• More Iraqi Freedom: 11 killed in attacks on Iraq security forces

    November 3, 2011 // Comments Off on More Iraqi Freedom: 11 killed in attacks on Iraq security forces

    Bomb and gun attacks against police and anti-Qaeda militiamen killed 11 people and wounded 38 across Iraq on Thursday, security officials said.

    Here’s a partial breakdown of the outburst of democracy wrought by America’s 2003 invasion (Arabic: The Gift That Continues to Give [Pain]):

    Parliament employee assassinated in west Baghdad
    11/2/2011 1:49 PM

    Gunman killed in Mosul
    11/1/2011 5:21 PM

    Soldier killed, 3 wounded in Anbar
    11/1/2011 5:20 PM

    Intelligence General escapes assassination attempt
    11/1/2011 5:16 PM

    Iraqi Christians express fears one year after Church attack
    11/1/2011 12:18 PM

    2 civilians killed in Anbar
    11/1/2011 10:22 AM

    Four soldiers killed in Diala province
    10/31/2011 5:32 PM

    Two soldiers killed in west Mosul
    10/30/2011 7:53 PM

    US forces should release detained citizen
    10/30/2011 3:25 PM

    Katyusha rocket falls on south Baghdad’s Jadririya district
    10/30/2011 1:31 PM

    US forces arrest Iraqi in aerial operation
    10/29/2011 8:09 PM

    Woman killed west Mosul
    10/29/2011 7:20 PM

    3 cops wounded in west Mosul
    10/29/2011 7:00 PM

    Soldier killed, 3 wounded in Falluja
    10/29/2011 5:34 PM

    Two goldsmiths killed, their shops stolen in Wassit Province
    10/29/2011 1:49 PM

    Large fire in Nassiriya Oil Storage
    10/29/2011 1:34 PM

    Govt Employee killed, 2 others injured in west Baghdad blast
    10/29/2011 1:33 PM

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    More and more people are ratting out their associates: Corruption in Iraq, Afghanistan Booming

    November 2, 2011 // Comments Off on More and more people are ratting out their associates: Corruption in Iraq, Afghanistan Booming

    Good news! While the Occupy Baghdad and Occupy Kabul protests have so far failed to draw a crowd, the various Inspector Generals for those two popular wars are rooting out wicked Wall Street-levels of corruption. “This is a boom industry for us,” Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, or SIGIR, said in an interview.

    The rise in caseloads derives partly from spinoff investigations, where suspects facing prosecution lead investigators to other suspects, said Jon Novak, SIGIR’s assistant inspector general for investigations. “More and more people are ratting out their associates.”

    Recent cases include a Marine in Iraq who sent home $43,000 in stolen cash by hiding it in a footlocker among American flags. A soldier shipped thousands more concealed in a toy stuffed animal, and an employee at the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad tricked the State Department into wiring $240,000 into his Jordanian bank account.

    Note that the State Department is currently fighting with Congress over whether or not SIGIR will be allowed to investigate naughtiness in Iraq once State takes over the mission completely next year. Surprisingly, State would prefer not to have the scrutiny, promising instead to police itself.

    Read the whole article, from the Associated Press, for more laffs!

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Review: Washington Post

    October 30, 2011 // Comments Off on Review: Washington Post

    The Washington Post reviewed “We Meant Well”:

    Why couldn’t $63 billion invested in the reconstruction of Iraq manage to keep the lights on? How can it be that in 2011, blackouts are still part of daily life, drinking water remains a luxury, and only about a quarter of the population has sewage? If reliable utilities are fundamental to both the grand goal of nation-building and the narrower mandate of counterinsurgency, why didn’t the largest nation-building effort in history get those utilities back up and running?

    Peter Van Buren tries to answer those questions in his memoir, “We Meant Well.” A Foreign Service officer sent to Iraq as part of the civilian surge in 2009, Van Buren was assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team and embedded for a year with the U.S. Army. His account from beyond Baghdad is a nice companion piece to Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.”

    “We meant well” is the sort of phrase whose meaning depends on emphasis. It can be a defense of truly good intentions or a flippant excuse. In Van Buren’s usage, it seems to be more the latter. He describes the majority of his State Department colleagues as people negligently prepared for their jobs, motivated primarily by the prospect of promotions, willingly ignorant of actual needs in Iraq, too lazy to do the necessary groundwork, and with too-short attention spans to care about whether a project is successful and self-sustaining. “These were,” he writes of his team members, “by and large people aggressively devoted to mediocrity, often achieving it.”

    As an example of the ineptitude, he offers the case of a chicken-processing plant. The idea was to create jobs (in the hope that they would keep young Iraqis too busy for insurgency) and to provide a fresh, halal-certified alternative to Brazilian-imported frozen chickens. But the project didn’t do much on the jobs front. For one thing, the plant relied heavily on automation, including a tramway that transported chickens to be slaughtered. As Van Buren points out, “If employment was indeed the goal, why have an automated plant with the tramway of chicken death?” Even more basic, the project team had ignored a U.S. AID report recommending against chicken processing because of “prohibitive electricity costs” and the absence of refrigerated transport and storage. The chicken plant sat idle — at a sunk cost to U.S. taxpayers of $2.58 million.

    More successful were projects instigated by Iraqis. Among these was a women’s center on the outskirts of Baghdad. A local women’s group identified the need: Sparse facilities and dominating fathers and husbands often kept women from receiving basic medical care. Van Buren’s team gave $84,000. And the Al-Zafraniyah Women’s Support Center was born, with a social worker offering counseling, two lawyers helping women obtain government benefits, and a female medical doctor coming twice a week to lead workshops and see patients. An immediate success, the center served more than 100 women in its first month. Yet it was shut down after six months. “The initial funding had run out,” Van Buren writes, “and U.S. priorities had moved on to flashier economic targets.”

