Archive for March, 2006

Permanent US bases in Iraq?

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

BBC news reports today that the Pentagon has requested significant extra funding for its military bases in Iraq, further stoking the suspicion that the US does intend, despite Bush’s assurances to the contrary, to maintain permanent bases in Iraq. According to the report, “much of the 2006 emergency funding is earmarked for beefing up security and facilities at just a handful of large airbases in Iraq” and the US House Appropriations Committee “has demanded a “master plan” from the Pentagon before the money can be spent”.

The report goes on to describe one of the air bases in Iraq which might be in line to become a more permanent base. The implications of this are interesting, this request for extra funding coming at the same time as the US allocation to reconstruction funds is rapidly dwindling with many projects, particularly in the electricity and water sectors, either not yet completed or not yet begun (compared to the targets the allocated funds were supposed to cover.)

Also, the UN mandate for the US to be in Iraq right now rests absolutely on the premise that they are there on the request of the Iraqi government, so that the moment the Iraqi government asks them to leave, the UN Mandate technically speaking would no longer cover US presence there. If the US really is setting up permanent bases, this weakens the UN Mandate even further, as the gesture towards any Iraqi agency in the continued presence of the US is rendered virtually meaningless. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on the 15th of June, when the current UN Mandate for the Coalition Force comes up for renewal - unless the Iraqi governments requests its revision before then.

UK cost of war

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

The treasury have kindly provided me with an update of the breakdown of the special reserve allocations, which I’ve incorporated into Table 2 of the briefing. There are three things that strike me as notable:

  • The cost of Iraq is increasing, albeit slightly. It’s not entirely clear why - the large extra capital expenditure I think is for new equipment to replace the old that had expired, but not sure about why the normal expenditure increased.
  • The total amount allocated to departments last year is GREATER than the total amount allocated to the Special Reserve. What does this mean? Presumably that money is being taken out of general reserves in addition, though it’s not clear (when I asked the treasury this they didn’t seem to know or care much themselves). But this means the amount allocatd to the Special Reserve may become an UNDERestimate of the total spent in Iraq
  • The amount allocated to the GCPP still remains pretty high (although even taking this away from last years reserve allocations the above point still holds), and certainly bigger than the £200million that Brown allocated in the budget for next year. But god knows what this means, as no-one seems to know much about it, and I haven’t really looked at it since it’s not Iraq. But it seems a bit fishy to me that if this is being used for general peacekeeping activities it’s coming out of the reserves rather than department budgets.

Website updates

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

Recent additions to include a Media Page for our press releases and coverage.

We have also partly reorganised the Publications section, which contains our occasional briefings.

Your comments are welcome.

Is Iraq in civil war?

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

Reuters reports on recent statements by Iyad Allawi:

“It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is … Iraq is in the middle of a crisis. Maybe we have not reached the point of no return yet. But we are moving toward this point. We are in a terrible civil conflict now”

US and UK officials, such as George Bush, John Reid, and others disagree.

Juan Cole writes in Salon about how civil war might be defined and the applicability of the term to the situation in Iraq.

Defence Department report on more torture in Iraq

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

See the detailed report by Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall in the NY Times . AP provides a summary, and there is some analysis here. The below are excerpts from a previous, shorter version available via the IHT:

As the Iraqi insurgency intensified in early 2004, an elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein’s former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. […]

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, “No Blood, No Foul.” According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges.

“The reality is, there were no rules there,” another Pentagon official said.

Documents and interviews with more than a dozen people now offer the first detailed description of serious abuses by the military’s most highly trained counterterrorism unit. […]

The abuses at Camp Nama continued despite warnings beginning in August 2003 from a U.S. Army investigator and U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials in Iraq. The CIA was concerned enough to bar its personnel from Camp Nama that August.[…]

Defense Department personnel briefed on the unit’s operations said harsh treatment extended beyond Camp Nama to small field outposts in Baghdad, Falluja, Balad, Ramadi and Kirkuk.[…]

In the summer of 2004, Camp Nama closed and the unit moved to a new headquarters in Balad, north of Baghdad. The unit’s operations are now shrouded in even tighter secrecy.

War budget

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Following on from IAG’s ongoing monitoring of the cost of the Iraq war to the UK: Peter Wilby (formerly of the New Statesman) has been doing the one thing other economic commentators seem not to have done this week - he’s actually read the UK’s new budget. It seems military spending is growing faster than any other area of public spending, making this budget a war budget, not an education budget:

Before we all start cheering Gordon Brown’s extra £440m for education, we should look at an item in his budget that seems to have done better than anything else. The Ministry of Defence gets an extra £800m, 80% more than education and 40% of his whole £2bn extra spending package. This is to finance British operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If, as the Guardian’s leader says this morning, education is getting its “turn in the sun”, defence is under the UV lamp all year round, night and day.

There’s an important democratic point here. The total cost of the war in Iraq, plus our part in the occupation of both that country and Afghanistan, will go past £5bn next year, the equivalent of a year’s spending on school, college and university buildings and equipment.

Halabja protest turns violent

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

A recent poll (I can’t find the link right now) suggested that Kurds were slightly less likely to think the invasion was worth it than Shia, although still it was around 90%. This report from IWPR on demonstrations in Halabja last week may help to explain this a bit:

Kurdistan may be the safest part of Iraq, but young people here have grown increasingly angry at the regional authorities who should be looking after them but whom they accuse of inaction, complacency and corruption.

As the placards carried by protesters made plain, there is a strong sense in Halabja that officials quietly ignore the real needs of survivors at the same time as playing up the town’s terrible history, which is emblematic of Saddam’s oppression of the Kurds and thus serves justification for a strongly decentralised Kurdish entity.

Year after year, politicians from the two leading Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, come to pay tribute to the victims and pledge help to regenerate the town. But local people say nothing gets done – infrastructure is in a state of collapse, the roads are unpaved, houses still bear the damage they suffered in Saddam’s war with Iran, and healthcare provision is poor even though the attack left thousands of survivors with a legacy of respiratory disease, cancer and other problems.

Documentary on money in Iraq

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Channel 4 has a documentary at 8pm tonight (Monday) titled “Iraq’s Missing Billions”, investigating how the US and UK have misspent money in Iraq. Might be interesting for the people following the cost of war? The only preview I can find is in the Guardian

Electricity hits three-year low in Iraq (Associated Press)

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

This report details the sorry state of the Electricity sector in Iraq, and warns of a potential crisis this summer, suggesting that Iraq may have to turn to Iran for help in managing electricity supplies in the near future. The US-led reconstruction has proceeded haltingly and is due to stop imminently, despite grossly under-fulfilled targets. The article highlights the problem of US reconstruction funds being re-allocated towards security costs:

“To battle the insurgency, U.S. authorities shifted more than $1 billion from power projects to security spending. Having planned to add or rehabilitate 3,400 megawatts’ worth of power production, they settled instead for 2,000. The lack of security also slowed work: Fewer than half the 350 local power-distribution projects planned by the Americans had begun as of early this year, the inspector-general reported Jan. 30.”

It also outlines the current funds being made available prospectively for future ’sustainibility’ work, and explains why these funds are likely to be entirely insufficient.

Troop Withdrawal

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

There’s recently been much debate when US/UK forces will leave Iraq. Britain is reducing troop levels by 10%, and Bush has been talkingabout

“the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006″

As for Britain, the Telegraph has two articles - one saying all British soldiers will be out of Iraq in one year, the other backpedalling to a figure of two years. And the parade of politicians pushing one timetable or another continues - Karl Rove restating that “the administration will not pull American troops out of Iraq until victory is won”. Senator Biden wanting them out after the summer

This debate isn’t going to stop, but there isn’t much to be gained from following every twist and turn. Better to spend time wondering how the West will maintain its control of Iraq without troops there.

Back in December, Seymour Hersh wrote a long article for the New Yorker, claiming that it would be through increased use of airpower. Hersh is already being proved right - a news report yesterday says that

“daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50% in the past five months, compared with the same period last year”

This is something that should concern us. That’s not only becase, as the Lancet mortality figures showed in 2004, helicopter gunships leave many civilian casualties. It’s also because there is an entire public debate which is missing the point - withdrawing ground troops is not the same as reducing Western influence over Iraq