Wednesday, November 28, 2007

So many blessings

So I had a bit of a Thanksgiving out here with some of the other U.S. forces here. And I brought home a few souvenirs from the meal. MSG Timmy realized the turkey attached nicely to my Lowe's remote control car, so we have a mini-Thanksgiving parade around the headquarters building from time to time.
And I just got a note from my Dad- Season 1 of Monk is headed my way! Woo-hoo! I'm thankful that I now will have seasons 1-3 of The Office, and Season 1 for both Monk and Psych.

Of course, there's plenty of opportunity left, folks! Scrubs and the other seasons of Monk and Psych are wide open...

I do enjoy taking some time to watch those and transport myself mentally away from the day to day activities here at the training center.

And thanks to family members- I've been receiving many phone calls and e-mails lately. That is good, keeping me going until my Christmas break, where hopefully I catch my second wind. I'm kind of dragging. Makes me short-tempered when dealing with silliness and stupidity here.

But going back to the good news, in line with all of the improvements in security in Iraq, there's apparently more optimism for America....


And there's another older study that belongs under the heading:

When research goes bad!


I remember having to study that report during my first unpleasant trip through graduate school.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don't shoot your camel and other 7 Pillars lessons

Lawrence himself!

Finally finished Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia. It details his campaigns in the middle east and every possible piece of minutia along the way.


It took a long time- a long book, written in a style I'm not accustomed to, and then, a lack of interest on my part in getting familiar with every bush and rock formation in the middle east.


But there were quite a few interesting passages.

The one that made me laugh the most was the part where Lawrence described how he unfortunately came to be leading a charge down a hill to attack a train station. His camel was bigger and faster, so while he didn't start out in the lead, he soon found himself up front, where he didn't want to be.

But being the good soldier, and feeling all eyes upon him, he took to the role. As he flew down the hill, pistols blazing, he suddenly found himself flying over the front of his faltering camel. He relates thinking as he was flying in the air, "I'm going to get trampled" and musing that perhaps that was better than getting shot as he led the charge. Then he was knocked unconscious. As he came to, he realized that the camel had saved him from being trampled- everyone had to go around the camel to continue the charge, and that by then, the raid was complete, and folks were working their way back with all the loot they could carry.

As he pieced together the sequence of events he took a look at his prize camel to see what brought her down.

It turns out he had shot her in the back of the head.

In previous posts I've quoted King Feisal's notes about how hard it was to lead his group of barely unified tribes, and how similar the politics here seem now.



Here's another passage which reflects the challenge of creating unity in these communities:


p. 627 Book X, Chapter CXVI.....


As he arrived in a new area...
....

"The morning airs flashed the olive-yards to silver, and men from a great goat-hair tent on the right called us to guest with them. We asked whose camp it was. 'Ibn Smeir's' they replied. This threatened complications. Rashid was an enemy of Nuri Shaalan's, unreconciled, chance-met. At once we sent a warning to Nasir. Fortunately Ibn Smeir was absent. So his family would be our temporary guests, and Nuri, as host, must observe the rules.

It was a relief, for already in our ranks we had hundreds of deadly enemies, their feuds barely suspended by Feisal's peace. The strain of keeping them in play, and employing their hot-heads in separate spheres, balancing opportunity and service that our direction might be esteemed as above jealousy-- all that was evil enough. Conduct of the war in France would have been harder if each division, almost each brigade, of our army had hated every other with a deadly hatred and fought when they met suddenly. However, we had kept them quiet for two years, and it would be only a few days now."


That is the type of thing I think of when the fights break out in the barracks here- something starts it, and inevitably it devolves into folks from one tribe or region against folks from another. And it very much details some of the challenges of the current political scene in the country as well.



Tooling on the cover of the first public printing, showing twin scimitars and the legend: "the sword also means clean-ness + death"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Pillars_of_Wisdom


Lawrence had considerable expertise and understanding of the Arabic culture given his extensive experience living and working among the people. As he preparaed the final stages as the conquering forces took over Damascus, he was concerned about how the British would interact or interfere with what he hoped would be an Arab process:

"My head was working full speed in these minutes, on our joint behalf, to prevent the fatal first steps by which the unimaginative British, with the best will in the world, usually deprived the acquiescent native of the discipline of responsibility, and created a situation which called for years of agitation and successive reforms and riotings to mend." (p. 636)

And here we are, almost 100 years later. Who is unimaginative, now?

Reality more amusing than fiction?

Now I know that insurgency is not a funny topic. But one of the arrests that made the news today was funny.

If I thought it was lousy to be deployed, I can always take solace that I'm not deployed on the other side, which has apparently been reduced to this incredible subterfuge.

Bride, groom stopped in Iraq actually terror suspects
Story "highlights"....
  • Soldiers became suspicious because car wouldn't stop; convoy was all male
  • Troops also suspicious that groom refused to lift his bride's veil, official says
  • Stubbly face man in bride's gown, three others arrested on terror-related charges
http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/11/26/iraq.bride/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

Insert snarky caption here....

and here.....

I'm pretty sure that part of their terrorism was making people look at this "beautiful woman".

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Good news.

I most often post news stories and editorials with a left leaning bent, so here's an excerpt from one with a more positive spin on things here.

I'm cautiously optimistic about a good outcome. Not ready to discuss the "was it worth it?" question. And I still have no idea what anybody means by "victory". Everyone seems to have their own definition.

Let's hear it for good news from Iraq
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/11/25/lets_hear_it_for_good_news_from_iraq/
By Jeff Jacoby
Globe Columnist / November 25, 2007

THE NEWS from Iraq has been so encouraging in recent months that last week even the mainstream media finally sat up and took notice. Can the Democratic Party be far behind?

In a story titled "Baghdad Comes Alive," Rod Nordland reports in the current Newsweek on the heartening transformation underway in the Iraqi capital:

"Returning to Baghdad after an absence of four months," he writes, "I can actually say that things do seem to have gotten better, and in ways that may even be durable . . . There hasn't been a successful suicide car bombing in Baghdad in five weeks . . . Al Qaeda in Iraq is starting to look like a spent force, especially in Baghdad."

The signs of life, Nordland acknowledges "grudgingly" - his word - are undeniable.

"Emerging from our bunkers into the Red Zone, I see the results everywhere. Throughout Baghdad, shops and street markets are open late again, taking advantage of the fine November weather. Parks are crowded with strollers, and kids play soccer on the streets. Traffic has resumed its customary epic snarl. . . . The Shorja bazaar in old Baghdad, hit by at least six different car bombs killing hundreds in the last year, is again crowded with people among the narrow tented stalls. On nearby Al-Rasheed Street, the famous booksellers are back in business . . . People are buying alcohol again - as they always had in Baghdad, until religious extremists forced many neighborhood liquor shops to close."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What did you do for Thanksgiving?

MSG Timmy and I met up with the other U.S. folks, Army and Navy types, on the base and had a little Thanksgiving dinner.

My friends up in the IZ took indirect fire.

This woman mourned her husband while their children watched.

Heartbreaking.

I so badly want peace in this country.

Working with contractors

All about the Benjamins...
One of the better aspects of my deployment is that I work extensively with non-military folks- police trainers and other contractors. And they try to keep me happy, because it is up to me to verify that they are indeed providing a value-added service to our country and the country of Iraq. I look over the contract and the 10 modifications to it, and make sure they follow the contract and its modifications.
Here's one of the ways they keep me happy:

I'm just making sure its all there....



