• Inspector General: State Department Wasted $200 Million on Iraq Police

    July 31, 2012 // 10 Comments »

    Unrelated News: When the city of Scranton, Pa., found itself down to its last $5,000 in the bank last week, it unilaterally cut the pay of city workers— including police officers and firefighters— to the minimum wage, just $7.25 an hour. “The teenagers who work at the ice cream stand not far from my house, they make $8.50 an hour — that’s a dollar and a quarter more than I now make,” said John Judge, a 10-year veteran firefighter.

    U.S. auditors have concluded that more than $200 million was wasted by the State Department on a training program for Iraqi police that Baghdad says is neither needed nor wanted.

    The Police Development Program— which was drawn up to be the single largest State Department program in the world — was envisioned as a five-year, multibillion-dollar push to train security forces after the U.S. military left last December. A report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), released Monday, found that the American Embassy in Baghdad never got a written commitment from Iraq to participate. Now, facing what the report called Baghdad’s “disinterest” in the project, the embassy is gutting what was supposed to be the centerpiece of ongoing U.S. training efforts in Iraq.

    According to the report, the embassy plans to turn over the $108 million Baghdad Police College Annex to Iraqis by the end of the year and will stop training at a $98 million site at the U.S. consulate in the southern city of Basra. Additionally, the number of advisers has been cut by nearly 90 percent — from 350 to 36.

    SIGIR auditors noted that it “has clearly been difficult” for American diplomats to secure a solid commitment from Iraq’s government to participate in the training program. Still, the report concluded, “the decision to embark on a major program absent Iraqi buy-in has been costly” and resulted in “a de facto waste.”

    In its last on-the-record comments about the failed police program, the State Department stated “We have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq… As you know, we are absolutely committed to supporting Iraqi self-reliance… And in this case, they are asking us to continue the advisory and training program but to downsize it.”

    All told, SIGIR said the United States spent about $8 billion to train and equip Iraqi police since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

    The Associated Press gently opined that “the findings call into question funding needs at the largest U.S. embassy in the world.”

    I am not so gentle: at a time when American towns cannot afford to pay their own cops a living wage, the State Department diplomats who went ahead with a $200 million program for police in Iraq without local buy-in should be brought to trial for gross waste and mismanagement. This level of incompetence is criminal. This track record demands that State no longer be allowed to touch reconstruction money (Haiti, Afghanistan) without adult supervision. People, we need this money at home. Stop. the. waste.

    Bonus: According to the most recent SIGIR report, the Department of State has 1,235 U.S. government civilian employees and 13,772 contractors (5,737 of whom were providing security services) on the payroll in Iraq.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    State Department to Drop ANOTHER $117 million in Iraq

    June 29, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    The American Embassy in Baghdad remains a monument to American hubris, and American failure in the Middle East. In some far-future Planet of the Apes movie, it will be the remains of the embassy Charlton Heston’s character finds half-buried in the sand.

    The embassy was designed in the go-go early years of the Iraq Occupation, with an school house on the grounds for diplokids, full-size kitchen appliances in all the apartments and conveniences like a swimming pool, tennis court, golf driving range and outdoor water misters. Better yet, the embassy was to be the center jewel in a constellation of USG outposts around Iraq. Completed some three years ago at a public cost of $700 million (most people figure the real price at closer to $1 billion by the time all the sub-contracts were totaled), the embassy compound is America’s largest and most expensive diplomatic installation in the world. Total expenditures for the US’ Iraq diplo mission run some $6.5 billion a year.

    And now, even as American influence in Iraq wanes, it all just got more expensive.

    The Washington Post reports that the State Department is planning to spend $115 million to upgrade the embassy compound in Baghdad.

    The need to dump another $117 million down the hole is due to the “consolidation of satellite diplomatic facilities and property around Baghdad. The consolidation takes the overall diplomatic property in Baghdad down by one-third, but increases the personnel working and living on the Embassy compound.”

    On the shopping list for the $117 million is a revamped central utility power plant, an underground fuel storage facility holding a 21-day supply and upgrades on water, sewer and telecommunications systems. Included is a classified data center.

