into the hands of our enemies," said Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), a member of the DPC. "The ugly truth is that fraud, waste, and corruption are aiding and abetting our enemies in Iraq and contributing to terrorism elsewhere."

The DPC hearing was highlighted by shocking insider accounts of corruption in Iraq, the effect on the disastrous U.S. mission there and the extent to which millions are going directly to al-Qaeda in Iraq to fund attacks on U.S. troops.

"It is all pretty sobering," said Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who chairs the committee. "Our country cannot continue to be blind or oblivious to what is happening. Taxpayers have been bled dry with massive misuse of public dollars."

“After more than five years in Iraq, we are still receiving reports that billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars sent to Iraq for reconstruction projects are still being wasted or stolen,’’ said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). “It is our soldiers on the front lines and the American taxpayers at home who are suffering the costs.’’

The hearing featured two former high-level Iraqi government insiders, including
Salam Adhoob, a former chief investigator for Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity (CPI) -- which is Iraq's version of the FBI -- who told the committee that American taxpayer dollars are being stolen by corrupt Iraqi officials to enrich themselves and fund al-Qaeda. Much of the money going to the terrorist group has ended up in banks in Jordan and other Middle-Eastern countries.

Here's Adhoob, who worked at the Iraqi CPI from October 2004 to August 2007 and who supervised a team of 100 investigators, conducting more than 4,000 investigations:
"My experience at the CPI provided me with a first-hand, up-close look at corruption and waste in Iraq. Based on the cases that I have personally investigated, I believe that at least $18 billion have been lost in Iraq through corruption and waste -- more than half of which was American taxpayer money. Of this $18 billion, I believe at least $4 billion have been lost due to corruption and criminal acts in the Ministry of Defense alone.

"Corruption in Iraq does not only waste American taxpayer dollars, however, corrupt Iraqi government officials have used American funds to support the Al-Qaeda terrorists, militias, and insurgents who are killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq."
Adhoob, who fled Iraq fearing for his safety, said that over 30 of his coworkers were killed because of their involvement in fraud investigations.

"Allow me to state this as plainly as possible: there are powerful people in Iraq who do not want this story to be told," he told the DPC panel. "I investigated corruption in Iraq for three years, but eventually had to flee the country because of numerous death threats against me and my family. There is every reason to believe that those threats would have been acted upon had I stayed in Iraq. Thirty-one of my co-workers were murdered in retaliation against our efforts to investigate, arrest and convict corrupt officials in Iraq."

And Adhoob talked about "ghost projects" investigated by his group that simply never existed or where both U.S. and Iraqi contractors did sub-par work.
"During their audit of American reconstruction contracts, BSA officials uncovered 'ghost projects' that never existed, projects that the Iraqi government deemed unnecessary, and work that was either not performed at all or done in a shoddy manner by both American and Iraqi contractors.

"To cite just one example from the BSA audit, approximately $24.4 million was spent on an electricity project in Ninawa Province that the BSA concluded existed only on paper. While the BSA found that many of these projects were not needed -- and many were never built -- this very real fact remains: the billions of American dollars that paid for these projects are now gone."
Dorgan ended the day yesterday with a shot at the Bush administration, which has completely ignored fraud in Iraq and the cost to taxpayers in an already troubled American economy.

"I think it's destructive of our efforts in Iraq and I think the Iraqi people know it," said Dorgan. "We heard today from former Iraqi officials talking about the lack of respect that the people of Iraq have for a government that comes in just shoveling money and turning a blind eye to corruption. Turning a blind eye to corruption in Iraq is the same as sanctioning corruption in Iraq. It undermines the American taxpayer and it provides danger for American troops. This has to stop."