Yes, that's right, they let me count the cash. It is the least they can do, given that all the expats are making more than I do. Of course, they have a lot less job security and face more risks with road moves, but they also get 4 weeks off after 8 weeks on. I get 2 weeks at home during the 1 year of deployment.


This is all extra that they don't need, right? The glories of a cash society.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Home Fries

Thanks to both of my older sisters sending e-mails over the past 2 days. Hands down the 2 best older sisters I've ever had.

And Psych Season 1 is off the board- thx, Lea!

Thanksgiving preparations

Pick your caption:
Iraqis and Americans getting along
MOD and MOI getting along
Cat and dog forbidden love

This Thursday I get to spend another holiday in southern Iraq. It will be, like most of my other days here, another day of training Iraqi National Police and negotiations and love songs with the many stakeholders in my little corner of the world. Iraqi Army folks on the base, U.S. folks on the base, the BLP expats and local nationals, the National Police and Trainees, and our current livestock- cow, calf and one sheep (critters to be sacrificed to keep the trainees happy someday in the not so distant future).

But I am thankful. I'm safe. I get to work in a situation with reasonable autonomy and variety. I learn. I get to communicate with family reasonably frequently (thanks Mom and Dad for the call on Saturday!).

And of course, there are many worldly comforts I enjoy right now. I'm listening to some Ben Folds on my new noise cancelling headphones... an odd experience to turn them on and prior to starting the Ben tracks listening to the sounds of silence. Typically there is the constant noise of generators in my ears- but as I flipped the switch, I entered an auditory vacuum.

I just finished working through my 3 seasons of The Office sent by an old friend. I laughed early and often over the past month or so. And I dig watching TV shows without commercials.

In case anyone is keeping track on my DVD requests, now I'm down to looking for seasons of Monk, Psych, and Scrubs. Let me know if any are headed my way and I'll amend the list (and I'll be your friend!).

I've had various friends send me other good stuff- an HR faculty member (Timmy G rocks the house!) sending me a preprint of a good text on a topic that interests me, Dave Talbot- The First 90 Days (I'm taking more than 90 days to read it, though), and Isaac with a bit more on Tenet. Friends rock.

I've been enjoying running a bit more lately, as my back has gotten better. I run slow given my portly stature and 3 reconstructed knees- but I am blessed to be able to do it regardless of how pathetic I look.

"Let's Build Something Together- Like Another Championship Season!"


And I'm thankful for a good sports weekend. Even though the Steelers slipped up, Jimmie Johnson and the Lowe's Team won the Nascar championship, and the BYU football team broke into the top 25 in 4 different polls.


In deference to Bronco's "Tradition" themes, I break out the "old school" logo...

I'm thankful that MSG Timmy got back safely from his leave. Poor guy, stuck past his ETS. Back door draft is kicking him in the Jimmy. He brought back a bunch of really cool coins that he had made for the Academy/Training Center. We're selling them at cost, and they're moving like hotcakes.


Timmy's cool coins

And I'm thankful most of all for my companion and our children. I'm less than a month from being able to hold them in my arms again, albeit for just the two week leave period. I will hear my youngest say "I love you, Daddy !" for the first time in person. And I will be able to look them all in the eyes, hold them tight and tell them how much I love them, too.

Pass the cranberry sauce, let's get our thanks on!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iraq News Smorgasburger (apologies to the Muppets Swedish Chef)

Another morning out at the MOUT site- with the two Deputy Project Managers
I just never look good in military clothing- something about my FAT BELLY!

A good day for articles interesting to folks like me...

Excerpts and links:

Iraqis Wasting An Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say
With Attacks Ebbing, Government Is Urged to Reach Out to Opponents
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq -- Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.
In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."

The lack of political progress calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup President Bush announced in January, which was premised on the notion that improved security would create space for Iraqis to arrive at new power-sharing arrangements. And what if there is no such breakthrough by next summer? "If that doesn't happen," Odierno said, "we're going to have to review our strategy."
Ricks has been someone that I've enjoyed reading over the past 6 months or so. Doesn't seem to pull punches.




U.S. Ponders War Message, and How Best to Deliver It
By THOM SHANKER
Published: November 15, 2007
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 — When Representative Ellen O. Tauscher of California, a senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, visited Iraq in late summer for a firsthand view of the war, she was greeted by American soldiers and Iraqi officials who seemed to know a lot about her.

What they knew, though, came from a biography compiled by military strategic communications officers and distributed before her meetings.

The selection of information in the handout highlighted her critical remarks about the administration’s war strategy, which she had called a failure, but did not mention her sponsorship of legislation requiring more time at home for combat troops or her support of financing for armored vehicles and upgraded flak jackets.

An angry Ms. Tauscher characterized the document as “an attempt to frame my stance as someone opposed to the war, hence opposed to the troops,” which, she said, left her “feeling slimed.”

The episode is part of a complex debate now under way within the State Department and Pentagon about how to shape and transmit their messages — internally, to their own personnel, to the nation at large and overseas during a time of war.
All about the SPIN.




Strategic Drift
Where's the Pushback Against the Surge?

By John Podesta, Lawrence J. Korb and Brian Katulis
Thursday, November 15, 2007; Page A25
Washington Post

With apparent disregard for the opinion of the American people, the debate over whether the large U.S. military presence in Iraq threatens our national security has been put on hold. Both political parties seem resigned to allowing the Bush administration to run out the clock on its Iraq strategy and bequeath this quagmire to the next president. The result is best described as strategic drift, and stopping it won't be easy.

President Bush claims that his strategy is having some success, but toward what end? He argued that the surge would provide the political breathing space needed to achieve a unified, peaceful Iraq. But its successes, which Bush says come from a reduction of casualties in certain areas, have been accompanied by massive sectarian cleansing. The surge has not moved us closer to national reconciliation.
Strategic drift is being aided by many in the legislative and executive branches (in both political parties), most of the foreign policy elite, and several policy research institutions. Conservatives continue to align themselves with Bush's Iraq strategy; some have offered muted criticisms of the implementation and handling of the war, but there has been no call to change direction.
A clear "get out" message/argument.




No Good at Nation-Building
By Robert D. Novak
Thursday, November 15, 2007;
Page A25
Washington Post

A bus full of 15 Iraqi lawyers carrying a four-page, single-spaced letter to President Bush arrived at the White House on Tuesday. Their mission was to request less U.S. help in building prisons and more in establishing the rule of law. There was no immediate official response, and the experiences of the past four years indicate nothing will be done.
Reminding me of many organizational behavior sessions- "Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it gets."



Quiet Victory
By Rich Lowry
National Review Online

Forget the briefings from generals, the intelligence evaluations and the Pentagon status reports. There is a handy indicator for whether the war in Iraq is going well — its relative absence from the front pages.

In the past month, the country’s top newspapers have splashed Iraq stories on Page A-1, but most have involved the scandal concerning the security contractor Blackwater and the impending (but yet to materialize) Turkish invasion of the Kurdish north. Reports on major trends in the war tend to be relegated to inside pages because — from the blows dealt to al Qaeda, to the rise of Sunni security volunteers, to Muqtada al-Sadr’s cease-fire — they have been largely positive.

