Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Arms Bazaar: The New York Times takes up the story, and finds an interesting lead

Iraq Weapons Are a Focus of Criminal Investigations

BAGHDAD, Aug. 27 — Several federal agencies are investigating a widening network of criminal cases involving the purchase and delivery of billions of dollars of weapons, supplies and other matériel to Iraqi and American forces, according to American officials. The officials said it amounted to the largest ring of fraud and kickbacks uncovered in the conflict here.
The inquiry has already led to several indictments of Americans, with more expected, the officials said. One of the investigations involves a senior American officer who worked closely with Gen. David H. Petraeus in setting up the logistics operation to supply the Iraqi forces when General Petraeus was in charge of training and equipping those forces in 2004 and 2005, American officials said Monday.
There is no indication that investigators have uncovered any wrongdoing by General Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, who through a spokesman declined comment on any legal proceedings.
...
Part of the criminal investigation is focused on Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, who reported directly to General Petraeus and worked closely with him in setting up the logistics operation for what were then the fledgling Iraqi security forces.
That operation moved everything from AK-47s, armored vehicles and plastic explosives to boots and Army uniforms, according to officials who were involved in it. Her former colleagues recall Colonel Selph as a courageous officer who was willing to take substantial personal risks to carry out her mission and was unfailingly loyal to General Petraeus and his directives to move quickly in setting up the logistics operation.
“She was kind of like the Pony Express of the Iraqi security forces,” said Victoria Wayne, who was then deputy director of logistics for the overall Iraqi reconstruction program.
Still, Colonel Selph also ran into serious problems with a company she oversaw that failed to live up to a contract it had signed to carry out part of that logistics mission.
It is not clear exactly what Colonel Selph is being investigated for. Colonel Selph, reached by telephone twice on Monday, said she would speak to reporters later but did not answer further messages left for her.... (full story)

Also see:

CNN on Iraq contracting investigations

"It Was a Wal-Mart For Guns"

and our original Newsweek story on Iraq's Arms Bazaar


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Kouchner at the Quai

video

Atmospherics at the Quai d'Orsay, and a brief snippet from an interview with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner about the demise of anti-Americanism. For a fuller version of the video interview segments in English, as well as print excerpts from my hour-long conversation with Kouchner, translated from the French, see:


All the Problems of the World

After his recent visit to Baghdad, French Foreign Minister warns the world that Iraq is a problem everyone must take responsibility for. And he reaffirms France's friendship with the United States.


Columnist Raghida Dergham had an intelligent analysis of Kouchner's intiative, by the way, in a recent issue of Al-Hayat:

A change must come in Iraq, after the US commander there, David Petraeus, and the US Ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, submit a key report next month on evaluating the results of the US force surge this year, and on the political and security conditions inside Iraq. This change will not be a purely American one; there are indications that it will also be domestic, regional and international. Expressions of frustration and disappointment in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are not transitory, but a sign of the direction inside Iraq toward changing the Prime Minister, if al-Maliki doesn't produce solutions for the domestic political crises, which result from sectarian ways of thinking. The government's performance has become a dangerous obstacle, not just in the American assessment, but also according to an Iraqi evaluation, both inside and outside the government. Thus, Nouri al-Maliki will not be helped by visits to Turkey, Iran and Syria, in which he acts as if he is solving problems with the outside world, while the true crisis is domestic. Also, the timing and content of his visit to Damascus hurt him, since the visit came a few days after the random murder of hundreds of people near the Iraqi-Syrian border, in attacks using truck bombs. High-level Iraqi sources say the trucks came from Syria. These sources say that during his visit, al-Maliki only received expressions of fraternal ties and security cooperation, without guarantees, and no readiness by the Syrian regime to leave behind its basic strategy, i.e. preserving its various "cards." The more important visit was by the French Foreign Minister to Baghdad, since it marked a qualitative transformation in French policy toward Iraq, and because it expressed the new European position, which should encourage wider and deeper Arab roles in Iraq. It should also suggest to Russia to engage in another type of thinking. The door has been opened to see the issue of Iraq move from anger, objections and gloating about the negative outcomes to a new, qualitative discussion about what to do now. Certainly, the foreign minister's visit will be followed by visits to Baghdad by European ministers and officials, while leading Arab countries will enhance their diplomatic and political moves toward Iraq. This is necessary, since the autumn will see an important chapter in the future of Iraq, one that requires regional and international participation of a new, unaccustomed-to level of seriousness.

The change in the French policy has implications that go beyond the Baghdad-Paris bilateral relationship. The new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, now wants a partnership with US President George W Bush in dealing with the Iraqi issue. The previous French government put a distance between itself and Washington, not just during the fundamental dispute over the soundness of the Iraq war, but also during the period of requests for rescue from its predicament. Despite the considerable improvement in Franco-American relations in the last two years, close cooperation has been nearly restricted to Lebanon, and has not improved to the point of turning over a new leaf in Iraq.

What helped Sarkozy accelerate the new policy on Iraq is French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's relationship with that country; he has strong friendships with senior figures in the Iraqi government and, in fact, had a history of opposing the Saddam Hussein regime. He also has clear stances on American military action in Iraq, and is not against it.

Another element assisting the qualitative transformation of France's positions is the effort by Iraqi officials, with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari prominent among them, to convince France and get it involved, to constitute a point of departure for the new European policy, and to act as an incentive for countries that opposed the war to adopt a new role in Iraq today. This is in addition to the visit by the French foreign minister to Baghdad, to encourage Arab countries that have taken steps toward re-opening embassies in Baghdad to accelerate these moves, as a form of positive "embarrassment" for these states.

The issue is not merely one of exchanging ambassadors and opening embassies. It involves the orientation of countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Egypt in this direction. It is an important indicator of the degree to which these states are aware of the magnitude of letting Iraq stumble, as its Arab neighbors observe this tragedy take place. The new orientation is very positive in and of itself; to it we can add opening the door to needed regional roles, so that Iraq does not remain prey to its neighbors Iran and Syria alone. The new vision, which has produced repercussions in the last few weeks, has covered the international support to see Iraq make moves toward all of its neighbors, including Syria and Iran. According to those familiar with the initiative, it also covers the "triangle," with Iraq forming its centerpiece, while the US, and France and the UN, form its appendages.

Kouchner took with him to Baghdad a clear vision of France's role in both a European and an international framework. UN Security Council Resolution 1770, which was adopted two weeks ago, talks about expanding the UN's role in Iraq, with prior approval and an invitation from the Iraqi government. The objective of the resolution is to encourage the UN to take up political roles in issues involving a political reconciliation, the Constitution, and strengthening humanitarian roles through assistance and agencies. The importance of this lies in seeing the UN leave behind its restricted role, in Iraq, and in the political approval of countries like Russia and France for an effective role, even though the opposition to the war included France, Germany and Russia. ... (full article)


President Sarkozy makes his first major speech about foreign policy (in French).

"It was a Wal-Mart for Guns"


Glock pistol, serial number GNF 823, originally bought by the United States Government for Iraqi security forces in 2004, used to murder a Turkish supreme court justice in Ankara in 2006.

The scale of the scandal of corruption in Iraq seems almost limitless. Every week, American soldiers are killed by small arms fire, and many of the small arms in the hands of killers all over Iraq and now all over the region originally were purchased with American taxpayer dollars.

Newsweek looked at this enormous crime in the article we published a couple of weeks ago:

Newsweek: Iraq's Arms Bazaar 12 August 2007
How firearms intended for Iraqi security forces are winding up in the hands of extremists across the region.

But the problem is so extensive and so ingrained in this conflict that it's hard to encompass with a single article. This AP dispatch published on MSNBC moves a little further along the path toward the truth, but also gives a good idea why this story is so hard to report:

Iraq fraud whistleblowers vilified

Cases show fraud exposers have been vilified, fired, or detained for weeks

The Associated Press
Updated: 7:41 p.m. ET Aug. 24, 2007

One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

He had thought he was doing a good and noble thing when he started telling the FBI about the guns and the land mines and the rocket-launchers — all of them being sold for cash, no receipts necessary, he said. He told a federal agent the buyers were Iraqi insurgents, American soldiers, State Department workers, and Iraqi embassy and ministry employees.

The seller, he claimed, was the Iraqi-owned company he worked for, Shield Group Security Co.

“It was a Wal-Mart for guns,” he says. “It was all illegal and everyone knew it.”... (full article)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Homegrown Terrorists: More Mail


Police "surge" on Central Park South, August 2007


Readers continue responding to the Shadowland column on the NYPD report about homegrown terrorism. A sampling:


Name: Alice

Hometown: Bismarck ND

Comments:

Chris, we are no stronger - or safer - than our weakest link. This study rings true - but will we listen? Even when 'one of ours' is the bomber we blame other nations/ religions/cults/aliens rather than look at ourselves and what we did or did not do. We need to start taking responsibility for our problems - we cause them.

----

Name: Jim Casey

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Comments:

Mr. Dickey, Thank you for the information about how and why the NYPD investigates potential jihadists who are becoming radicalized here at home. But why the first and last paragraph? You seem extremely careful to limit your concern about the war on terror to targets at home, as if the radicalizing of terrorists abroad is not as much of a danger to us. The Hamburg cell, for example, worked in tandem with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. There are and have been and will be more than one front in this war. We cannot pick and choose them according to our partisanship, our biases, our clique, or from our cherry picked interpretations of intelligence reports or surveys. As soon as a decisive majority of Americans face the many heads of this threat, the more likely and more thoroughly will our elected officials address them all. Again, your contribution is enlightening, but there is no need to downplay one threat while addressing another. Casey in Chicago

----

Name: Karen

Hometown: New York, NY

Comments:

Christopher: Thank you SO much for this article. It is amazing that we as a people refuse to acknowledge that bombs and occupation only affect Muslims (innocent and otherwise)living in the region. I as an American look with shame at the greedy and destructive behavior of "American interests" around the world. Add to that the frivolous invasion of a nation of innocent people to take out one ugly dictator - can you imagine how frustrated a Middle Eastern person must feel? Angry.

----

Name: Seth

Hometown: Lovetssville, VA

Comments:

Your analysis of the NYPD report rasises several questions. I assume that you are paraphrasing when you state that "Communities that feel like Muslim ghettoes, isolated from the Western society and values around them, are especially vulnerable to extremism, says the report." I am sure that this is an obvious truth in Europe but I do not know of any such ghettoes in the U.S. This clashes somewhat with the report's conclusion that the terrorists are by and large middle class. I suppose a case can be made that economic integretion does not necessarily lead to cultural integration. So far successful or at least somewhat successful attacks, (World Trade Center I and II) in the U.S. have all been staged by foreign nationals. We have our share of resident crazies but they seem to be somewhat inept. The Lackawanna, Fort Dix, Portland, JFK and the Sears Tower boys have all been pretty stupid. Let's no forget Jose whatever he did Padilla and the Brooklyn Bridge. This is not to say that someone won't get lucky and kill some people. It should be pointed out that with the exception of the Sears Tower Plot recent immigrants both legal and illegal were involved. I do think that the report overgeneralizes from the European experience. We should keep tabs on recent arrivals and avoid demonizing the U.S. muslim population by stoking with fires of irrational fear.

----

Name: Jim Moser

Hometown: Crofton MD

Comments:

This does not strike me as surprising. During the 60s & 70s SDS, especially its Weather Underground contingent, and Black Panthers were also partly motivated to violence by a war half a world away. I think all these events say is that we live in a country holding diverse views, some of which are in agreement with what are nominally our enemies.

----

Name: Edward Kendall

Hometown: Hagerstown, MD

Comments:

Very disturbing! And I am extremely put out by our politicians. TV shows are portraying Muslims as terrorists & I'm beginning to think we need to do more profiling. They can not be loyal to any country because of their Theocratic beliefs. In my mind they need to be isolated in every country & marked as extremists who are trying to overthrow their government. They have one agenda, that is to kill or convert everyone to the faith.

----


Comments:

I was threatened by a jihadist cabbie in DC on my way to a White House briefing on Darfur of all things! Because I do humanitarian aid in Sudan, I was able to refute his claims.We have a LARGE problem in the US. It is a great concern.

----

Name: Abubaker Kekia

Comments:

Dear Sir, The fact of the matter is that people see the world not the way it is, but the way they are.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Princess Diana's Death, Ten Years On

Ten years ago on my birthday, August 31, the death of Princess Diana became, for several weeks, my life. I arrived at the scene of the crash in Paris shortly after it happened, and reported live over my cell phone from just outside the tunnel beneath the Place de l'Alma and then from the hospital. As luck would have it, I was the first to report official word of Diana's death, broadcast live by CNN on 17 satellites around the world.

Since then, I've been called on to report about the conspiracy theories surrounding her death, and, at least once a year, to revisit what happened that night as I saw it. The video and other links below will give you an idea.



The most recent articles:




Some earlier coverage:

Walls Within Walls

It's been a year since Dan Seidemann and I explored security barrier that winds its way around Jerusalem and through Palestinian lands of the occupied West Bank. Little has changed since then:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

An American Reporter in Paris

“Mort Rosenblum has spent his entire working life in the wider world, and "Escaping Plato's Cave" is the fruit of that vast fieldwork — passionate, timely, and original, it is a book every American should read.”
—Paul Theroux

“A great foreign correspondent draws on forty years of travels and experiences to paint a vivid picture of how America is falling short of its highest values and crippling its global leadership.”
—James F. Hoge, Jr., editor, Foreign Affairs




Mort Rosenblum is one of the best journalists I know because he's one of the best at getting to the place where news is happening, digging it out and then thinking about it long and hard enough to make some sense of it.

He also has a way of living and working that just about anyone would envy: a boat on the Seine in the heart of Paris, a house among olive groves in the south of France.

The little film above was made as an experiment with a pocket camera (a Canon SD1000) this afternoon over a delightful lunch prepared in the tiny galley of his boat by Mort's partner Jeannette. The video is crude, but does capture something of the man, his life and opinions. Of course, it also gives him a chance to plug his upcoming book, "Escaping Plato's Cave," about which more later. It will be published the beginning of October by Saint Martin's Press. - C.D.

Mort's own site, "Mort Unplugged," can be found at www.mortrosenblum.net

The Surge, the Sun and the Sand


These stunning pictures wer taken by John Moore for AP Photo during the March 2003 drive into Iraq. They're a reminder of how important weather is, not only to the fighting, but when it comes to the dying in Iraq, a subject I'll be writing about shortly on the new Newsweek International Blog, "Why It Matters." The bottom line: the death count almost always goes down at the height of the summer heat from July to September, and again during the rain and dust storms of March. - C.D.

From the "Why It Matters" blog entry:

It was 111 degrees Fahrenheit for Americans in Baghdad today (43 Celsius for the Iraqis), and it's supposed to be hotter - 117 F or 47C - for the rest of the week. That's in the shade, of course, for those who can find it. Such infernal temperatures are pretty much the same every year. Nothing is quite as predictable in Iraq as the summer heat.

But another simple fact is just as evident: the death toll among fighters tends to decline in the dog days, because nobody wants to have to do battle in that stifling air, and those who have to go into combat tend to move more slowly and cautiously.

On the other hand, to the extent public records are available on non-governmental Web sites like iraqbodycount.org and icasualties.org (the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, with which Newsweek did a major presentation on the Internet in December of last year), it seems that the civilian death toll, mainly from terrorist attacks, actually may remain high or rise in the heat of summer. Security forces are thinner on the ground. Roadside bombs can be put out at night and suicide drivers don't usually have to brave the hellish heat for very long before they punch their ticket to Paradise....

Friday, August 17, 2007

Condi, Karen and Cal

The Bush administration has never been much for public diplomacy. Its audience is always the American public, and if the rest of the world doesn't respond, then there must be something fundamentally wrong with the rest of the world. But the most recent effort to win the hearts and minds of young Muslims is so surreal that even The Daily Show failed to capture its willful weirdness.

Consider this AP dispatch from Rabat:

U.S. goes online to reach Muslim youth

By JOHN THORNE, Associated Press WriterThu Aug 16, 6:48 PM ET

The U.S. State Department chose a novel way to publicize baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr.'s appointment this week as its special sports envoy. It went on YouTube.

Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, who appears in the video, said Thursday it was part of her campaign to bring a positive image of the United States to a skeptical global audience — particularly in the Muslim world. Children are a chief target.

"It's important that we reach out to Muslim populations around the world," Hughes said in an interview with The Associated Press. She was in Morocco this week to visit a U.S.-funded summer camp for poor Moroccan children.

The best way to counter widespread Muslim distrust of the U.S. is to expose young people to American values, Hughes said. For that, she is turning to online media like the popular video-posting web site YouTube.com, which attracts the tech-savvy youths she is targeting.

"I know as a mother that by the time kids get to high school, their opinions are pretty hardened," Hughes said. "Children tend to be a lot more open-minded."

As part of the campaign, Arabic speakers on Hughes' staff also log on to the chat forums of Arabic-language blogs to challenge "representations of America that are inaccurate," she said. She said they identify themselves as members of the State Department's outreach team....

Now just take a look at the YouTube offering. For some reason best known to the NSA, I suppose, I couldn't blog it directly, but this link is good, I believe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LfZ5QHblBE

As Hughes and Condoleeza Rice gush over Ripken, Rice ventures her opinion that he'll appeal to "people who want to be Cal Ripken in Pakistan."

Excuse me. Does anybody know who Cal Ripken is in Pakistan? Does anyone at all play baseball in Pakistan? Or anywhere else in the Muslim world? Is Ripken, perhaps, inclined to take up cricket? What on earth are these people thinking?

Clearly they're not thinking at all. But that shouldn't suprise us. As Rice says in the State Department clip, public diplomacy "isn't really the work of the government," it's the work, in her view, of, well, the public.

Another home run for American policy. - C.D.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"The Devil-Worshippers"

After the ghastly bombings targeting Yazidi communities in Iraq yesterday, I pulled my well-thumbed copy of Freya Stark's "Baghdad Sketches" off the shelf. Written in the 1930s, her essays about the life and land of Iraq are almost as valuable today as they were then. Perhaps more so. (As Aldous Huxley once wrote, "old guide-books, so out of date as to be historical documents, make excellent traveling-companions." And Stark is much, much better than that.)

Years ago I had underlined several passages in the chapter "The Devil-Worshippers" about the Yazidis. "They are a peaceful agricultural people used to persecution," wrote Stark after visiting their villages and one of their shrines. "They by no means deny the orthodox saints, nor the existence of a beneficent Omnipotence above them: but they hold that the Spirit of Evil has been given a free hand in the world for the time being -- a theory which one must admit may be heard on the lips of quite respectable people of every persuasion at the present day without the necessity of a pilgrimage to Shaikh 'Adi. The Devil-Worshippers, however, introduce an Oriental touch into this blameless conservative attitude by maintaining the advisability of making up to whoever is in power."

Then, as now. But who is in power? The Yazidis could not placate such random and varied evils as exist in Iraq today. -- C.D.

Homegrown Terrorism, Homegrown Reactions



Yesterday's Shadowland column, "The Making of Homegrown Terrorists," drew rapid-fire responses from all over the United States.

A more-or-less random sampling of e-mails:


Name: Kathryn Wilcken
Hometown: Sheboygan, WI
Comments: Why are we only talking about Muslims here? How about the angry 'Christian' white males who bomb women's clinics and send death threats to doctors who provide theraputic abortions that are LEGAL under Roe vs. Wade? They're terrorists, too, and yet nobody talks about them! Timothy McVeigh was NOT a Muslim; he was an angry white male who murdered a lot of people. If you want to write an article about homegrown terrorists, then do one that includes ALL Americans, not just Muslim Americans! This piece is nothing but a racist screed against Muslims!

Name: Robert Schneider
Hometown: DeKalb, IL 60115
Comments:This a very informativ, brief summary.



Name: jimmy flaherty
Hometown: louisville, ky
Comments: Typical American racism and classism. Why am I not surprised?

Name: Timothy W. Brown
Hometown: Vine Grove, KY
Comments:"The making of the home grown terrorist" is a very exemplary paradigm of how certain groups of people can become suspectible to radicalization. But, the real danger is that hostile foreign intelligence/security services would be able to take advantage of this radicalization process in order to inflict damage upon countries in the West. The 'unremarkable' civilians would be perfect targets for foreign intelligence.

Name: Peter Olsson
Comments:In addition to 'human intelligence' we need to engage in respectful discussion, dialogue and confrontation with Muslim and Arab youths. The false theology, exegesis and misapplication of Sharia law should be vigorously challenged in ecumenical town hall and community meetings. Our communities should provide English classes and civics discussions that explore social justice and legal structures that deal with handling the irrational phenomena that tends to occur as an ordinary part of individual and group behavior among human beings. Equality of woman, respect for other religions than one's own need to be insisted upon. Active reaching out prevents enclave formation.

Name: o
Hometown: d
Comments: biggest propaganda I have ever seen

Name: D.L. Williamson
Hometown: Indianapolis, IN
Comments: People in this country seem to forget that terrorism in this country can also come in the color of WHITE and have last names like "McVeigh". They are in groups like the KKK, the "White Aryan Resistance" and all the other in-bred neo-Nazi groups in this country. Funny, how the FBI, local law enforcement amd the Department of Homeland Security have forgotten these THUGS...but I guess it is easier to do that when the TERRORISTS in question have lighter color of skin. By the way, for what it is worth , I am white.

"People" may forget, but I certainly do not. See, for instance:

Shadowland: Untrue Believers, 21 July 2005
The real global war is not between different faiths. It's against the madness of those like Atlanta bomber Eric Rudolph, who believe that their violence is noble.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Innocent Blood" in Russian


It seems about time to crank up The Shadowland Journal again, now that the French elections are long over, and the Iraqi and terrorism stories are getting ever more complicated, requiring ever more background. What better way to begin than with the announcement that my 1997 novel, "Innocent Blood," is now available in Russian?