Saturday, September 01, 2007

Iraq my brains...

Updated ...for a better pun, but I have to settle for that.

Why bother looking for a joke at all? Because the whole situation has turned into one. A bitter, sad joke on almost everyone involved: Iraqis, Americans, everyone except a narrow clique of self-important jackasses both here and there interested only in their own political positions and economic power.

Start with this from the BBC for Wednesday:
Latest figures from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, show the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes is rising.

The latest figure is 60,000 per month, compared to a previous level of 50,000, a UNHCR spokeswoman said.

The body estimates 4.2m Iraqis have been displaced since the 2003 invasion. ...

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said many Iraqis were struggling to get the basic necessities for daily life.

"Iraqis are finding it harder to get access to social services inside Iraq and many Iraqis are choosing to leave ethnically mixed areas before they are forced to do so," she said. ...

The UNHCR has registered more than 170,000 refugees in the countries neighbouring Iraq
but Syria and Jordan now estimate that between them they contain over 2.1 million Iraqi refugees. UNHCR and UNICEF are appealing for $130 million in funding to provide for educational programs for Iraqi children living in the two nations.

Meanwhile, the sectarian violence we are repeatedly assured is declining seems to be in healthy condition, as
[f]ierce gun battles have cut short a major religious festival in Iraq, which had drawn hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims to the holy city of Karbala[, BBC reported on Tuesday].

The clashes have left more than 50 dead and 200 injured, police said. Troop reinforcements have been brought in and worshippers ordered to leave the city. ...

Troops were rushed to Karbala after the eruption of fierce fighting close to two of the most important shrines in Shia Islam, and celebrations that had brought pilgrims to the city from across Iraq and further afield turned to chaos, confusion and bloodshed.

Gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons forced their way past checkpoints and appeared to be trying to take control of the area around the shrines.

As security forces fought back, several hotels were set ablaze. ...

Various sources blamed the attack on the Mehdi army militia loyal to Moqtada Sadr. In Karbala, the police are linked to their political rivals, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC).
The violence was bad enough that even as he denied any part in it, Sadr announced on Wednesday that he was freezing the activities of his Mehdi Army for up to six months, the Beeb said. The militia has been splitting into factions recently and it may well be that he's realized it's slipping out of his control and wants to impose some order before it goes too far.
In Najaf, another spokesman said the order included "suspending the taking up of arms against occupiers, as well as others"
but the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that
Sadr's official spokesman in Najaf, Sheik Ahmed Shibani, said the stand-down did not mean "stopping resistance against the occupation."
However, since there clearly are ways to resist the occupation without taking up arms - protest, strikes, boycotts, political action, the list goes on - those two statements are not contradictory. The Times also noted that in the wake of Sadr's pronouncement, Baghdad "was noticeably calm" and that
[t]he number of corpses found around the capital Thursday - five - was also about half the usual daily number of victims of sectarian death squads.
It shows just how bad it is that a statement like that - five victims of sectarian violence today - is good news.

It's so clear that it's bad that even official reports - or at least those not written by the White House - can't pretend anything to the contrary. For one, the New York Times said on Friday that
[a]n independent commission established by Congress to assess Iraq’s security forces will recommend remaking the 26,000-member national police force to purge it of corrupt officers and Shiite militants suspected of complicity in sectarian killings, administration and military officials said Thursday.

The commission, headed by Gen. James L. Jones, the former top United States commander in Europe, concludes that the rampant sectarianism that has existed since the formation of the police force requires that its current units “be scrapped” and reshaped into a smaller, more elite organization, according to one senior official familiar with the findings. The recommendation is that “we should start over,” the official said.
It's unlikely that's possible either politically or even physically, but the fact the recommendation would even be made shows just how rampant the corruption and divisions are. (Note back to the above bit about the violence in Karbala, where it's suspected the fighting happened because the police force is linked to a particular political faction that is a rival of Sadr.)

For another, and the more-noted one, the Washington Post said on Thursday that a draft of a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) declares that
Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress.... The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration. ...

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. "While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced," it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that "the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved."
The draft says that the average number of daily attacks against civilians was 25 in February and 26 in July, that is, no change worthy of the word.

The 18 benchmarks were part of legislation passed in May. In an interim report in July, the WHS* said that "satisfactory progress" was being made on eight, two were mixed, and even they had to admit the other eight were losers. The GAO report is even tougher: Judging on a pass/fail basis, it says that only one of eight political benchmarks has been achieved and only two of ten security ones.
Despite its strict mandate, the GAO draft concludes that two benchmarks - the formation of governmental regions and the allocation and expenditure of $10 billion for reconstruction - have been "partially met."
So count those as worth a half-point and you get a final score of 4-14. Counted another way, it's 4 for 18 for a batting average of .222, which will likely get you sent down to the minors real quick.

