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Assessing the Situation, and the Next Round of Policy Choices
10/10/2008 3:01 PM ET
Here's the summary of a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report to Congress entitled "Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress."

Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was launched on March 20, 2003, with the immediate stated goal of removing Saddam Hussein’s regime and destroying its ability to use weapons of mass destruction or to make them available to terrorists. Over time, the focus of OIF shifted from regime removal to the more open-ended mission of helping the Government of Iraq (GoI) improve security, establish a system of governance, and foster economic development.

Over time, an insurgency gained strength in Iraq and violence escalated. In January 2007, the Bush Administration announced a new strategy, the “new way forward,” which included both a troop surge and new counter-insurgency approaches that emphasized population security and reconciliation. The last surge brigade redeployed from Iraq without replacement in July 2008.

Most observers agree that security conditions in Iraq have improved markedly since mid-2007. In August 2008, then-Commanding General of Multi-National Force-Iraq, General David Petraeus, noted that there had been “significant progress” but argued that it was “still not self-sustaining.” On September 9, President Bush, calling the decision a “return on success,” announced that about 8,000 additional U.S. troops would redeploy from Iraq without replacement by February 2009.

The next major OIF development is likely to be the conclusion of a U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces-like agreement (SOFA) that establishes a legal basis for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after the expiration of the current United Nations mandate on December 31, 2008. Constraints imposed by the SOFA are expected to have a bearing on the conduct of U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Near-term issues include determining how best to build on recent security gains; assessing “how much U.S. help is enough” in terms of funding, personnel, and other assistance, to support the GoI but also to encourage its independence; establishing the criteria for further troop drawdowns; and continuing to revise the organization and focus of the Iraqi Security Forces training and advisory mission.

Longer-term Iraq strategy and policy considerations include clarifying long-term U.S. strategic objectives related to Iraq and shaping a more traditional future bilateral relationship with Iraq; defining U.S. policy toward Iranian intervention in Iraq; and assessing the implications of OIF “lessons learned” for the future of U.S. military forces and for U.S. government inter-agency collaboration in general.

This report is designed to provide an assessment of current OIF developments, in the context of relevant background, in order to support congressional consideration of these short-term and long-term strategy and policy issues.

Read the whole document here: RL34387.pdf

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Front Companies Bilk Ministry for Millions of Reconstruction Dollars, Iraqis Say
09/23/2008 4:40 PM ET
Salam Adhoob (L), speaking through a translator (R) on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Video: Senate Democratic Policy Committee; Image: IraqSlogger.com.
Salam Adhoob (L), speaking through a translator (R) on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Corruption in official Iraqi agencies has led to the loss of billions of dollars and hampered the reconstruction efforts in that country, three Iraqi expatriates told a Democratic Senate Policy Committee yesterday in a hearing on Capitol Hill.

As reported earlier, Democratic senators heard allegations from former anti-corruption officials in Iraq, including the description of several alleged schemes by high-level officials at the Iraqi Defense Ministry to bilk the Iraqi security forces of Other alleged schemes range from organized kidnapping and ransom rings within Iraqi ministries, to Oil Ministry officials’ theft of Iraqi oil to fund militant activity, to personal interference in the Iraqi justice system, to Iraqi officials taking direct payments from foreign governments including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Video and documents available from the record of the hearings give further detail to the allegations. The following paragraphs, submitted in testimony by Salam Adhoob, the former head Chief Investigator in Baghdad for the Iraqi Committee on Public Integrity, allege deep corruption in the Iraqi Defense Ministry to divert millions of dollars from public to private ends through the use of front companies:

The scheme at the Ministry of Defense involved the establishment of two front companies, Al-Aian Al-Jareya and Safin. Al-Aian Al-Jareya was jointly owned by Nair Mohammed Ahmed Jummaily, the brother-in-law of the current Minister of Defense; Abdul Hamid Aziz Merza, an advisor for the then-Deputy of the President of Iraq; and Rosh Nouri Shawees, who was the brother of the Defense Secretary General. The company was formed and registered with the government at the end of August 2004, with the backing of only $2,000 in capital to cover the billions of dollars in contracts the company would receive. At the same time, these individuals helped form and register a second company, Safin, which was owned by Aza Kafaf, who was the Chief of Staff for the then-Deputy President of Iraq.

In the summer of 2004, the Minister of Defense, Hazim Al-Shalan; the Defense Secretary General, Bruskah Nouri Shawees; and the Deputy Secretary of Contracts, Ziad Al-Qattan, requested $1.7 billion from the then-Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, to form two divisions of Iraqi Special Forces. Once the $1.7 billion in American funds were received by the Ministry, a significant amount of the money was given to the two front companies to acquire airplanes, helicopters, armored vehicles, new weapons and bulletproof vests. The two companies received this money without the benefit of any of the bonds or guarantors usually required for government contractors.

