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"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.

"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.

A Blog by Rahul Mahajan

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August 25, 4:14 pm. I've been trying to get a feel for the body count in this latest assault on Najaf, now about three weeks old. English-language media outlets are not keeping a running tally. The only firsthand source of information on cumulative numbers is the Iraqi Ministry of Health, but transcripts of their press conferences are not on their website and they get only sporadic coverage by the American and British media.

So anyway it's not possible to come up with an even moderately hard number, but you can do better than nothing. In the media reports that follow, the primary source of numbers is the Ministry of Health, but also, bizarrely, the U.S. military has on occasion revived the old "body count" reporting from the Vietnam era. It has several times put out numbers of "Mahdi Army members" killed in the operation. Just like old numbers of "Vietcong killed," of course, it's likely that many of the people included are noncombatants.

It's also worth noting that the numbers they give out are done solely for the purpose of bragging; a military that claims to do humanitarian interventions according to the laws of war should focus particularly on reporting civilian deaths, since one cannot possibly evaluate the proportionality of methods or whether humanitarian bombing saves more than it kills if one isn't even keeping track of how many innocents are killed.

But I digress. Early on, there were some cumulative numbers. According to this August 13 article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "The fighting, which began last week, has so far killed at least 623 Iraqis and injured more than 1,200, according to figures from the U.S. military and the Ministry of Health." I'm not sure how they combined the military and Ministry of Health figures while avoiding double counting, so this aggregation may be wrong. There are also numerous claims that the United States is inflating numbers of militiamen killed, although it's also quite likely that the Mehdi Army is covering up the number killed.

An August 10 article from the Arizona Daily Star, just reporting Health Ministry numbers, says 465 Iraqis were killed and 535 wounded -- this includes the concomitant fighting in Sadr City, Nasiriyah, Amara, and Basra (when there's an assault on Najaf, this ancillary fighting is absolutely to be expected).

This CNN article reports that purely on the night of August 19-20, 77 Iraqis were killed and 70 wounded in Najaf fighting, including six Iraqi policemen. This one reports another 49 killed in Najaf(56 in the country) in the 24 hours starting 9:00 am August 21.

Obviously, some days had little fighting and few killed. But still, this is fragmentary and doesn't even report all of the aggregate numbers from the Health Ministry -- to say nothing of the fact that any military engagement like this will involve deaths that never get reported.

But, anyway, I think it reasonable to put the death toll for this assault in the neighborhood of 600 to 1000 Iraqis. As of yesterday, according to AP, eight U.S. soldiers had been killed in Najaf fighting -- which means that, in the U.S. domestic political calculus the Mehdi Army loses where the mujaheddin of Fallujah won, even as in every other forum, Iraqi and international, the United States loses.

This is of the same scale as the killing in Fallujah -- the numbers I've seen that make sense to me range from 800 to 1200. In Fallujah, about 3/4 of those were civilians.

The ratio seems lower here, but the civilian toll is high:
Hussein Hadi, deputy director of Najaf's main Al Hakim Hospital, says that the recent fighting has been even worse for civilians than the last time Sadr and his militia rebelled. Then, fighting lasted for more than two months, and the hospital received about 180 dead, Hadi said Sunday in an interview. In the past three weeks, the daily death toll has been about the same, but it includes more women and children than before.

"This time, it's the average people that are dying," Hadi said.

"Now the Americans are using heavier weapons. We see many children with more severe injuries." In Judaada, many such casualties have occurred. Majid Mousa, 11, whose leg was blown off below the knee in a U.S. assault on Saturday, was one. Majid's face was peppered with shrapnel, which blinded him, doctors said. He had been on his way to the market with his brother, 15, who was killed in the explosion. His father, a truck driver away on a run, does not know what happened.
As I wrote in an earlier commentary, that civilians are being killed by intense military operations, involving among other things, the fearsomely indiscriminate AC-130 Spectre gunship, unleashed right in the heart of a densely populated city is hardly a surprise.

Deaths are not the only cost to civilians caught up in a city under siege.  During the siege on Fallujah, the United States bombed the electrical power plant, and the city was blacked out the entire time. In many places, there was no running water (and, as I can attest personally, the water that was available was contaminated). The entire city was cut up into a series of disconnected areas, divided by the no-man's-lands of Marine snipers' firing paths. As a result, numerous civilians lay wounded on the street or in their houses, unable to get to medical care, and with medical personnel unable to pass the snipers to get to them. Oh, yeah, and the United States at the beginning of the assault deliberately closed the main hospital in Fallujah, causing the additional deaths of perhaps hundreds of civilians who might have been saved had doctors had full access to facilities.

It may not be quite as bad in Najaf -- the al-Hakim hospital at least is open -- but civilians have been cut off and trapped. Medics in the Imam Ali shrine sent a desperate plea to the Iraqi government for medical relief, mentioning not only wounded in the shrine itself but also at least dozens of wounded civilians trapped in nearby neighborhoods, unable to get to the shrine to make use of the makeshift and incredibly overstretched medical facilities there.

In Fallujah, the story got out widely and got any attention at all only because our group of independent Western journalists (including my colleagues Jo Wilding and Dahr Jamail) got into the city to report -- and, after the siege, there was some good followup by others. In Najaf, as yet, with rare exceptions like the above article by Sabrina Tavernise, there is very little such reporting, for the simple reason that there really aren't any teams of independent Western journalists in there. As always, if only Arabs have reported it, to the United States it hasn't happened.

August 25, 2:42 pm. I did a radio interview on KGNU in Boulder last night along with Abbas Kadhim, an Iraqi doctoral student in Near East Affairs. It's an hour long, focusing on the background to events in Najaf -- Shi'ism, Sadrism, etc., as well as evaluating larger consequences of the offensive. It's available as streaming audio or a downloadable mp3.
August 25, 2:35 pm. I have mentioned several times that the Iraq coverage of the Washington Post is far superior to that of the New York Times. It's also true that the LA Times often beats the Post -- Alissa Rubin's reporting being among the best at capturing the mood of the Iraqi public.

But this article, Everyone Wants a Piece of the $18-Billion Man in Iraq, by T. Christian Miller a few days ago, is the epitome of mindlessly positive glass-is-half-full-when-no-one-has-even-seen-the-glass Iraq reporting. Here's the beginning:
The man with $18 billion to spend is taking a beating.

Where's the money to rebuild Iraq? The jobs for broke Iraqis? The promised health clinics and schools, bridges and dams, electricity and clean water?

Retired Rear Adm. David Nash gives the same answer to the skeptics who quiz him on America's long-delayed effort to rebuild Iraq: Better times are coming.

"This country is going to take off," said Nash, 61, the head of the U.S. effort to rebuild a nation devastated by a dozen years of sanctions, three wars and a simmering insurgency.

After long delays and broken deadlines, there are signs that the largest reconstruction effort since World War II's Marshall Plan is poised to get rolling.

New and refurbished power stations are starting up weekly. Private contractors are finishing plans for building thousands of schools, clinics and infrastructure projects. Iraqi jobs in the program have soared from 5,300 daily employees to more than 88,000.

But at least for now, there is little to show on the ground. Less than $900 million has been spent of $18.4 billion that Congress approved in November. Of 2,800 projects designed to make life better for Iraqis — and in the process, safer for U.S. soldiers — only 214 are under construction.
Did you catch that last part? Less than 5% of the money allocated almost a year ago has been spent. Fewer than 8% of projects "designed to make life better" have even been started. And, after 17 months of occupation, the "largest reconstruction effort since World War II's Marshall Plan" is merely "poised to get rolling." In other words, the main point of the article is that virtually nothing has been done for 17 months. Yet that's not quite the feeling one gets when reading the article.

The right wing always talks about how the media doesn't report the "good things" happening in Iraq. In fact, the media reports them even when they don't exist.

August 23, 10:25 am. My latest commentary for Uprising Radio (based in Los Angeles) is about Moqtada al-Sadr and the U.S. assault on Najaf.
August 19, 1:45 am. John Kerry has now added his voice to Wesley Clark's and Richard Holbrooke's, in criticizing the proposed troop realignment because it increases the difficulty of U.S. interventionism. In particular, he claimed that reducing the garrison in South Korea increases the "threat" from North Korea.

Indeed, things have gone so far that the mainstream media is starting to pick up on this, as a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor notes, "when Kerry challenges Bush, it's often from the right."

The article follows up with this assessment:
Analysts note that the thrust of Kerry's criticism often centers on the administration's alienation of allies - a point Kerry hit on again Wednesday, saying: "With Al Qaeda operating in 60 countries, we need closer alliances in every part of the world to fight and win the war on terrorism." Yet when it comes to many of the policies that have caused friction with those allies - from the Kyoto treaty to the International Criminal Court to Iraq - Kerry's positions are not all that different from the president's.
The same is the case on "missile defense":
This week, for example, the president brought up the issue of missile defense at a Boeing plant in Pennsylvania, as a way of arguing that he understands the threats of the 21st century, while Kerry is stuck in a dangerously outmoded way of thinking. Opponents of missile defense are "living in the past," Bush said. "We're living in the future. We're going to do what's necessary to protect this country."

