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Archive: September 2007
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August Data Shows Decline in Attacks as Pentagon Agrees to Recommendation
09/28/2007 6:39 PM ET
The Pentagon has agreed to start supplying data categorizing enemy-initiated attacks in Iraq on a monthly basis, after a recommendation by the Government Accountability Office.

GAO made the suggestion in a "report" aptly-titled "DOD Should Provide Congress and the American Public with Monthly Data on Enemy-Initiated Attacks in Iraq in a Timely Manner," released Friday.

The Pentagon conceded to follow the recommendation, and the GAO makes use of new data from August to report a positive development supporting the inferences of US military leaders that they have recently witnessed a palpable decline in attacks.

GAO reports enemy-initiated attacks decreased to their lowest level since June 2006 this past August, primarily because of an ebb in the number targeting coalition forces, which represent the largest categorization, though the data indicated a decrease in attacks against civilians as well.

GAO report on attack data d071048r.pdf

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GAO Reports Despite Improvements, Needs Exceed VA Capacity to Provide
09/28/2007 11:01 AM ET
CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 30: A passerby drops some loose change into the can of a homeless, disabled veteran in his wheelchair looking for money along the shopping area known as the 'Magnificent Mile' on Michigan Ave.
Tim Boyle/Getty
CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 30: A passerby drops some loose change into the can of a homeless, disabled veteran in his wheelchair looking for money along the shopping area known as the 'Magnificent Mile' on Michigan Ave.

The population of homeless veterans increased by approximately 2,000 during FY 2006, according to number released in a new GAO report. Despite an increase in available beds in VA-funded transitional housing programs, GAO finds that needs far exceed available resources.

In another recent development, GAO reports VA is working to figure out how to accommodate a changing population that is increasingly seeing females and other vets with dependents struggling with homelessness.

GAO reports that VA's annual survey in 2006 found that on any given night 196,000 veterans were homeless, and increase from 194,000 in 2005--a number that represents a third overall of the homeless population in the US.

The beds made available through various VA programs in FY 2006 was 40,600, an almost 5,000-bed increase from the previous year, but still far from the estimated need for 51,700.

The VA numbers don't get into the specifics of how many of the homeless have served in Iraq, though they estimate 40% of the total are Vietnam vets, and about 4,000 served the Persian Gulf, Iraq, or Afghanistan since 1990.

Fifty percent are between the ages of 45 and 54, with 30% older and 20% younger. African-Americans are disproportionately represented at 46% of the overall total, roughly equal to the total of non-Hispanic whites. Men make up "almost all" of homeless vets, but GAO reports VA has acknowledged a growing number of women and vets with dependents entering the system.

Service providers in the VA-funded transitional housing network told the GAO that in 2006, "women veterans had sought transitional housing; some recent admissions had dependents; and a few of their beds were occupied by the children of veterans, for whom VA could not provide reimbursement."

VA's reimbursement policy only covers the costs of those who have served in the military--not any dependents. GAO reports VA officials said that they "may have to reconsider" the types of funding and services they provide in order to address the needs of the changing homeless population.

Bed Capacity, Service and Communication Gaps Challenge the Grant and Per Diem Program

Highlights d071265thigh.pdf Full Report d071265t.pdf

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Oversight Committee Says Company Shorted Security for Max Profit
09/27/2007 4:15 PM ET
FALLUJAH, IRAQ: Iraqis dance on the destroyed vehicle of the Blackwater convoy attacked 31 March 2004 in the flashpoint town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
FALLUJAH, IRAQ: Iraqis dance on the destroyed vehicle of the Blackwater convoy attacked 31 March 2004 in the flashpoint town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

A close examination of the circumstances surrounding the March 31, 2004 attack on four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah raises "serious questions about the consequences of engaging private, for-profit entities to engage in essentially military operations in a war zone," according to a report released Thursday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The consequences suggested by a study of the Blackwater Fallujah incident are the tragedies that tend to result when a for-profit entity cuts corners in order to maximize profit potential.