    (The Post article also details how the State Department spent $100 million on a Police College facility, building living quarters, a dining facility, an office building, a gym and a helicopter landing site. At year’s end, the facility will be turned over to the Iraqis because State did not get land rights use for more than one year. Oops.)

    It is at this point that some grown up needs to step up and ask what the hell the State Department is doing in Iraq, and/or cut off their allowance until they can show they are responsible enough to handle money.

    What are we paying for in Baghdad? Even State’s latest failed ambassador nominee for the job in Baghdad said the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, telling Senators at his confirmation hearing “There is no proportionality between our size and our influence. In fact, we spend a lot of diplomatic capital simply to sustain our presence.”

    We have a white elephant of an embassy in Iraq, one that sucks up money, distorts the State Department’s personnel system with its out-of-proportion needs and accomplishes very, very little for America in return. Rule Number One is if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. It is time for Congress (the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations takes up the transition in Iraq from a military to a civilian-led mission this month) to stop State from digging any deeper in Iraq.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Hey, Remember Iraq?

    May 29, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    In honor of Memorial Day, just checking in on America’s 51st state seeing how things are going there. You’ll recall that the State Department has been busy as beavers training Iraqi police (until they quit) and Baghdad still boasts America’s/World’s Largest Embassy (I thought the Chinese were going to build a bigger one in Dubai, just to show off?) Once upon a time over 4484 Americans died in Iraq, which was the most important foreign policy thingee of the US ever. Until we quit.

    Anyway, over on the US Embassy Baghdad webpage, the featured item is a “How to Do Business in Iraq Guide.” Things are getting better all the time!

    Business aside, it has been another week of success in Iraq, so let’s just jump to the headlines:

    Explosive charge blast targets oil tank in Mosul
    5/20/2012 9:51 PM

    3 runaway prisoners nabbed in Basra
    5/20/2012 9:28 PM

    Remains of 69 Karbala residents found in Anbar
    5/20/2012 8:54 PM

    Six wounded in two explosions in Mosul
    5/20/2012 12:23 PM

    A soldier killed, another wounded north of Mosul
    5/18/2012 4:19 PM

    5 killed, 35 wounded in several explosions in Baghdad
    5/18/2012 2:08 PM

    Gunmen in police uniform attack house of Anbar media councilor
    5/17/2012 6:32 PM

    Shootout between Kurds, Turkomen leaves casualties in Touz Khourmato
    5/17/2012 4:08 PM

    Gunmen kidnap Kurd, wanted men arrested in Kirkuk
    5/17/2012 2:49 PM

    20 suspects detained in Wassit
    5/16/2012 12:43 PM

    2 sound bombs wound cop in Kirkuk
    5/16/2012 11:45 AM

    2 car bombs defused in Mosul
    5/15/2012 10:30 PM

    Mosul Qadha Council member assassinated
    5/15/2012 4:03 PM

    Cop killed in east Mosul
    5/15/2012 4:00 PM

    5 mortars land on RIF facility in Tikrit
    5/14/2012 10:59 PM

    Curfew lifted on Falluja
    5/14/2012 7:32 PM

    17 wanted arrested for terrorism west Mosul
    5/14/2012 6:01 PM

    3 civilians wounded as 3rd car bomb goes off
    5/14/2012 3:00 PM

    Anbar attacks not considered security escalation –interior ministry
    5/14/2012 2:57 PM

    Car bomb leaves 8 casualties in Falluja
    5/14/2012 2:48 PM

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq

    Billions Wasted, Again: State Likely to Give Up on Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police

    May 26, 2012 // 11 Comments »

    (This article appeared originally on the Huffington Post on May 14, 2012)

    Well, that did not take long.

    The New York Times reports that the State Department, in the face of massive costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, slashed and may soon dump entirely a multibillion-dollar police training program in Iraq that was to have been the centerpiece of post-occupation US presence in Iraq. After all of five months.

    In October I reported on my blog wemeantwell.com that the State Department was on Capitol Hill in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, begging a skeptical Congress for more money for police training in Iraq. “Training” was again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. That latest tranche of taxpayer cash sought by State was one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq. The US has been training Iraqi cops for years. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Ka-ching! Anybody’s hometown in need of $7.3 billion in Federal funds? Hah, you can’t have it if you’re American, it is only for Iraq!