In Israel, there’s a law that bans reporting on sensitive national-security operations; you could be forgiven for thinking the U.S. has a similar ban on any encouraging news from the hottest battlefront in the war on terror. The United States might be the only country in world history that reverseitself, magnifying its setbacks and ignoring its successes so that nothing can disturb what Connecticut’s Sen. Joe Lieberman calls the “narrative of defeat.”
The logical flaw in the argument that no news is good news- it can also mean folks have lost interest, or realize they won't be able to convince anyone to change course- as some of the above noted op-ed pieces have suggested. True, "it bleeds it leads" has some verity to it, but not in all cases.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Unity of effort when there is an environment of mistrust

This one is currently near and dear as we struggle to fully fill this training cycle with recruits of a certain demographic. We'll be training, but right now there is a question of how many will be trained.

Hurdles halt plans for Iraqi recruits
Shiite leadership wary of bringing fighters into ranks
By Joshua Partlow and Ann Scott Tyson
The Washington Post
updated 3:24 a.m. ET Nov. 12, 2007

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21748197/

BAGHDAD - The U.S. effort to organize nearly 70,000 local fighters to solidify security gains in Iraq is facing severe political and logistical challenges as U.S.-led forces struggle to manage the recruits and the central government resists incorporating them into the Iraqi police and army, according to senior military officials.

Gen. David H. Petraeus and other top commanders have hailed the initiative to enlist Iraqi tribes and former insurgents in the battle against extremist groups, but leaders of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government have feared that the local fighters known as "volunteers" -- more than 80 percent of whom are Sunni -- could eventually mount an armed opposition, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.

In some cases, the government has confined the fighters to their headquarters or local mosques. Nevertheless, the volunteers pour in by the hundreds every week, forming a massive but cumbersome force lacking common guidelines, status, pay or uniforms. The effort represents an opportunity to shore up local police and eventually relieve U.S. troops, but one that could prove fleeting or backfire if the volunteers are not organized quickly, officials said.

"To give you a sense of the bureaucratic challenge here, the entire British army is just under 100,000," said Maj. Gen. Paul Newton, the British counterinsurgency expert tapped by Petraeus to lead the effort. "What we've seen in this campaign is already therefore three-quarters of the size of the British army, without any kind of human resource management structure to recruit it, train it, vet it," Newton, 51, said in an interview.

Since taking the job in early June, Newton has met with tribal sheiks, Sunni insurgents, Shiite militia leaders and Iraqi politicians in an attempt to "glue together" the local armed groups with the Iraqi government. But as the local initiatives proliferate, Newton said, the effort is like "trying to sprint while putting your socks on."

More than 67,000 people across 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces are registered under the military designation Concerned Local Citizens, and 51,000 of those have been screened and had their names, fingerprints and other biometric data recorded by the U.S. military, Newton said. Such information is entered into a vast database that soldiers can use to help identify past criminal behavior, such as by matching fingerprints on a roadside bomb component. Eighty-two percent of the volunteers are Sunni and 18 percent are Shiite, he said. About 37,000 are being paid about $300 a month through contracts funded by the U.S.-led military coalition.

Although U.S. commanders stress that the coalition is not forming a Sunni militia, Iraqi leaders complain that paying the fighters is tantamount to arming them. The Iraqi government so far has balked at permanently hiring large numbers of the volunteers, resisting pressure from U.S. commanders to lift caps on the number of police in Anbar and Diyala provinces. Only about 1,600 of the volunteers have been trained and sworn in to the Iraqi security forces, primarily with the police.

"It's admittedly slow progress," said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a military spokesman in Baghdad, who said the goal now is to have 17,000 hired as police officers.

Last month, the Shiite political alliance of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on the U.S. military to halt its recruitment of Sunnis. Referring to Sunni fighters, Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie told Washington Post reporters, "The more they depend on the coalition, it is seen as undermining the Iraqi government."

Iraqi officials are concerned about the past behavior of many of the men now working with the Americans, citing problems arising from the infiltration of the police by Shiite militias. "We ended up with a police force that is not loyal to the government and to the country," said Sami al-Askiri, a Shiite legislator and Maliki adviser. "If we copy this and do it with Sunnis, we will just create another problem."

"We have to take the Sunnis inside the police and the army. They are part of the Iraqi society, but we have to check them, we have to check all their backgrounds," Askiri said. "If we do this the wrong way, we will end up with another militia inside the police force, but a Sunni one, not a Shiite one."

In Sadiyah, a southwestern Baghdad neighborhood where fighting between militias and insurgents has forced thousands of families to leave, the Iraqi government's wariness about the U.S. partnership with Sunni residents prompted a public condemnation: an Oct. 2 statement by the ruling Shiite coalition saying that the residents were involved in "kidnapping, killing and extortion."

Many expected the initiative would be more difficult to implement in Baghdad, where Sunnis and Shiites live in closer proximity than in Anbar, a predominantly Sunni province where volunteer forces had proved successful. Instead of fighting just the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, the volunteers in Baghdad are facing Shiite militias, other Sunni insurgents and at times corrupt Iraqi security forces.

"Sadiyah, in particular, we've got to be very careful, frankly," Petraeus said. "That's a case of absolutely making sure that the concerned local citizens do not become agents of sectarian violence."

U.S. soldiers in Sadiyah said that soon after the recruits stood up as an organized force on Sept. 12, violence dropped and intelligence about militant activity improved. Shuttered shops along the main commercial street began slowly to open -- 10, 50, then more than 100, soldiers said.
The Iraqi government's accusations of criminal behavior by the volunteers are exaggerated, said Lt. Col. George A. Glaze, the battalion commander in Sadiyah. "There are people skewing this equation in a way that is not helpful," he said.

Some of Glaze's soldiers saw their new partners, whom they call the Iraqi Security Volunteers or ISV, as irking the government. This was because of their work against the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia known in Arabic as Jaish al-Mahdi or JAM, that had collaborated with the Iraqi National Police earlier in the year. "The reality is, in my guess, that the ISV was interfering too much in JAM's operations," said Lt. Brian Bifulco, 23, a platoon leader. "And a directive came down from the prime minister."

Sadiyah residents say the local volunteers maintain divided loyalties. Ali Abdel Hussein al-Asadi, 41, an employee with Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, said his father, a Shiite, was kidnapped from his Sadiyah home in July by men who claimed to be from the Islamic Army, a Sunni insurgent group. Some of them later joined the neighborhood's Baghdad Brigade, a local force of a few hundred men. Residents call these men "Sahawa," or the Awakening, after the Awakening Council of Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar. Asadi said his father had to tell his kidnappers he was a Sunni to avoid execution.

Asadi's parents fled the neighborhood on the day the Baghdad Brigade began its official duties. "Two days later, we heard from a friend that some people who live in my district broke into the house at night, stole what we had left and were protected by the Sahawa forces," he said. "Before they left they set the house on fire."

"The big problem is that the Americans are backing them -- no one can talk about them," Asadi said. "And if you tell the Americans about them, they will not believe you."

Maj. Khudair Abbas Hassan, police chief in the nearby al-Amil neighborhood, was also critical of the volunteers. "If you are a displaced family and you return, you would find the same people who drove you out of your home in the first place," he said, "but now they have legitimate titles and are carrying weapons."

On Oct. 1, Maliki ordered the Baghdad Brigade off the streets of Sadiyah, according to U.S. soldiers, and confined to its headquarters and mosques.

"The government has frozen us," said Assad Jadou, a 34-year-old electrician and volunteer. "We as the Baghdad Brigade, unlike other volunteers, are not able to confront and fight al-Qaeda and drive them out of our neighborhoods. . . . Now our position is weak."

