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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Sopranos: Iraqi version

Let's hand over the cash

2 Years Later, Slayings in Iraq and Lost Cash Are Mysteries

Published: May 9, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 8 — The killing of Fern Holland, a human rights worker from Oklahoma, remains unsolved and as mysterious as it was when her body was found riddled with bullets on a desolate stretch of road near one of Iraq's southern holy cities in March 2004.

Now, federal investigators are grappling with a second mystery: what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash issued by American authorities to Ms. Holland and Robert J. Zangas, a press officer who died in the same attack near Karbala, in the days before their deaths?

Financial records from the American-run compound in Hilla, the south-central Iraqi city where Ms. Holland and Mr. Zangas were based, have established that much or all of that money — issued for things like programs to train Iraqis in democratic governance and construction of women's rights centers that Ms. Holland was setting up — was either missing or improperly accounted for after their deaths.

American investigators are trying to determine whether that money was stolen as part of the web of bribery, kickbacks, theft and conspiracy that they have laid out in a series of indictments and court papers describing corruption by American officials in Hilla in 2003 and 2004, according to officials involved in the inquiry. That corruption case, centered on reconstruction efforts, has led to four arrests, and more are expected.

The killings of Ms. Holland, a 33-year-old lawyer and dogged advocate of women's rights, and Mr. Zangas, 44, a former Marine lieutenant colonel from Pittsburgh, received wide attention at the time in part because they had been the first civilians of the American occupation government, called the Coalition Provisional Authority, to die in Iraq.

An Iraqi interpreter, Salwa Oumashi, also died in the attack. Their killings occurred before the major outbreak of insurgent violence that has made such episodes seem tragically routine. A group of Iraqis wearing police uniforms are believed to have been the triggermen in the killings, but no suspects have been publicly charged.

None of the charges in the corruption case mentioned Ms. Holland or Mr. Zangas, and there was no indication that any of those arrested in that case were suspects in their deaths. But as investigators follow a tortuous trail of receipts, vouchers, invoices and purchase orders indicating that Ms. Holland and Mr. Zangas received more than $320,000 in cash for their government work in the last two weeks of their lives, they have found that each of the four people arrested in the corruption case had some role in handling the money or were involved in some way with Ms. Holland's projects.

One of those, Robert J. Stein Jr., a former American occupation official in Hilla, pleaded guilty in February to five counts of bribery, conspiracy and other charges, and could serve up to 30 years in prison. Mr. Stein disbursed the cash to Ms. Holland and Mr. Zangas and was involved in accounting for it after their deaths.

The name of another American arrested in the corruption case, Philip H. Bloom, a businessman who was working in Iraq, appeared in contracting documents involving changes in Ms. Holland's projects after her death. He pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy, bribery and money laundering last month. Two Army Reserve officers, Lt. Col. Debra Harrison and Lt. Col. Michael Wheeler, who oversaw projects in Hilla, have been arrested and charged with accepting bribes.

A lawyer for Mr. Bloom, John N. Nassikas III, declined to comment. Lawyers for Mr. Stein, Colonel Harrison and Colonel Wheeler did not return telephone calls requesting comment.

So was she part of a robbery robbed or a clever thief who was doublecrossed.
The odds of her robbing the USG for personal gain is small to unlikely. What is far more likely is that she was set up and the killing used as cover

A few AK's, some hired or tipped off gunmen, and you have a murder that no one will think about solving, until now.

I could be wrong, they could have been up to their asses in a scheme which backfired, but I doubt it. Or killed for fucking around in a culture they didn't understand. Or murdered by fellow Americans for money, while shocking, would not surprise me.

My cynicism about Iraq is deep and wide, but if it was unclear about my meaning, I apologize.

posted by Steve @ 12:25:00 AM

12:25:00 AM

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