Iraqi audit indicates money laundering, U.S. says
Up to $800m sent out weekly, inspectors report

BAGHDAD – Iraqi auditors believe as much as $800 million in U.S. dollars is being sent out of the country illegally each week, draining it of hard currency, according to a report by American inspectors released October 30. The findings point to widespread money laundering and could focus further attention on oversight at Iraq’s central bank, which is at the heart of an investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing involving its former governor and other top officials.

The U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction said in a report that auditors in Baghdad fear up to 80 percent of an estimated $1 billion leaving the country weekly lacks proper documentation. The American watchdog said the head of Iraq’s audit board, Abdul-Basit Turki, disclosed the findings about the extent of the alleged money laundering to American officials in September.

Turki also raised concerns about ‘‘what he called a triangle of sectarianism, corruption, and violence, in which each element feeds off the others in a dynamic that threatens the well-being of the state,’’ according to the special inspector general report.

Turki’s office, the Board of Supreme Audit, recently carried out an investigation into Iraq’s central bank and daily auctions it holds to exchange Iraqi dinars for dollars. Commercial banks sell their dinars to the central bank and then pass on the dollars they receive to customers for a fee. Those customers are supposed to provide documentation to the banks before transferring the dollars abroad, but Iraqi auditors have found that most of the transactions are based on fraudulent paperwork, according to the report.

Earlier this year, Mudhhir Mohammed Salih, deputy central bank governor, warned that Iraq had seen a sharp increase in demand for U.S. dollars it sells. He blamed the spike on Iraqi traders reselling the greenbacks to customers in Iran, which is being squeezed by U.S. and international sanctions, and in civil war-wracked Syria.

The American report’s release came two weeks after the longtime governor of Iraq’s central bank, Sinan al-Shabibi, was removed from office after he and other bank officials were targeted in an investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing. Turki has been named as the bank’s interim chief.

Specific details about the allegations against the ousted bank governor have not been made clear. Al-Shabibi is considered to be a politically independent economist — a point the report highlighted by noting that he ‘‘is widely viewed as personally honest and professionally effective.’’

The allegations against him have raised concerns of political interference in the bank. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has tried to distance himself from suggestions that the case is politically motivated, saying his administration was not behind the investigation that led to the arrest warrants.

– edited from The Associated Press, October 31, 2012
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2012

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Iraqis face long future of fear as attacks mount

BAGHDAD — Whenever he leaves his home, Mohammed Jabar, a Sunni Muslim, carries his cellphone so his family can find out quickly whether he is safe if a deadly bomb attack hits. Shukria Mahmud, another Sunni, rarely ventures from her house because of the rash of violence that is gripping Iraq. Laith Hashim, a young Shiite Muslim, is considering moving away from Iraq if security continues to disintegrate. Such a breakdown, he fears, would spark a new round of bitter sectarian fighting of the kind that brought the nation to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.

Tensions simmer between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite communities, yet they share an increasingly widespread despair. Al-Qaida-style attacks are on the rise, faith in the government’s ability to keep people safe is on the wane, and a fatalistic acceptance of a life of fear is insidiously settling in.

Nine years after the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein — purging the leadership and military of his supporters and leading to a fight against insurgents in a bloody guerrilla war that left more than 100,000 dead — Iraq’s outlook is increasingly bleak in summer 2012. Instead of a Western-style democracy functioning in peace and cooperation, what’s been left behind is dysfunctional and increasingly violent.

Iraqi officials and experts say worries of an impending blowup is exactly what Sunni extremists linked to al-Qaida are banking on. Dozens of bloody bombings and drive-by shootings that have killed 286 people in a span of four weeks bear the terrorist network’s hallmarks. Most of the victims have been Shiite pilgrims, security forces and government officials — three of al-Qaida’s prime targets.

What’s worrying about Iraq’s recent wave of attacks is how they’ve increased in frequency and size. In the months before U.S. troops left, extremists were still launching large-scale attacks that killed dozens every few weeks, but analysts said they needed the time in between to coordinate and gather explosives.

A relative drop in the number of attacks in recent months had raised cautious hopes that life might inch back toward normal, despite political struggles, the corruption, and an administration that can’t even provide more than a few hours of electricity each day in the capital. But starting in June, no more than three days passed without a major attack, showing the insurgency’s ability to regroup more quickly.

