A United States federal oversight agency has raised serious new questions about the security, financial support and staffing for the teams that the United States is creating to lead the next phase of its reconstruction program in Iraq.
The United States is aiming to create reconstruction teams in the provinces outside the relatively stable Kurdish north, and work with local Iraqi officials to set their own priorities for the rebuilding rather than relying on plans drawn up in Baghdad and Washington. The initial phase of the reconstruction program, created after the 2003 invasion, relied almost exclusively on central planning and was heavily criticized.
But during recent visits to four of the five teams that were in operation, auditors from the oversight agency noted that the teams suffered from problems that included security threats that seriously hampered their ability to meet with local Iraqis, difficulties in obtaining supplies as basic as pens and paper, and major challenges in recruiting qualified civilians to work in Iraq’s far-flung provinces.
"The deteriorating security situation has had a particularly deleterious effect on the establishment of the U.S. provincial reconstruction teams," said the agency, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, in a quarterly report to be officially released Tuesday. The agency is independent and reports directly to Congress, the State Department and the Pentagon.
The above is from James Glanz' "Security and Financial Issues Hamper Reconstruction Effort" in this morning's New York Times which you should probably pair up with, as Martha and Wally have, Griff Witte's "Iraq Oil Pipeline Behind Schedule: Key Project Has Largely Gone Unmonitored, Report Says" (Washington Post):
A project to build a critical oil pipeline in northern Iraq has fallen more than two years behind schedule, costing the Iraqi government $14.8 billion in revenue and jeopardizing the safety of local water supplies, according to a report by U.S. government auditors released yesterday.
The 31-mile pipeline, designed to connect Iraq's northern oil fields with a major refinery, is intended to replace an old, decrepit line that has been leaking oil for years. But because contractors were unable to finish construction of the new pipeline by March 2004 as scheduled, oil is pooling in the open air rather than being sped to market, auditors with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction say.
Even when the project is complete, the auditors conclude, there is no way of knowing whether it will actually be an improvement because reconstruction officials have not been monitoring its progress.
On their own, either is strong story worth reading, paired up, they really portray the reconstruction situation and drive home the lack of accountability and supervision.
Back to the Times, Damien Cave's "Iraqi Clerics and Government Leaders Condemn Israeli Airstrikes in Lebanon" tries to cover both the headline (getting in an editorial comment/joke, by the way, than an editor should have removed) and give a rundown of the preceeding day's violence:
In central Baghdad, about 20 gunmen wearing camouflage Interior Ministry uniforms kidnapped at least 12 people from a cellphone company and eight people from the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a ministry official said.
Witnesses said the gunmen arrived in pickup trucks with Interior Ministry markings and cordoned off the area, separating the women from the men among the employees and taking the men. Those abducted included Raad Omar, the Sunni director of the Chamber of Commerce, which was founded three years ago to increase trade with the United States.
In a drive-by shooting at 9 a.m., a senior intelligence officer, Col. Fakhri Jamil Salman, was killed in southwest Baghdad, the Interior Ministry official said. A half-hour later, a car bomb near a mosque in northern Baghdad wounded two people.
At dusk on Monday, gunmen shot and killed a senior adviser to the Health Ministry as he rode in his car. Throughout the capital an additional 21 unidentified bodies were found by the authorities, many of them with gunshot wounds to the head.
On a highway between Tikrit and Kirkuk, gunmen killed three police officers and kidnapped two others after forcing an ambulance off the road on Sunday night, an Iraqi police official in Kirkuk said. He said the police found the bodies of the two kidnapped officers on Monday.
In Baquba, north of Baghdad, gunmen killed two Shiite owners of a clothing shop, the local police said. Three other people were shot dead at a bakery there, the owner of a money exchange was robbed and killed, and a roadside bomb wounded four.
A Sunni cleric in Falluja, Abdul al-Jumaili, was assassinated near his home, officials reported.
In Mosul, a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi Army checkpoint, killing four soldiers and wounding six, an army official said. A roadside bomb that appeared to have been aimed at an American convoy in Mosul wounded two Iraqi civilians. There were no reports of American casualties from the incident.
