A just released audit reveals vast new allegations of fraud and incompetence in the channeling of millions of dollars intended for reconstruction of Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

As reported by The New York Times Jan. 25, the U.S. office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has revealed “irregularities” in an area covering half the country, including “bricks” of shrink-wrapped $100 bills stashed casually in bathroom safes, filing cabinets and unlocked foot lockers and siphoned off for unknown purposes.

Some of the malfeasance proved deadly, as when an elevator crashed at a paid-for but unfinished rehabilitation project at a hospital in Hilla, killing three Iraqis.

Bad enough that some of the funds are our taxpayers’ money. But it is particularly shocking that most of the misused millions came from Iraqi oil proceeds and funds seized from the Saddam Hussein government — in other words, money belonging to the Iraqi people. Iraqis continue to suffer daily because, under the U.S. occupation, their infrastructure, including electricity, health care facilities, schools and transportation, remains in a shambles.

A Defense Department official, speaking anonymously, called contracting procedures “a disaster.”

Added to previous accounts of fraud, mismanagement and price gouging by U.S.-based transnational contracting firms supposedly engaged in reconstructing Iraq, like Halliburton and Bechtel, both with crony ties to the Bush administration, the new revelations paint a picture of wholesale looting of funds belonging to the Iraqi and American people.

Many of the findings are expected to raise big new questions about the actions of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

It will not be enough to identify and prosecute low-level perpetrators. Such scandals reveal how rotten the U.S. occupation of Iraq has been from the very beginning. No time should be lost in withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq, paying reparations to the Iraqi people — in the first place out of the profits of Halliburton and Bechtel — and bringing the highest echelons of the Bush administration to book for their crimes against humanity.