Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, July 31, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, the press misreported yesterday on why the US government gave up the Baghdad police training facility because the SIGIR was less than clear in his report (to put it nicely), Baghdad is slammed with twin bombings, July sees more deaths from violence than June, Total becomes the latest oil company ready to do business with the KRG, and more. 
Emily Alpert (Los Angeles Times) reports, "The United States wasted more than $200 million on an Iraqi police-training program that has little backing on the ground, a new U.S. government audit released Monday found."  The Office of the Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction issued [PDF format warning] "Iraq Police Development Program: Lack Of Iraqi Support And Security Problems Raise Questions About The Continued Viability Of The Program."  From the report:
The DoS is wisely reducing the PDP's scope and size in the face of weak Iraq Ministry of Interior (MOI) support.  In July 2012, the number of in-country advisors was reduced to 36: 18 in Baghdad and 18 in Erbil, down from the 85 advisors supporting the program in January.  These latest reductions steemed, in part, from the MOI's rejection of some planned PDP training that was to be the centerpiece of the DoS program.  DoS is currently refocusing its training on five technical areas requested by the MOI.
Along with Iraqi disinterest, security concerns also affected the program. The Embassy's Regional Security Office deemed it unsafe for advisors to travel to Iraqi-controlled facilities in Baghdad on a frequent basis.  Thus, the PDP's advisors conducted more training at the U.S.-controlled Baghdad Police College Annex (BPAX). DoS constructed significant training and housing facilities at BPAX at an estimated cost of about $108 million.  But the DoS has decided to close the facility just months after the PDP started, due to security costs and program revisions.  Although BPAX's facilities will be given to the Iraqis, its closure amounts to a de facto waste of the estimated $108 million to be invested in its construction. In addition, DoS contributed $98 million in PDP funds for constructing the Basrah Consulate so it could be used for PDP training.  It too will not be used because the MOI decided to terminate training at that location. This brings the total amount of de facto waste in the PDP -- that is, funds not meaningfully used for the purpose of their appropriations -- to about $206 million.
I wasn't in the mood for the report yesterday.  My attitude was we covered waste in this program  last week (see, for example, "Did the US government have 1.5 billion to throw away" ) and the thing everyone was running with was the Baghdad Police College Annex.  That was the headline in piece for piece after piece.
Why is the Police College Annex being given to the Iraqi government?
It's not difficult to explain and it has been explained.
But not in reports yesterday and not in Stuart Bowen's SIGIR report everyone treated as gospel.
This was addressed in Congressional hearings.  And the press needs to pay attention to what's going on because the reason the Police College Annex is being handed over?  That can effect other US complexes in Iraq.
The June 29th snapshot covered the most recent hearing on this topic (the June 28th House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations hearing).  Jason Chaffetz is the Subcommittee Chair but he'd stepped out of the hearing and US House Rep Black Farenthold was Acting Chair.  As he established in his line of questions (to the State Dept's Patrick Kennedy and Peter Verga and the State Dept's Acting IG Harold Geisel, DoD's Special Deputy IG for Southwest Asia Mickey McDermott, US GAO's Michael Courts and SIGIR's Stuart Bowen Jr.), the US government did not secure a lease for the land.  As Farenthold noted of the Baghdad Police College Annex, "It was intended to house the police department program -- a multi-billion dollar effort that's currently being downsized.  And as a result of the State Dept's failure to secure land use rights, the entire facility is being turned over to the Iraqis at no cost.  The GAO reports Mission Iraq has land use agreements or leases for only 5 out of all of the sites that it operates."  That number has increased by one since that hearing.  From the July 9th snapshot:
The Kurdistan Regional Government really wasn't the concern there.  But Sunday the KRG announced that Foreign Relations Minister Falah Mustafa met with outgoing US Consul General Alexander Laskaris: "As his last official act in the Region, prior to the meeting Consul General Laskaris signed an agreement regarding the allocation of land for the permanent premises of the US Consulate to be built on. Commenting on this agreement, Mr Laskaris said, 'We thank the government of Kurdistan for allocating this land as part of enhancing our permanent diplomatic presence in Iraq including Baghdad, Basra and Erbil. We look forward to breaking ground and thank the leadership of the KRG for their continuing support and partnership'."
AP and others yesterday wrongly conflated two separate aspects of the waste.  If they'd bothered to attend Congressional hearings, maybe they wouldn't have.  But the police college was not turned over because people didn't want to participate.  That's not the issue on the turnover. The issue on the turnover is the lack of land-lease agreements.  These should have been in place.  They weren't.
