Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

John “War Nerd” Dolan got a job, as a lecturer at the American University of Iraq. Hilarity ensued. You bet. It’s a tale of un-fantastic right-wing academics, a kind of glaring dullness, a total lack of character, and an endless supply of raw cash. It so happens that John needed that more than anything else, so good luck to him. Read the whole thing – what stands out is the vast gap between the neo-con obsession with The Western Canon! Classicism! Principle! Courage! and the petty, provincial, small-mindedness that people like Joshua “Not The Blogger” Marshall practice in their lives. It’s not even the incompetence. It’s the style that gives them away.

The other interesting thing in the piece is John Agresto’s role. Again and again, he turns up wondering why a string of horrible political thugs treated him with disrespect. Lynne Cheney, his old boss, seems to have been a really awful human being close up. Who knew? But somehow, it never crosses his mind to wonder why this keeps happening every time he associates with the Cheneys or Bill Bennett or some other horrific political gargoyle. It’s….full of bastards, just this particular astronaut isn’t going to get out of the ship.

I also loved the notion of a neo-conservative as someone who got mugged by reality and now never goes into town for fear of running into reality again. A lesser writer would say that he started carrying a gun in order to shoot reality. However, that would imply some kind of grand, tragic struggle against brute fate. You can’t have tragedy without dignity, and that’s one thing the administration of the American University of Iraq doesn’t have.

This reminded me of two things, or rather the other way around. If you want Mitt Romney to speak, you’ve got to take a bulk order for his booky wook. Hence the book is a bestseller (for whatever that means in today’s book trade). Similarly, ‘bagger Sharron Angle’s campaign raised $14m and paid $12m right back to the political consultants who organised the donation drive.

The other thing was this documentary series on YouTube about Americans and steroids. Two points come to mind – the enduring role of the quack, and a sort of grinding optimism. And this quote: “Everyone wants to be a monster.”

A critical point, though – I’m fairly sure the sheaf of documents one of the doctors waves while reading out a list of horrible side effects that turn out to relate to vitamin C is from an open-access “adverse event reporting system”, which basically gathers anything anyone anywhere feels inclined to report. They aren’t verified in any way. Anti-vaccine people often abuse this.

Fortunately, someone’s done the actual journalism and documented that the ties between multilevel marketing, quackery, and extreme-right politics aren’t just style, they’re organisational and financial. It goes back a while, too.

Here’s something interesting.

We must also consider the alternative that many of the most prominent and powerful Afghans are in fact motivated by greed and opportunism. [harrowell: ya think?] It is therefore in their interest to maintain the status quo of massive US and international spending that fuels the Afghan “rentier state” economy.

This isn’t just recreational cynicism; they argue that the latest announcement of a clampdown on private security companies in Afghanistan is to be taken more seriously than the last six, and that this actually represents an effort to integrate them into the Afghan government’s forces or at least its allies. Importantly, and very differently from Iraq, the main players are local rather than foreign – like the 24,000-strong Watan Group. (Check out their Corporate Social Responsibility page.) Rather than just being part of the ISAF baggage train, they’re a significant nonstate actor in Afghan politics.

If you were feeling optimistic, you might consider this as being similar to the various political fixes the Soviets arranged in 1988 to keep the roads open for the Afghan government post-withdrawal. If you’ve been reading this since at least 2007, you’ll know that I think the absolute best that could happen in Afghanistan would be to get back to something like the 1989-1992 period, just without the continuing US/Pakistan/Saudi destabilisation and the cut-off of Russian aid that kicked off the civil war (and the destruction of Kabul, the invention of the Taliban, and so on). I agree this is pessimistic, but then, well, I wouldn’t start from here.

In Iraq, understanding the business/organised crime environment may have played a bigger role than is publicly acknowledged in getting the US Army out of town. For example, here’s a Joel Wing piece on the history of oil-smuggling (you’ll note that the Baiji refinery comes up. party like it’s 2005!). Interestingly, the initial Awakening Council leader Sheikh Abu Risha was an important oil smuggler, and you can bet those networks were of use.

Leaving aside the obvious Afghan export, the analogous business is probably selling stuff to ISAF. Bagram now has its own cement plant, inside the perimeter, but that’s a Turkish construction firm.

Here’s an interesting follow-up on the recent raid on the Iraqi central bank, from Joel Wing. You may recall that the attack, a classic NOIA multi-layered assault using suicide bombers, snipers, and infantry, successfully took over the building and held off the Iraqi army for some time before disengaging, and that although a large quantity of documents and computers were destroyed, no money was taken.