Experts say the extremists may have been emboldened by the government’s obvious distraction due to feuding between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political rivals among Sunnis, Kurds and some other Shiite politicians, who complain he is amassing too much power in his own hands.

Iraqis, certainly, mince no words in blaming their leaders for the violence. “The security situation will be improved only when the politicians stop their daily fighting over personal ambitions,” said Qassim Salman, 65, a Shiite who owns a video arcade in the southern city of Basra.

Fuad Karim, 63, a Shiite who runs a laundry in Baghdad’s Kazimiyah neighborhood, opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation. Regarding the aftermath of the American war and pullout, he said, “They messed up the country, and they had to reorganize it and to rebuild what they demolished. Right up until now, nothing has been rebuilt.”

Whatever the cause, the surge in violence has rekindled a gloomy sense among Iraqis — a feeling that nine years later, the Americans have moved on, and they are left facing an immediate future of grinding violence.

– edited from The Associated Press, July 4, 2012
PeaceMeal, July/August 2012

(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.)


Human costs of the Iraq war

At least 126,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a direct consequence of the Iraq war’s violence since the March 2003 invasion — a figure that is low, perhaps very low. More civilians have been wounded by bombs, bullets and the fire that is often triggered by bombing. As violence in the country continues, more than 1 in 10 Iraqis are still displaced from their homes. Several million people remain internally displaced and several million others have fled the country. Unemployment is high.

The Bush administration assured everyone before the war that great care would be taken to avoid harm to civilians. The use of precision-guided bombs was stressed. Despite this assurance, most of the coalition caused deaths were due to air attacks. As killing by coalition forces declined later in the war, insurgent and sectarian violence increased.

Despite the billions committed to aiding and reconstructing Iraq, the country remains devastated by the war. Many parts of the country still suffer from lack of access to housing, clean drinking water and health care, causing additional deaths due to epidemics of cholera and other ailments. The health of women and children is most vulnerable, and many Iraqis are hungry and dependent on rations. Dr. Haider Maliki of the Central Pediatric Teaching Hospital in Baghdad estimated in 2010 that “28% of Iraqi children suffer some degree of PTSD, and their numbers are steadily rising.”

Engineers, artists, lawyers, academics, doctors and other professionals were among the first to escape the war. This migration drained Iraq of its middle class. It dismantled many of Iraq’s cultural and educational institutions and stripped the society of the many services that such professionals provide. Hundreds of Iraq’s doctors have been killed, and an estimated half of its 34,000 doctors have fled the country. At the same time, rates of cancer in Iraq have increased precipitously, a possible consequence of the 1,700 tons of depleted uranium munitions used by the United States in the 2003 invasion. In Babil, south of Baghdad, there were 500 cases of cancer in 2004. By 2009, there were over 9,000.

The displacement of millions of Iraqis has also reconfigured the composition of neighborhoods due to ethnic and religious cleansing. There is little hope that the diverse population that Iraq has lost will be regained any time soon.

– edited from a report by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University
PeaceMeal, July/August 2012

(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.)


New tensions arise as Iraq’s displaced persons return home

BAGHDAD — Across Iraq, near-record numbers of displaced families are pouring back, but instead of kindling a much-needed reconciliation, they are in some cases reviving the resentments and suspicions created by the bloody purges that carved Iraq into scattered areas of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds after the American-led 2003 invasion.

In 2011, the number of returnees to Iraq soared by 120 percent from a year earlier, to 260,690, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They were drawn back by improving security and larger government payments to Iraqis registering as returnees. It was the most since 2004, when the fall of Saddam Hussein opened the gates for thousands who had fled his brutality, forced relocations and a decade of crushing sanctions.

But as many who are seeking to go back to areas they fled during the bad times have discovered, going home again is not as simple as it seems. Instead, they find themselves on a new front in Iraq’s seemingly unending turmoil: the battle of return. In places, some Shiite families view the Sunni families who stayed behind as complicit partners of the violent Sunni militants who overran many mixed neighborhoods. Many Sunni families, on the other hand, say they now feel like they are being hounded by returning Shiites who, for the first time in centuries, have the power of the government and army on their side.