Michael Courts testified in the June 28th hearing referenced above that "there's still only 5 of 14 [US facilities in Iraq] for which we actually have explicit title land use agreements or leases."
If you are alarmed by the waste trumpeted yesterday, then you need to pay attention to this topic.  There are now 6 out of 14 facilities with agreements.  (Courts used "explicit agreements" to draw a line between actual agreements and the diplomatic notes Patrick Kennedy was trying to falsely pass off as agreements.)
Point being, this could happen again and again.  This story was completely missed because the press is not doing the work required.
Article after article yesterday acted alarmed about the handover of the building and the numbers they used in the headlines relied largely on that building.  But no one wants to tell you that this could happen with 8 other US buildings in Iraq if the administration doesn't get land agreements?  No  one wants to be the one to step up to the plate and discuss how the administration failed?
In fairness to the reporters, they're covering a SIGIR report (though should they be adding context and a bit more in their so-called reports) and that report makes the same conflation between two separate things.
Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) speaks to Bowen and even that doesn't allow Rogin to get it right. For all not at the June 28th hearing, that's when the American people learned (or would have if the press attended and reported) that the Baghdad Police College Annex was being handed over to the Iraqi government and that this was happening because of the lack of lease agreement.
It is not because of security concerns -- as Rogin and Bowen discuss. That was discussed in the hearing as well. That had nothing to do with it. Issues are being confused and it's hard to believe it's not intentional.
It is not because of the lack of participation by the Iraqi police.
It is being handed over because no land agreement was finalized and apparently the White House doesn't think one can be on that area of land. This is important and to have an honest discussion, people need to know the issues at play.
Let's deal with another issue because it goes to failure as well and it didn't happen this week or last month, it happened months ago but Rogin -- who I'll assume was trying to be honest on this -- quotes from the SIGIR report, "Without the MOI [Ministry of Interior]'s written commitment to the program, there is little reason to have confidence that the training program currently being planned will be accepted six months from now."
I'm appalled by that statement.
I don't disagree with it but it's more than a little late for that statement. This dishonesty's coming from Bowen who I'll assume is under a lot of pressure and is trying to pretty things up. But why is it appalling to read a juts-released SIGIR report stating there's no buy-in by the Ministry of Defense on a police training program?
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: He [Bowen] has testified before other bodies of Congress, he has released written quarterly reports, as well as specific audits and the message is the same: The program for which the Department of State officially took responsibility on October 1st is nearly a text book case of government procurement -- in this case, foreign assistance -- doesn't buy what we think we're paying for, what we want and why more money will only make the problem worse. Failed procurement is not a problem unique to the State Department. And when it comes to frittering away millions, Foggy Bottom is a rank amateur compared to the Department of Defense. As our colleagues on the Armed Services committees have learned, the best of projects with the most desirable of purposes can go horribly, horribly off-track; and the hardest thing it seems that any bureaucracy can do is pull the plug on a failed initiative. How do we know the Police Development Program is going off-track? Very simple things demonstrate a strong likelihood of waste and mismanagement. Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program? Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue.
That's US House Rep Gary Ackerman rightly noting there is no buy-in on the police training program and that's not last week, that's not last month. That's last year. That's from the December 1, 2011 snapshot and the hearing was November 30, 2011. And Stuart Bowen knows these remarks because he was testifying to the hearing.
Hundreds of millions have been wasted according to the latest report (billions have been wasted) and the American tax payer is paying for this 'oversight'? This lack of buy-in was established in Congress last year. From that House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing:
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program? Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue.
The report didn't uncover anything.  It was already known at the end of last year.  This is why Congress was so upset with the stone walling from the administration.  They felt the Iraq goals were not clearly defined, that the -- wait.  We don't need me.  Again, Ackerman, from that hearing, explained the problem was "the program's objectives remain a mushy bowl of vague platitudes" with "no comprehensive and detailed plan for execution."  He referred to the "flashing-red warning light."
This is a failure of the administration and the press can't tell you that because they don't know the story they think they're covering.  In part, that's because Bowen's written an embarrassing report that doesn't clearly document.  In part, that's because they didn't do their jobs.
Adnan al-Asadi had been questioned by Bowen last year and Bowen was told by Adnan al-Asadi that they didn't need the US to train Iraqi police.  Who is? Adnan al-Asadi? The Acting Minister of Interior.  He's not Minister of Interior.  Nouri never nominated anyone for that position so Parliament never confirmed anyone.  Which means Adnan al-Asadi does what Nouri tells him to do and serves at Nouri's pleasure.  Nouri must have been pleased with al-Asadi's actions. 
