Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oh, how they waste our time










On October 16, 2012, the Council of Ministers dismissed Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) Governor Sinan al-Shabibi, amid allegations of corruption leveled against him. This peremptory and constitutionally questionalbe move occured as an audit of the DBI's foreign currency auctions surfaced. The audit purportedly found that perhaps 80% of the $1 billion purchased at weekly CBI-managed auctions was tied to illegal transactions, with the funds subject to those transactions potentially lost abroad to money laundering. This development is symptomatic of a troubled year in Iraq, evidenced by increased corruption, resurgent violence, deepening ethnosectarian strains, growing apprehensions about the conflict in Syria, and widening divides within the coalition government.
So notes the latest quarterly report from the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction which was released today. It's findings will largely be ignored by the US press that focuses on the disaster and aftermath from Hurricane Sandy and the race of president. Since we mentioned al-Shabibi, let's go back to the report:
The former CBI Governor is credited by many analysts for maintaining the stability of the Iraqi dinar and for keeping inflation and interest rates low -- all viewed as crucially important prerequisites for the kind of well-managed economic growth Iraq hopes to achieve with its enormous oil wealth.
Political opponents of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, along with many banking and financial experts expressed immediate concern that the dismissal of Dr. al-Shabibi -- who is widely viewed as personally honest and professionally effective -- was an attempt to bring the CBI and its $63 billion in reserves under executive branch control. They pointed to the CoM's action as just one of among several steps the Prime Minister has taken to concentrate power within his office. For example, in 2010, al-Maliki won a legal case that effectively shifted control of independent agencies, such as the CBI, from the Council of Representatives (CoR) to the CoM. In an advisory opinion issued in February 2012, the Higher Judicial Council affirmed the earlier ruling, this time naming the CBI. The ruling drew criticsm at the time as a violation of the CBI's independence as guaranteed under the 2005 Iraqi Constitution.
September 19th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Robert S. Beecroft's nomination to be the next US Ambassador to Iraq. He was confirmed the Saturday after the hearing. We covered the hearing in the September 19th and 20th snapshots. Senator John Kerry is the Committee Chair, Senator Richard Lugar is the Ranking Member. From the hearing:
Ranking Member Richard Lugar: Now you mentioned the relative security of our embassy and what have you. In the past, there's been considerable discussion, not only among diplomats but among the American public about the size in Iraq. There was discussion when this was first built -- a monumental structure, to say the least. I remember at one conference, I suggested in fact that this structure is so big that it might really serve as a unifying purpose for Middle Eastern countries -- a sort of united forum in which they would all come together -- or like the Hague or what have you. And some people found some interest in this even if the Iraqis did not necessarily nor could our government since its our embassy. But what is the future, simply of all of the real estate, all of the responsibilites? They're huge and this is going to be an ongoing debate, I'm certain, in the Congress as we come to budget problems in this country.
Charge d'Affaires Robert S. Beecroft: Uhm, thank you very much. We-we recognize that this is an issue we started with an embassy that was staffed to address all possible contingencies, to follow up on the wonderful work that the US military had done in Iraq. Since that time, and again starting with Ambassador [James] Jeffrey, and it's something that I personally am continuing and have been very closely involved in and we will pursue -- We're calling it a "glide path exercise" where we're looking at what our objectives are and how we are resourced and staffed to meet those objectives. And what we've found is that we can prioritize and can focus our mission and will continue to do that on what we really need to accomplish. And as we do that, we're able to reduce personnel. Since the beginning of the year, we have reduced personnel by more than 2,000. We're now somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 personnel in Iraq -- down from over 16. Facilities? We have given back in the last couple of days, facilites we had in Kirkuk, had an airbase up there, and facilities we had in Baghdad for police training center. And we have another facility in the next few days which we'll give back also in Baghdad. So we're reducing not just the number of personnel but we're reducing the number of pieces of property we occupy and use and we are very mindeful of the cost that it takes to support the mission in Iraq and I personally am dedicated to reducing those costs by again focusing on the mission on what we really need to achieve.
"Since the beginning of the year, we have reduced personnel by more than 2,000. We're now somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000 personnel in Iraq -- down from over 16." That's what he said. Turns out it wasnt true. From the report:

Although Ambassador Beecroft told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 19 that the size of the U.S. Mission in Iraq continued to decline this quarter, reporting to SIGIR on the personnel totals indicated some ambiguity about actual numbers. U.S. Embassy-Baghdad reported that 16,035 persons supported the U.S. Mission in Iraq at the end of the quarter, including 1,075 U.S. government civilian employees and 14,960 contractor personnel. The Embassy said the discrepancy was due to earlier underreporting of certain staff categories.
Numbers are important, accurate ones even more so -- especially when the US government continues to spend vast sums in Iraq. For example, the report notes that the State Dept wants $149.6 million to 'train' the Iraqi police in Fiscal Year 2013. $149.6 million for one of the most trained and re-trained forces? For a force that the 'acting' Minister of the Interior stated does not need US training?
The US government has that money to waste when sequestration is supposedly looming, a 'financial cliff'?
Do people realize how many years the US has spent training the Iraqi police force? How much money?
We covered the November 30th House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the MiddleEast and South Asia in the December 1st snapshot and noted that Ranking Member Gary Ackerman had several questions. He declared, "Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the [police training] program? Interviews with senior Iaqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter didain for the program. When the Iraqis sugest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States. I think that might be a clue." The State Dept's Brooke Darby faced that Subcommittee. Ranking Member Gary Ackerman noted that the US had already spent 8 years training the Iraq police force and wanted Darby to answer as to whether it would take another 8 years before that training was complete? Her reply was, "I'm not prepared to put a time limit on it." She could and did talk up Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior Adnan al-Asadi as a great friend to the US government. But Ackerman and Subcommittee Chair Steve Chabot had already noted Adnan al-Asadi, but not by name. That's the Iraqi official, for example, Ackerman was referring to who made the suggestion "that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States." He made that remark to SIGIR Stuart Bowen.
8 years. 8 years of training last November. And for Fiscal Year 2013, the State Dept wants $149.6 million dollars to train yet another year?
From that hearing:
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
[long pause]
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye." Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.
The State Dept still can't answer Ackerman's question: "When will they be willing to stand up without us?" They can't even answer his second question: "Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?"
If sequestration kicks in and Americans see the safety net further gutted, you damn well better believe that $149.6 million dollars going to yet another year of 'training' the Iraqi police is going to be an issue.
Now let's talk about the 'acting' Minister of the Interior. That's Deputy Minister Adnan al-Asadi. He is one of the Iraqis Ranking Member Ackerman referred to in the November 30th hearing, "Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector Generals how 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."
Ackerman's right and Adnan al-Asadi is who stated, to SIGIR, that the US government should spend the money in the US. In addition, in July, 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."
What did that report find?
That the US State Dept had wasted ("de facto waste") approximately $206 million in training the Iraqi police since they took over October 1, 2011. How so? They spent $98 million on a Bsara training facility and $108 million on a Baghdad training facility.
What happened to those US-owned facilities?
The US turned it over -- at no charge -- to Nouri's government. Why?
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. Here's that exchange.
Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Mr. Courts, Ambassador Kennedy and I got into a
discussion about the absence of or presence of land use agreements for the facilities
we have in Iraq do you have the current status for that information from your latest
report as to what facilities we do and do not have land use agreements for?
Michael Courts: What Ambassador Kennedy may have been referring to that for 13 of
the 14 facilities the Iraqis have acknowledged a presence through diplomatic notes.
But there's still only 5 of the 14 for which we actually have explicit title land use
agreements or leases.

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Alright so I'm not -- I'm not a diplomat. So what does
that mean? They say, "Oh, you can use it until we change our minds" -- is that
basically what those are? Or is there some force of law to those notes?

Michael Courts: Well the notes are definitely not the same thing as having an explicit agreement. And as a matter of fact, there's already been one case where the Iraqis
required us to reconfigure, downsize one of our sites. And that was at one of the
sites where we did not have a land use agreement and so obviously we're in a much
more vulnerable position when there's not an explicit agreement.
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 only one since that hearing.
This is tax payer money being wasted at a time when the US government is supposedly in the midst of a fiscal crisis. These two facilities, worth approximately $206 million were turned over -- free of charge -- because the State Dept failed to secure land-lease agreements.
In other words, you could say: The US government built it, but it didn't own it.
Having wasted that amount of money, you might think the State Dept would stop trying to spend hundreds of millions in Iraq. And yet they want $149.6 million to spend in the next fiscal year just on Iraqi police.
And not a penny should be spent on this program. The Ministry of the Interior is over the police. But the Ministry has no minister. Adnan al-Asadi is the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior. An actual minister would have certain rights and powers and that would give him or her independence. Adnan al-Asadi is an 'acting minister' -- a qualification that doesn't exist in the Iraqi Constitution.
The Constitution requires Ministers be nominated and that the Parliament vote in favor of confirming them. Once that happens, a person has their position until the term expires, they resign or the Parliament removes them. Nouri can't remove them.
So if al-Asadi were Minister of the Interior, that's who the US would be interacting with on this program. Instead, they're interacting with the 'acting' minister who has no job protection and is kicked to the curb the second he displeases Nouri al-Maliki. al-Asadi is a puppet allowing Nouri to control the Ministry of the Interior.
Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "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." He's refused to name nominees and have them go before Parliament. This is a power grab. By January 2011, Iraqiya (the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 parliamentary elections, ahead of Nouri's State of Law) was calling it a power grab but the (US and European) press was insisting that it was only a matter of weeks before Nouri named nominees. We're closing in 2013 and he's still never named nominees. It was a power grab. It is a continuing power grab. The Parliament declared last week that they would take up this new 'classification' of 'acting' ministers.
The State Dept wants to waste more US tax dollars training people who work for a ministry that Nouri refuses to find a head for. That is not a recipe for success. It has not been a recipe for success.

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