Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Hearings

by James O'Donnell

It was the best of post-Surge environments; it was the worst of post-Surge environments. The Surge had helped achieve a reduction in violence; the Surge had initiated the most violent period of the war for Iraqis and American troops alike, resulting in nearly 2.5 million internally displaced Iraqis.

America had begun to reap the benefits of our success, thanks to a military-civilian partnership that would be emulated for years to come; we were “losing Iraq to the criminals and the corrupted,” thanks to our government's refusal to support Iraqi anti-corruption officials, 31 of whom had been murdered, without a single investigation called.

The Iraqis had made significant political progress; sectarianism, cronyism, and graft at the highest levels of the Shi'ite government had immunized the powerful from prosecution for their crimes and had turned “hospitals into death zones for Sunnis.”

The Sons of Iraq had become America's most vital ally in suppressing the country's violence; the U.S.-backed central government had just commenced operations to assassinate or capture over 600 leaders of the Sons of Iraq.

Over 100 Iraqi battalions had stepped up and were now “in the lead;” the operations of Iraqi troops were impossible “without 'Coalition' enablers (which would “remain the case for some time,” according to the Secretary of Defense).

The threat from violent extremists had “receded;” suicide bombers continued to inflict “mass civilian casualties,” thanks in part to our government's support for Islamic extremists (according to an American senior advisor to our government in Iraq).

Baghdad had been restored to a semblance of normalcy, its residents free to resume their daily lives; Baghdad residents had electricity for one hour in seven, no clean water, and often had only the black market for medicine and gasoline (when it was available to their blast-wall enclosed ethno-sectarian-cleansed enclaves).

...and so forth.

Such were the contradictions evident in two hearings Code Pink attended this week, depicting two very different IRAQs.

On Monday we attended Senator Byron Dorgan's hearing on the “Second Insurgency,” focused on the corruption in Iraq that has undermined the U.S. mission and led Transparency International to rank Iraq the third most corrupt country in the WORLD: a nation where “gangs control the day” and the U.S. aids and abets Iraqi criminals and militants alike (whatever it takes to placate our venal Iraqi partners as they funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to banks in Jordan, Lebanon, the U.A.E., Germany, Pennsylvania, and New York).

And on Tuesday, we got to see the flip side. We attended the Senate Armed Services Committee's final fluffing of Secretary Robert Gates... pillow (whew, that was close!).

In the first hearing, the Iraq that emerged bore some resemblance to the debacle that Americans have come to know and revile/lament: 31 billion MISSING American dollars; “ghost projects” that exist only on paper; “rusted, decades-old weapons” provided to Iraqi security forces; allies who use their positions in the Iraqi government to free “al Qaeda terrorists;” U.S. contractors who smuggle convicted Iraqi criminals out of their cells in the middle of the night and fly them out of the country to their new homes in... America!

In the second hearing (the fluff piece offered by Carl Levin and John Warner), the senators, Democratic and Republican alike, waxed sentimental over the fact that the hearing was likely Secretary Gates' final appearance before their committee... (I half expected champagne and a gold watch for the old boy!)

There were accolades for “open-minded, thoughtful” administration officials, “brilliant” generals, and great “achievements.”

The Iraq of the second hearing was a place of massaged numbers -- math SO “fuzzy” that 9 + 11 STILL equaled “IRAQ” ...and a “liberated” Iraq at that!

In the Levin-Warner hearing, Iraq's progress could be measured in the font size of the bold-print pronouncements about all the great “accomplishments” of recent months... nearly all of which are debunked by the asterisks dogging those bold-print headlines: The stalled status of forces agreement; the ongoing war over oil-rich Kirkuk; the re-de-Ba'athification (purging another 27,000 Sunnis from the government under the rubric of “reconciliation”); the July 2008 provincial elections stalled until December; the refusal of the Iraq's factions to agree on a “hydrocarbons” law that places Iraq's oil in the hands of Western oil company executives for the next 30 years.

All told, it was the “feel good” time-waste of the year...


- While it was depressing to hear about all the honest Iraqi investigators that the State Department has thrown to the assassins and the Justice Department's similar refusal to investigate many crimes in Iraq...

- While it was alarming to hear of the “many” U.S. advisors “screaming again and again” at Iraqi anti-corruption officials, “Why are you investigating this case, this is American money!” (apparently less bothered than Iraqis at the prospect of U.S. taxpayers getting bilked)...

- While it was frustrating to learn that the U.S. advisor to Iraq's central bank helped corrupt officials launder hundreds of millions of dollars...

At least I LEARNED something in Senator Dorgan's hearing: This “cluster” got (screw)ed by GREED and GRAFT and WILLFUL BLINDNESS to OUTRAGEOUS CORRUPTION on a MONUMENTAL scale (all of which continues to this very day).

And all I learned in the second hearing was just how far that corruption goes... “Heckuva job, Gatesy!” beamed Senators Levin and Warner.

(Heckuva job, Carl... John.)

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