    Van Buren’s prose is accessible, colloquial, somewhat macho, with sustained skepticism and moments of humor. After an Iraqi sheik suggested that he would think better of the Americans if they gave him a new generator, Van Buren writes: “I pretended to jot a note: next invasion, bring more generators.”

    Yet the narrative is disjointed, structured less like a memoir than an International Crisis Group report. There’s a section on trash, another on water and sewer, another on corruption, and so on.

    Van Buren manages to conjure up a few vivid scenes, such as one in which a demonstration at the chicken plant leaves one worker with a beard full of feathers. But generally, the writing lacks scenes and characters and dialogue. In fact, almost all the dialogue in the book is separated off in a chapter called “Soldier Talk.” It’s hard to know whether that was an effort to preempt State Department redactions or because Van Buren didn’t take great notes. (Since the book’s release, Van Buren has been almost gleeful about the trouble his writing has gotten him into at State. “I . . . morphed into public enemy number one — as if I had started an al Qaeda franchise in the Foggy Bottom cafeteria,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. Although he remains on its payroll, the department suspended his security clearance for “publishing articles and blog posts on [matters of official concern] without submitting them to the Department for review.”)

    Also unsatisfying is Van Buren’s level of introspection. The “how I helped lose” in the subtitle suggests a certain self-criticism. But his skeptical tone allows him to remain detached. And it’s often not clear what his role was, or whether he was even involved, in the projects he describes.

    An actor Van Buren could have blamed, but didn’t, is the U.S. taxpayer. “We Meant Well” leaves one wondering how we could have spent so much money, and asked so few questions.

    Marisa Bellack is an opinions editor at the Washington Post.

    Read the full review online now.

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    One of These Things is Not Like the Other

    October 28, 2011 // Comments Off on One of These Things is Not Like the Other

    Security in Iraq is “very good,” but the United States is not letting its guard down while moving out 39,000 troops and equipment by the December 31 deadline, Fort Bragg’s commander Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick said today.

    “They are really continuing to help themselves provide for their internal defense and external defense right now and also improve the quality of life for their citizens,” Helmick said. “Their military is the fastest-growing military in the world, and their capabilities and their ability to conduct operations really improves daily.”

    A twin bombing killed 18 people today in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad — the deadliest attack to rock Iraq since President Barack Obama declared the full withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of the year.

    Two police officials said the first explosion, at a music store shortly after 7 p.m., killed two people. The second bomb struck four minutes later, as rescue workers and others rushed to the scene, the officials said. Thirty-six people were wounded in the attack.

    “Today’s attack proves that the government’s allegations that the security is under control are nothing but baseless allegations and that the tens of checkpoints scattered all over the capital are useless and a waste of resources,” Baghdad resident Jalil said.

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Can It Be True? US to Really Leave Iraq?

    October 16, 2011 // Comments Off on Can It Be True? US to Really Leave Iraq?

    I’ve read the story twice, three times, and still can’t believe it. It may be a bargaining tool, a threat to force the Iraqis back to the table, or to obtain a concession from the US die, or simply a premature statement, or… or… it may be… true.

    The Associated Press reports the U.S. is abandoning plans to keep troops in Iraq past a year end withdrawal deadline. The decision to pull out fully by January will end more than eight years of U.S. occupation of Iraq, despite ongoing concerns about its security forces and the potential for instability. The decision ends months of hand-wringing by officials over whether to stick to a December 31, 2011 withdrawal deadline that was set in 2008 or continue to occupy Iraq with less boots on the ground.

    AP goes on to say a senior Obama official in Washington confirmed all American troops will leave Iraq except for about 160 active-duty soldiers attached to the U.S. Embassy. A senior U.S. military official confirmed the departure and said the withdrawal could allow future but limited U.S. military training missions in Iraq if requested. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

    The deal breaker was that Iraqi leaders adamantly refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the Americans have refused to stay without it. Prime Minister al-Maliki told the U.S. that he does not have the votes in Iranian-influenced parliament to provide immunity to the American liberators.

    The immunity issue is indeed a big deal, as a continuing American occupation would have to allow for future Abu Ghraib atrocities, the occasional gunning down of innocent Iraqis as in Haditha, the once in a while incidents where tanks ran over kids and of course the off-base rapes of teenagers that characterize American troops abroad.

    An advisor close to al-Maliki said the Americans suggested during negotiations that if no deal is reached in time, U.S. troops could be stationed in Kuwait, where immunity against crimes like torture and rape happily exists.

    As for the World’s Largest Embassy (c), the State Department’s palace by the Tigris, which was supposed to be a seat of empire, a symbol of American power, better hang up a new sign: Fort Apache. Gonna be some hot times to come in the old Green Zone without the US military there protecting our diplomats’ soft hands and tender sensibilities. Better hope the $5 billion the State Department will spend training Iraqi cops pays off quickly.

    If this is indeed true– that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by 12/31/2011– then find me on New Year’s Eve, because the drinks are gonna be on me!

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Paralysis Hits the Iraqi Parliament

    October 8, 2011 // Comments Off on Paralysis Hits the Iraqi Parliament

    Reidar Visser writes excellent political commentary about Iraq, Iran and the MidEast at his Gulf Analysis blog. One of my beloved $200,000+ a year State Department contractor brothers in Iraq turned in word-for-word copies of Reidar’s analysis to his boss for six months, before he got caught (he was not fired). It took six months to catch the plagiarism because a) Reider’s work is so good and b) Baghdad Embassy people are taught not to read widely, as it upsets their stomachs.

