Not to spend too much time on this NYTimes article about how the Iraqis are letting us down by being too dead, disabled, or abroad to run the cool factories and hospitals we built for them just ’cause we’re nice like that. Most of the people who read this blog probably already read that article and commented on it on a bigger blog. So here are just a few choice bits:
BAGHDAD — In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges.
But there are growing concerns among American officials that Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans have left, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and jeopardizing Iraq’s ability to provide basic services to its people.
The projects run the gamut — from a cutting-edge, $270 million water treatment plant in Nasiriya that works at a fraction of its intended capacity because it is too sophisticated for Iraqi workers to operate, to a farmers’ market that farmers cannot decide how to share, to a large American hospital closed immediately after it was handed over to Iraq because the government was unable to supply it with equipment, a medical staff or electricity.
Stuart W. Bowen Jr., inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said his watchdog agency had “regularly raised concerns about the potential waste of U.S. taxpayer money resulting from reconstruction projects that were poorly planned, badly transferred, or insufficiently sustained by the Iraqi government.”
The blame is shared, officials said. While Iraq has often been guilty of poor management, American authorities have repeatedly failed to ask Iraqis what sort of projects they needed and have not followed up with adequate training.
And whether or not the American-built health centers and power plants are ever used as intended, the American companies that won the lion’s share of rebuilding contracts from the federal government have been paid.
Exactly. They got paid, defense industry folks got rich, that’s what we went into Iraq for. Done and done.
Despite the $53 billion spent by the United States, many Iraqis have criticized the rebuilding effort as wasteful. Ali Ghalib Baban, Iraq’s minister of planning, said it had not had a discernible impact. “Maybe they spent it,” he said, “but Iraq doesn’t feel it.”
Iraqis, for whom bombed-out buildings are an unremarkable part of urban existence, also say they have seen little evidence of rebuilding.
“Where is the reconstruction?” asked Sahar Kadhum, a resident of Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. “The city is sleeping on hills of garbage.”
Indeed, despite the billions in American funds, more than 40 percent of Iraqis still lack access to clean water, according to the Iraqi government. Ninety percent of Iraq’s 180 hospitals do not have basic medical and surgical supplies, according to the aid organization Oxfam. Iraqis also have disproportionately high rates of infant mortality, cerebral palsy and cancer.
Exacerbating the problem, Iraqi and American officials say, is that hundreds of thousands of Iraq’s professional class have fled or been killed during the war, leaving behind a population with too few doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists and the like.
Buried on the second page, of course. I’d have put it in one of the first two paragraphs, personally.
Also on the subject of health in Iraq, here’s a Guardian article on a huge rise in birth defects in Fallujah.
Doctors in Iraq’s war-ravaged enclave of Falluja are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants, compared to a year ago, and a spike in early life cancers that may be linked to toxic materials left over from the fighting.
The extraordinary rise in birth defects has crystallised over recent months as specialists working in Falluja’s over-stretched health system have started compiling detailed clinical records of all babies born.
Neurologists and obstetricians in the city interviewed by the Guardian say the rise in birth defects – which include a baby born with two heads, babies with multiple tumours, and others with nervous system problems – are unprecedented and at present unexplainable.
Other health officials are also starting to focus on possible reasons, chief among them potential chemical or radiation poisonings. Abnormal clusters of infant tumours have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf – areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used.
Falluja’s frontline doctors are reluctant to draw a direct link with the fighting. They instead cite multiple factors that could be contributors.
“These include air pollution, radiation, chemicals, drug use during pregnancy, malnutrition, or the psychological status of the mother,” said Dr Qais. “We simply don’t have the answers yet.”
I am not a doctor and have no medical training, but I don’t believe that the psychological status of the mother can cause birth defects.
Falluja was the scene of the only two setpiece battles that followed the US-led invasion. Twice in 2004, US marines and infantry units were engaged in heavy fighting with Sunni militia groups who had aligned with former Ba’athists and Iraqi army elements.
The first battle was fought to find those responsible for the deaths of four Blackwater private security contractors working for the US. The city was bombarded heavily by American artillery and fighter jets. Controversial weaponry was used, including white phosphorus, which the US government admitted deploying.
Despite fully funding the construction of the new hospital, a well-equipped facility that opened in August, Iraq’s health ministry remains largely disfunctional and unable to co-ordinate a response to the city’s pressing needs.
On the bright side (just kidding, really), our system of prisons in Iraq (specifically, sweeping up every able- and semi-able-bodied male between eleven and ninety-nine years old and dumping them in a filthy jail with no recourse to the law) has been judged such a success by military commanders that they intend to do the same thing in Afghanistan. Tehran Times article here. Entire article:
Following with the trend of trying to shoehorn the dubious Iraq War strategy onto Afghanistan, the US Army says that it intends to copy its prison strategy from Iraq in Afghanistan.
