Monday, February 2, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, a faux commission shuffles paper in public today, provincial elections took place Saturday in Iraq and the counting continues, and more.
Last year, Alex Gibney's amazing Taxi to the Dark Side won the Academy Award for best documentary beating out the empire project builder No End in Sight. No End in Sight wasn't just a badly made documetary -- a director needs not a sense of the visual -- it was a bad documentary. Many alleged 'anti-war' types tried to praise that piece of garbage as 'anti-war.' The Council on/of/for Foreign Relations director of the propaganda film not only supported the illegal war before it started, he supported it while making the film, he supported it while promoting the film. It takes a real idiot to claim that film was 'anit-war.' No End in Sight argued not against the Iraq War or war itself. No End in Sight advanced the argument that the 'problem' with the Iraq War was that there wasn't 'better' planning. That argument is not an argument to stop illegal wars, it is an argument to work harder on them in the pre-war stage.
As someone who rallied friends to vote for Taxi to the Dark Side (and voted for it myself), I do take joy out of No End in Sight going down in flames. But there's a point to sharing that story (again) today. The Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) ("In Iraq and Afghanistan") held their first hearing. They would be, they insisted, like the Truman Committee. It was not like the Truman Committee. It was like the propaganda of No End in Sight. The Truman Committee, actually the Senate Special Committee Investigating National Defense, found fraud, graft and cost overruns and dealt with them, saving the United States billions. The Institute for Policy Studies' Sarah Anderson explained in 2006 that the committee "called 1,798 witnesses for 432 hearings and issued 51 reports." This committee is only required to release two reports. It may exceed that, but that is all that's required. As for duties, CWC explains it this way, "The law establishing the Commission defines a broad and substantive mandate. The Commission is required to study, assess and make recommendations concering wartime contracting for the reconstruction, logistical support, and the performance of security functions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission's major objectives include a thorough assessment of the systematic problems identified with interagency wartime contracting, the identification of instances of waste, fraud and abusue, and ensuring accountability for those responsible."
Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reported before the hearing that among those offering testimony would be Special Inspector General for Iraq Stuart Bowen and the SIGR is publishing Hard Lessons, a new book by Bowen on the money wasted, today. Dieter Bradbury (Portland Press Herald) reported that US Senator Susan Collins will be among those offering testimony today: "Collins has overseen investigations into government contracting as ranking member and former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee."
What might have seemed promising quickly became the joke everyone in DC thought it would be. Commissioner Linda J. Gustitus at least attempted to make it appear there was some teeth to the commission. She noted that "it wasn't ignorance" that led to the waste of US tax dollars in Iraq, "the [Bush] administration knew from the very beginning that security was going to be a big issue." She went on to site Bechtel's pre-war study which found Iraq's crumbling security would result in huge costs. She noted that "half of the cost -- half of the fifty billion we've spent -- went to security." She noted years into the Iraq War, the Iraq Study Group would find "no clear lines establishing who is in charge of reconstruction -- that's four years in." The 'lessons' from the Iraq War were things "we already knew before we went into Iraq but the administration chose to ignore them."
If that statement bothers you, it should. The problem with the Iraq War is that it's an illegal war built on lies. It does not meet -- nor did it ever -- the definition of a just war. It was a war of choice built on deceit. The commission might try to argue, "We're looking into monies." You're making statements that go far beyond money.
A great deal of time was spent by the commissions spit-polishing Colin Powell -- known LIAR to the United Nations. Poor Collie, or Collie told us, or Collie said. Collie, Collie, Collie. Trash, trash, trash. His "blot" will not go away even when laughable "commissioners" spend all their time trying to pretend he's a respected voice of authority. He has no authority, he has what he's defined as a "blot." His words about his lying performance before the United Nations in which he sold lies about the then-impending war, "Well it's a, it's a, of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United Nations, uh, United States, to the world. And it will always be, uh, part of my, uh, my record." Always be part of his record? The Commission on Wartime Contracting didn't think so.
