Thursday, October 30, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, treaty looks even more iffy, everyone issues a report on conditions in Iraq today, Barack whips it out again, and more.
As Hannah Faifield notes in today's New York Times the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released a report on Iraqi spending today. The 232 page(through end notes, not countine appendi) report [PDF format warning] is online. In the intro to the report, the Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. explains this quarterly report is the product of "seven audit reports and three inspections". The report continues the office's pattern of referring to 2008 as "the Year of Transfer."
The report makes many observations including that the Iraqi Security Force "suffers from a leadership shortage." The report notes that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently cited two specific areas of concern". That was during the House Armed Services Committee hearing on September 10th. And the report is referring to Gates' opening remarks. He noted more than two specific areas of concern in his testimony:
* Political progress remains too slow -- as seen recently by the inability of the parliament to pass an election law. This means that provincial elections, which we believe will continue and enhance the process of reconciliation, will in all likelihood be pushed back until at least December. Elections also mean the possibility of increased violence.
* There have been some worrisome reports about sectarian efforts to either disrupt or slow the process of assimilation of the Sons of Iraq ["Awakening" Council] into the Iraqi Security Forces. It is a reminder that sectarin tenaions still exist and have the potential to undo recent progress at the local and national level.
* Despite Iran's pledges last year to stop providing weapons, training and funding to armed militias, evidence suggests that this support continues. [These are Gates' words. There is no proof/evidence that Iran has supplied anything. There has never been proof of that.]
* Iraqi security forces still lack many key capabilities. Many of their operations would simply not have been possible without Coalition enablers. That will remain the case for some time to come.
* The threat from al Qaeda and other militant groups has receded, but is still very real. In the last few months, we have seen a number of suicide attacks -- as well as tactical shifts, such as the increased use of women. This is a reminder that al Qaeda still retains the ability to inflict mass casualties, the operational capacity to assess and change strategies and is still trying to sow chaos and reassert itself. [Again, Gates' words. al Qaeda in Iraq has always been inflated and was not present until after the illegal war started. The administration tends to blame any and all violence on "al Qaeda in Iraq" unless they're targeting Iran for blame that day.]
* Similarly, there is the possiblity that Jaish al-Mahdi could return.
The SIGIR report notes only two and one of the two is elections which includes provincial and national when Gates -- opening statement (prepared) and in responses -- was focused on provincial elections. The report says that Provincial Eleciton Law was passed and it states:
* Of Iraq's 15 majority-Arab provinces, all but Tameem (Kirkuk) must conduct provincial elections by the end of January 2009.
* Provincial elections in the three Kurdish provinces must occur sometime later in 2009.
* 25% of the seats on each Provincial Council (PC) must be reserved for women.
* No seats on PCs will be reserved for Christians and other religious minorities.
The report also notes the Iraqi refugee crisis including that fiscal year 2008 finally saw the US government meet their goal on admitting Iraqi refugees (they went over the minimum of 12,000 by 118 Iraqis) and that a recent report from the European Commission "estimated that there are approximately 1 million - 1.5 million refugees from Iraq in Syria and 450,000 - 500,000 in Jordan. The EC report concluded that approximately '5 million Iraqis [are] living in temporary conditions in several countries,' of which 2.8 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs) adrift in their native land."