Newton, a veteran of two tours in Iraq and eight as a commander in Northern Ireland, said he understands that for U.S. troops and Iraq's Shiite leaders it can be agonizing to deal with former Sunni insurgents. "The British army has had to go through some of the painful and rather distasteful things that you have to do in order to reach accommodations with people who until very recently were actually killing your soldiers," he said.

U.S. forces also hold some reservations about the volunteer forces. In a meeting with the Baghdad Brigade, American soldiers expressed concern that brigade members were partly responsible for a recent spike in violence in an attempt to encourage the central government to allow them back on the street. "If it continues, it's going to have the opposite effect," Maj. Eric Timmerman, operations officer for the battalion in Sadiyah, told the leader of the group, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Hassan.

"When they started out, they appeared pretty legitimate, I think," Bifulco said. "There is collaboration now going on, at least on a small level," between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the volunteers.

Jadou, of the brigade, agreed that some of members work with al-Qaeda in Iraq. "All of the factions, even al-Qaeda, have intelligence elements over here, who will see how the brigade is going to work, and whether it would be for the benefit of the Sunnis," he said.

Nevertheless, U.S. military officials argue that the benefits of the program far outweigh the risks. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, said that over a recent 15-day period, volunteers had provided tips that allowed the recovery of a "staggering" amount of munitions: 37,000 pounds of explosives, 2,000 artillery rounds, 500 rockets, nearly 500 armor-piercing projectiles and components, and hundreds of rifles, grenades and suicide vests.
In Diyala alone, the U.S. military is working with 4,000 men, some of them former Sunni insurgents, who have discovered several hundred weapons caches and nearly 100 houses rigged with bombs, and helped bring about a decrease in attacks in what had been some of the deadliest territory in Iraq, said Col. David W. Sutherland, the U.S. commander in the province. But his goal to formalize these men into the police force has stalled as he has negotiated with officials in Baghdad.

"I'm frustrated with the Ministry of Interior," Sutherland said of the government agency that oversees the police force. "They're slow rolling, by trying to control things in Baghdad."

Under the latest plan, the Iraqi government would hire a limited number of the volunteers as police officers or soldiers and assume the temporary contracts for the rest, who would work as guards at fixed locations or in reconstruction work. "Then after six months or a year we will give them a stipend, recruit them somewhere else or send them for occupational training. I don't know, let's cross that bridge when we come to it," said Rubaie, the national security adviser.

For now, Jadou said Baghdad Brigade members train inside their headquarters, relying on donations for funding and weapons. Their commander, Hassan, pressed Timmerman in the meeting about when the Iraqi government would allow them back on the streets.

"I don't know when that's going to be," Timmerman replied. "I don't make that decision."

Tyson reported from the Pentagon.
© 2007 The Washington Post Company

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21748197/

Jimmie wins 4th straight and Reflections

Jimmie did it again, winning Phoenix yesterday- I stayed up far too late and watched it thanks to the Armed Forces Network. One more race left, and he is well-positioned to win the "Chase" needing only an 18th place finish. It is a clear omen that signing to work with Lowe's after my deployment was a good call. It must be obvious to all rational people that a company that sponsors a race car that wins must also be a great company to work for..... And I've had some readers let me know they don't care for my racing updates. News flash- this is my blog, not theirs. ;-)

The Training Center is in preparation to kick off an interesting basic training cycle- we've started receiving folks, are issuing gear, and start actual training soon. This cycle will be getting some media attention as well. But that is nothing new, it is theme and variation- the unique demographics of this group are what make this group special. I'll go into that more as time goes on. Don't want to draw indirect fire just yet.

And I'm about a month away from leave. There's chatter about availability for seats on flights, or lack thereof, because of an oddly unforeseen increase in demand for leave and passes during Christmas season. Who-da-thunk it? Boy, I tell you, I didn't see that coming!

I'm a bit lonely lately because my NCO buddy, MSG "Timmy" is still out on leave, and many of the folks I've worked with here have either resigned or are on break. I'm not an Army of One today or since Saturday, though, because a LTC Davis (MP type- woo-hoo!) has come to cover the stories of some of the recruits coming in. It has been pleasant to have him here with his interpreter. We'll have them for another day or so, and he'll come back down at a later date with more reporters. Also entertained another reporter for Army magazine for a few hours yesterday- I think I'll be on my third oak leaf cluster with a V device for my TourGuide Tab by the time I leave theatre in April or so.

We also have four Iraqi generals here for the time being. I don't want to holler micromanagement, but I have never observed a ratio of 1 general per 125 recruits before. One of our contractor interpreters here uses the phrase "land of 1,000 generals", which I think I've also heard elsewhere. I'm guessing that is a conservative estimate. But they are all pleasant enough at this point.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month


I missed today's brief memorial service that was thoughtfully prepared by "Schultzie", one of our Australian contractors with a big heart and a talent for barbecues. I was escorting a media representative around our facilities and "telling the Army story". I've never been one much for observances of many kinds, but I regret missing this one. Thank you, veterans. I am proud to count myself among you, despite knowing that many of you have done so much more.


I came across a nice article through Army Knowledge Online (crappy e-mail system, but I like the Early Bird News), which captures many thoughts that I have and will have about my experiences here and those once I return. An articulate fellow, and it was a nice piece on which I could reflect as a form of my own Veterans Day observance. I continue to have a growing appreciation of the various efforts and sacrifices of my brothers and sisters in arms.


FROM ABU GHRAIB TO GEORGETOWN
I'm Back Home, But Still in Iraq's Grasp
By William Quinn
Sunday, November 11, 2007;
Page B01
Washington Post

The only feeling I've ever had that was more surreal than arriving in a war zone was returning from one.

I came home on R&R in 2005 after eight months in Iraq. Heading for the baggage claim in Detroit, I watched travelers walking and talking on their cellphones, chatting with friends and acting just the way people had before I'd left for Baghdad. The war didn't just seem to be taking place in another country; it seemed to be taking place in another universe. There I was, in desert camouflage, wondering how all the intensity, the violence, the tears and the killing of Iraq could really be happening at the same time that all these people were hurrying to catch their flights to Las Vegas or Los Angeles or wherever.

Riding home that day with my parents, I felt nervous, too exposed in their Ford Taurus. There was no armor on the car, and it felt light. We stopped at every red light and stop sign, and I saw potential dangers everywhere, even though I-94 heading into the city was nothing like Baghdad's Airport Road. There were no torched trucks or craters left by bomb blasts. I think it was the neatness of it all that made me uncomfortable. It seemed that staying alive shouldn't be so easy.

I've been out of Iraq for more than two years now. I have a different life, as a college student. But some of those feelings are still with me. After dedicating a year to a conflict of such enormous complexity, I find that college feels a bit mundane, and it's inexplicable to me that people here seem to be entirely untouched by the war.

On Sept. 11, 2001, everyone said that the events of that day would change the lives of all Americans. I was a trainee in the interrogation course at the Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., at the time. At 18, I had dropped out of college and joined the Army earlier that year, because I felt that my life lacked discipline and direction. Six years later, 9/11 doesn't seem to have had much of an effect on most people's lives. But it has had an enormous effect on mine.

I arrived in Iraq in March 2005. My unit hurried onto a Chinook helicopter at Baghdad International Airport in the middle of the night. I was weighted down with more than 100 pounds of gear, and I never managed to strap myself in. Helicopters are violent machines, and we shook as we lifted into the air. The rear door was open, a machine gunner suspended over the ramp, and the lights on the ground receded as we flew off, like the scenery behind a taxi in an old movie. Before long, we were over a field of tents, lit up under spotlights as bright as day. We had arrived at Abu Ghraib.

