The Iraqi and U.S. governments have been unable to account for a substantial chunk of the billions of dollars in reconstruction aid the Bush administration literally airlifted into the country. If the cash proves to have been stolen, the heist could represent "the largest theft of funds in national history," according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12-billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time.
Special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction Stuart Bowen told the paper the missing $6.6 billion may be "the largest theft of funds in national history."
Iraqi officials say it was the U.S. government's job to keep track of the funds, which were brought in as an emergency measure to keep basic infrastructure going after Saddam Hussein's ouster. House Government Reform Committee investigators found in 2005 evidence of "substantial waste, fraud and abuse in the actual spending and disbursement of the Iraqi funds."
Witnesses testified that millions of dollars were shoved into "gunnysacks" and disbursed to Iraqi contractors on pick-up trucks, with what seemed to be little financial controls or accounting on the part of the U.S. government.
(Twenty dollar bills in 2006: Scott Applewhite/AP)