Moving to reconstruction, the report states, "Since 2003, the government of the United States and Iraq, along with the international community, have collectively provided $125.73 billion to support reconstruction in Iraq." It further notes, "Iraq's total budget for 2008 now exceeds $72.1 billion, which includes therecently passed Iraqi supplemental of just over $20 billion. Iraq has the second-largest budget among neighboring Middle Eastern and North African counties with similar populations. But this rich budget has not translated into a proportionate increase in per capita income. At only $1,214, Iraq's per capita income is well behind the regional front runner, Saudi Arabia, which has a bugget of $118 billion and per capita income of $15,440. By contrast, Algeria has a budget close to Iraq's and a per capita income of $3,620, which is triple that of Iraq." The report also maintains that the bulk of US funds for reconstruction in Iraq go to "security and justice programs". The report notes this on judges:
Since June 2003, 38 judges have been assasinated (7 killed in 2008), and 6 family members of judicial employees have been killed (none this quarter). Since June 2004, 99 other judicial staff members have been targeted. The United States provides secure housing for 29 judges and their families. The US built an "$11.3 million courthouse" in Rusafa which "includes a witness protection facility". The witness protection facialities in Rusafa, Karkh and Basrah have cost $6.8 million so far (all but Basrah are completed). Iraq's judicial system currently has "482 new judges, 287 investigative judges, 689 investigators, 313 prosecutors, and 4,482 protection staff.".
On reconstruction, the report states the contracts are handled by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division; Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/ Afghanistan; Multi-National Corps-Iraq; Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment; USAID; and DoS. They have awareded many contracts but the top ten recipients have received over $12 billion. The top ten (in order of biggest pig on the tax payer's dole):
1) Bechtel National, Inc
2) FluorAMEC, LLC
3) Parsons Global Services, Inc.
4) Parsons Iraq Joint Venture
5) Kellogg, Brown & Root Services, Inc.
6) Washington Group International
7) Environmental Chemical Corporation
8) Research Triangle Institute
9) Anham Joint Venture
10) Symbion Power, LLC
In Congressional hearings, the issue of CERP funds have come up repeatedly. Think of it as petty cash. It's intended to be used for short-term issues. Cerp is: Commander's Emergency Response Program. Most recently the issue came up during a September 10th House Armed Services Committee hearing (see this entry by Mike) between Committee Chair Ike Skelton and DoD's Under Secreatry of Defense for Policy, Eric S. Edelman :
Ike Skelton: The department's understanding of the allowed usage of CERP funds seems to have undergone a rather dramatic change since Congress first authorized it. The intent of the program was originally to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Iraq through small projects undertaken under the initative of brigade and battalion commanders. Am I correct?
Edelman: Yes, sir.
Ike Skelton: Thank you. The answer was "yes." Last year the Department of Defense has used millions of CERP dollars to build hotels for foreign visitors, spent $900,000 on a mural at the Baghdad International Airport and, as I understand this second piece of art, that CERP funds were used for. I'm not sure that the American tax payer would appreciate that knowing full well that Iraq has a lot of money in the bank from oil revenues and it is my understanding that Iraq has announced that they're going to build the world's largest ferris wheel. And if they have money to build the world's largest ferris wheel why are we funding murals and hotels with money that should be used by the local battallion commander. This falls in the purview of plans and policy ambassador.
Edelman: No, no, it's absolutely right and I'll shae the stage here -- I'll share the stage quite willing with uh, with Admiral Winnefeld with whom I've actually been involved in discussions with for some weeks about how we provide some additional guidance to the field and some additional requirements to make sure that CERP is appropriately spent.
Edelman then tries to stall and Skelton cuts him off with, "Remember you're talking to the American taxpayer." Edelman then replies that it is a fair question. He says CERP is important because it's flexible. It's important because they're just throwing around, if you ask me. They're playing big spender on our dime.
Skelton: The issue raises two serious questions of course. Number one is they have a lot of money of their own. And number two the choice of the type of projects that are being paid for. I would like to ask Mr. Secretary if our committee could receive a list of expenditures of $100,000 or more within the last year. Could you do that for us at your convience please?
Edelman: We'll work with our colleagues in the controller's office and - and . . . to try and get you --
Skelton: That would be very helpful.
In addition to the above, the report notes: "The recent Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2009 imposed a ceiling of $2 million on the amount of CERP money that DoD could allocate to a single project. The new NDAA futher requires the Secretary of Defense to approve CERP projects costing over $1 million, certifying thereby that the project will meet Iraq's urgent humanitarian relief or reconstruction needs."
