Saturday, August 04, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 4th edition

August 4, 2006: Tens of thousands of Shiites chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" carry Hezbollah flags to show support in its battle with Israeli troops in Lebanon.

August 4, 2002:

Amid the clouds of deception, US speeds along road to war

This is the summer of the phoney war against Iraq; expect much smoke but very little fire. But come the autumn, expect it to get real.

During the past few weeks newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic have revealed in breathless terms the latest plan to invade Iraq. They have described massive thrusts by armour from all sides; airborne attacks to take out Baghdad; vast seaborne raids. Saddam Hussein, according to one version, will be removed by dissidents inserted into Iraq backed by US Special Forces. Alternatively, Saddam will be taken out in a precision strike.

Civilian officials in the Bush administration have huffed and puffed about the 'leaks', to the amusement of the intelligence and military professionals. 'One thing you can say with an awful lot of certainty,' one told The Observer last week, 'is that there is going to be an awful lot of deception going on over the next few months.'

Deception is one of the oldest of the military's black arts. In the Second World War, the British persuaded the Germans that the Allied invasion plan for the Continent would be through Italy by dumping the body of a bogus officer in the sea carrying false plans for the Germans to find. With the modern media, there is no need for The Man Who Never Was: 'leaks' and 'secrets' are compulsive to journalists.

But the fact of the existence of deception operations is important in itself. It is, in the terminology of these things, a 'combat indicator' - one of the clues that suggest things are fast on the road to getting bloody.

And not all of it is necessarily deception. The military - like all complex organisations - is prone to the same rivalries and disagreements over tactics. Leaking can be lobbying by other means.

There have been other signs and indicators suggestive of the timing of a campaign against Iraq. Manufacturers of cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions in the US have been working overtime to replace the weapons expended in Afghanistan. The American military transport fleet of trucks has been ordered in for rapid servicing. In Chicago last week a freight train loaded with military trucks, painted for desert service, passed through the city. Most tellingly, discreet inquiries have already been made about the availability of tankers to transport the fuel required for war.

Elsewhere, US fighting vehicles in Kuwait have been taken out of the mothballs in which they were left at the end of the Gulf war, while planning cells have been discreetly established in the US, Britain and Germany.

Most curious of all is the apparent lack of activity where you would expect it most. The Pentagon car park, which during the last Gulf war was packed at weekends, is noticeably empty. Senior British officers, including key brigade commanders, are either on leave or about to take it. Cobra, the Downing Street emergency committee, which meets to preside in any war or major crisis, has not yet been staffed up.

The optimistic slant on this is that nothing much is happening. The alternative - as explained to The Observer - is that everyone has been told to take their holidays in August because they might not be able to go later in the year.

Read the rest at the Guardian

August 4, 2003:

Iraq Could Turn Into a Great Blunder for America

The United States government has missed an opportunity to redeem some disastrous blunders in Iraq. Instead, it chose to walk the same path chosen by past US governments, in Asia, South America and elsewhere.

It defied international law when it invaded Iraq, in a war that claimed the lives of over 6,000 civilians and wounded many more. That’s twice as many as those who perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Needless to say, the Iraq invasion was and remains an act of terrorism.

While the drafting of international law is often a collective decision where many countries take part, enforcing the law is only a privilege used and misused by countries with powerful armies, who often give themselves the right to interpret laws in ways that serve their own interests.

Consequently, while the United Nations made it clear that the US-British invasion of Iraq was illegitimate and lacked the backing of a legal mandate, US generals argued that the decision to invade a sovereign country was sanctioned by UN resolutions, or perhaps their personal interpretation of these resolutions.

To convince the American public that discounting the United Nations in launching a war was a necessity, the Bush administration resorted to half-truths and unsupported claims about an imaginary danger that Saddam Hussein’s government posed to their national security.

The Americans were modest in comparison to the British government. Tony Blair’s government claimed that the Iraqis were in fact capable of launching an attack with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

As someone who visited Iraq in 1999 — where the situation, despite the suffocating sanctions was still better than today — I testify that the Iraqi government could not even provide basic services like electricity or water for days on end, let alone attack powerful countries — thousands of miles away — with WMD. But since we are told to get a reality check and accept that the invasion is now history, and the subsequent occupation is now a fact, we are left with the hope that America has learned from its past blunders. However, that hope is deteriorating every day.

Some of those who were unclear about American motives in Iraq got a reality check themselves when they followed announcements made by top generals updating the public on how many oil fields in Iraq were being “liberated”. The last number of liberated oil fields was 600 before the fall of Baghdad. While US forces moved very slowly to stop the looting and to quell the chaos caused by their invasion, fully geared US troops were already in charge of the Oil Ministry.

