Saturday, December 10, 2011

Barry's in-kind contribution




With just 10 words recently, President Barack Obama demonstrated to Americans how devastatingly out of touch he is.

"Over the last three years, we have made enormous progress," he proclaimed at a high-dollar campaign fundraiser in New York. Maybe his wealthy donors could be expected to believe that, but in Wisconsin we know better.

America's record poverty, high unemployment, soaring debt and growing sense of hopelessness are not the markers of "enormous progress." We are worse off since Obama took office, and he is either incapable or unwilling to admit it.

Americans deserve leaders who understand the crises we face - and know how to fix them. After all, how can we expect the president to solve any problem if he cannot grasp its magnitude?



Turning to the Defense Dept scandal over the Air Force dumping the remains of the fallen into a landfill, Charley Keyes and Barbara Starr (CNN) report:

Backtracking on initial information about how it handled the remains of American service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force now says the cremated body parts of hundreds of the fallen were burned and dumped in the landfill.
Earlier, the Air Force said only a small number of body parts had been buried in a commercial landfill and claimed it would be impossible to make a final determination of how many remains were disposed of in that manner.

Yesterday Craig Whitlock and Mary Pat Flaherty (Washington Post) reported that the number of troops whose remains have been dumped is much greater than the Defense Dept has acknowledged, that the "partial remains of at least 274 American troops" have been dumped "in a Virginia landfill."

Jill Laster and Markeshia Ricks (Marine Corps News) report, "Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said he believes the service has found and fixed problems at Doer Port Mortuary and that a Defense Department panel will back up that belief." If that belief is backed up, that's disgusting. As Keyes and Starr report the Air Force's position is that they will apologize to any family . . . who objects. They are not contacting families and informing them of what happened. The families have to contact the Air Force. Who does the Air Force work for? Having already disrespected the fallen, they now can't even offer an apology. This is not accountability, this is not a sign of a government that works for the people. This is about bureaucrats who feels they shouldn't be bothered and that their mistakes are justifiable because they don't have to answer to anyone.

Mike Bowersock (Ohio's NBC 4i -- link has text and video) speaks with Iraq War veteran Daniel Hutchison who states, "I served in Iraq in 2006 and four of my really good friends were killed and it makes my blood boil to think they may be in a landfill right now. The argument can be made that it is difficult to try to identify all the pieces to bring it back home, but it's difficult to fight in a war."
The Defense Department is hardly a one scandal department. The Pentagon is coming under intense and deserved criticism for its refusal to initiate "a mental health program for National Guard soldiers." USA Today's Gregg Zororya reports on this latest government effort to save a penny by spitting on the National Guard. Zoroya quotes Senator Patty Murray who is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, "I was really surprised that the Departemtn of Defense decided to oppose this. It's just a no-brainer to make sure that this is out there for every Guard and Reserve member wherever they live." The Pentagon's own tracking demonstrates more National Guard service members have died from suicide in the last five years than have been died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan for any reason (other than suicide). At a time when the Pentagon has already used the National Guard in ways most didn't ever see happening, are they going to again refuse to give the Guards its due?
We don't have the time or space to go into all the times in the last years the Guard has been used to carry out military missions while being offered second-rate treatment in return, but we will note two things. First, this is from an NBC report former-US House Rep Martin Frost posted at his website:
When they came home from Iraq, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed longer than any other ground combat unit. The tour lasted 22 months and had been extended as part of President Bush's surge.
1st Lt. Jon Anderson said he never expected to come home to this: A government refusing to pay education benefits he says he should have earned under the GI bill.
"It's pretty much a slap in the face," Anderson said. "I think it was a scheme to save money, personally. I think it was a leadership failure by the senior Washington leadership... once again failing the soldiers."
Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.
Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school.

So you've got what appears to be the Pentagon actively attempting to cheat Guard members. (Appears to be? I'm trying to be kind.) You've also got the Pentagon screwing them over when it comes to paying them. From Lisa Myers and NBC Nightly News' November 12, 2010 report:
Soldiers with the National Guard are already under the gun in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now a new government report claims that while the troops are fighting far from home, red tape is preventing many of them from being paid.
While National Guard soldiers fulfill their duty, risking their lives around the world, the Pentagon apparently is not living up to its obligation to pay them the right amount or on time. That's according to a new congressional report obtained by NBC News, which finds the Pentagon's pay process is such a mess it's having "a profound financial impact on individual soldiers and their families."
"This is well beyond anything I could ever imagine," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., "I would like to think if we send people off to war that we're not going to have them worry about whether their home is going to be taken because they can't pay their mortgage."
Those are just two examples. They both have to do with the Pentagon's problems paying the Guard for the work they're being asked to do. At a time when the Pentagon keeps insisting it's addressing the suicide issue, it's appalling that yet again they're trying to save a few pennies by short changing National Guard service members.

