November 01, 2006

Stoking The Fires In Iraq

[Updated below]

OK, everybody, it's time to play with numbers again.

Rumsfeld says that Iraq will build up its security force beyond the current end-of-year goal of 325,000 (a number which is now considered inadequate). Rumsfeld says the move is based on recommendations from both Iraq's government and US General George Casey. Rumsfeld declined to specify the size of the increase, but it seems another 100,000 soldiers and police officers will be added, bringing the total to 425,000.

The increase is designed to halt spiralling levels of violence. U.S. intelligence sources claim that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki is telling his inner circle the situation is "nearly out of control."

So will the increase in troops solve the problem? Will the US be able to train the Iraqis quickly enough, before things get even worse?

Or will the additional forces actually contribute to a further deterioration? Given the desertion rates among Iraqi police and soldiers, some say the US is actually training and arming insurgents. And take a look at this WaPo story:
"How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don't even trust them not to kill our own men?" asked Capt. Alexander Shaw, head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a Washington-based unit charged with overseeing training of all Iraqi police in western Baghdad. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we're ever going to have police here that are free of the militia influence." ...

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."
And speaking about brass in pocket, what about the financial cost of expanding Iraqi forces? The Pentagon's own Inspector General thinks the Iraqi's won't even be able to pay their soldiers next year:
"It's going to take $3.5 billion to sustain the Iraqi Army next year, and we’re unable to uncover information in the course of the audit to indicate that Iraq was ready to sustain that burden."
Hmmn, angry, unpaid soldiers on the streets with guns - that doesn't sound good, does it? Wasn't that the very reason they gave for disbanding the old Iraqi Army in post-Saddam Iraq?

And of course, more Iraqi troops means more US troops to watch over them:
Increasing the size of the Iraqi security forces would also mean more American soldiers would be needed to train and advise them. The United States is also considering doubling from 12 to 25 the number of American advisers embedded in each Iraqi unit.
US forces in Iraq stand at around 150,000, the highest level this year. Where are the new troops coming from? Who is paying for them?

And while we are talking numbers, let's not forget the paid Western mercenaries:
There are three British private security guards to every British soldier in Iraq, the charity War on Want said yesterday. At least 181 private military and security companies are operating in the country, employing almost 21,000 British private security guards, nearly half of the total number - an estimated 48,000.

Foreign contracts by British private security firms are now worth about £1bn a year, according to the companies
There is a serious lack of reliable information about these companies' activities. These mercenaries are lawless killers, protected from prosecution under Order 17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority, issued just before it left power in 2004. The companies include:
Aegis, which won a multimillion pound contract from the Pentagon to provide security in Iraq, saw its turnover increase from £500,000 in 2003 to £62m last year.
ArmorGroup, a British company, trebled its turnover from £37m in 2001 to £122m.
DynCorp: in Afghanistan, 150 employees of the US company DynCorp are protecting president Hamid Karzai.
Blackwater has won contracts in Iraq and to combat opium cultivation in Afghanistan.
Control Risks has contracts with UK and US agencies, including the Foreign Office, to provide security in Iraq.
It would be nice to think that one day we will all find out what these people have been doing in Iraq. But chances are we never will.

UPDATE: The Guardian story above included this para:
However, there is a lack of reliable information about the companies' activities. Speakers at the conference of the British Association of Private Security Companies claimed that what they described as the "Iraqi bubble" had burst and there may now be only 10,000 private guards in Iraq.
I didn't believe the 10,000 figure. But now comes this news via Josh Marshall:
I think this is what's called a bad sign (from the AP) ...
Manhattan security company Kroll has withdrawn its bodyguard teams from Iraq and Afghanistan after it lost four workers in Iraq, its parent company said Wednesday.

Michael Cherkasky, president and chief executive of Kroll owner Marsh & McLennan Cos., told The Associated Press that the business in the two countries wasn't worth risking the lives of their employees.
Too dangerous for the hired paramilitaries.

Late Update: Apparently Bechtel has just announced they're pulling out too.

Iraq: Not secure enough for mercenaries. Helluva job.
As I understand it, these mercenary companies typically hire tough ex-soldiers and the like, with huge pay-packets in exchange for signed no-liability contracts. In other words, the company has nothing to lose financially if a mercenary dies, although there may be a price in messed-up operations and/or prestige (if that matters to them). It sounds to me like it is the mercenaries themselves, rather than the companies which hire them, who are deciding that Iraq today is not worth the risk at any price. Or maybe - not likely, but maybe - even hardened killers are deciding that further support for this brutal, illegal occupation is just morally indefensible.

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