Tuesday, February 15, 2005

CPA Corruption: case studies!

The Washington Post reports on a lawsuit that has resulted in the publication of extensive allegations by former Coalition Provisional Authority staff that the organisation was corrupt, incompetent, and spectacularly hopeless with money. Interestingly, much of the dirtstorm centres around the security contractor CusterBattles, who Ranters will remember from this story from January. If you recall, a savage $300 million in raw cash somehow got flown out of Iraq aboard a plane bearing "CusterBattles Levant" titles that happened to have a number of far-right Lebanese political identities on board too. Reportedly the cash was used to purchase arms - from whom, we might well ask - outside the financial controls imposed on the transitional government.

If that wasn't dodgy enough, it now appears that CB was handed impressive sums drawn on Iraqi revenues for work that was never carried out, and indeed was never needed. You can get the text of the CPA's former senior aviation official Franklin Willis's statement here (pdf). It makes damning reading. Willis describes vast amounts of crisp $100 bills literally crammed into a dank basement. Payments to contractors were made by simply handing out bags of cash. CusterBattles were meant to provide security for civilian air operations at Baghdad Airport, but (according to Franklin) no such operations took place. But they still received great wedges of green from the cash basement. They used this to build up a large camp for up to 300 employees and a large number of dogs at the airport, the base for their other business activities.

What is odd about Willis's testimony is that there were - still are - civilian air services to Baghdad. Royal Jordanian Airlines operated daily to Amman through the life of the CPA. Not to mention the cargo charters, from DHL to British Gulf and Air Bas. He describes with vigour an atmosphere of financial anarchy, administrative chaos and incompetence that could well explain how the Boutcos were hired...if it wasn't for the big question. That is, if it was all a mistake in conditions of chaos and raging crisis, why did they try to get Bout off the asset freeze lists instead of immediately and effectively getting rid of all contracts with him, and if possible seizing any aircraft within their control? No-one has yet given a plausible explanation of this paradox.

Unless, of course, this Asia Times report on alleged efforts to arm Sunni "loyalist paramilitaries" in Iraq is true. Back at the start of the story, a source suggested such was the case. I'm not sure if the Asia Times is believable, though.

Another interesting sidelight is this comment by Willis:
also should have made much better use of the British at the CPA. (After all, they are more experienced than we in this kind of stuff!) Jeremy Greenstock and Andy Bearpark are two of the finest civil servants I have encountered, but they and the other British were not brought into full participation by the American side."
Remember this?

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