Monday, November 2, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, no movement on passing an election law in Iraq, KBR is costing US tax payer $193 as a result of their inability to manage their workforce, the Pentagon isn't providing all the plans for the draw-down to the GAO, and more.
The first (partial) week of October saw 5 people reported dead and 24 reported wounded, the second week (October 4th through 10th) saw 46 reported dead and 131 injured, the third week (October 11th through 17th) saw 89 reported dead and 336 reported wounded, the fourth week (October 18th through 24th) saw 53 reported dead and 107 reported wounded, and the fifth week (October 25th through October 31st) saw 191 reported dead and 580 reported injured. Totals? 384 reported dead and 1106 reported wounded. At least. Michael Christie and Michael Roddy (Reuters) cite "security sources" for the toll of 343 people killed. Barbara Surk (AP) reports that AP's count for October is 364 killed. John Leland (New York Times) reports, "In October, 453 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed, an increase from a monthly low this year of 279 in September but considerably below the high of 677 in April, according to the Interior Ministry. The statistics do not count deaths in the northern Kurdish region."
8 US service members were announced dead in Iraq during the month of October. Today the US military announced another death: "FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq -- A Multi-National Corps -- Iraq Soldier died Nov. 2 of non-combat related injuries. Release of the Soldier's identity is being with held pending notification of the next of kin. The name of the deceased service member will be announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Web site [. . .] The announcements are made on the web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation." Maloy Moore (Los Angeles Times) reports that the fallen was 20-year-old Lukas C. Hopper of Merced, California who "is survived by his mother and father, Robin and Yancy Hopper, both of Merced." The announcement brings to 4356 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war. In other reported violence . . .
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report 2 Tikrit roadside bombing which wounded one person. Reuters drops back to yesterday to note a Mosul car bombing which left 2 people dead and two more injured.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report 1 person shot dead in Mosul. Reuters drops back to yesterday to note 1 attorney shot dead in his Mosul office.
Violence continues, actually increases, and Nouri al-Maliki maintains he is the new strongman, the new Saddam to be trusted and should continue as prime minister of Iraq. On Al Jazeera's latest Inside Iraq (which began broadcasting Friday), the topic was Nouri al-Maliki and the guests joining host Jasim Azzawi included head of Iraqi Nation Party Mithal al-Alsui and US Dept Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Michael Corbin.
Jasim Azzawi: This murderous double explosion that happened in Iraq is quite sophisticated. It has all the marks, perhaps, of foreign power and yet it is domestically carried out. Today the Iraqi government arrested 60 security officers -- perhaps they were either in cahoot or negligent in their duty how do you look at this double bombings?
Mithal al-Alsui: Well, first of all, I have to say that when we talk about total sections we talk about so complicated cases. This is one side but of the other side we didn't feel that the government they do have any kind of a platform or a vision how to deal with the terrorists or the security in Iraq. More than that they just react and such news as you are hearing, the government they are arresting or they are trying to start an investigation of some officers. My opinion, this is just a reaction, trying to cover the need of the new election in Iraq.
Jasim Azzawi: Indeed you are right. Perhaps the arrest or the questioning of the 60 officers might be a face saving formula. Mr. Corbin, today I was struck by what the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said. He said, "The US cannot wash its hand of the situation in Iraq. We expect more engagement from the American forces. What does that mean in light of the fact that SOFA stipulates American forces should go back to their barracks by June 30th. Is the Iraqi government speaking with two voices? al-Maliki says we don't want them and his foreign minister says we need them back.
