Baghdad Blues: Trials and Tribulations of the Second Greatest Generation

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Their President sounded the clarion call and from across America they responded. All brave and honorable men, some seeking to live down the memory of highly compensated medical specialists and 4-F draft classifications during the 1960s, all destined undoubtedly, at least in their own minds and the minds of the like-minded, to become legendary Captains of American Industry. Each and all dedicated, in the beginning at least, and in word if not deed, to the Commander in Chief’s notion that the good people of Iraq and all around the world were yearning to become Americans.

Submitted: May 01, 2016

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Submitted: May 01, 2016

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Their President sounded the clarion call and from across America they responded.  All brave and honorable men, some seeking to live down the memory of highly compensated medical specialists and 4-F draft classifications during the 1960s, all destined undoubtedly, at least in their own minds and the minds of the like-minded, to become legendary Captains of American Industry.  Men who a mere 40 years ago had stepped boldly forward to “develop  ourselves in a different direction” and stand on principle, as opposed to taking the easy way out and taking their chances with the  draft.  Men dedicated to the principle that that letter in freshman golf made the world and America a better place to live. 

Hundreds of them from boardrooms across America marched proudly into the basement of the White House for their vetting interview, answering difficult questions like “Who did you vote for in the recent Presidential election” and onward, through the arduous checkout lines at the Banana Republic or other high end vender of safari vests and hats, to the Presidential Palace, headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Government, the CPA, ensconced as it was deep inside the Baghdad Green Zone, surrounded by the flimsiest of 10 foot tall, ten ton steel reinforced concrete barriers and guarded from evil by nothing more than a thin line of United States Infantry, seeking to prove their mettle.  Some came as highly graded, highly paid and highly placed U.S. government Executive Employees.  Others as highly paid independent contractors, paid for with Iraqi oil sales proceeds, bringing the wisdom of their country club cocktail lounge happy hour discourses and dialogues.

Each and all dedicated, in the beginning at least, and in word if not deed, to the Commander in Chief’s notion that the good people of Iraq and all around the world were yearning to become Americans.

When faced with the task of setting up the Iraqi government’s process for disbursing Iraqi oil sales proceeds on deposit with the United States Federal Reserve Bank, simple minded folk, like professional accountants, and professional public finance managers, thought the solution was simple.  Banks have custody of money, but they don’t have the authority to spend it.  Central Banks have custody of a nation’s cash wealth, but only persons so authorized by the national Ministry of Finance have authority to write checks on that account.  So, the Central Bank can’t disburse funds without a check duly signed by an authorized officer.  This is what is known as separation of duties, or, a critical internal control.  Another important internal control, is requiring two signatures on paper checks.  Requiring two signatures on checks doesn’t eliminate the possibility of theft or fraud, but it does reduce it. 

Not surprising, the senior management of the Iraq Ministry of Finance, mostly men in their 70’s, British Charter Accountants with degrees from ancient British and Scottish universities and decades of experience, agreed with this. 

All of this, however, was accomplished without the consultation of the Captains.

Time marched on, as it does, and the Iraqi governmental transition neared.  Trouble makers, mostly auditors from various U.S. government agencies and U.S. Congressmen with backgrounds in banking or public finance, were already questioning the wisdom and propriety of various and sundry projects and programs spending both U.S. and Iraqi money. 

Baseless assertions that many of the CPA let contracts, using Iraqi funds, added little or no value to the development process or were let to unqualified companies or individuals were rampant.  Petty examples included hiring banking specialists instead of the Certified Public Accountants or Charter Accountants, as required by the agreement between the President of the U.S.A. and the United Nations to account for the Iraqi funds spent by the Coalition.  Another example, was the purchase of 115, $16,000 computerized fingerprinting and photo ID producing kits scattered around the country for the purpose of eliminating ghost employees that were not linked, could not be linked, and had limited storage.But, to their credit, these machines were very effective in preventing employees from fraudulently receiving more than one paycheck from a single work site. 