In other news of cheapness and crooked behavior, Ryan Abbott (Courthouse News Service) reports 28 firefighters are part of a class action lawsuit against "Wackenhut, KBR and Halliburton [who they allege] forced them to work around the clock in Afghanistan and Iraq but paid them for only half their time." Zoe Tillman (The BLT) quotes one of the attorneys representing the firefighters, Scott Bloch, stating, "This case is about very big government contractors making billions off of the back of firefighters and other people who work over there in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're going to make billions if they pay for work performed, but somehow that's not enough for them."
Lastly, the US Justice Dept notes a 20-month sentence for a US Army Corps of Engineers employee for bribery:
Friday, December 9, 2011
Former Army Corps of Engineers Employee Sentenced to 20 Months in Prison for Accepting Bribes from Iraqi Contractors

WASHINGTON - A former employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed in Baghdad, Iraq, was sentenced today in the Eastern District of Virginia to 20 months in prison for conspiring to receive bribes from Iraqi contractors involved in the U.S.-funded reconstruction efforts, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride for the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge James W. McJunkin of the FBI's Washington Field Office.

Thomas Aram Manok, 51, of Chantilly, Va., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga. In addition to his prison term, Manok was sentenced to three years of supervised release. Judge Trenga ordered a forfeiture hearing to be held on Jan. 13, 2012. Manok pleaded guilty on Sept. 19, 2011.

Manok admitted to using his official position to conspire with Iraqi contractors to accept cash bribes in exchange for recommending that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approve contracts and other requests for payment submitted by the contractors to the U.S. government. According to court documents, in March and April 2010, Manok agreed to receive a $10,000 payment from one such contractor who had been involved in constructing a kindergarten and girls' school in the Abu Ghraib neighborhood of Baghdad and had sought Manok's influence in having requests for payment approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. According to court documents, Manok was to receive an additional bribe payment from the contractor once the contractor's claim had been approved. Manok also admitted that he intended to conceal the payments from authorities by transferring them, via associates, from Iraq to Armenia.

This case was investigated by the FBI's Washington Field Office, the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General, the Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, as participants in the International Contract Corruption Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Nathanson of the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Mary Ann McCarthy of the Criminal Division's Fraud Section.

This prosecution is part of efforts underway by President Barack Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information about the task force visit:

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"The continued wounds"
"The continuing Air Force scandal"
"Fancy Dogs in the Kitchen"
"3 men, 3 women"
"Late night TV"
"Bird On A Wire"

Friday, December 09, 2011






Laura Meckler (Wall St. Journal) reports the White House has scheduled a speech Wednesday at Fort Bragg for US President Barack Obama. Because surely what America needs from Barack now is yet another speech? Because at Fort Bragg there's little chance of his being put on the spot about the continued high unemployment? Margaret Talev and Viola Gienger (Bloomberg News) explain the speech will take place two days after Barack meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House and, "President Barack Obamais focusing on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by year's end, even as his administration continues talks behind the scenes about the future American role there."
If he's attempting to spin it, not only has he already given that speech two months back, but he'll also be going up against what Lt Gen Frank Helmick declared yesterday as reported by Luis Martinez (ABC News) and Courtney Kube (NBC News):
"We really don't know what's going to happen. But we do know this: We do know that we have done everything we can in the time that we -- that we have been here for the Iraqi security forces to make sure that they have a credible security forces to provide for the security, the internal security of their country."
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that Aziz Ugaili, National Alliance MP, is noting that over 26 security companies will remain in Iraq after December 31st and questioning the claim of US withdrawal while also expressing his fear that, in DC later this month, Nouri al-Maliki will sign an agreement with the US involving 'trainers.' Meanwhile Al Mada also reports that the Sadrist movement is declaring that the US remnants after December 31st will be fair targets and that the US is not planning to keep a small number of staff for the embassy the way other countries do. In addition, Al Mada reports that the UAE has offered their services in training Iraqi forces.
Iraq has a prominent visitor today. Bi Mingxin (Xinhua) reports, "Arab League (AL) chief Nabil al- Arabi arrived in Baghdad on an official visit to hold talks with Iraqi leaders over sanctions against Syria, an official at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said Thursday." He's already met with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. While the media is placing the emphasis of the meeting on a potential March Arab summit, that's a smokescreen. Regardless of whether the summit takes place in March (it was repeatedly postponed in 2010), the reality is that al-Arabi is visiting due to concern over Iraq's position regarding Syria. Dar Addustour noted al-Arabi is also scheduled to meet with President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi today while in Iraq. In addition, Al Sabaah adds that he's supposed to meet with unnamed Iraqi officials.

