Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Iraq 'government,' KBR and Pentagon drag feet on draw-down

In our view, American military force no longer plays a role in Iraq other than "peace-keeping." Someone must contain the violence over time to allow democratic-like institutions to flourish. That should not be the role of American military power; it must be done by Iraqi institutions controlled solely by the Iraqi government.
It is now time for a broad and sustained military withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq. Whatever American forces of any sort that remain should be paid for exclusively by the Iraqi government.
We can argue forever about the wisdom of our invasion and presence in Iraq beginning in 2003. For sure, Iraq cannot be allowed to become another Korea, where today 30,000 American troops are held hostage to a crazy North Korean regime while "protecting" a rich and prosperous South Korea.
Withdraw now the 120,000 military personnel from Iraq, Mr. President and Congress. Do it as quickly as the safety of those troops will permit.

The above is from the Joplin Globe's editorial "In our view: Time to get out of Iraq" -- the Joplin Globe is the 163-year-old daily paper serving the south west sections of Missouri. And US forces do need to be withdrawn from Iraq. What's stopping it? Well, first off the president of the United States. Barack Obama could order the withdrawal this morning if he wanted to.

Other things that aren't helpful would include (a) the Iraqi government or 'government' and (b) the Pentagon and KBR. Starting with the former, Liz Sly's "U.S. concerned about Iraq election law delay" (Los Angeles Times) is an interview with US Lt Gen Charles H. Jacoby Jr.:

Are you concerned that the elections on which your withdrawal timetable is based may be delayed? The Iraqi parliament is deadlocked over an election law, even though the deadline has long since passed.

This parliamentary election is a decisive point in the history of Iraq's democracy, and it's also very important to the United States. We have a stake in their success. Iraq has had increasingly better elections over time. Of course we look forward to these elections. And so we're very concerned that we're past the date that the Iraqis wanted to have an election law, and that every day that goes by eats into the established date for the election. Iraq has the opportunity to demonstrate that it has a viable and credible democracy, and can be a model for the region. There's lots of opportunity here and we don't want to miss these opportunities by having this election drift.

Would an election delay also delay the plan to withdraw all U.S. combat forces by August 2010?

We do not think we are at the point where we are off our plan, but of course we are going to watch this very carefully. Any decision to vary from the plan is a policy decision that won't take place here. It's too soon to say whether a potential delay in the election is a potential delay in the withdrawal.

Alsumaria notes rumors that US pressure is expected to lead various parties to accept the United Nations' recommendations on the legislation:

To that, Kurds decried the US pressure calling them to renounce their rights in the city and that after announcing that US Vice President Joe Biden called Kurdistan Governor Massoud Al Barazani in order to talk over the obstructions hindering approving elections law. MP Mahmoud Othman told Al Hayat Newspaper that endeavors of Senior US officials are means to pressure Kurds in order to accept the suggested solutions though they are unfair. The US behaviors are biased, Othman added.
It is no secret that this kind of pressure is expected considering the importance USA gives for holding the lections on time. MP Khairallah Al Basri said that failing to reach an accordance solution regarding elections' law will urge the USA to interfere in order to impose solutions.
Alsumaria sources had said that the Legal committee suggested a draft law that proposes to adopt open list and determines the parliament's seats number. The law also stipulates using multi-divisions system and appoints the number of seats for each division without mentioning Kirkuk. However the relevant parties did not agree on this suggestion.

Ali Karim (Asia Times) reports the recents bombings are said, by some, to have an impact on their votes:

"I expect a low turnout in the elections if matters go on this way," said Mithal al-Alosi, an independent member of parliament and the deputy head of the foreign relations parliamentary committee. "The wounds of Bloody Wednesday have not healed yet and the Salehiya bombs have deepened those wounds," he added.
Alosi called on the government to press ahead with demands for a probe of Syria’s alleged involvement in the attacks. "This time the government should act on its demand for an international tribunal," he said. "We must not ask the citizens of Iraq to be patient each time."

Whether the latest 'we're about to move' rumors are true or not remains to be seen. What is known is that the Iraqi government or 'government' in Baghdad has repeatedly dragged their feet.