    Reidar was also perhaps the last educated person on earth who still believed that the Iraqi government functioned according to some set of rules (a “constitution”) and perhaps, through its Parliament, had a chance at democracy. That’s over now. He writes today:

    Today’s developments in the Iraqi parliament served as yet another indication of the growing disconnect between parliamentary politics and government in the country.

    There is no official report from the session because the legal quorum (163 deputies) was never reached. Of course, the Iraqi parliament is rarely filled above the two-thirds level, but today attendance was particularly poor thanks to additional politically-motivated abstentions… there has still been no decision on the validity of the parliamentary membership of several deputies whose credentials are in doubt. And once more the parliamentary bylaws have also been dropped from the agenda.

    There is a real danger that the Iraqi parliament is becoming unable to reach decisions except on matters that are so petty and insignificant that few will notice anyway. Arab Spring enthusiasts in search of a model democracy please look elsewhere.

    The sad thing is that earlier this week Iraq’s prime minister offered to help Libya, a country with a shared history of dictatorship, build its fledgling democracy during a meeting with Libya’s visiting prime minister. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told his Libyan counterpart, Mahmoud Jibril, who was on a one-day visit to Iraq, that Baghdad is will to ready to lend support on writing a constitution and holding elections.

    Of course, the US government views it all differently, perhaps due to uncleaned bong strainers.

    “We have given them freedom and liberty that they’ve never known, and we have given them the potential to have a democracy in this part of the world … where it would be a unique institution,” Army Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, commander of U.S. Division-North and the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, told Pentagon reporters.

    Want to know more about the workings of the Iraqi Parliament? They have their own website, conveniently in English so American Occupiers can read it. One problem: the last update was July 2009.

    None of this matters, as The World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad prepares to take over running the occupation of Iraq and realizing the democracy that now forms the last desperate reason for the sacrifice of 100,000 Iraqis, 4474 Americans and several trillion bucks. It should all go smoothly, unless you believe the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, which said that billions of your taxpayer dollars had been squandered in Iraq, and charged that the State Department hadn’t made the necessary reforms in its contracting operation.

    “Therefore, significant additional waste — and mission degradation to the point of failure — can be expected as State continues with the daunting task of transition in Iraq,” it warned.

    So, it’s Spring Break in Baghdad for 2012!!!!!!!

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    One of These Things is Not Like the Other

    October 6, 2011 // Comments Off on One of These Things is Not Like the Other

    Defense.gov news tells us:

    American forces’ efforts in Iraq “have given the people of Iraq a huge gift” through the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a democratic society, a senior U.S. commander said today.

    “We have given them freedom and liberty that they’ve never known, and we have given them the potential to have a democracy in this part of the world … where it would be a unique institution,” Army Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, commander of U.S. Division-North and the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division, told Pentagon reporters.

    Aswat al-Iraq, which was or maybe still is, partly funded by the US and thus not the most radical of reporters, has the following stories on its web site:

    Press Freedoms Observatory condemns detention of TV Channel’s reporter
    9/29/2011 6:55 PM

    URGENT: Three killed, 79 injured in Kirkuk explosion
    9/29/2011 6:34 PM

    12 persons injured in Kirkuk booby-trapped car blast
    9/29/2011 12:22 PM

    Policeman killed, officer injured, in Baghdad attack
    9/29/2011 11:30 AM

    Iraqi officer, his bodyguard killed, 3 soldiers injured in Kirkuk attack
    9/29/2011 9:38 AM

    URGENT / Diala’s al-Sahwa Council leader detained on terrorism charge
    9/28/2011 5:19 PM

    Two armed men killed while planting an explosive charge in Kirkuk
    9/28/2011 12:15 PM

    Iraqi Parliament delegation in Kirkuk on fact-finding mission after stepping up of assassinations
    9/28/2011 12:13 PM

    Five civilians killed, 7 injured in Anbar attack
    9/28/2011 12:10 PM

    Iraqi civilian killed, officer injured in Baghdad attack
    9/28/2011 9:50 AM

    Five injured in 2 explosive charges blast in west Baghdad
    9/28/2011 9:24 AM

    8 Civilians injured in Baghdad booby-trapped car blast
    9/28/2011 9:04 AM

    Conference on land-mines and war victims held in Arbil
    9/27/2011 6:17 PM

    15 civilians injured in bomb attacks in central Mosul
    9/27/2011 5:48 PM

    Civilian killed by unknown gunmen in west Baghdad
    9/27/2011 5:45 PM

    Turkish warplanes resume bombardmen​t of Kurdistan’​s border areas
    9/27/2011 5:02 PM

    Turkomen Front charges Parliament with security deterioration in Kirkuk
    9/27/2011 11:50 AM

    Mosque Imam escapes assassination, his companion killed in Diwaniya
    9/27/2011 11:12 AM

    High-ranking Iraqi Army officer assassinated in Baghdad
    9/27/2011 10:39 AM

    URGENT: Kurdish Peshmerga man killed in clash with Mosul village inhabitants
    9/27/2011 9:36 AM

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    I can’t stand by and watch Peter Van Buren’s account of the PRTs stand

    October 5, 2011 // 7 Comments »

    It is a long, sort of nerdy, boring article, but someone named Steve Donnelly has written what he calls a rebuttal to me, my book and my view of the PRT program in Iraq.

    The piece is somewhat odd, in that he ends up agreeing with most of my points (waste, stupidity, mismanagement) while trying to say I was wrong. Whatever, it’s modern journalism.

    For example, this:

    As our group set off for Iraq, all of us felt as very well-briefed and trained as we could be under the chaotic and fast-track circumstances, although the parallels to disaster movies like Meteor, where a group of drillers are rapidly assembled and shot into space to emplace a nuclear device on a meteor threatening Earth, was not lost on any of us.