As they continue to come home, the returnees will test whether Iraq can move beyond a sectarian prism that distorts its politics and undercuts its security. It is a struggle that will play out in future years not just in politics and government, but in scarred, segregated neighborhoods like Al Adel, a once affluent and diverse neighborhood in which Sunnis and Shiites lived side-by-side in palm-shaded mansions.

After the 2003 invasion, Al Adel (Arabic for “justice”) became a base camp for Sunni insurgents in western Baghdad. They carried out torture in seized houses and battled Shiite militias who had control of a nearby neighborhood. Nearly every Shiite family moved away, and residents estimated that 300 people were killed in a neighborhood of about 1,500 to 2,000 families.

Today along the main streets, black, green and red flags of Shiite mourning and martyrdom fly. The faces of Shiite clerics, living and dead, stare down from billboards. A new mosque for followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has opened. For Shiite Muslims who have returned over the past few years, these are footholds of identity. But Sunnis say they get the message: it is religious Shiites who now hold power from Al Adel to the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

“They see us as a threat,” said Mohammed al-Ani, 35, a Sunni government worker. “They are putting us through the same things that the Shiites suffered. Now, as a Sunni, I am afraid when I am home. I keep thinking that they will come and arrest me.”

Sunnis grumble about being harassed at the two checkpoints leading into the neighborhood, and they say that the soldiers who wave Shiite residents through demand identification of them. Every few weeks, Sunni residents say, their houses are raided by soldiers loyal to Mr. Maliki.

Walid al-Bahadli is a Shiite Muslim who returned to Al Adel with his family in 2008 after three years of displacement. Their house was a wreck, but an ebb in the violence gave them space to rebuild and buy new furniture. Mr. Bahadli took on a role as the neighborhood’s mayor, his family said. He wrangled garbage collectors, paid grocery bills for widows, and mediated countless arguments. The family reopened their ice cream shop.

More than anyone else, Mr. Bahadli felt as if he had reclaimed Al Adel, his family said. He felt like the neighborhood was guarding him. But on January 17, Mr. Bahadli was coming home from the ice cream shop with his daughter and 2-year-old grandson when two men confronted them at their front gates. They drew their guns and fired. Mr. Bahadli and his grandson were both killed. His daughter survived, wounded by a bullet that passed through her hand and struck her son’s skull.

Two Sunni men from the neighborhood were arrested in the shooting, but the Iraqi police would not identify them or make them available for an interview. Mr. Bahadli’s family members said they believed he was killed because he was one of Al Adel’s most prominent Shiites.

A few days after his funeral, a crowd of Sunni and Shiite residents, tribal sheiks and neighborhood leaders gathered at the family’s door and urged them not to leave. They promised to look out for the family. So the family stayed, but they now live in terror. Recently, a car circled the block two times and the family suspected it was the prelude to another attack.

And a pall has fallen over much of Al Adel itself. Friendly Sunni residents mourn Mr. Bahadli’s death while worrying it will bring reprisals on their heads. And some Shiites have steeled themselves for another bloody sectarian conflict.

 – edited from The New York Times, March 24, 2012
PeaceMeal, May/June 2012

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Wartime contracting records on fraud and waste sealed for 20 years

The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which issued a 240-page final report on fraud and waste in August, has sealed its permanent records from public review for 20 years. The Commission, established by congressional legislation in January 2008, turned its records over to the Archivist of the United States without seeking the advice or involvement of appropriate congressional commit-tees or staff.

After three years of research and hearing testimony, the Commission estimated that waste and fraud have amounted to at least $31 billion, and possibly as much as $60 billion, during the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report warns that at least as much additional waste may develop if the two host countries cannot or will not sustain U.S.-funded projects and programs after the United States hands them over or reduces its support.

Commission Co-Chair Christopher Shays, a former U.S. Representative for Connecticut, said, “The Commission finds the government is over-relying on contractors. Even if you think having more than 260,000 contractor employees at work in Iraq and Afghanistan, at times outnumbering the military they support, is reasonable, there are still problems. ... Overall, there is simply too much contracting for the federal contract-management and oversight workforce to handle.”

Co-Chair Michael Thibault, former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, said, “The government was not prepared to go into Afghanistan in 2001 or Iraq in 2003 using large numbers of contractors, and is still unable to provide effective management and oversight of contract spending that will have exceeded $206 billion by the end of September [2011]. That has to change.”