They aren't the only ones. At yesterday's public hearing of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was learned that the Defense Department had still not submitted all the plans for the draw-down that's supposed to be on the verge of taking place. Not only have they not submitted all of their own plans, they're supervision of KBR is so lax that KBR's been allowed to skip submitting a plan. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Commissioner Robert Henke attempted to get an answer from the Pentagon's Lee Hamilton to this question: "If the president announces on February 27, 2009 the draw-down plan and we're on November 2nd, is it possible that the contractor hasn't provided you any plan to adjust staff accordingly?" Despite attempting to walk Hamilton through slowly (after Hamilton rambled on with a non-answer reply) and despite asking, "How is that possible?", Henke never got anything that would pass for an answer to his questions.

This morning Jen Dimascio (Politico -- link has text and audio) reports:

KBR, the largest contractor in Iraq, is pulling out of that country so slowly that it could end up costing American taxpayers $193 million more than expected, according to a new Pentagon audit.
Furthermore, during a hearing Monday by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a legislative body set up to study contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Commissioner Charles Tiefer said the company’s plodding exit from Iraq could cost even more -- up to $300 million.

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, that's only one portion of the story. Dimascio notes a quote from Commissioner Dov Zakheim and you can see yesterday's snapshot for that full exchange. From last night, Kat's "Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan" covers the hearing and she shares some impression on Commissioner Chris Shays hearing performance. But Dimascio covers one aspect of the big news from yesterday's hearings -- and we did consider skipping it but fortunately didn't because the Commission actually had their act together yesterday (we is Kat, Ava, Wally and myself) -- the other big news was the lack of completed plans.

For the Pentagon, that's especially appalling and it's either an issue of insubordination or the White House isn't really serious about a draw-down. For the Pentagon, the refusal to submit their own plans or demand that KBR draw up their own is appalling. Thompson declared in the hearing that he visited with KBR most recently on September 25th or 26th and they still had no plans -- and Thompson was neither surprised nor worried about the lack of planning.

Meanwhile cue up the moment in Three Days of the Condor when Robert Redford's character says it was all about the oil. BBC News reports, "Iraq's oil ministry has signed an initial agreement with a consortium led by the Italian firm, ENI, to develop the Zubair oilfield in southern Iraq. The deal, which needs cabinet approval, calls for the group to extract 200,000 barrels of oil a day, rising to 1.1 million a day within seven years." Meanwhile AP notes that the consortium of British Petroleum and China National Petroleum Company's successful bid has been finalized.

While the oil delights the greedy, the death toll is at issue. ICCC says the death toll is 4357 which means M-NF did not announce all the passings (DoD provided a name of one of the fallen whom M-NF never announced as fallen).

Meanwhile the International Organization for Migration released the following today:

Iraq - IOM's latest report on the needs of returned displaced Iraqis says that going back home is presenting returnees with a new set of challenges that are almost as daunting as those when they were displaced.

Of the more than 58,000 returnee families (348,660 people) identified by IOM, the Organization has so far carried out in-depth assessments of just over 4,000 (nearly 25,000 people).

The assessment report found that food, non-food items and fuel are the priority needs, with the latter increasingly important as winter hits.

Employment too is a major concern with 34 per cent of the IOM-assessed families reporting that although they are able to work, they are unable to find it. Female-headed households, representing 12 per cent of assessed families, are among the most vulnerable groups, with 70 per cent of them unable to work and 26 per cent able to work but again, unable to find employment.

Basic needs such as shelter, water, electricity and health care also pose serious concerns with 34 per cent of returnee families going back to homes that were partially or completely destroyed. Without employment or a reliable source of income, these families are in dire need of assistance to help them rebuild their homes.

Those that have shelter or homes, also face problems in access to potable water, fuel, electricity and health care. Seventy-five per cent of returnees have less than six hours of electricity a day while more than half of all returnees in Baghdad and 86 per cent in Kirkuk report not having access to health care.

Nearly 60 per cent of the identified 58,000 returns have been to Baghdad governorate, though significant numbers of returnees have also been located in Diyala and Anbar governorates. The vast majority, 94 per cent, of all returnees were internally displaced, with only 6 per cent identified as Iraqi refugees coming back from abroad.

