Why are we giving more than $1 billion next year, mostly to Iraq’s military, while its oil income has soared, supposedly putting the Baghdad regime in surplus?
These questions emerged Thursday during a congressional hearing on the transition from a military to a civilian-led U.S. mission in Iraq. The House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security, homeland defense and foreign operations was the host panel.
“The government of Iraq’s commitment to the U.S. presence has remained unclear,” Michael J. Courts of the Government Accountability Office said in his prepared statement.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the subcommittee chairman, picked up that theme, listing complaints that Courts and other U.S. officials with oversight responsibilities in Iraq raised in their statements.
●Iraq security forces routinely have been detaining U.S.-hired private security contractors at checkpoints, and the Iraq government is restricting airspace for U.S. aircraft, jeopardizing potential escape routes.
●Iraq’s objections to the United States transporting people to meetings using the 60 MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) that the departing U.S. military turned over to the Baghdad embassy.
●Lack of cooperation from Iraqi law enforcement agencies with the U.S. Agency for International Development on prosecuting fraud cases.
●Difficulties in getting Iraqi entities to sustain projects that United States has poured billions of dollars into.
During the hearing, Chaffetz raised a different point. He said the GAO has reported that Iraq, thanks to oil exports, had accumulated a budget surplus of more than $50 billion. The U.S. Commerce Department reported that Iraq sold $17 billion worth of oil products to the United States in 2011, up 39 percent from 2010.
Chaffetz asked: “Why are we pouring a lot of money into Iraq when their . . . budget is certainly in better shape than ours?”
USAID plans to spend $263 million next year to support Iraq government building and anti-corruption programs. The bulk of fiscal 2013 money for Iraq, $911 million, is in a new Foreign Military Financing (FMF) fund run by the State Department to continue Pentagon programs that develop Iraqi army professionalism and logistics capabilities. State already has $850 million for FMF in fiscal 2012 money.
Thomas R. Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, took time Friday to discuss some issues on the Chaffetz list. Nides, who has monitored State’s takeover in Iraq from the Pentagon, insisted the Iraqis “want us there in a positive way.”
As he went down the list, he cautioned that although “there are no material problems today . . . things could change in a minute.”
Detaining of new U.S. security guards was a function of the January switch from Defense to State, Nides said. Embassy officials decided not to use the MRAPs, he said, because they “clog the streets” and give the impression that the U.S. military is still there. Instead, the embassy continues to use three-car convoys using sport-utility vehicles with civilian security guards.