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New Report on Contingency Contracting In Iraq and Afghanistan
06/14/2009 04:00 AM ET
The Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC), is an independent, bipartisan legislative commission established to study wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are mandated by Congress to study federal agency contracting for the reconstruction, logistical support of coalition forces, and the performance of security functions, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assessment of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of wartime contracts is part of their job, and it seems some folks made their work a bit too easy, according to its latest interim report, “At What Cost? Contingency Contracting In Iraq and Afghanistan”.

That top-notch, inexpensive contracting work (and oversight thereof) you’ve come to expect is documented in uncomfortable detail for all involved.

Download a PDF of the entire document here.

Daily Column
Contractor Held in Green Zone Death to Go Free, the "Piano Man of Baghdad"
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/11/2009 02:07 AM ET
In today's editions, a bombing causes an angry crowd, a contractor held in connection to the death of another may have been freed, and what it's like to tickle the Baghdad ivories.

From Baghdad
On Wednesday, a car bomb struck a market in the southern city of al-Batha, out side of Nasiriya, killing over 30 and wounding dozens. Anger afterward was turned toward security forces for allowing the breach in security. Though this is a common occurrence of past months, the angry shouts turned to stoning in this case, and shots were fired by police to subdue the crowd, reportedly resulting in at least one injury. The governor of Dhi-Qar province, where al-Batha is located, fired the city’s chief of police immediately following the event.

Rod Nordland of the New York Times writes a detailed account, fairly comparable with the Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid. Nordland focuses on the crowd’s anger.
A crowd, including many survivors and lightly wounded people, gathered at the scene, voicing similar complaints. About midday, many of them began stoning police officers who were securing the bomb site, witnesses said.

...Police officers fired automatic weapons toward the demonstrators, dispersing them but also wounding one, according to a police official. The trouble subsided after local officials intervened to calm residents.
“Our men, our women and our children have been killed right in front of police eyes, and they did nothing. Now they come here to push around the poor people who lost their relatives,” said one of the protestors.

Shadid has an account of someone who likely witnessed the perpetrator.
Survivors at the hospital said a man in civilian clothes had parked the car, which bore a license plate from the southernmost city of Basra. Unlike most residents, dressed in traditional clothes, he stood out in his Western-style shirt and pants, said Aqil Mohammed, a 21-year-old grocer whose store was near the site of the blast.
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal writes less about the event and more of a big-picture story, framing the bombing within a context of Iraqi security and politics. A recent minibus bombing in Baghdad’s Dora district is brought into the picture.
Hadil Kamel was injured by shrapnel in the minibus explosion. She and her brother blame politicians for the recent flare-ups. She didn't blame any particular party, but suspected the violence is a move to stir up trouble in Iraq so politicians can use it to place blame on each other as they strive to get the upper hand in the upcoming elections.

"Our politicians still don't know how to solve their differences peacefully and they can only physically attack each other," said Ms. Kamel's brother, who declined to give his name for fear of retribution.
Anthony Shadid earns his money today by returning with a second article, this one about the five American contractors who were arrested this week as part of an investigation into the stabbing death of another US contractor in the Green Zone in May. It was announced that one of them will be released on Thursday. The main Iraqi government spokesman is said to be under the impression that the contractor, Don Feeney Jr., was released on Wednesday night. Throughout this entire affair, Iraqi and US sources have been out of tandem, and have often given conflicting statements.
The men were arrested a week ago as part of an investigation into the death of Jim Kitterman, 60, whose body was found May 22. An Iraqi intelligence official said Kitterman, also a contractor, had been stabbed twice in the heart, bundled in a plastic bag and dumped in a lot less than a mile from the contractors' residence.

At the time, U.S. Embassy officials stressed that the men had not been arrested on suspicion of involvement in Kitterman's killing. During a search of their house, carried out by Iraqi forces in coordination with the FBI, evidence had been found on an unrelated matter, the officials said, without disclosing details. Since then, the men have been held at an Iraqi police station in the Green Zone.
Christopher Garabedian, known as the piano man of Baghdad, is featured in the Washington Post, in a friendly profile by Nada Bakri. Garabedian, or “Christo” as he is also called, plays a mixture of eastern and western music while sipping red wine, every night “in a city where pianists are rare and music venues are few.” His basic story, from playing with bands in the 80s to selling his own piano during the violent sectarian strife of recent years, is a nice little read.

