Real battle for Iraq set to begin

With the post-invasion U.N. mandate for the U.S.-led coalition to provide security in Iraq set to expire the end of this year, the real battle for control of the country is set to begin between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government. Negotiations between the two parties of a formal military-to-military relationship that would replace the current mandate are expected to begin in February. Such a new long-term bilateral strategic agreement would redefine the fundamental role of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors immunity from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials who spoke on grounds of anonymity. But a senior member of the Iraqi negotiating team said they would seek to have U.S. troops — who for five years have conducted aggressive combat missions across the country — largely confined to their bases. U.S. troops would have only limited freedom of movement off base under Iraq’s position, leaving only when requested to provide intelligence, air support, equipment and other logistical support, the Iraqi negotiator said.

The agreement, as envisioned by Iraq, would shift military operations inside the country to emphasize Iraq’s combat strength with sophisticated background support from U.S. units. U.S. officials have long maintained that the Iraqi army is “all teeth and no tail,” meaning it is entirely focused on combat but is unable to operate independently because of equipment and intelligence shortfalls.

The emerging U.S. negotiating position faces a potential buzz saw of opposition from Iraq, with its fragmented Parliament, weak central government and deep sensitivities about being seen as a dependent state, according to officials. At the same time, the administration faces opposition from Democrats at home, who warn that the agreements the White House seeks would bind the next president by locking in President Bush’s policies and a long-term military presence.

The administration’s quest for immunity for civilian contractors is expected to be particularly vexing, because in no other country are contractors working with the U.S. military granted protection from local laws. In seeking immunity for contractors, the administration is requesting protections for the 154,000 civilians working for the Pentagon — including about 13,000 armed mercenaries not under military control.

The administration position also includes less-controversial demands that U.S. troops be immune from Iraqi prosecution, and that they maintain the power to detain Iraqi prisoners. Immunity is a standard condition of most recent agreements for basing U.S. forces on foreign soil.

Democrats in Congress, as well as the party’s two leading presidential contenders, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, have accused the White House of sponsoring negotiations that will set into law a long-term security relationship with Iraq. But administration officials said that the U.S. proposal specifically does not set future troop levels in Iraq or ask for permanent military bases there. Nor, they said, does it offer a mutual security guarantee defining Washington’s specific responsibilities should Iraq come under attack.

Including such long-term commitments in the agreement would turn the accord into a bilateral treaty, one that would require Senate approval. The Bush administration faces the political reality that it cannot count on the two-thirds vote that would be required to approve a treaty with Iraq setting out such a military commitment.

Administration officials are describing their draft proposal in terms of a traditional status-of-forces agreement, an accord that has historically been negotiated by the executive branch and signed by the executive branch without a Senate vote.

While the United States currently has status-of-forces agreements with 80 countries around the world, including Japan, Germany, South Korea and a number of Iraq’s neighbors, none of those countries are at war. And none has a population outraged over civilian deaths at the hands of armed American security contractors who are not answerable to Iraqi law.

Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, who raised concerns in a letter to the White House in December, said that the negotiations were an unprecedented step toward making an agreement on status-of-forces without the overarching security guarantees like those provided in the NATO treaty. He added that the Democratic majority would seek to block any agreements with the Iraqis, unless the administration was clear about its ultimate intentions in Iraq.

“There’s no exit strategy, because the administration doesn’t have one,” Senator Webb said in a telephone interview. “By entering this agreement, they avoid a debate and they validate their unspoken strategy.”

The military-to-military aspect of the future relationship is to be negotiated by July 31. Diplomats will also negotiate political and economic relations between the two countries. U.S. officials are keenly aware that any agreement must be approved by Iraq’s fractured Council of Representatives, where Sunni and Shiite factions feud and even Shiite blocs loyal to competing leaders cannot agree.