Sabrina M. Peterson (International Affairs Review) explores the decision of the Iraqi government to stand with the Syrian government:

Today, while other Arab states have condemned Syria and called for the regime to step down, Iraq has demonstrated its support. Iraq has not called for Assad to relinquish power, but instead has advocated gradual reform. The Maliki government has made moves to strengthen its economic ties with Syria since before the violence broke out this year and has been strengthening those ties since. This past summer, Iraq hosted a tour of Syria's top government and business leaders, a visit that led to a new pact to increase bilateral trade. Iraq is now Syria's biggest trading partner.

The Iraqi government also supports Syria because it fears that if the Assad regime collapses, violence could spill over into Iraq and cause further instability. Sectarianism is another important reason: Maliki is a Shia Muslim who spent years in exile in Syria before returning to post-Saddam Iraq. Quite probably Maliki feels a sectarian affinity for Assad, a member of the Alawite sect of Shia Islam. Maliki and the Assad family both share a common fear of Sunni-led insurgencies.

Al-Masry Al-Youm reports, "Dozens of Syrian citizens in Cairo staged a protest outside the Iraqi Embassy on Thursday to condemn what they labeled Iraq's pro-Assad stance. The protesters chanted against the Iraqi authorities after Iraq refused to approve economic sanctions imposed by the Arab League against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime." For ABC News, Barbara Walters interviewed President Bashar al-Assadi (link is video and text):
Walters: But you have people who are against you who are protesting every day. It started with people marching with olive branches and with their children asking for more freedom, for freedom of press, for freedom of expression, and much of the country now, sir, is not supporting you, that's what these, that's what your crisis is about.
Assad: Yeah. That's why we had the reform started quickly, after the very beginning that you described as simple, so we didn't take the role, we didn't play the role of stubborn government, they say they need more freedom. We right away had new party laws, new media law, new election law, new local administration law, and we are revising our constitution now. Showing your opinion, whether you like somebody or doesn't like government or president or whoever, should be through the election, the ballot box, this is the only way.
Walters: If you have elections, will they be elections for president?
Assad: No, no, we are going to have first of all the local administration election this month...
Walters: Local administration, but what about the president?
Assad: Yeah, after that, we are going to have the parliamentarian election, which is the most important. Talking about presidential election, it's going to be in 2014, this is the...
Walters: People don't want to wait that long, till 2014.
Assad: Which people?
Walters: The people who are protesting.
Assad: How, how, how much, how many, are they majority or not, that's why you need, you need to wait first of all for the parliamentarian election, these election will tell you are you going to have majority or minority, then when you can think about presidential election, but not before, before that you don't have any indication, any clear indication.
Walters: In 2014, when there are presidential elections, will you allow opposition parties?
Assad: That's why we are changing the constitution.
Walters: OK. And if somebody else wins, will you step down in 2014?
Assad: If he wins he's going to be in my position, I don't have to step down, he's going to be president. So you don't step down. He will win the election, he will be president. So step down means you leave, while if you win the election, he's going normally, he's going to be in that position instead of me.
Speaking with Bill Weir on Nightline last night, Barbara Walters declared that there appears to be a disconnect and that Assad has trouble reconciling what's taking place in parts of Syria. Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports, "Iraq said Thursday it would initiate contacts with the Syrian government in an effort to persuade it to accept an Arab League plan to end months of violence in the country." Ammar Karim (AFP) quotes Nabil al-Arabi stating, "Our conversation (with Iraq) . . . was to explore whether the Iraqi government is willing to exert its influence with Syria. The Iraqi government told us that it will carry out contacts with the Syrian government to resolve this issue." Al Arabiya notes the Arab League has called for international monitors; however, "in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters on Wednesday the embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said he will not allow Arab League observers unfettered access to monitor the crackdown."
Conflicts continue between the Baghdad-based central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over issues of oil especially with regards to the KRG's deal with ExxonMobil. UPI notes, 'Nouri al-Maliki is stepping up the pressure on ExxonMobil to back off ab reakaway oil exploration deal with the Kurds' semi-autonomous enclave and the betting is the world's largest oil company will fold." CNN quotes KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih stating, "There is no way that we will be dissuaded from our constitutional right to developing our resources and allow ourselves to ever again become hostages to the whims of some bureaucrats in Baghdad. We've been there before. Oil was used to strangle our people, to commit genoicde." J. Jay Park (Financial Times of London) attempts to make sense of the legal issues but keeps coming back to a 2007 draft or a more recent draft or -- Those are bills. They aren't laws. Though many drafts have been written, the oil and gas issue was never resolved by law.
A lot of things remain unresolved in Iraq. In fact, "unresolved" would be the government's Facebook status. Political Stalemate I was a period in Iraq following the March 7, 2010 elections. It ended in November of 2010 only as a result of a meet-up in Erbil and the political parties signing off on an agreement in which all but State of Law made political concessions. The results of the March 7th elections, even after Nouri al-Maliki bitterly contested them and stamped his feet until a few post-election votes were tossed his way, were that Iraqiya came in first and Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second. Iraqis do not elect their prime minister, the Parliament does. Per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, should have had first crack at forming a government. First crack? You become prime minister-designate and then have thirty days to name a Cabinet (nominate people for positions and have Parliament vote in favor of them). If you can't accomplish that in 30 days, per the Constitution, a new prime minister-designate is supposed to be named.

