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We paid the insurgents in Iraq; it looked good in dispatches (ignore the long-term effects)

19 May 2010

Slowly the truth comes out about our awesome counterinsurgency operations in Iraq, as in this excerpt from “Aiding the Insurgency“, Luke Mogelson, The Nation, 12 May 2010 — Worth reading in full.

Last summer the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) closed one of its largest projects in Iraq, declaring that it had been a virtually unqualified success. The Community Stabilization Program (CSP), which cost $675 million over its three years of operation, has been lauded as one of the war’s most effective counterinsurgency operations. Launched in May 2006, it was USAID’s chief contribution to the Bush plan of rescuing a tailspinning military adventure with a civilian surge and increased focus on economic development.

… According to several senior military and government personnel, however, this vaunted program was responsible for sending millions of taxpayer dollars to Iraqi insurgents via a complex web of contractors and subcontractors. These sources claim that although USAID was fully aware of the problem, it delayed acting for as long as possible, unwilling to pull the plug on a program that generated propitious statistics, even when it jeopardized American lives.

… On paper the scheme was successful. By the summer of 2007, 
IRD was not only meeting its employment goals; it was far exceeding them. The problem was that the reports belied rather than reflected reality.  “It was just a sham,” says retired Lt. Col. Felix Boston, a member of a provincial reconstruction team deployed to Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district, a Shiite stronghold ruled by various militias, including Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

… {A}ccording to several embedded provincial reconstruction team members, many of these workers were phantoms, never seen by the US Army’s Dagger Brigade during its regular patrols of the area. “The numbers were so inflated,” says Boston. “They’d say 5,000, and there might have been a hundred people.”

That contractors were not employing anywhere near the number of men they claimed to be was less worrisome than where the money went. Col. Louis Fazekas, a senior governance adviser to Baghdad’s beladiya, or city planners, attended many of the meetings where contract recipients were nominated by local Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NACs). “Basically, we looked at the local council leaders like contract brokers,” he says. Intelligence reports made available to Colonel Fazekas indicated that the council in Kadhimiya was directing some contracts to militia members and that additional militia members were extorting “protection” bribes from legitimate contract winners. “We saw reports that a particular contractor was being blackmailed for a thousand dollars a day,” Fazekas says. “It was feeding [the insurgents'] ability to continue to resupply and fight against us.”

On September 1, 2007, the commander of the Dagger Brigade encouraged John Crihfield, a USAID representative, to send a letter to David Soroko, then head of the CSP. The letter described the fraud in Kadhimiya, adding this dark assessment: “The dire consequence is that American soldiers are killed attempting to secure areas being destabilized in part by misdirected American dollars.” Shortly thereafter Fazekas met with Soroko to make the same argument in person. Soroko, he says, “basically said, ‘Talk to our lawyers. We’re not going to do anything about it.'” Fazekas added, “His reports looked good, and he got lots of numbers, and [IRD] was meeting his goals.”

… Toward the end of November 2007, at Rollins’s urging, Crihfield sent a second letter, this time to Christopher Crowley, USAID’s mission director for Iraq. The letter—obtained by The Nation through the Freedom of Information Act—presented new “sensitive and disturbing information from a well-placed source” advising that as much as 40 to 50 percent of CSP funds in Kadhimiya had gone to insurgents and corrupt officials. “Our interlocutor,” wrote Crihfield, “who is favorably known to us and who we believe is in a position to become aware of the information, told us that millions of dollars from IRD’s cleaning campaigns in [Kadhimiya] are going to ‘insurgents’ and to corrupt NAC and IRD representatives.”

Five days later, USAID halted all activities in the district. Rollins believes this would not have happened had his office not become involved. USAID has declined to explain why it didn’t discontinue the campaigns until he became involved.

Afterword

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