    Our biggest challenge, as was predicted, was to get out of Embassy Baghdad and up to our duty stations. Transportation out of Baghdad for the uninitiated was not easy, as Embassy staff held one mandatory “briefing” after another as different departments could tell us little but implored us to report what we found to them (not the guy in the stove-piped office next door).

    Not unlike my own points made in the excerpt now online, albeit not as clever. Actually, I’m jealous, as he said his training at State included Arabic cuss words.

    Have a look at the whole article at Foreign Policy.

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Mobile Max Pure: The Rest of the Story

    October 4, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    One of the great things about the web is the ability to update stories from the book as new information comes in.

    One early chapter, Water and Sewage, talks about some failed efforts to bring clean water to the Iraqis in our area. Most of the tale centers around a character called The Engineer (photo), who sadly presided over a 1960’s water and sewage plant that had long-since ceased to function. Despite having cash in hand, the challenges of reforming that plant proved too great for my team, and The Engineer. We closed down the PRT and left Iraq without helping him.

    A second part of that chapter talked about Mobile Max Pure, a solar powered water distillation machine that the Army had hoped would solve some of Iraq’s water problems. During my tour in Iraq, we could not get Mobile Max to do what we needed, and my story ended with the units left unused on a corner of our base.

    There is more to the story, and I was glad to hear from Quentin T. Kelly, Chairman and CEO, WorldWater & Solar Technologies, Inc. (makers of the Mobile MaxPure, MMP), who filled me:

    In 2007 we arranged for a donation of twelve of the systems valued at a total of $1.3 million to a Marine unit near Fallujah. This was in response to a Marine Captain’s email stating that he had seen the MMP system on our website and believed that it was technology they could use for the Iraqi citizens they were trying to help who lived near Fallujah in the Euphrates Valley.

    After shipping the systems by civilian airfreight to Baghdad (donating that $225,000 as well), we were told that the MMP’s were dispersed to areas along the river and that the Iraqis were using them both for drinking water and for irrigation of their small farms. These were freshwater solar systems capable of pumping and purifying up to 30,000 gallons per day, turning disease-laden, contaminated river water into clean drinking water. A news article was released by the US Embassy in Baghdad declaring that a solar water purification system (the MMP) had helped empty beds of children at the Fallujah hospital suffering from water-borne diseases – the purification unit was cleaning the polluted waters of the Euphrates which families had previously been drinking directly from the River. Soldier technicians later came to see us at our headquarters in Princeton after rotating back to the US and others wrote to tell us how well these units had worked in the Euphrates Valley.

    After several months, we received an order for 25 more systems – 20 Freshwater and 5 Brackish water desalination units (the MMP uses three different sub-systems which can be manually interchanged depending on the type of water : fresh (though polluted), brackish and seawater (with higher levels of salt than brackish)). We were told that the successful use of the 12 donated systems brought about the order for the 25 systems, which were purchased for $2.5 million. These units were shipped to Baghdad March/April 2009 and then picked up and carried to Forward Operating Base Hammer that summer.

    We were later told that even though the original Freshwater systems worked well drawing water from the polluted but freshwater Euphrates, the well water in much of Iraq was too salty even for the Brackish filters and required our seawater subunits. Twenty of these Reverse Osmosis (RO) seawater sub-units were then ordered by an Army unit for $500,000 and shipped in November/December 2009.

    The reports we received from military personnel, mostly techs who carried on long telephone conversations with our engineers to discuss the instructions and operation of the systems, told of both setbacks and successes. The setbacks involved a learning curve common to operation of new technology, especially in remote areas by young men who are not trained for such specialized technology. Much of the problem reported to us was of trying to use Freshwater or Brackish water filters where heavier-duty seawater filters were required. But once they caught on, we heard many good things – accomplishments they were proud of, specifically bringing clean water “to people who never had clean drinking water before.” This was apparently
    referring to villages near the Diyala River where we understand several seawater systems were placed.

    Other success stories we heard included installation of an MMP on the outskirts of Sadr City, one of the meaner areas of Baghdad. According to the Company Commander, after the good water was flowing the village leader told him, “Saddam never got us clean water but you did.” This same Captain said that in several of the villages where he oversaw placement of the units, the clean water seemed to shift attitudes from “ugly
    to friendly”. That is not surprising to us because we’ve seen the same appreciative attitudes in Darfur, Haiti, the Philippines and in dozens of other neglected locales when we bring clean water to people through our
    solar systems.

    The last we’ve heard from Army sources, the Mobile MaxPure systems with the Seawater filters were purifying and desalinating in villages along the Diyala and the Tigris.

    That’s the story as we know it. I think you’ll be happy to hear it because I know you and so many others volunteered to go to Iraq to help the people there. Maybe we’ve made a small contribution to that effort.

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Checking In: Bunch More Killing in Iraq

    September 17, 2011 // Comments Off on Checking In: Bunch More Killing in Iraq

    We do check in on Iraq from time to time, just to keep tabs on the endless violence there.

    In case you missed it, some Sunnis killed 22 Shitte pilgrims out in Anbar. A day or so later a sticky bomb attached to a senior traffic police official’s car detonated while he was driving in the al-Ameen neighborhood of southeastern Baghdad, killing him. Then two Iraqi soldiers died and 10 others were wounded when a bomb attached to a military bus exploded inside a base in al-Habaniya, about 90 kilometers west of Baghdad, also in Anbar province. South of Baghdad, five people died and 41 others were wounded when a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in Hilla, which is frequented by Iraqi security forces. In Baghdad’s al-Qahira neighborhood, gunmen opened fire at a police checkpoint, killing two officers and wounding a bystander. In addition to these attacks, a raid on a house by a military counterterrorism unit left a man dead in al-Habaniya. Three of his family members were wounded during the raid. About 13 persons were killed, and 43 injured, in a Babel blast.

