Archive for the ‘War on Terror’ Category

On the doing of body counts

The quote for the day –

Lieutenant General Tommy Franks, who led the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan during his time as head of US Central Command, once announced, “We don’t do body counts.”

He, of course, had nothing on a certain former first lady:


But back to the story.

… five years after Bush and Tony Blair launched the invasion of Iraq against the wishes of a majority of UN members, no one knows how many Iraqis have died. We do know that more than two million have fled abroad. Another 1.5 million have sought safety elsewhere in Iraq. We know that the combined horror of car bombs, suicide attacks, sectarian killing and disproportionate US counter-insurgency tactics and air strikes have produced the worst humanitarian catastrophe in today’s world. But the exact death toll remains a mystery.

There is no shortage of estimates, but they vary enormously. The Iraqi ministry of health initially tried to keep a count based on morgue records but then stopped releasing figures under pressure from the US-supported government in the Green Zone. The director of the Baghdad morgue, already under stress because of the mounting horror of his work, was threatened with death on the grounds that by publishing statistics he was causing embarrassment. The families of the bereaved wanted him to tell the truth, but like other professionals he came to the view that he had to flee Iraq.

An independent UK-based research group, calling itself the Iraq Body Count (IBC), collates all fatality reports in the media where there are two or more sources as well as figures from hospitals and other official sources. At least four household surveys have been done asking Iraqis to list the family members they have lost. The results have then been extrapolated to Iraq’s total population to give a nationwide estimate.

The results range from just under 100,000 dead to well over a million. Inevitably, the issue has become a political football, with the Bush administration, the British government and other supporters of the US-led occupation seizing on the lowest estimates and opponents on the highest.

It is a long and fantastic article about the trouble involved in trying to get estimates of dead civilians when the corporation making them won’t co-operate. For those of you who’ve not been to the site of the Iraq Body Count, you really should:

247 dead: Last week’s death toll (as counted by Iraq Body Count)

Monday March 10 – 34 dead
Including Dr Khalid Nasir, the only neurosurgeon in Basra; sheikh Thair Ibrahim and his five-year-old niece, killed by a female suicide bomber; 10 people killed by a suicide bomber; and a mother and son killed by gunmen.

Tuesday March 11 – 90 dead
Including a couple kidnapped the week before; 16 members of a family returning from a funeral, killed by a roadside bomb; three killed in a US air strike; and 20 people whose bodies were found in a mass grave.

Wednesday March 12 – 24 dead
Including a 10-year-old girl killed by US forces; five shot and beheaded at a checkpoint; and three truck drivers killed in a roadside bomb.

Thursday March 13 – 39 dead
Including a journalist killed by gunmen; 18 people killed by a car bomb in Baghdad; a 15-year-old girl shot dead by police; and Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.

Friday March 14 – 15 dead
Including ex-footballer Munther Khalaf, killed outside his home by a group of armed men; a street sweeper killed by a roadside bomb; an Iraqi interpreter, killed by a suicide bomber; and the son of the chief of al-Kharaj tribes, killed during a raid by joint forces.

Saturday March 15 – 19 dead
Including Hussein Awda, killed by gunmen; three brothers; and an Iraqi contractor, Athir Ibrahim.

Sunday March 16 – 26 dead
Including two policemen killed in an armed assault and 16 others whose bodies were found, including that of an 11-year-old boy. is another site worth visiting. Amongst other things, it might just remind you of how many non-civilians have died, also (since surveys here in the US show fewer people than ever know these numbers – rather relevant ones, one would think – 3988 confirmed by the DOD, by the by):

people press

The cost-effectiveness of capturing Osama bin Laden

So here’s an idea. I’m a fairly economic-evaluationish kind of Economist, Econometrician, Health Economist, etc. It’s a problem-viewing paradigm that appeals to me greatly – I’m a dismal scientist.

So I was reading the Guardian article about Morgan Spurlock’s latest film, Where In The World is Osama Bin Laden?. The piece remarked, in passing, upon bin Laden’s still-USD25m ‘bounty’:

FBI wanted poster

Here’s the idea: assume that you had no advantage over the average person, with respect to the location, pursuit or capture of Osama bin Laden.