Though Nouri was supposed to nominate heads for the security ministries in 2010, he never did.  As  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed last week, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."  And while those positions have remained vacant, the violence in Iraq has increased.
Today Baghdad was slammed with bombings.  Bushra Juhi (AP) reports two Baghdad car bombings have left 21 dead and fifty-seven injured. RTT News explains, "The first of the bomb explosions occurred outside a restaurant near the headquarters of the police major crime division in Baghdad's central Shiite district of Karrada.  Minutes later, a second car bomb exploded outside a passport office located just a few kilometers away."  Aseel Kami and Kareem Raheem (Reuters) quote police officer Ahmed Hassan, "We were in a patrol when we heard the first explosion.  The second explosion hit another square, and we went to help . . . There was a minibus with six dead passengers inside it."  The two bombings weren't the only violence today.
On the day Reporters Without Borders notes 6 countries have seen more than one reporter killed in 2012 so far while 7 -- including Iraq -- have seen at least one killed, Iraq moves up into the first category.  Iraq just moved up to the other category, the more than one.  Bushra Juhi (AP) reports police announced today that last night in Mosul, Ghazwan Anas was shot dead in an attack which left his wife and mother injured. Al Rafidayn reports that unknown assailants stormed Anas' home and shot him dead while leaving his wife injured.  Xinhua adds that it was his wife and their 4-month-old child that were injured in the attack and, "The Iraqi Union of Journalists condemned in a statement the assassination of Anas and called on Nineveh's Operations Command, responsible for the security of the province, to exert every effort to bring the killers to justice. The Union said that more than 280 of its members and media workers have been killed since the start of the US-led war in March 2003." In addition, Bahrain News Agency reports an al-Ramadi roadside bombing has claimed the life of 1 police officer and left three more injured. Basil El-Dabh (Daily News Egypt) observes, "An escalation of violence in Iraq comes with a renewed effort by Iraqi Al-Qaeda forces to energize its presence in the Anbar province. "  AFP adds that "two people were killed and three wounded by a car bomb north of Falluja, a police major in the western province of Anbar and Doctor Assem al-Hamdani of Fallujah Hospital said."

On the topic of violence, Iraq Body Count counts 403 deaths from violence through yesterday.  That does not include the violence noted above.  The month of July ends in a few hours and it has already resulted in more deaths than in the month of June.
Mission News Network notes that Iraq's Christian community continues to flee due to threats and violence and they note:
Open Doors USA recently received this e-mail from one of their contacts in Baghdad:
"The terror in Iraq recently was the worst for several years. Each hour the news of what happened gets worse. There have also been major al-Qaeda threats to everyone, especially the Christians. After last week's violence, communication is terrible.
"It is not really possible to describe the devastation here in Baghdad. Over 100 have been killed. Security has been a target. We have none. I came back early because things were getting worse, and they sure are! We are all okay, though.
"We are used to bad problems here in Baghdad, but the violence is just quite unbelievable. 12 car bombs, 2 suicide bombers on motor bikes. Scores of police and soldiers killed. We no longer have any security. It was all Iraqi police and soldiers. Whilst our people have not been killed, the injuries are so severe to so many."
While the e-mailer offers reality, the head of the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, Amaar al-Hakeem spun like crazy in Kuwait.  Nawara Fattahous (Kuwait Times) quotes al-Hakeem stating, "Compared to two years ago the situation today is much better. After 150,000 American soldiers withdrew from Iraq, our government has been working alone to insure security."
Poor Ammar.  To be spanked in public by events of the day must be so humiliating for him.  And he's worked so hard trying to prove he's as much of a leader as his father was.  Then along comes reality, taking him over the knee and leaving him sobbing.
Al Rafidayn reports that the US Embassy is using "live ammunition" when training the Iraqi military (not the police) such as their recent July 17th exercise.  The Embassy issued a statement insisting that this training is covered under the 2008 Stratgice Framework Agreeement.

If you're picturing supposed diplomats strapping guns, don't.  The mission is overseen by the US military's Maj Gen Robert Kaslen who is utilizing an undisclosed number of US forces.  But don't say that too loud.  Remember Barack lied to the VFW that all the troops came home.  (Truth, thousands were moved to countries surrounding Iraq.  Truth, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report recently arguing the ones in Kuwait needed to be left there for some time to come.  Truth, Special-Ops, CIA, the FBI and an undisclosed number of US troops who are 'trainers' remain in Iraq.)
There is no improved security and the US military still provides training -- unless Amaar al-Hakeem thinks Maj Gen Robert Kaslen is just a flight attendent with a fancy title.