Nouri al-Maliki refused to surrender the post of prime minister. So the March 7th elections were followed by over 8 months of gridlock, Political Stalemate I. The Erbil Agreement found all but State of Law making major concessions so that the country could pull together. (During that eight month period, Parliament had one session which was little more than roll call.) Iraqiya, the winner in the elections, was supposed to see their leader (Allawi) head an independent security commission, the KRG was promised Article 140 would finally be followed (Article 140 of the Constitution addresses disputed territories such as Kirkuk -- it calls for a census and referendum to be held in Kirkuk by the end of 2007. Nouri was prime minister then and refused to implement Article 140.) Many promises were made but the only one that concerned Nouri was that he would remain prime minister.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Does he want prison time?





"This is the sixth hearing addressing the accountability of tax dollar in war zones," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz as he brought to order the hearing into Iraq and Afghanistan this morning. Chaffetz is the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform's National Security Subcommittee. Appearing before the Subcommittee was the Defense Dept's Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell, the State Dept's Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel, the acting inspector general of US AID Michael Carroll, the acting inspector general for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Steven J. Trent and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen.
Subcommitee Chair Chaffetz summarized the fraud and abuse problems early on,, "In October, the full committee heard testimony from the Commission on Wartime Contracting about its final report. The Commissioners allege that between $30 and $60 billion dollars had been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan due to waste, fraud and abuse in the contracting process. According to the Commission, this was due to ill conceived projects, poor planning and oversight, poor performance by contractors, criminal behavior and blatant corruption. This is unacceptable. And while some may agree or disagree with our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is universally unacceptable to waste tax payer money."
Early on, he also noted a serious failure on the part of the White House.
Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz: Before recognizing Ranking Member [John] Tierney, I'd like to note that the Defense Dept, State Dept, USAID and SIGAR will not have IGs in January. In May of this year, I wrote the President asking him to move without delay to appoint replacements. That letter was signed by Senators [Joe] Lieberman, [Susan] Collins, [Claire] McCaskill and [Rob] Portman, as well as [House Oversight Committee] Chairman [Darrell] Issa and Ranking Member [Elijah] Cummings and Ranking Member Tierney. I'd like to place a copy of htis record into the record. Without objection, so ordered. To my knowledge, the President has yet to nominate any of these replacements, nor has he responded to this letter. I find that totally unacceptable. This is a massive, massive effort. It's going to take some leadership from the White House. These jobs cannot and will not be done if the president fails to make these appointments. Upon taking office, President Obama promised that his administration would be "the most open and transparent in history." You cannot achieve transparency without inspectors general. Again, I urge President Obama and the Senate to nominate and confirm inspectors general to fill these vacancies and without delay.
The public face of reconstruction in Iraq has been the Speical Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen. We'll note the following from his opening statement.
SIGIR Stuart Bowen: First, I am concerned about maintaining SIGIR's ability to get the information we need to complete ongoing audits and investigations and to continue to provide the kind of comprehensive Quarterly Report coverage that the Congress has come to expect from us. The State Department recently instituted a new bureaucratic process, requiring the channeling of information that we request from the Embassy through Foggy Bottom offices. This process inevitably will cause delays, impede our capacity to deal directly with the individuals in Iraq responsible for providing the necessary data, and thus reduce our responsiveness. Symptomatic of this bureaucratic development, one of my investigators, working jointly with the FBI on a criminal case, recently was refused information by the State Department regarding a potential subject (who is a State employee). State directed my investigator to use the "audit process" to obtain this investigative information. Worse, he was challenged as to whether the information, which he had requested in good faith, was even related to "reconstruction funding." This development is just the latest quandary in a predicament-filled year, during which the State Department has repeatedly raised fallacious objections to varying SIGIR requests. I thank the Chairman and Ranking Member -- and the full Committee's leadership -- for their steadfast support of our oversight mission; but these recent issues underscore the reality of the continuing oversight challenges that confront us.
You can't do oversight without the staff. Or, as Stuart Bowen noted during questioning, "You have to be there, to do the work." On that topic, we'll note this exchange from the hearing.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: I'd now like to recognize myself for five minutes and Mr. Heddell, let's start with you. The Defense Contracting Auditing Agency, I know is a little bit outside of your lane but I would appreciate it if you would offer a perspective. The Commission on Wartime Contracting had indicated that there were some 56,000 -- 56,0000 -- contracts behind in terms of auditing these contracts. Why is that? How can that be? How is it that DoD can be so far behind in this? Sorry, your microphone please.