Brigadier General Quantock touted the Iraqi prison system as a great success, citing the relatively small percentage of released detainees who were re-captured.
It may come as a considerable surprise that the general considers America’s prison strategy in Iraq such an unabashed success, particularly since it wasn’t that long ago that they were scrambling to reform the disastrous system.
And in fact, the recidivism numbers cited are misleading, as one of the most common complaints was that the U.S. tactic of mass arrests had led many innocent people into the prison system simply for being near a militant attack and eventually released without ever being charged with any crimes.
Moreover, Iraq’s police have long complained that the U.S. detention system, with its brutal reputation, amounts to a series of “terrorist factories” where innocent detainees and petty criminals are radicalized.
Brig. Gen. Quantock dismissed these claims and was quick to lay the blame on Iraq’s legal system. Yet if this is a problem in Iraq and will be doubly so in Afghanistan, one of the most corrupt and lawless nations on the planet.
If you’re a fan of snotty NYTimes articles where we deride the Iraqis as being inferior to us, here’s an article for you.
The same US Army that brought you the men who stare at goats is making fun of Iraqi law enforcement for spending a lot of money on bomb detection equipment the US thinks is worthless.
The small hand-held wand, with a telescopic antenna on a swivel, is being used at hundreds of checkpoints in Iraq. But the device works “on the same principle as a Ouija board” — the power of suggestion — said a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, who described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod.
Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.
The Iraqis, however, believe passionately in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives.
Dale Murray, head of the National Explosive Engineering Sciences Security Center at Sandia Labs, which does testing for the Department of Defense, said the center had “tested several devices in this category, and none have ever performed better than random chance.”
Love it! The scorn! “The same principle as the Ouija board.” What does this remind me of? Oh yeah, it reminds me of the US Department of Defense’s reliance on polygraph tests!
The accuracy of polygraphic lie detection is slightly above chance. Nevertheless, State and local police departments and law enforcement agencies across the United States are devoted proponents of this unscientific and specious device.
I don’t want to quote too much of this article here, but please read it if you are interested in how US law enforcement uses voodoo science, our modern version of phrenology.
The APA is a professional organization for polygraph examiners who have complete faith in the accuracy of the test. They have their own trade journal Polygraph in which they report scientifically worthless studies and brandish anecdotes of the wonders of their trade. The majority of these members can pride themselves on completing a 6 week to 6 month post- high school training course in the art of polygraphy. They have no formal training in medicine, psychology, physiology, or behavior; the very disciplines on which the testing is based. The majority of them cater to the legal system wherein their economic livelihood depends.
Since they are primarily paid to identify guilty suspects, motivational factors may play a part in their eagerness to find the guilty suspect. (Kleinmuntz, 1987)
The polygraph examiner likens his “skill” to that of the radiologist reading a chest X-Ray or a cardiologist interpreting an EKG. (Barefoot, 1974) This analogy is not only ridiculous but, in fact, if a medical test had a similar sensitivity and specificity to that of the polygraph examination it would simply not be used in the field of medicine. They will cite the fact that the polygraph has been used in the United States for greater than 70 years as if longevity is directly related to validity. They will state that they have personally administered hundreds or thousands of these tests, and have almost never been wrong, as if total number of tests given constitutes accuracy.
They are so convinced of the accuracy of the polygraph that they regard opponents of polygraphy as communists and do-nothing professors. (Arther, 1986) It doesn’t occur to them that someone with a Ph.D. and years of research experience, in the very subjects they ignorantly dabble in, may know something more than they do.
It is astounding that the criminal justice system has institutionalized and perpetuated a so called “technology” that lacks scientific evidence and is in fact rejected by the scientific community. It is as ludicrous as procuring the so called “love meter” machine from the amusement park which measures galvanic skin response and placing it in the courtroom. But in a backward legal system which has been known to use psychics to help with unsolved murders and has allowed the mentally retarded to serve as jurors, it is not entirely surprising.
You just have to laugh at those unsophisticated rubes in the US Department of Defense paying good money to polygraphers. As antiPolygraph.org says:
The reliability of polygraph testing for employee screening is widely disputed on scientific grounds. But many government security officials nevertheless insist on its value and utility, and the practice persists.
Significantly, the new directive tightens control over DoD agencies’ use of any “credibility assessment” technology other than the polygraph. This seems a likely reaction to the post-9/11 debacle wherein some DoD components began using Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA) to interrogate prisoners. The manufacturer of this quack device, the so-called “National Institute of Truth Verification,” has admitted in court that CVSA “is not capable of lie detection,” and the company was recently the subject of an ABC News exposÃ©. DoD eventually put an end to its use of CVSA. The new directive ensures that henceforward, DoD agencies will use only officially approved pseudoscientific techniques for “credibility assessment” purposes.
For more about what we did (wrong) in Iraq, I recommend: Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. Buy them here.