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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq War’

Iraq War “ends” with a $4 trillion IOU

Posted by Admin on December 20, 2011

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28232

by Christopher Hinton

Global Research, December 15, 201

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The nine-year-old Iraq war came to an official end on Thursday, but paying for it will continue for decades until U.S. taxpayers have shelled out an estimated $4 trillion.

Over a 50-year period, that comes to $80 billion annually.

Ceremony marks end of Iraq war

The flag is lowered Thursday in Baghdad at a ceremony to mark the closure of U.S. military headquarters and the end of the war in Iraq.

Although that only represents about 1% of nation’s gross domestic product, it’s more than half of the national budget deficit. It’s also roughly equal to what the U.S. spends on the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency combined each year.

Near the start of the war, the U.S. Defense Department estimated it would cost $50 billion to $80 billion. White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was dismissed in 2002 after suggesting the price of invading and occupying Iraq could reach $200 billion.

“The direct costs for the war were about $800 billion, but the indirect costs, the costs you can’t easily see, that payoff will outlast you and me,” said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at American Progress, a Washington, D.C. think tank, and a former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan.

Those costs include interest payments on the billions borrowed to fund the war; the cost of maintaining military bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain to defend Iraq or reoccupy the country if the Baghdad government unravels; and the expense of using private security contractors to protect U.S. property in the country and to train Iraqi forces.

Caring for veterans, more than 2 million of them, could alone reach $1 trillion, according to Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in Congressional testimony in July.

Other experts said that was too conservative and anticipate twice that amount. The advance in medical technology has helped more soldiers survive battlefield injuries, but followup care can often last a lifetime and be costly.

More than 32,000 soldiers were wounded in Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Add in Afghanistan and that number jumps to 47,000.

Altogether, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost the U.S. between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, more than half of which would be due to the fighting in Iraq, said Neta Crawford, a political science professor at Brown University.

Her numbers, which are backed by similar studies at Columbia and Harvard universities, estimate the U.S. has already spent $2 trillion on the wars after including debt interest and the higher cost of veterans’ disabilities.

The annual budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs has more than doubled since 2003 to a requested $132.2 billion for fiscal 2012. That amount is expected to rise sharply over the next four decades as lingering health problems for veterans become more serious as they grow older.

Costs for Vietnam veterans did not peak until 30 or 40 years after the end of the war, according to Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“We will have a vast overhang in domestic costs for caring for the wounded and covering retirement expenditure of the war fighters,” said Loren Thompson, a policy expert with the Lexington Institute. “The U.S. will continue to incur major costs for decades to come.”

Global Research Articles by Christopher Hinton

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Leaked Iraq war files detail torture, civilian killings

Posted by Admin on October 23, 2010

LONDON (AFP) – Graphic accounts of torture, civilian killings and Iran’s hand in the Iraq war are detailed in hundreds of thousands of US military documents made public on the whistleblower websiteWikiLeaks.

Across nearly 400,000 pages of secret military field reports spanning five years, the largest military leak in history, a grisly picture emerges of years of blood and suffering following the 2003 US invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Many of the classified documents, which span from January 1 2004 to December 31 2009, chronicle claims of abuse by Iraqi security forces, while others appear to show that American troops did nothing to stop state-sanctioned torture.

The documents, made public Friday, comprise the second such release from the controversial website, which accused the United States of “war crimes” and earlier released some 92,000 similar secret military files detailing operations in Afghanistan.

Website founder Julian Assange said the files reveal a “bloodbath” in previously unseen detail.

“These documents reveal six years of the Iraq war at a ground level detail — the troops on the ground, their reports, what they were seeing, what they were saying and what they were doing,” he told CNN.

“We’re talking about a five times greater kill rate in Iraq, really a comparative bloodbath compared to Afghanistan.”

WikiLeaks made the files available to the Guardian newspaper, the New York Times, Le Monde and Der Spiegel weeks ago, then just before their publication sent a Twitter message to select journalists, in a secretive invite that turned out to be a three-hour lock-in preview of the documents.

In one report, US military personnel describe detainee abuse by Iraqis at a facility in Baghdad that is holding 95 detainees in a single room where they are “sitting cross-legged with blindfolds, all facing the same direction.”