Significantly, the WaPo says in a different article that
[a]lthough the State Department proposed some changes, it did not dispute the basic conclusions, said an administration official involved in Iraq policy.
Another significant point to note is that
[t]he person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version - as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
That is, get this out before the White House fucks with it. In the event there are more than minor changes, it would be interesting to see the administration pressed on just why the alterations were made and refusing to be satisfied with the bland "as the result of agency review" but instead insisting "yes, of course it was as the result of 'review' but who did those reviews? What did they say? Why were they persuasive?" Also, I've read enough GAO reports to know that the staff will often cite agency comments and then state why they disagree (if indeed they do). If there are changes and no such dissent, if I was in Congress I'd damn well want to know why.

But then again... Congress is where the bitter joke comes in. The Washington Post for Wednesday:
President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.

The request - which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq[, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker]. ...

The request is being prepared now in the belief that Congress will be unlikely to balk so soon after hearing the two officials argue that there are promising developments in Iraq but that they need more time to solidify the progress they have made, a congressional aide said.
They are going to hit Congress up for another $200 billion - on top of the $330 billion they've already wasted - to slaughter Iraqis, to undermine security there (and here), to encourage terrorism, to support the corruption that underlies and advances sectarian murders and ethnic cleansing, to continue this crime against history; $200 billion to continue to take an active role in the destruction of a country and its descent into chaos that, if European history is any guide, can last for decades and spread across the region before burning itself out into mere bigotry. And they expect to get it.

Not only do they expect to get it, they are already saying that nothing, nothing at all, will change.
Despite widespread media anticipation of next month's Iraq hearings, Pentagon insiders say they do not expect them to result in any major changes in military strategy.
How much more pathetic can you get? How sorry does a spectacle have to be before it passes beyond anger, sinks below disgust, drops through the bottom of despair, and sits in the muck of sheer inanity, just a bitter, bitter joke?

Oh, the Dummycrats talked tough, they were just oh my so outraged. Why, a representative of Harry Reid's office said "we'll give it the scrutiny it deserves" and that it was "long past time for giving blank checks to the administration." Nancy Pelosi griped about "failed policies" and declared grandly that Americans want "a new direction" instead of "another quarterly invoice." Robert Byrd also warned against "blank checks."

But of course we have been here before. Several times. Is there anyone here who thinks it really will be different this time? I don't and here's why, again via the Washington Post:
Saying the coming weeks will be "one of the last opportunities" to alter the course of the war, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he is now willing to compromise with Republicans to find ways to limit troop deployments in Iraq.

Reid acknowledged that his previous firm demand for a spring withdrawal deadline had become an obstacle for a small but growing number of Republicans who have said they want to end the war but have been unwilling to set a timeline.

"I don't think we have to think that our way is the only way," Reid said of specific dates during an interview in his office here. "I'm not saying, 'Republicans, do what we want to do.' Just give me something that you think you would like to do, that accomplishes some or all of what I want to do."
Please, GOPpers, please, throw me a bone here. Something, anything. Just say you want to end the war someday. No timetables, no deadlines, no schedules, none of that. I swear. Really. I won't make a fuss and if you can just, you know, throw me a kiss or something, that nice Mr. President can have all the money he wants. Just watch. Pleeeze?

Reid was quoted in that article as saying he was embarrassed it had taken him as long as it did to come around "but now I'm here." Well, goddam it, Harry, if you really are here, fucking act like it! You are the goddam Senate Majority Leader. You fucking run the place. You want to stop "blank checks?" Don't sign any! You say you can't override vetoes? Don't pass an appropriation! Bush can't veto a bill if there's no bill.

Too much for you, too bold, too afraid of being accused of "abandoning the troops" by forcing them to come home (like that accusation ever made sense)? Screw the GOPpers who are even wimpier in the face of Bush's asshole stubbornness than you are. Pass a bill with real limits, real deadlines - and when Bush vetoes it, pass the same damn bill again! Tell him flat out and publicly and repeatedly that this is the deal! If he wants his blood money, it comes with these conditions. And if he doesn't like it, he doesn't get the cash. Period!

Is there some political risk in that? Yes, there is, especially among a crew as inept at PR as you lot seem to be. You have to decide which is more important: your career of the scores of billions of dollars and the thousands of lives you can save. Bluntly, I think we all already know which is your choice.

Prove me wrong.

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

Updated to include the State Department acceptance of the basic contentions of the GAO report. (With a tip o' the hat to Greg Sargent at The Horse's Mouth at Talking Points Memo.)

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