• Archive for August, 2011

    Vindictive Prosecution

    August 31, 2011 // Comments Off

    “It is impermissible,” the Judge told the courtroom, “for the U.S. Government to prosecute differently on the basis of the content of First Amendment speech.”

    A Department of Justice memorandum from its procedure manual for DOJ attorneys describes the standard in court “to establish a prima facie case of vindictive prosecution,” stating, “[A] defendant must make a ‘showing that charges of increased severity were filed because the accused exercised a statutory, procedural, or constitutional right in circumstances that give rise to an appearance of vindictiveness.’”

    Hmmm… could this apply to the way the State Department treats its bloggers? Stay tuned.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    State Department Mismanages Food Contract in Iraq

    // 2 Comments »

    Who doesn’t like free food? One of the best things about working at the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad © is free food. Peter devotes most of a chapter in his book to food in Iraq, as his cholesterol count after a year there is higher than his pre-sales.

    At the Embassy (World’s Largest ©) you can feed off a buffet miles long, or, if walking or riding the hovercart shuttle to the buffet is inconvenient, sandwiches, Pop Tarts and all sorts of goodies are available at three Grab-‘n-Goes located right inside the office buildings. It’s like taking an all-inclusive cruise, where stewards stuff food into your mouth while you sleep.

    The problem is freedom isn’t free, especially the freedom to pound down six free meals a day whilst conducting diplomacy. The purveyor of said food, mega-contractor KBR, has pocketed some $37 billion dollars of taxpayer money. And guess what—an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report has found that this figure includes waste and mismanagement on the part of the State Department.

    Happy Meals

    The fun starts in that State’s contract with KBR says that total meals cost per person per day should be $20. This is hilarious. Breakfast at the Embassy offers made-to-order omelets, a waffle station, pancakes, fresh fruit and all sorts of extras. Lunch usually included two hot entrees, a hamburger station, a sandwich bar, salad bar, dessert bar, ice cream and every type of beverage. Dinner also rocked two hot entrees, including lobster and crab legs on Sundays, steak sometimes, the burger bar, an Indian food bar, salad bar, plus the aforementioned desserts and drinks. In between meals snacks were always available. You’d have a hard time doing all that for $20 a day at McDonald’s, never mind in a war zone where everything had to be trucked in from Kuwait.

    But since the contract had to do with the amount of food prepared, not “meals” eaten, State found a nice solution: just have everyone clock in for a “meal” every time they consume anything. Grab a Diet Coke, clock in as if it was your second lunch. There were ads in the Embassy newsletter asking people to do this; the OIG found one guy who clocked in for 25 meals in two days. The net result is that the ratio of “meals” to people changes, and the official cost per meal appears to go down to near $20. It was a lie. The OIG found $970,000 in overages here.

    Feed the World

    The OIG also found that State was lax about just who got to feed from its trough-o’-cornucopia. The contract with KBR provided for most Embassy staff and any uniformed military around to eat free. It turns out that the OIG found that 80 percent of the cafeteria denizens were contractors, some of whom were also being paid by State for their meals. In other words, State paid them a meals per diem and then also fed them. Double cost to the Government! Ten points to Slytherin!

    This was possible because of lazy entrance control. The door was policed when Peter was in Baghdad by a KBR staffer, not a State employee. The main person was a delightful Bosnian young woman, skillful with her makeup and always nicely dressed. She greeted everyone, was the subject of much attention by the male soldiers, and was always friendly when someone showed up having forgotten his/her ID.

    Then again, no one could have really told her who to admit legally anyway; the OIG found State maintained no up-to-date registry of those who are authorized to receive food service support under the LOGCAP contract. The OIG team reviewed the Table of Population (an appendix to task order 151), which is supposed to list organizations eligible for food service support. The team found in 2010 that the table was out-of-date with listings of organizations ranging back to 2006-07.

    Hand Head Count

    The great news is that while the contract required State to maintain an automated method of counting diners, State just did not do it, letting the contractor send an employee from Bosnia to handle things. State paid the contractor for anyone the contractor let in to eat. The automated system required would not have been hard to implement, as the military in Iraq had one they used all over the country with simple, off the shelf technology. State just didn’t bother.

    Money

    So how much did all of this free food cost you, the taxpayer? When OIG reviewed food services, equipment and facilities maintenance, and fuel operations, the team was unable to make definitive conclusions because of a lack of available data. For example, in food services, KBR’s headcount records from meals consumed do not match dining facility account records, and OIG was unable to reconcile the difference. These discrepancies suggest that in FY 2009 there were $2.23 million in unsupported food costs but really, with the sloppy record keeping, who knows? In fact, some of the OIG’s primary recommendations to State were to demand from KBR the data needed to actually figure out if the Government is being cheated or not.

    Food Fight

    …and we care because?

    Because State will inherit contracts from the Army for logistics that run into the tens of millions of dollars and that’s a lot of money. Because the State Occupation of Iraq, and State work in Afghanistan, will depend on contractors to succeed, and sloppy mismanagement means that not only will the money be flushed away, but also that the mission will fail.

    Gotta watch the money. Follow the money. It’s all about the money, kiddos.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    US has Wasted $30 Billion on Iraq, Afghanistan Contracts

    August 30, 2011 // Comments Off

    Remember when America was rich? We could spend money on space ships, fancy cars and wars, lots of wars. It turns out that much of that money was wasted, leaving us poor and bent over while Chinese people dance happily around us.

    But don’t listen to me.

    Listen to the The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will submit another sad report to Congress tomorrow.

    That report is expected to say the federal government wasted more than $30 billion on contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that without “major changes in law and policy” we’ll enjoy such a large degree of waste in future conflicts already now in planning. The waste works out to one in every six dollars spent.

    Peter wrote a whole book about this, which you can pre-order now, or pick up later in September at your fave bookstore. While the Commission on Wartime Contracting cites two juicy examples of waste– a $40 million prison in Iraq the country did not want and which was not completed, and a $300 million Kabul power plant that requires sustained funding and expertise that Kabul does not have the resources to provide– Peter devotes a whole chapter to his favorite wasted projects. These are smaller amounts of money that nonetheless illustrate the larger problem.

    Stand outs include $10,000 worth of “Pastry Classes for Disadvantaged Women,” encouraging them to open bakeries on streets without water or sewers. Another was $25,000 worth of children’s bicycles. On streets filled with trash, pockmarked with shell craters, and ruled by wild dog packs, riding the bikes was impossible. Some of the bicycle wheels were later repurposed for use on wheelchairs.

    About $22,000 of your tax money was spent to paint a mural on the side of a gym— think oiled musclemen. The purpose was to “provide an aesthetically pleasing sight upon entry, helping to bring a sense of normalcy for the citizens in the area and for those passing through.”

    The best one was $12,000 worth of computers for internet use in a school that had no electricity. The school also had no teachers or students, but the PCs were supposed to encourage them.

    In the book you can also read about millions more spent, on a Baghdad Yellow Pages, repairing the local zoo, driving lessons, empty factories and rug making collectives that employed child labor. Never mind plans for the Baghdad Subway.

    The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan has been featured on this blog before.

    We wrote about how the Commission found that US contract money was handed over to insurgent groups, allowing us to fund both sides of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The Commission also popped up when it reported an audit that found that State didn’t properly handle $172.4 million from funds for the training of the Afghan National Police (ANP). Additionally, the report found that some of those funds went to paying contractors for hours they didn’t work. Some of the money was improperly spent in other areas.

    Lastly, we reported on how State is objecting to continued oversight by the Commission. State is tired of being called out on its waste and would prefer that the Commission just go away and leave them to waste in peace.

    But maybe none of this matters. The war in Afghanistan now costs two billion dollars a week.

    Read more at www.wartimecontracting.gov



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Nothing to See Here, in Iraq

    August 29, 2011 // Comments Off

    Sorry to interrupt the Mission Accomplished celebrations over Libya and the apocalypse now fun with Hurricane Irene, but there is nothing to see going on in Iraq. Honest. The US continues to beg Iraq to allow us to keep troops there past 12/31/2011 because without those troops Iraq will descend in chaos or have a lot of hurricanes or something.

    For fun, here’s a listing of articles for the past few days from news site Aswat al Iraq that show nothing much going on there in Iraq:

    29 people were killed in a suicide bombing attack in a Sunni mosque in western Baghdad late Sunday. At least 37 others were wounded in the attack. A Sunni member of Parliament, Khalid al-Fahdawi, was among the dead.
    8/28/2011

    Cop killed, four wounded in Ninewa
    8/28/2011 5:37 PM

    Terrorist network arrested in Baghdad
    8/28/2011 5:32 PM

    Rockets launch gang arrested
    8/28/2011 5:23 PM

    Ministry of Women condemns Iranian-Turkish attacks on Kurdistan border areas
    8/28/2011 2:58 PM

    5 civilians injured in two Baghdad explosions
    8/28/2011 1:56 PM

    2 civilians injured in Falluja explosion
    8/28/2011 1:04 PM

    Four persons, including 2 policemen, injured, women killed in Baghdad attack
    8/28/2011 11:14 AM

    Two rocket-launching pads dismantled in Baghdad
    8/28/2011 10:44 AM

    Three civilians injured in Baghdad blast
    8/28/2011 10:37 AM

    South Kirkuk’s Tuz Khurmatu Intelligence Chief escapes assassination
    8/28/2011 10:08 AM

    Seven wanted persons for killing Babel official detained in Babel
    8/28/2011 9:53 AM

    Five Iraqi soldiers, policeman, civilian, injured in Mosul blasts
    8/28/2011 9:04 AM

    Six civilians, 2 soldiers, injured in Mosul blast
    8/28/2011 8:51 AM

    Under construction house bombed in Mosul
    8/27/2011 7:06 PM

    12 wanted arrested in Mosul
    8/27/2011 6:51 PM

    Iraqi Security Official assassinated in Diala Province
    8/27/2011 2:58 PM

    Turkish warplanes cease air raids, shelling continues
    8/27/2011 2:11 PM

    Majority of bus passengers perish in Kirkuk bus accident
    8/27/2011 11:07 AM

    Three persons killed, 4th injured from single family in Babel
    8/27/2011 10:28 AM

    Five wanted men, including leader in “Islamic State of Iraq,” detained in Mosul
    8/27/2011 10:12 AM

    Armed man killed in Mosul explosion
    8/27/2011 9:42 AM

    5 arrested in Mosul
    8/26/2011 6:27 PM

    Rockets directed at Pokka Prison, not Kuwait
    8/26/2011 2:55 PM

    5 killed, 20 wounded in Basra explosion
    8/26/2011 12:56 PM

    Iraq’s 7th Army Division Commander escapes assassination attempt
    8/25/2011 4:06 PM

    Iraqi soldier killed in Mosul explosion
    8/25/2011 3:36 PM

    Iraqi Naval Captain’s body, killed by his own family, found in his house garden in Basra
    8/25/2011 12:52 PM

    Iraqi Kurdistan’s Parliament holds session to discuss Turkish bombardment
    8/25/2011 12:29 PM

    Seven policemen killed, 3 others, 2 civilians injured in Ramadi
    8/25/2011 10:59 AM

    Iraqi soldier killed, 2 injured in Falluja, west Iraq
    8/25/2011 10:47 AM

    9 arrested in Babel
    8/24/2011 7:39 PM

    Civilian assassinated in Ninewa
    8/24/2011 6:17 PM

    2 armed gangs arrested in Basra
    8/24/2011 5:07 PM

    2 women injured in west Mosul
    8/24/2011 5:02 PM

    Over 50 Kurdish families desert their homes
    8/24/2011 1:05 PM

    Iraqi Police officer, his bodyguard, injured in assassination attempt in Baaquba
    8/24/2011 11:03 AM

    Pro-government Sahwa element killed in Baaquba
    8/24/2011 10:37 AM

    Four killed, 3 injured in explosion against immigrant family in Diala
    8/24/2011 10:29 AM

    40 million dinars stolen in attack on officer’s house in Kut city
    8/24/2011 10:17 AM

    Cop killed in Mosul
    8/23/2011 5:36 PM




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Qaddafi Kept Photo Album of Condi

    August 26, 2011 // Comments Off

    We’ve documented Qaddafi’s weird relationship with the US government in other posts, though now it appears he desired an even weirder relationship with none other than Bush Work Wife and former Secretary of State Condi Rice.

    Qaddafi apparently was smitten, which is creepy given that Condi is, um, an avowed “bachelorette.” Nonetheless, the man kept a scrapbook-photo album of America’s iron lady in his Bond super-villain lair.

    Indeed, it was Qaddafi that once said “I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. … Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. … I love her very much.” Eeeeeeew, what’s next? Mubarak kept an album of Hillary Clinton shots? Obama has up skirts of Angela Merkel on his cell?

    The mind just spins on this one. Maybe the US could use Condi as bait, to lure Qaddafi out of hiding? She could send him a few texts, maybe a cellphone snap of her so-sexy gap-toothed smile with a suggestive comment, and ask him to meet her at some Tripoli Starbucks. Qaddafi shows up with flowers and bang! Seal Team Six “consummates” the date. Condi, do it, for America!!!!!!!!



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    US Military Spare Parts went to Qaddafi in 2009

    August 25, 2011 // 57 Comments »

    We recently recapped the weird history of US-Libyan relations, focusing on how, after years of hating on and bombing Qaddafi, soon after the Iraq war commenced we suddenly decided we liked him. The US opened diplomatic relations in 2009 and had all sorts of warm feelings for the once-pariah state. Then somehow in 2011 he started hating on and bombing Qaddafi again.

    New cables, on Wikilks, now give us a hint at how cozy the US-Libyan relationship (briefly) was.

    To start, Libya needed lots of spare parts for its military after years of embargoes. The US was happy to assist. An unclassified cable from 2009 outlined that the US sold “Miscellaneous parts, components, accessories, and attachments for the L100 aircraft and T56 engines belonging to the Libyan Air Force,” conveniently through a Portuguese middleman. Wonder if any of those refitted aircraft played any part in the recent unpleasantness in Libya? The cable asked Embassy Lisbon and Embassy Tripoli to check up on these exports, as they had (duh) military usage and cordially concludes “Department is grateful for Post’s assistance in this matter.”

    The more amusing cable is from August 2009, just two short years ago. It recounts the visit to Libya of Congressional super heroes John McCain,Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. The boys had a nice visit with Qaddafi and his son it seems. The cable notes “Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends.” Old Man McCain assured his hosts “that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security. He stated that he understood Libya’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C-130s and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. He described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, Staff, and War colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation.”

    The cable continued to say that “Qadhafi commented that friendship was better for the people of both countries and expressed his desire to see the relationship flourish. He thanked the Senators for their visit and described America as a race rather than a nationality, explaining that many Libyans are dual citizens because they were born in the United States. Senators McCain and Graham conveyed the U.S. interest in continuing the progress of the bilateral relationship and pledged to try to resolve the C-130 issue with Congress and Defense Secretary Gates.”

    It was no surprise Qaddafi wanted to talk hardware with McCain. The preparatory cable sent to McCain from Embassy Tripoli just before his trip reminded that “Libya has stated its number one priority, in return
    for relinquishing WMD, is a security guarantee by the US against foreign aggression. To that end, Libya has expressed an interest in purchasing lethal weapons from US firms.”

    Ho ho ho, that sure seems ironic now, after six months of a US bombing campaign.

    Qaddafi was always polite. In November 2008, the US Embassy in Tripoli received what it called a “telefax,” (what your grandfather would call a fax) from the man congratulating Obama on his election win. The “telefax” said:


    I have the pleasure to send a congratulation note for the first time to an American president, and on behalf of all Africa, and of Cen-Sad, the base of the African pyramid, and on behalf of the Arab Maghreb Union, and in the name of all Arab leaders as I am their dean. Since relations are resumed between our two countries, we have the right to congratulate you from the bottom of our hearts because you are the son of Africa.

    Blacks were deemed weak and were oppressed, and were taken to the American continent as slaves and indentured servants. The main point is that Blacks shall not have an inferiority complex and imitate the Yankees.

    The Embassy took the “telefax,” retyped it into a cable, and sent it to Washington, which explains what real diplomats do at work for you students reading this and contemplating a foreign service career. Above all, they do not re-send “telefaxes” when retyping one can do.


    Anyone interested in researching the ongoing dump of diplomatic messages should check out cablegatesearch.net, which provides effortless full-text search.

    Another excellent way to keep informed on new cable releases is via Twitter. Use the #wlfind tag.




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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    KBR Requests Rape Claimant Pay Company’s Legal Fees

    August 24, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    KBR A case we wrote about in a previous “Contractors Gone Wild in Iraq” post returns to the news. The case concerns the alleged rape in Iraq of KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones by another KBR employee (Ms. Jones’ name and picture have been prominently featured around the web, so we are not “outing” anyone here). The criminal case got lost in immunities, and KBR’s insistence that the allegations be dealt with through the employee arbitration proceedings spelled out in Jones’ employment contract.

    After six years of legal fussing and fighting, the courts eventually allowed Jones to pursue the matter as a civil complaint. Details are complex, and what really happened seems unclear—a good break down of the evidence is on Mother Jones. The claimed attack took place in 2005; ultimate source of all contractor legal matters Ms. Sparky has pages of details on the legal events since then.

    Ms. Jones recently lost her civil case. Now, KBR wants Jones to pay for its legal fees and court costs.

    In its motion seeking to recover more than $2 million in fees, KBR alleged that Jones’ rape and hostile work environment claims were fabricated and frivolous. The company has also requested that she cover its court costs of $145,000. Everything is back in the hands of lawyers again. Ms. Jones brought her claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which apparently allows prevailing parties to seek attorneys fees from the losing party. “Anyone who brings a claim under Title VII knows that there is a likelihood that if they lose the other side will seek attorneys fees,” said one attorney.

    The facts of the case are complex, but we can all agree that nothing good seems to come of things from the Iraq experience.

    We have another piece on KBR’s legal issues in Iraq if you are not yet depressed enough.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    A Short, Weird History of US-Libyan Relations

    August 23, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    BFF Remember kids, the Internet is written in ink.

    W-a-y back in the dark ages of the 1980’s, President Ron “Prune Face” Reagan called Gaddafi the “mad dog of the Middle East,” bombed his compound, “accidentally” killing Gaddafi’s daughter. Gaddafi had blown up a number of Americans in a disco.

    Hijinks ensued. One of Peter’s first jobs at State was working on the Lockerbie bombing from the Washington end in 1988. He worked on Lockerbie again while assigned to our Embassy in London in 1991. America was very, very angry with Gaddafi.

    We fast forward to 2003…

    …the year we liberated Iraq. We’ll skip all that stuff for another day’s posting about how the US supported Saddam while he was fighting the Iranians for us, and that awful picture of a young Don Rumsfeld wearing his 80’s ‘do shaking hands with Saddam. America was in the process of remaking the Middle East in 2003, so we ignored the work the AQ Khan network had done helping Libya (and North Korea, bonus!) move down the road to owning WMDs to welcome Gaddafi back into our Bosom o’ Freedom if he’d turn around and drop those WMDs. For laffs, Gaddafi also handed over one of the Lockerbie bombers to Justice, who was released on a flimsy health excuse by the sissy Brits a few years later and who Mitt Romney wants re-returned to justice, this time in the US, hopefully in time for the election..

    Good job Gaddafi! We rewarded him with a visit in 2008 by SecState Condi Rice. While in Tripoli (ironically at the same compound where we killed Gaddafi’s kid; folks, you just can’t make this stuff up), Condi said: “We did talk about learning from the lessons of the past. We talked about the importance of moving forward. The United States doesn’t have any permanent enemies.”

    Over the next few years the US built up its relationship with Gaddafi, first with a few texts, then friends on Facebook, then some lunch dates. It got serious ya’ll!

