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Spinning a False Exit

All he did was say that by the summer of 2008, US troop levels in Iraq would be the same as in December 2006. Yet David Petraeus, ever the stoic general, sat before Congress and claimed this would be a "very substantial withdrawal."

Critics of the war long suspected this was the Bush Administration's strategy: revert to status quo pre-surge levels--130,000 troops--while trumpeting the exit and warning that anything more would lead to genocide/Iranian domination/US defeat/an Al Qaeda caliphate, etc, etc.

The question now is whether the media and political class will fall for the Administration's PR trap?

Some in the media already have.

"The General's Long View Could Cut Withdrawal Debate Short," write the usually astute Karen DeYoung and Tom Ricks in the Washington Post. "Prospect of pullout raises some hope," said the Detroit Free-Press. "Petraeus upbeat over reducing US troop levels," wrote The Guardian of London.

Others in the media, however, sniffed out the Bush Administration's long-term plan. "Bush policy to bequeath Iraq to successor," read the headline of an excellent Los Angeles Times analysis. "Viewed more closely," Paul Richter writes, "his [Petraeus] presentation, and that of US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, were better suited to the defense of an earlier strategy: 'stay the course.'"

The latest manifestation of the Administration's Iraq offensive might temporarily reassure the restless Republicans who waited until September to decide what to think about Iraq and then liked what they saw. But it shouldn't satisfy Democrats in Congress. Rather than giving Petraeus the red-carpet treatment, they'd be smart to listen to their Democratic constituency, which is hopping mad over party leaders' inability to effectively question Petraeus and refusal to use every tool in their arsenal to try and bring a close to a seemingly never-ending war.

Honoring 9-11 By Objecting To Its Exploitation

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Monday for a resolution recalling the 9-11 tragedy, which occurred six years ago today.

The resolution was far more responsible than those offered in past years by Republican House leaders bent on using the commemoration to score political points. Unfortunately, the vote was scheduled for the day on which the Bush administration and its congressional allies had cynically scheduled the testimony of General David Petraeus, as part of an effort to link the failed occupation of Iraq with the "war on terror" that the president launched in a supposed response of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The administration's latest attempt to establish a "connection" between 9-11 and the Iraq quagmire is expected to culminate later this week with a pro-war speech by Bush to the nation.

This White House has exploited the memory of 9-11 in so many inappropriate and dangerous ways that it is hard to muster the energy to complain any longer. But one House member used his vote on the 9-11 resolution to object to the shameless actions of the Bush team.

Some 334 House members – 180 Democrats, 154 Republicans – voted for the measure. Another 94 – 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans – abstained. The solitary "no" vote was cast by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich.

Just back from a trip to the Middle East, and more upset than ever by the failure of official Washington to promote peace rather than to stir tensions, Kucinich explained that, "I honor the memory of those who died on September 11 and extend sympathies to their family members and to those who lost their lives trying to save lives."

But the congressman and Democratic presidential candidate added, "I believe the best way to honor the memory of those who died on September 11 is to tell the truth of what the Administration did in the wake of September 11. The Bush Administration launched a war against Iraq, conflating the true tragedy of September 11 with lies about weapons of mass destruction."

"On this, the sixth anniversary of September 11, it is important that Congress wake up to the truth and exercise its obligation under the Constitution to save our nation from being destroyed from the lies that took us into Iraq, the lies that keep us there, the lies that are being used to set the stage for war against Iran and the lies that have undermined our basic civil liberties here at home The September 11 resolution that Congress considers today should have made reference to those matters. It does not, so I cannot support it," added Kucinich.

"This Administration long ago politicized the September 11 attacks, distorted it and dishonored it. If Congress really wanted to honor the memory of those who died on September 11, we would cause the full truth to be told to the American people. If Congress really supported our troops we would bring them home and not provide more funding for the war."

Kucinich will not get much credit for trying to insert some nuance into the discussion. But his is surely an appropriate response to politicization of this solemn day.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

"Not Buying" the Spin From Petraeus

The good news from the testimony of General David Petraeus before a joint session of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees was certainly not found in his repetition of his claim that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Bush administration's surge of troops into the Iraq quagmire is "in large measure" meeting its military objectives.

That political statement from Petraeus, the statistically-pliable U.S. commander in Iraq, was predicted days ago by intelligence analysts and officials with the Government Accountability Office, when they detailed how the general and his aides are using doctored data to create the false impression that sectarian violence is declining as a result of the surge.