US Army administrators in Iraq have offered endless promises to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis, justifying the slow progress by the enormity of the mission. However, the mission seemed less complicated when the task facing the US administration was to appoint dozens of multinational corporations to take charge of Iraq’s natural resources. The bidding began before the war was even over, and the seemingly immense task of dividing the Iraqi cake was the only “cakewalk” that this war has witnessed.

When I visited Iraq a few years ago, along with a large delegation of American doctors and journalists, a population that suffered tremendously under the harsh sanctions imposed by the United States using the UN welcomed us very warmly. Two weeks ago, one of our delegation members came back from Iraq concluding his third visit, this time after Iraq and its oil fields were “liberated.” This was his most distressing visit yet, since the Iraq people, known for their unparalleled generously, were no longer welcoming but angry and feeling betrayed.

Why shouldn’t they? As if the invasion and occupation were not enough, the human rights abuses and the killing of civilians on a daily basis in Iraq were reminders that the US was in fact little interested in fostering trust with the Iraqi people. The Iraqis are experiencing a level of humiliation unheard-of even under Saddam Hussein’s rule.

It was rather funny to see US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referring to the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners in times of war, after Al-Jazeera aired images of American soldiers being questioned in a forceful manner. Yet since then, few have failed to see the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners of war at the hands of the American and British forces. News of torture and rape are more than rumors, but legitimate reports prepared by respected human rights groups and publications. Maybe the Geneva Convention was not meant to include Arabs, or maybe Rumsfeld alone thinks so.

Now, women in Iraq are afraid to leave their homes after dark due to the lack of security, chaos and anarchy, only enforced by the fact that the US occupation administration is consumed by achieving its own goals. The security and welfare of ordinary Iraqis is certainly not on the agenda. It took no one by a surprise to see a well-organized Iraqi resistance emerging out of the ruins and facing up to the 116,000 US troops occupying their country.

To justify this mess, the United States is providing easy answers to complicated questions. But neither the publishing of the gruesome images of Saddam’s sons, nor the killing or capture of the former Iraqi president himself shall quell the Iraqi resistance.

If the issue was the elimination of one individual or the entire “deck of cards”, or even the deployments of yet more troops, why did the US experience a bitter defeat in Vietnam?

The Iraqi occupation is a colossal disaster that is turning into one of the greatest historic blunders of the US. If Bush’s cabal possessed an average level of wisdom, it should transfer authority in Iraq to true representatives of the Iraqi people, using the help of the United Nations and other Arab countries, to stabilize the volatile situation in the country, as soon as humanly possible. Any solution other than that will mean the continuation of the bloodbath. The US occupation of Iraq will end sooner or later. Why not end it now, before the death toll on both sides breaks new and devastating records?

Read the rest at Arab News

August 4, 2004:

$1.9 Billion of Iraq's Money Goes to U.S. Contractors

Halliburton Co. and other U.S. contractors are being paid at least $1.9 billion from Iraqi funds under an arrangement set by the U.S.-led occupation authority, according to a review of documents and interviews with government agencies, companies and auditors.

Most of the money is for two controversial deals that originally had been financed with money approved by the U.S. Congress, but later shifted to Iraqi funds that were governed by fewer restrictions and less rigorous oversight.

For the first 14 months of the occupation, officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority provided little detailed information about the Iraqi money, from oil sales and other sources, that it spent on reconstruction contracts. They have said that it was used for the benefit of the Iraqi people and that most of the contracts paid from Iraqi money went to Iraqi companies. But the CPA never released information about specific contracts and the identities of companies that won them, citing security concerns, so it has been impossible to know whether these promises were kept.

The CPA has said it has awarded about 2,000 contracts with Iraqi money. Its inspector general compiled records for the major contracts, which it defined as those worth $5 million or more each. Analysis of those and other records shows that 19 of 37 major contracts funded by Iraqi money went to U.S. companies and at least 85 percent of the total $2.26 billion was obligated to U.S. companies. The contracts that went to U.S. firms may be worth several hundred million more once the work is completed.

That analysis and several audit reports released in recent weeks shed new light on how the occupation authority handled the Iraqi money it controlled. They show that the CPA at times violated its own rules, authorizing Iraqi money when it didn't have a quorum or proper Iraqi representation at meetings, and kept such sloppy records that the paperwork for several major contracts could not be found. During the first half of the occupation, the CPA depended heavily on no-bid contracts that were questioned by auditors. And the occupation's shifting of projects that were publicly announced to be financed by U.S. money to Iraqi money prompted the Iraqi finance minister to complain that the "ad hoc" process put the CPA in danger of losing the trust of the people.

Kellogg Brown & Root Inc., a subsidiary of Halliburton, was paid $1.66 billion from the Iraqi money, primarily to cover the cost of importing fuel from Kuwait. The job was tacked on to a no-bid contract that was the subject of several investigations after allegations surfaced that a subcontractor for Houston-based KBR overcharged by as much as $61 million for the fuel.

