Tuesday, June 30, 2009
You are being lied to.
Although overshadowed in the news by jet crashes, student shootings, and Michael Jackson, today was a big day for Iraq.
A new National Holiday in fact, a three-day feast titled "Sovereignty Day".
Sovereignty Day is a result of the June 30th deadline being met for American Combat Troops to be pulled "out of the cities" of Iraq and back onto bases in the countryside.
The poor Iraqis had parades, fireworks, and vacation time to celebrate this important milestone, not realizing that their levity is based on near-complete deception.
The Iraqis think that their own police & soldiers are in charge now, that the occupation is finally winding down.
I am not making this up - I am simply not that creative nor am I a good liar.
What happened is this: the Iraqi people were told "The Americans are leaving the cities by June 30th!" and so, they think that after June 30th, they won't see convoys of huge American MRAPs anymore, they won't see Americans patrolling the streets with rifles and body armor, they won't hear helicopters buzzing overhead at 3am in support of a nighttime raid in their neighborhood.
All reasonable assumptions to make.
What the US Army really means by "Out of the Cities", is classic semantic legerdemain, not to mention bald-faced doublespeak: the US Army means that all 130,000 American troops currently occupying the country will magically transmogrify overnight from "Combat Troops" in title to "Advise & Support" troops...and that's it! We have closed most of the small patrol bases in the urban areas that we opened during the surge of 2006/2007, and we now submit a patrol schedule to the Iraqis a week in advance...and that's it! We will still do patrols in the cities, we will still be conducting raids, harassing the local police into actually doing their jobs, and getting ourselves blown up by IED's & RKG's (roadside bombs & armor-piercing grenades, the insurgent weapons-of-choice right now).
I can imagine this whole thing blowing up in our face, quite literally. No joke - the Iraqis expect us soldiers not to be showing our faces in town anymore. Oops! Sorry, Haji. We're still here, every single day. Talk about fodder for enemy propaganda. I have 6 missions coming up in the next few weeks that will require me to be in the city of Kirkuk, out talking to people, surrounded by other armed Americans in our behemoth armored trucks, just like pre-June 30th. I'm not sure how the locals are going to take it.
I'm loading more magazines just in case...
Thursday, June 11, 2009
There are several scams going on in Iraq, which waste billions in US taxpayer dollars. Not many people appear to be aware of them, so I will list them here, in no particular order.
Many of the services on Army bases (laundry, water sanitation, electrical power) are provided by American civilians, working for one of several contracting companies. KBR is the biggest company. Kellog, Brown, & Root is a subdivision of Halliburton.
Meet Steve. Steve does laundry. Steve can wear what he wants, works a 12-hour shift, and goes home to Georgia on vacation every couple of months. Steve lives for free on the base and eats sumptuous meals in the dining hall every day, no charge. Steve's security and transportation are provided by Army machine gunners and Army helicopters.
Steve receives $120,000 a year tax-free.
Meet Joe. He is a Private First Class in the US Army. Joe gets told what to wear, when to sleep (6 hours a night at most), and how to shave. Joe pulls guard-duty shifts for hours at a time in guard towers around the base. Joe belongs to a platoon that does patrols in the nearby city at all hours of the day & night, braving frequent car bombs, road bombs, and grenade attacks.
Joe’s base pay is $22,400 a year.
Check out what these other contractors make.
Air conditioner technician: $140,000/yr
Office Clerk: $90,000/yr
The Army doesn't like to sit still. During a long occupation, the various branches in the army often finding themselves casting about for something meaningful to do, something to justify their existence, something they can tabulate and gage and put in a PowerPoint presentation for their superiors.
Thus was born the "Micro-grant" program.
It goes something like this: Army units rotate in and out of Iraq too quickly to actually follow up on any long-term construction projects (This is why we haven't been able to improve the infrastructure here in 6 years. No joke - nowhere in Iraq do the people have water, electricity, and sewage at a level comparable to before the invasion). Plus we're warriors, not project managers.
So in lieu of actually managing projects to make sure they get completed, the Army gives out cold hard cash to any Iraqi who can sign their name on a piece of paper.
Iraqi Receiving a Ton of Cash for Nothing
This is called a "micro-grant" and is supposed to help locals start small businesses.
But there is no follow-up on micro-grant recipients, no gage or measure of effectiveness, no chamber of commerce to help them along. It is essentially a big cash give-away of US dollars to private Iraqi citizens.
The typical micro-grant totals anywhere from $2000-$10,000, and my current battalion processes a couple of dozen micro-grants a month. It takes an Iraqi about 2 weeks to get their micro-grant money after filling out the required paperwork.
It took my soldier PFC McGarry 8 months of repeatedly lost paperwork, bureaucratic red-tape, and stonewalling to finally get awarded his enlistment bonus of $3500.
MRAP by International, Called the "MaxPro-Plus"
When we go on patrols, we drive around in armored vehicles, naturally. The army developed a couple of armored versions of the Humvee (designated the M1114 & the M1151) to protect occupants from roadside bombs and thrown grenades and such.
These armored Humvees cost under $200,000 and protect their occupants from all but the biggest roadside bombs. They also do not provide protection from armor-piercing bombs, known as EFP's (Explosively Formed Projectiles, Iranian-made super-bombs that can pierce just about any armor we have).
Since roadside bombs have caused most of the casualties in Iraq, the Army wanted to improve the protection afforded these soldiers. Thus, the army has slowly replaced the armored humvees with MRAP's, Mine Resistant Armored Personnel vehicles.
MRAP Called the "RG-33"
MRAP's are designed with a V-shaped hull and lots of armor to deflect blasts from underneath. They work really well, and conventional roadside bombs haven't really killed anyone in an MRAP. An EFP, however, will still punch right through an MRAP and kill whoever is inside. This happened frequently in Sadr City when I was there last autumn.
A typical MRAP costs $1.2 to 1.8 million dollars EACH. So you might say "hey, it's worth the extra cost to protect our soldiers" which is undoubtedly true, but check this out: Iraqis are not a terribly dogmatic bunch - they will basically do whatever their sheikh or immediate supervisor tells them to do. It was proven during the "Surge" of 2006/2007 that the terrorists can be bought off en masse, and violence will drop. Iraqis just want a paycheck, whether it comes from the government, a terrorist organization, or a factory where they work (too bad there are so few factories in Iraq).
General Petraeus started the Awakening Program to essentially give all those unemployed Sunni Arab males who were taking money from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, a paycheck for keeping the peace instead. And Voila! Violence dropped precipitously.
So what does this have to do with MRAP's?
This: if we had understood the Iraqi mindset back in 2003, the obvious solution to the country's troubles would have been a handful of massive, shovel-ready infrastructure projects that would have employed all those disgruntled villagers and improved the country at the same time.
But the US Army doesn't get "nation building". The US Army is designed to destroy other armies, and thinks of everything in terms of armor, weapons, enemies, and PowerPoint. So the whole MRAP program spends billions of dollars on these behemoth trucks, when for the price of one of them, would-be insurgents could be put to peaceful work that would benefit their country.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Too much heat & poor drainage in my starter pots, I'm guessing.
They were doing so well for a while there.
The funny thing is, they all died within a 3-day span of one another. First, one pot would start wilting and shriveling. The next day, two more pots. By the third day, all pots, both tomatoes and peppers, were dead. Certainly not for lack of water. I hope I don't have a black thumb. I welcome any experienced gardeners who can help me diagnose the problem.
Other things that have died recently:
1) My youthful idealism
2) Any hopes I had of coming home from Iraq early
3) Plans for an early retirement
4) Dreams of rockstardom