On March 11 U.S. legislators heard stories of fraud and waste in America's efforts to rebuild Iraq. A former Iraqi official testified before a Senate committee that allocates money for Iraq. VOA's Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Clean up is extensive on the street where five U.S. soldiers died. They were on foot patrol in Baghdad when a suicide bomber approached and detonated his vest.
In southern Iraq, a roadside bomb killed 16 bus passengers. These incidents are thousands of kilometers and a distant image away from the discussion on Capitol Hill.
Yet a former Iraqi official told legislators that such terrorist killings may have been financed by embezzled U.S. funds intended for reconstruction.
Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi is the former head of public integrity in Iraq who fled to the U.S. after a second attempt on his life. He faced questions from Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan.
Senator Dorgan: "Do you believe that money appropriated by this committee ends up in the hands of insurgents with which to kill U.S. soldiers?"
Al-Radhi: "The oil is being smuggled from Sunni militias and in Basra through the Shiite militia and, of course, they use this to purchase weapons and, of course, these monies will target the killing of Iraqis and Americans."
This at a time when U.S. lawmakers are considering an additional $108 billion for Iraq -- and when America faces a record budget deficit and a possible recession. Contrast that to the record price of oil -- Iraq's main source of revenue, creating an Iraqi budget surplus.
At first we were told by the [Bush] administration, and the American people were told, that Iraqi oil will rebuild the country,” said Democrat Patrick Leahy. “That assertion by the chief architects of the war were made to be naive or intentionally dishonest. I tend to think the latter."
Leahy wants to use Iraq's budget surplus of at least $50 billion to rebuild the country.
"That certainly gives them resources to carry forward with an extensive reconstruction plan," says Stuart Bowen, the U.S. official in charge of Iraq's reconstruction. "Also it makes it all the more important that Prime Minister Maliki carry forward in what he has declared the year 2008 to be the year of reconstruction and anti-corruption."
Maliki has a tough job ahead. The Defense Department says millions of dollars in bribes in Iraq have resulted in more than 100 current investigations.