Possibly working so hard at his wise crack hampered Cave's counting abilities? His mass kidnapping number appears to low ball (see yesterday's snapshot). Now any one of the incidents above is worth exploring as a story. None are explored. If the time's going into his humor, someone please get the message out: he's not funny. Martha notes Joshua Partlow and Saad al-Izzi's "26 Kidnapped in Baghdad Raids: Uniformed Gunmen Invade Trade Group Office, Nearby Store" (Washington Post) and notice how they take one incident (the kidnapping) and explore it (Damien Cave especially needs to notice and should probably take notes):
With at least three of his colleagues already in handcuffs Monday, the director of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry wanted to know one thing from his camouflaged kidnappers: Who are you?
The gunmen arrived in a convoy of SUVs, dressing and behaving as if they were legitimate Iraqi security personnel, and the chamber's president, Raad Ommar, demanded to know if the assailants were Iraqi police, Iraqi military or Interior Ministry commandos, according to a witness, chamber employee Muhanned Kamil.
"It does not concern you," one of the gunmen responded.
The mystery is one of the most vexing problems facing Iraq, as bands of gunmen rove the streets abducting dozens of people at a time under the imprimatur of official law enforcement. Whether these attackers are criminals wearing fake uniforms or are corrupt security forces, infiltrated by violent militiamen, remains publicly unknown.
The latest brazen mass kidnapping began Monday morning at just after 10, when the gunmen descended on two commercial offices in a popular shopping district of downtown Baghdad and abducted 26 people, according to police and witnesses.
In addition to the trade group director, the gunmen took away the head of the sales department, Majid Hameed, and the director of the maintenance department, Noman Munthir al-Khatib, along with other employees and security guards, according to Dowaa Mohammed, the organization's head of human resources.
Mia notes Alexander Cockburn's "The Triumph of Crackpot Realism" (CounterPunch):
Twenty-three years after one of America's stupidest Presidents announced Star Wars, Reagan's dream has come true. Behind ramparts guarded by a coalition of liars extending from Rupert Murdoch to the New York Times, from Bill O'Reilly to PBS, America is totally shielded from truth.
Here we have a Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who gazes at the rubble of Lebanon, 300,000 refugees being strafed with Israel's cluster bombs, and squeaks happily that we are "witnessing the birth pangs of a new Middle East."
Here we have a president, G. Bush, who urges Vladimir Putin to commence in Russia the same "institutional change" that is making Iraq a beacon of freedom and free expression. Not long after Bush extended this ludicrous invitation the UN relayed from Iraq's Ministry of Health Iraq's real casualty rate, which was running at least 100 a day, now probably twice that number.
Iraq's morgues reported receipts of 3,149 dead bodies in June; over 14,000 since the beginning of the year. Senior Iraqis in the government confide that break-up of Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish enclaves, each protected by its own militias, is now inevitable. Iraq as a viable country has been utterly destroyed, with even vaster carnage coming up over the horizon, and here's the numbskull President touting it as an advertisement for American nation-building at its best, and inviting its prime minister to Washington to proclaim Iraq's approaching renaissance, all in sync with the U.S. 2006 election campaigns.
Here we have a Congress which reacts with outrage when America's picked man in Iraq, Prime Minister al-Maliki, states the obvious, which is that Israel's attack is "dangerous" and that the world community is not doing enough to curb Israel's destruction of Lebanon.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi rushes out a statement "Unless Mr. Maliki disavows his critical comments of Israel and condemns terrorism, it is inappropriate to honor him with a joint meeting of Congress," Another twenty Democrats said al-Maliki shouldn't be allowed to set foot in the place.
Actually, I'm not so sure Congress is impervious to reality, particularly if reality spells out as a threat of withdrawal of support from the Israel lobby in the next electoral cycle. The place is about 98 percent bought and paid for by the Lobby.
Zach notes that KPFA is covering the Middle East on this morning's The Morning Show (7:00 am to 9:00 am Pacific Time).
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