I spent the next month and a half at that prison complex outside Baghdad. By then, the interrogation rules had changed substantially after the stories of abuse there came out in mid-2004. We were permitted to sit across from a detainee and talk to him -- everything else was banned. This was a good rule. Torture is easy to justify. Interrogators assume that everyone they question is culpable; it's part of the job. If a detainee can't provide information because he has none, the temptation to slip into brutality is very present. Without rules in place, I might have been brutal, but I never so much as raised my voice to a detainee.

On April 2, 2005, Abu Ghraib was attacked by dozens of insurgents armed with vehicle-borne bombs, rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs. It was a terrifying experience -- but also an exhilarating one. I learned that I was capable of functioning through my fear, and that I could place my life, with absolute confidence, in the hands of my fellow soldiers and Marines.

I spent a few hours that night in an inner tower with Marines who responded to the rockets and small-arms fire with 50-caliber machine guns. I watched as a man in a tractor was killed by machine-gun fire and as a group of trucks was stopped by a barrage of bullets from the tower guards. Later that night, I interrogated some of the men who had been in those trucks. A few had been wounded; all were frightened. They were fish deliverymen, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The man in the tractor turned out to be a suicide bomber. It's nearly impossible to tell the enemy from the innocent.

After my time at Abu Ghraib, I was transferred to Camp Cropper, which was then a small prison facility near Baghdad International Airport. Over the next year, I spoke with hundreds of detainees. I spent my days with members of al-Qaeda, Baathists, Sunni nationalist insurgents and Shiite insurgents. I listened to their life stories, and I wrote hundreds of reports about their experiences. It consumed every moment of my day.

I wasn't involved in the short interrogations where we try to learn where the next bomb is located or how many insurgents are in the next safe house. The interrogations I conducted lasted weeks and sometimes months. We were trying to understand the big picture: the support networks, the international connections and the enemy's motivations. The long-term nature of our conversations forced me to see the men I interrogated as human beings. Most were Iraqi. Many were extremely intelligent, and some had had a great deal of formal education.

Their levels of cooperation varied. Some were forthcoming with information; some were not. Some seemed to enjoy the solitude of prison; some were led to despair by it. They all remain in my thoughts, and I'm sometimes surprised by my feelings. Recently, I read in the International Herald Tribune that a man I'd interrogated had been executed in Baghdad. If anyone ever deserved execution, it was he. But I still felt a pang of regret. His life, for all its horrors, mattered to me.

While still in Iraq, I was accepted to Georgetown University as an undergraduate. The Army discharged me in July 2006, and I began college that August.

What a difference.

People on campus don't think about the war very much. It rarely comes up in conversation, either inside or outside the classroom. Some professors have encouraged me to share my experiences, and some students have expressed interest in my past. Last semester, one wrote an article about another Iraq veteran and me for the campus newspaper. And this semester I dedicated about 250 words of a 900-word paper to the problem of sectarian violence in Iraq for a class on international relations. But that was the first time in my three semesters here that I was asked to formally consider the war for a class.

Beyond that, my theology professor gave a lecture last year that challenged students to find God in Iraq. My philosophy professor used Baghdad to describe what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes may have meant when he said that life in the state of nature would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." But that's about it. One student actually told me to stop thinking about Iraq. "You need to get rid of all that baggage and let yourself live," she said. "We need to be shallow sometimes."

I find it frustrating that Facebook is a bigger part of most students' lives than the war. After my first semester, I decided to rejoin the Army by signing up with the ROTC. I felt a bit guilty for having done only one tour in Iraq while friends of mine have done two or three. And I didn't want to forget the war. I may be prejudiced, but many of my college peers seem self-absorbed. I didn't want to end up like that.

You could rightly say a lot of negative things about soldiers. Many are crude. Some visit prostitutes; some commit adultery. I've known some who are bigots. It would be a lie to say that every soldier behaves honorably at all times. When I was stationed in South Korea from 2003 to 2005, I was often embarrassed by soldiers who were loud, obnoxious and insulting to Koreans. Men in their early 20s act like men in their early 20s, whether they wear a uniform or not.

Nonetheless, the Army's values are important to soldiers. They may not always live up to them, but they do when it matters most. Soldiers are selfless; they are courageous; they are loyal. The most interesting intellectual conversations I've had have been with others in the military. They discuss things not to impress you but because they're trying to figure them out. They're faced with difficult situations, and they want to make sense of them. Though many privately question our government's policies, they do their duty, which lies beyond the political debate.

This culture of duty is at odds with the culture of individualism and self-promotion that seems paramount here in college. And yet, the divide between my soldier friends and my fellow students isn't the result of any fundamental differences between the people themselves. Many of my peers at school know much more about the world around them than my fellow soldiers do -- international relations is a popular subject at Georgetown. My Army friends used to laugh when they saw me reading the Economist; my friends here think everyone should read it. Students talk about refugees from Iraq, North Korea, Burma and Darfur with sincere compassion. One of my friends told me: "I want to dedicate my life to educating people about the sufferings of others."

That's a wonderful goal, but I often feel that the words ring hollow. Students' true priorities are demonstrated by their daily activities: They have friends to meet, parties to attend, internships to work at, extracurricular activities to participate in, papers to write and classes to attend. They're under a lot of pressure to build a strong r¿sum¿ for whatever company or graduate school they apply to after college. They're under no pressure to be concerned about those who are less fortunate -- or those who fight wars on their behalf.

I'm proud to be a student at Georgetown. Though I find some aspects of campus culture discouraging, I have a lot of respect for my professors and peers. But there are still days when I think about what it must be like back in Baghdad -- and wonder whether that's where I should be.

william.james.quinn@gmail.com
William Quinn is majoring in international politics and security studies at Georgetown University. He served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Reminders of where you are

1. A training facility. Waking up to jinood (Iraqi soldiers) chanting/singing lyrical cadences as they do their morning run that is no faster than a walk. It is many times interesting to look across the street to the group doing Basic Army training. It is clear that the Army is better equipped and further along than the police.

2. A conflict zone. Wake-ups just before midnight because reportedly 3 contractors were kidnapped from my contractor's parent company, according to a call from the British embassy. 100% accountability to ensure that they weren't kidnapped from here. Worry for the 3 whoever they are- you know what happens if they are indeed kidnapped and not recovered. Orange jumpsuits and knives float into your consciousness from grainy web videos.

Lowe's Day

Why is this man so excited? He just heard that I signed an offer with Lowe's to work as a consultant in their talent management department. So I'll start there next June with a move to North Carolina, insha'allah.

All my Autralian friends out here have no idea what Lowe's is- so here's the link to their website.

These Aussies are a fun group generally, and occasionally one finds my blog when searching the net for information about Numaniyah, so I figure they could use the link if they're curious.
And of course, Jimmie Johnson has no idea who I am, but is just celebrating another victory. 4 tires beats two.
I had been concerned about job status after my military stint, given that I'd signed an offer with Lowe's before leaving, but since then my "champion" had moved on and I wasn't sure they'd honor the offer. Happily, they updated the offer, and that bit of uncertainty is cleared up.
So I am now free to allocate that energy and anxiety in other ways. Having a couple of days without trainees here has been refreshing, a chance to catch my breath and attend to some of the details and administrative tasks that lag during a training cycle. So, feeling pretty good right now.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The first day of the Numaniyah National Police Training Center

Hear ye, hear ye, the Numaniyah National Police Academy has officially closed its doors.