    Some idiots seem to think such things create an argument that the US needs to keep military forces in Iraq for, well, forever.

    The thing is no matter how many troops we put in Iraq, we can’t stop terrible things like this. Even at the height of our involvement, these incidents took place regularly. It only stops when the Iraqis want to stop it, and they at this time clearly do not want to stop. Their war is not over, no matter what we say or do. The demons we unleashed in 2003 when we destroyed civil society in Iraq and upset the balance of power among the tribes and religions are not settled yet. A lot more people are gonna die I am afraid, no matter what the US does with its troops.

    We can pretend it is all al Qaeda’s fault to placate the Fox news crowd, but this is civil war friends.

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    Ayad Allawi Sums it Up: Iraq is So Screwed

    September 13, 2011 // Comments Off on Ayad Allawi Sums it Up: Iraq is So Screwed

    Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister of Iraq, leads the largest political bloc in Iraq’s Parliament. He won the popular vote in Iraq’s last (likely last ever) election in March 2010, but was out-maneuvered for the Prime Minister’s job by al-Malaki and al-Sadr, brought together by the Iranians as the US sat back and just watched it happen, 4474 soldier’s lives flushed away in a desperate act of a coward’s political expediency. State was ready to accept any deal that created any kind of government, hoping that “good news” would allow the US to finally claim victory in Iraq. Mission Accomplished Mr. Ambassador! And thanks for your service!

    Allawi, shown here with a deeply constipated George Bush, is no saint himself, but does sort of sum it all up for Iraq in this Op-Ed, originally in the Washington Post.

    As the Arab Spring drives change across our region, bringing the hope of democracy and reform to millions of Arabs, less attention is being paid to the plight of Iraq and its people. We were the first to transition from dictatorship to democracy, but the outcome in Iraq remains uncertain. Our transition could be a positive agent for progress, and against the forces of extremism, or a dangerous precedent that bodes ill for the region and the international community.

    Debate rages in Baghdad and Washington around conditions for a U.S. troop extension beyond the end of this year. While such an extension may be necessary, that alone will not address the fundamental problems festering in Iraq. Those issues present a growing risk to Middle East stability and the world community. The original U.S. troop “surge” was meant to create the atmosphere for national political reconciliation and the rebuilding of Iraq’s institutions and infrastructure. But those have yet to happen.

    More than eight years after Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown, basic services are in a woeful state: Most of the country has only a few hours of electricity a day. Blackouts were increasingly common this summer. Oil exports, still Iraq’s only source of income, are barely more than they were when Hussein was toppled. The government has squandered the boon of high oil prices and failed to create real and sustainable job growth. Iraq’s economy has become an ever more dysfunctional mix of cronyism and mismanagement, with high unemployment and endemic corruption. Transparency International ranks Iraq the world’s fourth-most-corrupt country and by far the worst in the Middle East.

    The promise of improved security has been empty, with sectarianism on the rise. The Pentagon recently reported an alarming rise in attacks, which it blamed on Iranian-backed militias. The latest report to Congress by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction notes that June was the bloodiest month for U.S. troops since 2008 and concludes that Iraq is more dangerous than it was a year ago. Regrettably, Iraq’s nascent security forces are riddled with sectarianism and mixed loyalties; they are barely capable of defending themselves, let alone the rest of the country.

    Despite failing to win the most seats in last year’s elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki clung to power through a combination of Iranian support and U.S. compliance. He now shows an alarming disregard for democratic principles and the rule of law. Vital independent institutions such as the election commission, the transparency commission and Iraq’s central bank have been ordered to report directly to the office of the prime minister. Meanwhile, Maliki refuses to appoint consensus candidates as defense and interior ministers, as per last year’s power-sharing agreement.

    The government is using blatant dictatorial tactics and intimidation to quell opposition, ignoring the most basic human rights. Human Rights Watch reported in February on secret torture prisons under Maliki’s authority. In June, it exposed the government’s use of hired thugs to beat, stab and even sexually assault peaceful demonstrators in Baghdad who were complaining about corruption and poor services. These horrors are reminiscent of autocratic responses to demonstrations by failing regimes elsewhere in the region, and a far cry from the freedom and democracy promised in the new Iraq.

    Is this really what the United States sacrificed more than 4,000 young men and women, and hundreds of billions of dollars, to build?

    The trend of failure is becoming irreversible. Simply put, Iraq’s failure would render every U.S. and international policy objective in the Middle East difficult to achieve, if not impossible. From combating terrorism to nuclear containment to energy security to the Middle East peace process, Iraq is at the center. Our country is rapidly becoming a counterweight to all positive efforts to address these issues, instead of the regional role model for democracy, pluralism and a successful economy that it was supposed to be.

    It is not too late to reverse course. But the time to act is now. Extending the U.S. troop presence will achieve nothing on its own. More concerted political engagement is required at the highest levels to guarantee the promise of freedom and progress made to the Iraqi people, who have suffered and sacrificed so much and are running out of patience.

    It is necessary, and achievable, to insist on full and proper implementation of the power-sharing agreement of 2010, with proper checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, and full formation of the government and its institutions on a nonsectarian basis. Malign regional influences must be counterbalanced. Failing these steps, new elections free from foreign meddling, and with a truly independent judiciary and election commission, may be the only way to rescue Iraq from the abyss. This solution is increasingly called for by Iraqi journalists and political leaders and on the street.

    The invasion of Iraq in 2003 may indeed have been a war of choice. But losing Iraq in 2011 is a choice that the United States and the rest of the world cannot afford to make.

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    State Department Mismanages Food Contract in Iraq

    August 31, 2011 // 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.