The report lists some CERP projects, the ten most costly. Skelton wanted all costing over $100,000 Table 2.20 of the SIGIR's report lists the following and all dollar amounts are in the millions:
1) Electrical Distribution in Muhalla 312 $11.68
2) Fallujah Sewar Pump Stations F1, F2 $7.60
3) Electrical Distribution in Muhalla 310 $6.57
4) Rehabilitate Two BIAP Domestic Terminals $6.56
5) PIC Sewage Installation - Karmat Ali $6.56
6) Kirkuk City Clean-Up Supplies and Materials $6.13
7) Al Faw, Redundancy and Mitigation $5.92
8) Fallujah Solar Lights Phase II $5.50
9) Sulaimnyah Votech new construction $5.20
10) Transformers for Baghdad PC $4.82
That's just the top ten and, no, that's not how the CERP funds are supposed to be used. They are discretionary funds, petty cash. The report notes that 216 "CERP projects are ongoing" and that 432 "are in the planning stages".
Press attention for the lengthy report has been scant. When it has covered the report, it's genearlly focused on the issue of contractors. Tim Cocks (Reuters) does the best job on that topic: "One dollar in eight of the $48 billion paid out by U.S. taxpayers to rebuild Iraq since the 2003 invasion was spent on private bodyguards, a U.S. government audit published on Thursday shows." In addition, CBS and AP note that the report reveals:
More than $125.7 billion has now been committed to rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and government since U.S.-led forces overthrew the government of President Saddam Hussein five years ago. Though not all of that has been spent, it includes $50.77 billion in money appropriated by the United States, almost $58 billion in Iraqi funds and $17 billion pledged by other international donors, the bulk of it in the latter in loans and under $5.3 billion in grants.
Iraq's rule-of-law system remains broken, most evidenced by the fact that Iraqi judges continue to be assassinated across the country. In 2008, terrorists killed seven judges, compared with 11 killed in 2007 and bringing the number to more than 40 judges and family members since 2003.
A serious problem remains with corruption, which Bowen long has called a "second insurgency" in Iraq for the challenge it poses. For instance, auditors noted that a local contractor asked to be released from his work on three schools in Baghdad's Sadr City this quarter because he and his family were threatened when he refused repeated requests from government officials that he pay them bribes.
"There has been some improvement in recent months, both in terms of security and essential services. More people now have access to health services and clean water. But far too many Iraqis still have no choice but to drink dirty water and live in insalubrious conditions," said Juan-Pedro Schaerer, the ICRC's head of delegation for Iraq. "This leads to more sick people seeking treatment in a health-care system already stretched to the limit."
The ICRC is particularly concerned about people living in households not connected to a water network (some 40 per cent of the total, and mainly in the countryside and suburbs). They must either buy water -- at an average cost of 50 US cents for 10 litres -- or, if they are too poor to do so, collect it from rivers and wells, which are often polluted. Even households that do have piped water regularly experience problems owing to a chronic lack of maintenance and innumerable illegal connections to the network. Furthermore, many Iraqis have to live with the health hazards of uncollected household waste and untreated sewage.
As a result, many people contract water-borne diseases, further straining hospitals and clinics already struggling with a lack of resources. "My daughter is here because she drank dirty water," said a mother at Abu Ghraib General Hospital, near Baghdad. "We have no clean water at home. The only water we get is from the river."
Medical staff are struggling with chronic shortages of supplies and equipment. Dilapidated and sometimes outdated medical facilities lack proper maintenance and sanitation. Electricity shortages are common and many facilities have to rely on back-up generators. Many Iraqis simply cannot afford the treatment they need. Specialized surgery and treatment for diseases such as cancer are often available only in certain hospitals in the main cities.
