The Community Stabilization Program, launched in 2006, was designed to tamp down the insurgency by paying Iraqis cash to do public works projects such as trash removal and ditch digging. International Relief and Development (IRD), a Virginia-based non-profit corporation, ran the program, one of many it manages for the U.S. government.
It is rare for the U.S. Agency for International Development to suspend an ongoing aid program, particularly involving one of its major contractors. More than 80% of IRD's $500 million annual budget comes from USAID, company tax filings show.
The stabilization program "is generally thought of as one of the most effective counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq," Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew told USA TODAY.
Gosh, this was a surprise.
In a little-noticed March 2008 audit, however, USAID's inspector general reported evidence that the program was being defrauded through overbilling and payments to ghost Iraqi employees.
The audit included a letter from an unnamed U.S. official working with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Baghdad asserting that "millions of dollars from these projects were fraudulently going to insurgents, as well as to corrupt community leaders and (program) representatives." That fraud, the official wrote, could potentially put American troops at risk.
Much of the evidence of fraud, the audit said, came from "a number of classified and unclassified intelligence reports."
The inspector general did not cite corruption allegations against the American employees of IRD. However, it found that IRD's records were replete with "irregularities that call into question not only" the reported jobs "but also the validity of payments made to project contractors." Asked why IRD claimed credit for creating jobs when timesheets were incomplete or missing, one IRD official said the military was "pushing for job creation," the audit said.
In the wake of the audit, which focused mostly on problems in Baghdad, USAID and IRD put in place new financial monitoring.
Lew, Keys and USAID declined to say how much money went astray in Mosul.
Four former IRD employees, who investigated the irregularities or were briefed on them, told USA TODAY that at least $10 million was spent questionably in that city. The four declined to give their names because they said it would hurt their ability to get new jobs in the aid field. One of the former staffers who was assigned by IRD to assess the damage said that as much as tens of millions worth of projects didn't exist and the documents for them were faked.Nearly $600 million has been spent in the program across Iraq. USAID says the program created 45,000 jobs, though Gambatesa said those numbers cannot be verified because data and oversight were poor.