Nor was there any news to be found in the warning by Petraeus that it would be "premature" to start taking serious steps to extract U.S. troops from the quagmire. Indeed, the best the general could propose was a return to pre-surge troop levels – the status rejected by American voters in last fall's House and Senate elections -- by some time in 2008.

Nothing that Petraeus told the House committees during the first of two days of efforts by the White House to cloak administration spin in a military uniform was any more newsworthy than General William Westmoreland's 1967 claim to Congress that progress was being made in southeast Asia. Indeed, the whole sorry performance by a another general who has chosen to sacrifice his credibility on the altar of political expediency, confirmed the bumper sticker slogan that says: "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam."

What made Monday's hearing newsworthy, then, was the fact that the chairs of the two committees that hosted Petraeus displayed not the frustrating deference that has tended to characterize the responses of a compliant Congress to a deceptive White House but an appropriate level of skepticism.

House Armed Services Committee chair Ike Skelton, a hawkish Democrat from Missouri, opened Monday's hearing by detailing the long history of the administration's "overoptimistic" assessments of progress in Iraq. Skelton asked whether the U.S. is "beating a dead horse" by maintaining a massive troop presence in the region.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat who like Skelton voted in 2002 to authorize Bush to attack Iraq, described the occupation as a "fiasco" and said in his opening statement: "It would be refreshing if these two capable and dedicated men would outline a new plan that would redeploy our troops and bring them home from Iraq. But I expect instead that the September report -- written not by one of our great military leaders and one of our most capable diplomats, but by Administration political operatives -- will be a regurgitation of the same failed Iraq strategy. I expect this report will be replete with the same litany of requests -- more troops, more money, more patience -- and all in the unlikely belief that our intervention in a bloody, religiously-based civil war will bear fruit."

Bluntly expressing his frustration with the administration's refusal to be honest with Congress – and leaving little doubt of his sense that Petraeus had been sent to Capitol Hill to maintain the deception -- the congressman told the general he was no longer "buying" claims about progress in Iraq. "We cannot take any of this administration's assertions on Iraq at face value anymore," said Lantos.

That brought cries of outrage from administration boosters. Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who is mounting a pro-war presidential campaign that is currently garnering something less that one percent in the polls, growled: "I hope the purpose of this hearing is not to discredit General Petraeus before he takes the stand."

As it happened, Petraeus discredited himself before he took the stand. The general's repetition of spun statistics and fantastical assessments merely confirmed the fact of his misplaced loyalty to an administration that has betrayed the troops commanded by Petraeus.

That was the outrage on display Monday. The skepticism expressed by Skelton and Lantos was the refreshing – and newsworthy – development of the day.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Peace Primary

At a time when there's a troubling gap between how the politicians in Washington vote and how the folks back home want the US to (re)engage with the rest of the world, the Ploughshares Fund – now the largest grantmaking foundation in the US focused exclusively on peace and security issues, celebrating its 25th Anniversary, with grants totaling over $50 million – has devised a creative way of bringing those issues home to people who care, and introducing a new generation to the importance of simply the most critical issues in life: war and peace. On Saturday, the Fund kicked off its Peace Primary, highlighting the work of extraordinary grassroots groups and activists.

I was honored when the organizers asked me to serve as a judge to help select the finalists for this initiative. (And I enjoyed being called part of an "all-star panel," as my basketball-crazed family has always thought all-star status is reserved for the likes of Shaq, Kobe, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, etc. Other judges include: writer, commentator and religious scholar Reza Aslan; Ploughshares Fund Executive Director Naila Bolus; the Reverend Dr. Joan Brown Campbell of the Chautauqua Institute; Bonnie Jenkins, program officer at the Ford Foundation; former Congressman Paul (Pete) McCloskey; The Nation's peace and disarmament correspondent, author Jonathan Schell; and actor Martin Sheen.)

I've cared deeply about issues of peace and security – as a journalist who lived in and wrote about Russia during the Gorbachev years and, of course, as Editor of The Nation – a magazine that has been at the forefront, for decades, of finding non-military solutions to problems of our country and world. From our special issue in 1998 on the abolition of nuclear weapons to the fact that we may be the only magazine in the US (or in the world?!) with a peace and disarmament correspondent, the inimitable Jonathan Schell. The Nation has always been engaged with these issues, and in times of crisis, the enduring concerns of this magazine and progressives take on new relevance.