The co-chairs said fraud and abuse are problems in wartime contracting, but the biggest challenge is waste. Thibault said, “We have founds billions of dollars of waste stemming from a variety of shortcomings — poor decision making, vague contract requirements, lack of adequately trained federal oversight people in the field, duplicative or unnecessary work, failure to revise or recompete contracts, unsustainable projects, inadequate business processes among contractors and delayed audits. There are many causes and no simple solution.”

Shays said the Commission report lays blame at the doorsteps of both government and the contracting industry. “Many of the convictions and guilty pleas for bribery, kickbacks, theft, and other offenses involve federal civilians and members of the military,” he said. “Likewise, poor performance shows up both in government and contractor operations. We’ve had soldiers injured or electrocuted because of faulty wiring in base showers.”

The single greatest beneficiary of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary, which was awarded multiple no-bid contracts by the Bush administra-tion. KBR has been paid nearly $32 billion since 2001. In May, April Stephenson, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, testified that KBR was linked to “the vast majority” of war-zone fraud cases and a majority of the $13 billion in “questioned” or “unsupported” costs. The Agency sent the inspector general “a total of 32 cases of suspected overbilling, bribery and other violations since 2004.”

Reform objectives recommended by the Commission include improving federal planning for use of contracts, strengthening contract management and oversight, expanding competition, improving interagency coordination, and modifying or cancelling U.S.-funded projects that host nations cannot sustain.

Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who introduced the legislation establishing the Commission, wrote to the Archivist of the United States to “take immediate steps” to fully disclose the records “as quickly as possible,” consistent with protections for privacy, proprietary information and other applicable laws. “Commission records,” they wrote, “constitute a very important source of reference material for the public at large, journalists, professional associations, academicians, historians and others.”

As was the case with the 9/11 Commission, the Contracting Commission’s records aren’t available under the Freedom of Information Act because the Commission is a congressional entity and Congress isn’t subject to the FOIA.

 – edited from wartimecontracting.gov, webb.senate.gov, Project On Government Oversight and RebelReports.com
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2011

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Rebecca Murray.GIF (5734 bytes)Fight for Iraqi women’s rights begins all over again

Rebecca Murray

BAGHDAD - When a middle-aged mother took a taxi alone from Baghdad to Nasiriyah, about 300 kilometers south earlier this year, her 20-year-old driver stopped on the way, pulled to the side of the road and raped her. And that began a telling legal struggle.

“She is not a simple case,” says Hanaa Edwar, head of the Iraqi rights-based Al-Amal Association, established in Baghdad after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. “She came from an affluent family, held a professional job, and told her family about the rape. They had the police arrest the driver,” Edwar says. “Then she came to us for legal help. She said, ‘I want my rights back, and what he has done to me, he will do to others. I want this perpetrator punished’.”

The rape victim lost her case. “The judge had a male mentality. They think you should not make a scandal, but be silent. He prompted the accused with questions like, ‘You did this when you were drunk – yes?’ This is how they intimidate,” Edwar said. “Now we are making an appeal.”

The Al-Amal Association is one of a handful of women’s advocates in Iraq fighting for female equality in marriage and divorce, and opposing a draconian penal code that favors perpetrators of domestic abuse and of honor killings within households.

According to United Nations statistics, one in five women from 15 to 49 years old has suffered physical violence at the hands of her husband. “The real numbers are likely higher,” says the United Nations Development Program. “Reporting of gender-based violence cases is generally low, as women fear social stigmatization and lack confidence that authorities will investigate complaints.”

“The deterioration of security has promoted a rise in tribal customs and religiously-inflected political extremism, which have had a deleterious effect on women’s rights both inside and outside the home,” says a Human Rights Watch report published this year. “Iraq’s penal code considers ‘honorable motive’ to be a mitigating factor in crimes including murder. The code also gives husbands a legal right to discipline their wives. For Iraqi women, who enjoyed some of the highest level of rights protection and social participation in the region before [the U.S. bombing in] 1991, these have been heavy blows.”

Although Iraq’s 1959 sectarian-based personal status laws that govern marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance through the judicial system heavily favored men, hard-fought amendments had moderately improved women’s rights. But when the United States bombed Iraq back to “a pre-industrial era,” according to a United Nations inspection team, at the end of the Persian Gulf War and devastating economic sanctions prevented restoration of the country’s infrastructure, Saddam Hussein courted religious groups to maintain power, reversing some of Iraqi women’s hard-won gains.