Muddying the waters, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir said January 14 that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq’s borders from external threat until at least 2018. His pessimistic comments implied a longer U.S. military commitment than either government had previously indicated. President Bush has never given a date for a military withdrawal from Iraq but has repeatedly said that American forces would stand down as Iraqi forces stand up.

Mr. Qadir also sketched out a shopping list for military equipment that included ground vehicles, armored personnel carriers, tanks, artillery, helicopters and, eventually, reconnaissance vehicles and warplanes.

– edited from The New York Times and
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2008

 (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

U.S. embassy in Baghdad a symbol of corruption

US_Embassy_Baghdad.jpg (17419 bytes)

Photo caption: A portion of the new U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad
is seen from across the Tigris River in this May 2007 photo.

The new United States embassy under construction in Baghdad, Iraq — the largest American embassy in the world — is a complex of 21 buildings on a site the size of the Vatican. Now behind schedule and running $144 million over its $592 million budget, the project is notorious for its deficient, unsafe construction, some of which is under criminal investigation. The opening of the mammoth embassy, which had been planned for September, has been delayed well into this year.

New U.S. embassies elsewhere typically cover 10 acres. At 104 acres, the Baghdad embassy’s overpowering size — bigger than any of Saddam Hussein’s palace complexes — together with the huge permanent military bases built in Iraq by the Bush administration are evidence of ambitions to exercise long-term power in the country and region. The embassy complex has its own electric power and water and sewage plants to supply a planned staff of some 4,000 regular employees.

As a city-state, the Vatican is an appropriate metaphor for the Bush administration’s imperial headquarters in Iraq. Baghdad residents — still deprived of reliable water and electricity after almost five years — grew irritated as they watched the massive embassy they call “George W’s palace” rise from the banks of the Tigris River. Being co-located with the Iraqi government in the fortified Green Zone, it is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country.

Vulnerable to mortar attacks, the hardened, heavily guarded site surrounded by concrete blast walls is also a symbol of the violence, bloodshed and lawlessness unleashed in Iraq by the Bush administration’s catastrophic invasion and occupation.

Another source of irritation is that Iraqis don’t know whether the U.S. State Department paid for the prime real estate or simply took it. Iraq’s interim government transferred the land to U.S. ownership in October 2004, under an agreement whose terms were not disclosed.

Iraqis were also excluded from construction jobs on the huge complex in favor of low-paid workers who are alleged to have been illegally smuggled from South Asia by the construction contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Company — a company that works in tandem with Halliburton’s KBR on many military contracts. First Kuwaiti coerced low-paid workers to take jobs in Iraq against their will after recruiters lured them to Kuwait for different jobs, according to Filipino workers who escaped Iraq. Witnesses say First Kuwaiti took away laborers’ passports and issued airplane boarding passes for Dubai, then smuggled them on planes to Baghdad. Taking passports is a violation of U.S. trafficking laws and contracting regulations.

One part of the embassy complex with safety problems — the firefighting system — was dismissed by top U.S. officials in their rush to declare construction largely completed by the end of last year, according to internal State Department documents and interviews. Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, said that the fire system, “as installed, did not meet specifications” and needed to be fixed. Allegedly, First Kuwaiti had never built an embassy and did not realize that under State Department rules it needed approval for substituting certain materials.

Some of the problems became apparent when plastic pipes burst during an underground water-pressure test last fall. The plastic pipes were replaced with cast iron, and top officials then turned to an outside consulting firm for a reassessment. When that consulting firm uncovered additional problems in October and November, top officials involved in the project tried to whittle down the list of possible repairs.

Some officials assert that in the push to complete the long-delayed project, potentially life-threatening problems have been left untouched. “The fire systems are the tip of the iceberg,” said a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation. “That is the most visible. But no one has ever inspected the electrical system, the power plant” and other parts of the embassy complex. “This is serious enough to get someone killed,” the official said.

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal probe into the awarding of the construction contract and subcontracts.