In response, Kerry's national security adviser Rand Beers shot back that in the run-up to 9/11, Bush and his advisers were "preoccupied with missile defense," adding that "their misunderstanding about the threats we face continues to this day."

Yet he also stressed that Kerry doesn't oppose missile defense - but believes it is "crucial to our national security strategy" - making the difference with Bush a matter of emphasis rather than substance.
The differnece, apparently, is that Kerry will call for roughly the same thing on missilde defense as Bush, but would have thought less about it before 9/11.

August 17, 11:56 pm. I took a much-needed vacation last week, but now I'm back. As always, there are too many things to comment on.

Let's start with the story, broken in advance by the Financial Times on the weekend, about Bush's recent announcement (at a speech in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Cincinnati) of a major troop realignment.

Something like 70,000 troops are to be removed from Europe and Asia (most reports say about 45,000 from Europe), primarily from Germany and South Korea. Most reports say they are to be brought back to the United States, but it's clear from some, like the one today in the Christian Science Monitor, that it would simply be "most" of the troops returning home, with redeployments to other countries still to be worked out (or perhaps merely still to be announced).

There seem to be two favored locations for those other redeployments: some would be sent to the "forward operating locations" (which Rumsfeld recently took pains to distinguish from "real" military bases) established over the past few years in the former Soviet Central Asian republics and some, as mentioned in a Times editorial condemning the reshuffle, to Eastern Europe. The move is also anticipated to affect 100,000 family members and civilian employees and contractors abroad.

Much of the commentary is focused on the question of whether this move is designed to "punish" Germany for its opposition to the war on Iraq (and perhaps even to punish South Korea for trying to break free of U.S. policy on North Korea and elsewise). The CSM, in a roundup of global reaction, quotes the Kölnische Rundschau (a daily in Cologne) as saying,
No matter how Washington explains it as a necessary adjustment to changing conditions, [it will be seen as] the result of Germany's not backing the US on Iraq...
Wesley Clark and Richard Holbrooke criticized it for the same reasons, adding also concerns that pulling back troops from Europe to the United States would make future wars more difficult:
"As we face a global war on terror with al-Qaeda active in more than 60 countries, now is not the time to pull back our forces, and I question why President Bush would want to do this now," Mr. Clark said. "This ill-conceived move and its timing seem politically motivated."

Mr. Clark said an evaluation in the 1990s led to the decision that troops would be needed in Europe and Asia.

"It makes sense to have those forces in Europe because they can deploy more rapidly from Europe, and this administration wants to say those forces should come home," he said.

Richard Holbrooke, a former assistant secretary of state and ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, accused Mr. Bush of trying to deflect attention from the strain on the military by prolonged deployments in Iraq. He criticized Mr. Bush for slipping a "historic announcement" into a campaign speech.

"It’s not good diplomacy," said Mr. Holbrooke, who argued that the plan will undermine relations with allies. "It sends the message that this administration continues to operate in a unilateral manner without adequately consulting its closest allies. It’s a mistake, driven by the fact that we’re stretched too thin in Iraq and the presidential election."
The administration was also at pains to deny that it had any connection to the Iraq debacle and putative needs to free up more troops for Iraq in the near future, with Donald Rumsfeld pointing out that these redeployments will take many years. And, of course, many critics of the administration have seized on these denials to claim that this is all a result of flailing to deal with the problems in Iraq.

Oddly enough, little of the commentary from any side has much at all to do with what are likely the real reasons. Although the Bush administration frequently acts like a bunch of Mafiosi and likes to kneecap anyone who has crossed them personally, we're talking here about a major strategic shift; furthermore, one of the fighter wings that will be removed from Germany is going to be based at Incirlik in Turkey, a country whose opposition to the war gave the administration a much bigger black eye, rhetorically and actually, than Germany's mild opposition.

Furthermore, Eastern Europe and Central Asia don't make better staging areas for pouring troops into Iraq than Germany, which combines proximity with longstanding stable setups and highly developed infrastructure; and, of course, the United States would make a much worse staging area, as Clark and Holbrooke pointed out.