After Hussein’s overthrow in 2003, religious authorities’ attempts to replace the inequitable personal status law with Sharia law were successfully fought off by female advocates. However, Article 41 in the new Iraqi Constitution has again introduced family law for religious interpretation by different sects.

Al-Amal’s Hanaa Edwar explains the new reality. “There is a lot of marriage and divorce that takes place outside of the legal system. While the law says 15 years is the minimum age for boys and girls to marry with the consent of their fathers and a judge, those under 15 years are marrying outside the court. Religious men will take about 200 dollars for [doing the marriage].”

“The war has raised the violence in the state,” says Sundus Hasan, director of the Woman’s Leadership Institute (WLI). “When there is a war, it always reflects on the people and families.

“Before 2003, every family sent all to schools,” she says. “Now everyone has to make sure about protection for girls to go to school. Sometimes it costs too much. That is why early marriage is a new phenomenon in Iraq — with girls at 10 or 12 years old. The legal age is 18 years old, but nobody respects the law.”

Hasan, who has been personally threatened by militias for her advocacy work, lost a good friend who was kidnapped and raped. “When her family paid her ransom, she returned home and called me. ‘I am dying’, she said. I told her to go to sleep, that everything would be okay. But the next day when her family found her, she had killed herself in her room. I feel certain that when she returned she saw sadness in the eyes of her husband and family. I am sure she saw herself in the same light.”

WLI is working to integrate critical international treaties like the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) — of which Iraq is a signatory — into Iraqi legislation, and with others to push through a draft law against gender-based violence.

A positive starting point is the 25 percent quota for female parliamentarians. However, Hasan says, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is very weak, and there are only two female ministerial posts out of 48, counting the state ministries. “Before there were six, then four, now two. It’s going the wrong way.”

Amnesty International warns: “Even if greater stability and peace return soon to Iraq, levels of violence against women may remain high if the authorities continue to allow men to kill and maim women with impunity, and if gender segregation and discrimination against women become further entrenched.”

Rebecca Murray is a correspondent for Inter Press Service, which posted this article on September 13, 2011. She grew up in Kenya and the U.K., calls New York City her permanent home, and is currently based in south Lebanon, where she is researching a book on landmines and the effort to remove hundreds of thousands of unexploded cluster munitions from the conflict with Israel in 2006.

– PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2011

(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.)


Maliki broadens dictatorial powers in Iraq

Iraqis, government officials and regional experts see increasing signs that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is expanding his power and undermining the fragile democracy struggling to take hold in Iraq. A ruling in January by Iraq’s highest court, which was sought by Mr. Maliki, gave him control of once-independent agencies responsible for conducting elections, investigating corruption and running the country’s central bank. A month after that ruling, two leading human rights groups reported that forces that report directly to Maliki in violation of the country’s constitution were running secret jails where detainees had been tortured. And in July, Iraq’s high court ruled that members of Parliament no longer had the power to propose legislation. Instead, all new laws would have to be proposed by Maliki’s cabinet or the president and then passed to the Parliament for a vote.

With influence from the United States waning as the military prepares to withdraw at the end of the year, Mr. Maliki’s critics say that one legacy of the eight-year American occupation is a democratically elected leader from the country’s Shiite majority who has far more power than its Constitution intended. Critics said that the court ruling in January directly contradicted Iraq’s Constitution, which clearly states that the commissions do not fall under the prime minister’s office.

Referring to the recent court ruling, Aliya Nasaif, a lawmaker from the Iraqiya coalition which is a rival to Mr. Maliki’s State of Law bloc, said: “Because there is no law, you will find him overwhelming other institutions. This is the beginning of dictatorship. We are regressing by centuries.

An independent analysis in 2008 ranked Iraq the third most corrupt country in the world. In that year, the Maliki government was systematically dismissing Iraqi officials in the Commission on Public Integrity, an oversight agency created by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority to fight corruption in the notoriously graft-ridden Iraqi ministries.