Government efforts to encourage and support returns through the provision of a one-time grant of USD 840 have only been partly successful. Of the IOM-assessed returnee families, only 44 per cent had applied for the grant with only 39 per cent actually receiving it. The vast majority of all the assessed families said they had received no other individual assistance.

Although the numbers of people returning home have been slowly increasing, they represent just a fraction of those that continue to be displaced, nearly four years since the bombing of the Samarra mosque. Nevertheless, IOM has found that of the nearly 230,000 displaced families assessed by IOM in Iraq, more than half have stated their intention to return to their former homes if return conditions, particularly security, continue to improve.

In a bid to help improve the lot of returning displaced families and to find long-term solutions for them, IOM has this year provided in-kind grants to 500 families to help them start their own businesses and to re-establish employment and income for them. Over the next 12 months, the Organization will target an additional 6,500 returnee families across the country for similar assistance. IOM is seeking further funding to assist more unemployed returnees to build a new business or to find a new job in an effort to find durable solutions to the displacement crisis in the country.

The Iraqi government has also established a Return Committee to help returnees rebuild effectively by intensifying coordination of UN agencies working in the country, each with their own specific expertise.

To access the report, please go to: http://www.iom-iraq.net/library.html#IDP.

For further information, please contact:

Rex Alamban
IOM Iraq
Tel: +962-79-906-1779
Email: ralamban@iom.int

Stephen Starr reports on Iraqi refugees in Damascus today for the Asia Times:

A huge media campaign was unleashed in 2007 to try to encourage refugees to return home to Iraq, viewed by many as a publicity stunt by Iraq’s Nuri al-Maliki government to foster international favor, but few have taken him up on the offer. For its part, the UNHCR in Damascus stated it does not encourage the return of refugees to Iraq and only an estimated 273 families have taken part in its Voluntary Repatriation Program over the past 12 months (more than half of the figure applied for the scheme in the first two months). It seems that for most, Iraq represents a former life.
"Iraq is now a thing of the past for us. We can never return, nor at this point do we desire to," Leila says, without showing any emotion.
With some family and friends in Europe and Canada, Leila and her family are looking to move to the West. But with European countries slow to ease visa and refugee laws, her future is as uncertain as her recent past. Neither she nor her children speak English and without third-level education, Leila and her husband are sure to face problems. Nevertheless, some states such as Germany (set to take in 2,500 Iraqis from Syria and Jordan) are offering language and cultural orientation courses for newly arriving refugees so for some there is hope.

Finally, independent reporter David Bacon remains one of the few remaining labor reporters in the country. (And he can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show each Wednesday morning -- the program begins airing at 7:00 a.m. PST and streams online.) His latest report is "San Diego -- Land of Day Laborers, Farm Workers and Guest Workers" (21st Century Manifesto):

In Oceanside, Carlsbad, Del Mar and north San Diego County, immigrant day laborers wait by the side of the road, hoping a contractor will stop and offer them work. Alberto Juarez Martinez slings his jacket over his shoulder while he waits. His hands show the effect of a lifetime of manual work, plus arthritis suffered as a child in Zapata, Zacatecas. The hands of Beto, a migrant from Uruachi, Chihuahua, also show the effect of a lifetime of manual work. Juan Castillo, a migrant from Tehuacan, Puebla, waits with his friends in the parking lot of a market they've nicknamed La Gallinita, because of the rooster on the roof of the building.
Police in north county towns have now started cruising by day labor sites in plainclothes, pretending to be contractors offering workers jobs, and then citing them and turning them over to immigration agents, even those with green cards Many community organizations are protesting this practice.
Francisco Villa operates a lunch truck that visits the areas where migrant day laborers live on hillsides and under trees. Villa hands out leaflets advising workers of their rights and letting them know that they can find help from California Rural Legal Assistance. Across the street from Villa's truck, Zaragosa Brito and Andres Roman Diaz, two migrants from Arcelia, Guerrero, sit next to a fence where workers look for day labor, or get rides to the fields for farm work. The men sleep out in the open in the field behind the fence, and have worked on a local strawberry ranch, Rancho Diablo, for many years.

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which has won the CLR James Award.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.

liz sly