    Ever-reliable State Department tool Pat Kennedy led the pack of fibbers in asking Congress for the cash: “After a long and difficult conflict, we now have the opportunity to see Iraq emerge as a strategic ally in a tumultuous region.” He went on (…and on) promising “robust this” and “robust that.” Best of all, Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.” The Department spends several billion a year on private security contractors to protect the fortress-like Embassy in Baghdad (which itself carries almost a billion dollar price tag, including the indoor pool and Embassy-only bar).

    Don’t Judge Us

    Of course despite the hoary promises by Kennedy of robust oversight and management of the police training program, State blocked inspectors from the US government’s independent auditor for Iraqi reconstruction, SIGIR, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, from conducting an assessment of the Department’s multibillion-dollar effort. Kennedy said: We’re from the government, trust us.

    The inspectors had good reason not to trust Kennedy and State. Specifically, the State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau had come under fire from SIGIR for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police in Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan. The last SIGIR audit of the State Department’s oversight of the contract concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in U.S. funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.”

    State’s track record otherwise with police training also fails severely. The State Department in 2003 was given initial responsibility for training Iraqi police. By 2004, however, State’s efforts were seen as so ineffective, even on an Iraq War scale, that police training was taken away from the suits and folded into the US military mission.

    Water Under the Bridge

    But hey, those previously wasted billions and slapdash attempts to avoid scrutiny by an outside inspector are now like water under the bridge for the State Department, as the entire program is just about ready to collapse anyway.

    The Times reports that the training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100 as costs rose and Iraqi interest fell. State’s latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year. Several colleagues of mine associated with the program report that they are not being asked to stay on, and in fact now rarely even leave their fortified compounds.

    It seems the Iraqis simply do not care for the training State insists they should want. Last month many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training refused to attend the presentations given by the Americans, saying they saw little benefit. The Iraqis have also insisted that the training sessions be held at their own facilities, rather than American ones (the State Department spent $343 million building the facilities the Iraqis do not want to use, apparently without asking the Iraqis. The largest of the construction projects, at Baghdad Police College, was recently abandoned unfinished after an expenditure of more than $100 million of your tax dollars). The State Department will not allow the trainers to meet regularly at Iraqi facilities out of fear of terrorist ambush and the insane costs of moving people around Iraq safely. Private security contractors have to be hired by State to escort the private police contractors hired by State.

    Failure to Ask = Failure

    That part about asking the Iraqis what they want might have been key to the State Department’s failure in Iraq police training.

    Stalwart American Ambassador to Iraq Jeffrey, who is desperately seeking to curtail his assignment if State can find a successor whom Congress will endorse, mumbled “I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, ‘O.K., how large is the American presence here?’ How large should it be? How does this equate with our sovereignty? In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns.” “Some concerns” said Ambassador Jeffrey. Actually, the acting head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry questioned the wisdom entirely of spending so much on a program the Iraqis never sought, the equivalent of shouting “Don’t tase me bro!”

    It’s Always Sunny at Foggy Bottom

    The US Embassy in Baghdad released a hard-hitting reply to all of these developments, saying ““The Iraqi Government and the State Department regularly review the size and scope of our law enforcement assistance efforts to ensure that these programs best meet the needs of Iraq’s security forces… The Police Development Program is a vital part of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.” So that’s settled.

    Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources told the New York Times, “I don’t think anything went wrong. The Iraqis just don’t believe they need a program of that scale and scope.” Apparently Nides, Kennedy and no one at the State Department, none of the thousands of Americans State has in the World’s Largest Embassy in Baghdad, thought to get the Iraqi opinion of the training program before committing billions of dollars. Next time I suggest think first, spend second, ‘kay?

    Note to Hillary Clinton: Before sending your drones to fib to Congress asking for money that should be spent here at home, and then wasting several billion dollars on a project in some foreign country, ask the foreigners if they actually want it first. If they do not want our help, how about returning the billions to the United States where we can sure put it to good use?

    Note to Congress: The next time State comes asking for money, check if their lips are moving. That means they are lying to you. Please cut them off; they’re like drunks loose in Vegas and can no longer help themselves. It’ll be a mercy killing at this point.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq