The ever growing money scandals in Baghdad
A BILLION here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money,’ famously quipped US Senator Everett Dirksen back in the 1960’s. Given today’s dollars, he would have to say, ‘ten billion here....’
Last week, the US government estimated that President George Bush’s occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and his so-called ‘war on terror,’ will cost at least $690 billion by next year. That’s more than the total cost to America of World War I, the Korean War, or Vietnam, and second only to the $2 trillion cost of World War II.
This means that by 2008, Bush’s wars in the Muslim World will have cost each American man, woman and child $2,300. Ironically, half of the money spent on these wars is being borrowed from former American enemies, Communist China and Japan.
Defeat looms large in Iraq; Afghanistan is headed that way; and US intelligence just reported that Al Qaeda is stronger than ever. Osama bin Laden, who said the only way to expel US influence from the Muslim World was to bleed the US financially, must be beaming over the success of his grand strategy.
As all kings have found since the dawn of time, in war, money is as important as armies. Wars always cost far more than originally projected. A primary architect of the 2003 Iraq War, former US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, assured Americans the Iraq war would only cost $40 billion. The cost of occupying Iraq would be fully covered, he claimed, by plundering its oil. Wolfowitz now heads the World Bank.
Speaking of epic idiocy, enter the man selected by Wolfowitz to become proconsul of US-occupied Iraq, a bumbling conservative Republican hack named Paul Bremer.
During the 14 months he ran Iraq, Bremer committed two enormous follies. Bremer dissolved Iraq’s army and police, then fired all government employees who were members of Saddam’s Ba’athist Party. Iraq was left without security forces or functioning government.
Chaos ensured. For a few hundred million dollars, the US could have hired much of Saddam’s army, security forces and bureaucrats. Instead, the Bush/Cheney administration declared them outlaws and began using Shia militias and death squads to fight the Sunni resistance, so triggering today’s ghastly Sunni-Shia civil war.
Chaos in US-occupied Iraq, and the collapse of its banking system and Ba’ath Party-run social programmes, forced Washington to rush 363 tons of US $100 dollar bills to Baghdad. This money, which belonged to Iraq, came from the UN-run ‘Oil for Food’ programme. Bremer’s people dished out $12 billion by the truckloads and bagfuls. Another $800 million was stolen by US-appointed officials of Iraq’s defense ministry.
But $12.8 missing billions is just the tip of the corruption iceberg. US corporations in bed with the Republican Party’s rightwing, like Halliburton, and mercenary-supplier, Blackwater, made billions out of Iraq. Halliburton, whose former CEO was VP Cheney, was awarded $16 billion in Iraq contracts without competitive bidding.
This week, House Democrats opened hearings that finally began to expose the tsunami of corruption that accompanied the occupation and plundering of Iraq. Billions more of fraud and thievery concealed by the Administration will likely be uncovered.
The whole sordid story of the 100,000 ‘private contractors’ employed by the US in Iraq has only begun to emerge. According to the US Government Accountability Office, at least 48,000 of these – let’s use the correct term, mercenaries —are private gunmen working for hundreds of shadowy US military corporations like Blackwater and Vinnell. These heavily-armed desperados are a law unto themselves and under no supervision. Some mercenaries make US $1,000 daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the US locks up Muslims it brands ‘illegal combatants’ in Guantanamo, it has deployed an army of them in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackwater reputedly has the world’s biggest private military base with a reported 20,000 personnel and a fleet of aircraft. Such huge numbers of uncontrolled mercenaries are a menace. They could also pose a serious internal danger to America, given their close links to far rightists in the Republican camp.
The White House wants to help pay for its foreign wars by slashing spending on health and seniors. While the Washington DC police no longer dare patrol crime-infested southern parts of America’s capitol, President Bush and VP Cheney are sending the 82nd Airborne Division to try to pacify Baghdad. If this isn’t the extreme theater of the absurd, I don’t know what is.
Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun.
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