Where did the $20 billion go?
Susan Webb The US occupation and its corporate cronies have ripped off Iraq's oil wealth and ravaged the country's infrastructure, several new reports show. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) boss L Paul Bremer slinked out of Iraq on June 28 after turning nominal power over to an Iraqi interim government. But Iraq has been left to pick up the pieces after a year of inept and often corrupt US rule, driven by the Bush administration's aim of turning Iraq's wealth over to US corporate control. The new reports show the US occupation has left Iraq worse off than before the war in many basic areas of life, and has tried to hamstring Iraqi efforts for real economic and political sovereignty. The Open Society Institute's Iraq Revenue Watch program charged that the CPA "launched a last-minute spending spree using Iraq's oil money — committing billions of dollars to hastily conceived projects" just before the authority was due to close up shop. On May 15, the CPA's spending arm, the Program Review Board, approved nearly US$2 billion in expenditures for "a host of poorly planned projects" without consulting the relevant Iraqi ministries, the Iraq Revenue Watch report said. The report, titled Iraqi Fire Sale, criticises the CPA's "rush to commit Iraqi oil funds to projects already funded by the US Government, instead of waiting for the interim Iraqi Government to make these budgetary decisions when it assumes power." Meanwhile, the British humanitarian group Christian Aid assailed "the US-controlled coalition in Baghdad" for "handing over power without having properly accounted for what it has done with some US$20 billion of Iraq's own money." In May 2003 the United Nations Security Council established the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) to collect Iraq's oil revenues, repatriated funds previously held by Saddam Hussein, and transfers from the UN Oil-for-Food program, which ended in November 2003. This money was to be spent in the interests of the Iraqi people, and be independently audited. Since its inception, the DFI has received US$19.3 billion. As of June 9, US$10.1 billion was left. The US has spent half of the DFI money and used up almost all of approximately US$2.7 billion in assets the US confiscated from the Saddam Hussein regime, according to a June report by the General Accounting Office. In fact, the US occupation spent far more of Iraq's money than its own, the Accounting Office report shows. As of the end of April, the CPA signed contract commitments for only US$8 billion — about one-third — of the US$24 billion allocated by the US Congress for Iraq's reconstruction and humanitarian needs. But it signed contracts committing about US$15.5 billion — more than two-thirds — of the US$21 billion in available Iraqi funds. Furthermore, the Accounting Office said, "Transactions worth billions of dollars in Iraqi funds have not been independently reviewed or the results reported." Christian Aid noted, "It took until April 2004 to appoint an auditor — leaving only a matter of weeks to go through the books. Early reports of the audit indicate strong criticisms of the CPA's handling of Iraq's money. But the CPA is not going to be around to be held accountable." "Astonishing" In October 2003 Christian Aid revealed that an "astonishing" US$4 billion of Iraq's oil revenues and other funds were unaccounted for. Today, the group charges, "We still do not know exactly how Iraq's money has been earned, which companies have won the contracts that it has been spent on, or whether this spending was in the interests of the Iraqi people". Iraqi Communist Party spokesperson Salam Ali said an independent auditing commission should be set up to go through all the accounts and contracts set up by the CPA, with authority to revoke or modify these as needed to serve the interests of the Iraqi people. But more important, "real economic control must be transferred to the Iraqi government", Ali told the People's Weekly World. While achieving security is the top issue for the Iraqi people, he said, it is closely intertwined with the country's economic situation. Noting the waste, inefficiency and corruption of the US occupation, Ali said, "If a strong Iraqi government can utilise fully the oil revenues, we can do far better than what US companies and the CPA have done so far." "Political initiative must be taken back from the Americans", Ali said. "It's about time."
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