I read that as being an insurgent effort to project incorruptibility, in the style both Tomas Masaryk and Mao advised their followers to adopt, in the context of an operation designed to wreck the bank as an institution. Wing’s follow-up suggests that there may have been other motives at work – the fire began in the office of the Inspector-General, and the files destroyed include the records of an inquiry into a huge fake-cheque fraud ($711 million – a reminder that frauds in Iraq grow to enormous size). Further, there was a previous unexplained fire in the bank’s archives in 2008 which destroyed evidence in a corruption case.

Wing’s sources speculate that employees at the bank might have taken the opportunity of the raid to start the fire, that the attackers were involved in the original fraud, or that those behind the fraud hired the attackers to destroy the evidence.

Fascinatingly, almost a year ago, The Guardian reported that similar motives might have played a role in the kidnapping of British IT consultant Peter Moore and the murder of his bodyguards. Moore was working on a new accounting system for the Finance Ministry, that would track all the Iraqi government’s income and expenditure in detail, when he was kidnapped from the Ministry’s data centre by a platoon-sized force of gunmen posing as Ministry of the Interior forces. It is rarely obvious in Iraq whether the fake policemen are fake policemen, or real policemen posing as fakes, but several different kinds of insurgents had the capability to manoeuvre forces that size in central Baghdad at the time.

Among other things, this is a reminder that the recent history of Iraq cannot be written without paying serious attention to its aspect as the biggest robbery in human history, a fat city for every crook in the Middle East and far beyond.

remember this?

Here’s something interesting. I’m getting people googling for details of resettlement for Iraqis who were employed by the British during the occupation, again. This is the first such incident since February. The request came in from a netblock registered to an Iraqi ISP and VSAT provider based in Baghdad. I will not provide any more details, as their WHOIS record is quite personally-identifying.

Last night, the links in this post were 404ing; today, two of them (the Arabic PDF and the Miliband statement) are now resolving again, but the one to the application form is still returning a page which (disingenuously?) claims that

We are currently experiencing exceptionally high traffic volumes on the website. Please try again later.


Shia rage in Basra, over electricity that goes north to Baghdad. Joel Wing has more, including that the trouble spread to Nasiriyah. He also provides a short history of the Iraqi grid since 1991, including the fact that the first Gulf War reduced capacity to the level of 1920. A few years ago, even suggesting that 1991 damaged anything marked you out as an extremist.

From the same source, details of the raid on the Iraqi Central Bank. Central banking is not a trade that usually demands physical courage; Ahmed Rashid documents a rare example of the contrary with the Taliban governor of the Afghan central bank who was summoned to the front and eventually killed.

On this occasion, the interesting thing is that it’s a complex, integrated attack. Suicide bombers exploded at the entry checkpoints. Infantry charged the breaches and stormed the building. Snipers established themselves on the roof, and other infantry may have created stop-groups in the streets, all in order to block the response.

The attackers destroyed files and computers and killed people. But they didn’t take any money. As Masaryk said and Mao quoted, don’t lie, don’t steal.

We’ve not had any fake policemen for a while. This used to be a blog trope back in 2004-2006 – a major feature of the various wars that represented facets of the War On Trrr was the presence of forces made up of armed men either posing as policemen, or sometimes, policemen posing as nonpolicemen, or perhaps even insurgents posing as policemen posing as insurgents or vice versa (fake fake policemen, if you will). We even had a case from the United States, with a detailed HOWTO guide.

Here’s a notable instance of fake police, or rather, real police robbing banks in Iraq, from Joel Wing’s blog.

First was the jewelry heist in Bayaa , a southwestern neighborhood in Baghdad. Before noon five SUVs drove up to a street filled with jewelry stores and set off bombs killing four, and wounding three. The gunmen then got out of their cars and opened fire on twelve stores, their owners, and guards, leading to eleven more deaths. They were armed with RPGs, AK-47s, machine guns, and silencers. To cover their escape the robbers threw grenades. On their way out they got into a gunfight with the security forces, wounding four policemen, before they got away. The Baghdad Operations Command claimed that they had killed one of the robbers, and arrested two others. The New York Times however, talked to a local witness who said that the dead man was not one of the robbers. Iraqi commanders quickly blamed the robbery on Al Qaeda in Iraq, saying that it was meant to replenish their coffers after their two leaders were killed, and many others arrested. The intelligence chief of the Interior Ministry however said that they didn’t know who the culprits were. The neighborhood was surrounded by blast walls and only had two entrances in and out that were blocked by checkpoints. Later, several senior police officers were arrested. It’s not clear whether they were directly involved in the attack, or whether they were just detained for negligence for letting it happen.