    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 Iraq, Military

    Nothing to See Here, in Iraq

    August 29, 2011 // Comments Off on Nothing to See Here, in Iraq

    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.

    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 Iraq, Military

    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 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.


    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.


    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 Iraq, Military

    July 4 Celebrated in Iraq

    July 5, 2011 // Comments Off on July 4 Celebrated in Iraq

    Here’s a run down on how Iraq, freed from evil by our eight year invasion, celebrated July 4 and 5:

    — July 5 started poorly in Iraq with two explosions in northern Baghdad’s Taji township. Toll so far is 33 killed and 28 injured.

    “The two successive explosions by a booby-trapped car and an explosive charge in the garage of the Municipal Council of north Baghdad’s Taji Township on Tuesday morning killed 33 persons and injured 28 others, including some who remain in serious condition,” reported Aswat al-Iraq.

    — Way back on July 4, in Baghdad’s Mansur neighbourhood, three policeman were killed and one wounded by an improvised bomb that also hurt three civilians.

    — Another suicide bomber in the Baab al-Muadham neighborhood of central Baghdad wounded five security personnel guarding a bus station.

    — In south Baghdad an improvised bomb killed one person and wounded three others.

    — Iraq’s former Presidential Palace, once part of the temporary US Embassy complex and now used by the Iraqi armed forces, came under a mortar attack.

    — In Fallujah, car bomb exploded outside a hospital killing a policeman and a civilian. Eight other people were wounded, five of them policemen.

    — In Haditha, western Iraq, a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-packed belt near the city council building, wounding two policemen.

    — In southern Babil province, a roadside bomb killed one soldier and wounded two civilians, and a gunman assassinated a policeman from the anti-crimes unit.

    — Three children foraging through a rubbish heap in Babil also were wounded by a bomb.

    — In northern Iraq, gunmen with silencers killed a member of President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Diyala, and a soldier was killed and one wounded by an improvised bomb outside the city of Mosul.

    — Detainees in the terrorism prison in Ninewa declared a hunger strike due to the maltreatment. More than 600 detainees are on strike, and will not end it until their demands are met.

    — The Chairman of Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Legislative Council, Judge Midhat al-Mahmoud, announced on Monday that Iraq’s Court of Secession had passed 168 death sentences.

    For those keeping score at home, that adds up to 43 dead and 56 wounded, all in two long, hot days, July 4 and 5, 2011 in Iraq.

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    Sunday Iraq Victory Update

    June 26, 2011 // Comments Off on Sunday Iraq Victory Update

    Reuters sends us the following security developments from Iraq in time for Sunday brunch:

    — BAGHDAD – At least 12 people were wounded when a suicide bomber in a wheelchair blew himself up at a police station in Tarmiya, 15 miles north of Baghdad.

    — RIYADH – A bicycle loaded with explosives wounded two security guards and two pedestrians when it blew up near a car carrying Mohammed Ahmed Hussein, the mayor of Riyadh, a town near Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

    — SULAIMAN PEK – A sticky bomb attached to a car carrying a police lieutenant colonel who worked on the protection of oil facilities killed him late on Saturday in the town of Sulaiman Pek, 100 miles north of Baghdad.

    There will no doubt be more violence later in the day, but now it is off to Walmart for some democracy shopping.

    Oh wait, what? What is the Iraqi government doing about this continuous flow of violence? According to the New York Times, not much:

    Fifteen months after an election that was supposed to lay the groundwork for Iraq’s future, the government remains virtually paralyzed by a clash between the country’s two most powerful politicians, who refuse to speak to each other.

    In December, the two politicians, Ayad Allawi, leader of the Iraqiya bloc, and Nouri al-Maliki, the country’s prime minister, entered into an American-backed power-sharing agreement. But since then, the men have been unable to agree on who should run the Interior and Defense ministries, the government’s two most important departments.

    The United States has been unable to end the stalemate, demonstrating to some analysts and Iraqis its waning influence here.

    Have a nice day!

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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    We’re Back Killin’ Iraqis!

    June 15, 2011 // Comments Off on We’re Back Killin’ Iraqis!

    Hey ‘Merikans, feelin’ any prouder? Standin’ any taller? Hell boy, we are even freer today than yesterday because we are back baby, back cold killing Iraqis again that is. Man, it feels like the heady days of 2003 all over again, before all that nancy boy reconstruction heart and minds crap. Any Iraqi hearts and minds we were after today were splattered in the street.

    Yes, it’s true. After a rocket attack against America’s Freedom Base at the Basra Airport (the place the sissy British abandoned earlier this year), we all put down some attack helo love on the guys we thought did it. We killed one and wounded some others, including a woman. They is the worst kinda’ bad guys.

    This all just follows the new trend in Iraq, a bit o’ the old ultra violence. In fact, yep, another record fell, as this past week was the bloodiest in Iraq since the elections of March 2010. There were over 90 separate attacks documented, mainly in Baghdad and the districts surrounding it, although the southern city of Basrah also saw a rare suicide attack,

    Well, in a week where the Iraqis wouldn’t pay us for invading them, at least there was some good news. USA! USA! USA!

    Good Christ, we are never going to be finished with this war.

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    What 4,460 Americans Died For in Iraq

    June 13, 2011 // Comments Off on What 4,460 Americans Died For in Iraq

    Video from Tahrir Square in Baghdad this weekend, clashes between pro-Malaki (Shiite) forces and anti-Malaki forces (Sunni).

    Also this weekend, two beheaded in Mosul, five others killed in Basra, couple more in Baghdad.

    Hey Iraqis, you’re free! Go thank a Vet.

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    Iraq Democracy Watch

    June 12, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    SecDef Robert Gates brayed that “Something we could not have predicted five months ago is that Iraq would emerge as the most advanced Arab democracy in the entire region.”