The first front company, Al-Ain Al-Jarrea, was given several contracts totaling $850 million dollars. Three of these contracts were for M-18 military helicopters. The front company charged $4.5 million for helicopters that cost only $1.5 million dollars during Saddam Hussein’s regime. Not only did Al-Ain Al-Jarrea overcharge the Iraqi government, the company never delivered the M-18 helicopters. A team of Iraqi army officers traveled to Poland and Russia to inspect helicopters that were scheduled for delivery to Iraq. When the team arrived to inspect the equipment, they did not find the 64 M-18 helicopters, instead they found four re-painted, defective helicopters that were more than 25 years old. The team rejected the helicopters and the Iraqi Army refused to accept them, but instead of demanding repayment from Al-Aian Al-Jareya for the useless helicopters, the Ministry of Defense renegotiated with the companies for a series of mobile toilets and kitchens -- which have never been delivered.

Helicopters were not the only military equipment that was not delivered by these front companies. Despite having been paid in full, the two companies delivered only a small percentage of the other weapons and military equipment that had been ordered by the Ministry of Defense. Major items like airplanes and vehicles either never arrived in Iraq or were unusable. Rusted, decades-old weapons were painted over to look new, but many of them did not work. Bullet-proof vests were defective and could not be used. All of this left the Iraqi army without the helicopters, airplanes, armored vehicles, functioning weapons and bullet-proof vests that the army needed to stand up and shoulder the burden of this war. Even as the Iraqi army could not fight for lack of equipment, corrupt Ministry of Defense officials used these front companies to enrich themselves by diverting hundreds of millions of dollars, which should have gone to military equipment and weapons. Iraqi and U.S. soldiers have died as a result of these criminal acts, yet not one of these criminals has been held accountable by the Iraqi or U.S. governments.

In questioning, Adhoub explains that in one instance the Iraqi military received a shipment of unusable rusty rifles dating to 1975.

The former Iraqi official’s submitted testimony continues to allege that the corruption schemes included diverting funding to armed groups in the country:

American financial assistance meant to strengthen the Iraqi military and stabilize Iraq not only made it into the pockets of corrupt officials. These same funds actually helped finance Al-Qaeda terrorists who have been killing American soldiers and Iraqi citizens. CPI investigators uncovered the transfer of funds from these front companies, Al-Aian Al-Jareya and Safin, to terrorists. The CPI discovered that one of the owners of Al-Aian Al-Jareya, Nair Mohammed Ahmed Jummaily, the brother-in-law of the current Minister of Defense, diverted a portion of these funds to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Informers have told me that Mr. Jummaily traveled to Amman, Jordan to deposit money into the accounts of Al-Qaeda operatives. On his way back from Jordan, he was given safe passage through the city of Ramadi, Iraq, which was controlled by Al-Qaeda at the time. Mr. Jummaily was a well-known Al-Qaeda supporter and he and his attorney also worked with the Minister of Defense to release imprisoned Al-Qaeda terrorists.

The use of Iraqi front companies acting as go-betweens between Western firms and Iraqi agencies also allowed corrupt officials to enrich themselves at Iraqi expense, Adhoob alleges:

Mr. Jummaily also enriched himself -- and through kick-backs, Ministry of Defense officials -- as a middleman for contracts between the Iraqi government and American companies. As a middleman for the American company AM General, Mr. Jummaily's front company received $59.7 million on a contract to deliver Humvees to the Iraqi Army. In a letter dated June 8, 2005, AM General authorized Mr. Jummaily's company to “conduct all financial transactions” relating to its contract with the Ministry of Defense. Under this contract, AM General submitted $18.4 million worth of invoices to the Iraqi government for work that was not performed. In its contract, AM General was to deliver 520 humvees; it delivered no more than 167. I have copies of these invoices and documentation from Iraq's independent auditing agency, the Bureau of Supreme Audit, that support this finding.

Another middleman, Raymond Rahma Zayna, served as a go-between for contracts between the Ministry of Defense and the American company Wye Oak Technology. Like Mr. Jummailly, Mr. Zayna illegally skimmed money off the top of contracts and paid kick-backs to Minitsry of Defense officials. Bruskah Nuri Shawees, the Ministry of Defense’s Secretary General, gave Wye Oak Technology a contract to “inventory, assess, recover, and sell all of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense material described as scrap military equipment in the territory of Iraq.” Mr. Shawees also gave Wye Oak Technology a $24 million contract to repair tanks. Although Wye Oak Technology submitted millions of dollars worth of invoices to the Ministry of Defense, the work was never performed. I have copies of these invoices and documentation from the Bureau of Supreme Audit that the contracts were not properly executed. Mr. Zayna’s front company, the General Investment Group, received $24.7 million from the Iraqi government for this contract, despite the fact that the work was never completed.

