12/27/07

Saddam a better provider than the U.S.

The Iraqi government announcement that monthly food rations will be cut by half has left many Iraqis asking how they can survive.

According to an Oxfam International report released in July this year, "43 percent of Iraqis suffer from absolute poverty," and that according to some estimates over half the population are now without work. "Children are hit the hardest by the decline in living standards.”

Iraq's food rations system was introduced by the Saddam Hussein government in 1991 in response to the UN economic sanctions. Now the U.S.-backed Iraqi government has announced it will halve the allotted basic foodstuffs because of "insufficient funds and spiraling inflation."

IPS highlights the point that the Iraqi government is unable to supply the rations with several billion dollars at its disposal, whereas Saddam Hussein was able to maintain the food program with less than a billion dollars.

Meanwhile the Washington Post reports that the growing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worldwide “battle against terrorism” stands at nearly $15 billion a MONTH!

12/24/07

No room in the Inn for Iraqi children

The United Nations has called for immediate action to assist about two million Iraqi children affected by poor nutrition, disease and disrupted education.

"Iraqi children are paying far too high a price," said Roger Wright, Unicef's special representative for Iraq, in a statement. "We must act now."

Unicef, the UN's children's fund, said young Iraqis were caught up in violence, with hundreds killed or injured. An average of 25,000 children a month have fled violence or intimidation this year, with their families seeking shelter across Iraq, Unicef said.


Only 28 per cent of Iraqi 17-year-olds have sat their final exams, while safe drinking water for children remains scarce, according to the UN.

Despite the urgent needs of Iraqi children, Unicef received only $40 million towards its $144 million appeal for Iraq this year, Veronique Taveau, a Unicef spokeswoman, said in Geneva.

"A new window of opportunity is opening, which should enable us to reach the most vulnerable with expanded, consistent support," Wright said. "Iraqi children are the foundation for their country's recovery ... We continue to owe them our very best in 2008 and beyond."

12/11/07

Family Care Foundation restaurant livelihood project

Greetings from Banda Aceh in Sumatra, where a few years back, upwards of 300,000 lost their lives to the Asian Tsunami!

You may recall that after helping with emergency relief in the weeks immediately after, our FCF partner here, Family Care Indonesia, then concentrated on replacing fishing boats for those who had lost their livelihood.

Another livelihood project that Family Care Foundation undertook was building a restaurant that a coastal village will benefit from. USAID is finishing up a new coastal road which the restaurant is situated on, offering a very convenient and gorgeous ocean view.

With business from the passenger buses alone traveling this highway, we have every reason to believe that the profit margin for the restaurant will top $4000 monthly, certainly a major windfall for this village. So for our relatively small social investment, this will be the equivalent of a $50,000 grant to the community as long as the restaurant exists.

As construction began, a local well-to-do beneficiary donated 2 hectares of beach front property, so our plans expanded to create a full “recreational stop”, offering a playground, sports field, prayer room, etc in addition to the restaurant itself. The restaurant is expected to be serving food in January 2008.

Accompanying photos show the ocean view from the restaurant, the seafood theme mosaics, and the gorgeous backdrop where monkeys, orangutans, and tigers roam!


Update: See completed restaurant

12/8/07

EduServe Teacher Training program

Family Care Foundation's partner here in Karachi, Family Educational Services Foundation, also operates a teacher training program, EduServe. The EduServe program is designed to strengthen the local educational infrastructure by training teachers, administrators, and parents.

Teacher Training Seminars are held on weekends to make it convenient for local teachers to attend, and at subsidized prices depending on their ability to pay.

Courses conducted include:

  • Early Learning Techniques
  • Sight Reading and Encyclopedic Knowledge
  • Motivational Teaching Skills and Methodology
  • Classroom Control and Discipline
  • Group Management
  • Classroom Organization and Management
  • Time Management
  • Basic English Skills and Communication
  • Story Telling
  • Mega Skills: Character Building

Additionally, FESF produces a series of educational audio/visual materials that are widely used in schools and institutions throughout the country. Other FESF activities include music therapy for mentally and physically handicapped children, organizing activities for orphaned and homeless children, and educational seminars for parents.

12/7/07

Deaf Reach Training Centers in Pakistan

Instead of highlighting the "bad news" on the international aid scene, here's some "good news" from my recent trip to Asia, on behalf of Family Care Foundation:

Today I toured the Deaf Reach Training Center in Karachi, where all ages of deaf people, both male and female, receive training. (A similar school operates in Lahore and a new branch is presently being established in Hyderabad)

Most deaf people in Pakistan lack any opportunity to even learn local sign language, let alone learn 4 languages (local sign, American Sign Language, English and Urdu -- the main language of Pakistan) which they are taught at Deaf Reach. So students of all ages are making a giant leap from a totally silent and non-communicative world to one that offers them a productive life style! –Most of these students from low-income families are so hungry to learn that it is difficult to get these students to want to stop their classes, when it’s time for the next class to enter the classroom!

Having the ability to communicate allows them to develop their full potential and vastly increase their opportunities for success. The center also meets the academic and vocational needs of the deaf community, with particular emphasis on IT training, and other vocational skills, as well as social skills needed to land a job.

Through a Job Placement Program, graduates are able to obtain gainful employment whereby they can help to support their families and be self-sufficient. For example, I visited a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) branch operated wholly by deaf graduates of our Deaf Reach program, rated the number 2 branch in the whole country's KFC chain. (Hiring and training a deaf staff has never before been undertaken by the franchise, and now pther fast food outlets are likewise considering a similar approach. Keep in mind that American fast food restaurants here offering relatively high-paying jobs.)

Additionally, I met Deaf Reach students now employed by a medical firm, and others earning a living as computer programmers. Deaf Reach graduates are presently some of the highest paid and educated deaf individuals in the country.

