The Pentagon is sending a team of investigators to Iraq because of the growing number of cases of fraud and other irregularities in contracts involving weapons and supplies for Iraqi forces.

"The (Defense) Department is concerned with the number of contracting improprieties" that have been uncovered, department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Tuesday.

Some members of a team led by Pentagon Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter are already in Iraq and have started work. The main body of the group, which includes members from around the service branches and other federal agencies, will go next week, said Chris Isleib, another Pentagon spokesman.

The group is going "in response to accountability and control problems," including some problems with "weapons and munitions purchased by the U.S. government and intended for use by Iraqi security forces," Isleib said.

The team also will go to Afghanistan.

"This team is an assessment team, tasked with looking into the overall situation and making recommendations," Isleib said.

There have been a growing number of cases involving not only weapons but contracts for a range of goods and services used in Iraq. As of last week, there were 73 criminal investigations into contracts in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, said Army spokesman Col. Dan Baggio. The Army is the contracting agent for all the military branches serving in the wars, he said.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that several federal agencies are investigating a widening network of criminal cases involving the purchase and delivery of billions of dollars of weapons, supplies and other matDeriel to Iraqi and American forces. The inquiry has already led to several indictments of Americans, with more expected, the Times reported, citing unidentified American officials.

In the most recent high-profile contract probe, the Government Accountability Office said last month that the Pentagon cannot fully account for $19.2 billion worth of equipment provided to Iraqi security forces.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said it had reviewed records of the U.S. unit running the program to train and equip Iraqi forces and couldn't account for what happened to least 190,000 weapons. U.S. officials, while acknowledging that some might have fallen into the hands of militants, said the majority of weapons went to Iraqi security forces but that records weren't property kept to show that.