Corruption investigations by the head of the commission, Judge Radhi al-Radhi, repeatedly embarrassed the Maliki government. Mr. Al-Radhi was forced out and fled Iraq in the summer of 2007, after 31 of his agency’s employees were killed over a three-year period and he had received numerous threats to his life. He was granted asylum in the United States and subsequently testified before Congress that an estimated $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer reconstruction money had been lost to fraud, embezzlement, theft and waste by Iraqi government officials since 2004. Two former State Department employees testified further that Bush administration policies “not only contradicted the anti-corruption mission, but indirectly contributed to and has allowed corruption to fester at the highest levels of the Iraqi government.”

Iraqis’ outrage about corruption and poverty in the country spilled into the streets in March, sometimes violently, to protest the government’s failure to provide electricity and jobs. Rights groups criticized the government for a violent crackdown on those demonstrations, saying that scores of people — including journalists — were beaten and detained.

Mr. Maliki, an uncharismatic but canny politician who was elected prime minister in 2006, has been credited with helping reduce the violence that once threatened to tear Iraq apart. But his critics say those victories have come at a cost. They accuse Maliki of taking a stronger hand over Iraq’s powerful police and military by leaving open indefinitely the slots of defense and interior ministers, allowing him to act as the head of both agencies.

Some members of Iraq’s fractious Parliament, a rubber-stamp institution under Saddam Hussein, have said they would take measures to check Maliki’s power, vowing to cut funds to security agencies controlled by the prime minister and pass laws that limit his powers. None of those attempts, however, have gained much traction, in large part because the opposition is so divided.

Officials with the election commission said they were baffled by the court’s decision that placed them under Maliki’s supervision. They worried that Iraqis would lose faith in the credibility of local and national elections if Maliki’s office began to select election monitors or to change the rules governing where voting takes place, how ballots are counted and who runs polling stations. Shortly after the decision was handed down, Faraj al-Haidary, head of Iraq’s High Electoral Commission, said he had received a letter from Maliki’s office telling the commission to halt the appointments of 38 low-level election officials. He said the commission had refused.

Fear has also extended to the central bank, where officials said they worried Maliki would now have the power to order the institution to print money to cover Iraq’s growing budget deficits. Such a move would weaken the value of Iraq’s anemic currency and lead to rapid inflation.

Mr. Maliki, a religious Shiite, had been seen as a fairly weak leader until 2008 when he ordered an Iraqi military offensive against Shiite militias which had taken control of parts of southern Iraq. His critics say he continued to strengthen his power by using his security forces to resolve political disputes.

The political situation became more complex in January when anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq from exile in Iran. Sadr, who led two uprisings against U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion, cemented his movement’s position in the new Iraq coalition government after playing a crucial role in putting Maliki back in power for a second term. The Sadrist movement secured 39 seats in the new Parliament and has seven ministries in Maliki’s government.

On March 26, an estimated 18,000 unarmed but ominous members of Sadr’s disbanded Mahdi Army led a massive anti-American rally in Baghdad in opposition to any U.S. military presence beyond the agreed departure date of Dec. 31. A crowd of spectators estimated at 70,000 waved Iraqi flags and shouted “No, no, America!” as they burned American flags. U.S., Israeli and British flags were painted on the pavement to be stomped on by the marching militiamen.

– edited from The New York Times, Reuters and Associated Press
PeaceMeal, May June 2011

(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.)


jim_stoffels_04-rev.jpg (2907 bytes)War in Iraq has made U.S. less safe

Jim Stoffels

In his August 31 address from the Oval Office, President Barack Obama declared: "Tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended." That statement is disturbingly reminiscent of George W. Bush's "mission accomplished" appearance on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln seven-and-a-half years ago. Obama immediately contradicted the finality of his announcement: "Of course," he said, "violence will not end with our combat mission."

And neither will combat end. 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq to advise, train and closely support Iraqi security forces. "Closely support" means "fight alongside." In this supporting role, counter-terrorism is the chief and most perilous mission. Several thousand special operations forces, including Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, will continue to hunt and attempt to kill al-Qaeda and other terrorist fighters.

President Obama went on to say, "We have met our responsibility," without specifying what that responsibility is to a country still in disarray. After having invaded Iraq, overthrown its government and disbanded its security forces, some consider it a moral responsibility of the United States to piece Iraq back together again. Obama previously seemed to be in that camp. In May, he said: "This is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant." But now he seems to be redefining "success" according to the way the winds of fortune are blowing in the Iraq desert.