I spent hours poring over the material of about 25 or so groups. In a rigorous process, the judges – with the help of Ploughshares – made some hard decisions and selected 12 extraordinary finalists. People can now vote for the group or groups that they feel best articulate their own peace agenda. Each vote costs just $1 which goes exclusively to the selected group. (Ploughshare always gives 100 percent of public contributions to its grantees--it never takes a cut for administrative overhead or fundraising – which is another unique aspect of its operation.)

The primary runs through October 31 when the group with the most votes will receive an additional $100,000 prize to promote its vision of peace in 2008. The hope we all share is that the Peace Primary will highlight the important work that both Ploughshares and these groups are doing, and also help provide resources to activists who will help shape the debate in 2008.

"By inviting our selection panel to submit groups in addition to the ones Ploughshares came up with we really broadened the scope beyond nuclear non-proliferation, or Iraq," said Deborah Bain, Director of Communications at Ploughshares. "It's a different group from past Ploughshares' grantees, and includes organizations working on Darfur and torture, for example." The twelve finalists include:

* American Friends Service Committee with Iraqis, military families, veterans, and peace supporters in the US to highlight the human and economic costs of war.

*Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons, halt the spread of all weapons of mass destruction, stop the deployment of a national missile defense system, and redirect national security spending to better address the genuine threats facing the United States

* Citizens For Global Solutions works to achieve a future in which countries cooperate to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms and solve the problems facing humanity that no country can solve alone

* Faithful Security is a multi-faith coalition dedicated to harnessing the moral willpower of America's religious communities toward a world without nuclear weapons

* Genocide Intervention Network holds political leaders accountable for their promises – to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and also raises funds for peacekeeping efforts

* Global Green USA, the US affiliate of Green Cross International which was founded by Gorbachev in 1993, reconnects humanity to the environment, peace and security by working to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, stem climate change, and provide clean, safe drinking water for the 2.4 billion people who currently lack access to it

* National Religious Campaign Against Torture is a national, multi-faith organization dedicated to stopping US sponsored torture, without exception

* Peace Action & Peace Action West with 100,000 members and chapters in nearly 30 states, is the largest grassroots peace organization and is making its voice heard at the polls in opposition to the occupation of Iraq and any wars of aggression against Iran, North Korea, Syria or any other country

* Refugees International has nearly 30 years of experience and is leading the call to increase aid to displaced Iraqis and assist countries in the region that are overwhelmed by the refugee influx

* True Majority is committed to bringing the troops home, supporting Iraqis in repairing their country, and shifting our nation's wealth from defense contractors and the Pentagon to addressing needs like healthcare, reducing the national debt, and rebuilding schools

* Union of Concerned Scientists is educating 2008 candidates about the need to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons, stop global warming, and ensure the integrity of government science

* Women's Action For New Directions empowers women to take political action and change our national priorities toward peace and real security, away from militarism and violence.

Since Saturday's launch the web traffic is high and the groups are working hard to steer their members and (friends) to the Peace Primary. In addition to raising resources for these 12 organizations, Ploughshare is working behind-the-scenes to help some of the groups build capacity to reach new supporters and raise their profiles. For example, the Fund offered every organization a Get Out The Vote toolkit outlining 20 ways to promote the Peace Primary.

Bain hopes that in addition to engaging a new generation of supporters, there will also be "cross-fertilization" between the groups. A group like the Genocide Intervention Network, for example, is young, dynamic, and web savvy while Refugee International is an experienced organization with a devoted membership that is looking to expand its online presence. There are plenty of opportunities for like-minded groups like these to cooperate with one another.

These are perilous times which demand a new and enduring vision of peace and human security. If we have learned anything in these last years, it is that overwhelming military might is ill-suited to dealing with the central challenges of our century: the spread of weapons of mass destruction, stateless terrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), climate change, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.

The Peace Primary can play a powerful role – educating people about vital issues ranging from development of nuclear weapons to policies on arms sales and human rights. It can help people realize the power we have when we act collectively, and ensure that politicians and leaders here and around the world have to answer to an informed and organized electorate on matters of war and peace.

It is time to lead by example, not by force. The Peace Primary – with its commitment to restoring human security and peace in our times – is something I'm proud to be a part of, and in sync with the work and values of The Nation. It is worth supporting and celebrating. Spread the word.