Three days later in the town of Mishkahb, 20 miles south of the city of Najaf, a branch of the state-run Rafidain Bank was robbed. A police officer served drugged tea to the guards at the bank. Then five other men entered, and made off with $5.5 million. A day later, $1.3 million of the stolen money was found, buried near a house of one of the thieves. The bank was holding such as large sum because it was going to pay government officials at the end of the month. The branch was just yards away from a police station as well.

Drugged tea? Joel also has reports on infiltration of the police in dear old Diyala.

If there is any conclusion to be drawn here, it’s that this probably isn’t good news.

spiritual healer

Patrick “unseasonably mild” Wintour’s predictably friendly piece on Blair going before the Iraq inquiry is unintentionally disturbing:

No prime minister is indifferent to his or her legacy, and however much he feels stale controversies are being aired with little new public evidence, he knows tomorrow will be important for him, and his future public life as world statesman, Middle East envoy, spiritual healer and businessman.

Spiritual healer? As if the “world statesman” bit wasn’t hilarious enough, or the “businessman”, bit as opposed to “boardroom table ornament”. The whole piece is sourced to “friends”, British newspaper and especially Blairite code for “his PR people wanted to get this out”, so presumably he actually believes this or at least tolerates his media advisers saying it.

Meanwhile, in his defence, he argues that Iraq was already a regime that had used WMD, and therefore we can’t permit a regime like Iran from having them (around 10:11). The rest is here; if you care for a trip down memory lane. Alternatively, you could just vote Conservative.

left behind

I was hoping we wouldn’t be seeing any more of these., on a high latency satellite link, searching UAE Google for IraqLEStaffScheme. My original post on the official instructions for UK employees in Iraq is here. This is why I was keen to re-raise the issue before the final withdrawal, which is now looking more and more final.

Meanwhile, I still haven’t heard from my new MP, marquee name Campaign Grouper Jeremy Corbyn….even Greasy Phil Hammond was better.


The remaining British training team in southern Iraq has been moved to Kuwait to await negotiations on their future status. A suggestion: couldn’t they perhaps wait in…Britain?

Over at CT, a link to two polls – here and here. The killer finding is that the same sort of percentage of the US population, and the same sort of people, deny that Barack Obama is a US citizen *and* that the American and African continents were once part of the same landmass.

Specifically, an actual majority – well, a plurality – of Republicans disagree with plate tectonics. The crossbreaks are hilarious; the only groups of which this was true were Republicans and Southerners, but the most likely groups to get it right were blacks, Latinos, and Democrats, in that order, so those were almost certainly the same individuals.

So far, another stupid Americans story. But the differences between the groups can be summarised as follows:

  1. Less Republican groups had a small but real advantage in the percentage who voted yes.
  2. More Republican groups had a considerable lead in the percentage who voted no.
  3. More Republican groups had many fewer Don’t Knows.

I think the most important statement is number three. The Democratic- and fact-leaning groups, although they had significant numbers of people who got it wrong, were much more likely to say they weren’t sure than to choose No. Being unsure of the answer, they expressed doubt.

Republican-leaning groups weren’t just more likely not to know, but more likely to plump for an answer anyway. Fools, you could say, rushed in.

Now, I really don’t believe quite that many of them are ignorant of basic geology – I rather suspect that the question tripped a number of trigger words (Africa!) before getting to that point. Everyone thinks like that a lot of the time.

This is, of course, how operationalised post-modernism works – what matters is the theatre of action, jumping and yelling and trying to dominate the mental space, and all that determines which way you’re pointing is a small set of identity-defining talking points. Did you know Senator X is weak on fufferum? Did you know that?? But why aren’t you talking about his position on elefurt? That’s what I want to know! The base have probably internalised this to a considerable degree.

That does raise the possibility of getting things done by tailoring your message to fire their immune receptors. The classic example is adding the word “security” to whatever proposal you have. Similarly, the Decent Left project was based on giving a whole lot of ugly right-wing ideas the right biological markers to stimulate a certain kind of leftie.