Saturday, October 15, 2005

Note To Readers After 28 months of covering the carnage in Iraq, I must take a break. I don't know when I'll be back but matt, Friendly Fire and Helena will continue to keep this blog updated. I will make occasional posts as well, like the one below. Rant of the Day When I started this blog, I had a suspicion this would be a long-term commitment. Over the last two-and-a-half years, watching the events in Iraq unfold has been like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie - every time you think things can't get worse, they get worse than you imagined possible. The ability of the Bushies to bungle is breathtaking. They bungled everything about this foolhardy, unnecessary war. The strategic objective - establishing a free-market Western democracy in Iraq - was a fool's errand. They invaded with an inadequate force structure, despite the advice of professional officers, which caused a failure to provide immediate post-war stability. Their response? "Democracy is messy," said Donald Rumsfeld. This particular post addresses the bungling of Baghdad fashion maven L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority. Even before the war, they intentionally abandoned the State Department's Future of Iraq Project - a group composed of Iraqi exiles and US experts from the department's Middle East bureau, academics and regional NGO representatives which had begfun planning the transition to a post-Saddam Iraq as early as early 2002 - and placed postwar planning in the hands of the Defense Department. After the fall of Baghdad, the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was established under Lieutenant General Jay Garner to administer postwar Iraq. OHRA was staffed by many of the Middle-East experts from the former Future of Iraq Project. Garner wanted to quickly establish an Iraqi civil government through elections while Rummy and the neo-cons insisted on de-Ba'athification. When Garner refused to comply, Rummy fired him and disbanded the ORHA, and replaced it with the Coalition Provisional Authority which recruited ideologically-pure rookies and rubes from the Heritage Foundation. Garner himself was replaced by Baghdad fashion maven and incompetent administrator L. Paul Bremer. Bremer disbanded the Iraqi Army and established the Iraqi Governing Council, which was composed mostly of former exiles with little political support within Iraq, but having close connections to the neo-cons in Rummy's Defense Department. Among the accomplishments of the IGC were choosing a new Iraqi flag (which went over like a fart in the mosque) replacing secular family law with Sharia family law, and banning newspapers and television stations deemed unsupportive of the occupation. Meanwhile, Bremer and the CPA was mismanaging Iraq's reconstruction (when they weren't busy establishing Baghdad chapter of the Optimists Club.) They awarded contracts to American firms and publicly announced a policy of blackballing companies from countries that had not supported the war, while CPA Order 17 granted immunity to all foreign firms from Iraqi civil and criminal law. Contractors working for the CPA were exempt from taxes and tariffs that gave domestic Iraqi businesses a competitive advantage over large foreign contractors were lifted. This was all part of an effort to reshape Iraq's economy from a centrally-planned economy to a neo-con ideologically-approved economy friendly to foreign investors and against the interests of the Iraqi population. CPA orders reversed Iraqi law to allow unlimited and unrestricted foreign investment, and removed limits on the expatriation of profits. Bremer's CPA was also responsible for managing two reconstruction funds. One was the former UN Oil-For-Food Fund, which was re-named the Development Fund for Iraq and raised about 20 billion dollars in 2003 from foreign donors and oil revenue. The other was the Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund, which consisted of 18 billion dollars appropriated by the US Congress. DFI funds were supposed to be disbursed by the CPA with oversight from the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, an organization established the United Nations when the CPA assumed control of the former UN Oil-For-Food Program. Funds were supposed to be transparently disbursed under IAMB oversight with Iraqi input on spending priorities. To meet these requirements, the CPA established an internal Program Review Board, consisting of ten CPA staffers and one member of the IGC. By the end of the CPA's lifespan in June 2004, they had spent $19.1 billion of the DFI funds but only $400 million of IRRF funds. The IAMB, in an effort to discover where all the DFI money went appointed the accounting firm KPMG to audit spending by the CPA's Program Review Board. The audit found that PRB minutes failed to record why expenditures were approved, who approved them, attendance was not recorded, expenditures were made without meeting quorums, expenditures were made by Bremer and other CPA staffers without PRB approval. The audit also discovered the CPA had shipped Iraqi oil through unmetered pipelines, meaning there was no way to determine the amount of Iraqi oil the CPA had sold or where it actually went. A later US Congressional report documented many more instances of fraud, waste and abuse of DFI funds. The CPA was disbanded on June 28th 2004, when Bremer cut and ran back to the United States. Oil and electricity production remained below pre-war levels, water and sanitation systems were breaking down, food and fuel distribution was increasingly difficult and unemployment was estimated at 35%. In 2005, George W. Bush awarded Bremer the Medal of Freedom for his performance in Iraq.


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