Questioning Petraeus' Credibility

In advance of General David Petraeus' testimony to the House of Representatives today, MoveOn.org is running a hard-hitting ad in the New York Times questioning his credibility.

"General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" the ad asks. "Cooking the Books for the White House."

The ad cites an op-ed Petraeus wrote in September 2004--six weeks before the presidential election--in which he boasted of "tangible progress" in Iraq and that "Iraqi leaders are stepping forward." It also notes that in claiming a reduction of violence, the Pentagon, under Petraeus' directive, is ignoring car bombs, routine types of assassinations (shots to the back of the head count, front do not) and ethnic cleansing in Baghdad. The ad references an Associated Press report that Iraqi civilian deaths and American troop casualties are higher in the last three months than any other summer.

Moreover, according to the Washington Post, Petraeus resisted the original findings of the recent National Intelligence Estimate and "succeeded in having the security judgments softened to reflect improvements in recent months." The Department of Defense also altered a General Accountability Office report that originally found that Iraqis had met only three of the 18 benchmarks required of them. After US officials in Iraq protested, the GAO changed the status of two benchmarks from "did not meet" to "partially met."

Yet Republicans are directing their fury at the rightful target--MoveOn. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this morning condemned the ad as "childish tactics that are insulting to everyone fighting for freedom in Iraq." Just last May, McConnell predicted that "the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall." And he called the lack of progress by the Iraqi government, "a great disappointment to members of the Senate on both sides."

So McConnell, like the rest of the "wait until September" crowd, has been converted.

If only you could say the same about the rest of the military's top brass, who increasingly diverge with Petraeus. The Joint Chief of Staff want troop levels cut in half by the end of next year. Admiral William Fallon this summer recommended "slashing US combat forces in Iraq by three-quarters by 2010," according to the Post.

The American public, a clear majority of whom want to decrease the number of troops in Iraq and set a timetable of next spring for withdrawal, are even more skeptical of Petraeus. According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 39 percent of the public believes Petraeus will "honestly reflect the situation in Iraq" in his testimony today.

End of the World As We Know It?

I'm not a climate scientist or geologist, and no, I don't play one on TV. So I can't assess the accuracy of the report below from yesterday's Guardian. But it sure did catch my attention:

"The Greenland ice cap is melting so quickly that it is triggering earthquakes as pieces of ice several cubic kilometres in size break off.

"Scientists monitoring events this summer say the acceleration could be catastrophic in terms of sea-level rise and make predictions this February by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change far too low.

"The glacier at Ilulissat, which supposedly spawned the iceberg that sank the Titantic, is now flowing three times faster into the sea than it was 10 years ago."

The article says that one observer, Robert Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, reports that "the glacier is now moving at 15km a year into the sea although in surges it moves even faster. He measured one surge at 5km in 90 minutes - an extraordinary event."

Perhaps my new second-floor apartment, which is about four miles, as the crow flies, from Boston Harbor, will soon be waterfront property. Hmm. Note to self: buy some life jackets and a dinghy.

 

Farm Aid at Twenty-Two

John Mellencamp celebrates twenty two years of Farm Aid on Sunday in New York City.

Friday night, at the end of a two-day Nation campus tour to Indiana University, I visited Mellencamp at his converted farm house/recording studio outside of Bloomington. It's hidden away in Browne County--a place of lush and rolling hills with natural light that would make angels weep. He's been set up there since the early 1980s. The heartland rocker--a term he doesn't love, but it fits so right-- is now 56. He's hard-talking--whether about guitars ("all guitars are like girlfriends, with songs in them, and then they just stop giving those songs to you"-- as he shows off the dozens of his old guitars stacked in their cases in his cold archive/storage room). Or Indiana's Republican Governor Mitch Daniels (he was railing against the former Bush budget official for privatizing and selling off the richest parts of the state to his crony/buddies)....But he's still idealistic at heart.

On a warm Indiana night, he was into the first of many hours rehearsing with his band, 4 or 5 of whom live in the state--working out the kinks in a new song, Troubled Land. Its refrain, Mellencamp says, is "bring peace to this troubled land."

He was tired, but pumped, about coming into New York for the first Farm Aid--22 years after it started in September 1985. That first concert, in Champaign, Illinois, launched just as Mellencamp was about to release his album, Scarecrow-- with a song about a farmer losing his land to a foreclosure.