Michael Corbin: First of all, I can't comment on what Hoshyar Zebari, the Foreign Minister, said, Jasim. But what I can say first is that we strongly condemn these horrific bombings conducted by people with no respect for human life. The victims in this latest bombing were children, were passerby on the street. We see no benefit that anyone could claim by trying to claim victory by trying to conduct these kind of attacks. We are in partnership with the government of Iraq. We are working closely with the security forces, we're working closely with Prime Minister Maliki to try and prevent this kind of attack. The Iraqis have control of their cities since June 30. They have made enormous strides. What you see here is terrorists who have tried every means to cause havoc and destruction moving from first targeting mosques and churches and minorities, then targeting innocent people in market places to now targeting uh government buildings where normal Iraqis work, where passersby are being targeted. We don't see any strategy here by the insurgents, we see only bloody killing and we find it despicable that anyone would seek to rush to claim credit for this type of attack.
What a load of crap. First off, if you'd done what Michael Corbin did in Syria, you might shut your damn mouth and keep your head down real low. That's (A). (B) He served under George W. Bush and now he wants to develop a sense of righteous indignation? NOW? The bombings were part of the ongoing Iraq War. The US government has attempted to label the Iraqis taking part in this war as "terrorist" which is a bunch of crap, they are people who feel they are defending their country. Micheal Corbin -- of all people -- wants to lecture on innocents being killed.
The US military killed innocents and the US government knew it was going to happen because (a) they ordered it and (b) the whole damn world knew it was going to happen. Which is how we get Elizabeth Piper (Reuters) reporting (March 2005) on Jawdat Abd al-Kadhum whose 'crime' was driving and for that 'crime' "he lost his leg to an American bullet." The US military likes to call it "collateral damage." In March 2007, they were even bragging about new ammo which, they stated, would be helpful in "reducing collateral damage" in Iraq. There's the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad was attacked April 8, 2003 by . . . the US military claiming the lives of journalists Taras Protsyuk and Jose Couso and wounding three other journalists. On the same day -- on the same day -- that the US military attacked the Baghdad bureau of Al Jazeera killing journalist Tareq Ayyoub. Now we can go on and on -- as the illegal war has -- but the point should have been made: Michael Corbin needs to check that righteous indignation that he has oh-so recently sprouted.
But spewing mock outrage allowed him to avoid answering a direct question, didn't it? And wasn't that the point? "I can't comment on what Hoshyar Zebari, the Foreign Minister, said." Then why the hell are you on the show? For your beauty? Don't make me laugh.
Jasim Azzawi: But then again, Mr. Corbin, they are a symbol of the Iraqi government and those terrorist attacks are meant to strike at the very heart of the Iraqi symbol. We'll get to that point later on, but let me get to Mithal. There are two theories, Mithal Alusi, the reasons behind these suicide bombings. One is: To create chaos and embarrass the Iraqi government. The other one is, which I would like you to comment on, is that: It is meant to embarrass al-Maliki himself for abandoning his erstwhile allies -- primarily the Iraqi National Alliance.
Mithal al-Alsui: Well I must come back to the -- to the main point which I really believe that even the United States of America with all of the institutions they got, the terrorists, they succeed to attack America, they succeed to attack many European states. But in general, what we need here in Iraq, we need to start to build the Iraqi institution. What we need here to start, to go out of the propaganda issues, what we need here is to start to believe in our citizens and our nation and to serve the people. We still action -- we still reaction in very naive and simple ways and this is not the way to stop terrorists this is not the way to stop --
Jasim Azzawi: Are you saying the Iraqi government is failing to do the proper things? Are you casting doubt on the -- on the whole structure of the Iraqi government and its vision for the future?
Mithal al-Alsui: For sure, Mr. Maliki government, it didn't succeed to provide service. They didn't succeed to push the economy. They didn't succeed to help in the oil industry. They didn't succeed to find any platform or vision for the education, for the health sectors. They didn't succeed in different ways so the security is part of the result of this government and we are so sorry to hear it repeatedly from the American side, "We are helping the Iraqi government and we are supporting the Iraqi government." We are asking our American friends: You need to support the Iraqi political process and the democratic process. We need to support the Iraqi economy --
Jasim Azzawi: Let me give a chance to Mr. Corbin to answer that. Go ahead, your aid and your help is going in the wrong direction, that's what he's saying.
