Sunday :: Jun 27, 2004

A Ticket To Pride, Part 1


by pessimist

"War is hell," said General William T. Sherman. "The hell with the war!" is what American taxpayers would be saying if they understood what their tax dollars are not accomplishing in Iraq.

The death toll, military and civilian, grows daily, as does the anti-Occupation violence. More Americans are being called to attend their Uncle Sam's Club meetings only to find out that they are off to Baghdad, and their civilian lives immediately become fond memories. And even government experts will grudgingly admit that Al Qaeda is growing more each day.

If the US government were a corporation, we the taxpaying shareholders would have sold off our holdings, or at least replaced the board of directors. We can't sell out, but we can replace the board - in November.

But until then, assuming those valiant Legislative Servants of the Multinational Corporations continue to aid and abet international piracy and ignore their Constitutional mandate and duty, we will continue to hemorrage - both blood and bucks. So how much is this going to cost us?


Iraq war 'will cost each US family $3,415'

The United States has spent more than $126bn on the war in Iraq, which will ultimately cost every American family an estimated $3,415, according to a new report by two thinktanks.

I'll bet that figure dwarfs your 'tax relief' from last year!

On top of the $126.1bn war spending approved by US Congress to date, another $25bn is likely to be spent by the end of this year.

Its annual costs would be enough to provide healthcare for more than half of the 43 million US citizens who lack medical insurance.

Surely there are also non-monetary human costs?

The report, published yesterday by the leftwing Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy in Focus also counts the human costs. As of June 16, before yesterday's nationwide attacks, up to 11,317 Iraqi civilians and 6,370 Iraqi soldiers or insurgents had been killed, according to the report, which is titled Paying the Price: The Mounting Costs of the Iraq War. The death toll among coalition troops was 952 by the same date, of which 853 were American. Some 694, were killed after George Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1 last year. Between 50 and 90 civilian contractors and missionaries and 30 journalists have also been killed, the report says.

But we've liberated Iraq from the iron grip of Saddam Hussein and broke ties to the terrorists of Al Qaeda! Is that not a good thing like Owwer Leedur insists it is?

"We are paying this enormously high price for failure," Phyllis Bennis, the report's lead author, said yesterday. "It's not as if we are becoming more safe. It's not as if we are bringing peace to Iraq or democracy to the Middle East."

We're not? Just what IS our money buying us???

Surely we're winning the 'War on Terra', aren't we?


Bush pleads for unity over Iraq

The credibility of Bush's war on terror now rests not only on hopes that Wednesday's handover of power to a fledgling Iraqi administration may defuse the violence, but also on talks this week on securing thousands more troops for Afghanistan, where a similar pattern is emerging with Taliban-inspired terrorist acts designed to destabilise the emergence of democracy and undermine coalition forces. The UN estimates up to 5,000 more troops are needed in Afghanistan to guarantee the elections and expand reconstruction efforts beyond safe areas around Kabul and the north.

Bush still appeared unwilling to apologise for past differences, insisting he would do what he regards as necessary, regardless of international opinion: 'We will set a vision. I will lead and we will just let the chips fall where they may,' he said. His words came as senior American officials warned they may have underestimated the strength of the insurgency in Iraq, with the US commander, General David Petraeus, predicting further 'sensational attacks'.

Is it too late to ask for a refund?


U.S. Stuck In Iraq

Eight days before U.S. caretakers are scheduled to turn over control of Iraq to an interim government, Pentagon officials told Congress that American soldiers are likely to remain there for years. "From your description, Mr. Secretary, I don't see an end in sight," said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo) of the House Armed Services Committee. "We're stuck."

"We're not stuck, Mr. Skelton," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said.

"Tell us what your measurement is for success," Skelton countered. "People ask me this. I have no answer."

"When it becomes an Iraqi fight, and the Iraqis are prepared to take on the fight, they're prepared to join their security forces. We are prepared to arm and equip them to do it," Wolfowitz responded.

On June 30, an interim Iraqi government made up of a president, two deputy presidents, a prime minister and 26 ministers will assume day-to-day governing responsibility. A multinational force made up of 140,000 U.S. troops and 23,000 troops from other countries under American command will continue to provide security. An Iraqi army of 35,000 troops will have the option of participating with multinational forces or acting on their own.

And this is supposed to make me feel better about the investment of my tax dollars into Iraq's future? And why should I as an American taxpayer be happy about THIS???


Rarely used reservists may go to Iraq

A group of Army Reserve soldiers rarely tapped for duty could soon be heading to Iraq, Pentagon officials said Wednesday. The troops, part of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), could be called to fill holes in units deploying to Iraq as part of the upcoming rotation of troops later this year. The move reflects the continued shortage of troops available to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to fight the ongoing war on terrorism as well as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As many as 6,500 IRR troops could be called and would be chosen because of critical skills needed in Iraq, such as Military Police, infantry or engineers, Pentagon officials said. About 2,000 IRR troops already serve at some capacity with Operation Iraqi Freedom, though many of them volunteered for service, according to Pentagon officials.

