Thursday, June 23, 2005

Notes on Iraq 

In previous posts I mentioned that the decisive factor in fighting a war is which side has the highest morale and the greatest will to fight. It is tempting to think that if one side has much more sophisticated weapons than the other then it is almost certain to win. In fact, that is not true, particularly in guerilla wars. What really counts is which side is most willing to fight on not matter what. Determination counts for a lot more than technique. A side that doesn’t believe in what it is fighting for will always suffer from low morale. But a side with high morale but poor technique will do well as over time its technique will get better. As was mentioned the Iraqi insurgents clearly have high morale and a will to fight. Now for the new bad news for the U.S. – their technique is getting better.

American casualties from bomb attacks in Iraq have reached new heights in the last two months as insurgents have begun to deploy devices that leave armored vehicles increasingly vulnerable, according to military records.
The surge in attacks, the officials say, has coincided with the appearance of significant advancements in bomb design, including the use of "shaped" charges that concentrate the blast and give it a better chance of penetrating armored vehicles, causing higher casualties.

Another change, a senior military officer said, has been the detonation of explosives by infrared lasers, an innovation aimed at bypassing electronic jammers used to block radio-wave detonators.
In a sign of heightened American concern, the Army convened a conference last week at Fort Irwin, in the California desert, where engineers, contractors and senior officers grappled with the problems posed by the new bombs. One attendee, Col. Bob Davis, an Army explosives expert, called the new elements in some bombs "pretty disturbing." In a brief interview, he declined to discuss the changes, but said the "sophistication is increasing and it will increase further."

This is somewhat similar to the situation of the Afghan mujahadin who fought against the Soviets. They waged a determined war against the Soviets for years without a lot of success because they couldn’t counter the Soviet’s weapons – tanks and helicopters. They tried to shoot down helicopters with rocket propelled grenades with little success. So the war was a stalemate. However, later on the U.S. gave them Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and the war turned decisively in their favor with the Soviets being forced to withdraw. In Iraq the insurgents don’t have any way to effectively counter U.S. tanks and helicopters. But eventually they will either because they develop it themselves or someone gives it to them. If the insurgents hang on long enough for that to happen the war will move from a stalemate to a victory for the insurgency.


On another matter, a lot of people like to talk about issues of transparency and corruption. The “Food for Oil” scandal has dominated the right half of the blogosphere. Not to mention all the blabber of the Venezuelan opposition about supposed corruption in the Chavez government – even though they can never seem to find concrete and coraborated examples of it. Today there was a nice example of how opaque the finances of the U.S. occupation of Iraq are.

Republicans joined longtime Democratic critics in Congress on Tuesday to berate the Pentagon for withholding information about the Halliburton Corporation's disputed billing under a $2.5 billion contract for Iraqi oil site repairs and fuel imports.

Saying the Pentagon is acting as if "it has something to hide," Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, said at a hearing that he would support issuing a subpoena to the Pentagon next week if the administration did not provide long-requested documents relating to the contract, which was awarded to Halliburton in early 2003 without competition.
Last winter, when United Nations and Congressional overseers asked to see internal Pentagon audits of the oil contract, they were given copies in which all of the questioned charges and most of the critical remarks about Kellogg were blacked out, or redacted.

"The redactions violated the commitment to transparency and regretfully make it appear D.O.D. has something to hide," Mr. Shays told a panel of Defense Department officials at the hearing. He accused the Pentagon of "deferring completely to the contractor's absurdly expansive view of what constitutes proprietary information and must be shielded from view."
In January the agency, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, concluded that $8.8 billion had been provided to Iraqi ministries with poor oversight or controls. Among other problems, it described ministries that claimed pay for thousands of "ghost employees."
Another report by the monitoring agency found evidence of fraud by American officials who dispensed small development grants in the region around Hilla in south-central Iraq.

More than $7 million in cash is missing from that office, and criminal investigations are under way.

Mr. Waxman, who has been the most persistent Congressional critic of spending controls in Iraq, released a report on Tuesday called "U.S. Mismanagement of Iraqi Funds."

It describes the huge transfers of cash, mainly in $100 bills, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to Iraq.

Because Iraq does not have a well-functioning banking system, payments to ministries and many contractors there have been in cash, in American currency, making it hard to monitor spending. Between May 2003 and June 2004, the report found, the Federal Reserve shipped $12 billion in cash to Iraq, all drawn from the account of the Development Fund for Iraq.

In June 2004 alone - the final month of American control over Iraqi funds - officials urgently shipped more than $4 billion so they could allocate the money before the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, Mr. Waxman said.

I don’t know about you, but refusing to turn over audit reports, having millions “missing”, handing out billions of dollars of cash with poor controls, and rushing in $4 billion before a new administration takes over all seems fishy to me. I hope the people behind this get investigated as thoroughly as the Kofi Annan did.

Then there was this little gem tucked away in the back of the news sections. Apparently, the CIA thinks the war in Iraq is training a whole new generation of potential terrorists just as the Soviet war in Afghanistan trained Osama Bin-Laden

The CIA believes the Iraq insurgency poses an international threat and may produce better-trained Islamic terrorists than the 1980s Afghanistan war that gave rise to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, a U.S. counterterrorism official said on Wednesday.

A classified report from the U.S. spy agency says Iraqi and foreign fighters are developing a broad range of deadly skills, from car bombings and assassinations to tightly coordinated conventional attacks on police and military targets, the official said.

Once the insurgency ends, Islamic militants are likely to disperse as highly organized battle-hardened combatants capable of operating throughout the Arab-speaking world and in other regions including Europe.

Funny I thought I heard Bush just the other day try to sell the war as protecting the U.S. against terrorism.


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