Imogen Foulkes (BBC) spoke with the ICRC's Beatrice Megevand who noted the cholera outbreak (the now yearly cholera outbreak) and "said she was especially concerned about the lack of clean water supplies. Ms Megevand Roggo said even the most basic infrastructure in Iraq is not functioning." Meanwhile external Iraqi refugees are the subject of a new report by Refugees International whose summary notes: "Since the beginning of the displacement crisis, the Government of Iraq has refused to acknowledge the impact refugees have had on their host countries, as well as the scope of their needs. It was at Iraq's request that Syria imposed a visa regime on Iraqis in October 2007. Only after heavy international pressure did the Government of Iraq finally agree to provide financial assistance to its neighbors to help them deal with the situation. The assistance was meager --- $25 million in all --- and it took over a year for the payments to be made. In the past year, the Government of Iraq has started providing incentives for Iraqis to return. The best solution for most refugees would indeed be to return home when the conditions to ensure their safety and dignity are met. According to the UN Refugee Agency, this is not yet the case, as many parts of Iraq are still too insecure to allow for safe returns and essential services are not widely accessible to the civilian population. According to a UNHCR survey, 70% of those who returned to Iraq became internally displaced." The report itself (PDF format warning) is entitled "Iraqi Refugees: Plan For Ongoing Support In An Unstable Region." It makes five policy recommendations:
1) The US and other donor governments must fully fund the UN's Comprehensive Appeal Process (CAP) and increase resettlement numbers.
2) The US must establish a high-level presence in Syria and pressure the Government of Iraq to provide assistance to displaced Iraqis and establish conditions for return.
3) Donor governments must fund the WFP appeal for drought in Syria and respond to the Resettlement Service Flash Appeal for Palestinians.
4) UNHCR, with the support of donor governments, must engage Syria and Lebanon on expanding residency rights and securing work and education for Iraqi refugees.
5) UNHCR must work with the Government of Lebanon to ensure that the Government's flexible approach and policies towards Iraqis are implemented throughout the country and at all levels.
Noting the report by Refugees International, Missy Ryan (Reuters) adds, "According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), some 2.8 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes within Iraq. Another 2 million are believed to be outside the country, mainly in Syria and Jordan."
Yesterday, the Bully Boy entertained Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region of Iraq, for a White House photo op. Though both expressed hope (it's all around, didn't you hear?) regarding the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement while the cameras were rolling, Dan Eggen and Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) report today that Barzani told the paper, "Personally, I'm doubtful it will pass." Within Iraq, the most solid support the White House has had for the treaty has come from the Kurdish bloc in Parliament. Barzani's words are only more troubling for the White House since he apparently is factoring in that segment of support. Speaking for the White House today, Dana Perino declared of the paper's news and quote, "Well, I do think it will be hard for Iraq to pass it. If it was easy it would already have been done. And if you stick around, I'm sure by tomorrow you'll have a different Iraqi politician or leader with a different sentiment. So a lot of this is being played out in the public on the Iraqi side. What the president said yesterday remains true: We remain hopefula nd confident that we'll be able to get an agreement done. But there are certain underlying principles, basic principles that we're not going to compromise on. And so we've received their list of requests for changes and our negotiators in Baghdad are taking a careful look at them." Perinos was asked about the upcoming US election (next Tuesday) and whether that has any impact. She responded, "Well, we're going to continue to try to get an agrement because we've gotten this far, we might as well try to -- continue to work on it. And we remain hopeful that we can help solve these last remaining issues." She noted that Bully Boy had spoken with puppet of the occupatioin Nouri al-Maliki earlier in the week.