The Pentagon has a pool of about 118,000 Army IRR troops, consisting of people with past military service who have a remaining mandatory service obligation. The category is distinct from regular Reserve troops because they do not perform any military service during the year, yet are still eligible to be called to service.

We've spent billions in treasure and spilled gallons of blood. How much is enough?


Iraq war casualties mounting for U.S. citizen soldiers, with no letup in sight

Part-time soldiers of the National Guard and Reserve have played a role in virtually every U.S. conflict, including the 1991 war against Iraq. But rarely have they suffered so many casualties. Some states are reporting their first Guard combat deaths since World War II. The Guard and Reserve are on active duty by presidential order. The Iraq war is taking a growing toll on soldiers of the National Guard and Reserve, which have suffered more deaths since April 1 than in the previous seven months combined. They might have played a somewhat smaller role in Iraq, but the Bush administration could not get as many foreign troop contributions as it anticipated and the Iraqi insurgency has been more violent than expected.

The trend may continue after the transfer of sovereignty, since the size of the U.S. military force in Iraq including Guard and Reserve soldiers is not shrinking, and may even increase. Military officials warn that while the U.S.-led occupation authority ends Wednesday, the danger for troops will not. That forecast was underlined by Thursday's surge of insurgent attacks across Iraq which killed more than 100 Iraqis and three American troops an Army Reserve soldier from Wisconsin and two Army National Guardsmen from North Carolina.

Throughout the conflict, deaths among National Guard and Reserve troops have represented 15 percent to 20 percent of the monthly U.S. total. In May that figure jumped to 28 percent, and it jumped even higher this month, when 18 of the first 35 Americans who died were members of the Guard or Reserve. Army Gen. George Casey, chosen to assume command of all U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq, told Congress on Thursday that that National Guard and Reserve troops could make up as much as 50 percent of the total U.S. force in Iraq in the months ahead.

There currently are three National Guard combat brigades in Iraq, from North Carolina, Arkansas and Washington state. In the next several months they will be replaced by brigades from Louisiana, Tennessee and Idaho, and possibly a fourth from Mississippi. Also, the 42nd Infantry Division headquarters from the New York National Guard has been mobilized for Iraq duty. In addition, the 3,000 soldiers of the 56th Brigade of the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division were alerted in May for possible deployment to Iraq.

Pentagon casualty reports show that 100 members of the National Guard and 57 members of the Reserves have died in Iraq since the war started in March 2003 either killed in action or by noncombat causes. Of that 157 total, 57 perished in the past three months, compared with 49 over the preceding seven months. May was the deadliest month for the Guard and Reserve, with 22 killed in action.

Among states hit especially hard in recent weeks:

Oregon and New Jersey each had four Guardsmen killed this month. Oregon also had one Army Reservist killed in Afghanistan on May 29.

Arkansas lost a total of seven Guardsmen and one Reservist in Iraq in April and May.

Vermont lost three in the past month.

Florida lost five on May 2 all Navy Reservists and it lost one Guardsman in Afghanistan on May 5. Florida also lost an Army Reservist on June 16, Sgt. Arthur S. Mastrapa, a 35-year-old father of two. He was killed in a mortar attack on his unit's camp at Balad, Iraq, two days before he was to return to the United States. The mortar attack that took Mastrapa's life also killed Army Reserve Spc. Jeremy M. Dimaranan, 29, of Virginia Beach, Va. and one of the few field grade officers to die in Iraq, Maj. Paul R. Syverson III, 32, of Lake Zurich, Ill., who was with the Army's 5th Special Forces Group.

And we still need more??? What about after the 'handover'? Won't the Iraqi 'government' be able to take care of things without us?


New leaders in desperate bid to curb Iraq violence

Coalition forces yesterday set up a series of checkpoints inside and outside Baghdad as Iraq's new leaders admitted they were considering imposing a state of emergency in a desperate effort to tackle the rising tide of violence. The extra security was introduced amid mounting fears that insurgents, responsible for a series of attacks that killed 100 people on Thursday, are trying to get into the capital to disrupt the official handover of power to an Iraqi government due on Wednesday.

The continued bloodshed has prompted Iraq's new ministers to consider plans to significantly tighten security once they take power. Emergency laws may include curfews and detentions in an effort to curb the violence. Even after the handover of power to an Iraqi government, the US military will retain overall control of security and any use of martial law would have to be endorsed by the US.

So why are we pretending to hand over power to the Iraqis when we aren't going to be giving them any power at all???


The multibillion robbery the US calls reconstruction

The shameless corporate feeding frenzy in Iraq is fuelling the resistance.

Good news out of Baghdad: the Program Management Office, which oversees the $18.4bn in US reconstruction funds, has finally set a goal it can meet. Sure, electricity is below pre-war levels, the streets are rivers of sewage and more Iraqis have been fired than hired. But now the PMO has contracted the British mercenary firm Aegis to protect its employees from "assassination, kidnapping, injury and" - get this - "embarrassment". I don't know if Aegis will succeed in protecting PMO employees from violent attack, but embarrassment? I'd say mission already accomplished. The people in charge of rebuilding Iraq can't be embarrassed, because, clearly, they have no shame.