Darker clouds loomed on the horizon. 

While the CPA itself was going the way of the Dodo Bird, the heavy construction projects would live on for years and those contractors had to be paid.  It was obvious to right thinking real Americans, such as those Captains of Industry paid $400 an hour of more, including overtime, to produce nothing but cocktail hour wisdom, that while these goods and services were absolute necessities that Iraq would not survive without, the facts might not be so conspicuous to the nefarious Iraqis themselves. 

Great Conferences were held in the bar next to the Presidential Palace pool.The debate raged on whilst the Captains sat around sucking on huge phallus like Cuban cigars and sipping fine Scotch, until a general consensus was reached—“Let’s face it, these people are incompetent"—and a workable concept was developed. 

Not be caught short, on July 4, 2004, Iraqi Ministry of Finance (MoF) and Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) officers ventured into the Green Zone, conferenced with CPA Finance Ministry and Comptroller officers and came up with a procedure for those payments.  The ongoing CPA disbursing officer would prepare payment packages that would include a check with two signatures, the invoice, and a copy of the contract specifying the work that was being billed.  We would deliver these to the Iraq Ministry of Finance, MoF for short, where they would be reviewed.  If there were questions, the MoF would consult with the ongoing American Comptroller.  Once approved, the Central Bank would send the documents to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the fed would make the payment from the Iraqi account.  This, agreement and system of internal controls, was documented in English and Arabic and the U.S. representative, Iraq Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq all signed off on it.

But doubts and the mantra, “Let’s face it, these people are incompetent,” lingered like foul farts in a small elevator.  Somewhere along the line, “and venal” was added. 

More conferences were held.  The Iraqis were excluded from these because there was important work to be accomplished.  The decision was made to exclude the Iraq MoF from the process.  It would simply take too long to route these payments through the Ministry, so they would be sent directly to the Central Bank for disbursement.  Some participants raised the question of Iraqi sovereignty and control of their own bank account.  It was noted by one trouble maker that the Iraqis wouldn’t agree to anything that infringed on their sovereignty. 

One of the American staff attorneys, a young woman who trailed a scent of dirty ashtray and a cloud of dandruff where ever she went, reassured everyone present that “We're writing that law right now.  I can walk down to John's office and get a copy of it for you." 

Those who argued for Iraqi sovereignty over their own bank account were omitted from future email distributions on the subject.

We have two expert consultants in the Comptroller’s office who are paid $5,200 each day for expert consulting.  They are widely recognized by themselves as experts on Iraqi and Arab character in general and the competence and reliability of the Iraqi government in particular.  They acquired this highly specialized knowledge drinking fine whisky and sucking on thick Cuban cigars, along with the other Captains of American Industry.

Confession is good for the soul and so it is that I confess:  I was the simpleminded accountant who drafted the original policy requiring two signatures on checks and approval of disbursements by a MoF official.  I was the one who drove back and forth between the palace and the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance to coordinate and I was the one who scheduled the final meeting to sign the agreement.  I was also one of the simple minded who pointed out that the Iraqis were unlikely to surrender sovereignty over their bank account to a bunch of American contractors. 

Last week, the Big Guy, our In House Expert, swaggered over to my desk, stood over me and advised me that they had sent the first packet directly to the bank for payment.  “Chris” took them.

I figured this was his way of putting me, one of the un-pedigreed unwashed masses, in my place and I also figured the old woman in charge of disbursing at the bank would send the packet to the MoF for approval before she paid any of the checks.

Having people in place who can be trusted is another important aspect of internal controls.

Ten days after “Chris” took the pay packet to the bank, the venders had not received their payments.  It was obvious to patriotic American draft dodgers that those dastardly Iraqis probably hadn't processed them: “Those people are so incompetent.”

The second and third pay packets had been created but for reasons unknown to me had not been forwarded to the bank.  I had business in the Central Bank building with the Trade Bank and the Central Bank accounting department so I took them down. 