At the US State Dept today, Robert Wood handled the press briefing. He handled Tuesday's briefing and had told the press he couldn't comment on amendments to the treaty because he hadn't received them. They were received yesterday and Sean McCormack handled Wednesday's press briefing. Today Wood was asked to comment and he replied, "Well, we've received the amendments and we're going to give them, as Sean said yesterday, a thorough review. And I don't have anything else for you on that at the moment." Matthew Lee (AP) characterizes "hopes for sealing" the treaty as "fading" and notes that Wood stuck with "good text" to describe the treaty (as the State Dept has for some time). Lee summarizes a conversation with an unnamed official: "One official said there was a chance that some of the four main points of contention -- the withdrawal deadline, demand for inspections of U.S. arms shipments, a ban on using Iraqi territory for attacks on neighboring states and Iraqi demands for more jurisdiction over American soldiers -- could be 'finessed.' But Iraqi demands for more control over American troops likely crossed a 'red line' for the administration and Congress" On the last aspect, Sam Dagher (New York Times) pointed out today, "Under the current draft, American military personnel would be guaranteed immunity from Iraqi law, except in cases of serious or premeditated felonies committed outside their official duties."
Yesterday's State Dept press briefing found McCormack avoiding the issue of whether or not the US Embassy in Syria would shut down Thursday due to protests over the attack on Syria Sundy by the US. Yesterday the US Embassy in Syria issued a press release which read in full: "Due to Security Concerns, the U.S. Embassy in Damascus will be closed on Thursday, October 30, 2008." The single sentence appeared twice, first in larger, bold print, and then in smaller, regular print. Bassem Mroue (AP) reports that "tens of thousands" showed up for the protests, carrying sings and flags. Al Jazeera adds: "Some demonstrators carried banners denouncing the United States, as well as national flags and pictures of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. 'America the sponsor of destruction and wars,' one of the banners read." Iran's Press TV offers more on the banners: "Demonstrators waved Syrian flags and banners reading "No to American terrorism" and "American democracy: the killing of civilians at Abu Kamal," the border area targeted in Sunday's US raid. 'Colonialists, listen, the people of Syria will never be brought to their knees,' chanted the protesters as they gathered in the heart of Damascus."
Asked about the closing of the Embassy, Wood declared that it would be closed tomorrow due to "a holiday. But again, it all depends on the situation on the ground. That will be a decision made by, you know, our folks at the Embassy". He noted that the cultural center Syria had said they were closing were closed and that the American school is due to close November sixth.
Meanwhile the border of Syria and Iraq has been plauged with heavy downpours and the Office of the United Nations High Commioner for Refugees notes that Palestinian refugees in camps along the border are suffering:
"This is the closest to hell I can imagine," said Mutassem Hayatla, a UNHCR field officer who stayed in the camp during the downpour. "With no electricity, the camp was full of the sound of crying, terrified children. We did our best, but it was a blessing when the night was over."
Nine-year-old Aya said she was terrified. "The lights were all off, there was water everywhere. My mother was crying. She is pregnant and the baby will come soon. Please get us out before my brother is born. I am scared he will die if we have to live here after she delivers."
The situation was even worse in Al Waleed, a nearby camp hosting more than 1,400 refugees just inside Iraq, where more than 100 families were left homeless after their tents were destroyed in the storm. UNHCR was rushing supplies on Wednesday to both sites, but it was taking longer to get to Al Waleed due to security considerations.
[. . .]
UNHCR on Thursday reiterated its appeal to the international community to provide resettlement places for Palestinians from Iraq, with no other option currently available for the refugees. "We urge more countries to open their doors to resettle the Palestinian refugees and bring their precarious situation to an end," said Daniel Endres, UNHCR's representative in Iraq.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded five people, another Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed 1 life and left six people wounded and a Salahuddin Province car bombing that wounded one police officer.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Diyala Province attack on "Awakening" Council members in which three were injured.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baghdad.
