Some months back I blogged about the scandal of Iraq - the systematic corruption and outright looting of reconstruction funds which occured under the American-run Coalition Provisional Authority. But it seems that that was just the beginning. In what has been described as "one of the largest thefts in history", corrupt Iraqi officials have embezzled practically the entire defence procurement budget - almost one billion US dollars. As a result, Iraqi troops are forced to rely on museum-pieces and US cast-offs, and their ability to replace Americans in providing security and fighting insurgents has been severely compromised:
The carefully planned theft has so weakened the army that it cannot hold Baghdad against insurgent attack without American military support, Iraqi officials say, making it difficult for the US to withdraw its 135,000-strong army from Iraq, as Washington says it wishes to do.
Many Iraqi soldiers and police have died because they were not properly equipped. In Baghdad they often ride in civilian pick-up trucks vulnerable to gunfire, rocket- propelled grenades or roadside bombs. For months even men defusing bombs had no protection against blast because they worked without bullet-proof vests. These were often promised but never turned up.
The fraud was carried out through a series of dubious transactions which paid inflated prices for equipment which turned out to be junk. American-appointed officials presided over these transactions, and the Iraqi government is questioning how they could have slipped past US military staff and advisors working in the defence ministry. And some are going further:
Government officials in Baghdad even suggest that the skill with which the robbery was organised suggests that the Iraqis involved were only front men, and "rogue elements" within the US military or intelligence services may have played a decisive role behind the scenes.
But even if this fraud wasn't perpetrated by Americans, it points to massive negligence on the part of US officials, which has significantly damaged their prospects in Iraq. Isn't that something the US congress should be investigating?
And the kicker is that this isn't the only fraud. An estimated US$500 - 600 million has disappeared from the electricity, transport, and interior ministries. Which explains why there's still no power, water, roads or sanitation services in Iraq: because the money to rebuild them has simply been stolen.
I am now waiting for Donald Rumsfeld to say that this is just Iraqis exercising their freedom...