Remember how Nouri still refuses to nominate people to head the security ministries?  That's part of the current, ongoing political stalemate.
This is Political Stalemate II.  In March 2010, parliamentary elections were held.  Nouri was convinced his State of Law would come in first.  He had many reasons to think this.  The Justice and Accountability Commission popped up when it was supposed to be no more and went around banning various politicians who were seen as rivals of Nouri.  They were falsely charged with being a Ba'athist and they were banned from running.  A large number of Iraqiya members were taken out of the race as a result.  State of Law was a fundamentalist grouping of Shi'ites.  Iraqiya is, like Iraq, a mixture of a little bit of everything.  Leader Ayad Allawi is a Shi'ite.  In addition to Iraqiya having members forced out of the election, in the weeks ahead of the election a number of Iraqiya candidates and officials were shot dead.  Just luck, you understand, no one's saying Nouri ordered the murders just because he benefited from them.  Pure coincidence. When not 'taking care' of political rivals, Nouri busied himself bringing water (usually frozen) to various areas without potable water.  He thought that little bribe had worked so well in 2009's provincial elections so he repeated it.   But his favorite tactic was just to smear Iraqiya as "Ba'athists" and "terrorists."  (Ba'ath was the political party of Saddam Hussein.  For background on the party refer to this BBC News article.)
It didn't work out the way he'd planned.  Iraiqya came in first.  He was runner up.  Per the Constitution, Iraqiya was supposed to be given first crack at forming a government.  Nouri wanted a second term as prime minister and refused to allow anything to move forward.  Things ground to a standstill.  For eight months.  Nouri couldn't have pulled that off without the backing of the White House. 
In November 2010, the stalemate finally ended when the US ensured that Nouri got his way.  They brokered the Erbil Agreement which gave all the blocs something in exchange for their agreeing to allow Nouri to have a second term.  All the leaders of the blocs signed off on the contract (including Nouri) and Nouri got his second term as prime minister.  And Nouri then refused to honor the Erbil Agreement.  He refused to keep the promises he'd made.  Beginning in the summer of last year, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr began calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement.
From there, we'll pick up the thread via the International Crisis Group's .  "Iraq's Secular Opposition: The Rise and Decline of Al-Iraqiya:"
The goal of the Erbil accord had been to limit the powers of the prime minister. It was not to be. Since taking office in December 2010, Maliki steadily has built up his power, making no concessions to his governing partners. He has retained control over the interior and defence ministries as well as of elite military brigades. As a result, Iraqiya has found itself marginalised in government, its leaders and members exposed to intimidation and arrest by security forces, often under the banner of de-Baathification and anti-terrorism. Having campaigned partially on the promise it would bring such practices to an end, Iraqiya proved itself powerless in the eyes of its supporters. Matters came close to breaking point in December 2011, as the last U.S. troops left the country, when Maliki's government issued an arrest warrant against Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, a senior Sunni leader, while declaring Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, another Sunni leader – both of them from Iraqiya – persona non grata for having referred to Maliki as a "dictator".
In April 2012, tensions between Maliki and his governing partners escalated further. Joining forces, Iraqiya leaders, Barzani and other Kurdish leaders as well as some of Maliki's Shiite rivals such as the powerful Sadrist movement, accused the prime minister of violating the Erbil agreement and amassing power by undemocratic and unconstitutional means. Their efforts ever since to hold a parliamentary no-confidence vote against Maliki have been hampered by internal divisions. The crisis is at a stalemate: Maliki hangs on to power, even enjoying a surge in popularity in Shiite areas; his rivals lack a viable strategy to unseat him until the next parliamentary elections, which should take place in 2014. This, they fear, leaves plenty of time for the prime minister to further consolidate his hold over the security forces and carry out further repression to achieve the kind of parliamentary majority in the next elections that has eluded him so far.
An emboldened prime minister, growing sectarian tensions and a deeply mistrustful opposition are a recipe for violent conflict, especially in light of troubling developments in neighbouring Syria. Iraqis across the divide express fears that a spiralling sectarian-tinged civil war in their neighbour could exacerbate tensions at home and usher the country into another round of sectarian conflict. In a separate report, Crisis Group has proposed some ways to mitigate the chances of such a scenario.
I lost hope in Maliki when, in 2008, he deployed the Iraqi Army with tanks and other heavy weapons to Khanaqin to fight the Peshmargas.
We have problem with this mentality, that instead of dialogue, he believes in the language of arms. My concern is not for now; it is for the coming years. If this mentality is allowed to grow this way while he has power, he will create great problems for Kurdistan and Iraq.