The committee undertook an investigation of the incident after holding hearings on contractor accountability in February 2007, at which Blackwater's general counsel testified that the vehicles involved had an “appropriate” amount of protection and that the level of staffing was “the norm” given “the threat as it was known on the ground in Iraq.”

The committee report discusses Blackwater's attempts to obstruct the oversight inquiry, even reporting that the company had to be threatened with contempt of Congress before it produced some key subpoenaed documents.

The report's negative conclusions suggest the company had reasonable fears in attempting to block any deeper look into the precipitating events and company conduct related to that tragedy.

* At the time of the Fallujah incident, Blackwater was taking over operations from a British security company, Control Risks Group. The project manager for the British company states that Blackwater "did not use the opportunity to learn from the experience gained by CRG on this operation, ... leading to inadequate preparation for taking on this task." The company's incident report states that Blackwater was informed that Control Risks Group twice rejected the mission because of unacceptable security risks, reporting: "Blackwater were informed that we had turned this task down and the reasons why were given."

* Prior to the Blackwater team's departure, two of the six members of the team were cut from the mission, depriving both security vehicles of a rear gunner. These personnel were removed from the mission to perform administrative duties at the Blackwater operations center.

* Blackwater had a contract dispute with a Kuwaiti company, Regency Hotel & Hospitality, over the acquisition of armored vehicles for the Blackwater team. Blackwater officials instructed its employees to "string these guys along and run this ... thing into the ground" because "if we stalled long enough they (Regency) would have no choice but to buy us armored cars, or they would default on the contract," in which case the contractor who hired Regency "might go directly to Blackwater for security." According to a Blackwater employee, Blackwater's contract "paid for armor vehicles," but "management in North Carolina made the decision to go with soft skin due to the cost."

* One day before the Fallujah attack, Blackwater's operations manager in Baghdad sent an urgent e-mail to Blackwater headquarters in North Carolina with the subject line "Ground Truth." The e-mail stated: "I need new vehicles. I need new COMs, I need ammo, I need Glocks and M4s. ... I've requested hard cars from the beginning. ... Ground truth is appalling."

* Because they were without maps and the mission had not been sufficiently planned, the Blackwater personnel arrived at the wrong military base the day before the attack, where they were forced to spend the night. A witness at the military base assessed that "the mission that they were on was hurriedly put together and that they were not prepared."

PRIVATE MILITARY CONTRACTORS IN IRAQ: AN EXAMINATION OF BLACKWATER’S ACTIONS IN FALLUJAH oversightbwfallujah.pdf

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Brookings Reports Recommends Review of US Reliance on Hired Guns
09/27/2007 12:55 PM ET
Members of a private security company pose on the rooftop of a house in Baghdad, 18 September 2007.
Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty
Members of a private security company pose on the rooftop of a house in Baghdad, 18 September 2007.

"The use of private military contractors appears to have harmed, rather than helped the counterinsurgency efforts of the U.S. mission in Iraq," Peter Singer writes in the executive summary of his new Brookings Institution policy paper examining the growing US reliance on hired guns.

Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at Brookings, further warns the situation is creating a dependency syndrome in which the US military has become increasingly incapable of operating without the support of private industry.

The consequence of these conflicting priorities for the US has created a situation where: "It can’t win with them, but can’t go to war without them."

Singer's study discusses how the current use of private military contractors:

* Allows policymakers to dodge key decisions that carry political costs, thus leading to operational choices that might not reflect public interest.

* Enables a “bigger is better” approach to operations that runs contrary to the best lessons of U.S. military strategy.

* Inflames popular opinion against, rather than for, the American mission through operational practices that ignore the fundamental lessons of counterinsurgency.

* Participated in a series of abuses that have undermined efforts at winning “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people.

* Weakened American efforts in the “war of ideas” both inside Iraq and beyond.

* Reveals a double standard towards Iraqi civilian institutions that undermines efforts to build up these very same institutions, another key lesson of counterinsurgency.

* Forced policymakers to jettison strategies designed to win the counterinsurgency on multiple occasions, before they even had a chance to succeed.