Foreclosures, across our country, on farmlands, in urban lands, are now back in the news as they haven't been for years --and corporate power, always a theme of Farm Aid--is as strong and unchecked as it's ever been. As Mellencamp once said, "Corporations are absolutely going to steal our identity...And it's happening." Though he got grief for letting Chevy use one of his great hit songs, John "Cougar" Mellencamp remains an outspoken critic of corporate power and stays true in working to draw attention to the struggle of heartland farmers and their families.

Farm Aid, which has--as of Sunday's concert on Randall's Island--raised $30 million and distributed more than 80 percent of it to help family farmers survive financial troubles. In these last two decades, its mission has grown-as it has attracted new generations--to raise awareness about farming locally, consuming locally, shopping locally and farming in environmentally aware ways. (One sad note, this year--according to the New York Times, Mellencamp tried to line up some New York city bands, but they turned down the unpaid gig.)

In its way, as Willie Nelson told an interviewer, Farm Aid has become a real, down home institution. And it's one that makes a difference--even as it confronts greater consolidation and conglomeratization of agriculture and farming. It's stepped up--especially at times of emergency and tragedy. On September 1st, 2005, for example, Farm Aid's board--which includes Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Nation reader and supporter Dave Matthews (check him out in our "Nobody Owns the Nation" campaign) donated $30,000 to farmers whose lands were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. On a smaller scale, in 1985, it started an emergency food program for hungry farmers.

Mellencamp doesn't know what the future holds for the music business....though he's kind of pessimistic....("My kids don't want to pay for music....and bet your 16-year-old doesn't") But that isn't what really grips his interest...What he feels passionately about is staying alive--he smokes but works out for a couple hours every day after a heart attack some 20 years ago--and making music that speaks to the people he lives among, people who are working two jobs, facing foreclosures and all the while trying to maintain some dignity and stability.

"I'll be part of Farm Aid for as long as it's necessary," he says.."and the way it seems right now, it's going to be needed for a long time."

The Shock Doctrine

First, the disclosure: I'm about to praise a new book by a Nation columnist and a friend. This is irrelevant though because if Naomi Klein had never written for the magazine and I'd never met her, I'd still be among a large legion of her most fervent admirers.

I don't want this post to sound like dust-jacket copy but The Shock Doctrine does nothing less than outline an entirely new way of thinking about politics, economics and society. Based on breakthrough historical research and four years of on-the-ground reporting in disaster zones, The Shock Doctrine vividly shows how what Klein coins "disaster capitalism" -– the rapid-fire corporate re-engineering of societies reeling from shock -- traces its origins back fifty years, to the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman, which produced many of the leading neo-conservative and neo-liberal thinkers whose influence is still profound in Washington today.

The Shock Doctrine offers an alternative contemporary history, showing how well-known events of the recent past have become deliberate, active theatres for the shock doctrine, among them: Pinochet's coup in Chile in 1973, the Falklands War in 1982, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

The book will be officially released in the US on September 17. Click here to pre-order copies. And watch the video below, a six-minute visual companion to the book created by the great Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, whose Children of Men, Klein has said "was very close to the present I was seeing in disaster zones."

Finally, see Klein talk about the book at a recent benefit event for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a social justice research institute based in Ottawa.

Top Iraqi Graft-buster: Maliki's Government Must Go

With Congress and the White House engaging in yet another round of debate on the Iraq War, a former Iraqi judge who was--and who still may be--the chief anti-corruption officer of the Iraqi government has a tough message for anyone concerned about Iraq: The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is so riddled with corruption it ought to be totally scrapped. Radhi al-Radhi, who since 2004 has headed the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI), an independent Iraqi institution that tries to investigate and prosecute corrupt Iraqi officials, offers this damning indictment of the Iraqi government at a time when Maliki and his allies are mounting a fierce attack against him and attempting to replace Radhi with a Maliki loyalist who himself has been arrested on corruption charges.

Last week I posted an article disclosing that a team of officials at the US embassy in Baghdad had drafted a secret report detailing rampant corruption and criminality throughout the Iraqi government. The embassy report notes that corruption is "the norm in many ministries" and that Maliki has consistently blocked the work of Radhi and the Commission on Public Integrity. Four days later, Maliki held a press conference in Baghdad and fiercely denounced Radhi. He accused Radhi of corruption--without offering any specifics. Maliki announced that Radhi would be prosecuted and that the Parliament was about to forcibly retire him. The prime minister also claimed that the CPI chief had fled the country. Three days after that, the Iraqi government named Moussa Faraj to replace Radhi.