Hear ye, hear ye, the Numaniyah National Police Training Center is officially open for business!
I told myself I wouldn't cry, but this is such a special and historic moment, as we do nothing more, really, than change the name and train a different group. We're on the cutting edge here- the tip of the training spear.

This is actually a previous graduation- but after four of them since I've been here, they all look the same.

With the completion of the 5th brigade training yesterday, Phase II of the CPATT carefully crafted 4 phase plan for the transformation of the Iraqi National Police is complete. CPATT and the National Police, though, are loathe to leave the hallowed grounds of this pod on the An Numaniyah Military Training Base (ANMTB) laying fallow. Something about not wanting the place to be looted and burned to the ground in 24 hours if left unoccupied, and the fact that it is the largest National Police training facility, with a ginormous MOUT site on ANMTB. So we shall run at least one iteration of basic training and advanced individual training while they sort out what the next steps are for this facility. We'll celebrate opening the NNPTC with a good old Australian barbecue tonight, with praise and honor to Wombat and Schultzie who work their magic on the grill.



http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/columns/story?seriesId=2&columnist=blount_terry&id=3094914


And we also celebrate the 3rd straight victory of Jimmie Johnson (this week Texas Motor Speedway) and his Lowe's team (#48) in the Nextel Cup. They've overtaken Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (#24) in the points lead, and are well positioned with 2 races left. Of course anything can happen. Go, Jimmie! I'm the biggest fan he's ever had in An Numaniyah, Iraq. I'm not really a redneck, but I'm making an effort, anyway.

And speaking of rednecks, got a care package from my sistah, Beth! Thanks, Beth! That is a great photo of the glaring softball all-stars, thanks also for the video, the cards, the Nerds, the batteries, and the love.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

An F-You Sunday, peace be upon us.

Well, the last day of the Numaniyah National Police Academy was not the least exciting one. We had the graduation for the 5th Brigade, and as usual what was scheduled for 1.5 hours went 1 hour, leaving the visitors on the ground for a bit longer. That meant the National Police commander had yet another opportunity to commandeer my office and smoke in it while he discussed business with my Iraqi counterpart. I keep telling myself I should lock the office....

One of the American generals was perturbed to find out he WASN'T giving a speech (I'd always be ok with that) when he thought he was, his aide had dropped the ball, not reading or noticing a 3 day old e-mail advising him of who the Iraqi brigade commander had selected for his speakers. I won't lose sleep over that.

And then we had one of our longer exfils- the process of getting the brigade and their American counterparts out the door. This time was a little harder than usual. They started to file out and our inspection of the barracks revealed they had not left them in an acceptable state (that is speaking mildly) and had even left substantial amounts of equipment such as helmets and body armor behind. The folks doing this will then at a later date approach their leadership and the American leadership- "we don't have helmets, we don't have body armor!" This was frustrating because this brigade had met other leadership challenges fairly well. They failed on this one- their leadership initially tried to excuse their subordinates' behavior, and when realizing we weren't letting them leave until the problem was fixed, they essentially walked off. Word started getting out, and folks started moving away from the gate and back towards the barracks, but there was a group of about 100 or so chanting F- You! at a group of us there- American military, contractors, and local national interpreters. So charming. The mob psychology didn't last long, and they moved away, but it always leaves a bad taste in your mouth- these are our "friends"... Their anger was because we were not letting them leave and telling them they needed to clean their barracks. We weren't dictating spic and span- just that all the trash was out, and a very basic cleaning- but that was apparently too much to ask. So they cursed us. And their leadership was quite absent during this process- as they were through much of the barracks cleaning fiasco.

The second episode of foxtrot uniform epithets was lanced not at me, but at the contractors administering the program here. One of the American soldiers cursed "the f-ing contractors that are here just for the money." Classy. He was frustrated they weren't giving diesel to the Iraqi National Police for one of their vehicles. They weren't doing it simply because it was not a part of the contract. Such nuances were lost on the NCO- in the Army world, you don't attend to such niceties in the wild west environment we have here- you just do what needs to be done. So he lost his cool. I gave the NPs some fuel from my top secret stash of fuel, and everything was fine, but this guy showed a bit too much of himself, popping a blood vessel in his nose and dropping his gear so he could "kick some Australian's @$%^". He ignored the fact also that he could hurt himself severely if he picked the wrong Aussie.

And his anger was misdirected in terms of hating contractors, in my estimation. They are doing their job, whereas he noted, "he actually cares about the Iraqis". Well, sorry, my good man, that our country is not able to do all of the work we created with this invasion. We depend on these "f-ing contractors" because we can't get the job done ourselves. His anger would make more sense directed at others for picking this fight, for cutting the ability of the U.S. military to be self-sustaining, for U.S. leadership that tolerates and perpetuates our dependence on contractors, and so on. Yes, these contractors are well paid. They're taking the risk that the U.S. doesn't want to, and 2 of them died in July taking that risk. They are an easy, "cheap" target for angry soldiers, but they are the symptom, not the problem. Look to the U.S. leadership to understand why contractors outnumber military personnel in this war. Who created the monster that you detest?

I'm tired, too, of U.S. leadership that complains the contractors are "too expensive." It makes as much sense as professional sports owners- the ones paying the salaries, bidding up the free agents, and then complaining about their salaries. Who offered the contracts? We did. If the contractors are meeting the terms of the contract, and you still consider it too expensive, why did you put the contract in place? Either it is worth it, or it isn't. Disingenuous and talking out of both sides of one's mouth, to sign the contract, accept the services, and then express dissatisfaction at the terms and conditions that you (or your predecessor) dictated. How about saying "darn that so and so for offering that contract to so and so!"? Or "Stupid me! I knew I shouldn't have asked someone to do something for me for a certain amount of money!" Yeah, that makes sense....

Well, we have a week to clean and repair, tie down loose ends, and then the fun starts again with a basic training group. At least I'll get to sleep in for a few days. 5am wake ups are no fun.

Here's an example of the type of thing contributing to the "problems of f!#$% contractors"....

New York Times
November 4, 2007 Pg. 1
Even Cut 50 Percent, Earmarks Clog A Military Bill
By Marilyn W. Thompson and Ron Nixon
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/washington/04earmarks.html?ex=1351828800&en=a82e7dff6621cec4&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 — Even though members of Congress cut back their pork barrel spending this year, House lawmakers still tacked on to the military appropriations bill $1.8 billion to pay 580 private companies for projects the Pentagon did not request.

Twenty-one members were responsible for about $1 billion in earmarks, or financing for pet projects, according to data lawmakers were required to disclose for the first time this year. Each asked for more than $20 million for businesses mostly in their districts, ranging from major military contractors to little known start-ups.

The list is topped by the veteran earmark champions Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is the chairman of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, and Representative C. W. Bill Young of Florida, the top Republican on the panel, who asked for $166 million and $117 million respectively. It also includes $92 million in requests from Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, a committee member who is under federal investigation for his ties to a lobbying firm whose clients often benefited from his earmarks.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, requested $32 million in earmarks, while Steny H. Hoyer, the majority leader, asked for $26 million for projects in the $459.6 billion defense bill, the largest of the appropriations bills that go through Congress.

