Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rumor with a bang...

Green Zone Rumor of the Week:

The Iranians are plotting to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

What the ...?!??

Here is the reasoning: the Iranians want to preempt the Americans, whose only remaining card is to threaten the removal of Maliki’s government if he does not play ball by disarming the militias. If the Iranians go ahead and kill Maliki, then the political situation will be thrown into turmoil, and the Americans will be unable to push through a plan as ambitious as tackling the “Mahdists.”

The “Mahdists” are the part of Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army that no longer listens to him. They are infiltrated and run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. They are also responsible for the vast proportion of the reprisal killings conducted against Sunnis, as well as the recurrent confrontations with Coalition troops. The “Mahdists” call themselves the mummehidoon, literally “those preparing for the advent of the Mahdi,” or the equivalent of the Messiah is Shi'a Islam. Another role for them is to keep long-time clients of Iran’s, like the Hakim family, from veering too far off from Iranian influence. The “Mahdists” represent Iran’s most important operational assets currently active in Iraq. And it seems that Iran’s current strategy is to keep Iraq chaotic.

Maliki is more or less beholden to the Iranians, and they can exercise firm control over his affairs and watch his every move through his staff and through other acolytes of Revolutionary Guard within the Da’awa Party. But at the end of the day, Maliki is expendable. Nobody would have ever considered him for the PM slot in the first place, and his passing from the scene will leave no serious political aftereffects.

The ones left with pie on their faces would be the Americans, rendering their threats of changing the Maliki cabinet superfluous. They would have to go along with whatever Shi'a PM candidate that is hurriedly agreed upon by the political blocs, which can only come about through Iranian connivance. Hence, it is a win-win situation for the Iranians.

Recently, many talented Iraqis security officers have been getting themselves killed in southern Iraq. Some people speculate that it is the Iranians killing them off in preparation for igniting the Shi'a south against the Americans.

The Iranians are a patient people, who play their cards carefully. They are often described as a nation of carpet-weavers (knotty and intricate) and chess players (plenty of strategic posturing). But as with chess the Iranians are afflicted with a recurring desire to bring the game to “checkmate” thus securing a sudden and overwhelming victory. This really doesn’t happen that often in politics or history, and has caused the Iranians to fumble many times in the past.

The Maliki assassination is supposed to coincide with some sort of Hezbollah action against the U.S. backed Lebanese cabinet of Fouad Siniora in Lebanon and a similar Hamas stunt against Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are heavily influenced by the decision makers in Tehran.

America’s Middle Eastern strategy hinges on Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian authority. If all these places blow up in America’s face at the same time, the Bush administration would look very foolish.

Or it could be something else altogether. Maybe Maliki’s DNA tests came back positive, proving that he is indeed Jewish (check out IraqPundit’s interesting post here). The Iranians can’t possible live with that!

UPDATE: I have posted the transcript of Sunday's 60 Minutes show on corruption at Iraq's MOD within the comments sections. Fascinating stuff. In retrospect, the column I wrote back in August 2005 isn't bad. Here it is again: Rotten Fish.


Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

CBS News Transcripts

SHOW: 60 Minutes 7:00 PM EST CBS

October 22, 2006 Sunday

LENGTH: 2397 words

HEADLINE: The Mother of All Heists; Iraqi money earmarked for military supplies stolen by Iraqi officials



STEVE KROFT, co-host:

President Bush says the United States can't leave Iraq until the country can govern and defend itself. Right now, a number of inconvenient facts suggest it can do neither. Everyone knows about the deteriorating security situation, but very little has been reported about the rampant corruption that has infected a succession of Iraqi regimes. Earlier this year, Iraqi investigators told us that at least a $1/2 billion that was supposed to equip the new Iraqi military was stolen by the very people the US had entrusted to run it. It's been called one of the biggest thefts in history, the mother of all heists, and it happened right under the noses of US advisers. But neither the United States nor its allies have much of an appetite for pursuing it.

Mr. ALI ALLAWI: People have died. Monies have gone missing. Culprits are running around the world hiding and scurrying around. I have to ask myself, why has this happened? It is not every day that you get billion dollar scandals of this kind.