Singer recommends the US government re-examine its reliance on private military contractors, paying particular attention to how their use has created vulnerabilities and increased risk for US interests, and with an eye for rolling back some of the tasks they have become their domain.

Can’t Win With ‘Em, Can’t Go To War Without ‘Em: Private Military Contractors and Counterinsurgency singer200709.pdf

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Letter to Rice Charges Dept Interfering With Congressional Investigations
09/25/2007 6:22 PM ET
WASHINGTON - AUGUST 01: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) questions witnesses during a hearing August 1, 2007.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty
WASHINGTON - AUGUST 01: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) questions witnesses during a hearing August 1, 2007.

The State Department is "wrong to interfere" with the investigations of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a 6-page letter sent Tuesday.

According to Waxman, the State Department has advised Blackwater Security that they are not authorized to release any requested information to the committee without specific authorization, and is also attempting to prevent the public testimony of two top officials with intimate knowledge of corruption in the Iraqi government.

Additionally, Waxman criticized Rice's refusal to testify at any hearing regarding "the progress of political reconciliation in Iraq, the impact of corruption in Iraq, and the Blackwater incident."

Waxman is incensed by an attempt to classify any discussion about corruption with the Iraqi government because, in State's reasoning, "public discussions could undermine U.S. relations with the Maliki government."

According to an e-mail from the State Department, the following information is now classified:

Broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability/determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption, including allegations that investigations were thwarted/stifled for political reasons;

Statements/allegations concerning actions by specific individuals, such as the Prime Minister or other GOI officials, or regarding investigations of such officials.

In the letter, Waxman calls the State Department's attempt to classify this information "ludicrous."

Regarding its investigation of Blackwater, Waxman reported that his committee's request for documents was blocked by a State Department directive that instructed Blackwater "not to disclose any information concerning the contract without DOS pre-authorization in writing."

Waxman warns: "Unless the President is prepared to make an assertion of executive privilege over the Blackwater documents, the State Department has no authority to prevent their transmission to Consress."

Read it here: waxmanletter2.pdf

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USIP Report Recommends International Mediation for National Reconciliation
09/20/2007 11:44 AM ET
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 22: Members of the U.S. Army Bravo Company 82nd Airborne patrol a neighborhood August 22, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Spencer Platt/AFP/Getty
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 22: Members of the U.S. Army Bravo Company 82nd Airborne patrol a neighborhood August 22, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq.

The military surge underway since February 2007 was prompted by the rationale that reducing sectarian violence in and around Baghdad and curtailing insurgency and terrorist attacks would, together, create a breathing space for political and social groups to engage in national reconciliation and agree on common principles and policies. In other words, there is the anticipation of a direct relationship between military achievement and political achievement, and of building a positive synergy that would lead to stable conditions and permit U.S. troop reduction. Does this relationship hold true? Has the expanded military presence and its new operating strategies increased security, reduced sectarian killing and sectarian purges, and controlled insurgent and terrorist attacks? If violence has decreased, has this provided a respite to government and political forces, and have they, as a result, engaged in the necessary trust-building measures and dialogue towards reconciliation?

This report shows that the security and political situations in Iraq in the summer of 2007 were tentatively and marginally improved in Baghdad but in a state of flux, and that the political process was far behind the military effort. The report is based on conversations held in July 2007 with a large number of Iraqi political leaders and senior government officials, members of parliament from the major parliamentary groups, as well as a wide range of Iraqi citizens from Baghdad and the provinces. Its principal policy recommendations are that: a) international mediation is required to help Iraqi leaders build a new national compact; b) Iraqi leaders need to be encouraged to develop national political agendas and policies, and reduce reliance upon identity politics and narrow factional patronage; and c) that the central and provincial governments each require assistance to improve their capacity for constitutional governance.

Seven Months Into the Surge: What Does It Mean For Iraqis? wp3_iraq.pdf

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Independent Commission Sees Progress in MOD Forces, Sectarianism in MOI
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 09/05/2007 7:00 PM ET
"Sectarian partisanship, bureaucratic inefficiency, the Ministry of Interior’s reputation for corruption, a near universal rejection of the National Police as currently formed and administered, and a weak and ineffective Department of Border Enforcement continue to impede Iraq’s overall progress towards security and stability," according to the "Jones Report" on the state of Iraq's security forces.