According to the constitutional authority and responsibility that I have (as KRG president), I did not create new problems when I broke the silence about this (authoritarian) mentality (in Baghdad) this year, although some people see it that way.
Rather, I only brought issues on the table that have existed for years now but have not been addressed seriously.
Many years have passed since the promise was made to solve the pending issues (between Kurdistan Region and Bagdad) without taking serious steps in that direction. No serious steps have been taken for Article 140, or the issue of the budget and the (financial) needs of the Peshmarga, nor has the draft for oil and gas been passed. Moreover, Kurdish officers and officials are sidelined and alienated inside the Iraqi Army.
After the Erbil Agreement they always hid themselves from implementing the articles of the agreement, so, the real power-sharing term has almost faded away and what has been felt is only monopolization and a return to the dictatorship mentality.
They ignored all the promises in regard to the internal procedures of the ministerial council, and only Maliki's unlimited authority could be seen there in all administrative, security, military and economic aspects, which is breaching the constitutional definition of the government type of Iraq, since according to the constitution the head of the government is the head of the council of ministers and not a prime minister. There is a large difference between these two terms, since the head of the council of ministers will follow and execute the internal policies and procedures of the council and cannot act on his own.
That's from the speech he delivered Saturday which the Kurdish Globe has translated into English.   The conflicts between Nouri and the Kurds only increase.  Geraldine Amiel (Nasdaq) reports, "Total SA (TOT) challenged the Iraqi authorities Tuesday as it announced the acquisition of a 35% interest in two oil-exploration blocks in Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, just days after the central government in Baghdad blacklisted Chevron Corp. (CVX) from contracts in the rest of the country after it entered the Kurdish region."  Meanwhile the Kurdish Globe notes, "Oil giant Exxon Mobil announced that it is planning to start its operations for drilling in six oil fields in the Kurdistan Region.  Chevron, the second largest American oil company after Exxon Mobil, did not take Baghdad's threats about depriving the company from exploration and investment opportunities in the centeral and southern oil fields into consideration and insists on investing in Kurdistan Region's vast oil reserves."
Dropping back to yesterday:

Meanwhile AFP reports on the latest round of rumors Nouri and his cronies are spreading about others: KRG President Massoud Barzani has been caught attempting to buy weapons from "an unnamed foreign country."  Doesn't it all just reek of "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."?  Starting to understand why Bully Boy bush chose Nouri in the first place? 
Could it be true?  It could be.  Would it matter if it was?  The KRG can arm themselves.  That was established when Saddam Hussein was still the president of Iraq.  Nouri al-Maliki may not like it, but they've got that right and they established that right long before Baghdad fell in 2003 to foreign forces.  In other words, unlike Nouri and his chicken s**t exiles, the Kurds actually participated in their own liberation (1991).  Nouri and the other hens in his squawk party just bitched and moaned to get other countries to do what they were to chicken to do themselves and only returned to Iraq after Baghdad fell.  What a bunch of losers.  And now, on top of that, they're a bunch of backbiting gossips?
Naturally Iran's Press TV jumps all over the unsourced story and doesn't bother to weigh the veracity of the claims.  Press TV is almost as pathetic as the Chicken Hawk Exiles who now rule Iraq.

Alsumaria notes that State of Law MP Hassan al-Awadi is publicly accusing the KRG of trying to get weapons.  His proof?  He's State of Law.  They never have proof.  They're lucky to have a functioning brain.  Alsumaria notes that Kurdistan Alliance MP Chaun Mohammed Taha is denying the charge.

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Nouri and his lackeys are also insiting that KRG President Massoud Barzani is going to be questioned by the Iraqi Parliament.  However, today Alsumaria notes that the Parliament has received no such request to question Barzani. 
Nouri's targets have included office holders and every day citizens.  The latter group was targeted last fall and are being targeted again with mass arrests.  Because they are not 'names,' they are invisible to the world's press. 
One 'name' Nouri's targeted is Iraq's Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  He has insisted al-Hashemi is a terrorist.  A rather strange accusation when al-Hashemi has been a vice president since 2006 (this is his second term) and it's not a charge Nouri wanted to make until after the bulk of US forces pulled out of the country in December.  al-Hashemi's staff have been rounded up and tortured.  At least one bodyguard was tortured to death.  That's the way it goes in Nouri's Iraq and that's the Iraq that Barack Obama decided to back when he threw the weight of the United States behind Nouri in 2010. 
Margret Griffis (Antiwar.com) notes Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has a resident permit from Turkey.  AKnews adds, "Today's Zaman reported Monday that the Turkish Interior Ministry has issued a residence permit to Hashimi so that he would not face legal troubles for staying in the country."