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: Mr. Chairman, my office has actually done a lot of work with respect to DCAA. I would just say generally, first off, that I think that they probably are under-resourced and need help in that respect but historically DCAA has been a very challenged organization. They do a tremendous amount of work for a lot of agencies -- not just inside the Department of Defense but outside the Department of Defense. In the last three to four years, the DCAA has undergone some sweeping changes as a result of some fairly significant criticisms of their leadership, of their processes, and-and not meeting expectations. As a result of that, it has new leadership today with Pat Fizgerald who was the Director of Army Audit. And Pat has taken on a gigantic job. And with the work that my office has done to try to help them identify vulnerabilities in their mangagement, in their processes and how to be an effective organization, for the last two years, their focus has been -- and this is Gordon Heddell talking -- more internal than external. So while, under ideal circumstances, they would have been focusing outward, doing great work, doing lots of audits with very experienced and good leadership, they've had to focus inward to correct management deficiencies and vulnerabilities. I think that's partially a result of this backlog in audits, not entirely.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: And-and my understanding is we've been participating in a lot of wars and spending a lot of money and a lot of resources, as that expenditure has gone up, help me understand what's happening with the actual auditors themselves because you have been appropriated more money.
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: Absoultely. In fact, I've been a very fortunate organization. In the last three or four years, the DoD Office of Inspector General has been plussed up some $87 million, Mr. Chairman. I doubt that any other IG can say that, so I'm very fortunate. The Congress has been very supportive of me. And for that matter, so has the Department of Defense.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: But have you been spending that money?
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: No. The problem there is that the budget, the $87 million in plus ups that I have received have not been annualized. And what that means is that although I'm very fortunate to get these plus ups, I'm not able to use that money to hire permanent staff. So I can hire contractors, I can -- I can do other things with that money but I cannot, because it's not being annualized by the Department, I cannot run the risk of hiring people and then having to RIFF them [lay them off] the following year for fear that I don't have enough money in my budget to pay them. It's a problem.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Of that $87 million that you've gotten, how much did you actually spend?
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: Well we have spent almost all of it because --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: But you're hiring outside contractors to do --
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: Yes, sir. We're hiring outside contractors. We're creatively doing work that is positive and meets the needs of both the Congress and the Department and the American people. But, for instance, you know one of the -- in the early 2000s, there's two things that happened that have come to haunt us today. One is that while we sent our military forces into southeast Asia to fight two wars, there was a mistaken belief by many of the civilian agencies that they could fight those two wars in the continental United States, my own organization being one of those. And it wasn't until three of four years ago that we came to the realization you cannot do that, that you must be present, and you have to have the people in place, you have to have the footprint. The second thing that happened is that the Department of Defense's budget doubled to about $650 billion dollars. And at the same time, the contract -- Aquistion and Contract Management Workforce, in fact, was reduced in size meaning that we lacked thousands and thousands of needed contracting specialists that are not there to oversight these contracts, that are not there to raise their hand and say 'stop the assembly line.' We're spending money that we're not watching. We're not surveillling it. So those are the two major issues.
Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz: Well thank you, I appreciate that. I think this highlights a mulit-billion dollar problem and challenge that we certainly need to address and fix because I think there is a definite need that is pervasive in the Congress -- both in the House and the Senate -- to make sure that these types of functions are in place. But the way that the money is appropriated is obviously falling short and failing.
Now we're going to fall back to the December 1st snapshot to note the November 30th hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing:
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.
Ackerman went on to note how "the program's objectives remain a mushy bowl of vague platitudes" and how it had "no comprehensive and detailed plan for execution, there is no current assessment of Iraqi police force capability and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no outcome-based metrics. This is a flashing-red warning light."
We dropped back because this issue was also raised in today's hearing.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: Mr. Bowen, right now the police development program is the administration's largest foreign aid project for Iraq going forward. And there's some evidence that the Iraqis don't even want this program. So have you or your staff asked the Iraqi police forces if they need the $500 million a year program that the Obama administration is planning to spend on the police development program?