It says “many of them bear marks of abuse to include cigarette burns, bruising consistent with beatings and open sores… according to one of the detainees questioned on site, 12 detainees have died of disease in recent weeks.”

Other reports describe Iraqis beating prisoners and civilian women being killed at US military checkpoints.

The Guardian newspaper said the leak showed “US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.”

It added that “more than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents,” going on to say that “US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.”

And the Guardian said the “numerous” reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, “describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks.” It added: “Six reports end with a detainee’s apparent death.”

The Guardian said WikiLeaks is thought to have obtained the electronic archive from the “same dissident US army intelligence analyst” who leaked 90,000 logs about the war in Afghanistan this year. WikiLeaks has not revealed its source.

Al-Jazeera concluded that major findings of the leaked papers included a US military cover-up of Iraqi state-sanctioned torture and “hundreds” of civilians deaths at manned American checkpoints after the US-led invasion of 2003.

On Iran’s role in the conflict, the secret US files show Tehran waging a shadow war with US troops in Iraq, with a firefight erupting on the border and Tehran allegedly using militias to kill and kidnap American soldiers.

The documents describe Iran arming and training Iraqi hit squads to carry out attacks on coalition troops and Iraqi government officials, with the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps suspected of playing a crucial role, the Times and the Guardian reported, citing the files.

Attacks backed by Iran persisted after US President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, with no sign that the new leader’s more conciliatory tone led to any change in Tehran’s support for the militias, the New York Times wrote.

The documents describe accounts from detainees, the diary of a captured militant and the discovery of numerous weapons caches as proof of Iran’s designs.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned “in the most clear terms” the leaks of any documents putting Americans at risk, while the Pentagon warned that releasing secret military documents could endanger US troops and Iraqi civilians.

“By disclosing such sensitive information, WikiLeaks continues to put at risk the lives of our troops, their coalition partners and those Iraqis and Afghans working with us,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

He said the documents were “essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story.”

But Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio said the release of the documents underscored the need for the US government to provide “a true accounting” of the war in Iraq.

“The American people have a right to know how many innocent civilians were killed in a war based on lies,” Kucinich said in a statement. “It is possible that more than a million innocent civilians have perished as a result of the invasion and the ensuing war.”

WikiLeaks data shows U.S. failed to probe Iraqi abuses

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – WikiLeaks released nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war on Friday, some detailing gruesome cases of prisoner abuse by Iraqi forces that the U.S. military knew about but did not seem to investigate.

The Pentagon decried the website’s publication of the secret reports — the largest security breach of its kind in U.S. military history, far surpassing the group’s dump of more than 70,000 Afghan war files in July.

U.S. officials said the leak endangered U.S. troops and threatened to put some 300 Iraqi collaborators at risk by exposing their identities.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the documents showed evidence of war crimes, but the Pentagon dismissed the files as “ground-level” field reports from a well-chronicled war with no real surprises.

“We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world,” Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, said.

The Iraq war files touched on other themes, including well-known U.S. concerns about Iranian training and support for Iraqi militias. The documents, which spanned 2003 to 2009, also detailed 66,081 civilian deaths in the Iraqi conflict, WikiLeaks said.

Assange told Al Jazeera television the documents had provided enough material for 40 wrongful killing lawsuits.

“There are reports of civilians being indiscriminately killed at checkpoints … of Iraqi detainees being tortured by coalition forces, and of U.S. soldiers blowing up entire civilian buildings because of one suspected insurgent on the roof,” WikiLeaks said in a statement.

In one 2007 case, according to the documents, an Apache helicopter killed two Iraqis suspects who had made signs that they wanted to surrender. The document said, “They can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets.” It can be seen here: http://warlogs.wikileaks.org/id/E8DE9B9F-E468-B587-E4B332C09FF48BE2/

Although the Iraq conflict has faded from U.S. public debate in recent years, the document dump threatens to revive memories of some of the most trying times in the war, including the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

Those media organizations given advance access to the database — 10 weeks in one case — broadly concluded that the documents showed that U.S. forces had effectively turned a blind eye to torture and abuse of prisoners by Iraqi forces.

In one case, an Iraqi policeman shot a detainee in the leg. The suspect was whipped with a rod and hose across his back, cracking ribs, causing multiple lacerations and welts.

“The outcome: ‘No further investigation,'” the Guardian wrote.

The documents also cited cases of rape and murder, including a videotaped execution of a detainee by Iraqi soldiers. That document can be seen here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/iraq/warlogs/BCD499A0-F0A3-2B1D-B27A2F1D750FE720

The New York Times said that “while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored.” It said soldiers had told their officers about the abuses and then asked Iraqis to investigate.

Amnesty International condemned the revelations in the documents and questioned whether U.S. authorities had broken international law by handing over detainees to Iraqi forces known to be committing abuses “on a truly shocking scale.”

“These documents apparently provide further evidence that the U.S. authorities have been aware of this systematic abuse for years,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The document release could also renew debate about foreign and domestic players influencing Iraq, which has been in a political vacuum since an inconclusive election in March.

Military intelligence reports released by WikiLeaks detail U.S. concerns that Iranian agents had trained, armed and directed death squads in Iraq, the Guardian reported.

It cited an October 31, 2005, report stating that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “directs Iranian-sponsored assassinations in Basra.”

The U.S. envoy in Iraq said in August he believed groups backed by Iran were responsible for a quarter of U.S. casualties in the Iraq war.

More than 4,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the start of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. All U.S. forces are set to withdraw from Iraq by the end of next year.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London; Editing by Peter Cooney)

======================================================================================================================================================================

THIS JUST SHOWS HOW DISGUSTING THE AMERICAN ARMY AND ITS PEOPLE ARE FOR LETTING AND MAKING THIS HAPPEN!!

EVEN AFTER THE MEDIA SPECULATES AND ANALYSES THE WIKILEAKS FILES YOU AMERICANS ARE SO INSENSITIVE YOU WILL STILL LET IT CONTINUE TO HAPPEN?

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Another False Ending: Contracting Out the Iraq Occupation

Posted by Admin on September 4, 2010

Map of major operations and battles of the Ira...

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by: Bill Quigley and Laura Raymond, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

Another false ending to the Iraq war is being declared. Nearly seven years after George Bush‘s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, President Obama has just given a major address to mark the withdrawal of all but 50,000 combat troops from Iraq. But while thousands of US troops are marching out, thousands of additional private military contractors (PMCs) are marching in. The number of armed security contractors in Iraq will more than double in the coming months.

While the mainstream media is debating whether Iraq can be declared a victory or not, there is virtually no discussion regarding this surge in contractors. Meanwhile, serious questions about the accountability of private military contractors remain.

In the past decade, the United States has dramatically shifted the way in which it wages war – fewer soldiers and more contractors.

Last month, the Congressional Research Service reported that the Department of Defense (DoD) workforce has 19 percent more contractors (207,600) than uniformed personnel (175,000) in Iraq and Afghanistan, making the wars in these two countries the most outsourced and privatized in US history.

According to a recent State Department briefing to Congress’ Commission on Wartime Contracting, from now on, instead of soldiers, private military contractors will be disposing of improvised explosive devices, recovering killed and wounded personnel, downed aircraft and damaged vehicles, policing Baghdad’s International Zone, providing convoy security and clearing travel routes, among other security-related duties.

Worse, the oversight of contractors will rest with other contractors. As has been the case in Afghanistan, contractors will be sought to provide “operations-center monitoring of private security contractors (PSCs)” as well as “PSC inspection and accountability services.”

The Commission on Wartime Contracting, a body established by Congress to study the trends in war contracting, raised fundamental questions in a July 12, 2010, “special report” about the troop drawdown and the increased use of contractors:

“An additional concern is presented by the nature of the functions that contractors might be supplying in place of US military personnel. What if an aircraft-recovery team or a supply convoy comes under fire? Who determines whether contract guards engage the assailants and whether a quick-reaction force is sent to assist them? What if the assailants are firing from an inhabited village or a hospital? Who weighs the risks of innocent casualties, directs the action and applies the rules for the use of force?

“Apart from raising questions about inherently governmental functions, such scenarios could require decisions related to the risk of innocent casualties, frayed relations with the Iraqi government and populace and broad undermining of US objectives.”