Yesterday the US military announced: "A Coalition force Soldier died as a result of a non-combat incident south of Mosul Oct. 29. The injured Soldier was transported to a nearby combat support hospital in Mosul." The announcement brings to 4189 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
Moving to the US presidential race, Margaret Kimberley (Black Agenda Report) zooms in on Democratic vice presidential Joe Biden's bizarre words about the crisis 'a coming:
There is likely some truth behind Biden's seemingly bizarre words. Bush has authorized the establishment of the Presidential Transition Coordinating Council at an earlier date than in any other election year. High level staffers from the Obama and McCain campaigns have been engaged in security briefings with the Bush administration and are also in the process of obtaining FBI security clearances, the first time that has happened prior to election day. Bush doesn't want to head back to Texas without insuring that his doctrine remains firmly in place after January 21st.
The plans for continued American military aggression are already underway and Biden can't keep quiet about it. Biden made his statements during a Seattle fundraising trip that took in a cool million dollars. Yet he wasn't just making a plea for cash, he made a plea for support of whatever action the Obama administration may take.
"Because I promise you, you all are gonna be sitting here a year from now going 'oh my God, why are they there in the polls, why is the polling so down, why is this thing so tough?' We're gonna have to make some incredibly tough decisions in the first two years. So I'm asking you now, I'm asking you now, be prepared to stick with us." The Obama/Biden doctrine must be truly awful. If Big Mouth Joe is already pleading for patience from the faithful we are looking at Bush/Cheney the Sequel.
Meanwhile Susan (Random Notes) takes on a bad scribble from a bad outlet and offers her thoughts on the Obama 'strategy':
The problem with that explanation, of course, is the slanted coverage in favor of Obama has happened since the day he announced close to two years ago. It was slanted in favor of him and Hillary Clinton, while far more electable candidates such as Edwards (before the successful blackmailing him out of political life--how convenient) were shoved aside in favor of the identity politics narrative. And THEN, when it became a two-person contest in the primaries, it was open season on both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Not a word of protest by the mainstream media for the 24/7 shitting upon them because they were not run out of the Beltway in the 1990s for refusing to kiss the Beltway Slut's ass. Hell, no, they were right in there with the Obama campaign with the "racist" filth, the RFK filth, the NAFTA filth, the caucus filth and so forth, but never, ever seriously vetting Obama despite his numerous problems. Criticisms were brushed aside or tagged as racist, and believe me, the race card is about all Obama had to get as far as he did. Nobody DARED to criticize him then, and nobody dares to do it now for fear of being tagged racist.
John McCain is the Republican presidential nominee, Sarah Palin is his running mate. Scott Conroy (CBS News) notes that yesterday in Ohio, Governor Palin made a "funny observation" : "Someone I'd like you to meet--he didn't come out on stage with me. I'll have to find him, but it's my husband, Alaska's First Dude. I know he looks like one of the Secret Service guys, and so if you read any gossip about any spotting of me holding hands with a Secret Service guy, it's my husband Todd." The Democratic vice presidential nominee, Joe Biden, was in Missouri today and Jake Tapper and Matthew Jaffe (ABC News) observe, "Ever since the Ohio arrest remarks and Seattle fundraiser comments that the world would soon test a young President Obama and his reaction wouldn't obviously be the correct one (in some way responsible, perhaps, for Obama's loss in the polls in who Americans trust to handle an unexpected crisis), Biden seems much more toned down, much more under wraps. "
James Petras (Information Clearing House) reminds that it's not a two ticket race and comes up with 12 reasons why people should be supporting indepent presidential candidate Ralph Nader or Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney. We'll focus on Iraq:
Obama opposes the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq in favor of redeployment; the relocation of US troops from combat zones to training and logistical positions, contingent on the military capability of the Iraqi Army to defeat the resistance. Obama opposes a clearly defined deadline to withdraw US forces from Iraq because US troops in Iraq are essential to pursuing his overall policies in the Middle East, which include military confrontations with Iran, Syria and Southern Lebanon.
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Onward to November.
Meanwhile, Barack couldn't keep it in his pants. He's put out a sexist ad against Sarah Palin (Ruth noted it last night) and today the McCain - Palin '08 campaign issued these responses: