Noteworthy news from around the web this week

Brookings Benchmarks“, Matthew Yglesias (11 March 2008) — Comment on “The State of Iraq: An Update“, Jason H. Campbell and Michael E. O’Hanlon, New York Times op-ed  (9 March 2008)

…Try to ask a coherent question like “is there a broadly based government that enjoys legitimacy across sectarian divides for us to support in Iraq?” and the answer is clearly “no.”

O’Hanlon concedes as much, but counters that it’s not hopeless to think that such a government might emerge if we keep sticking around and trying to cajole them. I would counter that, on the one hand, hope is not a plan and, on the other hand, that there’s nothing stopping us from “hoping for the best” in a withdrawal scenario. The tendency in the U.S. policy debate has been to assess dovish options in terms of worst-case scenarios (regional war! genocide! al-qaeda base!) and hawkish options in terms of best-case scenarios (reconciliation! a new democracy!) but this is completely arbitrary. It’s not clear that the presence of a large U.S. military force in Iraq alters the incentives facing Iraqi political actors in favor of reconciliation. …

GAO Asked to Audit Iraqi Oil Revenue“, AP (9 March 2008)

We believe that it has been overwhelmingly U.S. taxpayer money that has funded Iraq reconstruction over the last five years, despite Iraq earnings billions of dollars in oil revenue over that time period that have ended up in non-Iraqi banks,” Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John Warner, R-Va., said Friday in a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office.

From the Department of Creative Pension Plans“,  by Swopa at Needlenose — Comment on the above story.

There has been speculation among wags in Iraq (which I’m sure I’ve quoted here at least once in the past) that having built up no popular base of support during their incompetent/corrupt/etc. reign, the former-exile politicians who have dominated the post-U.S. invasion government there will go promptly back into exile as soon as the Americans stop propping them up.  Depositing billions of dollars in foreign banks suggests that they might be preparing for this eventuality.

Watch for this:  “Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents”, funded by U.S. Joint Forces Command, prepared by the Institute for Defense Analyses (their website and wikipedia entry).  All we know about this so far comes from this story:  “Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida“, McClatchy Newspapers (10 March 2008):

An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein’s regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorist network.

The Pentagon-sponsored study, scheduled for release later this week, did confirm that Saddam’s regime provided some support to other terrorist groups, particularly in the Middle East, U.S. officials told McClatchy. However, his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime.

The new study of the Iraqi regime’s archives found no documents indicating a “direct operational link” between Hussein’s Iraq and al Qaida before the invasion, according to a U.S. official familiar with the report.   He and others spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because the study isn’t due to be shared with Congress and released before Wednesday.

  • President Bush and his aides used Saddam’s alleged relationship with al Qaida, along with Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, as arguments for invading Iraq after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
  • Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld claimed in September 2002 that the United States had “bulletproof” evidence of cooperation between the radical Islamist terror group and Saddam’s secular dictatorship.
  • Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell cited multiple linkages between Saddam and al Qaida in a watershed February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council to build international support for the invasion. Almost every one of the examples Powell cited turned out to be based on bogus or misinterpreted intelligence.
  • As recently as last July, Bush tried to tie al Qaida to the ongoing violence in Iraq. “The same people that attacked us on September the 11th is a crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children, many of whom are Muslims,” he said.

… The new Pentagon study isn’t the first to refute earlier administration contentions about Saddam and al Qaida.  A September 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Saddam was “distrustful of al Qaida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al Qaida to provide material or operational support.”

The Senate report, citing an FBI debriefing of a senior Iraqi spy, Faruq Hijazi, said that Saddam turned down a request for assistance by bin Laden which he made at a 1995 meeting in Sudan with an Iraqi operative.

This sounds like interesting and valuable information, but might such news upset the peons?  Just to be safe, the “Pentagon cancels release of controversial Iraq report“, McClatchy Newspapers (12 March 2008)

The Pentagon on Wednesday canceled plans for broad public release of a study that found no pre-Iraq war link between late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the al Qaida terrorist network.

Rather than posting the report online and making officials available to discuss it, as had been planned, the U.S. Joint Forces Command said it would mail copies of the document to reporters — if they asked for it. The report won’t be posted on the Internet.

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