We’d like to pose an additional question to the ones listed above: when human rights abuses by private military contractors occur in the next phase of the occupation of Iraq, which certainly will happen, what is the plan for justice and accountability?

This massive buildup of contractors in Iraq takes place at a time when the question of contractor immunity – or impunity – is at a critical point.

In one example, since 2004 our organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), has been demanding – in US courts and through advocacy – that private military contractors who commit grave human rights abuses be held accountable. Contractors have responded by claiming something known as the “government contractor defense,” arguing that because they were contracted by the US government to perform a duty, they shouldn’t be able to be held liable for any alleged violations that occurred while purportedly performing those duties – even when the alleged violations are war crimes. Contractors also argue that the cases CCR has brought raise “political questions” that are inappropriate for the courts to consider. These technical legal arguments have been the focus of human rights lawsuits for years – and, so far, the question of the contractors’ actual actions have not been reviewed by the federal courts.

One case that should be watched closely this fall is Saleh v. Titan, a case brought by CCR and private attorneys against CACI and L-3 Services (formerly Titan), two private military contractors, which military investigations implicated as having played a part in the torture at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers throughout Iraq.

Saleh v. Titan was filed six years ago on behalf of Iraqis, who were tortured and otherwise seriously abused while detained, and currently includes hundreds of plaintiffs, including many individuals who were detained at the notorious “hard site” at Abu Ghraib. The plaintiffs in Saleh v. Titan, many of whom still suffer from physical and psychological harm, are simply seeking their day in court, to tell an American jury what happened to them.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the case last September, and the Supreme Court will be deciding whether or not to take the case this fall. This and a handful of other cases will signal how civil lawsuits on behalf of those injured or killed by contractors will be handled in US courts – and decide whether victims of egregious human rights violations will obtain some form of redress, and whether contractors who violate the law will be held accountable or be granted impunity.

And how will human rights abuse by contractors be handled by criminal prosecutors in the coming years? Given its track record, it is safe to say that Iraqi civilians cannot count on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute many contractor abuse cases. The DOJ was given an “F” by Human Rights First in their 2008 report “Ending Private Contractor Impunity: Report Cards on the US Government Response since Nisoor Square.” The DOJ has never pursued criminal prosecutions for contractor involvement in the crimes of Abu Ghraib, something CCR still demands today.

Iraq’s Parliament signed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in 2008, which gave it the power to prosecute some US contractors who commit crimes against Iraqi civilians. We can all hope Iraq’s justice system will be able to overcome the political challenges involved in prosecuting US companies or US contractors and other foreigners in Iraq’s courts. But even that will not stop the common practice of contractor companies simply pulling their employees out of the country when a crime happens.

With these fundamental questions left unanswered and legal loopholes left open, thousands more armed contractors will soon be filing into Iraq, onto the streets where Iraqis work, study and go about their everyday lives.

As a senator, Obama called for less dependence on private military contractors and for accountability when they committed human rights abuses. He told Defense News in 2008 that he was “troubled by the use of private contractors when it comes to potential armed engagements.” Senator Clinton co-sponsored legislation to phase out the use of security contractors in war zones.

As president, Obama pretends the occupation of Iraq is ending with the withdrawal of combat troops while he and Secretary of State Clinton quietly hire a shadow Army to replace them.

For more information about Saleh v. Titan, please click here.

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US moves into final military phase in Iraq

Posted by Admin on September 1, 2010

Iraq header 1

Image via Wikipedia

BAGHDAD – The U.S. on Wednesday moved into the final phase of its military involvement in Iraq, with administration officials saying the war was ending even as the new commander of the remaining 50,000 troops warned of the ongoing threat from “hostile elements.”

The transfer of authority came a day after President Barack Obama announced the shift from combat operations to preparing Iraqi forces to assume responsibility for their own security. Obama made clear in Tuesday’s speech that this was no victory celebration.

A six-month stalemate over forming a new Iraqi government has raised concerns about the country’s stability and questions over whether the leadership can cope with a diminished but still dangerous insurgency.

Newly promoted Army Gen. Lloyd Austin also maintained a somber tone as he took the reins of the some 50,000 American troops who remain in Iraq, with a deadline for a full withdrawal by the end of next year.

He noted “hostile enemies” continue to threaten Iraq and pledged that “our national commitment to Iraq will not change.”