    In 2007 on one-day Fox affiliate al-Jazeera TV, Gaddafi said of the US SecState:

    “I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. … Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. … I love her very much.”

     

    According to the required report of foreign gifts that State produces, in 2008 one of the most generous gift-givers was Libya’s Gaddafi, who seemed particularly grateful for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Tripoli, giving her gifts worth a total value of $212,225, including a locket with his own picture inside. Completely unrelated but hysterical, that same year Nicolas Sarkozy gave President Bush a brown leather Hermes saddle. Awkward!

    The US went on to open an Embassy in Libya, appointed a real Ambassador (who got tossed out in 2010 after some Wikileaky stuff angered Gaddafi), the UK basically swept Lockerbie under the rug and released (because he had the flu) the terrorist who helped plant the bomb, and Gaddafi’s son was invited on a study tour of the US including a VIP tour of our Air Force Academy in Colorado just days before the uprisings began back home. Old Man McCain got off his Hoverchair to travel to Libya and suck up to Gadaffi. Maybe best of all, US companies started selling good stuff to Libya, including US-made armored trucks now being used to suppress angry mobs (See “Libyan Blood on American Trucks”). Nobody makes freedom-suppressing riot gear like America. We’re like the Forever 21 of the stuff for dictators worldwide.

    I fell asleep then for a couple of days and woke up to find we did not like Gaddafi again.

    By March 2011, former SecState’s Rice and Albright were back on Gaddafi’s ass, calling him a “nut.” “Nut” is an upgrade in diplomatic language from Reagan’s choice of name-calling, “mad dog.” So we’re back bombing the guy, sanctioning his oily butt and going all postal on Libya with our NATO dawgs. Current President of the United States of America Donald Trump brags of ripping off Gaddafi on a land deal, the kiss of death.

    Then some stuff happened in Libya in August 2011, you can see it on CNN or The Twitter.

    Yeah, this diplomatic stuff is complicated. I really have to stop sleeping in.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Libya: Not Iraq 2.0?

    August 22, 2011 // Comments Off

    A lot of high-fives in Washington, as the flaccid American Empire got a shot of geopolitical Viagra over the weekend in Libya. This is no Iraq 2.0.

    The lessons learned are already being compiled in a recipe for future campaigns. Target someone without nukes (North Korea, Iran and Pakistan are very safe, at least from us) and who is not a nuclear threshold state (Saudis, breathe easy). Use as many US and NATO resources as possible except for “boots on the ground.” Boots on the ground these days means troops we’ll need to acknowledge, not special forces, spies and sneaky mercs who can and were deployed in great abundance but in great secrecy. Let the public face of the war be someone, anyone, who is not American. Label them generic rebels, and tone down the rhetoric of past misadventures (no “freedom fighters,” no “Mission Accomplished” photo-ops). Encourage the media-fueled “victory” announcements from Libya. Stir, chill overnight and you’ve deposed another of America’s formerly reliable despots in favor of a bunch of nobodies we hope will keep the oil tap wide open. Repeat.

    Now, my hope will be that the media will keep an eye on Libya long enough to allow us to see what happens next. The rebels will need to shift from breaking things to fixing things, the key transition that screwed up the American adventure in Iraq. Will they be able to very quickly take control of picking up trash, keeping the water and sewage plants running, funding electrical grid upgrades, making sure teachers, cops, toll collectors and tax officials all show up to work and all the rest of the day-to-day stuff of governing? Will they get sidetracking into settling scores and reprisal killings? Security, stabilization and development done sequentially take far too long in a bubbling post-conflict environment, but are very, very hard to do simultaneously (again, see Iraq).

    How conflicts like the Libya campaign will fit into the bigger US geopolitical picture will be able to be judged by the results of such mundane civil tasks. Will the US walk away from Libya in large part, the “tyrant” now gone, uncaring about what happens next as long as the oil flows? It is obvious that the US plans nothing on the scale of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) that set out to fix all those problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and failed miserably. But will the US dump “experts” and money into Libya? Doing so may or may not make things work, but will increase ownership of the problems by the US, something America would most dearly like to avoid. Doing close to nothing will likely ease Libya’s transition into a permanent semi-failed state.

    Breaking things is easy, fixing things is hard. The US has mismanaged that problem consistently since 9/11. Let’s see what the play is in Libya to see if anyone in Washington really learned any lessons.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Save the Date: Washington DC Book Launch 10/11

    August 19, 2011 // Comments Off

    Save the date! We Meant Well will have its Washington DC launch on October 11, at 6:30 pm, at the Washington flagship Barnes and Noble store, 555 12th St NW (directions).

    Come early for the free WiFi and browsing, and stay for a reading, signings and more. If you present a government ID, the author will endorse your book with a special “Smart Power” autograph and offer empty promises about the future.

    See you there!


    If you’re in a hurry or can’t make the launch, the book is available now as a pre-order from Barnes and Noble, either in hardcover or NOOK format.






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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    We Pay for Both Sides of Iraq, Afghan Wars

    August 18, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    What better way to ensure that our wars of terror will never end than to actually pay for both sides of the struggle. It worked well in Iraq, where our reconstruction and contracting money filtered down to the insurgents attacking us, and now, also, in Afghanistan. Think of it as a kind of terrorist “stimulus package.”

    In Iraq, in just one example, insurgent groups financed their war in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in US rebuilding funds extorted from Iraqi contractors in Anbar. The payments, in return for the insurgents’ allowing supplies to move and construction work to begin, had taken place since the earliest projects in 2003.

    After examining hundreds of combat support and reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan, the US military estimates $360 million in your tax dollars has ended up in the hands of people the American-led coalition has spent nearly a decade battling: the Taliban, criminals and power broker thugs with ties to both.

    There’s good news: the Army maintains that “only a small percentage of the $360 million has been garnered by the Taliban and insurgent groups. The bulk of the money was lost to profiteering, bribery and extortion.” Whew, feelin’ better now.

    One Afghan warlord, Rohullah, operated a protection racket, charging contractors moving US military supplies along the highway as much as $1,500 a vehicle. Failure to pay virtually guaranteed a convoy would be attacked. While Rohullah’s guards regularly fought with the Taliban, Rohullah also moved money to the Taliban when it was in his interest to do so. He received over $1.7 million in USG money, the task force discovered.

    Contracting will be seen by historians as the achilles heal of the war effort. This, plus the losses to the bad guys detailed above, is no secret. The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan laid out the story quite clearly, stating:

    Poor planning and oversight by the US government, as well as poor performance on the part of contractors, have costly outcomes: time and money misspent are lost for other purposes. Criminal behavior and blatant corruption sap dollars from what could otherwise be successful project outcomes and, more disturbingly, contribute to a climate in which huge amounts of waste are accepted as the norm.

