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Aug 11

Written by: Diana West
Monday, August 11, 2008 7:01 AM 

Today's Washington Post has unearthed a treasure trove of information--literally. It turns out that through a program called the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), US troops have been passing out what you might call "walking around money" to Iraqis. A lot of walking around money to Iraqis--some $2.8 BILLION to date according to  government records which the Post has made accessible online (link above).

From the Post:

In the five-year struggle to finish the war in Iraq, military leaders and their troops have said a particular weapon is among the most effective in their arsenal:

American cash.

Soldiers walk the streets carrying thousands of dollars to pay Iraqis for doorways battered in American raids and limbs lost during firefights. Sheiks appeal to commanders to use larger pools of money locked away in Humvees and safes at military bases for new schools, health clinics, water treatment plants and generators, knowing that the military can bypass Iraqi and U.S. bureaucratic hurdles.

Army documents show that $48,000 was spent on 6,000 pairs of children's shoes; an additional $50,000 bought 625 sheep for people described in records as "starving poor locals" in a Baghdad neighborhood. Soldiers ordered $100,000 worth of dolls and $500,000 in action figures made to look like Iraqi Security Forces. About $14,250 was spent on "I Love Iraq" T-shirts. More than $75,000 sent a delegation to a women's and civil rights conference in Cairo. And $12,800 was spent for two pools to cool bears and tigers at Zawra Park Zoo in Baghdad.

The money comes from the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which has so far spent at least $2.8 billion in U.S. funds. It is not tied to international standards of redevelopment or normal government purchasing rules. Instead, it is governed by broad guidelines packaged into a field manual called "Money as a Weapon System."

I haven't seen the word "bribery" arise, but it does come to mind on reading this long, train-wreck fascinating story of pecuniary pacification.

From the story's final stretch: 
With unemployment hovering at 60 percent in some areas of Iraq, CERP's highest priority is creating local jobs.

Along the highway leading to Baghdad International Airport, long considered one of the most dangerous roads in the country because of the constant threat of improvised explosive devices, workers were hired to paint a $900,000 mural depicting the progression of Iraq from fishing villages with seagulls and boats to oil refineries. Millions more were spent to plant and cultivate date palms, a crop decimated over the past two decades. Installing awnings worth $687,000 in a market in Baghdad was justified partly because, documents say, "adding the awnings will create 35 jobs for 3 months."

In the violence-prone city of Ramadi, Army Capt. Nathan Strickland and his battalion used CERP money to hire day laborers to clear away trash and rubble. The military strategy: Get young men to pick up shovels instead of guns.

...

The largest jobs program began in 2007. Sons of Iraq, as it is now called, has paid more than 100,000 Iraqis $5 to $26 per day to guard checkpoints and patrol neighborhoods. The United States has spent more than $250 million on the program so far, records show.

Sons of Iraq: Isn't that the "grass-roots surge against al Qaeda"?

Petraeus has told Congress that "the salaries paid to the Sons of Iraq alone cost far less than the cost savings and vehicles not lost due to the enhanced security in local communities."

But members of Congress, military strategists and government auditors said the problem is that there is no obvious way to end the program.

Gee. Ya think?

In their latest report, auditors at the special inspector general's office said the program is considered a "temporary security measure" but that only 14,000 Sons of Iraq members have transitioned to become part of the Iraqi Security Force.

"The Iraqi government should be stepping up to the plate to pay them," said Raymond F. DuBois, who is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and was a top Pentagon official under former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "You've got to figure out a way to keep them on your side with the payroll, or you inject uncertainty into the situation and some of them will find employment elsewhere on the black market."

Lawmakers have begun to question CERP's seemingly endless funding. They say Iraq has failed to spend enough of its budget, which consists mainly of oil revenue, on its own reconstruction. In May, the House of Representatives proposed capping future CERP funding at twice the level the Iraqi government pitched in.

That's vigorously tightening the purse strings (not).

In a Senate hearing this spring, Levin recalled a recent trip to a base near Diyala. He said a senior U.S. military officer told him of a successful garbage-collection program, paid for with CERP money, and the thanks he received from an Iraqi official, who added, "As long as you are willing to pay for the cleanup, why should we?"

 

David Kilcullen, who has advised Petraeus on counterinsurgency strategy and who examined CERP last year, said the payouts are like dealing heroin -- "easy development money that undercuts our efforts to improve their financial governance." He warned that the projects are a "rush" that often doesn't last.

Can't believe I'm agreeing with Kilcullen here, but his simile  is surely apt. This, of course, is the man who preaches that "counter-insurgency is armed social work." Interesting. I guess he doesn't believe the "armed social work" should be loaded ($$) social work.

After spending more than $270 million in CERP money on schools, hospitals and health clinics, the U.S. government cannot say how many are in use and how many have been abandoned or attacked again, according to the Government Accountability Office.

One Ramadi health-care clinic became an al-Qaeda weapons cache, according to a senior officer in the region, whose unit found enough small arms, machine guns, IED components, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds at the clinic to fill a small SUV. In Baghdad, soldiers recently hired Iraqis to rebuild a school in the violent Dora neighborhood for the third time after it was repeatedly attacked.

Redevelopment experts say the military is ill-equipped to check in on how CERP projects are sustained.

Of course they are. It's. Not. Their. Job.

The Pentagon has addressed the issue in recent changes to CERP regulations. Among the changes: Requiring commanders to have a "formal, highly visible transfer" of projects to Iraqi control. A May update to the "Money as a Weapon System" manual tells commanders to work directly with the local government to guarantee that Iraq will accept the work once it's done.

The problem is persistent. Earlier this year, in the northern province of Irbil, two schools reviewed by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction included no provision for handover to the provincial government.

Last year, auditors found that a water treatment plant near Mosul that had been repaired with $237,000 in CERP funds and then transferred to the local government was not working months later because it had no electricity.

At a sewage treatment plant in Baghdad, the inspector general's auditors found that when a new U.S. commander arrived in the area and discovered that the plant had no power, he would use CERP money to pay for a generator. That happened three times.

(If it walks like a racket....)

"So at the end of the day, they've paid for the same generator three different times," said Cruz, the deputy inspector general for reconstruction. "Nobody's been there long enough to follow through."

When auditors for the Government Accountability Office surveyed commanders, they were told that many projects executed by their predecessors had been abandoned by the Iraqi government, been vandalized or simply disappeared. There is no requirement for regular monitoring of earlier projects, the GAO said, so there was no way to assess the success of the projects.

"We're Army guys," said Strickland, who helped distribute CERP money in Ramadi. "We're not civil engineers. We're not economists. We can't gut-check a lot of these programs."

"It's not their mission," said Gordon Adams, a former top international relations official for the Office of Management and Budget who has testified recently before Congress on Iraq reconstruction efforts. He said he doubts that the military should ever build schools or health clinics or other facilities that don't contribute to security improvements. "They've got a fairly Wild West approach to development. . . . If you build a clinic, that clinic needs medical support; it needs supplies. In six months, how is that going to be provided? It's not long-term development, to the degree it's development at all."

Question: Are there any grown-ups in charge?

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