The looting of Iraq

One of North Carolina's own, Mr. Robert Stein, is now in federal court where the former U.S. occupation official in Iraq "is expected to plead guilty to bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and other charges ... in a scheme to use sexual favors, jewelry and millions of dollars in cash to steer reconstruction work to a corrupt contractor."

The news accounts are focusing on Stein as a renegade element, a "bad apple" in the Iraq reconstruction effort -- and it's true he had a direct hand in his fair share of looting for which he will likely be held accountable:

Mr. Stein is accused of stealing outright at least $2 million in cash of American taxpayer money and Iraqi money that had been set aside for the reconstruction of Iraq by the American occupation. He also accepted more than $1 million in bribes and at least $600,000 of additional goods and cash that were the property of the C.P.A., the papers say.

But the case speaks more to the scandalous operations of the U.S. in Iraq. Stein himself only got his job because of shoddy oversight:

Mr. Stein was put in charge of at least $82 million of reconstruction money despite a previous conviction for felony fraud, which his Pentagon background check apparently missed. Mr. Bloom and some of the others wired money back to the United States to buy weaponry like grenade launchers and machine guns that Mr. Stein was prohibited from owning because of his conviction or that were illegal in themselves.

But more importantly, Stein's take from the Iraq contracting scam is peanuts compared to the ill-gotten riches seized by, say, Halliburton. But alas, Halliburton isn't going to court -- they're getting more contracts.