    The US Embassy in Baghdad declined to provide anyone to discuss the allegations. An embassy spokesman said “in terms of contracting practices, we have checks and balances in our contract awarding system to prevent any irregularities from occurring.”

    Not to worry in Afghanistan either. Army officials calmed those worried by noting “Overall, the $360 million represents a fraction of the $31 billion in active US contracts that the task force reviewed.”



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Army Suicides Set New Record

    August 17, 2011 // Comments Off

    The Army suffered a record 32 suicides in July, the most since it began releasing monthly figures in 2009. The number includes 22 active-duty soldiers and 10 reservists. The previous record was 31, from June 2010.

    The penultimate chapter, Missing Him, from my book, recounts one of those 31 suicides from the previous record-breaking month of June 2010. The guy was fairly new, and had not made many friends. One morning he put his M-4 rifle in his mouth and triggered off a three round burst to end his life. No note, no explanation, just another story obliterated. Every death ends a story, a boy who would have been a good father, or maybe a bad husband, a decent office worker, a career soldier, we’ll never know. For all out there worried only about my book mocking the State Department or embarrassing our reconstruction efforts, you think too shallow.

    Thankfully some rules have changed since June 2010. Then, the next-of-kin of suicides did not receive a letter of presidential condolences, a Bush administration practice carried on by Obama until earlier this year.

    The sadness one feels for every death in war is made awkward for some when the cause of death is suicide. That is wrong. These men and women died as much of the war as from the war, and deserve the same sadness, the same love, the same anger as any other time a young person is taken from us too soon.

    We will miss them, every one of them.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Hard to Swallow: Optimism on Iraq Investment

    August 16, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Well, the Bachmann picture is just a metaphor, OK?

    The State Department held an Iraq investment conference in early June, a forum for the Secretary herself to strong-arm US companies into investing in the US government’s investment in Iraq. Say what you want, folks at State are optimists. Here’s the take from June:


    While businesses entering the Iraqi market continue to face hurdles, including a greatly improved but still difficult security environment, some positive developments, such as rising oil revenues, expected double-digit domestic economic growth, significant investments in infrastructure, and a stable democratic government point to the conclusion that Iraq represents a unique business opportunity.



    So, some 10 weeks later, let’s have another look at investment in Iraq.

    Security

    Security just keeps on sucking the air out of any investment plans. Just yesterday a string of coordinated bombings across Iraq killed 80 people, injured 250 and showed the bad guys, whoever they are, retain the ability to strike as they wish. The number of civilians killed by violence in Iraq rose to 159 in July from 155 in June, matching January with the highest toll so far for 2011.

    It is unclear if these attacks are designed to encourage American forces to stay or leave, but people do keep dying. Worse than a falling Dow for encouraging foreign investment.

    Oil Exports

    Oil exports, which were to drive the economy in Iraq, dropped in July compared to June (2.16 million barrels a day versus 2.75 million). Oil prices rose, so in dollar terms Iraq still did OK, but the oft-promised increases in output show no signs of coming true. Any drop in worldwide oil prices will whack Iraq hard upside the head as their output levels seems stuck.

    Infrastructure

    As for that developing infrastructure, well, that’s also part of the problem. Demand for electricity is still very high, high enough in fact to divert some of Iraq’s crude production to meet growing local demand for fuel to drive power plants. Kind of like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

    Bureaucracy

    In addition to the show stoppers above, investment in Iraq seems to run into bureaucratic hurdles.

    Basra is the focus for most of the West, because of oil, oil and oil. Unfortunately, while many projects are announced, fewer are implemented. According to head of investment in Basra, Haider Ali Fadel, while reports indicate that the investment authority agreed to the implementation of 40 projects since its founding in 2008, more than half have not been implemented.

    Fadel cited the lack of land allocated for the implementation of investment projects as the major problem (foreign companies cannot own land in Iraq, and the ever-so-slow Ministry of Oil controls most real estate in Basra). Somehow obtaining visas for foreign investors to enter Iraq remains a major challenge as well. The latter problem is related to corruption, poor relations between the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs, just bad communications or all of the above, depending on who you speak with.

    Local-Central Coordination

    What might be called other “coordination” problems between local and Baghdad bureaucrats also seem to be thwarting investment. In April, Iraq awarded the China National Machinery Equipment Import & Export Corporation a $204.4 million contract to build a 500 megawatt electrical power plant in Basra.

    However, the head of the electricity committee in Basra province, Ziad Fadhel Ali, said that “the electricity ministry did not signthe final contract, and we don’t know the reason for the delay. Since the signing of the initial agreement, the company has not taken any step towards implementing the contract because of the obstruction of the electricity ministry,” Ali said. Baghdad authorities blamed a failed financial guarantee from a Korean bank.

    Such problems are not limited to Basra. On July 2, Canadian company Capgent signed a $1.66 billion contract with Iraq’s electricity ministry to build 10 power plants over a period of 12 months. Four days later, Baghdad signed a $625 million contract with German firm MBH to build five power stations in 11 months. But Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussein al-Shahristani told a news conference that Capgent was “a company on paper only” and MBH was bankrupt and facing legal trouble. “The contracts with the phantom and bankrupt companies have been cancelled and lawsuits filed against them,” Shahristani said.

    Contracting Problems

    The construction contracting business, needed to actually build those investments that get past the bureaucrats, remains a problem as well. Iraq Business News reports that changes in legislation have led to an explosion in cheesy building companies.

    In 2003, the US’ Coalition Provisional Authority made changes to the existing Company Law No. 21 of 1997 because, as then-CPA head Paul Bremer wrote, “some of the rules concerning company formation and investment under the prior regime no longer serve a relevant social or economic purpose, and that such rules hinder economic growth.”

    Bremers’ amendments were supposed to liberalize the economy but had unintended consequences. Within a fairly short period, 925 construction companies registered in Basra alone with another 5000 waiting for registration.

    The growth in numbers allowed for the creation of companies that only existed on paper. The amendments allowed any Iraqi with a minimum of one million dinars (around US$850) to register a company. While the law does not allow a company to implement projects with costs three times more than its capital, any company can temporarily increase its capital by utilising a temporary deposit from one of the local banks. The bank deposits the needed amount, charges a commission and then withdraws the cash from the company’s account after the deal is signed. A foreign investor would be none the wiser.

    Hard to Swallow

    Investment in Iraq remains hard to swallow. We’ll check back again in a few weeks for an update. Until then, save your money.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    RIP: Lt. Col. Mike Laabs

    August 15, 2011 // 4 Comments »

    No sarcasm today. My first Deputy PRT Team Leader in Iraq, Lt. Colonel Mike Laabs, died last week of natural causes at age 52.