Although the talk about pulling troops back to the United States complicates things (and we should keep in mind the Bush administration's love for the bait-and-switch policy), the basic agenda is simply one of moving troops from countries like Germany and increasingly South Korea where little extra political benefit is gained from keeping such large garrisons, to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, two of the three areas that form the core of the new policy of post-Cold-War military expansionism (the third area is the Middle East, but expansion beyond Iraq is looking highly unlikely at the moment).

The small numbers of troops involved would make little or no difference, even if they were all thrown into Iraq instantly, rather than gradually redeployed throughout the heart of Eurasia over a period of years, but they will make a great deal of difference in exerting increasing political influence, even hegemony, over the narrow-based and easily manipulable governments of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

It is worth noting that the classic Rebuilding America's Defenses, the main strategy paper of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century, calls rather stridently for decreasing the garrison in Germany. At the time it was drafted, the primary new beachhead of the U.S. military was in Kosovo, so it emphasizes repositioning forces in southeastern Europe. Since then, however, the utility of NATO expansion and the increasing integration of other parts of Eastern Europe, like Poland, into an expanding military-imperial network (i.e., the creation of "new Europe"), has become very clear. Similarly for the invasion into Central Asia, something that hardly seemed possible at the time RAD was written.

With regard to East Asia, RAD is against decreasing the South Korea garrison, but points strongly to a "need" for a much greater presence in Southeast Asia -- Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia (at one point, Wolfowitz even mentioned Vietnam as a possibility). Since the time RAD was written, however, its key architects, people like Wolfowitz, have figured out that the larger the American garrison in South Korea the greater the deterrent to aggressive U.S. action against North Korea.

So, in a nutshell, for the part of the foreign policy establishment that still envisions a highly aggressive strategy of military expansion, this realignment is exactly what would be expected.

August 16, 11:55 am. Here's my weekly commentary for Uprising Radio, broadcast by KPFK in Los Angeles. This one's about Chavez and the recall referendum -- more comments later.
August 10, 3:17 pm. John Kerry, hiking in the Grand Canyon to show his dedication to the environment, has just completed the evisceration of his position on Iraq, telling reporters that he would vote the same way today as he did on October 10, 2002, when Congress authorized Bush's war on Iraq.

Kerry justified this statement by saying, "I believe it's the right authority for a president to have." This can only mean that he believes the president should have the authority to go to war on his own say-so, without needing Congressional approval. Of course, it's equally likely that Kerry is simply continuing the stunning illogic that marks his campaign statements.

Kerry's criticism, according to the Times article linked above, is that Bush didn't use that Congressional authority very effectively -- whatever that means. He posed several questions for Bush --
"My question to President Bush is, Why did he rush to war without a plan to win the peace?" Mr. Kerry told reporters here after responding to Mr. Bush's request last week for a yes-or-no answer on how he would vote today on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

"Why did he rush to war on faulty intelligence and not do the hard work necessary to give America the truth?" he said. "Why did he mislead America about how he would go to war? Why has he not brought other countries to the table in order to support American troops in the way that we deserve it and relieve a pressure from the American people?"
Given that Kerry seems to be saying that going to war was the right thing to do, I'm at a loss to understand what he means by "the hard work necessary to give America the truth."

So far, Kerry has been campaigning on the idea that he will do the occupation better -- more allies, more allies, possibly more allies. Now, he seems only a step away from claiming that had he been present when the US went to war on Iraq, Iraq would have had WMD.

August 10, 11:30 am. Brazil recently won yet another victory on a WTO complaint against the EU's practice of dumping heavily subsidized sugar on the world market.

Oxfam hailed the decision as a "triumph for developing countries;" it calculates that ''EU dumping depresses world prices and led to foreign exchange losses in the region of 494 million dollars for Brazil, 151 million dollars for Thailand, and 60 million dollars each for South Africa and India in 2002.''

All four of these are countries that have been at one time or another under the gun of IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment programs. All said programs have among their primary aims pushing Third World countries over to primarily export-driven production, with earning of foreign exchange (to be used for debt servicing) as the primary goal.

Unfortunately, what happens all too often is that once farmers are pushed to start growing crops for export they run up against heavy protectionist barriers and subsidies from First World countries, both of which have the effect of lowering prices on the world market (protectionist barriers increase prices in the "protected" economy and lower them elsewhere).

Since it's the same countries of the rich world that exert pressure through the IMF and World Bank, this is roughly like luring Third World countries into an alleyway and mugging them.