As promised when they took control of Congress in January, House Democratic leaders cut in half from last year the value of earmarks in the bill, as they did in the other 11 agency spending measures. But some lawmakers complained that the leadership failed to address what it had called a “culture of corruption” in which members seek earmarks to benefit corporate donors. Earmarks have been a recurring issue in recent Congressional scandals, most recently the 2005 conviction of Representative Randy Cunningham, Republican of California, for accepting bribes from defense contractors.

“Pork hasn’t gone away at all,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, an earmark critic who cites the “circular fund-raising” surrounding many of them. “It would be wonderful if this was a partisan issue, with Republicans on the right side, but it is really not. Many of these companies use money appropriated through earmarks to turn around and lobby for more money. Some of them are just there to receive earmarks.”

Congressional earmarks are for programs that are not competitively bid , and the Bush administration has complained that they waste taxpayer dollars and skew priorities from military needs, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror.

Thomas E. Mann, a Congressional scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, though, sees the costs of earmarks as less of a problem than their potential for abuse.

“The fiscal fallout of earmarks is trivial,” he said. But they can lead to “conflicts of interest, the irrational and unconstructive allocation of resources, or their use by Congressional leaders as carrots and sticks to buy votes for larger measures that clearly lack majority support on the merits.”

The House version of the military bill includes 1,337 earmarks totaling $3 billion, the most Congressional earmarks in any of the spending bills passed this year. A conference committee is now reconciling House and Senate versions. The Senate added $5 billion in earmarks, but it is difficult to determine the sponsors because it has no disclosure rules.

About half of the House military earmarks go to universities, military bases and other public institutions; the other half to businesses and nonprofits. For the first time, members submitted written requests for each project and statements attesting that they had no personal financial interests in them. Previously, earmarks often were inserted anonymously. The New York Times analysis of earmarks used data compiled by the Washington-based watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense along with campaign contribution and lobbying records.

Democrats consider earmark reform a success, since they have significantly reduced their cost and brought “disclosure so constituents can see what their members have asked for,” said Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Ms. Pelosi. “That’s one of the things we wanted to change, to bring more openness.” But the House Republican Conference contends that Democrats still use earmarks as a secretive slush fund to reward contributors.

Mr. Murtha has drawn much attention this year, first as he bitterly opposed the legislation requiring disclosure of earmarks, then continued his habit of submitting dozens of requests, most benefiting his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. (He asked for 47 earmarks.) Two Republicans said he threatened to block them from getting any earmarks when they questioned one of his requests. “You’re not going to get any, now or forever,” he warned Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who eventually received a written apology from the Pennsylvania congressman.

The Republican Conference chairman, Adam H. Putman of Florida, said Mr. Murtha’s behavior has been “like watching a throwback in time.”

“He’s a classic old-bull appropriator, basically showing a level of arrogance in which he breezily dismisses House rules, dismisses public inquiry and defies the spirit of disclosure,” Mr. Putnam said.

About $111 million of Mr. Murtha’s earmarks are for businesses and nonprofits closely aligned with him. He recruits defense firms and jobs to his economically depressed district and often pushes earmarks for them.

“I don’t make apologies for having earmarks,” Mr. Murtha, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told members in August. “When we see something that we think is not as valuable as something else is, we change it.”

Firms benefiting from Mr. Murtha’s help have given at least $437,000 to his campaign since 2005, with about $110,000 streaming in just before this year’s March 16 request deadline.
Some of Mr. Murtha’s earmarks are relatively small amounts for companies trying to gain a foothold in defense contracting, but few details about their projects are provided. KDH Defense Systems of Johnstown makes Navy body armor and Army elbow pads in a converted bra factory, and Mr. Murtha asked for a $2 million earmark to help the company improve its bulletproof vests. Another earmark would provide $3 million for KDH to develop a “waterways threat detection system.”

The company’s lobbying firm is KSA Consulting, which employed Mr. Murtha’s younger brother, Kit, until 2006. The firm has contributed $4,000 to Mr. Murtha’s campaign since 2005.
Eight companies on Mr. Murtha’s earmark list use a different lobbyist, the PMA Group, whose principals include Paul Magliochetti, a former aide to the defense appropriations subcommittee. The firm took in $840,000 in fees this year from those clients. PMA and its employees have given $58,600 to Mr. Murtha’s campaign since 2005, according to contribution records.

Mr. Murtha included four earmarks worth $10 million for Concurrent Technologies Corporation, a Johnstown-based nonprofit run by major contributors that has won $226 million in earmarks since 2004, according to figures compiled by the taxpayers watchdog group. Concurrent also relies on other lawmakers for support, getting $8 million more in earmarks, including one worth $1.5 million from Mr. Young, whose district in Florida has a Concurrent office. Mr. Young said the company did valuable work for Special Forces.

A Concurrent spokeswoman, Mary T. Bevan, said it was premature to discuss specific earmarks. “Congressionally directed funding is a small part of CTC’s overall revenues,” she said in an e-mail message.

In recent weeks, Concurrent has drawn attention, along with its sister operation, Commonwealth Research Institute, over whether Commonwealth paid a contract official for a no-show job while he awaited approval for an Air Force post. The man, Charles D. Riechers, died in an apparent suicide after a Congressional committee raised questions about the payments.
Mr. Young requested earmarks for 51 projects totaling $117 million. All but 15 requests benefit defense firms.

The Florida congressman has collected about $150,000 in contributions since 2005 from companies for which he earmarked projects in this year’s bill. Unlike Mr. Murtha, he received only one contribution — a $2,000 donation from the political action committee of DRS Technologies — in the days before the earmark deadline. A DRS spokesman said the company’s PAC bought a ticket to a Young fund-raiser.

Mr. Young said that his earmark numbers were high because as ranking subcommittee member, he also seeks earmarks on behalf of other Republicans.

He said he made requests only after “personal contacts to the various agencies” to make sure the projects were legitimate. “I want to make sure we are not putting money into something the Pentagon does not feel they need,” he said.

Mr. Lewis, whose relationship with a lobbying firm is now under federal scrutiny, got $85,500 from six companies for which he sponsored earmarks. Science Applications International Corporation, which received a $4 million earmark, donated $5,000 two weeks before the earmark deadline.

Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer each had 10 earmarks in the bill. Five of Ms. Pelosi’s earmarks went to companies in her district, as did six of Mr. Hoyer’s.

Ryan Alexander, director of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the public deserved disclosure of the cost and purpose of each earmark. It is important, she said, to judge earmarked projects against other priorities, “particularly in a time of two wars and so many demands on our resources.”

Barclay Walsh contributed reporting.

And I enjoyed this one, challenging many republicans' claims as conservatives (and challenges Congress to step up) as they seemingly support a widening of presidential powers related to war- not a traditional conservative stance.

Congress's Unused War Powers
By George F. Will
Sunday, November 4, 2007;
Washington Post
Page B07
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/02/AR2007110201785.html

Americans are wondering, with the lassitude of uninvolved spectators, whether the president will initiate a war with Iran. Some Democratic presidential candidates worry, or purport to, that he might claim an authorization for war in a Senate resolution labeling an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit a terrorist organization. Some Democratic representatives oppose the president's request for $88 million to equip B-2 stealth bombers to carry huge "bunker-buster" bombs, hoping to thereby impede a presidential decision to attack Iran's hardened nuclear facilities.
While legislators try to leash a president by tinkering with a weapon, they are ignoring a sufficient leash -- the Constitution. They are derelict in their sworn duty to uphold it. Regarding the most momentous thing government does, make war, the constitutional system of checks and balances is broken.