Michael Corbin: I agree with Mithal that we have to build institutions. I agree that we have to help with education and health. But what we see is an Iraqi government that is capable now of making decision. We're in partnership with the Iraqi government. When the UN mandate ended at the end of 2008, it was a significant step forward for Iraqi institutions. Iraq now can deal with its neighbors. Iraq is in a position now where we have a partnership on economic issues. Oil. We've had one bid round for international oil companies to come into Iraq. We're preparing for another. We see many elements where the Iraqi government and Iraqi institutions such as the very Ministry of Justice which was targeted --
Despite Michael Corbin's inane mutterings, no 'progress' in Iraq. John Leland (New York Times) reported in this morning's paper, "Meanwhile, Iraqi legislators again failed to agree on laws governing the January elections, despite warnings that further delay could prevent the vote from taking place on time. Discussions in Parliament on Sunday instead focused on other matters." To recap, prior to Barack Obama being elected US President, Iraq 'intended' to hold national elections in December 2009. They then pushed the elections back to January 2010 which Barack used to break his campaign promise re: troop draw-down in Iraq (he called it withdrawal and, in his speeches, rarely included "combat" which is a meaningless qualifier anyway). All this year, they've anticipated the elections being held in January 2010 and the deadline for passing legislation was October 15th. The day before that deadline, they decided to kick decisions back to October 19th. And so it has gone, over and over. It is now November 2nd and they have no election law.
Appearing October 21st before the US House Armed Services Committee, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy was asked of the delays in Iraq passing an election law.
Michele Flournoy: Uh, let me start by saying, you know, the draw-down plan that we have, is conditions based and it creates multiple decision points for re-evaluating and, if necessary, changing our plans based on developments on the ground. Although the government of Iraq's self-imposed deadline of October 15th for passing the elections law has passed, we judge that the COR [Council Of Representatives] still has another week or two to come to some kind of an agreement on the elections law before it will put the January date -- the early January date -- in jeopardy in terms of the election commission's ability to actually physically execute the, uh, the election. If a new law with open lists is not passed, the fall back solution for them is to return to the 2005 election law which is based on a closed list system. But that could be used for upcoming elections, the COR would simply have to vote on an election date. If that law is not passed in the next two weeks, they will be looking at slipping the date to later in January which would still be compliant with the [Iraqi] Constitution but would be later than originally planned. In that instance, M-NF-I [Multi-National Forces Iraq] would need to engage with the government of Iraq to do some contingency planning on how to secure the elections at a later date and that might well have-have implications.
Though she maintained Iraq could fall back on the 2005 election law, other bodies begged to differ. As Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported, "Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Yesterday Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reported, "Iraqi MPs have until Sunday to pass controversial legislation or face postponing parliamentary elections set for 16 January. The poll is seen as crucial to the stability of the country, and any delay would likely impact on the US plan for withdrawal." There was no passage and AFP reports today that KRG President Massud Barzani and US Vice President Joe Biden "pressed the need for a key election law to be passed". BBC News reports the United Nations "had warned that it could not guarantee to endorse the polls if the bill was not approved on Sunday" -- that was yesterday and the bill was not approved. BBC points out that the 'sticky points' are Kirkuk and the issue of open or closed lists. The latter will determine whether voters vote for individual candidates and this is something that many in Parliament are opposed to. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports this afternoon that things remain at a standstill and quotes Iraqi MP Hunain al-Qaddo stating, "If we don't manage to make any progress on the electoral law, that will have a negative impact on the political process and it will send a very bad signal to Iraq's enemies that the political system isn't working. [. . .] I still have hopes but I think if we don't manage to do something this week or next week, we really have to look at postponing the election." Meanwhile Mohammed Jamjoom and Jormana Karadsheh (CNN) report Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman states that the US is pushing the "highest levels of the Kurdish leadership" to go along with a plan for January elections that would yet again set aside the issue of Kirkuk. In an offensive statement issued last week, Chris Hill (US Ambassador to Iraq) and Gen Ray Odierno (top US commander in Iraq) insisted that the election law should be a 'one-time only' type deal and not apply to or consider Article 140 of Iraq's Constitution. Article 140 is the one that mandates the Kirkuk issue be resolved (via a referendum). That was supposed to have taken place 2 years ago. It did not. Now let's get back to offensive: In 2000, the US election was decided not by the voters nor by the means outlined in the US Constitution. Instead the US Supreme Court injected itself into the dispute and issued a laughable ruling that was so perverted the Court insisted it was a 'one-time only' ruling and couldn't be cited as precedent in future cases. That's what Hill and Odierno are now proposing. Regardless of who gets or doesn't get Kirkuk, it's amazing how the US continues to kick the can down the road over and over. This issue was supposed to have been addressed no later than 2007. The US is again pushing for it to be postponed. And the only time the KRG can get people to the table on this issue is when they have the pressure of an upcoming election which needs to be addressed.