But why would it? Look at the commissioners and marvel that such a bunch of losers -- so tied to the illegal war -- could be appointed to in any way review it. Throw a dart at the board and see it who it hits. Dov S. Zakheim! Dov is PNAC. Dov signed the PNAC statements (PNAC pushed the illegal war starting in the nineties, they are the neocon think-tank). Is the problem the Bush administration as Commissioner Gustituts indicated? Then why is Dov showing up as a commissioner and not as a witness? Dov was one of George W. Bush's foreign policy tutors in 1999 and 2000 -- along with Condi Rice, Richard Perle, Stephen Hadley, Paul Wolfowtiz and Robert Zoellick. When their pupil was elected, Dov found a job in the Defense Dept where he was the chief financial officer. And he's a commissioner? He was the chief financial officer in 2003 and he is a commissioner? He's evaluating the actions that include his own actions?
The commission is a damn joke.and putting people like Dov on it ensure that it remains one. But it's like No End in Sight, it's about building a better empire. That became clear repeatedly as Iraq was treated as nothing but a failed experiment to learn from. (What a joy to Iraqis! They were reduced to mice in the laboratory!) Clark Kent Ervin tossed around a lot of phrases ("unity of command," "coherent mission statement," "cost-plus contracts," etc.) and wanted to know what Iraq means for Afghanistan. Or as Dov put it, "What's already changed on the ground that could help us in Afghanistan? . . . what could be a big help in Afghanistan?"
SIGR's deputy Ginger Cruz gave testimony and managed to offer a little more about Iraq than many. She noted that the "the true costs are unknown" because reconstruction was done by private contractors working in Iraq and their work is done "in a pocket [of security] created by the US military." The cost of the reconstruction, Cruz noted, did not include the cost for the security provided by the US military. So "costs could escalate dramatically" if "we have to use private security" to create those safe 'pockets' for reconstruction to take place in.
One section of interest was during the opening statement by DoD Deputy Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble 's comments regarding Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP):
CERP funds are appropriated through the DoD and allocted through each major command's sector of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up to $500,000 can be allocated to individual CERP projects, and CERP beneficiaries often receive payments in cash. We have also identified occasions where soldiers with limited contracting experience were responsible for administering CERP funds. In some instances, there appeared to be scant, if any, oversight of the manner in which funds were expended. Complicating matters further is the fact that payment of bribes and gratuities to government officials is a common business practice in some Southwest Asia nations. Taken in combination, these factors result in an environment conducive to bribery and corruption.
Remember Gimble's claim that up to $500,000 in CERP funds can go to a single project, we'll come back to that in a minute. CERP was an issue during the September 10th House Armed Services Committee hearing (and see this entry by Mike). This is Committe Chair Ike Skelton's exchange with DoD's Under Secretary 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.
The CERP funds are not being tracked. They haven't. Congress has repeatedly raised this issue. As for the claim of "up to $500,000," that's a confusing remark considering that the [PDF format warning] October 30th report from the SIGIR declared, "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." Why did no one follow up to ask exactly when the 2009 budget was 'updated'? Or, for that matter, how it was 'updated' after it was passed by Congress and signed into law by the White House?\
Overall the disappointing hearing was nothing but the Empire Project regrouping to figure out how to take the failed empire building in Iraq and turn it into a success in Afghanistan. The commission had their first hearing today and lived up to all the ugly whispers and jokes almost immediately. And if you're not getting how pathetic the commission is and how derelict in their duties the US Congress is being, let's note two things. First, from the Jan. 27th snapshot: "Was the illegal war legal under international law? The BBC reports that the Information Tribunal has decided that the cabinet meetings (Tony Blair's cabinet meetings) must be released. Rosa Prince (Telegraph of London) adds, 'Downing Street refused to reveal whether it would comply with the ruling by the Information Tribunal, which follows a long-running legal battle to keep details of the meetings secret'." Second, Reed Stevenson (Reuters) reports today. "Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende ordered on Monday an independent commission to examine the government's decision to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003." Jurjen van de Pol (Bloomberg News) notes, "The independent commission, led by former Dutch Supreme Court President Willibrord Davids, will seek to complete the investigation before November and will inform parliament and government of the outcome". Radio Netherlands Worldwide adds, "The Prime Minister has consistently refused to agree to a full parliamentary inquiry in the matter, saying that all information about the decision to side with the Americans and the British is known already."