If you're interested, you can read more at http://familycare.org/network/i04.htm

12/6/07

US Ranks Low in Humanitarian Aid

A new tool to evaluate governments' humanitarian spending can help countries get aid out more efficiently to those who need it, say former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Spain-based non-profit DARA. Their Humanitarian Response Index (HRI) ranks the U.S. scores a lowly 16th out of 23.

Surprised at the findings? The index is less about total funding (although, per capita, the U.S. is no world leader by that measure either), and more about how well aid dollars reach their beneficiaries.

Those principles, among other things, enshrine the goals of humanitarian aid as alleviating suffering according to need, irrespective of political goals, and in a way that supports long-term development.

For the U.S., a mediocre ranking reflects mixed performance. While funding is allocated relatively well along international guidelines, much of the country's aid is tightly earmarked for specific projects or comes as physical goods instead of cash.

It's bottom of the pack in implementing international humanitarian and human rights laws, having refused to ratify key international treaties. Survey responses also rank U.S. aid lowest in perceptions of "neutrality" and "independence" from political and strategic considerations.

[Newsweek]

The US on Humanitarian Response Index 2007

Humanitarian Response Index 2007 rankings:
1. Sweden
2. Norway
3. Denmark
4. Netherlands
5. European Commission
6. Ireland
7. Canada
8. New Zealand
9. United Kingdom
10. Switzerland
11. Finland
12. Luxembourg
13. Germany
14. Australia
15. Belgium
16. United States <<<<<
17. Spain
18. Japan
19. France
20. Austria
21. Portugal

11/24/07

Iraq Money Down the Rat Hole

What can you get for a trillion bucks? Or make that $1.6 trillion, if you take the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as tallied by the majority staff of Congress' Joint Economic Committee (JEC).

Or is it the $3.5 trillion figure cited by Ron Paul, when expressing concern about the true cost of this war.

Given that the overall defense budget is now double what it was when Bush's father presided over the end of the Cold War, at a time when we don't have a militarily sophisticated enemy in sight, you have to wonder how this president has managed to exceed Cold War spending levels. What has he gotten for the trillions wasted? Nothing, when it comes to capturing Osama bin Laden, bringing democracy to Iraq or preventing oil prices from tripling and enriching the ayatollahs of Iran, while messing up the American economy.

But that money could have paid for a lot of things we could have used here at home. As Paul points out, for what the Iraq war costs, we could present each family of four a check for $46,000.

On the matter of covering the medically uninsured in America, it should be pointed out that we are the lone industrialized nation which can't afford to covered 47 million uninsured Americans.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Scheer, Yahoo News]

11/18/07

Suffer the Children

According to a report by aid agency Save the Children, “Iraq’s child mortality rate has increased by a staggering 150 per cent since 1990, more than any other country.”

The report said that some 122,000 Iraqi children - the equivalent of one in eight - died in 2005, before reaching their fifth birthday. More than half of the deaths were among newborn babies in their first month of life.

“Since 2003, electricity shortages, insufficient clean water, deteriorating health services and soaring inflation have worsened already difficult living conditions.”

The study listed pneumonia and diarrhoea as major killers of children in Iraq, together accounting for over 30 per cent of child deaths.

“Conservative estimates place increases in infant mortality following the 2003 invasion of Iraq at 37 per cent,” it said.

Experts draw parallels between the dire state of Iraq’s health care system today and the way it was when the country was under sanctions during the 1990s, when there was a similar limited supply of drugs and other medical resources.

[Excerpt of article by Hind al-Safar, IWPR contributor in Baghdad]

11/16/07

George Bush Big Government Spender

George W. Bush, despite all his recent bravado about being an apostle of small government and budget-slashing, is “a big government guy,” said Stephen Slivinski, the director of budget studies at Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.

Take almost any yardstick and Bush generally exceeds the spending of his predecessors.

When adjusted for inflation, discretionary spending — or budget items that Congress and the president can control, including defense and domestic programs — shot up at an average annual rate of 5.3 percent during Bush’s first six years, Slivinski calculates, topping the 1.9 percent of Ronald Reagan.

Discretionary spending went up in Bush's first term by 48.5 percent, not adjusted for inflation, more than twice as much as Bill Clinton did (21.6 percent) in two full terms, Slivinski reports.

Defense spending: Under Bush it's grown on average by 5.7 percent a year. Under LBJ — who had a war to fund, too — it rose by 4.9 percent a year. Both numbers are adjusted for inflation.

Including costs for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending under Bush has gone up 86 percent since 2001, according to Chris Hellman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Current annual defense spending — not counting war costs — is 25 percent above the height of the Reagan-era buildup, Hellman said.

[McClatchy Newspapers]

11/15/07

Other Uses for the $611 Billion Spent on Iraq

The Boston Globe has taken a unique view of the latest Iraq War funding request, offering a look at what the $611.5 billion that would be spent so far on the war could buy if it was not used for the military operation.
Among the findings:

"According to World Bank estimates, $54 billion a year would eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally by 2015,

"...while $30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth.

At the upper range of those estimates, the $611 billion cost of the war could have fed and educated the world's poor for seven years.

Additional applications:

The $611 billion in war costs is 17 times the amount vetoed by the president for a $35 billion health plan for the States.

• $611 billion translates into almost 14 million free years of education at Harvard University.

[Excerpt of article by Joe Strupp, The Boston Globe]

11/14/07

Iraq “a human tragedy”, says Red Cross

The hundreds of thousands of people missing in Iraq are just the tip of the country’s looming humanitarian crisis, the International Red Cross warned today.

Around 375,000 of the population have vanished due to continued fighting, sectarian, ethnic, and religious violence and forced displacement, said Karl Matley, outgoing head of the Iraqi branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A report called 'Humanitarian Tragedy in Iraq' said the missing included tens of thousands who were held in the custody of Iraqi authorities and the multinational forces.

The Geneva-based independent humanitarian organisation works to protect the lives of victims of war and internal violence also highlighted the issue of detainees in Iraqi jails, which exceed 60,000 prisoners. The ICRC has been allowed to visit “only a small portion” of them, he said, without providing the number.

[Evening Echo]

11/10/07

A 2 point 4 Trillion Dollar War

The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could total $2.4 trillion through the next decade, or nearly $8,000 per man, woman and child in the country, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

A previous CBO estimate put the wars' costs at more than $1.6 trillion. This one adds $705 billion in interest, taking into account that the conflicts are being funded with borrowed money.

"The number is so big, it boggles the mind," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill.

The CBO estimates assume that 75,000 troops will remain in both countries through 2017, including roughly 50,000 in Iraq. That is a "very speculative" projection, though it's not entirely unreasonable, said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the non-partisan Lexington Institute.

As of Sept. 30, the two wars have cost $604 billion, the CBO says. Adjusted for inflation, that is higher than the costs of the Korea and Vietnam conflicts, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

AlterNet

11/4/07

U.S. unlikely to halt Pakistan aid

For six years, the United States has staunchly supported Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, choosing to back a military leader seen as a strong ally in the "war on terror" rather than push the general more forcefully for democratic reforms.

But the risks associated with that strategy have become increasingly apparent in recent months, as Al Qaeda and the Taliban have gained strength in Pakistan's northwest frontier area despite billions of dollars in military aid to Musharraf's government since the Sept. 11 attacks.

That funding is Washington's main source of leverage over Musharraf. But officials said that it would be risky for the United States to withhold such aid to pressure Musharraf to reverse the emergency powers he decreed Saturday, acknowledging that the United States is dependent on Pakistan and can't afford to alienate its leadership.

The United States is likely to continue to scold Musharraf but not impose significant sanctions.

[Excerpt of article by Greg Miller, LA Times]


11/2/07

US spent $43.5 billion on intel in 2007

The U.S. government spent $43.5 billion on intelligence in 2007, according to the first official disclosure under a new law implementing recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.

How the money is divided among the 16 intelligence agencies and exactly what it is spent on is classified. It includes salaries for about 100,000 people, multibillion dollar secret satellite programs, aircraft, weapons, electronic sensors, intelligence analysts, spies, computers and software.

For comparison, last year's intelligence spending was about half the $91 billion President Bush is proposing to spend over the coming year on the Agriculture Department, and somewhat more than the $35 billion budget of the Homeland Security Department.

National security analysts outside the government usually estimate the annual budget at about 10 percent of the total U.S. defense budget, which in 2007 was about $430 billion plus nearly $200 billion in war spending. These analysts believe around 80 percent of the intelligence budget is consumed by the NRO, NSA, DIA and NGA, the national military intelligence agencies.

[AP]

10/31/07

Blackwater USA well suported

Reports that State Department investigators offered immunity deals to Blackwater security guards accused of shooting dead 17 Iraqis dealt an embarrassing blow to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

Meanwhile the Pentagon is offering huge bonuses to hold onto its top warriors: The Pentagon's Special Operations Command is paying reenlistment bonuses of up to $150,000 to Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs to keep them from fleeing the military to take high-paying jobs with private security contractors such as Blackwater USA.

Armed security professionals working in Iraq and Afghanistan for firms such as Blackwater can earn as much as $500 a day -- $130,000 a year.

Doug Brooks, president of the industry group International Peace Operations Association, tells the AP that the typical 19-year uniformed veteran receives about $63,000 a year.

10/30/07

Rumsfeld flees France

Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fled France today fearing arrest over charges of “ordering and authorizing” torture of detainees at both the American-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the US military’s detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, unconfirmed reports coming from Paris suggest.

US embassy officials whisked Rumsfeld away yesterday from a breakfast meeting in Paris organized by the Foreign Policy magazine after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against the man who spearheaded President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” for six years.

A complaint was filed with the Paris prosecutor's office by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Federation of Human Rights. as Rumsfeld arrived in France for a visit.

This is the fifth time Rumsfeld has been charged with direct involvement in torture since 9/11.

10/23/07

US Govt cannot account for Billion Dollar contract

The State Department does not know specifically what it received for a billion-dollar contract with security firm DynCorp International to provide training services for Iraqi police, a U.S. watchdog agency said on Tuesday.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said it was forced to suspend its audit of the DynCorp contract after administration officials told investigators they had no confidence in their own accounting records. The inspector general said the agency had not validated the accuracy of invoices received before October 2006 and described bills and supporting documents as being in disarray.

INL does not know specifically what it received for most of the $1.2 billion in expenditures under its DynCorp contract for the Iraqi Police Training Program. INL's prior lack of controls created an environment vulnerable to waste and fraud," SIGIR said in an interim review.

The report coincides with a controversy over the use of private security firms in Iraq, particularly Blackwater USA, which is under scrutiny over a Sept. 16 shooting incident in Baghdad in which 17 people were killed. The Pentagon employs at least 7,300 security contractors in Iraq and the State Department thousands more. U.S. officials say they are needed to free up soldiers for other tasks.

AlertNet

10/20/07

US Homeless Vets Play the Waiting Game

In December 2006, when U.S. Army Specialist James Eggemeyer filed a disability claim with the Veterans Administration, he had already joined the ranks of the United States's burgeoning population of homeless veterans, and was living out of his girlfriend's Ford Explorer. So when the VA responded with a letter to his old address requesting that he come in for a physical examination, he missed the appointment.

Eggemeyer pawned everything he could and then he went to get help, from Tony Reese, a Veterans Services representative working for Martin County, Florida. Reese let Eggemeyer use his office as his address and made sure that James showed up at all his appointments. He checked that all of James's documents were in order and used the VA computer system to ensure his claim was on the right bureaucrat's desk at the regional office in Saint Petersburg.

But even with that, the process dragged on. Indeed, the VA's own statistics show that Specialist James Eggemeyer received what could best be described as "standard treatment".

Since the start of the Iraq war, the backlog of unanswered disability claims has grown from 325,000 to more than 600,000. On average, a veteran must wait almost six months to have a claim heard. If a veteran loses and appeals a case, it usually takes at about three years.

[Excerpt of an article by Aaron Glantz, IPS]

One in five Iraq veterans return home seriously impaired by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans' disability payments and demobilization costs could reach a price tag of $1 trillion.


10/19/07

South American nations to launch IMF rival

Venezuela's leftist government is leading Brazil, Argentina and other regional economies in creating a new bank with the ambition of casting off unwelcome oversight by the IMF and World Bank.

The finance and economy ministers of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela met last week in Rio de Janeiro to outline the main elements of the "Banco del Sur" -- or Bank of the South.

"There will not be credit subjected to economic policies. There will not be credit that produces a calamity for our people and as a result, it will not be a tool of domination," said Venezuelan Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabeza.

Chavez speaks of liberating regional countries from the tutelage of the IMF, the World Bank and the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) which, he argues, impose economic policies that condemn millions to poverty.

Bolstered by robust economic growth, Latin American countries are displaying a new assertiveness toward the IMF now that several of them -- notably Brazil and Argentina -- have paid off their debts early.

The Bank of the South is supposed to finance public and private projects for development and regional integration. The official launch and the signing of a founding charter is set for November 3 in Caracas, which will host the bank's headquarters.

[AFP]

10/18/07

Blackwater Contractors: Mercenaries by Definition

Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater mercenaries, has been a huge financial supporter of George W. Bush and the Republican Party. That might explain why Mister Bush's State Department initially worked with Prince's people to try and cover up the latest Blackwater slaughter of civilians in Iraq, and could be a big part of the reason why so many Republicans came to the chief mercenary's defense during Congressional hearings.

Blackwater's Prince has a problem with people calling his mercenaries well ... err ... mercenaries. He appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes," and said with a straight face, "You know the definition of a mercenary is a professional soldier that works in the pay of a foreign army. I’m an American working for America."

Erik Prince's mercenaries make a great deal of money. They're paid much, much, much more than the average U.S. soldier. Though Prince chose to ignore it, a mercenary is also defined as someone who is, "motivated solely by a desire for monetary or material gain."

Prince would probably insist that the people in his employ are motivated by a desire to serve the United States' interests. If it were true, everyone in Blackwater could have joined the U.S. military. But obviously "a desire for monetary or material gain" played a role in their choosing Blackwater over the Army and the Marine Corps.

One wonders too -- as it relates to his men being hired out to corporations -- how Erik Prince would defend his company against the mercenary charge? Is the person defending an oil company's platform in Africa doing it out of a desire to serve his or her country, or is he or she doing it because the money is so damned good?

[Excerpt of article by A. Alexander, Progressive Daily Beacon]

Blackwater and American bodyguards

The U.S. State Department now has its own little army in Iraq and Afghanistan, Blackwater gunmen who protect American officials and their local collaborators. Some reports say the State Department has spent $678 million alone with Blackwater since 2003.

Afghanistan's U.S.-installed leader, Hamid Karzai, is surrounded at all times by 200 American bodyguards, his own people not being trusted to protect their president. Iraq's U.S.-installed leaders are similarly guarded by U.S. mercenaries.

Nearly all Washington's contracts for mercenaries are awarded without competitive bidding to firms close to the Republican Party. Blackwater's owners are major contributors. Their 7,000-acre base in the southern U. S. is likely the world's largest non-government military operation and a menacing creation straight out of the famous film, Seven Days in May.

This unprecedented use of mercenaries has masked the depths of U.S. involvement in Iraq ... has also allowed the U.S. to sustain an imperial war that could never have been waged with conscripted American soldiers, as Vietnam showed.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric Margolis, Edmonton Sun]

10/17/07

America's own unlawful combatants?

As the Bush administration deals with the fallout from the recent killings of civilians by private security firms in Iraq, some officials are asking whether the contractors could be considered “unlawful combatants” under international agreements.

Unresolved questions are likely to touch off new criticism of Bush's conduct of the unpopular Iraq war, especially given the broad definition of unlawful combatants the president has used in justifying his detention policies at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The designation of lawful and unlawful combatants is set out in the Geneva Convention. Lawful combatants are nonmilitary personnel who operate under their military's chain of command. Others may carry weapons in a war zone but may not use offensive force. Under the international agreements, they may only defend themselves.

The issues surrounding the private security contractors are being examined by lawyers at the departments of State, Defense and Justice. Disagreements about the contractors' status exist between agencies and within the Pentagon itself.

[Excerpt of an article by Julian Barnes, LA Times]

10/16/07

Blackwater finally beginning to boil over?

The international outcry over the recent Blackwater shootings forced the world to closely examine and appreciate the complex reality of the United States government's overdependence on private military contractors operating in Iraq.

The [September 16th] incident in question regarding Blackwater needs to be put in a proper context. It's just one company out of 181 other private military companies operating in that space in Iraq. The incidents involving abuses of private military contractors [include Abu Ghraib (Torture Scandal), the private contractor Aegis Trophy's infamous 2005 video … showing them shooting at Iraqi civilians [and] the Triple Canopy shootings lawsuit in '06. Blackwater is just one of the companies in the game.

[Concerning the 20-minute Blackwater gun fight in September Nisoor Square shooting] a couple hours later, Secretary Condoleeza Rice calls up Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, which is extraordinary because she normally doesn't call him. She calls to express her sympathies and to apologize for this Blackwater incident. Over the next week, she and Ambassador Crocker have to keep going back to the Iraqis, and they are almost actually begging them to let Blackwater get back into business. One week later, Bush meets with Prime Minister Maliki face to face. … Top of the agenda is Blackwater.

Isn't it interesting that the same government individual, who has been reported by one investigative committee to have made the initial decision for Blackwater to get its first contract, is the brother of the current State Department Inspector General, who was found, by the same committee, to have [previously] intervened in preventing an investigation into Blackwater's illegal activity?

[Excerpt of an article by Wajahat Ali, Counterpunch]

US, Iraq Negotiate Blackwater Expulsion

U.S. and Iraqi officials are negotiating Baghdad's demand that security company Blackwater USA be expelled from the country within six months.

The talks about Blackwater's future in Iraq flow from the Sept. 16 incident. The Iraqi investigators issued [this of 5] recommendations:

“The Iraqi government should demand that the United States stops using the services of Blackwater in Iraq within six months and replace it with a new, more disciplined organization that would be answerable to Iraqi laws.''

American officials said DynCorp, which already has security contracts with the State Department … appeared poised to take over the Blackwater role. … Dyncorp and Triple Canopy are the only [other two] companies eligible to bid on specific task orders [in Baghdad, with] both based in Washington's northern Virginia suburbs.

[The Guardian]

Iraq war 'a nightmare with no end in sight'

A former commander of coalition forces in Iraq issued a harsh assessment of U.S. management of the war, saying that American political leaders cost American lives on the battlefield with their "lust for power."

Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, coalition commander in 2003 and 2004, called the Iraq war "a nightmare with no end in sight," for which he said the Bush administration, the State Department and Congress all share blame.

Sanchez [said] dereliction of duty by a military officer would mean immediate dismissal or court martial, but the politicians have not been held accountable.

Sanchez, who retired in 2006, said it was his duty to obey orders and not object publicly when he was on active duty, but now that he is retired he has an obligation to speak out.

[CNN]

10/14/07

Atlas Shrugs, and so do most Americans

Why is it that millions of ordinary Americans vote for conservative policies that seem inimical to their lives? Why are the politicians who support healthcare reforms to give access to a doctor for the 47 million Americans without insurance branded as closet socialists or worse?

Why, in this upside-down world do so many blue-collar Americans vote Republican, and family farmers support a President whose Wall Street friends would gladly push them off the land?

Why do people shrug and say "tough", when they read that hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their homes, after falling victims to crooked mortgage salesmen?

Perhaps the greatest political riddle of the US is why so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests?

If it were otherwise, then surely John Edwards, the telegenic Democratic candidate for President would lead the polls since he has dedicated his campaign to lifting tens of millions out of poverty.

Instead it is Hillary Clinton, whose economic policies might as well have been drafted by the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, who looks a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination.

The coming presidential election will reveal the extent to which ordinary poor Americans will proudly vote themselves out of jobs, off the land and ensure that their children can never afford to go to university or afford health care.

[Excerpt of an article by Leonard Doyle, The Independent]

10/13/07

Hatred and its twin brother Fear

We Americans have such a high opinion of ourselves, we simply can't believe that normal people can dislike us, much less hate us. We can destroy whole countries, kill millions of people and then naïvely expect that the survivors will welcome us as friends.

The old saying that one reaps what one sows is just an accurate observation of the way human history plays out. We have sown and we are continuing to sow a lot of hatred for ourselves.

Surveying the world, I see very few countries where the people have any reason whatsoever for liking us. They may be powerless at the moment to express their hatred, but power, like victory, is also ephemeral.

One of our faults is that we have been conditioned by television and short political cycles to think in the short term. The truth is we have been players on the stage of history only for an instant. We have won the sprint, but the story of mankind is a marathon.

Should you ever visit Palestine, some Palestinian will almost surely point to the ruins left by the Romans and the Crusaders and say: "Where are they now? It took 200 years to get rid of the Crusaders, but they are gone and we are still here."

Ask yourself if you would fly to Iraq and, unarmed and unescorted, take a walk through Baghdad proudly displaying an American flag on your lapel. Hatred has a twin brother, and it's fear. We should stop harming other people so we can live without hatred or fear.

War is the most horrible thing one group of people can inflict on another. War destroys lives, homes, families, economies, cultures and the future. It kills and maims and impoverishes. The fallout from war is hatred, and like radioactivity its poison can linger for generations.

Anyone who looks at the present leadership, both those in office and those aspiring to office, and feels good about the future is a heck of a lot more optimistic than I am. Corruption, both monetary and intellectual, is so deep and entrenched in our society that it will take a miracle for us to survive it.

[By Charley Reese, King Features Syndicate]

10/12/07

Daughters’ anguish at mother killed by western mercenaries

Three Christian sisters, beating their mother’s coffin in grief, wailed and hugged each other at her funeral in Baghdad yesterday as their rapidly shrinking religious community vented anger at the foreign security guards who killed her.

The three daughters, Aless, 12, Karown, 20, and Noraa, 21, were doubled up in tears as they crowded around their mother’s simple wooden coffin, which was decorated with a small golden cross.

[Their mother] Marou Awanis, a part-time taxi driver, and one of her women passengers, both Armenian Christians, became the latest victims to die at the hands of a foreign private security team in Iraq after they were shot dead in the centre of the capital on Tuesday.

The killings also heightened a sense of outrage towards private security companies, in particular Blackwater, which many people regard as a private army that acts with impunity.

Unity Resources Group, an Australian security outfit based in Dubai, confirmed last night that its guards were responsible for Tuesday’s shooting in Baghdad. It said that the guards opened fire on the speeding car when it refused to slow down after several warnings, “including signs, strobe lights, hand signals and a flare”.

Witnesses and police said that Mrs Awanis, who had been driving two women and a child, mistakenly got too close to a Unity Resources convoy and came under immediate gunfire from the guards.

Scores of relatives and friends gathered at the main Armenian Church in Baghdad. Everyone was shocked that Mrs Awanis, a widow and former agricultural engineer who was forced to drive a taxi to make ends meet, had been killed.

[The Times]

10/11/07

Some Iraqis flooding Jordan get free schooling

For the first time since the start of the Iraq war, Jordan is allowing all Iraqi children -- regardless of refugee status -- to enroll in state-funded schools. This means that even illegal refugees with no paperwork can send their kids to school with no questions asked.

About 10 percent of Jordan's population is now made up of Iraqi refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates up to 250,000 school-age Iraqi children are in Jordan. The influx is putting a strain on schools. Even with some U.N. and U.S. aid to Jordan, there's still not enough money.

Seated at a rectangular table covered with a red and white tablecloth, the boys tell stories of horror and displacement. Eighteen-year-old Qutaiba lost five immediate family members before moving to Jordan to try to live a normal life. Matter-of-factly and with a straight-ahead stare, he repeats the number: "Five members."

Most of the boys and young men from Iraq have missed several years of school -- up to a four-year educational gap that will delay not only their high school graduation, but also their entry into the workforce.

All say, though, that they feel lucky to have gotten out, even if the violence in their country means always having to be on the move, ready to live far from home and away from loved ones.

"It's not strange for me to be in the middle of people I don't know," says eleventh grader Ziad Tarek Al Shamsi. "I had friends in Iraq when I was small, I left them. In America, I left them. I came here, I left them." He pauses: "But you have to miss your country."

The population shift in the Middle East is, according to UNHCR head Antonio Guterres, the largest urban refugee situation in the world.

[CNN]

10/10/07

Iraq Seeks Blackwater Ouster

Iraqi authorities want the U.S. government to sever all contracts in Iraq with Blackwater USA within six months. They also want the firm to pay $8 million in compensation to families of each of the 17 people killed when its guards sprayed a traffic circle with heavy machine gun fire last month.

The government, at the conclusion of its investigation, said the compensation — totaling $136 million — was so high "because Blackwater uses employees who disrespect the rights of Iraqi citizens even though they are guests in this country."

The demands — part of an Iraqi government report examined by The Associated Press — also called on U.S. authorities to hand over the Blackwater security agents involved in the Sept. 16 shootings to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.

The tone of the Iraqi report appears to signal further strains between the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the White House over the deaths in Nisoor Square — which have prompted a series of U.S. and Iraqi probes and raised questions over the use of private security contractors to guard U.S. diplomats and other officials.

The Iraqi investigation charges the four Blackwater vehicles called to the square began shooting without provocation. Blackwater contends its employees came under fire first.

It said Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq expired on June 2, 2006, meaning it had no immunity from prosecution under Iraqi laws set down after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

[AP]

10/9/07

Private security convoy kills two Iraqi women

Gunfire from a private security convoy killed two Iraqi women driving through Baghdad on Tuesday, Interior Ministry sources told CNN.

One of the officials said the firm involved was a "Western private security company." The name of the firm has not been released. Blackwater USA said it was not involved. The company is under intense scrutiny over Iraqi claims that its guards protecting U.S. government officials killed civilians in an unprovoked attack last month.

Brig. Gen Abdul Karim Khalaf, Interior Ministry spokesman, said the two women killed were Christians. He told CNN that 19 bullets hit their vehicle.

A man who said he witnessed the shooting told CNN he believes the women in the car became frightened when the security detail fired warning shots. "Yes, they killed those two women," said the man. The women "were sitting in the front ... and there were two kids, but the two kids -- nothing happened to them."

The Blackwater incident on September 16 produced an outcry in Iraq and raised questions about the accountability of foreign security contractors in Iraq who, under an order laid down by the U.S.-led occupation government, are not subject to Iraqi law for actions taken within their contracts.

[CNN]

Eritrea aspires to be self-reliant, rejecting foreign aid

Eritrea, a struggling, low-profile nation is doing something virtually unheard of in Africa. It's turning down foreign aid.

With a president who vows not to lead another "spoon-fed" African country "enslaved" by international donors, Eritrea, a small, secretive nation on the Horn of Africa, has walked away from more than $200 million in aid in the last year alone, including food from the United Nations, development loans from the World Bank and grants from international charities to build roads and deliver healthcare.

President Isaias Afwerki, a former Marxist rebel who has led Eritrea since its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, defends the nation's exercise in self-reliance, even if it results in short-term hardships.

Relying on its meager budget and the conscription of about 800,000 of the country's citizens, the program so far has shown promising results. Measured on a variety of U.N. health indicators, including life expectancy, immunizations and malaria prevention, Eritrea scores as high, and often higher, than its neighbors, including Ethiopia and Kenya.

It might be one of the most ambitious social and economic experiments underway in Africa.

[Excerpt of an article by Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times]

10/8/07

South African Apartheid-era hired guns in Iraq

Thousands of South African police officers and soldiers, most of them white veterans of the old apartheid regime, have left their jobs to work as private security contractors in Iraq.

A former South African military officer who runs his own security firm conceded that most of the nation's best special forces trainers now are on the U.S. contracting payroll in Iraq.

Sensitive to its apartheid-era reputation for exporting soldiers of fortune to wars across Africa, the young, black-led government in Pretoria recently drafted the harshest anti-mercenary bill in the world, a measure that would criminalize virtually all of its citizens working in Iraq.

Wages for private contractors who work as bodyguards, convoy escorts and oil field security workers in Iraq average about $10,000 a month -- more than 10 times the pay of a South African army or police captain.

A Blackwater spokeswoman said no South Africans were currently employed by her security firm in Iraq. Industry sources said most of South Africa's guns for hire rent their services to British companies, or U.S. companies with strong South African ties.

[The Chicago Tribune]

10/7/07

Abu Ghraib Prisoners Accuse US Companies of Torture

Two US Army subcontractors accused of torturing prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib jail go to court Wednesday in a case that highlights the murky legal status of private US companies in Iraq.

Titan and CACI International were hired by the Army to provide interrogators and interpreters at the notorious prison, the scene of well-documented abuses of detainees following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One former Iraqi prisoner now living in Sweden says that under the companies’ watch, he was sodomized, nearly strangled with a belt, tied by his genitals to other detainees, and given repeated electric shocks. The case was filed in 2004 by a dozen former prisoners and the family of a man who died in detention, accusing Titan and CACI of conspiring with US officials “to humiliate, torture and abuse persons” at Abu Ghraib.

“This case represents our last hope for getting some accountability for the torture in Iraq and getting any compensation for the victims,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, whose group has fielded lawyers to assist in the lawsuit.

But US security companies in Iraq occupy a legal gray area, as highlighted by the case of Blackwater USA, which according to a new Congress report has been involved in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005.

[Agence France Press]

10/6/07

So why not partition the U.S.?!

As if they haven't done enough damage bombing and invading a country on false pretences, destroying its culture and leaving it a charred shell of its former self, American lawmakers now want to divide Iraq up into easily manageable bite size entities.

Isn't Iraq supposed to be a sovereign nation with an elected government? If so, then why is the US Senate attempting to meddle in its affairs by overwhelmingly passing a resolution calling for the country's partition into three, which is tantamount to ethnic cleansing?

The Iraqi government was quick to put a damper on the proposal. Its spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh said "It's the Iraqis who decide these sorts of issues, no-one else". According to a recent ABC/BBC poll a mere nine per cent of Iraqis favor the break-up of their country.

How about a vote on the break-up of America? How about giving California back to Mexico, returning Hawaii to its indigenous islanders and Alaska to the Eskimos and Indians?

Let's restrict Caucasians to the East and West coasts, and package-up a few states in between for African Americans and Latinos. And while we're about it, let's invite foreign conglomerates to buy up the country's oil, gas and timber.

Surely if such uninformed nose-poking is good enough for Washington, it's equally appropriate for the rest of us.

[Excerpt of an article by Linda S. Heard, Gulf News]

10/5/07

5 Million Iraqi Refugees and our National Conscience

Little is being done to attend to the needs of what now amounts to nearly 5 million Iraqi refugees. Based on US actions, it appears the US government has not suffered moral compunctions.

Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch wrote in the Wall Street Journal in May: “How many Iraqi refugees did the U.S. resettle in 2006? It settled 202. The State Department said it would resettle 7,000 this fiscal year. Halfway through, it has admitted 68. (...)”

Whether the U.S. resettles 70 or 7,000, it amounts to a drop in the ocean of Iraqi refugees -- 700,000 in Jordan; more than a 1,000,000 in Syria. Iraq's neighbors are inundated and they need meaningful international support to keep their borders open.

The U.S. has funded $18 million [toward refugee assistance], and "intends" to provide $100 million more.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is spending $2 billion per week to wage the war that directly or indirectly has caused well over four million Iraqis to be forced from their homes.

Supporters of the war and now the surge ought to be forced to defend their position by addressing these critical moral and strategic questions -- Is it not our moral obligation to attend to the plight of the millions of refugees we created through this war? And is it not our strategic interest to help resettle refugees to prevent our allied Arab states from buckling and collapsing under the weight of the flood of refugees?

We did this to Iraq. And it is time the U.S and the international community "step up" to the resulting humanitarian nightmare.

[Excerpt of an article by Sameer Lalwani, The Washington Note]

10/4/07

Blackwater contractor wrote government report on Blackwater incident

The State Department's initial report of last month's incident in which Blackwater guards were accused of killing Iraqi civilians was written by a Blackwater contractor working in the security detail at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Blackwater contractor, Darren Hanner, drafted the two-page "spot report" on the letterhead of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for the embassy's Tactical Operations Center.

That office -- which tracks and monitors all incidents and movements involving diplomatic security missions -- has outsourced positions to Blackwater and another private firm, the embassy source said.

Blackwater says its employees responded properly to an insurgent attack on a convoy. The State Department "spot report" underscores that scenario and doesn't mention civilian casualties.

However, those accounts are at odds with what the Iraqis are saying. A senior Iraqi National Police official participating in the Iraqi governmental probe of the shooting said the Blackwater gunfire was unprovoked and the guards fired randomly, killing several civilians and wounding others

The senior Iraqi police officer said that Blackwater team members were questioned by Iraqi police immediately after the incident and initially said they opened fire in response to a mortar attack. However, he said, they then changed their story at least twice during the 90 minutes they were held.

[CNN]

Blackwater involved in at least 195 shooting incidents

U.S. security contractor Blackwater was involved in at least 195 shooting incidents in Iraq since 2005, says a congressional report. An average of 1.4 per week.

A report prepared by the staff of committee chair Rep. Henry Waxman, released details from Blackwater's own reports of multiple incidents involving Iraqi casualties and said in most instances (84%) Blackwater fired first. State Department rules say Blackwater's actions should be defensive rather than offensive.

In another development, the FBI said it had been asked by the State Department to send a team of investigators to Iraq to look into the Sept. 16 shootings [in which 2o civilians were killed]. No criminal charges have been filed yet against Blackwater over that incident.

The memorandum also slammed the State Department's oversight of Blackwater and said it was often more interested in getting the company to pay off victims' families and "put the matter behind us" than in investigating what happened.

In a shooting incident on Dec. 24, 2006, a security guard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi was killed by an allegedly drunken Blackwater contractor, who was then flown out of the country and faced no charges, the memorandum said.

The State Department's charge d'affaires recommended Blackwater pay $250,000 and give an "apology." Waxman noted the State Department's diplomatic security said that was too much and would cause Iraqis to "try to get killed." Eventually Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment.

In another incident where Blackwater shooters killed an "innocent Iraqi," Waxman said the State Department requested only a $5,000 payment to "put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly."

[Reuters]

Blackwater pilot “this is fun” before fatal crash

A 2004 crash that killed everyone on board -- three crew members and three U.S. troops -- was caused by pilots from a Blackwater plane taking a low-level run through a mountain canyon in Afghanistan, testimony revealed Tuesday.

"I swear to God, they wouldn't pay me if they knew how much fun this was," the doomed plane's cockpit voice recorder captured the pilot saying shortly before the November 27, 2004, crash.

The account of the crash emerged during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Blackwater's performance in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"You're an X-wing fighter Star Wars man," an NTSB report quoted the plane's co-pilot, Loren Hammer, saying during the flight -- a reference to the dizzying battle in the 1977 film.

"You're [expletive] right. This is fun," the pilot, Noel English, responded.

About eight minutes later, the plane slammed into the wall of the canyon, which was flanked by ridgelines that rose nearly a mile above surrounding terrain.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, is chairman of the oversight committee, which is investigating Blackwater's performance on more than $1 billion in U.S. government contracts since 2001.

[CNN]

10/3/07

As Prices Soar, U.S. Food Aid Buys Less

The United States has purchased less than half the amount of food aid this year that it did in 2000, according to new data from the Department of Agriculture.

“The people who are starving and have to rely on food aid, they will suffer,” Jean Ziegler, who reports to the United Nations on hunger and food issues.

“We fear the steady rise of food prices will hit those on the front lines of hunger the hardest,” said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program.

She warned that food aid spending would have to rise just to keep feeding the same number of people. But the appropriations bill for the coming year now moving through Congress does not promise any significant increases in the food aid budget.

The food aid declines may also continue. Catholic Relief Services, a major distributor of American food aid, has projected substantial increases in what the federal government pays for food aid next year. “It’s bad news and it’s not just going to affect U.S. food aid, but food aid from every source,” said Frank Orzechowski, a retired commodity trader who now advises Catholic Relief Services.

This year’s decline in food aid follows a period when the sharply escalating costs of shipping American-grown food aid to Africa and Asia already reduced the tonnage supplied. The United States Government Accountability Office mentioned this year that the number of people being fed by American food aid had declined to 70 million in 2006 from 105 million in 2002, mainly because of rising transportation and logistical costs.

[Excerpt of an article by Celia W. Dugger, The New York Times]

10/2/07

U.S. Again Top Arms Seller to Developing World

The United States maintained its role as the leading supplier of weapons to the developing world in 2006, followed by Russia and Britain, according to a Congressional study to be released Monday.

When combining totals for arms sales to developed and developing nations, the ranking of world arms dealers remained the same. The United States led with $16.9 billion, followed by Russia with $8.7 billion and Britain with $3.1 billion. The 2006 sales figures for all three nations were higher than their totals in 2005.

Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia were the top buyers.

The study makes clear also that the United States has signed weapons-sales agreements with nations whose records on democracy and human rights are subject to official criticism.

[Excerpt of an article by Thom Shanker, The New York Times]

10/1/07

Congress Quietly Approves Billions More for Iraq War

The Senate agreed to increase the federal debt limit by $850 billion and then proceeded to approve a stop-gap spending bill that gives the Bush White House at least $9 billion in new funding for its war in Iraq.

Additionally, the administration has been given emergency authority to tap further into a $70 billion "bridge fund" to provide new infusions of money for the occupation.

Translation: Under the guise of a stop-gap spending bill that is simply supposed to keep the government running until a long-delayed appropriations process is completed -- probably in November -- the Congress has just approved a massive increase in war funding.

The move was backed by every senator who cast a vote, save one. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. Said Feingold, "I am disappointed that voted on a continuing resolution that provides tens of billions of dollars to continue the misguided war in Iraq but does not include any language to bring that war to a close.”

"Each year this war is getting more and more costly --- both in the amount of money spent and in the number of lives lost. Now this Congress is providing more funds so the administration can continue down a path of destruction and chaos," said Ohio's Dennis Kucinich, who noted the essential role of House and Senate Democratic leaders, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in passing the continuing resolution.

[Excerpts of an article The Nation]

9/30/07

Private armies have a sinister reputation in Europe

Europeans remember Italy's fascist Blackshirts and, most recently, Serb neo-fascist gangs like Arkan's Tigers and the White Eagles who committed some of the worst atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo. Memories still linger of Germany's post First World War army veterans, the Stahlhelm, and Nazi Brownshirts, who battled Communist street toughs in Munich and Berlin.

The rise of powerful mercenary armies within the United States, like Blackwater, and their use in Iraq and Afghanistan, is an entirely new, deeply disturbing development.

There are 180,000 to 200,000 U.S.-paid mercenaries in Iraq -- or "private contractors" as Washington and the U.S. media delicately call them. At least half are armed fighters, the rest support personnel and technicians. Without them, the U.S. and Britain could not maintain their occupation of Iraq.

These private enterprise fighters, like the Renaissance's Italian condotierri, German landsknecht, and Swiss pikemen, are lawless, answering to no authority but their employers. Democrats in the U.S. Congress are rightly demanding these trigger-happy Rambos to be at least brought under American military law.

Vice-President Dick Cheney took Vietnam's lesson to heart by championing use of mercenaries for nasty foreign wars. But democracies should have no business unleashing armies of hired gunmen on the world. Worse, these private armies hardwired to the Republican Party's far right are a grave and intolerable danger to the American republic. Congress should outlaw them absolutely. The great Roman Republic held that mandatory military service by all citizens was the basis of democracy, while professional armies were a grave menace.

How ironic that colonial America, which rose up in arms in response to the British crown's use of brutal German mercenaries, is resorting to the same tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Europe wants no more of private armies. Americans have yet to learn this painful lesson.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric Margolis, Edmonton Sun]

9/29/07

Money for weapons, but not for Iraqi Aid

The US is ready to sell Iraq up to $2.3bn of weapons to help the Iraqi army grow and take over operations currently run by US and allied forces, the Pentagon has said.


"This expansion will enable Iraq to equip new forces to assume the missions currently accomplished by US and coalition forces and to sustain themselves in their efforts to bring stability to the country," the DSCA said in a statement.
The agency did not list any contractors alongside the sale.
It said the Iraqi government had requested Humvees and rifles, as well as a wide array of trucks and other vehicles, small arms, munitions, explosives and communications equipment.

[Source: Agencies]