It was a signature of Bush-era incompetence in Iraq. $6.6 billion in reconstruction funds, loaded up on pallets and sent into Baghdad, never to be seen again. Where did it go? Who received the money? How could $6.6 billion go missing?

Years later, the government has come up with an answer. It went to the Central Bank of Iraq.

The Coalition Provisional Authority, created by the U.S. to run Iraq after the invasion, controlled more than $20.7 billion during its 14-month life, including $6.6 billion held when it was dissolved on June 28, 2004.

“That money is not missing,” said Inspector General Stuart Bowen in a telephone interview.

A 2010 Bowen audit couldn’t account for the money. Today’s report says “sufficient evidence exists showing almost all” the $6.6 billion was transferred to the central bank.

Just a few months ago, the LA Times reported that the money may have been stolen. Bowen says that’s not true.

We don’t yet have an accounting of what “almost all” means. Just how much of the $6.6 billion fell off the turnip truck? But for now, Stuart Bowen, who has been a generally competent inspector general as far as I know, has ended the debate. He said that the Iraqis have to answer for the missing money, not the Americans, who delivered it to the central bank as they were told.

This leads to the question, “Why didn’t anyone check with the Central Bank of Iraq first?” Indeed, several other deposits from the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Central Bank of Iraq have come into question, with missing documentation and a lack of a clear timeline on the transfer. There were also other deposits or findings of money, like the $217 million found by the Department of Defense in a vault at Saddam’s Presidential palace, that have not been fully accounted for.

And this has nothing to do with the nearly $60 billion in contracting funds lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Clearly, the process under the CPA of distributing reconstruction money and other funds in Iraq was not at all smooth. But a lingering symbol of the imperial Keystone Kops of the Bush era has been answered, for now.

David Dayen

David Dayen