– edited from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times (London),
The Associated Press and
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Invaders’ guide to Iraq - 1942

This is an excerpt from “A Short Guide to Iraq,” a handbook published by the U.S. government in 1942 for American soldiers stationed in Iraq to prevent Nazis from seizing the country’s oil. It was published in Harper's Magazine, October 2004.

You will enter Iraq (i-RAHK) both as a soldier and as an individual, because on our side a man can be both. That is our strength — if we are smart enough to use it. It can be our weakness if we aren’t. As a soldier your duties are laid out for you. As an individual, it is what you do on your own that counts — and it may count for a lot more than you think.

American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis (as the people are called) like American soldiers or not. It may not be quite that simple. But then again it could.

One of your big jobs is to prevent Hitler’s agents from getting in to do their dirty work. The best way you can do this is by getting along with the Iraqis, and the best way to get along with any people is to understand them. That is what this guide is for. And, secondly, so that you as a human being will get the most out of an experience few Americans have been lucky enough to have. Years from now you’ll be telling your children and maybe your grandchildren stories beginning, “Now, when I was in Baghdad ...”


What is Iraq, anyhow? Well, it’s a lot of things, old and new. In Baghdad, the capital city, you will see street merchants selling exactly the same kind of pottery that their ancestors sold at the time of the Arabian Nights. Not far away you will see great dams and modern refineries equal to the best you have seen in America.

Iraq is hot! Probably you will feel Iraq first — and that means heat. Blazing heat. And dust. Or the first thing you notice may be the smells. You have heard and read a lot about the “mysterious East.” You have seen moving pictures about the colorful life of the desert and the bazaars. When you actually get there, you will look in vain for some of the things you have been led to expect. You will smell and feel a lot of things the movies didn’t warn you about.


But don’t get discouraged. Most Americans and Europeans who have gone to Iraq didn’t like it at first. Might as well be frank about it. But nearly all of these same people changed their minds, largely on account of the Iraqi people they began to meet. So will you.

That tall man in the flowing robe you are going to see soon, with the whiskers and the long hair, is a first-class fighting man, highly skilled in guerrilla warfare. If he is your friend, he can be a staunch and valuable ally. If he should happen to be your enemy — look out! Remember Lawrence of Arabia? Well, it was with men like these that he wrote history in the First World War.

But you will find out that the Iraqi is one of the most cheerful and friendly people in the world. If you are willing to go just a little out of your way to understand him, everything will be okay.

Differences? Sure, there are differences. Differences galore! But what of it? You aren’t going to Iraq to change the Iraqis. Just the opposite. We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of “live and let live.” Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home. Now you have the chance to prove it to yourself and others. If you can, it’s going to be a better world for all of us.

By far the most people you will meet are Moslems. They do not like to have “unbelievers” (to them you are an “unbeliever”) come anywhere near their mosques. You can usually tell a mosque by its high tower. If you try to enter one, you will be thrown out, probably with a severe beating. If you have blundered too near a mosque, get away in a hurry before trouble starts.

You probably belong to a church at home, and you know how you would feel toward anyone who insulted or desecrated your church. Their feeling about their religion is pretty much the same as ours toward our religion, though more intense. If anything, we should respect the Moslems the more for the intensity of their devotion.

It is a good idea in any foreign country to avoid any religious or political discussions. This is even truer in Iraq, because it happens that here the Moslems themselves are divided into two factions something like our division into Catholic and Protestant denominations, so don’t put in your two cents when Iraqis argue about religion. There are also political differences in Iraq that have puzzled diplomats and statesmen.

Your move is to stay out of political and religious arguments altogether. By getting mixed up in these matters, you’ll only help the Nazi propagandists who are trying to stir up trouble. If you can win the trust and friendship of all the Iraqis you meet, you will do more than you may think possible to help bring them together in our common cause.

Needless to say, Hitler will try to use the differences between ourselves and Iraqis to make trouble. But we have a weapon to beat that kind of thing. Plain common horse sense. Let’s use it. Hitler’s game is to divide and conquer. Ours is to unite and win!

– PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The Iraq war as we saw it

by Spc. Buddhika Jayamaha, Sgt. Wesley D. Smith, Sgt. Jeremy Roebuck, Sgt. Omar Mora, Sgt. Edward Sandmeier, Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray and Staff Sgt. Jeremy A. Murphy, U.S. Army, Baghdad

Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been under-represented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counter-insurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages.

As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

– The New York Times, 19 August 2007
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2007

[Note: Sgt. Omar Mora and Staff Sgt. Yance Gray, along with five other soldiers, were killed Sept. 10, 2007 when the five-ton cargo truck they were riding in overturned.]

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

War is indeed hell

U.S. Army Sgt. Justin Thompson, 23, is in Baghdad assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Now on his second deployment, Sgt. Thompson, from Lacey, Wash., doesn’t see the U.S. military presence in Iraq achieving its goals, especially when it comes to the business of “winning the hearts and minds” of the people. As an infantryman, Thompson says he’s deeply troubled by what he’s seen during his tours of duty in Iraq. Consequently, he has become outspoken in his opposition to the Iraq war, despite still being on active duty.

“When you kick open an Iraqi’s door in the middle of the night, wake up a family, watch the children cry and listen to the women scream, the last word that goes through your head is ‘hero,’” he says. “When you arrest the family’s father because he’s a suspected IED maker, who you know is most likely innocent, and hand him to the Iraqi Army who will beat a confession out of him, ‘hero’ isn’t as accurate as ‘state-sponsored terrorist.’ When the streets are flooded as far as you can see with protesters demanding that the United States end its operations in Iraq, you don’t exactly feel like you’re liberating anyone.”

Sgt. Thompson says he understands what has allowed him to survive in combat. “I recognized that in order to cope with what I had to do — in order to cope with killing — I had to make my heart cold. I had to dehumanize Iraqis in order to justify killing them. Even though I’d become aware of this behavior, I couldn’t let go of it. I had to become something I wasn’t in order to save my sanity.”

– edited from In These Times, September 2007
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Iraq diaspora is a humanitarian crisis

As the war in Iraq enters its fifth year, the Middle East’s largest refugee crisis since the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 is taking place in a climate of fear, persecution and tragedy. Some 2 million Iraqis — about 8 percent of the prewar population — have embarked on a desperate migration, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugees include large numbers of doctors, academics and other professionals vital for Iraq’s recovery. Another 1.9 million have been forced to move to safer towns and villages inside Iraq, displaced by sectarian cleansing. As many as 50,000 Iraqis a month flee their homes, and the U.N. expects 1 million more Iraqis to be displaced internally this year.

The rich began trickling out of Iraq as conditions deteriorated under U.N. sanctions in the 1990s, their flight growing in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Now, as the violence worsens, increasing numbers of poor Iraqis are also on the move, aid officials say. To flee, Iraqis sell their possessions, raid their savings and borrow money from relatives. They ride buses or walk across terrain riddled with criminals and Sunni insurgents, preferring to risk death over remaining in Iraq.

Ali Ghazi and his Shiite family got out of their old Baghdad neighborhood just in time. They were warned by a Sunni friend that Sunni militants planned to murder them by morning. They grabbed everything they could carry and ran.

The exodus is now generating friction and anger across the region. Iraq’s neighbors worry the new refugees will carry in Iraq’s sectarian strife. And Iraqis are blamed for driving up prices and taking away scarce jobs. “The Jordan government does not want to encourage Iraqis to stay for a long time,” said Gaby Daw, project officer for the Catholic charity Caritas Internationalis, one of the few aid agencies assisting Iraqi refugees.

Iraqis equally feel bitterness at their exile, fed by a sense that outside forces created their plight. Many refugees view the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein as the root cause of their woes.“We were promised a kind of heaven on earth,” said Rabab Haider, who fled Baghdad last year. “But we’ve been given a real hell.”

