"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Democrats probe billions lost to Baghdad's corruption
Sunday Times Online (UK)
Sarah Baxter, Washington
November 19, 2006

WHEN an American adventurer and arms dealer was gunned down in his black BMW near the banks of the Tigris river in 2004, his murder was blamed on an obscure group of Islamic terrorists.

As Baghdad's body count rises, Dale Stoffel, 43, is barely remembered today but his name is certain to be revived as the Democrats prepare for a barrage of congressional investigations into corruption in Iraq.

Stoffel, a former intelligence analyst, had hoped to make a fortune by selling ex-Soviet military parts to refit Saddam Hussein's abandoned tanks and armoured vehicles for the new Iraqi army. But he was also an idealist who turned whistleblower when he learnt that Iraqis in the defence ministry and arms industry expected huge kickbacks for their help.

In a prophetic e-mail, Stoffel wrote to an American colonel he knew in Iraq: "If we proceed down the road we are currently on, there will be serious legal issues that will land us all in jail. There is no oversight of the money and if/when something goes wrong, regardless of how clean our hands are, heads will roll and it will be the heads of those that are reachable, and the people who are supposed to know better (US — citizens, military etc.)"

Three days before his death he met John Shaw, then a senior Pentagon official, whose office was investigating fraud in Iraq. Shaw describes the Stoffel case as "the first public indication of the seriousness and institutional depth of corruption in Iraq". Shaw is convinced that "in time, we will discover a pervasive pattern of cover-ups along with revelations of corruption".

American taxpayers have spent $36 billion (£19 billion) on reconstruction in Iraq, much of it unaccounted for. A further $22 billion of Iraq's own money, derived mainly from oil, has been largely squandered, with little scrutiny.

The Democrats intend to use their new power in the Senate and House of Representatives to harass the Bush administration over the war. The issue of corruption is the most politically appealing as it avoids judgments about the decision to invade and whether to withdraw.

"There is going to be a hefty set of hearings, you can count on it," said Gordon Adams of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, who oversaw the national security budget at the White House during Bill Clinton's presidency. "This is career-building for congressmen."

Henry Waxman, who is to chair the House government reform committee, is promising ruthless scrutiny of the money that was shipped to Iraq. During the first year, nearly $12 billion in cash was transferred, much of it shrink wrapped and flown out at $2 billion a time.

Ike Skelton, the incoming chairman of the House armed services committee, is promising to follow the example of Harry Truman, who headed a commission to investigate military contractor corruption during the second world war. There is an even older precedent. "During Lincoln's day, Congress had a committee on the conduct of war," Skelton said.

One of the first acts of Congress last week after the midterm elections was to reverse a decision to shut the office of Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. An old friend of President George W Bush, Bowen had turned out to be doing an unexpectedly good job of investigating corruption, waste and fraud.

He recently reported to Congress on a new police academy in Baghdad, which cost US taxpayers $75m but was so badly built that human waste was oozing through the ceilings. Bowen has also highlighted lax scrutiny of multi-million-dollar contracts involving Halliburton, the energy services company, and several American occupation officials have been prosecuted for bribery.

But the real scandal, according to Pentagon sources, is that the opportunity to rebuild the Iraqi army and security services in the first two years of the US occupation was squandered, leaving sectarian militias to multiply.

The murder of Stoffel is part of that jigsaw. His body was found in a festering suburb of Baghdad with that of Joseph Wemple, 49, a friend and business associate. An obscure jihadist group claimed responsibility.

Pieces of video began to surface from the group, called Rafidan, which were not standard jihadist fare. According to Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism consultant, they were obsessed with Stoffel's defence contracting links to senior Iraqi officials and contained documents from his laptop.

"I didn't see anything to convince me that a genuine insurgent group was responsible for their deaths," Kohlmann said. "Given the problems that Dale was having in Iraq, the greatest threat to his life came from individuals he knew."

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