Hard News by Russell Brown

The Bright Side of Insurgency

There was a fabulous effort leading the Herald's letters column last Thursday, under the heading 'End the Bush bashing': "Bush is an under-rated president," it read. "First, he recognised al Qaeda is an enemy without borders, so, at the same time as he ousted Iraq's tyrant dictator, he created a battlefield that flushed out al Qaeda operatives. The war against terror is going on in Iraq, and, while American casualties are a negative, insurgent casualties are a positive."

Gee. Brilliant! But clearly, I missed the memo that promised a bloody, steadily-escalating three-year war against foes we still don't really understand, the disastrous reinvention of Iraq as a jihadist training base and the continuing slaughter of innocents.

Meanwhile, Iraq's utilities have still not recovered to their pre-war level, despite billions of dollars being spent. A startling $US8.8 billion in disbursements from the Coalition Provisional Authority is unaccounted for:

Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, says $8.8 billion is unaccounted for because oversight on the part of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the entity governing Iraq after the war, "was relatively nonexistent."

The former No. 2 man at the Coalition's transportation ministry, Frank Willis, concurs. "I would describe (the accounting system) as nonexistent." Without a financial infrastructure, checks and money transfers were not possible, so the Coalition kept billions in cash to pay for its multitude of projects. "Fresh, new, crisp, unspent, just-printed $100 bills. It was the Wild West," says Willis.

And at least one "reconstruction" company, Custer Battles, appears to have been pretty much a fraud:

In a memo obtained by 60 Minutes, the airport’s director of security wrote to the Coalition: "Custer Battles has shown themselves to be unresponsive, uncooperative, incompetent, deceitful, manipulative and war profiteers. Other than that, they are swell fellows."

Instead of removing Custer Battles, the Coalition praised them and continued to give them contracts. One of those contracts involved procuring trucks for moving cash around the country — some of which were inoperative and had to be delivered via tow truck.

"I don't really know (how they got away with it)," says British Col. Philip Wilkinson, to whom the trucks were delivered. "The assumption that we had was that they had to have high political top cover ..."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post got its hands on a report produced by an 11-member House select committee of Republicans that indicates the Bush administration is capable of being just as incompetent at home as it is on its foreign adventures:

Hurricane Katrina exposed the U.S. government's failure to learn the lessons of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as leaders from President Bush down disregarded ample warnings of the threat to New Orleans and did not execute emergency plans or share information that would have saved lives, according to a blistering report by House investigators.

Speaking of which, I've been unsuccessfully looking for a torrent for the recent BBC Horizon documentary The Lost City of New Orleans. Anyone got a link? (Yeah, sure I'm going to sit tight and hope that a New Zealand channel picks it up …)

The New York Times goes troppo in yesterday's editorial:

We can't think of a president who has gone to the American people more often than George W. Bush has to ask them to forget about things like democracy, judicial process and the balance of powers — and just trust him. We also can't think of a president who has deserved that trust less.

And just when you thought it was really, really time for mobs in far-off countries to stop taking exagerrated and violent offence at the Danish cartoons, up pops another story to stir the pot: British soldiers staging a pack beating of Iraqi teenagers, complete with an almost pornographic commentary from the cameraman.

Meanwhile, yesterday's dispatch from Today in Iraq seems more endlessly grim than ever - and includes a report from Riverbend on her family home being raided.

A WMV clip purported to be a message from the Iraqi insurgency to Americans has been circulating for the past couple of weeks. I'm still not absolutely convinced it's for real, and it's strikingly naïve in places, but it's quite interesting. There's a download here and via BitTorrent. (Note that it is placed in the new free speech section of TorrentSpy created for the Danish cartoons - and note, ironically, the string of deleted comments accompanying it.)

I'll look at something completely different - and much happier - tomorrow, in the form of lovely and intriguing free music, but for now, congratulations to The Hood, who topped the Public Address Virtual Super 14 leader board on opening weekend, with 40 points, just ahead of The Dropkicks and James 'Noizyboy' Guthrie. I managed a respectable 36 points, despite having been under the mistaken impression that the Blues would have more fortitude than the Hurricanes on Friday night. Professional Hurricanes fan John Campbell currently languishes in the bottom third of the table with 26 points. If you'd like to join in, just click reply below and tell me your name. Points of interest: the list currently includes no Highlanders fans and only one girl (go Holly Walker!).

Also, if you fancy a laugh, you can pay at the door ($30) for tonight's Great Auckland Central Hero Debate, from 6.30pm at the Hopetoun Alpha in Auckland. I think I have gathered at least thirty bucks' worth of rude jokes …