    So, in honor of Gates’ proclamation, This Week in Iraqi Democracy is brought to you by the letter F, and the 4,460 American soldiers’ lives wasted in the US war in Iraq:

    — Two rival Iraqi lawmakers came to blows inside parliament on Sunday at a time of rising tension between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite bloc and a rival Sunni-backed alliance.

    — One civilian was killed and four were wounded in a bomb blast in Jihad area in Baghdad, security sources said. “A bomb planted near a football playground exploded, which led to killing one civilian and wounding four,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq.

    — Violence north of Baghdad on Saturday killed 10 people, including five members of a Sunni Arab family slain early in the morning, Iraqi security and medical officials said. In Saturday’s deadliest attack, a primary school teacher and his family were gunned down inside their home in Salaheddin province.

    — Rand Paul took exception to the number of Iraqi refugees who have been granted asylum in the United States. “There’s a democratic government over there, and I think they need to be staying and helping rebuild their country,” he said. “We don’t need them over here on government welfare. Why are we admitting 18,000 people for political asylum from Iraq, which is an ally of ours?” The United States has resettled more than 54,000 Iraqi refugees since 2006 and has given over $2 billion in assistance to displaced Iraqis, according to the State Department.

    — The US Embassy in Iraq is distancing itself from statements made by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher that led to an Iraqi government spokesman saying the congressman and his delegation are not welcome in the country.

    — “I am protesting against everything because everything is wrong,” said Mohammed Jassim, a 28-year-old jobless protester. Hundreds took to the streets of Iraqi cities on Friday, denouncing what they say was a lack of government progress after a 100-day deadline set by Prime Minister al Maliki expired. The demonstration was overshadowed by a larger rally of some 3,000 people, also at Tahrir Square, calling for the execution of 25 accused insurgents. Many of the anti-government protesters were beaten with sticks.

    — A Shiite militia group in Iraq claimed a rocket attack which killed five US soldiers, a strike that revived security concerns as US forces prepare to pull out at the end of the year. Another U.S. soldier was killed in south Iraq on Wednesday.

    — CNN reported that Iraq liquor store owners fear for their lives amid attacks. “It’s the most dangerous job to have a liquor store in Baghdad because there are many groups against this kind of business, either within the government or outside it,” said Yaqoub, a Yazidi minority that has been a target of insurgents in recent years. “It’s painful to see this happening to our country, ” said 46-year-old Essa, a Christian. “All Iraqis used to live together, and it didn’t matter who was Sunni or who was Shiite, who was Muslim or who was Christian.”

    — In Australia, local media ran a story headlined Betrayed: Jobless Iraqis in Despair, about how three years after they fled Iraq on secret flights, all but a tiny fraction of former interpreters are unemployed and have to rely on government benefits. Many are fearful and highly secretive, believing if their names or faces are made public, militia in Iraq who regard them as traitors for helping Australian forces will carry out reprisals on their relatives.

    — In the US, authorities unsealed a 23-count indictment against two Iraqi refugees living in Bowling Green, KY, on charges that the men allegedly conspired to provide material support in the form of money, weapons and explosives to Al Qaeda in Iraq and that one man plotted to kill Americans abroad. The two men arrived in the United States as refugees from Iraq in 2009.

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    Deadliest Day Since 2009 for US in Iraq

    June 6, 2011 // Comments Off on Deadliest Day Since 2009 for US in Iraq

    Sadly, another five Americans lost their lives today in Iraq.

    Details are limited at the moment, no doubt pending next of kin notifications, but Iraqi security officials said the troops died when three rockets hit near their living quarters at a joint US-Iraqi base in the Baladiyat neighborhood (southeastern Baghdad) where US forces were partnering with Ministry of Interior troops.

    The overall US death tool is now 4459 lives lost.

    The deaths mark the deadliest day for the US in Iraq since 2009, and may be a dark sign of things to come. The State Department is scheduled to take over the training missions the soldiers were executing, albeit using contractors not diplomats for the mission.

    Elsewhere in Iraq, a total of twenty non-American people were killed in Tikrit and the capital Monday morning. On Friday, attacks at a mosque and at a Tikrit hospital killed 23 people and wounded 60.

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    Baghdad Arab Summit Ain’t Gonna Happen

    May 5, 2011 // Comments Off on Baghdad Arab Summit Ain’t Gonna Happen

    palaceOops. The Baghdad Arab Summit has been postponed until March 2012. The summit was originally scheduled for March 2011, then was bumped to May and now is but a gleam in the eye of March 2012. “It has been decided to postpone the Baghdad summit until March 2012 at the request of the Republic of Iraq which will retain the right to host the (next) summit,” said the 22-member League after talks between its secretary general Amr Mussa and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

    This is a big deal, for several reasons.

    To begin, the Iraqi Government allocated $450 million for the restoration of an old Saddam-era palace and six hotels to host the Arab leaders. Using the old palace was going to be a significant symbolic step, as what was once Saddam’s, then what was occupied by the US, now would serve as the site of this important meeting.

    “We are looking forward to this summit because it has many meanings. One of them is that Iraq is back to its leading position; another meaning is that Iraq is an active Arab state,” said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.

    Ain’t gonna happen.

    The summit was also supposed to serve as “proof” that Iraq is a safe place and that Iraqi forces could protect the visiting dignitaries. According to the Washington Post, the Iraq government wanted to host the annual Arab League summit for the first time in 20 years to showcase what Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has described as improved security and encourage spending from foreigners.

    “I believe no country will stay away, because this is an important event for us all,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said.

    Now that ain’t gonna happen.

    Lastly, the summit was to have been the spot where leaders from across the MidEast would gather to discuss the changes taking place in the so-called Arab Spring. Ain’t gonna happen either.