Yesterday, Matt Lauer offered the equivalent of journalistic footsie with US President Barack Obama on NBC (link has text and video):
Matt Lauer: Let's talk about some of those men and women who are serving this country overseas in Afghanistan, other locations, in Iraq and I'm sure they're watching today. It's a big event for the armed services and a lot of those people have a vested interest in one of your campaign promises, to end this war and get home as soon -- within 16 months or so -- as humanly possible. So when you look at them, can you say that a substantial number of them will be home in time for next Superbowl Sunday?
Barack Obama: Yes, uh, er, I mean we're gonna roll out in a very, very formal fashion what our intentions are in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. But in conversations that I've had with the Joint Chiefs, with people -- the commanders on the ground, uh, I think that we have a sense, now that the Iraqis just had a very significant election, with no significant violence there, that we are in a position to start putting more responsibilities on the Iraqis and that's good news for not only the troops in the field but their families who are carrying an enormous burden.
That's the entire Iraq 'exchange' and despite the efforts of reporters to put Lauer's words into Barack's mouth, Barack's reply does not indicate what they've endlessly hyped. Barack's words are also remarkably similar to the previous White House occupant's words -- in tone and the fact-free nature. There were tribal fights, bombings, and much more during the elections.
Saturday in Iraq, provincial elections were held in fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces. In his January 10, 2007 radio address, George W. Bush declared, "To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year." Two years later and they still weren't able to meet the benchmark of provincial elections in all the provinces. Though the three provinces that make up the KRG did not hold elections, the Kurdish Regional Government did issue a statement Saturday noting, "Although there are no elections scheduled in the three KRG goernorates and Kirkuk, the KRG supports all citizens who are voting today and is facilitating the voting process for those displaced individuals currently residing within the Region but casting absentee ballots for their original districts. In Suleimaniah, Erbil and Dohuk there are 15, 23, and 33 voting centres, respectively." Reuters reports today the Kurdish Naional Assembly Speaker Adnan Mufti announced that the Kurdish region will hold their elecitons May 19th. That would still leave Kirkuk out of the mix.
There were 14,428 candidates vying for 440 seats. Saturday the print version of the New York Times included a look at three of the candidates. Sam Dagher profiled Zeinab Sadiq Jaafar, an attorney running in Basra: "Over the last month, she hunted for votes in the city's worst neighborhoods. An independent, Ms. Jaafar makes the case that she is an 'authentic' daughter of Basra who better understands her city's anxieties and needs. She empahsizes that unlike many candidates, she is not backed by some big shot from Baghdad. She also wants to prove that women can compete and win in politics in Iraq on their own merit. Alissa J. Rubin profiled Haithem Ahmed Alam Khalaf who is a "38-year-old sheik" and is running in Abu Ghriab. He says: "There were many violations of human rights in our area by the Iraqi Army; it is better now, but honestly, the official departments of the government were not at the level we were expecting." He's an "Awakening." Timothy Williams profiled Khalid Shakar al-Dulaimi who is a 44-year-old man running in Baghdad and is running as a member of the Gathering of Iraqi Nationalists and Labor. He states: "The Sunnis and Shiite religious parties failed their opprotunity and involved the country in unrest. People want new faces and new ideas." The paper provided these graphs regarding the elections. Timothy Williams predicted that the campaign posters will be the visual image of these elections (while the ink stained fingers were the visual in 2005). He covers expectations as well. Alissa J. Rubin and Sam Dagher explore Moqtada al-Sadr's low profile which includes no slate of candidates but "the movement is backing two parties." Those who prefer audio, click here and scroll down the left side of the page for Alissa J. Rubin offering analysis of the players.