At the bank, I took them to the old woman in charge of disbursing—her name was written on the outside of the packet.  She took them out, examined them, looked a bit worried and perhaps even a little frustrated, and explained to me, in English and Arabic, that they needed two signatures and MoF approval.  She picked up a very large 3 ring binder and showed me the written procedure, in English and Arabic that required the signatures and approval.  The Insane Treasury Agent, my usual ride in the Red Zone when I’m not driving myself, reads and writes Arabic, and English, and he verified that they both said they same thing.  I had seen this document before.  It was signed by the Americans and Iraqis, and dated "July 4, 2004."It also required the CPA to provide a list of authorized signers. 

I took care of my other business, the agent took care of his, and we left.

Back at the Palace, I broke the news and was greeted with a lot of anger.  The Brave Heart Captains of American Industry, who have never visited any of the Ministries or the CBI and wouldn't know an Iraqi banker from a Ugandan rag collector, were emphatic—“The Iraqi's had done it again… They blew us off.They just refuse to cooperate.  And, now they have changed the rules again."

The consensus of opinion among the highly paid expert consultants who should have had nothing to do with the Comptroller’s disbursing procedure was that "Chris" had delivered the first pay packet and personally delivered it to the Deputy Governor.  The Deputy Governor had it processed and shipped it to the Fed. 

Now parallel to this, events were occurring in which some U.S. officials were preparing to literally have just anybody place a second signature on the documents and send them back down with me on Thursday.  We had a list of authorized signers, with specimen signatures, the same one the old woman had, but no one could find it. 

Obviously, according to popular wisdom, one Iraqi hand didn’t know what the other was doing.

Yesterday morning, we headed back downtown.  Out through the Assassins Gate, past the hole in the street from last week’s car bomb, back in the other directions past the scorched tree and shrubs where the booby trapped Coalition Ministry of Interior auto incinerated its occupants, beyond the really big hole and debris from the prior day's car bomb at the Little Assassin's Gate, up to the bridge three road and over the bridge where the Coalition driver got stuck in traffic and shot in the head, died and really screwed up the traffic, past the tattered concrete walls on the approach to al-Rasheed street where the mortars had impacted killing pedestrians and destroying shops, left on al-Rasheed at the corner where the Al Qaeda dude blew himself and his brief case up and killed one of the bank’s security guards, down al-Rasheed and into the bank. 

The Deputy Governor said that “George,” not "Chris" had brought him the first pay packet.  He has known George for some time.  He doesn’t know “Chris.”  He said that the procedure and policy, written by the Americans, and agreed to by the Iraqis, and accepted by the American Federal Reserve Bank, required that the MoF authorize the payments.  He said he didn't know why the Americans insisted on first delivering the pay packets to the bank, instead of the MoF, but that he would accommodate them.  That same day that he had received the packet, he had had his courier take it to the MoF for the required authorization and had been advised that the documents lacked the required signatures and were returned to the Palace.  He was very embarrassed for me.  He got all of the principles from the bank together and we all looked at the procedure together, in the same room, at the same time, and he even called the MoF Deputy Governor and talked to him about it.  I should add that the document also specified who was an authorized signor and had signature specimens.  The U.S. deputy who didn't know who the third authorized signor was is one of the authorized signors and signed right above the 3rd, "unknown" signor.  The document we were examining was the one signed by the American Senior Advisor on July 4, 2004. The same document that I had drafted.

From there, we went to the MoF and I took at photocopy of the list of authorized signors with specimens. This time we traveled through Indian country with truck loads of armed escorts in front of us and trailing behind us and passed down too narrow streets and other passageways from which there would be no retreat from any ambush.