Submitted testimony of the three witnesses can be viewed here in PDF format:

Salam Adhoob, Former Chief Investigator (Baghdad), Commission on Public Integrity Government of Iraq: adhoob.pdf

Abbas S. Mehdi, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Organization, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota and Former Chairman of Iraqi National Investment Commission, Iraq: mehdi.pdf

Anonymous Witness, Former Senior Advisor to the U.S. Government in Iraq anon.pdf

The whole hearing can be viewed below. The first 1:25 of the video consists of the three witnesses reading their submitted testimony (available above in PDF format) into the record, after which members begin questioning the witnesses.

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Daily Column
Alleged US-Iraqi Disagreements over Withdrawal Timetable
By AMER MOHSEN 07/08/2008 7:58 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
The Arabic-language media focused today on the upcoming US-Iraq security treaty, which is expected to “regulate” US military presence in the country and structure future relations between the two countries. According to Aljazeera.net, the Iraqi government is currently insisting on the inclusion of a timetable for US withdrawal in any prospective treaty.

The news channel relayed a recent speech by PM Nuri al-Maliki, in which he told Arab diplomats that the ongoing negotiations relate to "a memorandum of understanding for the evacuation of (US) troops or the scheduling of their withdrawal." Following Maliki’s statement, senior government figures, such as National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubai’i, began announcing that “we cannot accept a memorandum of understanding if it did not discuss fixed dates within a clear timetable for the evacuation of foreign troops.”

The operative term, in both al-Maliki and Rubai’i’s statements is “memorandum of understanding;” the word now used by Iraqi officials to refer to the security treaty. The terminology is not trivial here, because a treaty format requires parliamentary approval (which the government may not receive,) while- as al-Jazeera pointed out - the “memorandum” could spare the government a political battle (at the same time, of course, that would endanger the future legitimacy of the security arrangement.)

Al-Hayat – unlike the Iraqi Press – examined the significance of this shift, opining that the Iraqi government is in the process of foregoing the extensive “cooperation” treaty and substituting it with a timetable for US withdrawal. The London-based paper claimed that members in the Iraqi government are hoping that the Bush administration, for political reasons, may also be in favor of such a timetable. Al-Hayat quoted a “political source” in Baghdad who argued that the White House may prefer a “memorandum” format rather than subject a comprehensive treaty to examination by the US Congress.

Al-Jazeera agreed with al-Hayat’s analysis, quoting sources close to Maliki who said that the PM “instructed” Iraqi negotiators to push for “better” terms given that the Bush administration is in need of a signed treaty by the next US elections in November.

In other news, Az-Zaman reported that a scheduled visit by the Jordanian King to Baghdad has been postponed indefinitely due to “security reasons.” The last months have been witnessing a diplomatic overture on Iraq by pro-US Arab governments (namely the UAE and Jordan;) and a visit by King ‘Abdallah was expected to symbolize a new level of normalization between Arab governments and the Iraqi regime.

Al-Mada relayed the same news, but offered a different explanation for the postponement. In fact, the pro-government paper offered two contradictory arguments: in its headline, the publication affirmed that the King canceled the visit due to his “official commitments;” while in the body of the story, a government spokesman was quoted as saying that ‘Abdallah’s visit was scrapped due to “private matters” relating to the King. Lastly, Az-Zaman reported that 12 Iraqis were injured by the security forces while gathering outside the directorate of Social Services. The circumstances of the shooting remain unclear, but it appears that a large number of Iraqis were lining up to receive their salaries from the administration when tensions erupted between them and the security detail of the directorate (called FBS) who fired into the crowd.

The administration produced a statement describing an unlikely narrative of the events, where a guard allegedly fired in the air, only to have his bullets hit a concrete wall and ricochet towards the crowds! The statement added – strangely - that those hurt in the incident were “quickly treated and rewarded;” prompting to paper to opine that the administration is “buying the silence of the injured” after “it dispersed the elderly, widows and handicapped using live munitions.”

The paper interviewed several eyewitnesses who described the inefficiencies and arbitrary character of the administration. Several citizens complained that they are forced to wait hours outside the Social Services building with no guarantee of them receiving their due payments. Some of the individuals interviewed claimed to have been mistreated by the security detail and the public functionaries, who often fail to deliver paychecks and provide no alternate appointments for the beneficiaries (most of whom consist of the elderly and the poor.)