Today the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan met in DC and heard from a number of witnesses including someone on the second panel who mentioned Flournoy's October 21st testimony, Rear Adm Thomas Traaen who declared, "As I'm sure you know, the testimony given by Secretary [Michele] Flournoy, Mr. [Alan] Estevez, Vice Adm [James] Winnefeld and, my boss, Lt Gen [Kathleen] Gainey on 21 October was well received by the House Armed Services Committee. My testimony here will draw heavily from their insightful remarks." Those remarks included establishing that decisions on draw-down and going back in would be made by events on the ground in Iraq. Yes, that is a clear contradiction of the position Barack Obama presented as a candidate when he was fond of saying the US military did everything they had been tasked to do and did it well. And, yes, he was stealing from Hillary Clinton back then and, yes, Hillary was attacked by CODESTINK and others for those comments but they apparently sounded so much better out of Barack's mouth thereby explaining the refusal to call him out. So Barack's plan as outlined in that hearing was the same plan he outlined to the New York Times, the one that left Michael Gordon flabbergasted because Barack was saying that he was 'withdrawing' and at the same time saying he was going back in if anything went wrong and playing definition games regarding the military ("trainers," etc.).
Also appearing on the second panel was the GAO's William Solis who declared that the Pentagon hasn't completed the plans for a draw-down. He stated that the Defense Dept "has not fully defined or identified the contracted services it will need to successfully complete the draw-down and support the remaining US forces in Iraq." Solis explained that 128,700 US service members were in Iraq as of the end of August "spread among 295 bases throughout the country." Solis' opening, prepared remarks, can be found [PDF format warning] here. While the GAO was able to count the number of US service members in Iraq, there was no count on the number of contractors leading Co-Chair of the Commission, Michael Thibault to declare, "It is both peculiar and troubling that eight years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and more than six years since the overthrow of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq, we still don't know how many contractor employees are working in the region. [. . .] How can contractors be properly managed if we aren't sure how many there are, where they are and what they are doing?"
Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Yes, uh, first, Adm Traaen, I noticed on page three of your testimony, uh, you said that there will be a proportionally larger contractor presence. Now GAO has said that you haven't -- DoD, rather, hasn't fully determined its need for contracted services so how are you planning to oversee this? You're going to have more contractors, you already have fewer CORs than you need right now, the proportions going to go up. Could you walk me through your current plans and your timetables and how you plan to address this issue?
Rear Adm Thomas Traaen: Yes, sir. First of all, I think the proportionality is prudent as we close forward operating bases and operating sites and as the military either resets or re-postures in Afghanistan. The proportionality issue is not surprising to me. Uh, I think that the number of contractors -- in terms of measuring that to the plan -- is moving down significantly faster than CENTCOM had originally planned and so I think that getting out in front of it is the first part of the plan. It's to make sure that we're removing capability where we don't need it. Certainly, I think the CENTCOM plan is to be conditions based and I think that there is a protocol that we would continue to move forward in terms of making sure that there are some outliers -- for example, the elections that are coming up in the January time frame, counter-insurgency efforts that -- if we draw down too quickly -- we could put that combatant commander in harms way of not being able to produce his mission. I do believe that there is proper planning in terms of the MNFI fusion cell that is tasked with fusing, synchronizing and integrating this effort. And as the third point, I think having MNFI and that fusion cell also combined with the Joint Logistics Procurement Support Board that is the JCCIA and an MNFI established board that will properly prioritize and coordinate those efforts as the fourth point of light making sure that drawing down in accordance with those priorities is the proper way to go, sir.
Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Uhm, let me turn now to Mr. Thompson. Uhm, we know that the target is a 32% contractor draw-down. I believe that's the number that Adm Traaen has in his testimony. But looking at that chart, I guess I'm thrown a little bit. Contractors have already declined by seven -- nearly eighteen percent but not KBR. In fact, KBR has declined by roughly half of that 18% number. In the previous panel, and you may have been here when we discussed this, I noted that if a service wasn't completely closed down, then any contractor -- well, not any -- some contractors, and I guess I should emphazise that, not all would act this way. But some contractors would drag their feet because service hasn't closed down, you don't pull the people out, you keep charging. Could you explain to me why it is that KBR which has been under so much scrutiny from GAO, from the IG, even from this commission, is pulling it's people back at half the rate -- half the rate -- of all other contractors.
Lee Thompson: Number one, when we talk about consolidation, draw-down, consolidation of bases, drawdown, those services that we provide under LOGCAP [Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program] are still being performed. There's a common mistake of rolling up all bases as a single base. There's different sizes of bases. So you had the small contingency operation locations and that which is a lower brigade size which would be a contingency operation site. They move into our services, the services we contracted for are still being provided. There has been a reduction as that [chart] says, from when we started. In fact, the number's around 50,000 today. So we've put a freeze on them. They -- KBR -- cannot hire above a certain limit based on the basis of the estimate that was negotiated this past August and September. As we get the guidance from CI MNFI on what bases will close, we'll descope and we'll start moving out contractors. We are in fact doing those, we're looking at those critical skills. But remember the major draw-down starts after the [Iraqi] elections. So we are watching that and I'm depending upon our DCA[A -- Defense Contract Audit Agency] folks that are doing the floor checks for us.
Commissioner Dov Zakheim: So can you state with absolute certainty that KBR has moved expiditiously and, for instance, has not moved people from one location to another? Are you certain of that? Do you have that degree of oversight and visibility? Given some of the things we heard earlier from one of our Co-Chairman, Co-Chariman [Michael] Thibault about issues arising with dining halls and certain things, are you absolutely certain that KBR's getting people out as they should?
Lee Thompson: I'm not going to sit here and say I'm absolutely certain but I will tell you that we'll provide the oversight and look at those places where we are closing to make sure that there's not excess personnel there. And we will -- they have to get a blessing from us as we move and we descope, we descope the property, if we close a base, we look at the personnel where they're reallocating or realinging them to so we're looking and we're scrutinizing that. And I depend on my folks forward, the same two officers -- if you will -- that said they're against or-or whatever Chairman Thibault had to say about what they said overseas.
Commissioner Dov Zakheim: Mr. Solis, could you comment on both of these points? One, the adequacy of planning and, second, the degree of oversight of KBR and the seeming discrephancy between KBR LOGCAP 3 and other draw-downs.
Willaim Solis: Well I think in terms of the planning, I mentioned before in my opening statement that there is -- there's a lot of things that are going on with regards to the retrograde of equipment. One thing that we haven't seen a whole lot of is planning, as I mentioned, for determining the requirements, the oversight for the contracts that are going to be coming onboard. And we still have a concern about that, we still have seen exact plans. As I mentioned to you the GMASS [Global Maintenance and Supply Services] contract in Kuwait ,which is a major maintenance contract, which is necessary to move equipment out, look at it, and get -- and then repair it and move it out to Kuwait or whever it's going to go -- back to a unit, over to Afghanistan or whatever -- they expect a major increase, as I mentioned, doubling the size of their contract force to about 6,000 people. We have not seen what kinds of plans are going to be put in place to increase the contractor oversight there -- and that's not just there, I think it's other contracts that we have seen as well. I think in terms of the LOGCAP, we haven't really looked in terms of the numbers so I can't really contra -- comment on that. But I think that these numbers are going to flucuate, whether it's LOGCAP or some of these other major contracts in terms as the draw-down proceeds and that's why it's important to really understand what you're contract requirements are going to be during this period.