“Although challenges remain, we will face these challenges together,” Austin said during the ceremony at the opulent al-Faw palace of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Austin, who most recently served in Iraq as commander of troop operations from 2008-09, replaces Gen. Ray Odierno, who is heading to Virginia to take over the Joint Forces Command after about five years in Iraq.

“This period in Iraq’s history will probably be remembered for sacrifice, resilience and change,” Odierno said. “However, I remember it as a time in which the Iraqi people stood up against tyranny, terrorism and extremism, and decided to determine their own destiny as a people and as a democratic state.”

Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen presided over the ceremony, which was held at the main U.S. military headquarters on the southwestern outskirts of Baghdad.

Gates, visiting American troops in the Iraqi city of Ramadi Wednesday, said history will judge whether the fight was worth it for the United States.

“The problem with this war, I think, for many Americans, is that the premise on which we justified going to war turned out not to be valid,” he said. “Even if the outcome is a good one from the standpoint of the United States, it’ll always be clouded by how it began.”

Claiming that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, then-President George W. Bush ordered the invasion with approval of a Congress still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Bush’s claims were based on faulty intelligence, and the weapons were never found.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his country is grateful for what the Americans have done, but it is now time for Iraqis to secure their own future.

“We appreciate the sacrifices the U.S. military and the American people made while standing with us in these very, very difficult times,” Zebari told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “The war for Iraq’s future is ongoing and it should be fought and won by the Iraqi people and their leaders,” Zebari said.

Obama acknowledged the ambiguous nature of the war in which American forces quickly ousted Saddam but were never able to fully control the Sunni Muslim insurgency against the Shiite-dominated establishment that even now threatens to re-ignite.

Still, he said the time had come to close this divisive chapter in U.S. history.

“We have met our responsibility,” Obama said. “Now it is time to turn the page.”

Avoiding any hint of claiming victory in a war he once called a major mistake, the president recognized the sacrifices of America’s military. More than 4,400 American troops and an estimated 100,000 Iraqis were killed at a cost of billions of dollars.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, said Tuesday the end of U.S. combat operations was a return to sovereignty for the battered country and he reassured his people that their own security forces could defend them.

Iraqi forces on Wednesday appeared to be on heightened alert, spread out at checkpoints across the city intended to reassure the populace and ward off insurgent attacks.

Just under 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — down from a peak of about 170,000 at the height in 2007. Those forces will not be able to go on combat missions unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi forces.

But drawing a line between what is and is not combat may not be easy. All American forces carry weapons and they still come under attack from insurgents near daily. Earlier this month, for example, Sgt. Brandon E. Maggart, 24, of Kirksville, Mo. was killed near the southern city of Basra on Aug. 22 — a few days after the last combat brigade rolled across the border into Kuwait.

Iraq is also far from the stable democracy once depicted by the Bush administration and hoped for by Obama when he laid out his timeline for withdrawing American troops shortly after he took office in 2009.

Half a year has passed since Iraq’s March 7 elections and the country’s political leaders have so far failed to form a new government.

While Iraqis are generally happy to see the U.S. military pulling back, they are also apprehensive the withdrawal may be premature as militants hammer local security forces. Iraqis also say they fear their country may still revert to a dictatorship or split along religious and ethnic fault lines.

___

AP National Security Correspondent Anne Gearan in Ramadi and AP Writer Barbara Surk in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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So, Who Won the War in Iraq? Iran.

Posted by Admin on August 31, 2010

Original caption:"Shaking Hands: Iraqi Pr...

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by: Mohamad Bazzi  |  GlobalPost | News Analysis

Beirut, Lebanon – In February 2003, as he marshaled the United States for war, President George W. Bush declared: “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”

Now, as the U.S. military concludes its combat role — which President Barack Obama will formally announce from the Oval Office on Tuesday — Iraq is indeed a dramatic example for the Middle East, but not in the ways that Bush and his administration envisioned. Iraq did not become a beacon of democracy, nor did it create a domino effect that toppled other dictatorial regimes in the Arab world. Instead, the Iraq war has unleashed a new wave of sectarian hatred and upset the Persian Gulf’s strategic balance, helping Iran consolidate its role as the dominant regional power.