SIGIR Stuart Bowen: Yes, Mr. Labrador, we have and we reported on that in our last quarterly report noting that the senior official at the Ministry of the Interior, Senior Deputy Minister al-Assadi said "he didn't see any real benefit from the police development program." I addressed that with him when I was in Iraq a couple of weeks ago and I asked him, "Did you mean what you said?" And his response was, "Well we welcome any support that the American government will provide us; however, my statements as quoted in your recent quarterly are still posted on my website."
US House Rep Raul Labrador: So why is the administration still spending $500 million a year to provide this program?
SIGIR Stuart Bowen: There's a beliff that security continues to be a challenge in Iraq, a well founded belief, I might add, given the events of this week. Killings of pilgrims again, on the way to Najaf, on the eve of Ashura. The focus though on trying to address those problems has been a widely scattered, high level training program involving about 150 police trainers who, as we've seen again this week, are going to have a very difficult time moving about the country.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: So what other problems have you found with the police development program, if any?
SIGIR Stuart Bowen: Several. Well, Mr. Labrador, we pointed out in our audit that, one Iraqi buy-in, something that the Congress requires from Iraq, by law, that is a contribution of 50% to such programs,has not been secured -- in writing, in fact, or by any other means. That's of great concern. Especially for a Ministry that has a budget of over $6 billion, a government that just approved, notionally, a hundred billion dollar budget for next year. It's not Afghanistan. This is a country that has signficant wealth, should be able to contribute but has not been forced to do so, in a program as crucial as this.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: I know I've run out of time but, Mr. Geisel, do you have any comments on this?
Deputy Inspector General for US State Dept Harold Geisel: Well, of course, first of all, I'm not going to second guess my friend and colleague on what his people found. And, of course, the people you need to bring up here are the people from the State Department to comment on what he found. I do -- I saw that the Department published a document -- a 21-page document that includes goals and measures of performance for the police development program but it's my friend's baby, not mine.
After that bit of hot potato, the next big issue was returning to the lack of nominees to fill the soon to be vacant oversight roles.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: One of the things that's most frustrating to me as a freshman in Congress is that there are some things that both sides agree on that we need to be working on and yet we're not doing them. I look at the Oversight Committee, here, I don't think there's a lot of difference. There might be some small differences between the two sides, but it seems like we can identify some things like the $500 million that we're going to spend on the Iraq police force that they don't even want, that we should be finding things in common that we could be saving on. I want -- if we could put on that transparency here on President Obama. And I'm not saying this, I'm not using this to embarrass anybody, but President Obama has said on his website that he's committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history. He wants a window for all Americans into the business of government. And that's something that I want. I actually agree with him on this issue. Yet this panel is representing the IG offices principally responsible for overseeing tax payer money in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as of January 4th of next year, four of the five offices will not have an IG. I'm concerned about that. I want everybody to comment, do you know whether the President has nominated anyone to fill these vacancies? If so, who has been nominated? Have you made any recommendations? And do you think the absence of permanent IGs will actually harm our efforts in oversight? And anyone can take this question.
DoD IG Gordon Heddell: I-I certainly would like to comment. Number one, I don't know the names, Congressman Labradour, of anyone who might have been nominated or who is being considered to be nominated. Number two, I can tell you that the confirmation -- the nomination and confirmation process that we have is cumbersome and slow and it has an adverse impact on the leadership of these organizations. Number three, when I took over as the acting inspector general in July of 2008, the DoD IG had -- at the very top -- been vacant for so many years -- over the past 10, 12 years, you can't imagine. And so to run an organization using an acting inspector general as the leader is foolhardy. You can do it for a few months, but you cannot succeed over years and decades and that is what has happened.
US House Rep Raul Labrador: Does anybody know why that has happened? Is there any reason why? It seems like both sides would agree that we need a robust IG in all of these agencies. Does anybody have any comments on that? Mr. Carroll?
US AID acting IG Michael Carroll: I can't comment on what the White House is doing but I just want to assure you on behalf of the USAID IG that one of the great things about working for Don Gambatesa, it was truly a partnership between him and I, so as I moved into the acting role, other than the fact that it's a bit of a work load issue for me, the work goes on and the leadership philosophy continues and so I just want to assure the Subcommittee that-that there'll be no-no degredation in our effectiveness or what our work is going to be for as long as it takes the President to make a decision on the IG job.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Electing the other party





