Waxman Raps Ex-Iraq Chief Over Aid Funds

The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 6, 2007; 10:15 PM

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats, taking charge of investigations now that they control Congress, grilled the former U.S. occupation chief in Iraq on Tuesday about the way he doled out up to $12 billion of Iraqi dollars without accounting for the money.

L. Paul Bremer III, with support from Republicans, fired back by insisting he did the best he could in the middle of a war and repeating over and over that he was spending Iraqi _ not U.S. _ money.

The hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform scrutinized the chaotic days that began after a burning and looted Baghdad fell to U.S. troops four years ago. Bremer ran the country for 14 months.

However, the days of the Coalition Provisional Authority seemed like a distant past compared with a simultaneous Senate hearing _ where Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke of the situation today, including the hope of a U.S. troop withdrawal before year's end.

The significance of the House hearing came when Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., promised two years of investigations of fraud, waste and abuse on the Bush administration's watch.

Democrats are planning dozens of investigations, many of them in Waxman's committee, which scheduled further hearings this week on homeland security contracts and drug prices.

The hearing presented two divergent views of what financial controls were possible in an Iraqi capital with no functioning national government.

Waxman and a hearing witness, special inspector general for Iraq Stuart Bowen Jr., criticized Bremer for failing to install accounting systems that would have forced Iraqi ministries to account for up to $12 billion in Iraq's funds. The money came from a United Nations oil-for-food program and seized Iraqi assets, but fell under Bremer's control.

"Without strong standards, we have no way of knowing whether the cash could end up in enemy hands," said Waxman.

Bremer countered, "I arrived in Baghdad at a time when much of the city was burning. Looting was still widespread. My responsibilities were to kickstart the economy."

Former committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., now the senior minority member, defended Bremer and criticized Waxman.

He said Waxman was rushing to "old judgments" in a hearing that was "old news."

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