Congress can, however, put the Constitution's bridle back on the presidency. Congress can end unfettered executive war-making by deciding to. That might not require, but would be facilitated by, enacting the Constitutional War Powers Resolution. Introduced last week by Rep. Walter B. Jones, a North Carolina Republican, it technically amends but essentially would supplant the existing War Powers Resolution, which has been a nullity ever since it was passed in 1973 over President Richard Nixon's veto.

Jones's measure is designed to ensure that deciding to go to war is, as the Founders insisted it be, a "collective judgment." It would prohibit presidents from initiating military actions except to repel or retaliate for sudden attacks on America or American troops abroad, or to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens abroad. It would provide for expedited judicial review to enforce compliance with the resolution and would permit the use of federal funds only for military actions taken in compliance with the resolution.

It reflects conclusions reached by the War Powers Initiative of the Constitution Project. That nonpartisan organization's 2005 study notes that Congress's appropriation power augments the requirement of advance authorization by Congress before the nation goes to war. It enables Congress to stop the use of force by cutting off its funding. That check is augmented by the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits any expenditure or obligation of funds not appropriated by Congress, and by legislation that criminalizes violations of the act.

All this refutes Rudy Giuliani's recent suggestion that the president might have "the inherent authority to support the troops" even if funding were cut off. Besides, American history is replete with examples of Congress restraining executive war-making. (See "Congress at War: The Politics of Conflict Since 1789," a book by Charles A. Stevenson.) Congress has forbidden:
Sending draftees outside this hemisphere (1940-41); introduction of combat troops into Laos or Thailand (1969); reintroduction of troops into Cambodia (1970); combat operations in Southeast Asia (1973); military operations in Angola (1976); use of force in Lebanon other than for self-defense (1983); military activities in Nicaragua (1980s). In 1993 and 1994, Congress mandated the withdrawal of troops from Somalia and forbade military actions in Rwanda.

When Congress authorized the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against those complicit in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress refused to adopt administration language authorizing force "to deter and preempt any future" terrorism or aggression. The wonder is that the administration bothered to seek this language.

The administration's "presidentialists" -- including the president -- believe presidents are constitutionally emancipated from all restraints regarding core executive functions, particularly those concerning defense and waging war. Clearly they think the rejected language would have added nothing to the president's inherent powers.

Congress's powers were most dramatically abandoned and ignored regarding Korea. Although President Harry S. Truman came from a Congress controlled by his party and friends, he never sought congressional authorization to send troops into massive and sustained conflict. Instead, he asserted broad authority to "execute" treaties such as the U.N. Charter.

For today's Democrats, resistance to unilateral presidential war-making reflects not principled constitutionalism but petulance about the current president. Democrats were supine when President Bill Clinton launched a sustained air war against Serbia without congressional authorization. Instead, he cited NATO's authorization -- as though that were an adequate substitute for the collective judgment that the Constitution mandates. Republicans, supposed defenders of limited government, actually are enablers of an unlimited presidency. Their belief in strict construction of the Constitution evaporates, and they become, in behavior if not in thought, adherents of the woolly idea of a "living Constitution." They endorse, by their passivity, the idea that new threats justify ignoring the Framers' text and logic about shared responsibility for war-making.

Unless and until Congress stops prattling about presidential "usurpation" of power and asserts its own, it will remain derelict regarding its duty of mutual participation in war-making. And it will merit its current marginalization.
georgewill@washpost.com

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Things are still slowly getting better

Here's one of the many reasons things are going so slowly- U.S. contracting processes.

http://www.boston.com/news/world/articles/2007/11/03/iraq_says_us_behind_in_arms_deliveries/?page=full

Iraq says US behind in arms deliveries
Only a fraction of $2b order has been filled
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON - More than a year after the government of Iraq paid more than $2 billion to the US government to purchase weapons and equipment for their military and police force, most of the equipment has yet to be delivered, slowing the ability of Iraqi units to take greater responsibility for their country's security, according to Iraqi officials.


In October 2006, Iraq obtained congressional approval to purchase 50,750 M16 rifles and 24 King Air reconnaissance aircraft, among other items. But so far, just 7,000 of the rifles and none of the aircraft have been delivered, according to a US Department of Defense spokesman. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has said that the US government delivered about $600 million worth of military equipment to the Iraqis, and that between $2 billion and $3 billion in supplies are still on order.


Pentagon officials say that large orders take time and that the US military has large orders pending, which adds to the manufacturing backlog. But Iraqi officials have expressed frustration over the delays.


"We need to make sure [our security forces] have weapons, vehicles, communications devices," Maamoon Sami Rasheed, the governor of Anbar Province, said yesterday as he visited Washington, D.C., with a group of Iraqi officials for a State Department leadership program.


He said new police and army recruits in Anbar have recently joined the United States in fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, but they lack the necessary equipment to do their jobs. Some members of Anbar's 21,000-member police force, he said, have been relegated to using personal weapons. He added that other provinces in Iraq have similar shortages.


In July, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaida'ie, complained bitterly about the delays, saying, "Americans are fully protected with the latest equipment and we are just cannon fodder."


Senior US military commanders in Iraq and several key senators have faulted bureaucratic delays in the US government's Foreign Military Sales program, under which the US military serves as a middleman between foreign governments and the US companies that are contracted to produce the weapons. Gates has said that the program was not designed for emergency situations like the war in Iraq.


Citing the delays, Senators John Warner, a Virginia Republican, and Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, asked for an overhaul of the program in a September letter to Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


"During our visit to Iraq last month, we were informed by US military commanders of problems in the US bureaucracy that are hindering the delivery of badly needed military equipment for Iraqi forces purchased with Iraqi funds," they wrote.


It has taken an average of 250 days to deliver an item after receiving an Iraqi request, according to the letter, but military officials are trying to cut that time to 125 days.


"From our perspective, this is still too long," wrote the two senators, who are the leading members of their parties on the Senate Armed Services Committee. A spokesman for Warner said this week that he has not received a reply.


A spokesman for Colt Defense, the West Hartford-based military supplier that has a contract for the M16 rifles, declined to comment. A group of Iraqi generals toured the Colt factory this summer to observe production of the rifles, according to a Department of Defense official.


A report issued in September by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, headed by retired General James L. Jones, said that the Iraqi security forces "suffer persistent shortfalls in vital equipment" and are killed at three times the rate of Coalition forces because they lack the armor and weaponry to fight against heavily armed terrorist groups.


In the first years after the 2003 US-led invasion, the US government gave weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and body armor to Iraq's fledgling forces. But some in Congress say those transfers took place too quickly and that the US and Iraqi governments did such a poor job of keeping track of the items that many have disappeared.


Starting in 2005, Iraq's government became eligible to purchase its own weaponry through the Foreign Military Sales program, and last year submitted its first major orders. Pentagon reports say that Iraq committed $1.72 billion in 2006 and $1.6 billion in 2007 to purchasing US weapons systems and equipment through the program.


The weapons purchases are a key step toward Iraqi self-sufficiency. US officials tout that Iraq is now spending more than twice as much as the United States to equip the Iraqi military and police.


US officials acknowledge that the purchasing process is laborious, requiring that Congress be notified and given a 30-day waiting period to object to major military sales. Then a complex bidding process begins. Finally, after contracts are issued, the goods must be manufactured and delivered to the US government, which ships them to Iraq.


Yesterday, Lieutenant Colonel Karen Finn, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the US military is working hard to resolve issues with the Iraqi government.


"We agree that the current process is not as swift as we would like," she said.

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