While all this was happening, Radhi, who is depicted in the secret embassy report as a diligent and brave investigator, was in the United States, not fleeing but leading a delegation of CPI investigators attending a training session in Washington. I spoke with him yesterday about his own predicament and that of his nation. He laughs off Maliki's charges as a bogus and transparent attempt to end investigations probing Maliki's political allies, and he is quite blunt in his assessment of the Maliki government.

Radhi, a secular Shia, is a compact, 62-year-old man with a salt-and-pepper mustache and receding gray hair. It's easy to see the dent on his head where he was smashed by a rifle butt one of the two times he was imprisoned during the Saddam Hussein years. He rolls up a sleeve to show a long deep scar that he says he received during torture sessions and notes that his back is covered with similar marks.

The first point he wants to make--and he does so emphatically--is that he did not slip out of Iraq to escape prosecution, as Maliki has implied. Radhi explains that he came to the United States with ten CPI investigators who are being taught how to use a lie detector. (I've confirmed that such training is under way.) He takes out his passport. It contains an Iraqi stamp indicating he legally departed the country on August 22. "Maliki is making up stories to blame me for stuff," Radhi remarks. The prime minister's press conference, Radhi says, was a stunt designed to pressure Radhi not to return to Iraq: "They want to get rid of me because I have lots of important files that could be used to indict his ministers."

Radhi confirms that the secret embassy report's description of widespread corruption within the Maliki government is accurate: "This is what's going on. The government has failed in doing its job." He estimates that the various ministries, hampered by fraud and waste, are only meeting between 2 and 5 percent of their obligations. He says that $7 billion has been pocketed or wasted at the Ministry of Defense, that the same has happened to $4 billion at the Ministry of Electricity. "At other ministries," he adds, "it's half a billion dollars here, a quarter of a billion dollars there. You can imagine the whole number. It works like the Mafia."

Radhi's problem, he maintains, is that he wants to do something about all this--and that means trouble for the Shia-dominated government led by Maliki. "When I prosecuted Sunni ministers, they clapped for me," he remarks. "When I prosecuted Kurdish ministers, they clapped for me. But when I went after Shia ministers, they came after me and said I'm the corrupted one."

Maliki's campaign against Radhi is nothing new. Last year, Maliki sent Radhi a letter essentially accusing him of not accounting for hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the Commission on Public Integrity. According to the secret embassy report, an initial audit of the CPI uncovered management problems (not criminal conduct) and a subsequent audit was "glowing."

Sabah al-Saidi, a Shia leader who heads the Parliament's anticorruption committee and who has joined Maliki in the latest campaign against Radhi, has also been trying for a year to undermine the CPI by charging Radhi with graft. Radhi maintains that he earned Saidi's wrath because the CPI was investigating oil smuggling in Basra and its investigators believed this criminal activity was linked to Saidi's Fadillah party. Radhi's CPI pursued about 90 cases involving oil smuggling and corruption in Basra, and these cases were blocked from reaching court. The secret embassy report corroborates this point, noting that investigating corruption in Basra has been nearly impossible. The report describes an occasion when Radhi asked Maliki to support probes in Basra targeting the Fadillah party and Shia militias and Maliki "just went quiet." (According to a Radhi associate who asked not to be identified, oil smugglers in Basra routinely pay militias to safeguard oil pipelines and some of this protection money ends up with anti-American insurgents.)

Radhi says he has never had a case that directly involved Maliki. But he maintains that he has initiated several investigations of officials close to Maliki--including a minister of oil and a Maliki relative who used to head the Ministry of Transportation--and Maliki's office and other ministries shut down these cases, citing a law known as Article 136B. This provision in Iraq's criminal code--a provision that Maliki revived-- allows the prime minister or a minister to order a court to end a prosecution.

And earlier this year, Radhi notes, Maliki's office issued a secret order that forced the criminal courts to close all ongoing cases against past and present ministers and deputy ministers. (I have a copy of that memo.) About three dozen investigations were shuttered. With another secret memo, Radhi says, Maliki's office ended the prosecution of a key Maliki adviser on oil policy. And as we talk, Radhi pulls out yet one more secret memo, dated June 18, 2007, in which the prime minister instructed Radhi to dismiss one of the CPI's best investigators. Radhi refused. A month later, Maliki's office sent Radhi another memo reiterating this order. "I kept him," Radhi says.

