Don't look now, but nearly all of Iraq's military procurement budget has somehow vanished — roughly one billion dollars of U.S. taxpayers' money. That's the latest number, anyway. Previously, the missing moolah was estimated at 300 million dollars, then 500 million dollars, so who knows what the count will be next week. The current one-billion-dollar estimate is just the money that's missing from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, mind you. If you include fraud and theft at the various other ministries, the tally is close to two billion.
What did the Iraqis buy with the money that wasn't pilfered? According to The Independent,
Military equipment purchased in Poland included 28-year-old Soviet-made helicopters. The manufacturers said they should have been scrapped after 25 years of service. Armoured cars purchased by Iraq turned out to be so poorly made that even a bullet from an elderly AK-47 machine-gun could penetrate their armour. A shipment of the latest MP5 American machine-guns, at a cost of $3,500 (£1,900) each, consisted in reality of Egyptian copies worth only $200 a gun. Other armoured cars leaked so much oil that they had to be abandoned.
Hey, it beats lingerie and Ozzie Osbourne tickets.
Unsurprisingly, there is a pattern here. The Wall Street Journal reported in July that
During a routine audit last summer of an American office in charge of doling out reconstruction funding in Hillah, Iraq, U.S. government investigators made a series of startling discoveries. The office had paid a contractor twice for the same work. A U.S. official was allowed to handle millions of dollars in cash weeks after he was fired for incompetence. Of the $119.9 million allocated for regional projects, $89.4 million was disbursed without contracts or other documentation. An additional $7.2 million couldn't be found at all. ... [T]he American occupation authority failed to keep track of nearly $9 billion that it transferred to Iraqi government ministries, which lacked financial controls and internal safeguards to prevent abuse. One Iraqi ministry cited in the audit inflated its payroll to receive extra funds, claiming to employ 8,206 guards when it actually employed barely 600.
It would be a mistake to paint all this as graft, fraud, fiscal plunder, or misappropriation. That's the language of white-collar crime — euphemisms that obscure the real consequences of what occurred. We should call it murder on the part of the pilferers, and criminal negligence on the part of those whose job it was to provide oversight. After all,
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.
So, where were the U.S. auditors and accountants? One can only guess. Perhaps they were busy looking for traces of the one trillion dollars that the Pentagon mysteriously lost over the years, or for the weapons systems (including 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 Javelin missile command launch-units) that have inexplicably vanished into thin air.