He plays at Al-Rif, a restaurant in Baghdad’s neighborhood of al-Arrassat. Patrons can again be seen in restaurants these days, but Al-Rif seems to be less than bustling, at least on the night that Bakri attended. Garabedian’s varied evening performance is followed, interspersed with his personal history. It worked as an advertisement for me – I’ll be checking him out soon.
At age 12, Garabedian started playing the harmonica at the Armenian school in Baghdad. But when his Russian teacher, Mrs. Natasha, overheard him perform the piano, she enrolled him in her lessons, he recalled. Impressed by his talent, she suggested that he travel to Moscow, where he would study to become a professional. But money was an obstacle, and Garabedian never left Iraq. Neither did he finish school or complete his lessons. Instead, he played with local bands at restaurants, parties and nightclubs for about $2 a performance, which he gave to his father.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

Daily Column
In Iraq, Colbert Does His Shtick for the Troops
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/08/2009 02:00 AM ET
The first arrests and possible charging of American citizens in post-Saddam Iraq is the main story, followed by Steven Colbert, following in Bob Hope's formidable footsteps.

From Baghdad
On May 22, the body of Jim Kitterman, a 60-year-old contractor from Houston, was found bound and stabbed to death in a car parked in a parking lot in the Green Zone. It was originally called a “crime of passion” or the result of “an argument gone bad” by State Dept. spokesmen. The immediate conclusion that was drawn by most Americans seemed to be obvious – the killer was Iraqi. On Sunday, five American civilians, contractors as well, were arrested by joint US/Iraqi forces, and they are now being held by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.

Of the two articles offered, read Nada Bakri’s in the Washington Post, as it has the most information. Conflicting accounts of possible charges have been given by Iraqi and US officials (in Iraq, formal charges aren’t made until a suspect faces a judge). FBI agents are said to have tipped Iraqi forces off on something, leading to a joint search of a residence, where weapons and drugs were reportedly found. An American official said that the five were being held on “unrelated” charges, but an interior Ministry official said they were being held for the murder.

Both the story in the Post and the one in the New York Times, by Marc Santora and Alissa J. Rubin, write if this being the first instance of the possibility of Americans being tried in an Iraqi court, since across-the-board immunity for contractors was lifted with the sighing of the security agreement.

Continuing in the Times, Campbell Robertson reports on the first taping of this week’s episodes of Steven Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” as a USO event in Baghdad’s Green Zone. As Roberston writes, Colbert’s blowhard persona made it “easy to wonder if, given the setting, he would be a little less mock Bill O’Reilly and a bit more risk-free Rich Little.”
Any doubt was dispersed the minute Mr. Colbert ran out onstage wearing a business suit made of Army camouflage and, shortly afterward, declared himself the only person man enough finally to declare victory in Iraq. (General Odierno, whom Mr. Colbert compared to Shrek, diplomatically talked that declaration down.)
According to Colbert, “There’s a thesis statement there, which is something for my character to hang on to.” He said, “My character thinks the war is over because he doesn’t hear about it anymore. He’s like a child. A ball rolls behind the couch and he thinks it’s gone forever.” Well, I guess fake news bureaus aren’t that different from real ones, after all.

Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at

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The Psychological Health of Contractors Working in War Zones
05/27/2009 2:45 PM ET
This study by Anthony Feinstein (Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and Department of Psychiatry, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Ontario) and Maggie Botes (International Contractors Association, Pretoria, South Africa) examines the psychological health of contractors working in war zones. Depression, psychological distress, alcohol abuse, demographics were all factors in the study, as was whether an employer provided pre- and post- deployment support and the availability of psychological help while on deployment.

