- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

The State Departments inspector general has begun an audit of an Iraqi rebel coalition viewed by the Pentagon and many at the White House as a key plank in the U.S. strategy to oust Saddam Hussein from power.
The audit of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) is likely to further delay the disbursement of some $22 million in U.S. aid recommended by Congress and promised last year by the Clinton administration to the cash-strapped group.
The State Department has placed a hold on any funds designated for use inside Iraq, despite agreements dating back to January when the White House ordered the Treasury to grant the INC a license for just such activities.
Last month, the State Departments inspector general ordered a review of the INCs finances, following an audit performed by the British accounting firm Gordon Berman for a $4 million grant disbursed earlier this year.
The London accountants had not worked on previous State Department accounts and as such were unfamiliar with the technical specifications required by the department, said State Department officials.
The State Department is required to review all audits by accountants who have not worked with the department in the past. It was this review, said State Department officials, that triggered the current audit by the inspector general. Auditors from the IGs office arrived last week at the groups London offices, said INC officials.
"The inspector general is doing this because they wanted to be certain of the financial controls," one senior State Department official said. "Also, the audit did not cover the full $4 million grant; it only covered part of it."
In a telephone interview from London, one of the INCs leaders, Ahmad Chalabi, said his organization welcomed the audit.
"The contract gives them the right to do an audit," Mr. Chalabi added. "They approved a British accounting firm and then they came back and said these people were not familiar. They have no serious concerns."
But State Department officials did say they expected the audit to slow down the already delayed aid program for the INC.
This will hold up plans to build a satellite transmitter in northern Iraq, send teams of INC operatives into the country to collect political and military information on Saddams regime, and to distribute humanitarian aid.
The obstacle to receiving the substantive aid for which the INC has pushed since 1998 is a significant setback for the group. Support for the INC was touted in last years Republican election platform as a major element of Iraq policy.
When George W. Bush was elected president, INC officials had hoped for a rapid implementation of the Iraq Liberation Act, which would require the Pentagon to disburse nearly $100 million in military aid and training.

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