The situation is already a humanitarian crisis. The refugees threaten to overwhelm available resources in the neighboring countries. An investigation by Refugees International reports that the United States and United Nations have until now all but ignored the problem, and gives them failing grades for helping the Iraqi people with their most basic needs. “Iraqis are left without resources for health care, without resources for education, and this is a disaster,” said Kristelle Younes, an investigator with Refugees International.

Aid officials and human rights activists say the United States and other Western nations are focused on reconstructing Iraq while ignoring the war’s human fallout. “It’s probably political,” said Janvier de Riedmatten, U.N. refugee agency representative for Iraq, referring to the reason why the world hasn’t helped Iraq’s refugees. “The Iraq story has to be a success story,” he said.

More than 18,000 Iraqi refugees are now seeking asylum in Europe — half in Sweden. But how many has the United States accepted? In all of 2006, only 202.

Why has the United States closed its borders to Iraqis when the crisis began with the U.S.-led invasion? The administration blames it on immigration restrictions imposed after Sept. 11, 2001.

– edited from The Washington Post and NBC News
PeaceMeal, March/April 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Blame the Iraqis

Gwynne Dyer, 26 Feb. 2007

As the people who talked the United States into the Iraq war try to talk their way out of the blame for the mess they made, one dominant theme has emerged: blame the Iraqis. Our intentions were good; we did our best to help; but the Iraqis are vicious, incompetent ingrates who would prefer to kill one another than seize the freedom we brought them. It’s not our fault that it turned out so badly.

This comforting myth started on the right, among those who had been eager supporters of “a war of choice to instill some democracy in the heart of the Middle East,” as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman put it in his column four years ago. The myth is fast taking root among Americans.

Brazen, self-serving distortions of the truth by people who have a lot of explaining to do are not in the least surprising, because if the ghastly mess in Iraq wasn’t the fault of Iraqis, then it would have to be the fault of Americans. So, there was no surprise last November when arch neo-conservative Richard Perle, ex-chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, said that he had “underestimated the depravity” in Iraq. He has a lot of blame to shift, so he would say that.

Somebody must be to blame, and it cannot be us, so it must be those brutal, stupid Iraqis.

Getting out of Iraq is the least bad thing the United States can do now, and the sooner the better. If Americans must manufacture racist fantasies about the victims in order to salve their pride on the way out, then so be it. But it is a shameful, childish lie.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. For the full article, see:

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

$ billions squandered in Iraq

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is at risk of squandering significantly more money in an Iraq war and reconstruction effort that has already wasted or otherwise overcharged taxpayers billions of dollars, federal investigators said February 15 in congressional testimony. The three top auditors overseeing contract work in Iraq told a House committee of $10 billion in spending that was wasted or poorly tracked. Of the $10 billion in overpriced contracts or undocumented costs, more than $2.7 billion were charged by Halliburton Co., the Houston-based firm once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The auditors pointed to numerous instances in which Defense and State Department officials condoned or otherwise allowed poor accounting, repeated work delays, bloated expenses, and payments for work shoddily or never done by U.S. contractors. That problem could worsen, the Government Accountability Office said, given limited improvement so far by the Department of Defense, even as the Bush administration boosts the U.S. presence in Iraq.

According to their testimony, the investigators found overpricing and waste in Iraq contracts amounting to $4.9 billion since the Defense Contract Audit Agency began its work in 2003, although some of that money has since been recovered. Another $5.1 billion in expenses were charged without proper documentation.

The auditors urged the Pentagon to reconsider its growing reliance on outside contractors to run the nation’s wars and reconstruction efforts. Layers of subcontractors, poor documentation, and lack of strong contract management are rampant and promote waste even after the GAO first warned of problems 15 years ago, they testified.