From the introduction...
It is estimated that up to 126,000 contractors are working in Iraq. The dangers they confront are stark—unofficial estimates put their death toll at a little over 1,000, with nearly 13,000 injured in the past 6 years. Given that approximately 13% of soldiers returning from Iraq are thought to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, it is likely that many contractors will also be experiencing combat related mental health problems. No study has, however examined this question.

Download a PDF of the entire 4-page report. Contractors_war_zones_Feinstein_final.pdf

Daily Column
Thursday Night News
05/07/2009 11:15 PM ET
By Daniel W. Smith and Yousif al-Timimi

Several channels reported the Iraqi government’s announcement of “the end of Blackwater's contract in Iraq,” if not the end of its days operating within Iraq. (What’s the problem? They changed their name, didn’t they?) For all the Iraqis interviewed, it was at least two years too late. Also widely covered was another group in Iraq which is just a little more popular then Blackwater, the election commission (IHEC). Its members re-elected Faraj al-Haydari as their president.

The daily divisive news from Kirkuk had mostly to do with the presence of the Iraqi Army in what some see as pesh merga-land. Rizgar Ali, Kirkuk's city council chairman, accused the Iraqi Army’s 11th Division of conducting “illegal movements”. Gala Naftagi, a Turkman member said, "Turkmen are the first to request that the government bring the Army to Kirkuk to enforce the security because pesh merga and Asayish (Kurdish intelligence) control large areas in Kirkuk." Rakan Sayied al-Jabouri, the governor's deputy of Kirkuk, added, "The Arabs demand al-Maliki sends another army division to Kirkuk to achieve stability and security. As for the 11th Division, the commander said, "Our movements are all approved army operations, but some (of Kirkuk’s) police hinder the division's work.”

On Al-Sharqiya, the government was reported to have requested that parliament give make the Iraqi National Bank give it a loan, something which was refused, earlier in the week.

MP Abas al-Bayati made big news by saying, "A committee has been formed to bring back the United Iraqi Alliance, and al-Maliki will play a pivotal role in it."

In corruption news... Rahim al-Okaili, head of the Commission on Public Integrity, lately a whirlwind of anti-corruption charges, said, “One of the reasons for such widespread corruption is that officials feel supported and protected (from prosecution) by their parties or sectarian/ethnic groups. Kemal al-Zaidi, head of Baghdad's city council (who told Iraqslogger less than two weeks ago that corruption was the number one problem in the council), was also seen, giving the somber announcement that “The capital’s funds are very low."

On al-Iraqiya, Al-Hurra Iraq, and Baghdad TV, the Iraqi Journalists’ Union urged the Trade Minister al-Sudani to drop the lawsuits against al-Mashraq newspaper for printing quotes by MPs which charged him with corruption. By the way, Al-Hurra Iraq alone reported that Sabah al-Sudani, the trade minister's brother, was arrested in Maysan, on corruption charges. In another example that was given of Iraqi officials thinking that the main purpose of the court is to sue news organizations, the Iraqi intelligence department accused the Guardian newspaper of publishing “false claims and lies about the department,” and threatened to file a lawsuit.

Other stories on various channels.

Al-Rafadain had the Association of Muslim Scholars comforting the family “of the hero Hussain Naif," who was shot and killed after he himself killed two US soldiers and injured three more.”

The Iraqi government signed three memorandums of understanding with UNESCO, concerning “culture and science.”

Two fishermen were killed by Iranian fire in the Maysan border marshland area.

The Arab League expressed its concerns about the Iranian bombing of Iraqi villages near Sulaimaniya, in their cross-border war with the PKK’s counterpart in Iraq, PJAK.

On Al-Iraqiya, it was reported that parliament will discuss more than 50 constitutional articles for reform.

The reconciliation conference was launched in Erbil. On Al-Baghdadiya, Vice President (the Sunni one) Tariq al-Hashimi remarked, "The chances that Al-Sahwa has become a target are 100 percent.”

A car bomb exploded in north of Fallujah, in Sajer.

Two dead bodies were found in Baghdad.

Comments on the Iraqi TV roundup are welcome at
The Profits of War

Wounded Warrior Project