Piecing the country back together is largely unfinished. U.S. goals for reconstruction are unmet and the program has been plagued by failure to collaborate with the Iraqis, billions of dollars wasted on abandoned or incomplete projects, shoddy work and inadequate security. And it is still unclear whether the reconstruction program generated Iraqi good will toward the United States instead of toward the insurgents.

Now eight months after parliamentary elections were held, Iraq still has no permanent government because of continuing sectarian discord. And its security forces have not shown that they are prepared and able to defend the country's territory. In September, the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad came under an intensifying barrage of rocket attacks -- attacks that alarmed U.S. officials and reinforced doubts about the ability of Iraq's forces to maintain security.

Iraq is expected to depend on U.S. air power and other military support for years to control its own air space and to deter a possible attack by a neighboring state.

President Obama offered this historical perspective on the war: "A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency." Translation: An invasion of Iraq sold on false claims that it possessed weapons of mass destruction incited an uprising of Iraqis fighting for the freedom of their country from an invading and occupying army.

According to President Obama, "our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future." That view depends on which side of the ocean we're on. Several years ago, a shopkeeper in Baghdad said to our troops, "If only you could put things back the way they were."

"As our military draws down," President Obama said, "our dedicated civilians -- diplomats, aid workers, and advisers -- are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world."

That's a much rosier picture than painted in a mid-July report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a bipartisan panel set up in response to mounting concern over monumental waste and inefficiencies in dealing with the legions of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report warned: "Current planning for transitioning vital functions in Iraq from the Department of Defense to the Department of State is not adequate for effective coordination of billions of dollars in new contracting, and risks both financial waste and undermining U.S. policy objectives."

If truth be told, the war has made us Americans less safe by weakening the country we invaded, strengthening Iran and creating a new organization of terrorists -- al Qaeda in Iraq. But as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the most gargantuan military machine in the world, Obama is bound to speak in patriotic platitudes and is co-opted from speaking the truth that our invasion of Iraq -- like Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait -- was a criminal war of aggression.

There is one truth, however, that Obama did utter: "Over the last decade ... we have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas."

And let us not forget the spent lives of more than 4,400 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Jim Stoffels, Richland, is a retired physicist and chairman of World Citizens for Peace. This op-ed was published in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald on December 5, 2010 and in Peacemeal, Sept/October 2010.


British panel begins inquiry on Iraq war; Blair to testify

LONDON - An official inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war opened November 24 with top government advisers testifying that some Bush administration officials were calling for Saddam Hussein’s ouster as early as 2001 — long before sanctions were exhausted and two years before the U.S.-led invasion. Critics hope the hearings, which will call ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, will expose alleged deception in the buildup to armed combat. Blair will be questioned on whether he secretly backed President George W. Bush’s plan for invasion a year before Parliament authorized military involvement in 2003.

The order to send 45,000 British troops to take part in the 2003 invasion has always been controversial and led to massive anti-war protests in London. During meetings with the inquiry committee held before the formal hearings began, relatives of British soldiers killed during the conflict accused Blair of taking Britain into an illegal war and deceiving the public. A pre-war government dossier justifying military action included the claim that Saddam was capable of launching weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. No such weapons were found, leading to accusations that Blair had distorted intelligence.

As the inquiry began, a small group of anti-war protesters gathered near Parliament. “Five years we’ve waited for this, and finally we’re getting somewhere,” said Pauline Graham, 70, who traveled from Glasgow, Scotland, to see the hearings. Her grandson Gordon Gentle, 19, was killed in the Iraq city of Basra in 2004.

Sir Peter Ricketts, chairman of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee in 2001, said Britain had hoped for strengthening the Iraq containment policy in place since the 1991 Gulf War — reducing the threat posed by Iraq through sanctions, weapons inspections and security measures. But he said some in the Bush administration had a different vision. “We were conscious that there were other voices in Washington, some of whom were talking about regime change,” Ricketts said, citing an article written by Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice warning that nothing would change in Iraq until Saddam Hussein was gone. The turning point for the U.S. administration was the Sept. 11 terror attacks. After the attacks, Ricketts said, “we heard people in Washington thought there might be some link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden ... I don’t think we saw any evidence of it.”

