Iraq: The Great Rip-Off Continues

Newsweek checks in on corruption and fraud hampering Iraq reconstruction, and finds it running high. The special Inspector General for reconstruction has 57 cases of possible fraud he’s investigating, with arrests to come, and a harsh report (one more in a series) due in May.

What the piece doesn’t touch on is how “the biggest corruption scandal in history” was allowed to fester because ideology trumped practicality. Aid experts and senior foreign service officers, who understand the rebuilding process and how to keep contractors in line, were pushed aside by inexperienced appointees chosen for their ideology.

Newsweek says gingerly, “The conventional wisdom today is that while most CPA officials were enthusiastic and brave, too many were inexperienced and second-rate.”

But others aren’t so delicate. Robin Raphel was an experienced senior State Department official who worked as an aide for Iraq reconstruction. She spoke candidly for an oral history which was inadvertently made public a few months ago:

Q: This is one of the concerns, that we were sending out so-called “experts” and some really weren’t. I hear about a 24 year old guy from the White House sent out to deal with the budget or something like that.

RAPHEL: As I say, ideology was the main criteria.

In his first interview since leaving the US Agency for International Development in January, former director Andrew Natsios tells Newsweek how these appointees brushed aside efforts to keep a handle on how reconstruction money was spent:

“They didn’t have [monitoring] systems set up. They were very dismissive of these processes,” he said. His U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was marginalized despite its expertise, and the [Coalition Provisional Authority] “didn’t hire the best people,” he said. “We were just watching it unfold. They [the CPA] were constantly hitting at our people, screaming at them. They were abusive.”

So if they weren’t concerned expertise, did the CPA keep an eye open for anything? Yes, Raphel told her interviewer: ideological inconsistency.

Q: Did you feel any hand or eye watching you about being right ideologically by the time you got there?

RAPHEL: Oh, yes, there were political people round and about. One had to be careful.