The Bush administration argued that its goal was to protect U.S. interests and security in the long run. But the region is far more unstable and combustible than it was when U.S. forces began their march to Baghdad seven years ago. Throughout the Middle East, relations between Sunnis and Shiites are badly strained by the sectarian bloodletting in Iraq. Sunnis are worried about the regional ascendance of the Shiite-led regime in Iran; its nuclear program; its growing influence on the Iraqi leadership; and its meddling in other countries with large Shiite communities, especially Lebanon.

Iran is the biggest beneficiary of the American misadventure in Iraq. The U.S. ousted Tehran’s sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, from power. Then Washington helped install a Shiite government for the first time in Iraq’s modern history. As U.S. troops became mired in fighting an insurgency and containing a civil war, Iran extended its influence over all of Iraq’s Shiite factions.

Today’s Middle East has been shaped by several proxy wars. In Iraq, neighboring Sunni regimes backed Sunni militants, while Iran supported Shiite militias. In Lebanon, an alliance between Washington and authoritarian Sunni Arab regimes — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries — backed a Sunni-led government against Hezbollah, a Shiite militia funded by Iran. And in the Palestinian territories, Iran and Syria supported the militant Hamas, while the U.S. and its Arab allies backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement.

In 2007, at the height of the insurgency and sectarian conflict in Iraq, I went to see Marwan Kabalan, a political scientist at Damascus University. He explained the regional dynamics better than anyone else. “Everyone is fighting battles through local proxies. It’s like the Cold War,” he told me. “All regimes in the Middle East recognize that America has lost the war in Iraq. They’re all maneuvering to protect their interests and to gain something out of the American defeat.”

With U.S. influence waning and Iran ascendant, Iraq’s other neighbors are still jockeying to gain a foothold with the new government in Baghdad. For example, Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al-Saud dynasty views itself as the rightful leader of the Muslim world, but Iran is challenging that leadership right now. Although Saudi Arabia has a Sunni majority, its rulers fear Iran’s potential influence over a sizable and sometimes-restive Shiite population concentrated in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province. In Bahrain (another American ally in the Persian Gulf), the Shiite majority is chafing under Sunni rulers who also fear Iran’s reach.

Even worse, the brutal war between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority unleashed sectarian hatreds that are difficult to contain. This blowback has been most keenly felt in Lebanon, a small country with a history of religious strife. During Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990, the sectarian divide was between Muslims and Christians. This time, the conflict is mainly between Sunnis and Shiites — and it is fueled, in part, by the bloodbath in Iraq.

After Saddam was executed in December 2006, Sunnis saw the U.S. and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government as killing off the last vestiges of Arab nationalism. Although Saddam was once a dependable ally of the West, by the 1990s he was among the few Arab leaders who defied the United States and European powers. In the Sunni view, America and its allies eradicated the idea of a glorious Arab past without offering any replacement for it — other than sectarianism.

In 2007 and 2008, Lebanese Sunnis felt besieged as they watched news from Iraq of Shiite death squads executing Sunnis and driving them out of Baghdad neighborhoods. At the same time, Hezbollah was trying to topple the Sunni-led Lebanese government by staging street protests and a massive sit-in that paralyzed downtown Beirut. In January 2007, as they confronted Hezbollah supporters during a nationwide strike, groups of Sunnis waved posters of Saddam and chanted his name in front of TV cameras.

It was a rich contradiction: American-allied Sunnis in Lebanon carrying posters of Saddam, a dictator the U.S. had spent billions of dollars and lost thousands of lives to depose. But it was also a declaration of war. Saddam, after all, killed hundreds of thousands of Shiites in Iraq. Many Lebanese Shiites have relatives in Iraq, and the two communities have had close ties for centuries. Lebanon’s political factions eventually compromised on a new government, but the underlying sectarian tensions are still in place, with everyone keeping a wary eye on Iraq.

As Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds argue over sharing power and the country’s oil wealth, violence is on the rise yet again. The latest elections produced a deadlocked parliament in Baghdad that has not been able to agree on a new government. Far from becoming a model of freedom and religious coexistence, Iraq remains a powder keg that could ignite sectarian conflict across the Middle East.