Suppose, though, that what you did have was USD25m. Including search costs, travel, materiel, discounting for risk/danger: would it be cost-effective to go after Osama bin Laden? If you could do it for exactly USD25m you’d come out even, monetarily – the danger would make it not cost-effective (because the USD25m reward is worth less in expectation – particularly if there’s a risk of death), but the cache of being the person who captured bin Laden might make it cost-effective even at a higher cost than USD25m (i.e. how much would you be willing to pay purely for that infamy?).

Could an ordinary person go after, and bring in, Osama bin Laden, for that amount of money?

LFA Sonar: executive orders trump marine conservation

I’ve been at this for a while (see here, here and here). Seems President Bush always has the taking-the-ball-home-with-him approach to Democracy in his back pocket.

President Bush exempted the Navy from an environmental law so it can continue using sonar in its anti-submarine warfare training off the California coast – a practice critics say is harmful to whales and other marine mammals.

The Associated Press should bloody well know that it is not critics alone who make such a claim: by all accounts everyone accepts the damage. Some people just don’t care.

Looks as though is yet not the end of the affair (which is, of course, good):

The decision drew immediate criticism from environmentalists who had fought to stop the Navy’s sonar training.

“The president’s action is an attack on the rule of law,” said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “By exempting the Navy from basic safeguards under both federal and state law, the president is flouting the will of Congress, the decision of the California Coastal Commission and a ruling by the federal court.”

NRDC spokesman Daniel Hinerfeld said the group would be filing papers with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later Wednesday or Thursday to challenge Bush’s exemption.

This idea of an “attack on the rule of law”. In a previous post, I discussed those rules and laws. Specifically, here is a section of the law (the Marine Mammal Protection Act, among others) that Bush is attacking:

The Congress finds that —

  1. certain species and population stocks of marine mammals are, or may be, in danger of extinction or depletion as a result of man’s activities;
  2. such species and population stocks should not be permitted to diminish beyond the point at which they cease to be a significant functioning element in the ecosystem of which they are a part, and, consistent with this major objective, they should not be permitted to diminish below their optimum sustainable population.

Further measures should be immediately taken to replenish any species or population stock which has already diminished below that population. In particular, efforts should be made to protect essential habitats, including the rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance for each species of marine mammal from the adverse effect of man’s actions;

I would remind you that, as a law, this passed both houses of the legislative branch of government, plus the executive branch (of it’s day, although amendments subsequent to that have also passed). That one Executive Order from one dry-drunk dodgily-elected president can even be supposed to be able to undo such is kind of embarrassing. That’s not really big-d Democracy, you know.

Here’s a reminder of the effect:

I should think almost anyone living in a city can appreciate how many millions of miles they are from truly understanding the pain this must cause an innocent mammal (just thought I’d throw that in). It most certainly affects more than ‘just’ whales, too.

Violence and Excess Mortality in Iraq

Yes, yes, I know – shouldn’t all mortality be excess? No – this refers to the mortality rates that the invasion/occupation hath wrought, above and beyond the ‘ordinary’ rates of mortality in Iraq. The New England Journal of Medicine is sporting two papers on the subject: Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2002 to 2006, by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group; and Estimating Excess Mortality in Post-Invasion Iraq, by Browstein, Catherine A. and John S.

Mortality in Iraq by cause, from the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group (click for larger version):

NEJM pic

It’s Iraq: it’s not suprising to see mortality escalate – but, honestly, Road Accidents and Unintentional? Surely that’s a bit much.

Excess mortality (per 100,000 population), same:

NEJM pic

The Iraq Family Health Study Group are fairly open about their measurement issues (recall bias is always a problem in household surveys, with or without holistically-debilitating armed conflicts). The Brownstein and Brownstein paper is survey methodological, and says much the same:

There is no set formula for accurately tallying deaths from humanitarian crises. When a population becomes destabilized, estimation of mortality is likely to be severely challenged. In the case of a sudden traumatic event, such as a natural disaster affecting an otherwise stable population, health and human service agencies, though compromised, may well be able to facilitate an accurate assessment of deaths through the use of prospective registries of vital events.