The New York Times live blogged the elections (the live blog is one continuous entry in terms of link, they break it up into sections but it's one link and you scroll through). Correspondent Mohammed Hussein wrote of walking over three miles and visiting four polling stations before he was allowed to vote -- repeatedly he was told he wasn't on that polling station's list. At the fourth station, he wasn't sure of the nominees listed. His wife gave up after repeatedly bing told she wasn't on that station's list to vote. Hatim Hameed tells the paper of experiencing similar problems in Falljua where it took trips to five polling centers "before I found my name. I had to walk for more than an hour." And, Abu Abdullah al-Jubouri explained, "There is no transportation to bring people to the voting centers. Don't they think about how the people will get to the places where they have to vote? I'm going to vote by myself because I won't bring my family that far." In today's paper, Stephen Farrell and Alissa J. Rubin report Nasreen Yousif went to three different polling centers in Baghdad before she gave up, "Now I am going home. Maybe there is a fourth school, but it is too far and I can't walk anymore." At the paper's blog, Timothy Williams explains western Baghdad voters were searched three times before they were even allowed to enter the polling center.
The paper's Alissa J. Rubin observed Sunday, "In the United States, many Americans view the war as already over, even though more than 140,000 American soldiers remain on Iraqi soil." Omar al-Dulaimi offers his take on the illegal war, "The American military presence brought nothing to our streets but destruction and chaos." Stephen Farrell and Rubin noted of Saturday, "Driving was banned in most of the country to prevent suuicide bombers from attacking any of the more than 6,000 polling places and security checkpoints, often spaced just yards apart. The tight security, couples with confusion over where voters should cast their ballots, appeared to have reduced turnout in many districts across the country." They estimate Nineveh Province saw 75% turnout of registered voters while Basra saw only 50%. Deborah Haynes (Times of London's Inside Iraq) reported on one get-out-the-vote attempt: texting:
I was being inundated, like everyone else in Baghdad, by mass text messages from hopeful candidates pitching for votes ahead of provincial elections tomorrow.
A confusing array of more than 14,400 candidates from 407 different parties, independent entities and individuals are vying for just 440 seats on 14 provincial councils across the country. In a bid to make sense of the huge choice, the candidates are on lists -- either independent or for a party. The list has a number, which is what I stupidly mistook to be the varying price of my monthly phone bill.
One voter-wooing text (received multiple times) read like this:
"Vote for 302, the list of Prime Minister Maliki who achieved security and restored national sovereignty."
Another one went:
"With your vote we will hold them accountable and build our country. Elect from the list of Mithal Allusi, 292."A third message (I could go on forever) read:"Vote for a Baghdad with everyone living with freedom and security. Tawafuq 265."
The votes are still being counted but AP notes election commission chair Faraj al-Haidari estimates turnout across the country to be at 51%. al-Haidari is an ass who won't take accountability, "It's not our fault that some people couldn't vote because they are lazy, because they didn't bother to ask where they should vote." If the percentage remains low when all votes are counted, that not only rejects the hype that the elections had captured Iraqi's fascination and that they were wild to vote. The reasons for the low percentage -- if that number holds -- may include not feeling vested in the puppet government or in their occupied country, not trusting the system or voter suppression. Votes can be suppresed, as 2004 voters in Ohio can attest, if you create chaos and frustration. Certainly having people forced to walk from polling station to another repeatedly and requiring they be frisked multiple times before enterting each polling center can be seen as security or as harassment. Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) pins it on reluctance to embrace 'democracy' on the part of Iraqis (how could they embrace what they don't have?) and she notes, "Voter turnout in Iraq's provincial elections Saturday was the lowest in the nation's short history as a new democracy despite a relative calm across the nation. Only about 7.5 million of more than 14 million registered voters went to the polls." It's cute the way the press reported nearly 15 million registered voters when they thought the turnout would be huge and now that it wasn't huge, they stop using "nearly 15 million" to run with "more than 14 million".