Harris Corp., a Melbourne, Fla., company, got $48 million from the Iraqi oil funds to manage and update the formerly state-owned media network, taking over from Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego. The new television and radio services and newspaper have been widely criticized as mouthpieces for the occupation and symbols of the failures of the reconstruction effort. When it was being financed with U.S.-appropriated funds, the contract drew scrutiny because of questionable expenses, including chartering a jet to fly in a Hummer H2 and a Ford pickup truck for the program manager's use.

Fareed Yaseen, one of 43 ambassadors recently appointed by Iraq's government, said he was troubled that the Iraqi money was managed almost exclusively by foreigners and that contracts went predominantly to foreign companies.

"There was practically no Iraqi voice in the disbursements of these funds," Yaseen said in a phone interview from Baghdad, where he is awaiting his diplomatic assignment...

U.S. officials contend the CPA was faithful to the terms of a United Nations resolution that gave the United States authority to manage the Iraq oil money during the occupation. "We believe that contracts awarded with Iraqi funds were for the sole benefit of the Iraqi people, without exception," Brig. Gen. Stephen M. Seay, head of contracting activity for the successor to the CPA's office, wrote in a response to a critical CPA inspector general report released last week...

While it ran Iraq, the CPA had at its disposal at least $45 billion -- the biggest reconstruction fund since the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after World War II. The money included $22 billion that Congress appropriated in two supplemental spending bills, and $23 billion in two Iraqi accounts, one holding proceeds from oil sales and the other seized assets, including frozen overseas bank accounts from the Hussein years.

In most cases, to spend congressionally appropriated funds, CPA officials had to coordinate with officials in Washington, keep detailed records, advertise contracts widely and conform to waiting periods for bids to come in. Some of the money was held up by a turf war between the Pentagon and the State Department over who controlled the reconstruction.

It was simpler to use the Iraqi money.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

August 4, 2004:

Iraq to Have Gov't Based on a Parliament

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The new political system in Iraq will be centered around a strong parliament that can prevent a dictator from running the country in the future, a constitution committee member said Wednesday.

Thamer al-Ghadban said there will be bicameral system: a parliament that is elected by the people, and a regional council with representatives elected by residents of each province.

"There has been an agreement that the political system in Iraq will be parliamentary," al-Ghadban told reporters. "This system was chosen to prevent any chance of a dictatorship in the future."

Al-Ghadban said that parliament will have the right to summon and question senior state employees. It will also be authorized to grant votes of confidence to the government.

His statement came as committee members sought to reach agreement on key disputes including federalism, the role of Islam, distribution of wealth, Iraq's identity and language.

Humam Hammoudi, chairman of the 71-member committee drafting the constitution, has called political leaders from the Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shiite communities to meet Friday to see if they can forge compromises in order to finish the document by the Aug. 15 deadline.

Iraqis will have a chance to vote on the constitution in a referendum scheduled for mid-October. General elections were slated by year's end.

The president will be elected by the National Assembly for a four-year term, the prime minister will be the supreme commander of the armed forces, and the defense minister must be a civilian, al-Ghadban said.

He said there has been an agreement on decentralized governments in the regions. He added that there will be a "federal court whose job is to solve problems between regions or between regions and the central government."

Another member, Shiite cleric Ahmed al-Safi, said disagreement on the role of Islam continues.

"There are three different opinion about Islam's role," he said. "One says that Islam should be the main source of legislation, another says Islam should be a main source of legislation, while the third says Islam should be one of the sources of legislation."

Read the rest at Fox News

August 4, 2006:

Bush ordered leaking of Iraq secrets, ex-aide tells court

President George W Bush secretly authorised the leak of classified intelligence material on Iraq to the press, according to a former senior aide.

The revelation is expected to further damage the Bush presidency, although lawyers said the president's actions were not criminal.

The allegation was in court documents linked to the case of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to the vice-president, Dick Cheney. Libby has been indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

Records from a hitherto secret court hearing stated that Libby had been uneasy about the leaking of classified material and had asked Mr Cheney for clarification.

He spoke to a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, "only after the vice-president advised defendant [Libby] that the president specifically had authorised defendant to disclose certain information in the National Intelligence Estimate". The NIE is a classified document containing a summary of American intelligence material.

Even so, Libby said that this was the only occasion during his five years in the White House when he was authorised to act in this way.

"Defendant testified that the circumstances of his conversation with reporter Miller - getting approval from the president through the vice-president to discuss material that would be classified but for that approval - were unique in his recollection," the papers added. The records did not suggest that Mr Bush or Mr Cheney asked aides to leak the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, which would be a criminal act.

Ms Plame's name and covert identity were leaked to the press in 2003. Mr Bush's critics say the "outing" was orchestrated by the White House to punish her husband, Joe Wilson, a virulent critic of Mr Bush and the Iraq war.

Read the rest at the Telegraph