Saturday, September 01, 2007

More Guns And Money

By Cernig

A few weeks back, when General Saint Petreaus first started making feeble excuses about kicking guns out of helicopters, I said there was more to the story and suggested that corruption inside the U.S. military was part of that story. Now, as more details emerge, it's becoming clearer just what led to the disappearance of a few hundred tons of arms, worth about half the annual Iraqi defense procurement budget.

Firstly, David Corn at The Nation has the unsurprising news that Iraqi politicians learned one lesson very well from their Republican sponsors - the culture of corruption.
according to the working draft of a secret document prepared by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the Maliki government has failed in one significant area: corruption. Maliki's government is "not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws," the report says, and, perhaps worse, the report notes that Maliki's office has impeded investigations of fraud and crime within the government.

...The report, which was drafted by a team of U.S. embassy officials, surveys the various Iraqi ministries. "The Ministry of Interior is seen by Iraqis as untouchable by the anticorruption enforcement infrastructure of Iraq," it says. "Corruption investigations in Ministry of Defense are judged to be ineffectual." The study reports that the Ministry of Trade is "widely recognized as a troubled ministry" and that of 196 corruption complaints involving this ministry merely eight have made it to court, with only one person convicted.

The Ministry of Health, according to the report, "is a sore point; corruption is actually affecting its ability to deliver services and threatens the support of the government." Investigations involving the Ministry of Oil have been manipulated, the study says, and the "CPI and the [Inspector General of the ministry] are completely ill-equipped to handle oil theft cases." There is no accurate accounting of oil production and transportation within the ministry, the report explains, because organized crime groups are stealing oil "for the benefit of militias/insurgents, corrupt public officials and foreign buyers."

The list goes on: "Anticorruption cases concerning the Ministry of Education have been particularly ineffective….[T]he Ministry of Water Resources…is effectively out of the anticorruption fight with little to no apparent effort in trying to combat fraud….[T]he Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs is hostile to the prosecution of corruption cases. Militia support from [Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr] has effectively made corruption in the Ministry of Transportation wholesale according to investigators and immune from prosecution." Several ministries, according to the study, are "so controlled by criminal gangs or militias" that it is impossible for corruption investigators "to operate within [them] absent a tactical [security] force protecting the investigator."

The Ministry of the Interior, which has been a stronghold of Shia militias, stands out in the report. The study's authors say that "groups within MOI function similarly to a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) in the classic sense. MOI is a 'legal enterprise' which has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the 'legal enterprise' to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc." This is like saying the mob is running the police department. The report notes, "currently 426 investigations are hung up awaiting responses for documents belonging to MOI which routinely are ignored." It cites an episode during which a CPI officer discovered two eyewitnesses to the October 2006 murder of Amer al-Hashima, the brother of the vice president, but the CPI investigator would not identify the eyewitnesses to the Minister of the Interior out of fear he and they would be assassinated. (It seemed that the killers were linked to the Interior Ministry.) The report adds, "CPI investigators assigned to MOI investigations have unanimously expressed their fear of being assassinated should they aggressively pursue their duties at MOI. Thus when the head of MOI intelligence recently personally visited the Commissioner of CPI…to end investigations of [an] MOI contract, there was a clear sense of concern within the agency."

Over at the Defense Ministry, the report notes, there has been a "shocking lack of concern" about the apparent theft of $850 million from the Iraqi military's procurement budget. "In some cases," the report says, "American advisors working for US [Department of Defense] have interceded to remove [Iraqi] suspects from investigations or custody." Of 455 corruption investigations at the Defense Ministry, only 15 have reached the trial stage. A mere four investigators are assigned to investigating corruption in the department. And at the Ministry of Trade, "criminal gangs" divide the spoils, with one handling grain theft, another stealing transportation assets.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is Maliki's office: "The Prime Minister's Office has demonstrated an open hostility" to independent corruption investigations. His government has withheld resources from the CPI, the report says, and "there have been a number of identified cases where government and political pressure has been applied to change the outcome of investigations and prosecutions in favor of members of the Shia Alliance"--which includes Maliki's Dawa party.
Hang on, reel that back and play it again!
"In some cases," the report says, "American advisors working for US [Department of Defense] have interceded to remove [Iraqi] suspects from investigations or custody."
Whaaat? Did I just read that right? US DoD advisors are actually sheltering suspects from investigation and detention?

Why would that be?

Maybe this has something to do with it:
An American-owned company operating from Kuwait paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to American contracting officers in efforts to win more than $11 million in contracts, the government says in court documents.

The Army last month suspended the company, Lee Dynamics International, from doing business with the government, and the case now appears to be at the center of a contracting fraud scandal that prompted Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to dispatch the Pentagon inspector general to Iraq to investigate.

Court documents filed in the case say the Army took action because the company was suspected of paying hundreds of thousands in bribes to Army officers to secure contracts to build, operate and maintain warehouses in Iraq that stored weapons, uniforms, vehicles and other matériel for Iraqi forces in 2004 and 2005.

A lawyer for the company denied the accusations.

One of the officers, Maj. Gloria D. Davis, a contracting official in Kuwait, shot and killed herself in Baghdad in December 2006. Government officials say the suicide occurred a day after she admitted to an Army investigator that she had accepted at least $225,000 in bribes from the company. The United States has begun proceedings to seize Major Davis’s assets, a move her heirs are contesting.

...The case is now part of a broader investigation in which the Army has a high-level team reviewing 18,000 contracts valued at more than $3 billion that the Kuwait office has awarded over four years.

The Army has suspended 22 companies and individuals, at least temporarily, from pursuing government work because of contract fraud investigations in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, an Army spokesman said Thursday. A total of 18 companies and individuals are barred for a definite period from government work. Seven more face debarment.

The court papers make clear that investigators have concluded that Lee Dynamics paid large bribes to numerous United States officials in Iraq and Kuwait. Major Davis is one official cited. Another is an Army officer, identified in the investigator’s report as “Person B,” because he is now cooperating with the investigation. He acknowledged receiving $50,000 in cash bribes from the company, the court papers said. Two people with direct knowledge of the investigation or the contracting office in Iraq at the time said “Person B” was Lt. Col. Kevin A. Davis, who worked with an officer who has emerged as a focus of the investigation in the weapons case in Iraq.

That officer, Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, was at the heart of the effort to strengthen the fledgling Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005. She worked closely with Gen. David H. Petraeus, who commanded the effort at the time. The general is now the top commander in Iraq. There is no indication that investigators have uncovered any wrongdoing by General Petraeus.
The case may also be interlinked with that of Maj. John Cockerham, former Army contracting officer in Kuwait. Major Cockerham, his wife and his sister were recently indicted on charges that they accepted up to $9.6 million in bribes for defense contracts in Iraq and Kuwait.

So what happened to all the guns? Well many have ended up in the hands of people shooting at U.S. troops and others have ended up in the hands of Kurdish terrorists shooting at Turks just across the border. Presumably, it's only a matter of time before others turn up having been used to shoot at iranians, and then where will the neocon narrative about iran meddling in Iraq be?

Still, the suggestion that there was "any wrongdoing by General Petraeus" seems to be the third rail of this story. I don't see why, unless it is fear of inevitable Republican partisan cries of "politicizing the issue". At the very least he is surely guilty of tremendous incompetence in command. As Brent Budowsky pointed out, "there are people close to him under investigation for weapons and resources under his command, which were stolen or lost, and he bears a substantial command responsibility for bad management and bad judgment."

But if the DoD is sheltering Iraqi suspects from investigation, such close aides to Petreaus and their close associates have already been implicated, and the investigating team being sent to Iraq by the Pentagon is headed by two people (Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III and Kathryn Condon) who have been integral to setting up the Rumsfield-inspired "privatization of logistics" systems that allowed such corruption without oversight - might there not be a bit of a cover-up going on? And might not Petreaus' credibility and independence from political control be in serious doubt if the cover-up is, at least partly, aimed at preserving his usefulness as an advocate for the administration's Iraq policy?

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