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$18.7 Billion in Iraqi Cash Under U.S. Protection is Missing, Possibly Stolen

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that $6.6 billion in Iraqi money under US protection was missing and might have been stolen. Now a prominent Iraqi politician says the actual amount of missing cash is $18.7 billion– nearly three times as much as originally reported.

According to al-Jazeera, Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi made the new claim just days before a scheduled visit to the United States.

“There is a lot of money missing during the first American administration of Iraqi money in the first year of Iraq’s development fund has lost around $18 billion of Iraqi money in these operations– their location is unknown. Also missing are the documents of expenditure,” he said.

In the hectic days after a US-led invasion toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, the US airlifted $20 billion to Iraq– the largest airlift of cash in history– to pay salaries and contractors, buy loyalties and guarantee a smooth transition to the post-Saddam era.

The cash was not American money but rather funds from the United Nations Oil for Food Program, a corrupt system under which the Hussein regime was allowed to export oil in exchange for humanitarian goods.

Iraqi officials were tasked with distribution of this cash, but the US was legally obligated to safeguard the money under a 2004 agreement with the Iraqi government. Ultimately, Washington bore responsibility for the massive loss.

The Pentagon repeatedly assured Iraqis that, given enough time to locate all the records, it could account for the missing cash. But three US audits have come and gone and Washington still can’t say where all the money has gone.

It is highly likely that large amounts were stolen. Stuart Bowen, former US inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, reported seeing duffel bags full of cash being carried out of the Republican Palace, headquarters of the American occupation. While that money may have been earmarked for legitimate use, the overall free-wheeling system of large cash transfers on a daily basis was an invitation for theft and mismanagement.

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