    Mike was an imperfect man and a helluva guy. Our PRT team was a mess when Mike and I arrived in Iraq; I was the seventh team leader in just a year, and Mike was another in a long line of Deputies. He took it upon himself to fix what he could, schooling me along the way in how to operate inside a big, complex organization like the elite 10th Mountain Division we were embedded with.

    The official obituary reads that “Lieutenant Colonel Michael M. Laabs entered into the Army in 1976. He served over 22 years as a commissioned officer, with a total of over 33 years of service. As a Civil Affairs Team Chief, Lieutenant Colonel Laabs deployed to An Najaf and Al Anbar Provinces, Iraq from February 2003 through June 2004. He also deployed to Baghdad as an Operations Officer and Deputy Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader in April 2009 through May 2010. He had many awards and decorations including the Meritorious Service Medal.”

    All true. But now that he has passed, I can also reveal that Mike did with great purpose violate General Order Number 1 (no alcohol permitted, among other things) to share a paper cup of smuggled whiskey with me in the Iraqi desert to mark my 50th birthday.

    Rest in Peace Mike. War’s over.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Good News! Kidnappings in Iraq Now for Money, Not Terrorism

    August 12, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    This one goes out to all the cynics, who claim there is never any progress in our war of terror in Iraq.

    AFP reports that the number of kidnappings for ransom in Iraq has multiplied in the past two years.

    In the lawless aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, sectarian abductions became rampant, especially during the high times of the bloody Sunni-Shiite civil war, 2005-2007.

    Here’s the good news: “It is a far increasing percentage now where the objective of kidnapping is money,” said Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, spokesman for US forces in Iraq.

    Foreigners, as well as important Iraqis, live behind blast walls with security guards. But Iraqi small businessmen who cannot afford bodyguards, and whom kidnappers can count on to cough up large sums for ransom, have become the fave targets.

    Between April and June, six to seven Iraqis were kidnapped each month, according to UK-based private security firm AKE. The average ransom paid to kidnappers was $50,000. “Kidnap remains a regular occurrence in the country, with many incidents going unreported,” AKE said.

    So there it is, another sectarian evil defeated by the surge, or Navy SEALs, or whatever, replaced by an even more evil thing, albeit motivated by greed, not ideology, so it is progress.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Markup at Macy’s: USG W-A-Y Overpays in Iraq

    August 11, 2011 // 4 Comments »

    Maybe this is a good way to create jobs: have the US Government wildly overpay for things, pumping millions of dollars into the economy. It seems to have worked, actually, albeit in the United Arab Emirates.

    According to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), a United Arab Emirates-based logistics contractor billed Defense Department authorities in Iraq for parts at prices marked up as high as 5,000 percent and 12,000 percent.

    A review of a $119 million reconstruction and logistics contract with Anham LLC questioned almost 40 percent of its costs, including:

    – $900 for a control switch valued at $7.05 (a 12,666 percent increase);

    – $80 for a small segment of drainpipe valued at $1.41 (a 5,574 percent increase);

    – $75 for a different piece of plumbing equipment also valued at $1.41 (a 5,219 percent increase);

    – $3,000 for a circuit breaker valued at $94.47 (a 3,076 percent increase);

    – $4,500 for another kind of circuit breaker valued at $183.30 (a 2,355 percent increase).

    Meanwhile, we have no money at home for schools, roads, social security or snacks at meetings.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Get a Free Understanding of the Iraqi-U.S. Bilateral Relationship

    August 10, 2011 // 4 Comments »

    Out of work like most Americans? Tired of daytime TV and feeling some survivor’s guilt over not having done your part in creating a free, democractic and, hell, we’ll go there, sexy Iraq? You can now be an unpaid intern at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington DC!

    Yes, it is true. No need for body armor, sand in your boots or an IED taking off your leg. Right in the heart of hipster Dupont Circle, you can work for free at the Iraqi Embassy. You are assured of “involvement in governmental affairs, as well as a general understanding of the Iraqi-U.S. bilateral relationship.”

    The photo above is the actual Iraqi Embassy, which looks alot like a house I rented in college with four other guys.

    Pretty much anyone who is or was a “student” can apply. Details are on their website (which is no doubt paid for by your tax dollars. Hah! I just checked the WHO IS listing for the Iraqi Embassy website, and they are run by GoDaddy!).

    Intern jobs are listed as available in the usual categories, such as:

    The American Administration Outreach Intern will assist staff in a variety of projects relating to the US government directly. The American Administration Outreach Intern will be expected to research and compile a daily digest of events, briefings, and media releases from the White House, State Department and anywhere else that is relevant to Iraq.

    Yawn. Google, CTRL+C, CTRL+V, then Angry Birds ’til lunch. Nothing about doing WMD research, sucking up to the Iranians, messing with Kurds, stealing oil from Kuwait or other traditional topics, but I’m sure they’ll tell you more on your first day of work.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Basra Poet Locks Self in Home “until death” to Protest Power Cuts

    August 9, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Lâm Văn Tức, was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on June 11, 1963. He was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s corrupt and ineffectual Diệm administration.

    The Iraqi poet Poet Kazim al-Hajjaj, in southern Iraq’s port city of Basra, has locked himself inside his home “until death,” to protest the continuous electric power cuts in his city. Temperatures these days are routinely over 100 degress F/50 degrees C.

    The US spent over $63 billion on “rebuilding,” including billions spent on (not) fixing the power grid.

    There is nothing more to say. This is the Iraq we created.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Never Again? Gitmo Medical Records Chilling

    August 8, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    A recent study of medical records kept at Guantanamo Bay is chilling in its simplicity. The study concludes:

    The findings in these nine cases from GTMO indicate that medical doctors and mental health personnel assigned to the DoD neglected and/or concealed medical evidence of intentional harm.


    The doctors who conducted the study reviewed GTMO medical records and relevant case files (client affidavits, attorney–client notes and summaries, and legal affidavits of medical experts) of nine individuals for evidence of torture and ill treatment and documentation by medical personnel. In each of the nine cases, GTMO detainees alleged abusive interrogation methods that were consistent with torture.

    However, US Government medical personnel who treated the detainees at GTMO failed to inquire and/or document causes of the physical injuries and psychological symptoms they observed. Psychological symptoms were commonly attributed to “personality disorders” and “routine stressors of confinement.” Temporary psychotic symptoms and hallucinations did not prompt consideration of abusive treatment. Psychological assessments conducted by non-governmental medical experts revealed diagnostic criteria for current major depression and/or PTSD in all nine cases.

    Doctors and other medical personnel employed by the United States violated their oaths, as well as their common decency, to ignore clear signs of torture and abuse. The doctors chose to be complicit in hurting other human beings, instead of helping them when they could, for political goals.

