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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Not a Bad Heist Indeed

I like heist movies. In films like "Heat" you see some really tough, intelligent guys take well-defended scores, effectively prosecuting a difficult war against both the police and their rivals in the mean streets. They may be immoral,- but they are definitely good.

The real life, I guess, is a bit more prosaic. The heists one sees happening are less risky, done mostly through shuffling the right papers the right way, bribing the right officials, writing vague enough rules and regulations. The work may be mundane, but the results are nonetheless impressive.

In his report Col David Hackworth details the $8.8 billion dollars alleged to have "gone South" in Iraq. This reads like a detective novel, though is a little bit dull for a novel, I'd agree.
For example, the CPA paid 74,000 guards even though the actual number of guards couldn’t be validated. On one site alone, 8,206 guards were on the payroll, but only 603 warm bodies could be counted. Elsewhere, more than $17 million was allocated to guards and the Iraqi army without one piece of backup paper. Pals in Iraq say this has been standard drill since the birth of “a very dysfunctional” CPA.

The report cites, “An improper $120 million disbursement was made in May 2004 because of miscommunication between CPA/OMB and Comptroller's office.” In other words, $120 million went south but was blithely rationalized as some clerks getting their wires crossed!
However, it appears that the GIs whose arms made this little party possible in the first place are not quite invited to it.
Meanwhile, the armed forces’ PX system (AAFES) is into charging our GIs in $9 for a 12-inch pizza. A similar pizza is $8.99 at a pizzeria near Greenwich, Conn., where prices compete with Beverly Hills. The manager told me that about half of this price was gross profit. Lt. Col. Debra Pressley of the AAFES insists the $9 price is “fair and competitive with commercial outlets, including locations in Greenwich.”

And so it seems to be. But why? Don’t our soldiers deserve a better deal? Or is our government reduced to trying to make up the AWOL bucks on our soldiers’ backs?

The powers that be sure planned to make a profit by charging $3 per head for watching movies in Iraq – at least until we blew the whistle. But once we broke the story, I got e-mails and phone calls from generals and colonels denying that the $3 charge had been scheduled, even though on July 3, 2004, the deputy commander in Balad, Iraq, put out this communication: “CG (Commanding General) has directed that we begin charging movie fees beginning on 7 July 2004 in the amount of $3.00 per show.”

The local general now says it wasn’t ever going to happen. Ditto the AAFES general and her spinner minions. Like the 9/11 report and the missing money in Iraq, no one will ever be held responsible.
War is good business, I suppose.

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