In the event of a military invasion and ongoing war, however, the likelihood of obtaining good demographic data plummets. A death registry is unlikely to be developed or maintained, and as conditions deteriorate, it may become increasingly unlikely that bodies can be counted at all. In Iraq, there is also a strong cultural imperative that bodies be put to rest quickly, which may affect the ability to arrive at accurate estimates.

Although sentinel populations are commonly monitored to rapidly estimate mortality in developing countries when a registry is not available, the impossibility of finding reliably representative populations in countries engaged in armed conflict and the absence of an accurate population count make it difficult to extrapolate from the rates at sentinel sites to produce reliable national estimates.

They – and the IFHS – discuss the clear variation in mortality estimates between this article, the numbers from the Iraq Body Count people and the widely-publicised results from the paper Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey (Burnham G, Lafta R, Doocy S, Roberts L. Lancet 2006;368:1421-1428). Wikipedia too has an excellent page concerning the Lancet mortality studies.

Ultimately the problem won’t go away – this section, from the Brownstein’s paper, is brilliant:

Under the current conditions in Iraq, it is difficult to envision a study that would not have substantial limitations. The circumstances that are required to produce high-quality public health statistics contrast starkly with those under which the IFHS study group worked. Indeed, it must be mentioned that one of the authors of the survey was shot and killed on his way to work

It’s certainly worth having more studies. More information is always going to help stabilise estimates in the face of such uncertainty as this.

Violence in Iraq, too

Statistical update on the previous Iraqi fatalities post.

According to figures released Monday by the Iraqi government, 16,232 civilians, 432 soldiers and about 1,300 Iraqi policeman died in 2007. The previous year, according to the figures compiled by the health, defense and interior ministries, 12,371 civilians, 603 soldiers and 1,224 policeman were killed.

The government’s figures were roughly in line with a count kept by The Associated Press, which found that 18,610 Iraqis were killed in 2007. In 2006, the only other full year an AP count has been tallied, 13,813 died.

Bollocks. Of course, I’m left-wing: according to the freaks that sent us to Iraq, I love the body-count (three cheers for those people getting jobs at the New York Times. Formerly known as the Newspaper Of Record. Now, any dead fish with any self-respect at all would reject it).

So, Iraqi civilians and police fatalities up for the year, troop fatalities down. Domestically, I would expect this one to be called a win. To be fair, and this was the same caveat I entered last time, also: the numbers do appear to be trending downwards (weakly – bear in mind we don’t have much with which to work. I wouldn’t start insisting things like surges are or are not working):

Click for larger versions. All the data comes from

icas US

icas Iraqi Civ

icas civilians

It is a trend matched in the unconscionably forgotten theatre of this foolish also, Operation Enduring Freedom. Or enduring something, at any rate.

i casOEF

They ( also have a neat series of retrospectives. I shall be interested to see the next one.

Inflation in Iraq

Thanks to the blog Opit (whom I believe has new digs over at Opera) for this one – he posted it in response to the post about malnutrition in Africa.

From Yahoo, originally from the Inter-Press news service (who also have article running at the moment that details 2007 being the worst year yet for Iraq):

The Iraqi government announcement that monthly food rations will be cut by half has left many Iraqis asking how they can survive.

The government also wants to reduce the number of people depending on the rationing system by five million by June 2008.

the U.S.-backed Iraqi government has announced it will halve the essential items in the ration because of “insufficient funds and spiralling inflation.”

The cuts, which are to be introduced in the beginning of 2008, have drawn widespread criticism. The Iraqi government is unable to supply the rations with several billion dollars at its disposal, whereas Saddam Hussein was able to maintain the programme with less than a billion dollars.

“In 2007, we asked for 3.2 billion dollars for rationing basic foodstuffs,” Mohammed Hanoun, Iraq’s chief of staff for the ministry of trade told al-Jazeera. “But since the prices of imported foodstuff doubled in the past year, we requested 7.2 billion dollars for this year. That request was denied.”

The trade ministry is now preparing to slash the list of subsidised items by half to five basic food items, “namely flour, sugar, rice, oil, and infant milk,” Hanoun said.

