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OpEd Pieces by Barry Lando

A true accounting of U.S. 'forces' in Iraq
The Globe and Mail, December 28th 2006, Thursday
-By Barry Lando

What is striking about the current debate in Washington - whether to "surge" troops to Iraq and increase the size of the U.S. Army - is that roughly 100,000 bodies are missing from the equation: The number of American forces in Iraq is not 140,000, but more like 240,000.

What makes up the difference is the huge army of mercenaries - known these days as "private contractors." After the U.S. Army itself, they are easily the second-largest military force in the country. Yet no one seems sure of how many there are since they answer to no single authority. Indeed, the U.S. Central Command has only recently started taking a census of these battlefield civilians in an attempt to get a handle on the issue.

The private contractors are Americans, South Africans, Brits, Iraqis and a hodgepodge of other nationalities. Many of them are veterans of the U.S. or other armed forces and intelligence services, who are now deployed in Iraq (and Afghanistan and other countries) to perform duties normally carried out by the U.S. Army, but at salaries two or three times greater than those of American soldiers.

They work as interrogators and interpreters in American prisons; body guards for top U.S. and Iraqi officials; trainers for the Iraqi army and police; and engineers constructing huge new U.S. bases. They are often on the front lines. In fact, 650 of them have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

Their salaries, are, in the end, paid directly by the U.S. government - or tacked on as huge additional "security charges" to the bills of private American or other contractors. Yet the Central Command still doesn't have a complete list of who they are or what they are up to. The final figure could be much higher than 100,000.

The U.S. Congress, under Republican control until now, knows even less.

Yet these private contractors man their own helicopters and Humvees and look and act just like American troops.

"It takes a great deal of vigilance on the part of the military commander to ensure contractor compliance," William L. Nash, a retired general, told the Washington Post. "If you're trying to win hearts and minds and the contractor is driving 90 miles per hour through the streets and running over kids, that's not helping the image of the American army. The Iraqis aren't going to distinguish between a contractor and a soldier."

But who, in the end, do these contractors answer to? The U.S. Central Command? Their company boss? Or the official they've been assigned to protect?

A recent case in point: The former Iraqi minister of electricity, who had been imprisoned on corruption charges, managed to escape in broad daylight in the heavily fortified Green Zone. Iraqi officials claim he was spirited away by contractors from a private security detail that had been hired when he was minister.

Which raises another question. Who has jurisdiction over these private contractors if they run afoul of the law in Iraq? Also, are they supposed to follow the Geneva Conventions? Or George W. Bush's conventions?

For instance, according to The New York Times, although 20 civilian contractors working in U.S. prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq - including Abu Ghraib - have been charged with mistreating prisoners, none has ever been successfully prosecuted.

Another point, which brings us back to the discussion about increasing American troop levels in Iraq: It would seem that the Pentagon could outsource a "surge" by a simple accounting sleight of hand, quietly contracting for another 10,000 or 20,000 mercenaries to do the job, and the Congress and press would be none the wiser.

Barry M. Lando, a former investigative producer with CBS's 60 Minutes, is author of Web of Deceit, which will be published in January.

 

The trial in Iraq we'll never see
The Globe and Mail, November 10th, 2006, Friday
-By Barry Lando

Even Saddam Hussein's conviction this week could not save the Bush Republicans from Tuesday's defeat in Congress. And now that they're in control, the Democrats could opt to investigate how George Bush's White House and Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon created the greatest foreign policy debacle in U.S. history. Of course, while many Americans are demanding just such a thing, there's no call for Iraq to do the same. Just the opposite.

Too bad. The special tribunal trying Saddam was an opportunity for Iraq and the rest of the world to learn who - apart from the former tyrant himself - was involved in the awful crimes against humanity that occurred during his rule. Instead, the court is being financed and advised by the very power that once armed him, encouraged him, and stymied attempts of others to rein him in.

Indeed, many of the world's leaders, past and present, could have found themselves pilloried as co-defendants, charged with complicity in the tyrant's crimes. Those foreign leaders would include, but certainly not be limited to, U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George Bush père and fils, other world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Jacques Chirac, Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, King Hussein of Jordan, and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and many of the men and women who guided their foreign policy, ran their militaries, and oversaw their intelligence agencies.

Outside the political sphere, the accused might include hundreds of U.S. and foreign businessmen, leaders of agro-business, oil tycoons, and arms merchants from across the globe who profited handsomely from doing business with Saddam Hussein. Without their sophisticated arms and massive financing, their intelligence information and diplomatic support, Saddam would never have wreaked the horrors that he did.

Such revelations, however, will not emanate from the Iraqi Special Tribunal. As established by Washington and its Iraqi allies, the tribunal has no international input and, according to its regulations, only Iraqi citizens can be charged or subpoenaed.

The question of foreign complicity had little to do with the first case against Saddam, which just ended with his conviction and death sentence. But it's certainly germane to the second trial now under way that deals with the slaughter of tens of thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s. For instance, the chemical weapons Saddam used with deadly effect were supplied primarily by French, Belgian, and German firms - often with their governments' knowledge. And though forthright U.S. action might have convinced Saddam - then America's ally against Iran - to end the slaughter, the U.S. State Department refused even to meet with Kurdish leaders who had proof of the chemical attacks. Instead, the U.S. and its allies blocked moves to condemn Saddam for his use of mustard and nerve gases.

Similar charges might arise with the next trial to be brought against Saddam (unless he is hanged in the interim): the slaughter of Shiites following the 1991 Persian Gulf war. But would the tribunal summon George Bush Sr. to ask why he called for Iraqis to rise up against Saddam in February that year, then ordered U.S. soldiers to refuse all aid to the rebels while enabling Saddam to crush them?

