The U.S. Federal Reserve sent record payouts of more than $4 billion in cash to Baghdad on giant pallets aboard military planes shortly before the United States gave control back to Iraqis, lawmakers said on Tuesday.That Reuters story reminded me of a piece in this week's New Yorker. Jon Lee Anderson did a profile of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. It's not online, but since I'm a luvah I'll transcribe it for you (page 55 in the Feb 7 issue):
The money, which had been held by the United States, came from Iraqi oil exports, surplus dollars from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program and frozen assets belonging to the ousted Saddam Hussein regime.
Bills weighing a total of 363 tons were loaded onto military aircraft in the largest cash shipments ever made by the Federal Reserve, said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"Who in their right mind would send 363 tons of cash into a war zone? But that's exactly what our government did," the California Democrat said during a hearing reviewing possible waste, fraud and abuse of funds in Iraq.
Tehran was cold and gray on November 27th, when Talabani and his entourage arrived in the same 767 that had flown them to Paris. Several ministers and a clutch of Iraqi journalists and photographers were on board.Talabani throws his money around like the kind of guy who has a truckload of money he didn't earn. Not that I'm implying anything.
During our descent into Tehran, one of Talabani's junior aides came down the aisles, handing each person a form to sign. It was printed in Arabic, and, assuming it was an official landign document of some sort, I did so, whereupon he handed me a thick envelope and moved on. Inside were twenty hundred-dollar bills. After we landed, I asked the aide why he had given me money, and he said it was "a gift from the President." I thanked, him, but said that I could not accept it, and handed the envelope back. He looked very confused.
A senior aide translated my explanations about "journalistic ethics," which left the man lookig only more mystified. The senior aide then opened his own envelope and, whistling, counted out fifty hundred-dollar bills. "I think he's given me the same amount as the ministers," he exclaimed. "He does this from his own pocket, you know." He said that, on each trip, Talabani gives money to all those on board, including the bodyguards, the flight attendants, and the pilot. We calculated that during the one-hour flight Talabani had given away about a hundred thousand dollars.