The imminent move will affect nearly 10 million people who depend on the rationing system. But it has already caused outrage in Baquba, 40 km northeast of Baghdad.

“The monthly food ration was the only help from the government,” local grocer Ibrahim al-Ageely told IPS. “It was of great benefit for the families. The food ration consisted of two kilos of rice, sugar, soap, tea, detergent, wheat flour, lentils, chick-peas, and other items for every individual.”

Another grocer said the food ration was the “life of all Iraqis; every month, Iraqis wait in queues to receive their food rations.”

According to an Oxfam International report released in July this year, “60 percent (of Iraqis) currently have access to rations through the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS), down from 96 percent in 2004.”

Bugger. I think I’ve made this point with regard to the Chinese government, previously: people will accept non/un/anti-democratic (or otherwise dysfunctional) government, provided that they can at least eat, live in a house, pursue their own happiness as best they can. Take that away, and people start wondering, openly, why you’re the government. In the backs of our minds, we never properly forget that we invented government.

Which would make it suck for the Iraq government. Like any other government, they’re dealing with inflation that is predominantly exogenous – they can only buy what they can afford with the money they had. The fact that Hussein managed to feed people (under wildly different circumstances) will also not help (no, all the shit Hussein also did to them does no matter, because what you and I think is irrelevant to a man who can’t feed his family. That’s just the way it is, and you’re welcome to call a jobless man with hungry children stupid and irrational and ungrateful. In fact, I dare you).

I’d also be interested to see how the US responds to this, both from their administration responsibility perspective (increase aid? Ask for more foreign support? We already saw Africa’s experience with inflation, yesterday), and from the perspective of military occupation (since this problem will also, to some extent (a) affect the costs of the US mission in Iraq, and (b) affect the angriness of the people faced by the US mission in Iraq. Especially if Iraqis decide to blame that mission for the inflation).

The marketplace for (politically acceptable) ideas

This is either about free speech, free markets or the joy of being one’s own editor. Not sure, exactly. The weird thing is, I have no problem with nanny-state laws like fines for buying your drunk friends more booze (a New South Welsh law).

To the point. From the Guardian:

… in the eyes of Denmark’s ministry of justice, Mikkelson, the 56-year-old grandfather cheerfully grilling half a dozen different kinds of sausages by the roadside earlier this week is at the very least a terrorist sympathiser. And if the Danish justice minister, Lene Espersen, has her way, soon his only contact with the culinary world will be prison rations.

Alongside Schultz and five other Danes, Mikkelson could be in jail by Christmas for his part in one of Europe’s most curious court cases: the so-called T-shirt terror trial. His crime was sticking a poster up in his van for a brand of T-shirts bearing the logos of two groups classed by the EU as terrorist organisations: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

All are members of a Danish activist group called Fighters+Lovers and are charged with “sponsoring terrorism”, a crime under post-9/11 Danish anti-terror laws that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Is this story’s setting – Denmark – being the same one as for those cartoons about Muhammed a coincidence? Who knows. Can’t they just spy on their citizens illegally, then send people off illegally to be tortured illegally (or legally, provided one is rendered extraordinarily to the appropriate country)? Honestly. Europeans. Such dramatics.

F + L seem harmless enough:


Fighters+Lovers is the brand that takes music and fashion beyond new horizons. We have a passion for change. In a world obsessed with envy and hate, Fighters+Lovers dares to speak up for brotherhood and the right to fight for what is right.

T-shirts don’t change the world. Neither does music. The world is already spinning and we simply make the tools and street gear for the creative people who make it happen. People with an attitude.

Kind of.

Fighters+Lovers is a private enterprise dedicated to the cause of freedom and hard-rocking street gear. Communication is key to any change. Fighters+Lovers aim to provide support for new equipment for radio stations and graphics workshops run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This is our tribute to these freedom fighters.

Graphics workshops? Back at the Guardian.

They believe the EU “terror list” to be undemocratic because it is drawn up behind closed doors according to unknown criteria, and say that both PFLP and Farc are not terrorists but legitimate resistance movements comparable with Denmark’s own Nazi resistance during the second world war. They say that neither group is classed as a terrorist organisation by the UK, which does not defer to the EU on such matters.