The Iraq inquiry is envisioned to be a comprehensive look at the war from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. The panel will question dozens of officials, including military officials and spy agency chiefs. It will also seek evidence but not testimony from ex-White House staff.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown set up the inquiry to address public criticism of three key aspects: the case made for war, the planning for the invasion, and the failure to prepare for reconstruction. Leaked military documents published November 22 disclosed that senior British military officers claim war plans were in place months before the March 2003 invasion, but were so badly drafted they left troops poorly equipped and ill-prepared.

Bereaved families and activists have long called for an inquiry into the U.S.-led war. The Labour-led government lost a significant share of parliamentary seats because of the war. Inquiry chairman John Chilcot said the panel would consider the legal basis for war but it will not establish criminal or civil liability; it can only offer reprimand and recommendations in hope mistakes won’t be repeated in the future. Chilcot said he hoped the panel would be able to deliver its conclusions by the end of next year.

On the Net: http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk

– compiled and edited from The Associated Press, 24 Nov. 2009, and Reuters, 12 Nov. 2009
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2009

(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.)


Iraqis hit by frenzy of crime after years of war

BAGHDAD - The kidnappers holding Muhsin Mohammed Muhsin, an Iraqi auto mechanic’s 11-year-old son, gave him just two days to come up with $100,000 in ransom. When he could not, they were just as quick to deliver their punishment: They chopped off the boy’s head and hands and dumped his body in the garbage. The boy’s final words to his father came in an agonizing phone call: “Daddy, give them the money. They are beating me,” Muhsin pleaded a day before he was killed.

As the worst of the country’s sectarian bloodshed ebbs, Iraqis now face a new threat to getting on with their lives: a frenzy of violent crime. Many of those involved are believed to be battle-experienced former insurgents unable to find legitimate work. They often bring the same brutality to their crimes that they showed in the fighting that nearly pushed the country into a Sunni-Shiite civil war in 2006 and 2007.

The result has been a wave of thefts and armed robberies, hitting homes, cars, jewelry stores, currency exchanges, pawn shops and banks. Kidnapping, too, remains terrifyingly common, as it was during the peak of the insurgency. Now, however, the targets are increasingly children, and the kidnappers, rather than having sectarian motives, are seeking ransoms. In southern Baghdad’s Saydiyah neighborhood, photos of missing children are pasted on electricity poles and the concrete blast walls that enclose many areas of the bomb-battered capital.

There are few statistics tracking the number and kinds of crimes, in part because the government remains focused on the bombings and other insurgent attacks that continue to plague Baghdad and Iraq’s north. But in the minds of the public, crime has become as consum-ing as the violence directly related to the war. And like the lack of electricity and other services, crime is now a top complaint of Iraqis.

Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said investigations found that 60 to 70 percent of the criminal activity is carried out by former insurgent groups or by gangs affiliated with them — partly explaining the brutality of some of the crimes. Some members of Iraq’s security forces are also involved, perhaps a sign that militants are still infiltrating the security services.

In one of the most high-profile crimes in recent years, several members of Iraq’s presidential guards — which protect senior officials — broke into the state-run Rafidain Bank on July 28 and stole about 5.6 billion Iraqi dinars, or $4.8 million. They tied up eight guards at the bank in Baghdad’s central Karradah area and shot each one execution-style. Four of the robbers were caught, convicted and sentenced to hang. Three others remain at large.

In April, Iraq created a military task force to battle gangland-style crime after gunmen with silencer-fitted weapons killed at least seven people during a daylight heist of jewelry stores. Still, criminals continue to operate seemingly without fear of getting caught.

Muhsin Mohammed Muhsin, the 11-year-old, was kidnapped around noon on Aug. 31 on his way home from a neighbor’s funeral in Baghdad’s eastern Shiite district of Sadr City, where he lived. Sadr City is home to about 2.5 million Shiites and was a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of the anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who fought U.S. troops intermittently until he declared a unilateral cease-fire in 2007. When it was under militia control, kidnappings there were extremely rare.

Alaa al-Moussawi, chairman of an export and import company, said, “What feeds the fear inside us and increases our worries is that some of these gangs are members of the security forces.”

– edited from The Associated Press, September 21, 2009
PeaceMeal Sept/October 2009