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$700 Bil Appropriated for Iraq, Afghanistan, Terror Wars since 2001
07/01/2008 12:24 PM ET

Here's the summary of the CRS Report to Congress, "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11," released last week:

With enactment of the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2764/P.L. 110-161) on December 26, 2007, Congress has approved a total of about $700 billion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

This $700 billion total covers all war-related appropriations from FY2001 through part of FY2008 in supplementals, regular appropriations, and continuing resolutions. Of that total, CRS estimates that Iraq will receive about $524 billion (75%), OEF about $141 billion (20%), and enhanced base security about $28 billion (4%), with about $5 billion that CRS cannot allocate (1%). About 94% of the funds are for DOD, 6% for foreign aid programs and embassy operations, and less than 1% for medical care for veterans. As of April 2008, DOD’s monthly obligations for contracts and pay averaged about $12.1 billion, including $9.8 billion for Iraq, and $2.3 billion for Afghanistan.

The Administration has requested $193 billion for war-related activities in DOD, State/USAID, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical programs for FY2008 and $69 billion for FY2009 war funding. Last December, Congress provided $90.3 billion and is now considering an additional $104.7 billion for FY2008 as well as the FY2009 bridge request.

On June 19, the House passed a new version of H.R. 2642, the FY2008 Supplemental, which is expected to be considered by the Senate next week. That bill includes $163 billion for both FY2008 and FY2009, about $10 billion less than the emergency request. If enacted, CRS estimates that war funding would total $857 billion, including $656 billion for Iraq, $173 billion for Afghanistan, and $29 billion for enhanced security.

On June 4, 2008, the House and Senate appropriations committees approved part of a DOD request to transfer funds, mostly to the Army, to cover costs until early July 2008 when the supplemental’s passage is expected. CRS estimates that DOD could, if necessary, extend financing of operating accounts until early August using current transfer authorities and if Congress approves. The $70 billion bridge request for FY2009 is expected to last until July 2009, well into the new Administration.

In February 2008, the Congressional Budget Office projected that additional war costs from FY2009 through FY2018 could range from $440 billion, if troop levels fell to 30,000 by 2010, to $1.0 trillion, if troop levels fell to 75,000 by about 2013. Under these scenarios, CBO projects that funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and the GWOT could reach from about $1.1 trillion to about $1.7 trillion for FY2001- FY2018. This report will be updated as warranted.

Read the full 64-page report here: RL33110.pdf

Daily Column
House Passes a Year of War Funding, New GI Bill; Basra's Oil Infrastructure
By GREG HOADLEY 06/20/2008 01:40 AM ET
Conflict and gore is what usually grabs Iraq-related headlines, but two stories today are noteworthy for having unfolded relatively quietly: The House passed a spending bill that would fund the American military presence in Iraq for the next year, without most of the intense partisanship and grandstanding that marked earlier funding battles over the war, and Iraqi forces pushed into yet another Sadrist stronghold, but met little resistance in the southern city of Amara, in contrast to the heavy fighting that marked the Iraqi crackdowns in Basra and Sadr City.

The Post and USAT do some catching up the day after the NYT scooped with a report that Western oil giants are close to signing contracts with Iraq, while coverage of the spending legislation in the House also focuses on a domestic package that would provide a generous new GI Bill for returning veterans.

Alissa Rubin and Suadad Salhy lead their piece in the Times with the formal launch of Iraq's security plan in Amara, noting that followers of the Sadrist trend have not come out bearing arms in opposition, as was the case in recent operations in Basra and Sadr City. Some prominent Sadrists were arrested, the NYT writers report, without naming the detainees. Local Sadrists are looking into whether the arrests were conducted with warrants, and have alleged that in two cases Iraqi forces seized family members of wanted men that could not be located. The reception in Amara, a stronghold of the Sadr movement, seems linked to the fear that the Maliki government is looking to neutralize the Sadrists in the upcoming provincial elections, Rubin and Salhy write. Meanwhile, in an unidentified part of Diyala Province, "Sunni extremists distributed leaflets warning Shiite families not to return to houses they had abandoned during sectarian fighting in the last few years," the reporters write, although in other unidentified parts of the province "villagers were managing to return to their homes." Pro-US militia near Buhruz are suffering daily attacks, they write, ending their piece with a quote from Sheik Alwan Jameel Khader: “We ask the government for a real security plan because our village is besieged from every side . . . there is a severe shortage of food and drinking water, we lost everything and Al Qaeda is creeping toward us.”