What’s more, they say, they weren’t financing any sort of violence, as the £3.50 from each T-shirt sale that would have gone to the two organisations was earmarked for “humanitarian projects” such as equipment for radio stations.

I’m okay with most of that (I’ve posted previously about Palestine). I don’t – honestly – like their shirts that much. I downloaded their music, but I wouldn’t call it “Jungle”. I respect their beliefs and their commitment to them, but they are probably pushing provocative farther than I’d go (and I’m listed on as hating America!).

Ultimately, though, I’m still mostly an economist. By their own admission, their line of clothing appears not to be getting into hands that are likely to be throwing all that many bombs:

… as the person who put together the hundreds of T-shirt orders we received from around the world before we got arrested, I can tell you that the majority of our customers were fat, old men,” she said. She knows the buyers were not hip young things because almost everyone asked for XXL size, and they had “old-fashioned names”.

I believe in the marketplace for ideas. If “the government” believes so strongly that this is somehow wrong, let them try to convince us. They’re welcome to abuse their own position as the government to criticise F + L like the mature adults we expect them to be and, having balanced the information in the marketplace, it will be up to us as consumers to make the judgment. Does such overt criticism spawn provocation and rebelliousness? Yes, of course. They may well make F + L most profitably notorious – that’s the way it goes.

This is the same all over (speaking geographically and with respect to “the issues”). I believe in gay marriage and I believe in the right to choose. These are fundamental to my notions of habeas corpus: I take it a mite further than merely having the right to have one’s body. I reserve the right to have my own mind; I reserve the right to decide for myself that which is good and bad, and I go along with the invention of Government for the specific purpose of doing the things that I and society have agreed Government should do, and for the purpose of keeping me properly informed, so that the decisions that I make are rational ones.

Other people won’t make rational choices, and that’s fine: that’s the way it goes. People will object to people buying these tee-shirts; people will object to people sending money to the Israeli Defence Force. People will object to their taxes being used to pay for the UN; others will object to their taxes being used to provide billions in aid for Israeli materiel. People object to abortion; I object to a a wombless room of men so old and corrupt they should not even be offered another term deciding what women get to do with their bodies. Do women ban men from starting wars?

So it goes. There’s a marketplace for ideas, and it should be allowed to thrive. Can a tee-shirt be doing the damage, instead of the guns, the income inequality, the land-and-water-grabs, the UN, the IMF? Spare me. NBC played the tape of crazy Virigina shooting guy – are they in gaol? F + L are in gaol, but are the companies that manufacture the weapons that do the damage in any danger of the same treatment? Do we impose sanctions on China or Russia when their guns wind up in the hands of the wrong people, while our guns are going into the hands of the right people? We do none of these things. Who are we to judge? Like any intervention by Government, this should be recognised – and evaluted – as such. This one is not warranted; it was not requested; it does not benefit us (or, rather, the Danes).

Does this all mean gets shut down for this tee-shirt?


Does it mean I go to gaol for wearing my copy of it?

And at the end of the day, if one cannot wear their politics on a tee-shirt, what is the point of having politics at all?

Iraqi returnees, statistics and those damn lies again

An update on returning Iraqi refugees, by way (for a rare change) of the New York Times.

Under intense pressure to show results after months of political stalemate, the government has continued to publicize figures that exaggerate the movement back to Iraq and Iraqis’ confidence that the current lull in violence can be sustained.

On Nov. 7, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, the Iraqi spokesman for the American-Iraqi effort to pacify Baghdad, said that 46,030 people returned to Iraq from abroad in October because of the “improving security situation.”

Last week, Iraq’s minister of displacement and migration, Abdul-Samad Rahman Sultan, announced that 1,600 Iraqis were returning every day, which works out to a similar, or perhaps slightly larger, monthly total.

But in interviews, officials from the ministry acknowledged that the count covered all Iraqis crossing the border, not just returnees. “We didn’t ask them if they were displaced and neither did the Interior Ministry,” said Sattar Nowruz, a spokesman for the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.