    The study found that detainees reported being exposed to an average of eight different forms of “authorized” abuse including sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, serious threats, forced positions, beating, and forced nudity.

    In addition to the use of authorized abuse used as an interrogation tool, each of the nine detainees reported being subjected to “unauthorized” acts of severe beatings, often associated with loss of consciousness and/or bone fractures, sexual assault and/or the threat of rape, mock execution, mock disappearance, and near asphyxiation from water (i.e., hose forced into the detainee’s mouth) or being choked.

    Other allegations included forcing the detainee’s head into the toilet, being used as a human sponge to wipe the floor, and desecration of the Quran (e.g., writing profane words in the Quran, stepping on the Quran, and placing it on the floor near the trash). Five of the detainees reported loss of consciousness during interrogation. Seven of the nine detainees reported participating in one or more hunger strikes to protest conditions of detention, and two detainees reported being restrained and forced to receive intravenous fluids and nasogastric tube feedings.

    In addition to the physical abuse, the report documents the extreme forms of psychosis experienced by the detainees. One man with suicidal thoughts was told by a health care professional “[You]…need to relax when guards are being more aggressive.”

    In short, the conditions the US Government subjected them to quite simply drove the men insane.

    Read the report yourself, as well as some commentary on it.

    Like the Nazis before us, we will all claim not to have known, not to be a part of this, that at worst we were only following orders. Shame on us, because this was all done by Americans fully prepared to claim their actions were legal, moral and justified. Shame on us, for letting these things be done in our name.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    See “Incident in New Baghdad” Thursday 8/11 in Providence

    August 6, 2011 // Comments Off

    Bradley Manning is accused of leaking classified gun camera footage. Known as the “Collateral Murder” video, the deeply disturbing footage recounts a US helicopter attack on a group of mostly unarmed individuals in the streets of Baghdad in July 2007, resulting in the deaths of at least eight individuals including two Iraqi journalists, and two wounded children. Manning risked his life to make the atrocity public.

    To see that the video reached an even wider audience, as well as to provide context for what is shown, James Spione created a critically acclaimed short documentary, Incident in New Baghdad. James focuses on US Army Specialist Ethan McCord’s account of the attack as one of the first six American soldiers to reach the scene, and the struggle he now faces at home as he addresses his own PTSD and works to raise Americans’ awareness of the implications of war.

    “New Baghdad” refers both to the physical location of the killings, New Baghdad City, and perhaps ironically to the “new” Baghdad created by the American invasion.

    For those in the Rhode Island area, Incident in New Baghdad will screen at the Metcalf Auditorium at the RISD Museum on Thursday, August 11 at 1:15 p.m. Tickets are available online. The screening is part of The FLICKERS: Rhode Island International Film Festival™, the largest film festival in New England.

    Read an interview with filmmaker James Spione, or see a clip from the film, to learn more.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Vigilance Where You Really Care: Blogs v. Contracts

    August 5, 2011 // 12 Comments »

    When it comes to protecting the rights of bloggers in places like Syria and China, the State Department has no end of energy. Democracy, State says, demands an open and free exchange of ideas, even when they are critical of the government. Rock the power! in those dirty places abroad.

    However, when it comes to stifling free speech among its own employees, the State Department seems also to have no end of energy. The Department asserts:

    Publicly available Internet communications on matters of official concern, including blog postings, must be reviewed by the employee’s agency. 3 FAM 4172.1-3(A)1. See also 5 FAM 792.2b and 5 FAM 792.3d. Thus, there can be no question that employees must submit blog postings for review if they address matters of official concern.

    This of course is a pretty big job, reviewing the blog postings, Tweets, Facebook updates, MySpace posts, IMs, texts, chat room lines, bulletin board contributions and listservs of thousands of employees worldwide, 24/7.

    Just as an example, one of the Department’s own websites links directly to dozens of private blogs (but not this one!) by Foreign Service Officers and others. These sites contain pages of postings, which apparently the State Department is committed to monitoring. While there are quite a variety of opinions expressed, they are no doubt all approved as required. An even longer list is online, suggesting daily blog posts in the thousands need to be vetted.

    Anything less than 100 percent vigilance would be a) selective enforcement (i.e., prejudicial enforcement aimed only at free speech the Department disagrees with and seeks to punish or restrain) and b) risk allowing some snippet of unfettered speech to slip through that could destroy the foreign policy space-time continuum as we know it. In its own words, the purpose of State Department review of all of these blog posts is to screen out statements which “could cause serious damage to US foreign policy, and in particular US diplomatic efforts and military activities.” Heavy Doc, heavy.

    One blog about the Foreign Service, Diplopundit, tracks other Statey blogs that have been forced to stop publishing by the Department. State unleashes senior Deputy Assistant Secretaries to quietly threaten the careers of bad bloggers and, if that does not work, invokes its internal discipline system as if the blogs contained the nuclear launch codes, passwords to the Wikileak servers and Hillary’s Victoria Secret orders all in one.

    Who knows how many thousands of people must work in Foggy Bottom’s Ministry of Truth just to keep up with the flood of blog postings needing to be reviewed. It is even more amazing that somehow the hundreds of blogs keep publishing articles every day, despite the mandatory review process which can take up to 30 days (State claims “30 days” means thirty business days, so it is really close to six weeks of human time.)

    A weaker mind might assume that State does indeed selectively enforce its rules, whacking hard blogs that speak out, while avoiding applying pressure to nice blogs that tow the party line. Why, one could even think that discipline was selectively used to make an example out of FSOs who say things that while true, leave senior officials more than upset.

    If only State could spare a couple of drones from the censorship department to help out over in contracting oversight, things might be better off.

    It seems that the State Department has only now gotten around to noticing an analyst who may have helped award millions in contracts to a company run by her husband and daughter. The analyst helped her husband’s company win 43 taxpayer-funded contracts in recent years, while she and her husband kept their relationship secret from the State Department.

    You are, as an organization, the product of what you do, what you choose to do with your resources. In tough, tough budget times, State chooses to aggressively and selectively police its bloggers, while casually allowing spectacular contracting fraud to pass unnoticed.

    Hopefully as Congress sits down to make its budget cuts, they will take this into consideration.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Yankee Go Home: Over 2.5 million Signatures in Iraq Say Leave

    August 4, 2011 // Comments Off

    Do you feel the love yet? I did ever day in Iraq. Every day people would stare at us. The little kids would smile, but the parents would not. They just glared at us sullenly. The exception of course was people to whom we gave reconstruction money. They smiled alot.

