Blood Money: A Story of Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq

By T. Christian Miller. <i>Little, Brown & Co. $24.99.</i>

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


The Bush administration’s reconstruction of Iraq was a farce from the start—a low-rent Marshall Plan conceived by a cast of ideological cronies with no unifying strategy and no real hope of success. As T. Christian Miller, a top-flight investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, puts it in this revealing book, “It was a rebuilding without a foreman or blueprints.” Blood Money tells the story behind this $30 billion failure, a colorful tale of corrupt profiteers, murdered American contractors and Nepalese laborers, and C-130 cargo planes packed with tons of $100 bills that American officials blasted across Iraq “like a leaf blower.”

Along the way, Miller introduces us to opportunists who tried to cash in on the chaos, like Jack Shaw, a hardheaded Pentagon hack who stalled the construction of an Iraqi 911 system in an attempt to rig a contract involving Qualcomm, an Eskimo tribe, and a Rolls-Royce-driving Irish eccentric. Then there’s Scott Custer and Mike Battles, Army buddies who set up shop in Baghdad and became millionaires by providing untrained security guards and inoperable trucks to the U.S. government. Even Laura Bush makes an appearance, recruiting an old family friend with a harebrained scheme to build a $500 million state-of-the-art children’s hospital in a country where 70 percent of childhood deaths are caused by easily preventable ailments like diarrhea.

Miller also uncovers the heroes of the reconstruction, the mid-level bureaucrats and contractors who stood up to Pentagon and Iraqi corruption, risking their careers and lives—such as the Republican weapons dealer who wouldn’t pay bribes to the Iraqi Defense Ministry and was murdered in a gangland-style hit. The challenge of doing an honest job in Iraq is summed up by a Halliburton trucker who keeps tampons in his cab to stanch gunshot wounds. “If you roll out thinking everybody is trying to kill you, you’re better off,” he explains. Miller concludes, “Working in Iraq was like tying your shoes in quicksand.”

In the Iraqi tribal tradition, “blood money” is the price paid—often in camels—to the family of a person who’s been accidentally killed. But as Miller reminds us, today Iraq is broken, and no amount of American money can put it back together again.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate