It's gotten really cold here at last, and I'm hibernating, and so I've started yet another pseudo-blog thing: no thoughts attached.
Lazy, I'll be posting quotes from the stuff I read there - nothing but quotes (and links, if there are any).
I've just finished this piece on Iraq (London Review of Books, November 2006): surreal beyond belief - and nearly every paragraph in it seems quoteworthy...
American military spending on Iraq is now approaching $8 billion a month. Accounting for inflation, this is half as much again as the average monthly cost of the Vietnam War; the total spent so far has long surpassed the cost of the entire Apollo space programme. Three and a half months of occupation costs the equivalent of Iraq’s estimated oil revenues for the current financial year. We now know, thanks to the leaked report of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, that if US troops withdrew, they would in all probability be redeployed to neighbouring countries, increasing the already massive expenditure and inevitably threatening new arenas of conflict. Here’s an unimaginable alternative. If the US army left the region, and if the money was instead handed out to every Iraqi man, woman and child, they would each receive more than $300 a month.
The State Department is unforthcoming about the real cost of the corporate armies operating in Iraq: the mercenaries, or ‘private security contractors’, who guard US officials and international contractors ensuring that Coalition forces are free to fight insurgents. The GAO estimated last year that there were more than 25,000 of these ‘contractors’, significantly outnumbering British troops. A former squaddie, kitted out with dark glasses, automatic pistol, rifle, body armour and radio, working for a construction team, can earn at least $12,000 a month. A former special forces NCO protecting a Coalition official or construction firm boss can make more than twice that. The State Department says the cost of security makes up 16 to 22 per cent of the overall outlay on big reconstruction projects, but this may be an underestimate.
Before 1991, Iraq had one of the best health services in the Middle East. Baghdad’s doctors and nurses provided care often comparable to that of their counterparts in Tel Aviv or Cairo. A decade of sanctions scuppered that: by 2002 the Health Ministry budget had been reduced by 90 per cent. According to both the UN and the World Bank, the health system needed $1.6 billion just to resume normal operation. The CPA set aside less than a quarter of that.
A new children’s hospital in Basra was to be a showcase for American generosity. It was a joint venture of Bechtel and Project Hope, one of Laura Bush’s favourite charities, overseen by USAID. Congressional Democrats questioned whether Iraq needed a state of the art 94-bed paediatric unit when existing hospitals were in dire need of basic repairs and medical supplies. The contract was signed anyway: $50 million was set aside for construction and $30 million for supplies and training. The project was to be finished by 31 December 2005. This June, the embassy finally ordered work to stop: $150 million had been spent, and Bechtel estimated that a further $98 million would be needed.
As a centre of oil smuggling, the British-occupied area around Basra is rivalled only by the Niger delta. More than 1600 fishing boats in Basra spirit away 15 million litres of oil a month. Basra is now the most corrupt city in Iraq. Everyone has been accused of smuggling: the Iranian-funded Shia militias, criminal syndicates, the mayor, the Baghdad Oil Ministry.