notes on the continuing atrocity

There are so many reasons to be horrified at what is happening in Iraq that it shows a certain mad myopia to focus on last weeks Galloway/Hitchens debate. It rather irritates me to read so many blogs about the debate, since, in my opinion, the space taken up by commentary about the debate is space stolen from rational discussion about the war. That kind of burglary serves the pro-war forces.

That these two old troopers managed to network up a posse of publicity from their friends for the thing is depressing, in one way – the debate has the effect of giving us a very cockeyed view of the pro- and anti-war stakes – and in another way it quietly illuminates the irreality that infests discussion about the war in this country. Galloway, trailing a dubious past as a political jester who will say anything to make a name for himself, is disreputable and plain dumb enough that he seemingly can’t question Hitchens about his real role in the war. Since Galloway, on some accounts, was under the delusion that Saddam Hussein was a progressive, this shouldn't surprise anybody.

The Hitchens-ish role could start a real debate, since Hitchens, as a part of the D.C. media machine, has actively worked to delegitimate the opportunity for democratic secular rule in Iraq. How? When you put the faces of thieves and murderers on the supposedly “democratic secular” party, you delegitimate it. When you support ethnic cleansing and war crimes as they have been committed by the occupiers to the advantage of theocrats and puppets, you delegitimate secular democrats. This is pretty obvious stuff. In the same way, when you act as a conduit to lie brazenly to the public about the reasons for the war, you crack the facade of democratic governance at home, which depends on a maximum of good information. And when you work as an operative in the publicity machine that aimed at keeping a real coalition from forming (one of the great Bush-ite goals before the war being to appear to be trying to create a coalition while insuring that the invasion would be under unchallenged American supervision) by contributing to the mass hate sessions against old Europe, then you have an indisputable function in the war machine. Ironic how the success of the Bush people in destroying a real coalition has lead to the failure of the American enterprise in Iraq. Surely the French and the Germans would have blocked some of the more insane American ideas, like disbanding the Iraqi army without controling the Iraqi army.

Alas, the debate about that function will never be held. Just as nobody seems to want to investigate why, exactly, Chalabi came to hold the position he held in D.C. The G/H debate, instead, gave us a perfectly distorted perspective on the realities of the war, depressingly abetted by Democracy Now. Oh well.

The Independent’s story, Sunday, by Patrick Cockburn is starting the slow, slow movement across the Atlantic. Cockburn reported that a billion some dollars was stolen from Iraq under Bremer’s watch. It was siphoned off through the Iraq War Ministry – which is called, in conformity with the American Orwellism, the Ministry of Defense.

The billion in Cockburn’s story is turned into hundreds of millions in the Washington Post version – which isn’t an independent report, but a report on the Independent’s report.
“This story has been building for months. The Independent of London reported yesterday that U.S.-appointed officials in the country’s Ministry of Defense squandered hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraqi money on overpriced and outdated military equipment after the Bush administration transferred sovereignty to an Iraqi government in June 2004.

Patrick Cockburn’s dispatch adds some detail to the arms corruption scandal first reported in August by the Arab cable news site and the American newspaper chain Knight Ridder. Estimates of how much money has been wasted vary widely, but named sources in all three stories agree the amount was huge.
The reports underscore the continuing costs of the Bush administration’s failure to anticipate security problems after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.”

The last sentence is a beautiful example of DC thinking. The reports underscore the corrupt nature of Bremer’s occupation, period. But no – Americans don’t do corruption, do we? Who could ever suspect the crew around Bremer or the Iraqis he associated with of wanting to profit off the Iraqis – especially when we have legalized so much corruption that DC is drowning in it? However, as soon as the for profit nature of the occupation arises, the American press has two responses. On the business page, they are all about eagerly making a killing on making a killing. On the editorial page, they are all about human rights. It is a nice, compartmentalized reflex, and it is meant to induce a nice, compartmentalized reflex.

The interesting politics in the story have to be inferred. An Allawi seems uncharacteristically voluble about the corrupt deal – the finance minister, Ali Allawi, Iyad’s cousin. When an Allawi is pointing fingers, it means something is up with his enemy, Chalabi. Much depends on an obscure man, Ziyad Cattan:
“, the Independent and Knight Ridder all reported that the auditors had found the dubious arms deals were arranged by the ministry's procurement chief, Ziyad Cattan. The three reports said he was fired in May.”

According to the Post report, Chalabi is vindicated by the current charges:

“The corruption reports, ironically, serve as a measure of vindication of Ahmed Chalabi, a onetime ally of the Bush administration who has faced corruption accusations himself. Last January, Chalabi invoked Shaalan’s ire by charging that the interim government had sent a plane laden with $300 million in U.S. currency to Lebanon to buy arms.

"Where did the money go? What was it used for? Who was it given to?" We don't know," Chalabi said in an interview with the New York Times.

Shalaan responded by announcing Chalabi would be arrested on corruption charges. But the arrest never happened.”

In the Independent today, Cockburn has further details about the corruption charges. Here’s an interesting tidbit:

“A further $600-800 million is also missing from the ministries of transport, electricity, interior and other ministries said Mr Allawi. In the case of the Electricity Ministry, which has notably failed to increase power supply to Baghdad, there has been heavy criticism of the way in which four or five contracts for power stations agreed under Saddam Hussein were cancelled. A new set of more costly contracts for natural gas or diesel powered stations were agreed. Unfortunately Iraq does not have adequate supplies of natural gas or diesel so this has to be bought at great expense from abroad. The new power plants have also been very slow to come on stream.

Laith Kubba, the spokesman for Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the prime minister, told The Independent that under the previous Iraqi government the special committee on contracts at the Electricity Ministry refused to sign off on the contract for one $750 million power station because it said information on the deal was inadequate. The committee was promptly dissolved by the minister and another one appointed which proved more willing to agree to the contract.”

Liberation has so many, many dimensions.

Now, we do wonder whether any American paper whatsoever will try to interview Bremer to find out what he knew, when he knew it, and who around him, if anyone, benefited. … Ah, let’s not kid ourselves. We know that no American paper will touch this scandal with a ten foot pole.