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The Coalition of the 'Willing to Be Paid'

The U.S. military paid at least $134.8 million to allies in Iraq from 2003 to 2006, according to a recent audit (pdf) by the Pentagon's inspector general. But when auditors tried to figure out why $68.2 million went to the United Kingdom, $45.3 million to Poland, and $21.3 million to South Korea, they found little and inadequate documentation  -- like virtually all of the $8 billion in payments scrutinized in the audit.

Here, for instance, is the voucher for an $8 million payment to a Polish Army commander from September of 2004. The purpose? The "benefit of the Iraqi people" (click to see the full image):

During a House oversight committee hearing on the audit earlier this week, Democrats underlined how little was known about the expenditures -- most of which came from taxpayer dollars, not seized Iraqi assets. It sounds like the coalition of the "willing to be paid," Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) opined.

"Can you identify a single reconstruction project that was funded with this $135 million?" Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) asked Mary Ugone, the deputy inspector general. "No, we cannot," was her simple answer.

The Pentagon declined the committee's request to produce a witness for the hearing, and the only substantive response to the audit came in the form of comments attached to the report by the Defense Department's comptroller. There was nothing amiss, according to the comptroller, because details on the spending would be provided "when the coalition partner completes the assigned mission." Any leftover cash would then be returned to the U.S., along with documentation of what the money had been used for. But when that might be is absolutely unclear. The British have said they will review their files to see where that $68 million might have gone, according to the audit, but the Poles and South Koreans have not.

The money was disbursed from the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), a fund for U.S. military commanders to support local humanitarian and reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. CERP, which has been funded at about $1 billion each year for the past three years, has generally been hailed as a successful hearts and minds initiative partly because of the flexibility it allows commanders. But a report (pdf) issued by Waxman's staff said that the legality of the payments was "unclear" because one of the few prohibitions for the funds was that they not be used for the "direct or indirect benefit to U.S. coalition forces or supporting military personnel."

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