Congress established the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq last May, chaired by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, and the group has worked through the summer to produce an assessment on the readiness capabilities of Iraqi forces.

Overall, the Commission concludes that the roughly 150,000 military forces that fall under the purview of the Ministry of Defense are making some "uneven" but certain progress, but the 190,000 civilian security forces with the Ministry of the Interior are a mess.

The report calls Iraq's national police force "operationally ineffective" and suggests it be disbanded and reconstituted. The sectarianism pervasive in police units "undermines its ability to provide security."

The Commission did see some signs of success when the local police were ethnically homogeneous with the community they served, and suggested it would be an acceptable policy to employ such considerations when constituting a police force.

The military, particularly the Army, has made greater strides in improving effectiveness, but the Commission warns that its strengths prepare it to confront internal, but not external, threats to Iraqi security.

Still, the military displays evidence of "developing the baseline infrastructures that lead to the successful formation" of a strong national defense, though still lacking on combat support and combat service support capabilities.

The Commission, responding to a specific Congressional query, concluded that Iraq's security forces would not be prepared to operate without US assistance in the next 12-18 months.

Even more than US assistance, the report makes clear that the fight against sectarian violence is not solely a responsibility of security apparatus. "The overwhelming conclusion of the Commission is that the Iraqi government holds the key to the most pressing problem of sectarian violence."

Part 1 jonesreportpart1a.pdf

Part 2 jonesreportpart1b.pdf

Part 3 jonesreportpart2a.pdf

Part 4 jonesreportpart2b.pdf

Eye on Congress
Congress Returns From Recess Geared Up for Iraq Showdown
09/04/2007 3:11 PM ET
WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions from reporters about the new legislative session that begins today at the U.S. Capitol September 4, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty
WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions from reporters about the new legislative session that begins today at the U.S. Capitol September 4, 2007 in Washington, DC.

Congress reconvened following its month-long summer recess on Tuesday, opening a session that could force a re-defining moment for the US mission in Iraq.

Though the legislative body has almost a dozen appropriations bills to attend to, and a number of other pressing legislative matters to address, debate over the war in Iraq is certain to overwhelm all other priorities.

The heated passions the war excites were on display during the opening minutes of the Senate session Tuesday, as Capitol police escorted dozens of antiwar protesters from the spectator galley, after they stood up in silent protest at the first mention of Iraq.

While the Republican leadership has urged that Petraeus's appearance on the Hill next Monday be the starting point for discussion on the next step in Iraq, Democratic leaders have stacked the first week's schedule with hearings designed to broaden the sources of input on the conflict.

This week Congressional committees will hold at least four separate hearings on the GAO's Iraq report, which determined that Iraq has failed most of the expected benchmarks for political progress. Two hearings will invite Marine Gen. James Jones to report on training and capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, and a joint House armed services and foreign affairs committee event Thursday will discuss “Beyond the September Reports: What’s Next for Iraq?”

For those members who used the prospect of the September reporting to help the White House delay Democratic initiatives to legislate a new direction in Iraq policy, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid issued a reminder: “Now that time has come and every objective assessment of the president’s strategy has shown that it has failed to deliver the political solution it promised. I am willing and ready to help my Republican colleagues keep their word by working in a bipartisan way to change course in Iraq.”

Under these circumstances, it seems highly unlikely Congress will be able to "lower the political temperature" in Washington, as Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell requested in his opening statement Tuesday.

While urging increased cooperation, the Republican leader's statement indicated how estranged the parties have become on Iraq, saying Congress will "have reason to hope" for a more cooperative legislative strategy as "more Democrats have the courage to acknowledge the good news as well as the bad news in Iraq."

With so many funding bills requiring attention, and the fiscal year coming to a close at the end of September, the prospects are high that Congress will be required to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running while the appropriations for next year are finalized.

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