Today the UN Security Council discussed the situation in Iraq (link is streaming). Appearing before them was Martin Kobler who the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq.
SRSG Martin Kobler: Let me start at the outset by condemning in the strongest possible terms yesterday's atrocious, terrorist attacks on Ashura pilgrims which killed dozens and injured many more. Mr. Ambassador, my condolences go to the families of the victims. The Iraqi religious and ethnic diversity is the ultimate strength of the country. This diversity is at the heart of the country's effort to establish a peaceful, prosperous and all-inclusive society.
It wasn't a good start. S'hi'ites are the dominant group in Iraq -- both in terms of controlling the govnerment and in terms of sheer numbers. So Kobler looked like a little kiss ass sucking up to the butt of power. It would have taken one sentence to note the Friday assault on Iraqi Christians. But he didn't.
Today, UPI quotes the Iraqi Minorities Council's vice chair Louis Climis explaining, "The sad fact that minrorities still need to camouflage their identity implies they are often ignored or discriminated in public life." And they note that Minority Rights Group International has determined as many "as 4,000 Christian families fled Baghdad" in the last thirteen months. Though many of the more than one million Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the start of the war, a significant number have moved to the Kurdistan Regional Government's three provinces which is thought to be 'safer' Iraq and more welcoming. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, religious minorities were targeted there as well on Friday. Catholic Culture explains it this way, "Following an imam's sermon -- described as 'vitriolic' by AsiaNews -- Islamist protestors destroyed dozens of liquor stores and other property owned by Christians in Zakho, a city of 200,000 in northern Iraq. The violence then spread to surrounding towns."
Damaris Kremida (Christian News Today) adds, "After mullah Mala Ismail Osman Sindi's sermon claiming there was moral corruption in massage parlors in the northern town of Zakho on Friday (Dec. 2), a group of young men attacked and burned shops in the town, most of them Christian-owned. The businesses included liquor stores, hotels, a beauty salon and a massage parlor, according to Ankawa News." Hevidar Ahmed and Ahmed Iminki (Rudaw) interviewed Mala Ismail Osman Sindi who denies doing any inciting and insists all he did was talk "about massage parlors" and "I only said that instead of massage parlors, people should build mosques." However, they also interview someone attending the service who states that the message preached got the response of angry cry for destruction and Sindi affirms that one person did shout out during the service but states he handled that. An observer in Zakho states, "After the Friday sermon, a large number of people gathered in front of the massage parlor, attacked and set it on fire. Later on, they stormed liquor stores and women's hair salons." City officials states 20 liquor stores, 3 hotels, 1 woman's hair salon and a massage parlor were set on fire while Sumel officials state "four liquor stores were burnt in their town."
IRIN notes, "While violence in 2011 is slightly lower than in 2010, [Minority Rights Group International's Chris] Chapman said, there have been several attacks on churches; an attack on a Turkmen political party; repeated attacks on members of the Shabak, Yezidi and Mandaean minorities, including kidnappings and murders, according to local NGOs; and continued targeting of shops providing goods or services deemed un-Islamic, including liquor stores owned by Christians and Yezidis, according to USCIRF[US Commission on International Religious Freedom]."
It takes a special kind of insanity to insist that religious and ethnic diversity are the strength of the country and refuse to acknowledge attacks on that diversity. Again, the dominant population is Shi'ite. Alsumaria TV reported yesterday:
Iraqi Yazidi citizens in Dahuk Province, 450 km northern Baghdad, are concerned about the situation and its accelerated implications in the province as well as in some areas of Kurdistan Region following some sectarian attacks on alcohol shops and bars in Dahuk Province. Yazidis began guarding their territories on their own, while the Directorate of Yazidi affairs called security forces to take strict measures to protect citizens.
"The compound residents fear the same attacks that took place last night in Zakho and Samil regions," mayor of Khanik Al Yazidi Compound Kiran Ido told Alsumarianews. "Since last night, about 400 men are guarding the compound in anticipation of any attack," Ido added.
"The compound's residents fear to be targeted," Ido affirmed calling concerned authorities to "take action towards fixing this unusual situation."
The worries of Yazidis and other minorities in the Kurdish part of Iraq following Friday's incidents are justified," some observers said. "These incidents threaten peace in this region known for its ethnic diversity especially after the latest incidents which Christians considered as targeting them since they are the biggest traders of alcohol in the region," observers added.