As a result, the tally included Iraqi employees of The New York Times who had visited relatives in Syria but were not among the roughly two million Iraqis who have fled the country.

The figures apparently also included three people suspected of being insurgents arrested Saturday near Baquba in Diyala Province. The police described them as local residents who had fled temporarily to Syria, then returned.

Some Iraqi lawmakers said that overly broad figures were being used intentionally.

A United Nations survey released last week, of 110 Iraqi families leaving Syria, also seemed to dispute the contentions of officials in Iraq that people are returning primarily because they feel safer.

The survey found that 46 percent were leaving because they could not afford to stay; 25 percent said they fell victim to a stricter Syrian visa policy; and only 14 percent said they were returning because they had heard about improved security.

Underscoring a widely held sense of hesitation, many of those who come back to Iraq do not return to their homes. Clambering off the bus on Sunday, a woman who gave her name as Um Dima, mother of Dima, said that friends were still warning her not to go back to her house in Dora, a violent neighborhood in south Baghdad. So for now, she said, she will move in with her parents in southern Iraq.

Just like the Herd said: never trust a cop, a politician or a tv set.

Violence in Iraq

The Financial Times (and just about everybody but the Huffington Post) is carrying the story of declining violence in Iraq:

Violence in Iraq has fallen at a rate that has surprised military commanders and even one of the architects of the “surge” that boosted US troop numbers in the country this year, according to figures gathered by the US.

The figures show the numbers of suicide attacks, roadside bombings, mortar and other attacks on US forces and on the Iraqi population have more than halved since 30,000 extra troops in June.

The US military says the number of civilian deaths has also fallen 60 per cent since the surge took effect, with a drop of 75 per cent in Baghdad. According to, the average monthly US death toll dropped from 96 for the first half of 2007 to 66 in the past four months. The average monthly death toll for Iraqi civilians and security forces has dropped from 2,157 to 1,223 in the same period.

One must be hesitant to take such statistics at face value, of course. Besides the incredible violence of the period with which this is being compared (although, “improvement” is fine, so long as nobody starts talking about “success”, as US deaths march on towards 4,000).

This is still, loosely, the same crowd that was happy to define murder as sectarian if the bullet went in the back of the head, but plain old murder otherwise. There are lies, damn lies, statistics, and then there is a military industrial complex trying to sell you a broken war and keep making money while we run out of heating oil and poor kids still can’t read.

Some such scepticism (thank you again, Inel) is noted by the FT:

… some experts are less convinced. Anthony Cordesman, a defence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the statistics did not capture the true picture of violence in Iraq.

“The [numbers] that the coalition counts tend to omit most of the violence in the south, which is Shiite-on-Shiite, and lower-level tensions between Arabs and Kurds. It also doesn’t seem to count Sunni-on-Sunni unless it is al-Qaeda versus anti-al-Qaeda.”

One wonders if such people also serve in police forces where black-on-black gang violence (or gang-on-gang gang violence, to keep with the times) isn’t considered a policing problem.

We cannot say “violence is down”, when we are measuring only violence from certain people towards certain other people, or in certain other areas. We also aren’t measuring all of the things towards which people are violent, to wit: infrastructure. Around this time, last year, the BBC ran a similar discussion, wherein they mentioned two other signals: insurgent attacks against infrastructure:

BBC graph1

which, when added, showing “violence” still on the up, and displacement of Iraqis fleeing said violence. Now, post-surge, if you will, kind-of-better-but-still-typically-mixed news:

Iraqis return home ‘in thousands’

An estimated 1,000 people a day are returning across Iraq’s borders having previously moving abroad to escape the violence, Iraqi authorities say.

Most of the returnees are coming from Syria – and very few from Jordan, where better-off refugees tended to go.

Why mixed? Well, that social gradients to returnees is going to be a factor:

One factor in their return is likely to be a sharp and sustained drop in all kinds of violence, particularly in parts of the capital Baghdad, following a US-Iraqi military “surge”. But the stream of returnees from Syria is not being matched by return traffic from Jordan, where there may be as many as a million Iraqi refugees.

