Monday, May 21, 2012

Iraq: Your Precious Tax Dollars At Work

Save for some Republicans who remain blindered to larger realities, most people concluded long ago that the Iraq war was a fool's mission that wasted thousands of American and many tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, bled resources from the war in Afghanistan, bankrupted the federal treasury, lowered the U.S.'s standing in the world, and accomplished none of its goals save for taking out Saddam Hussein, who while a very bad man posed no threat to the U.S. or the Middle East, let alone had any links to the 9/11 attacks.

One of the goals of Operation Iraqi Freedom was to transform the country into a democracy, in this case at point of gun, which of course has not happened.  In point of fact, Iraq today is less stable than it was at the outset of the 2003 invasion with a Shiite thug beholden to Iran -- which has emerged as the big winner in the wake of the eight-year American occupation -- as its prime minister.

The latest casualty of the war is an ambitious multibillion-dollar State Department police training program that was to be the centerpiece of the post-occupation civilian mission.  The original 350 American law enforcement officers, backed by 1,000 support personnel, have been scaled back to 50 and even they may be withdrawn by the end of the year.

The failure of the program is a metaphor for waning American influence, indifference on the part of many Iraqis, and muscle flexing by the government led by Prime Minister Al-Maliki, whose assertion of national sovereignty took U.S. officials by surprise and hastened the withdrawal of the last combat troops.

Besides which, no one at State bothered to asks the Iraqis if they even wanted the program.  Oh, and repeated efforts by auditors for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to examine the program's books have been rebuffed with "trust us, we're the government" rejoinders.

In all, some $7.3 billion has been spend on police training since 2003, which prompted HuffPo commentator Peter Van Buren to write, "Ka-ching! Anybody's hometown in need of $7.3 billion in federal funds? Hah, you can't have it if you're American, it is only for Iraq!"

Meanwhile, a SIGIR investigation found that some U.S. commanders believe funds for relief and reconstruction may have ended up benefiting insurgents.

The watchdog agency surveyed officers and officials associated with the Commander's Emergency Response Programme (CERP), a fund used by American military officers for projects totaling $4 billion to boost rebuilding in their areas of responsibility.

"Some commanders indicated that the diversion of CERP project funds may have benefited insurgents," SIGIR said in a report.  "Money . . . was found during raids on insurgents (along with) admission from contractors that they paid money 'for protection' . . . There was substantial evidence that the local authorities were stealing right off the top."

About 150 U.S. troops remain in Iraq under the authority of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Photograph by Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

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