The first panel included April Stephenson who stated KBR's ineffective managing of their workforce is costing tax payers "at least $193 million". Stevenson was testifying on behalf of the Defense Contract Audit Agency. She explained KBR had not done the staff reductions and, as a result and barring no major action on KBR's part, there staff ratio in Iraq would, by August 2010, be 1 KBR employee for every 3.6 US service members. That will probably be a detail noted by any who note the hearing. But another detail -- the reason for the excerpt above -- is equally important: No plans.
The GAO -- like the House Armed Services Committee -- is not seeing plans. Do they exist? What's being discussed isn't 2011 or post-2011. What's being discussed above is the draw-down that's supposedly going to begin taking place as soon as Iraq holds national elections. Where are the plans?
The inability to move foward on the election bill (passing legislation) by the Iraqi government or 'government' is rightly being noted. What about the inability of the Pentagon to provide plans for events that are supposed to be right around the corner?
And what's up with allowing KBR to drag it's feet there? Commission Charles Tiefer asked if KBR had a written, detailed plan for their part in the draw-down. Thompson declared, "I was over there a few weeks ago, a month ago, and they provided me with a briefing. I think it was 25th, 26th of September." He continued, "Was there a written plan? We have a normal, operational, 'how do I close a base' kind of plan that they have signed up to early on." Who is providing oversight and how will there be a draw-down starting supposedly in a few months if there are no plans in writing? (No, a general "how do I close a base" is not a written plan.) Commissioner Robert Henke attempted to get a "short, succinct answer" on the KBR issue: "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?" What he received was a babble from Thompson that contradicted and spun. Henke then attempted to get answers by going bit by bit through a timeline and asking "How is that posssible?" In Thompson's most honest response in the entire hearing he included "I don't know" as part of his long-winded, run-the-clock-down response.
Friday's snapshot had an error -- thank you to a Congressional staffer who informed me of it. Duncan Hunter cited a project which was Task Force Odin not "Odum" -- ODIN stands for Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize. It is not and was not named after General William Odum as I wrongly stated. My error and my apologies.
Today Iran's Press TV reports:
The US military has finished erecting an advanced radar system in Iraq to monitor the border with Iran, Syria and Turkey, a report says.
The radar system will monitor aircraft and anti-air targets approaching from the borders, several Arabic language news websites reported on Monday, citing comments by unnamed Isareli sources.
The report posted on the Palestinian Maannews website said that the system would transmit information to the Iraqi air force and some of its radar would be connected to the control tower at the Baghdad International Airport.
Which gives us a chance to relive one of those 'great moments' in illegal war history. For those who've forgotten or never knew about the US spying (the governments of England and Australia joined in the spying as well) on the UN, refer to Martin Bright, Ed Vulliamy and Peter Beaumont's "Revealed: US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war" (Observer, March 2, 2003):
The United States is conducting a secret 'dirty tricks' campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favour of war against Iraq.
Details of the aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York, are revealed in a document leaked to The Observer.
The disclosures were made in a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency - the US body which intercepts communications around the world - and circulated to both senior agents in his organisation and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency asking for its input.
The memo describes orders to staff at the agency, whose work is clouded in secrecy, to step up its surveillance operations 'particularly directed at... UN Security Council Members (minus US and GBR, of course)' to provide up-to-the-minute intelligence for Bush officials on the voting intentions of UN members regarding the issue of Iraq.