(Footage of Ali Allawi; Iraqi treasury building; Iraqi soldiers marching)

KROFT: (Voiceover) When Ali Allawi, a Harvard-educated international banker, took over as Iraq's minister of finance last year, he was confronted with a gaping hole in the treasury--$1.2 billion had been withdrawn by the new Ministry of Defense to supply the Iraqi army with desperately needed equipment to fight the growing insurgency. Millions had been misspent on old and antiquated equipment, and Allawi says most of the money simply disappeared.

How much to you think was stolen?

Mr. ALLAWI: I think the figure is probably between 750, $800 million.

KROFT: It's a lot of money.

Mr. ALLAWI: It is a huge amount of money by any standard, by--even by your standards. It's one of the biggest thefts in history, I think.

KROFT: Gone.

Mr. ALLAWI: Gone, yes. Up in smoke.

(Footage of Paul Bremer with new Iraqi government officials; battle in Iraq; soldiers dragging fallen soldier; soldiers in pickup trucks; soldier picking up bullets; photo of soldiers looking at equipment; footage of documents)

KROFT: (Voiceover) The story begins in June 2004, when presidential envoy Paul Bremer turned over authority to the interim Iraqi government, which would run the country until elections could be held. The insurgency was already gaining momentum, and with the newly constituted Iraqi army riding into battle in unarmored pickup trucks and scrounging for guns and ammunition, the Iraqi defense ministry went on a billion-dollar buying spree with almost no oversight. The contracts were paid in advance with no guarantees, and most of them involved a single company.

Mr. ALLAWI: They were awarded without any bidding to a company that was established a few months prior with a total capital of $2,000. So you had nearly $1 billion worth of contracts awarded to a company that was just a paper company, whose directors had nothing to do with the Ministry of Defense or the government of Iraq.

KROFT: The name of that company was Al Ain Al Jaria, which in Arabic means the ever flowing spring. Its address here in Amman, Jordan, was a post office box; its telephone number, a mobile phone.

(Photo of Naer Jumaili; footage of the Housing Bank for Trade & Finance)

KROFT: (Voiceover) The principal was a mysterious Iraqi by the name of Naer Jumaili, and a $1/2 billion in Iraqi defense funds would eventually find their way into his private account at the Housing Bank of Jordan. The exact whereabouts of that money and the whereabouts of Mr. Jumaili are presently unknown.

(Footage of Judge Radhi al Radhi with bodyguards; Radhi in office)

KROFT: (Voiceover) The person who knows the most about the case, in fact the only person who seems to be investigating it, is Judge Radhi al Radhi, Iraq's commissioner of public integrity. It's his job to prosecute official corruption in Iraq, and it may be the most dangerous job in the country. Twice tortured and imprisoned under Saddam Hussein, he now receives death threats from both the insurgents and from corrupt officials. Seven of his people have been killed.

Do you have bodyguards?

Judge RADHI AL RADHI: (Through translator) Yes.

KROFT: How many?

Judge RADHI: (Through translator) Thirty.

KROFT: Lots of people would like to see you dead.

Judge RADHI: (Through translator) I don't care. That's their problem.

KROFT: You don't care?

Judge RADHI: I do not care.

(Footage of Radhi's office; photo of helicopters; photo of men in bullet-proof vests; old ammunition)

KROFT: (Voiceover) Judge Radhi was more than happy to walk us through the case. Aside from the hundreds of millions of dollars that were stolen, Radhi says much of the equipment actually delivered to the Iraqi military was useless junk--Soviet-era helicopters, some of which were considered unfit to fly, bullet-proof vests that fell apart after a few weeks, and a shipment of ammunition so old one of the people inspecting it feared it might blow up.

Mr. RADHI: (Through translator) Instead of aircraft, we received mobile hospitals. What would an army without aircraft do with mobile hospitals? Instead of getting planes and tanks and vehicles and weapons that we needed, we got materials there really was not a big need for.

(Footage of documents; Hazem Shaalan; Ziad Cattan)

KROFT: (Voiceover) In October 2005, Judge Radhi obtained arrest warrants for some of the top officials in the Ministry of Defense, and almost all of them fled the country, including former defense minister Hazem Shaalan, who is believed to be in Europe or the Middle East. We did manage to locate one of his top deputies, Ziad Cattan, who was in charge of military procurement. We found him in Paris, happy to be there and not terribly concerned.

There is an arrest warrant out for you?

Mr. ZIAD CATTAN: Yes, I hear about that.

