BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions

Leave a comment

BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions

By Jane Corbin, BBC News

A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq.

The BBC’s Panorama programme has used US and Iraqi government sources to research how much some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

War profiteering

Henry Waxman

Waxman: “It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history.”

While Presdient George W Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted.

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.

The president’s Democratic opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.

Henry Waxman, who chairs the House committee on oversight and government reform, said: “The money that’s gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, it’s egregious.

“It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history.”

In the run-up to the invasion, one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth $7bn that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president.

Unusually only Halliburton got to bid – and won.

Missing billions

The search for the missing billions also led the programme to a house in Acton in west London where Hazem Shalaan lived until he was appointed to the new Iraqi government as minister of defence in 2004.

He and his associates siphoned an estimated $1.2bn out of the ministry. They bought old military equipment from Poland but claimed for top-class weapons.

Meanwhile they diverted money into their own accounts.

Judge Radhi al-Radhi of Iraq’s Commission for Public Integrity investigated.

Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi

Judge Radhi al Radhi: “I believe these people are criminals.”

He said: “I believe these people are criminals.

“They failed to rebuild the Ministry of Defence, and as a result the violence and the bloodshed went on and on – the murder of Iraqis and foreigners continues and they bear responsibility.”

Mr Shalaan was sentenced to two jail terms but he fled the country.

He said he was innocent and that it was all a plot against him by pro-Iranian MPs in the government.

There is an Interpol arrest warrant out for him but he is on the run – using a private jet to move around the globe.

He stills owns commercial properties in the Marble Arch area of London.

Panorama: Daylight Robbery will be on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday 10 June 2008.
Published: 2008/06/10 17:25:48 GMT

Advertisements

Seattle Activists Aim To Put Israel Divestment on City’s Agenda

Leave a comment

By Rebecca Spence
Wed. May 21, 2008

Los Angeles – If a local activist group has its way, Seattle could soon become the first major American city to divest from companies that provide material support to Israel.

Seattle Divest From War and Occupation, a citizens group, is angling to get an initiative on the ballot that would mandate city pension funds to divest from businesses that profit from the Iraq War, as well as from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since late March, when initiative I-97 was approved for petition circulation by the City Attorney’s Office, local Seattle Jewish groups have coalesced to beat back the nascent effort.

The ballot initiative comes as Jewish groups and their supporters emerged victorious in recent weeks from a hard-fought Israel divestment battle with The United Methodist Church. Mainstream Jewish groups undertook a major lobbying effort – at both the grass-roots and leadership levels – to keep five anti-Israel divestment measures from passing at the Methodists’ plenum early this month. Previous efforts to stymie Israel divestment measures proposed by another mainline Protestant church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), also proved successful.

This latest battle, dealing at the local level, could prove to be a different sort of testing ground. While passage of the Seattle ballot initiative would not have significant economic consequences for the Jewish state, Jewish groups fear that its repercussions could be far-reaching.

“Its symbolic impact would be fairly large, because it’s a public body of civic employees taking a stand on an unresolved issue,” said Rabbi Anson Laytner, executive director of the Greater Seattle Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. “It could snowball to other cities, to other institutions. That is why we pushed very hard when first the Presbyterian Church, and later The United Methodist Church, also considered similar divestment activities.”

Already, Seattle-area Jewish groups have met with some initial success. A lawsuit filed May 13 by the Washington Israel Business Council, a statewide group, and StandWithUs, a national pro-Israel activist group that has been active on college campuses, resulted in the initiative’s language being amended. The coalition of Jewish groups – which also includes the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and the AJCommittee – raised concerns that the language of the initiative’s title and preliminary text did not adequately make clear that I-97 targeted Israel in addition to Iraq.

“They clearly put Iraq up first, with the recognition that the Iraq War was very unpopular,” said Robert Jacobs, regional director of StandWithUs Northwest. “And they downplayed the anti-Israel aspect because they would get fewer signatures if people knew they were signing a petition against Israel.”

But the initiative’s backers contend that their intent was not to mislead. A spokeswoman for the group, Judith Kolokoff, who is Jewish, said that the initiative’s aim is simply to divest Seattle pension funds from companies turning a profit from the Iraq War and from Israel’s occupation.

“It is a single issue,” Kolokoff said. “It is really an issue of stopping investing in companies that are directly involved in the wars and occupations in the Middle East that have not been authorized by the United Nations.”

The initiative specifically targets Halliburton, the military contractor that has reaped billions from its work in Iraq, and Caterpillar, which has famously provided Israel with bulldozers, some of which have been used in the destruction of Palestinian homes, Kolokoff added. The proposed measure also calls for the city to withdraw any investment in Israeli bonds in the event that the Jewish state attacks Iran.

The initiative’s backers have six months to collect 18,000 signatures in order for the initiative to appear on the ballot. If sufficient signatures are collected quickly enough, I-97 could potentially appear on the November general election ballot. Thus far, Kolokoff said, the group has collected “several thousand” signatures.

Local Jewish leaders say that if the initiative makes it to the ballot, they are prepared to launch a large-scale campaign to defeat it. Already, StandWithUs is collecting donations to go toward such a campaign. “We’re hoping that the initiative supporters are unable to get their 18,000 signatures and that Seattle residents, by not signing the petition, make a statement that the Seattle community supports Israel,” Jacobs said. “But if they do get their signatures, then the community here is fully prepared to respond to the challenge and will try to make a case in opposition to the ballot.”