Monday, November 14, 2011

Such a catty little child






Is this the moment America begins to start tracking the death of US contractors in Iraq? Lewis Griswold (Fresno Bee) reports, "Sean Ferguson of Visalia, who earned two Purple Hearts for his military service in Iraq, died there Saturday of natural causes, a friend of his family said today. Ferguson, 29, is the son of Tulare County Superior Court Judge Darryl Ferguson." KMPH notes, "He joined the U.S. Army in August 2001 and retired eight years later as a Staff Sergeant after he was hurt in combat. He returned to Baghdad to work for Triple Canopy, a private contractor that provides security and mission support services to government agencies and other organizations. [. . .] A memorial service will be held at the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints chapel located at the corner of Caldwell Ave. and Chinowth St. in Visalia on Saturday, November 19, at 10 a.m." Lemor Abrams (KMPH) offers a video report here.
1st Lt Dustin Vincent was the most recent US military fatality in the Iraq War. Amber Fischer (The 33 News, CW33) reported Saturday evening that the 25-year-old had been laid to rest earlier that day at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery and she quoted his friend Jared Griggs stating, "He and I talked a lot. He's part of the reason I joined the army myself. You couldn't be mad, you couldn't be sad around Dustin. You couldn't even really be serious around Dustin. There was only two things that he was really serious about, and that was the Lord and serving his country." Vallari Gupte (University of Texas at Arlington's Shorthorn) noted:

Vincent, who graduated from UTA in 2009, was from Mesquite. Vincent, a 1st Lieutenant, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery of the 1st Infantry Division in Fort Riley, Kan. Vincent leaves behind a wife and daughter.
Kinesiology senior Christopher Harris was a freshman when he met Vincent in UTA's ROTC program. Harris was a cadet and Vincent was an officer of that year's battalion.
"He was my leader," Harris said. "He would teach me some stuff and I would learn."
When Harris learned about Vincent's death, he grieved.
"It is hard to feel anything else right now. Just grief," he said.

Cynthia Vega and Steve Stoler (WFAA -- link has text and video) report that Dustin Vincent was on his first deployment to Iraq and "just six months into his deployment when the enemy threw a deadly grenade at his convoy." Yesterday, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Chelsea J. Carter (CNN) reported that 3 soldiers serving with Dustin Vincent testified in an Iraqi court Sunday:

The November 3 shooting of 1st Lt. Dustin D. Vincent -- one of the last U.S. casualties in the more-than-eight-year Iraq war -- was chronicled by insurgents who captured the sniper shooting on video and posted it online.

Inside a crowded courthouse, one of the soldiers who were with the 25-year-old Vincent the day he was killed told the investigative judge that a "few days later a video was posted that claimed the killing of the 1st lieutenant, and it shows the same location we were that day."

In other news, Al Mada reports that US President Barack Obama is saying the Iraq War is "about over" and that the US government is down playing the concerns of the Sadr bloc over the decision to use Kuwait as a staging platform for US forces. This will be in addition to the forces under the US State Dept's control. Spencer Ackerman (Wired) reports:

The State Department has already requisitioned an army, part of the roughly 5,000 private security contractors State is hiring to protect diplomats stationed in Iraq. Now, State is hiring someone to provide a little help from the air: an "Aviation Advisor" responsible for "Search and Rescue (SAR), medical evacuations (ME), transporting Quick Reaction Forces (QRF) to respond to incidents, and provid[ing] air transportation for Chief of Mission personnel." It's not a familiar job for the diplomatic corps, which is why State is seeking to bring in someone from the outside.

The State Department put out this notice on Nov. 4. That's 58 days before the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Fifty-eight days before State has the skies over Iraq to itself.