KROFT: If you went back to Baghdad, you'd be arrested.

Mr. CATTAN: No. Nobody will arrest me. They will kill me.

(Speaking on phone, foreign language spoken)

(Footage of Cattan; Cattan's driver's hands; Cattan; photo of Cattan with Ambassador Paul Bremer; photo of Cattan with men)

KROFT: (Voiceover) The son of a retired Iraqi general, Cattan had been living in Poland until a few days before the US invasion, running a pizza parlor in Germany and importing and exporting used cars. But his can-do attitude and ability to speak English impressed the Americans, including Ambassador Bremer, who praised Cattan in his memoir. After a few months working with the coalition on neighborhood councils, Cattan was given a position in the new Ministry of Defense.

So you were recruited for this job?

Mr. CATTAN: Yes.

KROFT: By the CPA?

Mr. CATTAN: Yes.

KROFT: By Ambassador Bremer and his aides.

Mr. CATTAN: His staff, yes.

KROFT: Did you have any experience in military procurement?


(Photo of Cattan at the National Defense University; photo of Cattan looking at book)

KROFT: (Voiceover) To make up for this obvious deficiency, Cattan was sent off to the National Defense University in Washington, DC, for a few weeks of training and eventually placed in charge of buying $1.2 billion worth of equipment for the Iraqi military.

The allegations are that $1.2 billion left Iraq...

Mr. CATTAN: Yes.

KROFT: ...to buy military equipment...

Mr. CATTAN: Yes.

KROFT: ...and only about $400 million worth of equipment came back into the country, and that $800 million somehow disappeared.

Mr. CATTAN: It isn't true.

(Footage of Cattan)

KROFT: (Voiceover) Cattan told us that the charges are politically motivated and that he can account for every single dinar.

Mr. CATTAN: All equipment with this one billion 200 million, it is nowaday in Iraq.

KROFT: It was delivered to Iraq?

Mr. CATTAN: I have the documentation. I give it to you in your hands.

KROFT: Well, this is a big misunderstanding. I mean, we're talking about $800 million.

Mr. CATTAN: Yes, it is here. I can show you. This is BTR.

KROFT: Let me see.

Mr. CATTAN: This is BTR 80 from Hungarian. This is ambulances, 2,005 production, also in Iraq nowaday. This is mobile kitchen, also in Iraq nowaday.

KROFT: Well, this isn't equipment.

Mr. CATTAN: And everybody...

KROFT: This is just pictures of equipment.

Mr. CATTAN: Yeah, but is--you can prove it if you want to do. Nobody want to prove it. That's the problem.

(Footage of documents; John Kenkel)

KROFT: (Voiceover) We took all of Cattan's documentation, had it translated into English, and gave it to Jane's, one of the world's leading authorities on military hardware. John Kenkel, the senior director of consulting, advises countries on military purchases.

If you had $1.2 billion and you were going to equip the Iraqi army, would you have bought what they bought?

Mr. JOHN KENKEL: Well, that's the big question was nobody really knows what they bought.

(Footage of document)

KROFT: (Voiceover) Kenkel told us the documents were so vague that he couldn't tell what had been ordered or whether it had been delivered.

Mr. KENKEL: I think the biggest thing was that you couldn't identify what the equipment was that was actually being delivered. To say that you were being delivered a gun doesn't necessarily mean anything in terms of what you're getting.

KROFT: Can you think of another government in the world that would have spent $1.2 billion this way on military equipment?

Mr. KENKEL: Nobody that I think would--you would consider on the up-and-up.

(Footage of tape recorder; Cattan; photo of Jumaili)

KROFT: (Voiceover) But the thing that really suggests this wasn't on the up-and-up are these audio recordings, which we obtained from a former associate of Ziad Cattan and the mysterious middle man Naer Jumaili.

We have some audio recordings we'd like you to listen to.

Mr. CATTAN: Mm-hmm.

(From audiotape) Hello. Good morning. My name is Dr. Ziad Cattan, deputy secretary-general...

KROFT: Is that your voice?

Mr. CATTAN: Yes.

(From audiotape) So I just talk with him...

(Footage of Cattan; Amman city street; tape recorder; Cattan)

KROFT: (Voiceover) The recordings were made by the associate as he drove Cattan around Amman in 2004. According to two independent translations, they're talking about payoffs to Iraqi officials. This is Cattan talking about a top political adviser to the defense minister, a man who is also identified on the recordings as a representative of the president and the prime minister of the interim government.