The WTO created for the first time a nominally egalitarian international body (like the U.N. would be if the General Assembly were in charge) in which redress for such unfair practices could be sought. In the beginning, since creation of the WTO was so completely a process driven from the First World and primarily from the United States, Third World countries were largely unequipped to use that process. In the last year, that reality has dramatically changed, and Brazil alone has won three WTO battles.

The rules of the WTO are designed to favor the prerogatives of capital over any others. Brazil won these rulings on the basis of the principles of free trade and equitable treatment for Brazilian capitalists vis-a-vis those of the First World, not on the basis of labor rights, the environment, or anything of the sort. Still, if used effectively, the WTO is right now capable of providing significant checks on the ability of the stronger countries to oppress the weaker economically.

The WTO should be scrapped, because it is built on the basis of principles that effectively preclude considerations other than profit maximization; it is clear, however, that it has to be replaced with an international body in which the strong can be held to account.

The EU has already started reducing its sugar subsidies and will presumably end up complying most of the way, perhaps entirely. The United States, on the other hand, has fought most of these WTO rulings and is currently trying to avoid compliance with one on cotton subsidies.

August 9, 10:40 am. Here's my latest Uprising Radio commentary, on the 59th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. It's about Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the 9/11 commission, and more.
August 6, 9:35 pm EST. Have you ever heard this one before: Why aren't the media reporting all the good news from Iraq? Well, here's an item in the "good news" category -- In Baghdad, Cleaning Up The Spoils of Freedom: U.S. Funds Massive Garbage Collection Effort.

Apparently, a new grant from USAID has enabled Baghdad to start a garbage-collection program. It began in early July, and now involves 21,000 laborers and 5100 students (as "supervisors"). So far, the program has cost $12 million.

The program is a lovely way to kill two birds with one stone -- to start paring down the mountain of garbage that has been one of the most visible and representative symbols of the occupation and to make a tiny dent in the massive unemployment problem faced by Iraqis after the regime change.

Since last April, in Baghdad there had been essentially no garbage collection. The pools of bright-green stagnant water that you may often have read about don't just afflict poor areas like Sadr City (which is also afflicted with typhoid and hepatitis E as a result of poor sanitation) -- you can see them in the middle of relatively prosperous commercial districts like Karrada as well -- and for that matter in the pools and fountains at Firdaus Square, where the much-televised toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue occurred.

Of course, one obvious question is why the United States couldn't have instituted this last year. Instead of letting the people of Baghdad associate garbage with the occupation and clean streets with Saddam, being confronted with hundreds of thousands of young men in Baghdad alone who had no prospects for employment, they could very easily have instituted this program near the beginning. At $12 million a month, it's ridiculously cheap -- and, of course, making sure that garbage is collected is one of the statutory duties of an occupying power (said power must assure access to necessities of life, health-care, a disease-free environment, etc.).

Another obvious question is why this is a USAID program administered by the Zozik Group, a Maryland-based corporation, rather than a program run by the much-touted Baghdad municipal government.

The institution of a handful of such far too little far too late programs does little more than underscore the negligence of the occupation to date.

August 3, 11:55 pm EST. The Post has a very long, comphrehensive, and important article in the evolving story of U.S. robbery of Iraqi money, with a good headline into the bargain -- $1.9 Billion of Iraq's Money Goes to U.S. Contractors.

The CPA awarded about 2000 contracts with Iraqi money. The total amound involved was $2.26 billion, "at least 85 percent" of which was obligated to U.S. companies.

In particular,
Kellogg Brown & Root Inc., a subsidiary of Halliburton, was paid $1.66 billion from the Iraqi money, primarily to cover the cost of importing fuel from Kuwait. The job was tacked on to a no-bid contract that was the subject of several investigations after allegations surfaced that a subcontractor for Houston-based KBR overcharged by as much as $61 million for the fuel.
Remember Tom Daschle's powerful moral argument about South Dakotans who are supposedly upset that we're supposedly building schools in Iraq but not in America,
And it doesn’t make sense to them that we’re paying over $2 for gasoline at home, while American taxpayers are funding nickel-a-gallon gas in Iraq.
Well, in the finest tradition of the Bush administration, he was lying. The Iraqis, sitting on the second-largest oil reserves in the world, were paying $1.66 billion of their money in order to import oil at far higher than the market price, with built-in guaranteed profits for Halliburton and its Kuwaiti subcontractors through a cost-plus contract. American taxpayers weren't paying a nickel for it.

Unlike the way it would have been with a Democratic administration, this robbery was conducted with a cavalier disregard of even the legal forms set up by the United States:
That analysis and several audit reports released in recent weeks shed new light on how the occupation authority handled the Iraqi money it controlled. They show that the CPA at times violated its own rules, authorizing Iraqi money when it didn't have a quorum or proper Iraqi representation at meetings, and kept such sloppy records that the paperwork for several major contracts could not be found. During the first half of the occupation, the CPA depended heavily on no-bid contracts that were questioned by auditors. And the occupation's shifting of projects that were publicly announced to be financed by U.S. money to Iraqi money prompted the Iraqi finance minister to complain that the "ad hoc" process put the CPA in danger of losing the trust of the people.
In fact, "Iraqi representation" consisted of a single member of the 11-member "Program Review Board" that made all the decisions -- a member who was present for 2 out of 43 meetings. Under the sanctions and the Oil for Food Program, the Iraqi government wasn't allowed into the meetings of the 661 Sanctions Committee at all, but at least it had authority for preparing the requests. Trust the United States acting on its own to come up with a mechanism even less representative of the interests of the Iraqi people.

To make it worse, "The United Nations, in a report dated July 15, noted that metering of oil extracted from Iraq was not functioning so it was impossible to tell whether all of it had been accounted for," and thus we will have no way of knowing the true amount of theft from the Iraqi people.

A consistent theme was the greater ease of spending Iraqi money than congressionally appropriated U.S. money:
In most cases, to spend congressionally appropriated funds, CPA officials had to coordinate with officials in Washington, keep detailed records, advertise contracts widely and conform to waiting periods for bids to come in. Some of the money was held up by a turf war between the Pentagon and the State Department over who controlled the reconstruction.

It was simpler to use the Iraqi money.

Nearly all the Iraqi assets were held in what was known as the Development Fund for Iraq. It was used primarily to support Iraqi government ministries by paying salaries and expenses, according to budget documents. But some of the fund was used to pay private contractors for reconstruction projects. The main restriction on spending the money was that it be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

To get access to the funds, all that was usually needed was the recommendation of an entity called the Program Review Board, made up of 10 members and a chairman, according to former CPA officials. The final authorization required a single signature -- that of L. Paul Bremer, the occupation's top civil administrator.

CPA officials have acknowledged that contracts were sometimes shown to a just a few bidders and that winners were picked within days. Several of the large contracts that went to U.S. companies, for example, were awarded with no competition, including a $16.8 million contract awarded to Custer Battles LLC of McLean to provide security for the main U.S. military base in Baghdad, and a $15.6 million contract for police radios awarded to Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill., the CPA inspector general's compilation shows.
Of course, actual functioning governments are at least an occasional impediment to massive graft. It just so happens, however, that this strategy, which has ended up obligating over 95% of Iraqi oil revenues last year while leaving 2% of the congressional appropriation spent and under 30% obligated, also preserves maximal political leverage by the United States over any potential Iraqi government. Having spent so much of their money on profits for Halliburton, naturally, the need for reconstruction funds from the United States becomes all the greater.

One of the key demands of the anti-occupation movement must be to turn over all the undisbursed funds from the congressional appropriation to any elected Iraqi government.

August 2, 10:55 pm EST. An unfortunate new development in the pattern of terrorist bombings in Iraq. The country's Christian minority, presumably spared previous violence because it is so numerically insignificant (usually estimated at 2-3%) has been targeted -- yesterday, there were attacks on five churches in Baghdad and Mosul, killing 12.

The Iraqi government has already blamed Zarqawi for the attacks. And my own gut reaction tells me that this is, in fact, not a matter of a reverse crusade, but rather an aspect of the kind of religious intolerance that Zarqawi ("Zarqawi") introduced with the Ashura attacks on Shi'a earlier this year.

Al-Tawhid wal Jihad, Zarqawi's organization, is a group of militant takfiris, people who are ready at the drop of a hat to denounce those who disagree with them as being un-Muslim. How much easier to forget the protected status of Christians in traditional Islamic law.

The only thing that makes me unsure about this conclusion is that the attacks were, by the standards of this group, not very bloody.

There is also a dynamic among indigenous non-terrorist political forces towards greater religious intolerance. We've seen already in places that Christian women are forced to cover their hair and that even Christian alcohol-sellers have been forced to go out of business.

Add to this electricity riots in Najaf (and possible dissolution of the provincial council) and, according to the U.N. Secretary-General's office, an impending humanitarian crisis in Basra, where only 40-60% of people get access to clean water and it is projected that supply will not reach prewar levels before the end of the year, and you have a very volatile mix.

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