    Apparently at least 2.5 million Iraqis never got any cash from us, because over 2.5 million signatures have been gathered by Iraqi citizens, demanding the Iraqi government and Parliament to call on the US forces to leave Iraq and non-extension of their presence in the country.

    Iraqi Parlimentarian Maha al-Doury told a news conference at the headquarters of the Iraqi Parliament that “the campaign had gathered over 2.5 million signatures by citizens in different parts of Baghdad, demanding the Iraqi government and Parliament to confirm the departure of the American forces and non-extension of their presence, under any topic or cover.”

    “The Parliament members should go the streets of their Provinces and areas to listen to the voices of the people, in order to gather millions of signatures to demand the departure of the American Forces,” she said, calling at the same time on all political leaders, scheduled to convene at the residence of Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani on Tuesday, to listen to the voice of the people, demanding the departure of the American forces and their non-extension.”

    Now, figuring the population of Iraq at around 30 million, 2.5 million signatures is a pretty good chunk of the population. Exclude children, old folks stuck inside and women not allowed by their freedom husbands to sign things, and it represents a good sized hunk of the popular will.

    But no one actually cares. Plans proceed apace to station thousands of US troops in Iraq forever.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    US Provides Iraq with Super Surveillance System

    August 3, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    So what do all those bad boy US special operators do in Iraq these days?

    They whack people. They hunt down individual bad guys and kill them. The bin Laden raid was a varsity-level operation of this type, but night after night such raids, albeit on a much smaller scale, are taking place in Iraq (as in Afghanistan) to pop bomb makers and local cell leaders. The fighting in Iraq has moved from mass operations to very specific killings on both sides.

    A Shiite militia has no need to target a marketplace when what they really want to do is whack one specific Sunni police captain hassling them. The US, with its vast, frightening and ever-growing surveillance machine, doesn’t need to carpet bomb a village when a ten man special ops team can motor in one night, knowing they Shiite militia commander they want to murder is at home, second floor, back bedroom, on the phone to his Qods Force controller (also being whacked simultaneously).

    It was always thought that the array of electronics needed to do this kind of thing will stay with the special forces in Iraq and/or be quietly slipping through the night sky far, far above. But now it seems the US will gift Iraq with such capabilities, useful of course not only for Iraq’s dirty work, but conveniently there for America as well.

    The United States is planning to provide the Iraqi government with a wiretapping system to eavesdrop on cellular calls and messages “to assist in combating criminal organizations and insurgencies,” according to a US Air Force contract solicitation reported in the Washington Post.

    The proposed system would allow Iraqi officials to monitor and store voice calls, data transmissions and text messages.

    Ah yes, preparing the battlefield for 12/31/2011, when US forces will sort of, maybe, kinda leave Iraq.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Calling Bullshit: Iranian Threat in Iraq Nothing New

    August 2, 2011 // Comments Off

    Ahydrosis is the inability to sweat properly. Among its many afflictions, this is not a disease that the US government suffers from. There is plenty of sweating going on in Washington over the lack of action on getting Iraq to commit to a forever US troop presence.

    The latest actor to bark about the need for troops to remain forever in Iraq is Ray Odierno, the four-star nominated to be the next Army chief, when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Odierno served three tours in Iraq, the last as the top overall boss from 2008-10.

    Odierno is also the latest actor to pick up the current talking point, that US troops are needed to defend Iraq from Iranian efforts. The General, like his SecDef and many others, cites the Iranian threat as a new reason for the US to remain in Iraq.

    Odierno’s weeping was followed up by Obama’s pick to become the top US military officer, who warned Iran not to underestimate US resolve in responding to attacks on US forces in Iraq by Iranian-backed militia. General Martin Dempsey’s message to Iran would be “It would be a gross miscalculation to believe that we will simply allow that to occur without taking serious consideration or reacting to it.”

    While the Iranian threat is being dragged out as something new, another breaking crisis in the war of terror (schedule to run now forever), it is nothing new at all.

    Iran began moving resources into Iraq as early as 2003, after its overtures to the US to resestablish diplomatic relations were rebuffed by the then-engorged Busy Administration. The push back, quickly followed by Tehran’s sense that the US was getting handed its ass in Iraq, led to Iran’s paramilitary and intelligence buildup in Iraq. Tehran deployed to Iraq a large number of the Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force — a highly professional force specializing in assassinations and bombings — as well as officers from the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security and representatives of Lebanese Hezbollah. Did I make that up? No, it was reported by the Washington Post in 2006. Odeirno and everyone else involved knows this but presents Iran as a new cause nonetheless.

    Want more? In 2008, the Council on Foreign Relations pretty much laid out the whole Iranian strategy in Iraq, noting among other things that Iraq is filled with figures, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who spent time during Saddam Hussein’s tenure exiled in Iran.

    Even the mighty team of former Ambassador Crocker and former General Petraeus called out the Iranians as waging a proxy war, back in 2008.

    Closer to home, this blog has regularly reported on the US-Iran proxy war being fought in Iraq.

    So we call bullshit on Odierno and everyone else trying to twist Iran’s eight years of activity in Iraq into something new that creates a reason to leave US troops forever. The Iraqis are certainly not sweating over it. Face it guys, the strategic result of the US invasion of Iraq is the emergence of Iran as an even more powerful and secure regional power.



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Victory is Ours: Iraq Less Safe Than a Year Ago

    August 1, 2011 // Comments Off

    We didn't quit when the Germans bombed Pearl HarborI’ve finally figured this all out: Iraq is part of the upside down world, where everything is the opposite of “our” reality. So, after eight years of war and 4473 American dead and over 100,000 Iraqi dead and a couple o’ trillion dollars spent, the recent report by the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) is good news!

    “Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work,” Stuart Bowen of SIGIR said in the report published on Saturday. “It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago.”

    He added the transition of responsibility for reconstruction from the US military to the embassy was occurring “against the backdrop of a security situation in Iraq that continues to deteriorate.”

    Bowen noted June was the deadliest month for US military personnel since April 2009, and that April-July saw the highest number of assassinations of senior Iraqi officials since SIGIR began tracking such figures (emphasis added after I blew coffee out through my nose).

    He warned that while joint efforts by the US and Iraq had lowered the threat posed by insurgent groups, “foreign militias have become cause for concern,” and added that the past quarter “also saw an increase in the number of rockets hitting the International Zone and the US embassy compound as well.”


    Full report, or summary, take your pick.

    The US Embassy in Baghdad declined comment on the SIGIR report, referring requests for a response to the State Department in Washington (true).

    The State Department in Washington was closed for the weekend, and so issued no comment. Officials responsible for commenting were reportedly at the Jos. A. Banks sale, stocking up on smart khaki slacks and blue blazers for the much-anticipated “casual Friday” hootenanny scheduled next week at Foggy Bottom (satire, maybe).



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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

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