Ernesto Londoño and Aahad Ali of the Post file a similar story on the Amara operations, writing that Iraqi forces met "virtually no resistance" as they executed their sweeps. Post reporters also note the complaints voiced by local Sadrists: "Adnan al-Silawi, director of the Sadr office in Amarah, said Iraqi troops had detained several of the movement's leaders without cause and that a Sadr office employee who was detained two days before the operation began was released Thursday with a broken arm." About 1,200 Iraqi troops are in Maysan Province for the crackdown, and "U.S. forces deployed some units to Amarah in support of the operation," the Post writers note.

War funding and a new GI Bill

By a vote of 268 to 155, the House approved $162 billion to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars "well into 2009," Paul Kane writes in the Post. The measure was part of a supplemental spending bill that was split into two parts, one including war spending and the other, which also passed, focused on domestic outlays. The latter bill contains $95.5 billion of domestic spending, including an expanded GI Bill that would increase the amount of educational tuition available to returning veterans. Democrats claim that late White House reversals on the domestic bill, including veterans education benefits, represent "possibly their biggest victory over the politically diminished president," Kane writes. The war spending supplemental enjoyed GOP support throughout. See here for a breakdown of the spending packages.

Sarah Lueck reports the House spending vote for the Journal, explaining that the domestic bill, which passed 416-12 includes "$62.8 billion over 11 years to guarantee a four-year college education to those who have served at least three years in the military," among other items. $10 billion of that is related to a demand by the president, to which the Dems acceded, that military beneficiaries be able to transfer their GI Bill benefits to their spouses and children, a provision which Pres. Bush claimed was necessary for troop retention.

Carl Hulse takes the spending story for the Times, noting the rather quiet debate over this war funding package as compared to past bills that Democrats used in their effort to shape war policy. Hulse describes the new GI Bill as follows: "those who serve at least three years on active duty will qualify for educational assistance equivalent to tuition and fees at a leading public university in their state along with housing assistance, money for books, school supplies and tutorial assistance." The Times reporter also notes that the White House initially opposed the veterans education component of the bill, before changing positions. The war funding, which extends into summer 2009, well after a new president will have taken office, signals that both parties are "eager to dispose of the politically charged issue before the November elections." Both measures must be passed by the Senate, where debate is expected to begin next week.

Oil contacts

In the wake of yesterday's Times scoop on impending oil contracts for Western companies, Charles Levinson of USA Today takes a different tack, filing a front-pager from the oil-rich Basra Province. The first half of the lengthy piece contains observations and predictions with which most Iraq observers will be familiar, but Levinson livens it up in the second half of the article where he provides some snapshots of the on-the-ground state of Iraq's petroleum infrastructure after the recent fighting in Basra.

By contrast the Post simply catches up with yesterday's Times, as Ernesto Londoño and Simone Baribeau take on on the story of anticipated contracts for Western oil concerns to develop production in Iraq, without really advancing the story.

Surprisingly absent from the coverage of this important story is some investigation of domestic and international opposition to the impending contracts. Throughout the coverage over the last two days, Iraqi voices related to that country's oil sector are noticeably muted in comparison to those of international observers and Western government and corporate officials. While it is true that Iraq's oil sector has been at the center of every imaginable conspiracy theory concerning the war, many Iraqis in the opposition and some from within the oil sector itself, are nonetheless concerned that the current government, dependent on Western forces for its survival, will negotiate a less-than-favorable deal with Western concerns.

In other coverage:

WASHINGTON POST

Two figures linked to US Iraq policy were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday, William Branigin writes in the Post. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, "an architect of the Iraq War," and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Judge Laurence Silberman, who co-chaired the 2004 Iraq Intelligence Commission, were both granted the nation's highest civilian honor by President Bush. "Opponents of the war have criticized past Medals of Freedom for officials who played key roles in the run-up to the war," Branigin notes.

In other trivia, Al Kamen notes that the LA Times caught up with the Iraqi informant known as "Curveball" in Germany, where he is reportedly working at a local Burger King.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

From Istanbul, CSM's Scott Peterson writes that "military analysts are warning of severe consequences if the US begins a shooting war with Iran," giving a brief discussion of some of the options in Iran's quiver, including the potential targeting of US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf, strikes against US and its allies' interests elsewhere through its impressive intelligence apparatus and network of proxies, or other forms of asymmetrical warfare such as "swarming" attacks in which a fleet of small speedboats overwhelms large battleships. Iran's potential reaction "is probably more unpredictable than the Al Qaeda threat," one intel analyst claims.

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