Radhi notes that last year he had a "big case" involving one of Maliki's top national security aides. The official was given a large amount of money to fund a weapons buyback program in Sadr City, a Baghdad neighborhood controlled by the militia of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. According to Radhi, the Maliki aide was suspected of having pocketed some of the money to buy a building for himself in London and of having passed weapons he had collected to militias. "When we looked into this," Radhi recalls, "the prime minister's office closed the case--using Rule 136. We had evidence in this case. And that's when they started to attack us."

Of Maliki, Radhi says, "he's not corrupt, but the group around him--all of them are corrupt. And he has to support them, because he's of their party."

Corruption within the Iraqi government, Radhi says, "is increasing day by day." The government's budget for 2007 (including funds left over from 2006) is $71 billion, he remarks, yet "you see no reconstruction, and we still don't have oil or electricity and no security from the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of the Interior, and they're each spending billions of dollars." Five million Iraqis have left the country, he says, yet the Ministry of Trade is still spending the same amount of funds for ration cards--apparently for people who no longer live in Iraq: "Where is the money going? No one knows." The Ministry of Health, he complains, has imported billions of dollars in medicine and medical equipment, "but we don't see medicine and equipment in hospitals. It's going to political parties or militias."

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Please check out David Corn's personal blog at www.davidcorn.com for recent postings on Fred Thompson, Iraq, missing White House emails, Larry Craig, and other subjects.
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Radhi still considers himself chief of the Commission on Public Integrity. His forcible retirement, he says, is illegal--and so is the appointment of his successor. (In a letter sent to Maliki two days ago, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the Sunni speaker of the Parliament, declared Radhi's removal "illegal and unconstitutional.") Regardless of the legality of Radhi's ouster, Moussa Faraj, who has been named Radhi's replacement, is an odd pick for the job. He was once a deputy at the CPI--having been installed at the commission by the ruling Shia Alliance Party. According to the secret U.S. embassy report on corruption, Faraj regularly prosecuted and delayed cases on "sectarian bases." Worse, the report notes that Faraj, a political ally of Sabah al-Saidi (the Parliament leader who has assailed Radhi), once "allowed a Shia Alliance member [charged in a multi-million-dollar corruption case] to escape custody." And after Faraj was dismissed from the CPI, the report says, he stole "literally a car load of case files." An arrest warrant was issued for him.

Several weeks ago, according to Radhi and his investigators, Faraj was arrested, placed in prison, and subsequently released on bail. "How can he be in jail and then be head of the integrity commission?" Radhi asks. Putting the CPI in Faraj's hands, Radhi says, will allow Maliki's office and Saidi to control its actions and prevent the commission from conducting investigations that inconvenience them and their political confederates. It will mean, he claims, the end of any meaningful anticorruption effort in Iraq.

Radhi says he hopes to return to Iraq and the CPI: "I want to go back and work because Iraq needs and deserves a clean government. You cannot rebuild Iraq without fighting corruption. We cannot stop the insurgency without blocking its source of funding, and corruption produces funds for the insurgents." But he has no clear strategy for undoing his forcible removal or for countering Maliki's moves against him. Radhi concedes he does not have a lot of options: "I don't have a political party or a gang supporting me."

This summer, there were two rocket attacks on his home. And the Iraqi government has informed him that his retirement benefits (80 percent of his salary) will be based on the pay of low-level government functionary (about $700 a month) not the income of a government minister (about $8000 a month), even though the CPI chief is considered the equivalent of a minister. For the time being, he may be stranded in the United States. And it's unclear how much the US government will help him, if at all.

"The people now running Iraq are corrupted themselves," Radhi says. "The only solution left is a new government, with a secular government of technocrats, not a religious government politicized by certain groups. Iraqi society is a civil society. The people deserve a civil government." He hopes the Bush Administration will pressure the Maliki government to follow the law "so no new dictatorship will be born." But is it realistic to expect any of this? A wholesale change in the Iraqi government? The Bush administration leaning on Maliki and forcing an end to systemic corruption? After all, the secret corruption report--which the Bush administration has not yet acknowledged--notes that the US Embassy in Baghdad has done little to bolster anticorruption programs and that Defense Department officials have blocked investigations of certain Iraqi officials. "I know it's difficult," Radhi says with a deep and sad sigh. "I'm not a political guy."

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OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.