The auditors appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif). Rep. Waxman has pledged investigations — with subpoenas if necessary — of the fraud, waste and abuse on the Bush Administration’s watch. He decried the overpricing identified by the DCAA, a figure that has tripled since last fall. “According to the Pentagon auditors, more than one in six dollars they have audited in Iraq is suspect,” Waxman said. “It’s no wonder taxpayers across the country are fed up and demanding real oversight.”

Also testifying was Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. A Texas lawyer and former associate counsel in the Bush White House, Mr. Bowen is one of the most prominent and credible critics of how the administration has mishandled the reconstruction of Iraq. In a series of blistering public reports, he has detailed systemic management failings, lax or nonexistent oversight, and apparent fraud and embezzlement on the part of U.S. officials charged with administering the rebuilding efforts.

The effort to rebuild Iraq after the U.S. invasion in March 2003 quickly became the largest U.S. reconstruction effort since the end of World War II. The funds eventually included $18.4 billion in U.S. money and more than $22 billion in seized Iraqi assets turned over to the U.S. by the United Nations. In the fall of 2003, Congress created the post of inspector general to oversee how the money was spent. The White House itself tapped Mr. Bowen, 47 years old and a former Air Force captain perceived as a loyal Bush ally, to fill the position in January 2004.

Mr. Bowen, traveled to Iraq for the first time in February 2004, riding from the airport to the heavily fortified Green Zone in an armored bus. An auditor on his staff subsequently resigned after seeing a friend decapitated in a rocket attack.

In November 2004, Mr. Bowen leveled accusations against Halliburton Co. in two separate reports. He urged the Army to withhold nearly $90 million in payments to Halliburton because the company couldn’t justify what it had charged the government. The report added that “weakness in the cost-reporting process” was such a problem that his investigators couldn’t do a standard audit of Halliburton’s bills to the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority. In addition, at least a third of the government-owned vehicles and equipment that Halliburton was paid to manage were believed lost. Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann said the oil-services and contracting company is working with the Army to resolve the matter and “we expect to work through any remaining issues in a cooperative manner.”

In one of his most attention-grabbing reports issued on January 30, 2005, Mr. Bowen concluded that the CPA, headed by L. Paul Bremer, failed to keep track of $8.8 billion that it transferred to Iraqi government ministries, which lacked financial controls and internal safeguards to prevent abuse. The amount included $5.5 billion in cash — 363 tons of bills loaded on giant pallets — that was ferried to Baghdad on military aircraft in three shipments beginning December 12, 2003.The money, which had been held by the United States, came from Iraqi oil exports, surplus dollars from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program, and frozen assets belonging to the ousted Saddam Hussein regime. The last two shipments totaling $4 billion took place in the week before the CPA transferred power to the newly appointed Iraqi Interim Government on June 28, 2004. Much of the money appears to have been embezzled. One Iraqi ministry cited in the audit inflated its payroll to receive extra funds, claiming to employ 8,206 guards when it actually employed barely 600.

Mr. Bowen’s audits have also described what appears to be outright criminal behavior by several government officials. In one case, an Army soldier serving as the assistant to an American boxing coach admitted to gambling away half the $40,000 he was given to cover the expenses of an Iraqi athletic team during a trip to the Philippines; his case was referred to the military’s justice system for a court-martial. Also, Iraqi construction firms allegedly paid U.S. soldiers to help steal construction equipment from the interim government. And Mr. Bowen recently gave the Justice Department information on possible criminal behavior on the part of U.S. contracting officers in Hillah, the first time government officials have been implicated in potential fraud in Iraq. The officers left the country with no record of how they had spent nearly $1.5 million that couldn’t be found by investigators.

Iraqi officials are also investigating as many as 2,000 cases of fraud. So far, 16 people have been convicted in connection with fraud, kickbacks or other contracting violations.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is pushing legislation that would make war profiteering a specific crime and would apply to all contract fraud, whether it occurs in the United States or overseas.

– edited from The Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and Reuters
PeaceMeal, March/April 2007

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