    The US Embassy in Baghdad was always a big supporter of the idea, affirming that “We seek to reintegrate Iraq into the Arab and international world and we will look to support holding the Arab Summit in Baghdad even if the Arab League decides to adjourn it”, spokesman for US Embassy in Iraq David Ranz said.

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    Where’s My $132 Million Dude?

    April 25, 2011 // Comments Off on Where’s My $132 Million Dude?

    Scrooge McDuck in BaghdadAlways-entertaining blog Diplopundit wonders what happened to a $132 million refund due after the OIG found construction deficiencies at Embassy Baghdad. The world’s most expensive Embassy was built primarily by a Kuwaiti contractor because every single American firm was busy working on their Facebook pages at the time.

    At a time when Congress keeps pecking away at the carcass of State’s budget, wouldn’t it look good for the Department to show it had collected on the $132 million due?

    Wouldn’t it look bad if they had not?

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    Jobs: US Embassy Baghdad v. Brad and Angelina’s Nanny

    April 21, 2011 // Comments Off on Jobs: US Embassy Baghdad v. Brad and Angelina’s Nanny

    angelina jolieDetails

    US Embassy: http://iraq.usembassy.gov/iraq/jobs.html

    Brad and Angie: http://www.popeater.com/2011/04/19/brad-pitt-angelina-jolie-nanny/?a_dgi=aolshare_facebook



    US Embassy: Mostly just English, Arabic always a plus.

    Brad and Angie: At least bilingual, child’s native language and English.



    US Embassy: Varies, Most positions require a certain amount of work experience.

    Brad and Angie: College degree in either education or child development.



    US Embassy: Iraq only.

    Brad and Angie: Must travel between Hollywood, New Orleans, France.



    US Embassy: Varies; sample: Budget Analyst, $29,900 plus 50% for Unique Work Conditions bonus.

    For Iraqis, note that salary can vary significantly based on whether you are ordinarily resident in Iraq or not. For example, for a Property Clerk, ordinarily resident salary is $18,782, while for an Iraqi who does not ordinarily reside in Iraq, it is $35,753.

    Brad and Angie: Between $50,000 and $150,000 on a sliding scale to start.


    Chance of Physical Encounter with Angie

    US Embassy: May visit some refugee project; Iraq, however, does not allow foreigners to adopt.

    Brad and Angie: Possible when Brad is out of town. Large chance of sympathy f*ck from visiting Jennifer Aniston.


    Special Conditions

    US Embassy: May be blown up. Possible PTSD.

    Brad and Angie: Possible PTSD seeing Angie without makeup.


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    Posted in Iraq, Military

    PrePub Alert: LibraryJournal.com

    April 11, 2011 // Comments Off on PrePub Alert: LibraryJournal.com


    An early review from the nice folks at LibraryJournal.com:

    Van Buren, Peter. We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. Metropolitan: Holt. Oct. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780805094367.

    A Foreign Service officer for more than two decades, Van Buren led the State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team in its effort to win over the Iraqis through invigorating social projects—like sports murals in violence-wracked neighborhoods and pastry-making classes to help folks supply goods to nonexistent cafés on rubble-strewn streets without water or electricity. Talk about the arrogance of trying to remake a world in our image without even knowing the world we are trying to remake. Billed as bitingly funny, though I’m not sure I’m laughing; an important book from someone who was there.

    My book also beat out one by Ozzy Osbourne to be a “Pick” of the editor.

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    Bureaucratic Chlamydia: What to Wear to a War?

    // Comments Off on Bureaucratic Chlamydia: What to Wear to a War?

    Vatican The first part of my book details the half-assed nature of preparing people like me to live and work in a war zone. State Department personnel are recruited for Iraq without much attention to their background, physical fitness or experience. This is not much of a problem for the majority who will serve at the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad, a $1 billion dollar complex constantly referred to as “bigger than the Vatican,” a really odd comparison until you remember the Vatican burned people at the stake for believing the earth was round.

    The Department, however, never told us headed to the field what to bring along. Foreign Service Officers were expected to pass this info around by word-of-mouth, a kind of bureaucratic chlamydia.


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    Book Review: Fiasco by Tom Ricks

    April 8, 2011 // Comments Off on Book Review: Fiasco by Tom Ricks

    Author Tom Ricks is a kind of patron saint of intelligent writing about the Iraq conflicts, first as a reporter for the Washington Post and now as a blogger and author for Foreign Policy. Ricks is known for his connections within the military, who, knowing he will handle information intelligently and better yet, understand its context, feed him inside baseball-like data on a regular basis. It is this understanding of how things work that informs Ricks’ two books on the war, making them as close to a contemporary history as you are going to get.

    Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq takes you from pre-war planning through the initial mistakes, the early CPA days and up through the full-out civil war in Iraq of 2005 onward. It is factual, unsympathetic and written from the perspective of the military on the ground. That Fiasco has little tolerance for sloppy decision making in Washington and poor leadership on the ground (a younger Odierno is treated particularly harshly by Ricks) is not surprising.

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    What is a PRT?

    April 5, 2011 // Comments Off on What is a PRT?

    My year in Iraq, and our efforts to reach the hearts and minds of Iraqis, was focused on the work of the PRTs, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Some stood alone, with their own security and administrative staff, some were embedded and dependent on the military (ePRT).

    Here’s what Embassy Baghdad has to say about what a PRT is.

    But you better also read what former PRT staffer and now Adjunct Professor at the National Defense University Blake Stone has to say before you sign up.

    Fancy a turn on the Baghdad Embassy’s golf driving range? Read all about it.

    Don’t worry– there are still plenty of PRT jobs available in Afghanistan. Search USAJobs.gov for “PRT.”

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    Posted in Iraq, Military