The slogan is "This is your UN" but when they're forgotten and ignored, it may be very difficult for Iraqi Christians and Yazidis (among other groups) to feel that way.
Kobler spoke of spending a great deal of time on the issue of Camp Ashraf and this issue was the one he most emphasized.
Background, Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."

We're going to include two more excerpts of Kobler's testimony. Both because this is a serious issue and because it matters what he said. Many people following this issue don't want summaries -- which might or might not be accurate -- they want the actual words.
SRSG Martin Kobler: The government of Iraq has asked the United Nations to facilitate a peaceful and durable solution to this matter and we are making an exhaustive effort to do so. We believe that such a solution is possible. However, the positions of the government of Iraq and the Camp Ashraf residents and their leaderships still remain far apart. The government of Iraq repeatedly emphasized its intention to close down the camp by December 31st this year and to transfer its residents to another location until countries are found outside Iraq where they can reside. This deadline is fast approaching. The position of Camp Ashraf residents to remain in the Camp until countries are found to receive them -- is to remain in the Camp until countries are found to receive them. They still do not agree to be transferred to a new location outside the camp without the protection of Blue Helmets [a phrase referring to UN peace keeping forces]. I'm pleased by the progress made so far and by the government of Iraq's agreement to give UNHCR the role it has under its mandate.
Yes, that's how sad it was. The UN envoy is thanking the Iraqi government for following the mandate. We'll note another section and I'm not sure what he's attempting to say in the last sentence of the quote (possibly no "lasting solution" in Iraq?).
SRSG Martin Kobler: The Secretary-General has spoken personally to Mr. Maliki to appeal for flexibility and for full support for the UN's efforts to faciliate this peaceful solution the government has assured that it seeks. He has asked me to attach the highest priority to this case. In trying to facilitate a solution, we are emphasizing a number of important points. First, that lives are at stake and must be protected. The government has a responsibility to ensure the safety, security and welfare of the residents. Any forced action that results in bloodshed or loss of lives would be both ill-advised and unacceptable. Second, we believe that any workable solution must be acceptable to both the government of Iraq and to the residents of Camp Ashraf. The solution must respect Iraqi soveriegnty on the one hand and applicable international humanitarian human rights and refugee law on the other hand. Third, a solution must also respect the principle of nonrefoulement. No resident of Camp Ashraf should be returned to his or her home country without consent. While some progess has been made in our latest discussions in Baghdad, many obstacles remain to arriving at a plan that would meet the concerns and requirements of all concerned. Subject to all conditions being met, UNHCR is ready to begin verification and interviews for the purpose of refugee status determination; however, the process will take time to complete and clearly the situation cannot be fully resolved before December 31st. I, therefore, appeal to the government of Iraq to extend this deadline in order to permit adequate time and space for a solution to be found. I also appeal to the leadership and residents of Camp Ashraf to engage constructively and with an open mind to this process. They should give serious consideration to the proposals under discussion. There should be no provocation or violence from their side nor a challenge to Iraqi sovereignty. Finally I appeal to the international community to do more to help. A lasting solution cannot be found and as governments step forward and offer to accept Camp Ashraf residents to resettle in their countries.

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