Mohamad Bazzi is a journalism professor at New York University and an adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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AP IMPACT: US wasted billions in rebuilding Iraq

Posted by Admin on August 31, 2010

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KHAN BANI SAAD, Iraq – A $40 million prison sits in the desert north of Baghdad, empty. A $165 million children’s hospital goes unused in the south. A $100 million waste water treatment system in Fallujah has cost three times more than projected, yet sewage still runs through the streets.

As the U.S. draws down in Iraq, it is leaving behind hundreds of abandoned or incomplete projects. More than $5 billion in American taxpayer funds has been wasted — more than 10 percent of the some $50 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction in Iraq, according to audits from a U.S. watchdog agency.

That amount is likely an underestimate, based on an analysis of more than 300 reports by auditors with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And it does not take into account security costs, which have run almost 17 percent for some projects.

There are success stories. Hundreds of police stations, border forts and government buildings have been built, Iraqi security forces have improved after years of training, and a deep water port at the southern oil hub of Umm Qasr has been restored.

Even completed projects for the most part fell far short of original goals, according to an Associated Press review of hundreds of audits and investigations and visits to several sites. And the verdict is still out on whether the program reached its goal of generating Iraqi good will toward the United States instead of the insurgents.

Col. Jon Christensen, who took over as commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region District this summer, said the federal agency has completed more than 4,800 projects and is rushing to finish 233 more. Some 595 projects have been terminated, mostly for security reasons.

Christensen acknowledged that mistakes have been made. But he said steps have been taken to fix them, and the success of the program will depend ultimately on the Iraqis — who have complained that they were not consulted on projects to start with.

“There’s only so much we could do,” Christensen said. “A lot of it comes down to them taking ownership of it.”

The reconstruction program in Iraq has been troubled since its birth shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The U.S. was forced to scale back many projects even as they spiked in cost, sometimes to more than double or triple initial projections.

As part of the so-called surge strategy, the military in 2007 shifted its focus to protecting Iraqis and winning their trust. American soldiers found themselves hiring contractors to paint schools, refurbish pools and oversee neighborhood water distribution centers. The $3.6 billion Commander’s Emergency Response Program provided military units with ready cash for projects, and paid for Sunni fighters who agreed to turn against al-Qaida in Iraq for a monthly salary.

But sometimes civilian and military reconstruction efforts were poorly coordinated and overlapped.

Iraqis can see one of the most egregious examples of waste as they drive north from Baghdad to Khan Bani Saad. A prison rises from the desert, complete with more than two dozen guard towers and surrounded by high concrete walls. But the only signs of life during a recent visit were a guard shack on the entry road and two farmers tending a nearby field.

In March 2004, the Corps of Engineers awarded a $40 million contract to global construction and engineering firm Parsons Corp. to design and build a prison for 3,600 inmates, along with educational and vocational facilities. Work was set to finish in November 2005.

But violence was escalating in the area, home to a volatile mix of Sunni and Shiite extremists. The project started six months late and continued to fall behind schedule, according to a report by the inspector general.

The U.S. government pulled the plug on Parsons in June 2006, citing “continued schedule slips and … massive cost overruns,” but later awarded three more contracts to other companies. Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons said it did its best under difficult and violent circumstances.

Citing security concerns, the U.S. finally abandoned the project in June 2007 and handed over the unfinished facility to Iraq’s Justice Ministry. The ministry refused to “complete, occupy or provide security” for it, according to the report. More than $1.2 million in unused construction material also was abandoned due to fears of violence.

The inspector general recommended another use be found for the partially finished buildings inside the dusty compound. But three years later, piles of bricks and barbed wire lie around, and tumbleweed is growing in the caked sand.

“It will never hold a single Iraqi prisoner,” said inspector general Stuart Bowen, who has overseen the reconstruction effort since it started. “Forty million dollars wasted in the desert.”

Another problem was coordination with the Iraqis, who have complained they weren’t consulted and often ended up paying to complete unfinished facilities they didn’t want in the first place.

“Initially when we came in … we didn’t collaborate as much as we should have with the correct people and figure out what their needs were,” Christensen said. He stressed that Iraqis are now closely involved in all projects.

One clinic was handed over to local authorities without a staircase, said Shaymaa Mohammed Amin, the head of the Diyala provincial reconstruction and development committee.

