A member of the Iraqi Security Force stands by at the scene of a bomb attack in central Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. auditors suggest that $6.6 billion in cash meant to help Iraq rebuild may have been stolen. UPI/Ali Jasim | License Photo
WASHINGTON, June 13 (UPI) -- U.S. auditors suggest that some of an unaccounted-for $6.6 billion in cash meant to help Iraq rebuild after the American-led 2003 invasion may have been stolen.
The huge missing sum was part of a $12 billion cash airlift the administration of President George W. Bush authorized in 2003 and 2004.
The U.S. and Iraqi governments are closing the books on the program this month but after multiple audits and investigations the Pentagon can't say what happened to the $6.6 billion -- enough to run the Los Angeles or Chicago school systems for a year -- the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
For the first time, federal auditors indicate that some or all of the missing money may have been stolen and cannot be explained away as an accounting error or being mislaid. The theft of such a huge sum might seem unlikely but U.S. officials say they aren't ruling out the possibility.
Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said the missing $6.6 billion may be "the largest theft of funds in national history."
Iraqi officials argue that a 2004 agreement signed by the U.S. government with Iraq puts Washington on the hook for the cash. Abdul Basit Turki Saeed, Iraq's chief auditor and president of the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, has warned U.S. officials Iraq will take legal action to recoup the missing funds.
Congress has already paid $61 billion for similar reconstruction and development projects in Iraq, the Times said.
"Congress is not looking forward to having to spend billions of our money to make up for billions of their money that we can't account for and can't seem to find," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who conducted hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq when he led the House Government Reform Committee.