Since 2003, Congress has provided nearly $50 billion for Iraqi reconstruction efforts. Yet a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office finds that soaring oil revenues from Iraq have left the country with a nearly $80 billion budget surplus.
It is well past time to put away the congressional rubber stamp for Iraq and demand real accountability from our leaders and the nation we've helped rebuild. In fact, given the size of the Iraqi budget surplus, American taxpayers should be reimbursed for the costs of Iraqi reconstruction.
When does Iraq take full responsibility for its own future? This question underscores many components of U.S. involvement in Iraq. When will a self-sufficient Iraqi military and police force be ready to secure the country alone? The answer and calendar remain uncertain. When it comes to funding Iraq's reconstruction and rebuilding, a new report shows that the answer is "long overdue."
The GAO reported that from 2005 through 2008, Iraq will have gained at least $156 billion in oil revenues, leading to the nearly $80 billion budget surplus. GAO even found that "from 2005 through 2007, Iraq was unable to spend all its budgeted funds."
Perhaps most egregiously, a huge amount of Iraqi surplus money is sitting in a bank in New York collecting interest. It's about $10 billion dollars, and is expected to grow even more. But here's the real kick in the gut - the deposit of Iraqi money at the Federal Reserve Bank is so large that U.S. taxpayers have paid $435.6 million in interest in the past year alone.
Iraq clearly has the resources, both in oil and dollars, to fund its own reconstruction and rebuilding efforts. The U.S. Treasury Department agrees with the GAO study, finding that "Iraq has adequate funds to make and maintain capital investments that deliver services and foster economic growth."
It is especially appalling that Iraq's financial windfall has been made via the skyrocketing price of oil. As families throughout Texas know, the rise in oil prices has been borne by the American consumer at the gas pump, in the grocery store, and in the numerous other ways.
Our predicament is unacceptable and untenable. It is a direct result of Congress's failure to provide necessary accountability.
While Washington has issued blank check after blank check for Iraqi reconstruction, they've voted against providing sufficient resources to investigate waste and abuse and provide sufficient oversight into Iraqi expenses and budgets. That's not the type of leadership we need in Washington.
When the war began, we were promised that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction costs of the country. Five years later, the American people are still footing the bill. The GAO report should make every Texan angry.
Our brave American men and women in uniform have done their jobs, and they are fighting every day to help the Iraqis stand up and take responsibility for their own country.
After all the lives that have been lost and the billions of dollars that have been spent, Americans deserve better. The Iraqi government must stand up, pay its own way, and reimburse American taxpayers.
Rick Noriega is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Texas.