At the MoF, we talked to the Deputy Governor and Chief Accountant.  These two men had been involved with the Americans and British in working out the payment procedure.  They too were operating from the July 4, 2004 document.  They said that when they had received the first pay packet, they had called the Palace, the old CPA MoF, and had been told that someone would pick it up  No one showed up to do so.  They had tried to give it to one of the other Americans to return to the CPA MoF, but all had declined.  They also said that they didn't know why the Americans insisted on first delivering the pay packets to the bank, instead of the MoF, but that they had daily couriers between the bank and the MoF and they would accommodate us. 

We bounced out of the MoF, up and over curbs and raised medians, and headed back home, past the spot where the bad guys came up from behind and shot up a CPA convoy, past the spot where the really big car bomb went off and CNN showed the old man being carried down from the second story rubble.  Crossing the bridge, we bounced over the curb and the center median and skidded to a sudden stop.  I normally sit looking backwards—see the sentence about “bad guys came up from behind” above--so I can't use a seat belt.  I was thrown over the front seat. The last thing I saw before crashing headfirst and upside down into the dash was a young boy going down in front of us.  We stopped and it turned out that he had only fallen in front of us and that we hadn't actually hit him.  Continuing on, our progress at the Little Assassins gate was blocked by the results of a car bomb.  We headed to the Assassin's Gate to find out that we were locked out and couldn't get back inside because they thought they had another car bomb inside the search hole.

So, we bounced back over the first bridge to al-Rasheed Street, made a right turn and headed south past the hotels where the journalists go to be rocketed and mortared, down through the Iraqi version of the bad side of Detroit to the River road and along the River Road to the 14th of July Bridge, around the circle where the Iraqi Vice President was killed waiting to get into the Green zone, past the holes where the car bombs are triggered to kill the casual day laborers who wait in line to get into the zone, stop for the first soldier, and get our ID's checked while the soldier in the Bradley Fighting Vehicle trains his 25mm M242 Chain Gun on my nose.  On to the second checkpoint where they check IDs again and search the vehicle for explosives, then over the bridge past another Bradley Fighting vehicle and into the Zone. 

The day was getting better.  We pulled into the Green Zone Cafe for "lunch."  The best charbroiled chicken this side of Ensenada, Mexico.  I got out of the vehicle, thinking about how I was going to get the Americans and British on board with the procedures and policy that we had written and the Iraqi's and United States Federal Reserve Bank had adopted.  I was pissed and tired of dealing with our expert consultants and the Captains of American Industry, plus there was a lot of adrenalin coursing through my veins.  The temperature was a little over 120 degrees and I was dripping sweat from my body armor and helmet.  Stepping to the rear of the SUV, I ejected the round from my rifle, pointed the barrel down and blew a hole the size of a small teacup saucer in the concrete parking lot. 

I failed to "remove the magazine" and when I ejected the round all I did was reload the rifle.

So, I'm standing there with little pieces of copper jacket and lead sticking out of the left side of my face—the bullet fragments ricocheted off the concrete wall next to the car—including one the size of a thumbnail clipping that I could hear and feel sizzling in my skin, when the Iraqi gun, the Insane Treasury Agent’s partner, puts his arm around my shoulder and says, "Goooood jahba Aydie, you certainly killed that mawtherfawhker."  The agent came around the car and looked at the hole and me, exclaimed “The gun works,” and asked, "Does your face hurt?"

The fellas promised not to tell anyone of my little accident and I promised not to tell anyone about them almost creaming the kid.

I don’t know how the words "Morton 1, Concrete Parking Lot Zero" got written on the briefing board the next morning. 

Later, I talked to the folks at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.  They said that had they actually received a pay packet with only one signature checks, they could not have paid them.  The July 4, 2004 agreement stipulated 2 signatures as well as Ministry of Finance approval. 

For the time being, the two signature requirement and MoF approval remains in effect, but I’m sure the New Age Captains of American Industry will try again.

I’m pretty sure that my name has been added to the list of saboteurs of America’s Second Greatest Generation.

Those dastardly Iraqis had done it again.


© Copyright 2017 Eddie C Morton. All rights reserved.