“We were almost forced to take them,” she said during an interview at the heavily fortified local government building in the provincial capital of Baqouba. “Generally speaking, they were below our expectations. Huge funds were wasted and they would not have been wasted if plans had been clear from the beginning.”

As an example, she cited a date honey factory that was started despite a more pressing need for schools and vital infrastructure. She said some schools were left without paint or chalkboards, and needed renovations.

“We ended up paying twice,” she said.

In some cases, Iraqi ministries have refused to take on the responsibility for U.S.-funded programs, forcing the Americans to leave abandoned buildings littering the landscape.

“The area of waste I’m most concerned about in the entire program is the waste that might occur after completed projects are handed over to the Iraqis,” Bowen said.

The U.S. military pinned great hopes on a $5.7 million convention center inside the tightly secured Baghdad International Airport compound, as part of a commercial hub aimed at attracting foreign investors. A few events were held at the sprawling complex, including a three-day energy conference that drew oil executives from as far away as Russia and Japan in 2008, which the U.S. military claimed generated $1 million in revenues.

But the contracts awarded for the halls did not include requirements to connect them to the main power supply. The convention center, still requiring significant work, was transferred to the Iraqi government “as is” on Jan. 20, according to an audit by the inspector general’s office.

The buildings have since fallen into disrepair, and dozens of boxes of fluorescent lightbulbs and other equipment disappeared from the site. Light poles outside have toppled over and the glass facade is missing from large sections of the abandoned buildings.

Waste also came from trying to run projects while literally under fire.

The Americans committed to rebuilding the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah after it was destroyed in major offensives in 2004. The U.S. awarded an initial contract for a new waste water treatment system to FluorAMEC of Greenville, S.C. — just three months after four American private security contractors were savagely attacked. The charred and mutilated remains of two of them were strung from a bridge in the city.

An audit concluded that it was unrealistic for the U.S. “to believe FluorAMEC could even begin construction, let alone complete the project, while fierce fighting occurred daily.” The report also pointed out repeated redesigns of the project, and financial and contracting problems.

The Fallujah waste water treatment system is nearly complete — four years past the deadline, at a cost of more than three times the original $32.5 million estimate. It has been scaled back to serve just a third of the population, and Iraqi officials said it still lacks connections to houses and a pipe to join neighborhood tanks up with the treatment plant.

Desperate residents, meanwhile, have begun dumping their sewage in the tanks, causing foul odors and running the risk of seepage, according to the head of Fallujah’s municipal council, Sheik Hameed Ahmed Hashim.

“It isn’t appropriate for the Americans to give the city these services without completing these minor details,” Hashim said. “We were able to wipe out part of the memories of the Fallujah battles through this and other projects. … If they leave the project as it is, I think their reputation will be damaged.”

By contrast, the Basra children’s hospital — one of the largest projects undertaken by the U.S. in Iraq — looks like a shining success story, with gardeners tending manicured lawns in preparation for its opening. But that opening has been repeatedly delayed, most recently for a lack of electricity.

The construction of a “state of the art” pediatric specialist hospital with a cancer unit was projected to be completed by December 2005 for about $50 million. By last year, the cost had soared above $165 million, including more than $100 million in U.S. funds, and the equipment was dated, according to an auditors’ report.

Investigators blamed the delays on unrealistic timeframes, poor soil conditions, multiple partners and funding sources and security problems at the site, including the murder of 24 workers. Bechtel, the project contractor, was removed because of monthslong delays blamed on poor subcontractor performance and limited oversight, the special inspector general’s office said. A Bechtel spokeswoman, Michelle Allen, said the company had recommended in 2006 that work on the hospital be put on hold because of the “intolerable security situation.”

In an acknowledgment that they weren’t getting exactly what they hoped for, Iraqi officials insisted the label “state of the art” be removed from a memorandum of understanding giving them the facility. It was described as a “modern pediatric hospital.”

Hospital director Kadhim Fahad said construction has been completed and the electricity issue resolved.

“The opening will take place soon, God willing,” he said.

Residents are pleased with the outcome. One, Ghassan Kadhim, said: “It is the duty of the Americans to do such projects because they were the ones who inflicted harm on people.”

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Associated Press Writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

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