If the occupation chief Paul Bremer and his staff were capable of embarrassment, they might be a little sheepish about having spent only $3.2bn of the $18.4bn Congress allotted - the reason the reconstruction is so disastrously behind schedule. At first, Bremer said the money would be spent by the time Iraq was sovereign, but apparently someone had a better idea: parcel it out over five years so Ambassador John Negroponte can use it as leverage. With $15bn outstanding, how likely are Iraq's politicians to refuse US demands for military bases and economic "reforms"?

In the run-up to the June 30 underhand (sorry, I can't bring myself to call it a "handover"), US occupation powers have been unabashed in their efforts to steal money that is supposed to aid a war-ravaged people. Unwilling to let go of their own money, the shameless ones have had no qualms about dipping into funds belonging to Iraqis. After losing the fight to keep control of Iraq's oil money after the underhand, occupation authorities grabbed $2.5bn of those revenues and are now spending the money on projects that are supposedly already covered by American tax dollars.

The state department has taken $184m earmarked for drinking water projects and moved it to the budget for the lavish new US embassy in Saddam Hussein's former palace. Short of $1bn for the embassy, Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, said he might have to "rob from Peter in my fiefdom to pay Paul". In fact, he is robbing Iraq's people, who, according to a recent study by the consumer group Public Citizen, are facing "massive outbreaks of cholera, diarrhoea, nausea and kidney stones" from drinking contaminated water.

But then, if financial scandals made you blush, the entire reconstruction of Iraq would be pretty mortifying. From the start, its architects rejected the idea that it should be a New Deal-style public works project for Iraqis to reclaim their country. Instead, it was treated as an ideological experiment in privatisation. The dream was for multinational firms, mostly from the US, to swoop in and dazzle the Iraqis with their speed and efficiency.

Iraqis saw something else: desperately needed jobs going to Americans, Europeans and south Asians; roads crowded with trucks shipping in supplies produced in foreign plants, while Iraqi factories were not even supplied with emergency generators. As a result, the reconstruction was seen not as a recovery from war but as an extension of the occupation, a foreign invasion of a different sort. And so, as the resistance grew, the reconstruction itself became a prime target.

The contractors have responded by behaving even more like an invading army, building elaborate fortresses in the green zone - the walled-in city within a city that houses the occupation authority in Baghdad - and surrounding themselves with mercenaries. And being hated is expensive. According to the latest estimates, security costs are eating up 25% of reconstruction contracts - money not being spent on hospitals, water-treatment plants or telephone exchanges.

Meanwhile, insurance brokers selling sudden-death policies to contractors in Iraq have doubled their premiums, with insurance costs reaching 30% of payroll. That means many companies are spending half their budgets arming and insuring themselves against the people they are supposedly in Iraq to help. And, according to Charles Adwan of Transparency International, quoted on US National Public Radio's Marketplace programme, "at least 20% of US spending in Iraq is lost to corruption". How much is actually left over for reconstruction? Don't do the maths.

Rather than models of speed and efficiency, the contractors look more like overcharging, underperforming, lumbering beasts, barely able to move for fear of the hatred they have helped generate. The problem goes well beyond the latest reports of Halliburton drivers abandoning $85,000 trucks on the road because they don't carry spare tyres. Private contractors are also accused of playing leadership roles in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. A landmark class-action lawsuit filed by the Centre for Constitutional Rights alleges that Titan Corporation and CACI International conspired to "humiliate, torture and abuse persons" in order to increase demand for their "interrogation services".

And then there's Aegis, the company being paid $293m to save the PMO from embarrassment. It turns out that Aegis's CEO, Tim Spicer, has a bit of an embarrassing past himself. In the 90s, he helped to put down rebels and stage a military coup in Papua New Guinea, as well as hatching a plan to break an arms embargo in Sierra Leone.

If Iraq's occupiers were capable of feeling shame, they might have responded by imposing tough new regulations. Instead, Senate Republicans have just defeated an attempt to bar private contractors from interrogating prisoners and also voted down a proposal to impose stiffer penalties on contractors who overcharge. Meanwhile, the White House is also trying to get immunity from prosecution for US contractors in Iraq and has requested the exemption from the new prime minister, Iyad Allawi.

It seems likely that Allawi will agree, since he is, after all, a kind of US contractor himself. A former CIA spy, he is already threatening to declare martial law, while his defence minister says of resistance fighters: "We will cut off their hands, and we will behead them." In a final feat of outsourcing, Iraqi governance has been subcontracted to even more brutal surrogates. Is this embarrassing, after an invasion to overthrow a dictatorship? Not at all; this is what the occupiers call "sovereignty". The Aegis guys can relax - embarrassment is not going to be an issue.

So it's just like Deep Throat told Woodward back in the Watergate days - follow the money if you want to know the truth.

To Be Continued


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pessimist :: 11:36 AM :: Comments (5) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!