I’ve been on KEXP-90.3 on Saturday mornings for over a decade, and for the last several years we’ve been running an extremely popular weekly overview of news from Iraq. Since there’s a lot more of it than I have time to run through (and links don’t work well on the radio), for a while now I’ve also been posting the weekly summaries over at Booman Tribune. It occurs to me that it might make sense to post it locally, too. And so, with your indulgence (and hopefully interest), here is the first of a weekly compilation of news you may or may not have seen or read regarding America’s most disastrous war.
Much of the last week, in D.C. and the Green Zone, was spent by various parties trying to pave the way for their spin on the congressionally mandated report on the
escalation “surge” due at the end of next week.
That included George Bush making a surprise Labor Day PR visit to Anbar Province — a profile in courage somewhat undermined in that he stayed protected by a 13-mile perimeter and 10,000 troops, not venturing outside the base to see for himself the wonderful progress he has been touting. But more importantly, days previous, Bush hinted that he’s already made up his mind regardless of what Gen. Petraeus has to say, suggesting that he would send still more troops to Iraq after the 15th and announcing that he would ask Congress for yet another $50 billion “emergency” war appropriation.
Meanwhile, the impartial investigative arm of Congress, the General Accountability Office, released a report that flatly contradicted the White House, finding little progress in Iraq during the
escalation surge. Specifically, the GAO looked at the 18 benchmarks set by Congress. Unlike a White house report last month that tortured logic and semantics in order to find “progress” in only eight of the 18 benchmarks, the GAO found progress in only three and declared the war effort to be failing on all the most important ones.
Other indicators that things didn’t have the rosy glow insisted upon by Bush and his apologists: a New York Times report that while deaths this summer are down from their peak in Baghdad — perhaps because ethnic cleansing has progressed so far that there are fewer people left for the death squads to kill — nationwide the rate of sectarian deaths is double what it was in 2006. (Even in Baghdad, it’s still higher than 2006, just lower than the cooler months of Spring.) And the Center for American Progress released a study declaring that American troops can be safely withdrawn from Iraq in one year, again undercutting the war hawks’ argument that without all those American soldiers and weapons the violence would get worse.
Oh, and there was also the little-noticed tidbit that Gen. Petraeus intervened to “soften” the language of the recent National Intelligence Estimate to reflect recent “progress.” (Even so, the NIE basically said Baghdad was somewhere around the seventh circle of Hell.) Plus, the U.S. leaned on five leading Shiite and Sunni exile politicians to announce a “deal” on America’s desired give-Iraqi-oil-to-American-oil-companies oil law, prisoners, and a few other concessions. But it was largely for show, and American consumption: the deal didn’t bring Sunnis back into the government, won’t get any of the agreed-upon items through Parliament, and the remaining Iraqi politicians allegedly running the country are mostly returned exiles with no constituency outside the Beltway and no relevance outside the Green Zone.
On the other side of that wall, a far more damning measure of how the
escalation surge is going, namely how it’s affecting actual Iraqis, emerged last week. Over 5,000 cholera cases have now been reported in Northern Iraq, primarily among refugees living in shanty towns in areas of the country without much fighting. (The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimated last week that 4.2 million Iraqis, one in every six, has been uprooted by the war.) Why is this important? Cholera is a disease of the extremely poor, normally seen only in areas where poverty is extreme and government services nonexistent. In this case, as in much of Iraq, there is no longer clean drinking water and, of course, no public health sector to speak of. The government has no presence, local militias and tribes can only do so much, and many of the doctors and technocrats have fled the country or been killed. That’s what the escalation surge means to the average Iraqi.
Want more? Iraqis are no longer eating fish out of the Tigris or Euphrates Rivers, in part because there are so many dead bodies in the rivers — which the fish nibble on — that Iraqis are afraid of contracting diseases associated with cannibalism.
In the south of Iraq, 52 people died last week in Karbala firefights (widely reported in the US as “riots”) between members of Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the Maliki-aligned Badr Organization, both Shiite militias vying for control (and wider imposition of sharia law) as British soldiers complete their withdrawal from southern Iraq. After the fighting, al-Sadr ordered the Mahdi Army to stand down for six months to try to avoid widening the civil war. We’ll see how long it lasts. Prime Minister Maliki, the great American-sponsored statesman, blamed Sunni clerics from Saudi Arabia for somehow provoking the Karbala bloodshed, in an effort to deflect attention from his Badr friends. This is our voice of political reconciliation during the
Another important front was emerging in coverage of Iraq last week: a widening scandal (finally) over corruption and where all that American money and weaponry I mentioned earlier has actually been going for four years. McClatchy newspapers reported that hundreds of thousands of dollar in U.S. rebuilding money went to insurgents (still only a fraction of the billions that went missing overall). The Army accused Lee Dynamics International of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to US officials to get $11 million in contracts. The New York Times reported that several federal agencies are investigating weapons sales, disappearances, fraud, kickbacks, and black market profiteering by US officials. And one investigation involves senior official who worked with a Gen. David Petraeus — yes, that Gen. Petraeus — when he was heading the effort to arms and train Iraqi
militias and death squads army and police units in 2004-05. (Heckuva job, Davie.) Also from the Times: US weapons given to the Iraqi army are being found used by criminal gangs in Turkey. (No surprise there — we’ve flooded the black market in arms the world over by handing out AK-47s etc. like candy in Iraq.) And, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul Brinkley (another political appointee) was accused last week by a DoD task force of mismanaging government money in Iraq — and also engaging in public drunkenness and sexual harassment.
Big picture: The Project on Government Oversight reported last week that the top 50 Iraq contractors paid over $12 billion in fines and restitution for violating various federal laws over the last 10 years. Being scofflaws not only hasn’t disqualified them from the Iraq feeding trough, but seems to be an entrance requirement.
Finally, in the most unintentionally hilarious incident since Larry Craig got Restless Leg Syndrome, the U.S. military characterized as “regrettable” a Baghdad incident last Tuesday in which eight Iranians, including two diplomats, were released hours after being arrested. In a country awash with guns and where security details are essential for normal travel for VIPs, the eight were singled out because the Iraqi security guys they’d hired had an “unauthorized” AK-47 and two pistols in the trunk of their car. Not entirely coincidentally, President Bush was in Reno that day, telling an American Legion convention that Iranians were arming the insurgency, as part of the steadily increasing PR campaign for a military strike on Iran — which several credible reports this weekend, including this one in the Times of London, say will be massive and imminent. Attacking Iran would not only be illegal and immoral, but politically, militarily, and economically disastrous — the time to mount public opposition to this insanity is now.