In related news, Dylan Welch (Sydney Morning Herald) reports the Australian government is surprised that security costs for their embassies and staff in Iraq and Afghanistan "has quadrupled in less than 12 months to almost $40 million a year" and they are now "paying two private security companies a total of $82 million for the two years to 2012." How is it related? Cost overruns happen very frequently. Presumably the Australian government properly budgeted for their mission and unexpected details led to such a huge increase. In the US, please remember, that the State Dept refuses to share concrete information with the Congress or with the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction or with the Government Accountability Office. In fact, the GAO's last report on the State Dept's contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan was entitled what? [PDF format warning] "Iraq and Afghanistan: DOD, State, and USAID Cannot Fully Account for Contracts, Assistance, Instruments, and Associated Personnel." So if the US cost overruns mirror those of Australia, who's going to be held responsible?
The White House? Don't make me laugh. And their fall guy will be gone because Hillary Clinton has stated she is a one-term Secretary of State. So the US tax payers will be screwed and who's going to be held accountable?
And it's time to get very real about something. The Senator Al Frankens with their "thank you for your service"? It's past time they greeted every tax payer with, "Thank you for your dollars." This country has gone into debt for an illegal war and not only do we see the debt today but future generations will as well. And clearly Congress doesn't give a damn since they refuse to scream bloody murder over the State Dept requesting money for Iraq (and Afghanistan) and being unable and unwilling to provide an accounting of how that money will be spent. Last June, Peter Van Buren wrote a piece for Le Monde in which he noted:
In its post-"withdrawal" plans, the State Department expects to have 17,000 personnel in Iraq at some 15 sites. If those plans go as expected, 5,500 of them will be mercenaries, hired to shoot-to-kill Iraqis as needed, to maintain security. Of the remaining 11,500, most will be in support roles of one sort or another, with only a couple of hundred in traditional diplomatic jobs. This is not unusual in wartime situations. The military, for example, typically fields about seen support soldiers for every "shooter." In other words, the occupation run by a heavily militarized State Department will simply continue in a new, truncated form -- unless Congress refuses to pay for it.
Unless Congress refuses to pay for it? At present, that seems highly unlikely. PeterR.S. Kalha explores the realities of the relationship between the governments of Iraq and the US in "Is America Finally Withdrawing From Iraq? -- Analysis" (Eurasia Review):

Having spent at least about US$ 3 trillion, taken thousands as casualties both dead and wounded, the Americans are not going to give up that easily. The Shiite Iraqi PM Nourie al-Maliki is slated to visit the White House on December 12, 2011, just a few days before the deadline runs out. If he changes his mind and signs the status of forces agreement with the US, it will certainly not be out of character and in tune with the Iraqi political temperament. Nevertheless, the Americans are not taking any chances and have already made alternative plans.
The US Embassy in Baghdad is going to be strengthened and will have about 17,000 personnel on its rolls. Situated in the 'Green Zone' on a 104 acre plot with its own electricity, water and sewage, it is one of the most expensive and largest US Embassies in the world and its entire requirements are supplied from Kuwait under armed guard. US Consulates exist in Basra, Mosul and Kirkuk, each about 1,000 strong with its own security personnel. The US Embassy also has an 'Office for Security Co-operation' under which will come all US army trainers, private contractors and assorted military personnel -- all under the cover of diplomatic immunity. Presently about $ 10 billion worth of arms deals are under negotiations. Once the negotiations are completed, additional US military personnel will arrive to train and 'co-ordinate' with their Iraqi counterparts. These large numbers of 'trainers' will also be under US Embassy cover.
Presently the Iraqi air force is non-existent. This means that the air space over Iraq will be controlled by the US for the foreseeable future. The US will continue to fly drones over Iraq targeting any potential enemy. It also means that the US can reinforce its residual troops under the 'cover' of the US Embassy as and when it is required without any serious hindrance. It also means that the Shiite-led Iraqi government cannot move its troops without US concurrence since they would have no air cover. And to make it absolutely certain that matters do not go out of hand, the present day Iraqi forces are commanded by a Kurdish officer General Zebari. The Americans have made an assessment and quite rightly so that of the three communities in Iraq, the Kurds will remain the most loyal. In any case the Kurdish dominated areas of Iraq are outside the political control of the Iraqi government and even the Kirkuk question remains unresolved.
Thus President Obama has very skilfully reaped the political benefits of ordering a 'technical' withdrawal and ending the US mission there, whilst not only retaining the substance of the US posture and presence but immeasurably strengthening it.

Meanwhile Aswat al-Iraq notes, "The Legislature of the so-called White al-Iraqiya Bloc in the Iraqi Parliament, Aliya Nuseif, has demanded the Iraqi government to carry out a complete account for security contractors, in charge of protecting the American Embassy in Baghdad." And we're back to Peter Van Buren who, at his blog, notes the move and asks, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "So really, what are 16,000 people going to do everyday in Iraq on behalf of the US government?" Peter Van Buren is the author of the new book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project). Bob Kustra (Idaho Statesman) reviews the book and notes, "Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for more than 23 years. Before arriving in Baghdad, his response was not new to him, but war was. [. . .] There are few bright spots in this painful and gripping story of mismanagement. The first account of our blunders from a State Department inisder, 'We Meant Well' is thought-provoking and hard to put down." Also reviewing the book is Dan Simpson (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) who concludes, "The book is short, very readable and has humor as well as profound points in it."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Mercenaries for the skies of Iraq"
"Nouri tries to end standoff with 'You go first'"
"Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Occupy""
"And the war drags on . . "
"The continuing war (and the continued war over oil..."
"Dustin Vincent laid to rest"

"Is he searching for jobs overseas?"

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