Iraq hunting $17bn of missing oil cash

Iraq has lobbied UN for help in tracking down missing billions it says was stolen after the US invasion
Iraq hunting $17bn of missing oil cash
Iraq says billions in oil money has gone missing since the US-led invasion
By Reuters
Mon 20 Jun 2011 07:54 AM

Iraq's parliament is chasing about $17bn of Iraqi oil money
it says was stolen after the 2003 US-led invasion and has asked the United
Nations for help to track it down.

The missing money was shipped
to Iraq from the United States to help with reconstruction after the ouster of
Saddam Hussein.

In a letter to the UN office
in Baghdad last month, parliament's Integrity Committee asked for help to find
and recover the oil money taken from the Development Fund of Iraq (DFI) in 2004
and lost in the chaos that followed the invasion.

"All indications are
that the institutions of the United States of America committed financial
corruption by stealing the money of the Iraqi people, which was allocated to
develop Iraq, (and) that it was about $17bn," said the letter sent to the UN
with a 50-page report.

The committee called the
disappearance of the money a "financial crime" but said UN Security
Council resolutions prevent Iraq from making a claim against the United States.

"Our committee decided
to send this issue to you ... to look into it and restore the stolen
money," said the letter.

UN officials were not
immediately available for comment.

The DFI was established in
2003 at the request of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the US body
headed by Paul Bremer that governed Iraq after the invasion. The fund was to be
used to pay the salaries and pensions of Iraqi government workers and for
reconstruction projects.

In 2004, the administration
of former US President George W. Bush flew billions of dollars in cash into
Iraq. The money came from the sale of Iraqi oil, surplus funds from the UN
oil-for-food program and seized Iraqi assets.

Last July, an audit report
from the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said the US
Department of Defense was unable to account properly for $8.7bn of Iraqi oil
and gas money after the 2003 invasion.

Iraqi government spokesman
Ali al-Dabbagh told Al Jazeera television on Sunday: "No one on the Iraqi
side was controlling the work of Paul Bremer at that time. So I think the
administration of the United States needs to give the answers for where and how
this [money] was being used.

"We do understand that
Iraqis are also engaged in such lack of transparency and corruption related to
the Paul Bremer time in Iraq," he added.

Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraq's
parliament speaker, said a committee was investigating what happened to some
$20bn of DFI money.

"Some of these funds
were spent and are documented. But some do not have such documents," he
said. "We as a parliament are working together with the Iraqi Board of
Supreme Audits and with coordination of SIGIR to know where this money ended
up."

The appeal to the United
Nations could help Iraq recover its money by putting its case before the
international community, said Bahaa al-Araji, the head of the Integrity
Committee.

"We cannot sue the
Americans. Laws do not allow us to do that. All we want is to get this issue to
the UN," Araji said. "If this works, it will open the way for Iraq to
restore its stolen money."

In 2003, the CPA issued an
order granting immunity to US personnel and institutions working in Iraq.

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