(Excerpt of audiotape)

Mr. CATTAN: (Through translator) He wants to know.

Unidentified Man: (Through translator) He wants to know how much they're going to place in his account?

Mr. CATTAN: (Through translator) Yes, of course.

Man: (Through translator) How much?

Mr. CATTAN: (Through translator) Forty-five million.

(End of excerpt)

KROFT: He wants to know how much money is going to be placed in his account.

Mr. CATTAN: He want...

KROFT: And you say 45 million.

Mr. CATTAN: Yes. But not dollar. I don't say dollar.

KROFT: And what was it, 45 million what?

Mr. CATTAN: I don't remember.

KROFT: Well, you were going to give him 45 million of something.

Mr. CATTAN: Yes. But I don't remember what the matter was.

(Photo of Cattan with US soldiers; tape recorder; Radhi in his office)

KROFT: (Voiceover) Cattan told us that US and coalition advisers at the Ministry of Defense approved everything that he did, and he now believes that the recordings have been doctored. The audio experts that we consulted could find no evidence of it. Judge Radhi told us that he, too, has a copy of the recordings, and that one former Ministry of Defense employee confessed after hearing them.

How could the American advisers have missed all of this?

Mr. RADHI: (Through translator) I think this question should be directed to the Americans.

(Footage of the Pentagon; photo of Cattan, Jumaili and others; footage of Housing Bank for Trade & Finance; Cattan; villa; photo of Jumaili; Amman building)

KROFT: (Voiceover) We certainly tried to, but no one in the US government would talk to us on camera about the million $800 million. Off-camera we were told that this was Iraqi money spent by a sovereign Iraqi government and, therefore, the Iraqis' business. So where did all of the money go to? It's impossible to tell. The money trail disappears inside a number of Middle Eastern banks. We can report that Ziad Cattan, who was recently convicted in absentia in Iraq and sentenced to 60 years for squandering public funds, is building this villa for himself in Poland. And Naer Jumaili, who is wanted by INTERPOL, is said to be snapping up real estate in Amman and building himself a villa.

A lot of these suspects are living outside of Iraq in comfort and don't seem to be too concerned about the charges against them.

Mr. RADHI: (Through translator) As you know, those people, they have a lot of money right now, so they use it to bribe anybody in the world.

KROFT: How much help have you gotten from countries like Poland and Jordan in either apprehending suspects or recovering money?

Mr. RADHI: (Through translator) No help at all.

Mr. ALLAWI: We have not been given any serious, official support from either the United States or the UK or any of the surrounding Arab countries.

KROFT: Why has this received so little attention, do you think?

Mr. ALLAWI: The only explanation I can come up with is that too many people in positions of power and authority in the new Iraq have been in one way or another found with their hands inside the cookie jar. And if they are brought to trial, it will cast a very disparaging light on those people who have supported them and brought them to this position of power and authority.

KROFT: Nobody wants to get to the bottom of it.

Mr. ALLAWI: In practice, no.

(Footage of Allawi; Radhi; case files; investigators; investigator; former minister of electricity; oil pipes; burned out truck)

KROFT: (Voiceover) Allawi left his post earlier this year when the new government was formed, but Judge Radhi is still there. Along with having one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq, he also has one of the heaviest workloads. His investigators have opened 2,000 corruption cases, involving 21 different ministries and $7.5 billion. The former minister of electricity has been convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, and more than a dozen other former ministers and top officials are wanted for arrest. Oil smuggling is costing the Iraqi government billions of dollars a year, and, according to one estimate, 40 to 50 percent of the profits are going to the insurgents.

5:43 PM, October 23, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

if Those Guys are not put to Justice, and the money goes back to iraq, i guess we should not think of any democracy, New Iraq, or even can do any progress...
no matter who is involved , or how big they took, they should be prosecuted, and the Iraqies and the Americans before them should make this happen soon....
we see our people back home in all iraq , losing thier lives, thier life etc.. and we hear that these criminals are enjoying the billions outside Iraq, i ask all iraqies and special thanks to Nibras on his courageous webblog,to put this on the net ...please try to put the Full 60 Minutes here, if you can


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