Ahmed Rasheed, Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie, Missy Ryan and Katie Nguyen (Reuters) cite "voter registration problems and tight security" as the reasons for the low turnout. They also note that 2005's provincial vote saw 76% of registered voters participating. Remember that. Today the votes are still being counted. (Maybe some news outlet can live blog that?) Turnout was very low despite talk during the lead up. Monte Morin (Los Angeles Times) explains, "Just over half of Iraq's 15 million registered voters cast ballots in weekend provincial elections, with turnout as low as 40% in at least one province, but Iraqi and international officials insisted Sunday that they were satisified with the participation." Morin notes that "turnout failed to reach the 73% predicted by a recent government poll of 4,570 Iraqis." Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) examines the preliminary results and notes winners appear to be "several secular parties" and Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation. These are preliminary results, as Rubin points out, not official ones. She explains, "The Americans had pushed for the provincial elections as a way to redistribute power more evenly throughout the country after many Iraqis boycotted the last elections in 2005. It was unclear whether a lower-than-expected turnout, at 51 percent nationwide, would curb hopes that all Iraqi sectarian and ehtnic groups could be more accurately represented." Rubin states that Sunni participation was higher throughout Iraq than it was in 2005 (but at 40% in Anbar -- we'll come back to Anbar at the end). So Sunni participating increased and Shi'ite participation drastically fell? That is the conclusion one would have to draw. Remember that 76% of registered voters participated in 2005. The results, when known, will be interpreted in various ways. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) explains, "For the northern provinces of Iraq, the outcome of elections held Saturday will provide the first snapshot in decades of demographics and loyalties in areas that have become the subject of a visceral dispute between Arabs and Kurds. Newly elected leaders in these provinces, where Sunni Arabs are widely expected to gain political power, will be thrust into the debate over whether disputed territories, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, should be annexed to the Kurdistan Regional Government." Saturday, the KRG declared, "Unfortunately the KRG notes its great concern that thousnads of Kurds in Ninewah, Makhmour and Khanaqeen were unable to exercise their right to vote due to a logistical mix-up by the Independent Electoral Commission." Nineweh is a region the Kurds are thought to want, Mosul is the capitol of the province. The Los Angeles Times covered Mosul vote: "Hisham, an Iraqi Kurd, had watched as his city fell apart. His Kurdish, Christian and Shiite friends fled, but he resolved to stay on. Slowly, he came to resent the Kurdish parties that governed Mosul. So Hisham voted Saturday in favor of the Arab nationalist Hadba party. He saw the vote as a way to bring the city back to what it was before 2004, when he lived in peace with all his neighbors -- before Islamic militancy and ethnic tensions ravaged Mosul." Mosul is where Iraqi Christians were under attack in the second half of 2008 and had to flee. Kim Gamel (AP) also reported on Mosul and quoted Bassem Bello, "It's better at this point but we paid a high price for it. We're working very hard to make sure it doesn't happen again." Leila Fadel (Baghdad Observer, McClatchy Newspapers) quotes Nineveh Province's Leila Solaiman Mohammed who states, "I voted for the Fraternity of Nineveh (Kurdish slate) because it represents my race and we hope it would help us get our rights as Kurds. We want to live in peace like others." Meanwhile Fadel al-Badrani (Reuters) reports that, in Anbar Province, "Tribal sheikhs who helped drive al Qaeda militants out of Western Iraq threatened on Monday to take up arms against the provincial government because of what they said was fraud in Saturday's provincial polls."
Today's reported violence including many bombings . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Mosul roadside bombing today that claimed 3 lives ("the father, the mother and their son"), another Mosul roadside bombing that left two police officers injured and a Baji roadside bombing that left two Iraq service members wounded. The Los Angeles Times reports an Iraqi child and the father of the child are dead. They were killed by the US military when the US military struck their car. Why the convoy struck the car and whether six more Iraqis were wounded (US version) or nine more Iraqis were killed (Iraqi officials version) is not known: "There was no way to reconcile the different accounts."
And Sunday the US military announced: "A U.S. Soldier died as a result of a non-combat related injury in Kirkuk, Iraq Jan 31. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin and release by the Department of Defense. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brought the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4237.
In the United States, Iraq Veterans Against the War announces:
the los angeles times
the new york times
alissa j. rubin