Saddam's invasion of Iran in 1980 will not be the subject of a trial. Not only is the issue of illegal invasions a delicate matter for the U.S., considering its own presence in Iraq, but, according to a memo from former U.S. secretary of state Alexander Haig, it was the U.S. (under Jimmy Carter) that gave Saddam the green light to attack Iran.

Over the following years, the U.S. and its allies not only provided billions of dollars in weapons to Iraq, but intelligence information that enabled Saddam to target Iranian troops with chemical weapons.

It's not just the tribunal's regulations that provide a bulwark against anything that might impugn the United States and its friends. The U.S. provides the funding and security for the tribunal, and even the forensic investigations - the excavation of mass graves and the examination of mountains of documents - are being done by U.S. investigators.

Though the timing of Saddam's conviction seemed almost scripted by Republican politicos, it's just conceivable that the man will never be executed. The appeals process may take many months and, under U.S. pressure, Iraq's governing Shiites, whether they like it or not, have to deal with the Sunnis. Though many Sunnis also despise Saddam, the former dictator has become something of a symbol of pride for them during this trial. Also, for the majority of Iraqis, life these days is far less secure than it was under Saddam's bloody rule.

Could it be possible then, that one of the bargaining points in such negotiations would be reducing Saddam's sentence - or even freeing the former tyrant? Saddam apparently thinks such deal-making is possible. Witness him in court, the day after the death sentence, playing the compassionate statesman, as he implored warring Iraqis "to forgive, reconcile and shake hands."

He might even be allowed to leave Iraq with his family and live in one of the countries that supported him during his reign.

Barry M. Lando, a former investigative producer with CBS's 60 Minutes, is author of Web of Deceit, about Saddam Hussein's crimes, to be published in January.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. and its licensors
All Rights Reserved

 

The numbers prove it -- Iraq's a civil war
What else would you call a conflict in which Iraqis are killing more than 3,000 of their own per month?
The Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2006
-By Barry Lando, a former producer for CBS' "60 Minutes," and the author of the forthcoming book "Web of Deceit" about the role of the West in Iraq.

SO IS IT A CIVIL WAR in Iraq or isn't it? By the straightforward definition — a war fought between factions or regions within a single nation — the answer seems clearly to be yes. That's why NBC and the Los Angeles Times recently decided to use the phrase to describe the ongoing sectarian conflict. It's a "fairly simple call," said the foreign editor of The Times.

But not everybody agrees. Official news releases, media reports, politicians and generals still talk of Iraq "on the brink" or "teetering on the edge." Full-scale civil war, according to these accounts, is "threatening" or "looming" or "menacing." It's a question of definitions, said a Pentagon reporter recently. According to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: "We are almost there."

I would argue, however, that by one very basic measure — the number of Iraqis killing each other — we've been there for a while, and that there's no more defining left to be done. Simply compare the grisly statistics in Iraq with figures from other conflicts that already have been certified as genuine, full-scale civil wars. Then try to argue that this isn't one. It's a difficult case to make.

Of course, there's no way one can exactly measure one "civil war" against another. Each has unique ethnic, religious and political passions fueling the particular savagery. Nor is it easy to obtain accurate casualty figures, much less comparable ones, across the years and around the world.

A study published in the Lancet last month, for example, concluded that about 650,000 Iraqis had died by violence since March 2003. But that report has been widely criticized, so let's take instead the report just issued by the United Nations, which said that 3,709 Iraqis were killed in October.

Those figures are based on statistics from the Baghdad morgue and hospitals and other morgues across the country, and overwhelmingly reflect killings carried out by Iraqis against Iraqis. Many observers believe that the actual tolls are much higher because the bodies of many of those killed never make it to hospitals or morgues, but the U.N. figure (the fourth straight month in which the number is more than 3,000) may be the best estimate we can get.

Now take the American Civil War, the tragic internecine conflict that devastated the U.S. from 1861 to 1865. Estimates of the number of soldiers and civilians who died vary widely, but the figure most often cited (by historian James M. McPherson, among others) is about 618,000 — a toll that exceeds the number of Americans killed in all its other wars, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.

In fact, though, sickness, disease and other non-battlefield factors caused 414,000 of those deaths. The number of Americans actually killed by other Americans was 204,000. Because the war went on for 48 months, that works out to 4,250 killings a month — not so many more than are dying in Iraq today.

What's more, Iraq's population today is about 25 million, or about 80% of the U.S. population in 1860. So, on a per capita basis, the monthly rate of killing during the U.S. Civil War would be the equivalent of 3,400 Iraqis being slaughtered each month — also well under the 3,709 killings that Iraq experienced in October. Admittedly, Iraqis haven't been murdering each other at American Civil War rates since the war began, but they have been doing so at least since the summer, and the deadly tempo keeps increasing. November's fatalities threaten to be even higher.

Iraq's monthly body count also has surpassed the awful statistics from the civil war that ravaged Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. That war resulted in about 100,000 deaths, according to Dilip Hiro in his "Lebanon — Fire and Embers: A History of the Lebanese Civil War." On a per capita basis, the equivalent number for Lebanon would be 3,330 a month, also well under Iraq's current rate.

Certainly Iraq's killing rate is nothing like the horrific genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in three months of genocide. Nor does it compare with the ghastly violence that convulsed the Democratic Republic of Congo beginning in 1998, in which an estimated 3.8 million people died.

The Spanish Civil War (from July 1936 to April 1939) also has a well-deserved reputation for vicious bloodletting. Estimates of the number of deaths from all causes range widely. But if we take the figure of 250,000 used by the BBC, the number of people who died works out to about 7,575 a month — roughly twice that of Iraq today.

But, at the rate things are spiraling out of control in Iraq, those differences could be erased.

 


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