That is probably because those in Syria are poorer, so their savings have run out more quickly, says the BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad. Syrian authorities, who have seen the country’s population swollen by up to 10% by the flood of Iraqi refugees, have begun imposing visa requirements.

Iraqi authorities, for their part, have been providing incentives for refugees to return, such as free bus rides from Syria. They have also tried to encourage those Iraqis displaced inside the country – who constitute about half the total – to return to their homes by offering families grants of $800 to do so.

So far 4,700 families have taken up the offer with another 8,500 registered for them. But not all the returnees are confident the security improvement is permanent.

A separate piece by the BBC a couple of weeks ago is more positive. They are also realistic, though, which is something the engineers of the occupation may not be. Not to mention a civilian government more prone to asinine displays of childish triumphalism than to government (one wonders what they think, now, of parading around with their purple fingers). I’d like to see some figures on the infrastructure either still being destroyed, or destroyed over the last year, particularly right after the escalation in violence during the late summer.

My interest is in terms of economic development. The more Iraqi infrastructure is destroyed, the more reconstruction will cost, certainly, but the longer it will take to rebuild human and social capital, and to return to any sort of path of economic development – and I just don’t trust the government that sent Paul Bremer there to rip that rug out from under Iraqis once before to do all that much to help. Meanwhile the US State Department can’t get people to go to Iraq at all, let alone the best and brightest needed to put Iraq on the best footing for future economic recovery and growth.

Finally, while we look at rogue pictures of be-flagged coffins and ask ourselves if it was worth it. We went there, uninvited. Frankly, we get (collectively) what we deserve, even though most people are getting, disproportionately, what a relative few people deserve. Still, we’re not the ones doing close to the suffering:

BBC graph2

While those numbers are also way down (finally), civilian fatalities since January 2005 are still 38,712; Iraqi police fatalities are 6,358 – and those people aren’t coming back. Quite an enterprise.

First Kuwaiti update

Which is to say, an update on the story that contractor First Kuwaiti had used kidnapped labour to build the Mother Of All Embassies. Still very little has come out, but Rolling Stone put me onto the fact that the Justice Department is having at it, now:

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal probe into the awarding of the contract and related subcontracts in the troubled construction of the massive $736 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, according to sources and congressional testimony this week.

The probe came to light Wednesday during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing into the actions of State Department Inspector General Howard J. Krongard. Though lawmakers appeared careful not to mention names of people under investigation, Krongard mentioned two people during his testimony, both of whom are key figures in the building of the embassy, as he defended his practice of meeting with people under investigation.

Krongard also said Justice has “three investigations” involving Iraq, apparently referring to previously reported probes into alleged labor trafficking by First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co. — the construction company awarded the embassy contract — and alleged weapons smuggling by Blackwater Worldwide, which supplies security for the State Department.

Back at Rolling Stone; Krongard is the fellow investigating Blackwater – the company his brother runs (no, you can’t make this up, can you?):

State Department inspector general Howard ‘Cookie’ Krongard has come under fire for attempting to investigate Blackwater, while his brother ‘Buzzy’ — the former number three at the CIA — serves on the board.

But this simple conflict of interest — and Cookie’s inconsistent answers to congress about it — is hardly his worst sin. As I described in “Bush’s Lapdogs” — Rolling Stone’s look at the rampant cronyism and incompetence of the Bush inspector generals — Cookie headed up the State Department’s investigation of whistle-blower accusations of trafficked labor being used to build the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Krongard — in what investigators told me was a breach of every conceivable protocol in a case like this — took on the ‘investigation’ himself. But he gave the contractor, First Kuwaiti, several month’s advance notice of his visit. He let the contractor select the six employees he would interview semi-formally. His evidence gathering consisted of chickenscratch notes “on the backs of things” because he didn’t want people to feel “uncomfortable.”

He then published an informal report whitewashing the whole incident saying he found nothing to validate the descriptions of whistleblowers like Rory Mayberry, who later testified to Congress of having witnessed Filipino workers — who thought they were headed to Dubai to work on hotels — instead having their passports seized and getting stuck on a plane and flown at gunpoint to Baghdad.

Hey – it sure seems to me that we’re the people to go around lecturing the world on transparency and keeping out corruption.