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Nov 27, 2005

The Steward Of Pottery Barn


 Khalilzad Leaving

Is U.S. Iraqi Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad really Paul Bremer in disguise?

A theme The BAG has been pursuing lately is the MSM's reluctance to acknowledge how much the U.S. continues to exert political control over Iraq.  At the same time, the reality of the fact keeps surfacing between the lines.  Consider the story last week in the NYT by John Burns regarding the return of Tikrit's massive palace complex to the Iraqi's (Return of Former Palace to Sovereignty of Iraqis Offers Glimmer of Hope - link).

First of all, the fact this high profile event was so vulnerable as to be temporarily disrupted by a mortar attack doesn't exactly bode well for the our stabilization efforts.  (The second shot shows the smiling U.S. ambassador "escorted" out of the ceremony by two men identified as "armed guards.")

However, my main point has to do the exercise of U.S. authority behind the scenes (or actually, in plain sight, but absent the attention of the press). Here's an example of how contradictory and telling details manage to show themselves. The seventh paragraph of The Times story reads as follows:

Mr. Khalilzad, a 54-year-old former scholar who came to Baghdad last summer after two years as ambassador to Afghanistan, where he was born, made light of the affair [the mortar attack] and used it to underscore the close relationship that he and the general say is central to calibrating America's policies here. "I ended up with General Casey on top of me," he said, laughing, "so I guess that's a pretty good sign for civil-military relations." He stuck to his schedule after the ceremony, meeting with local leaders in the palace to accept petitions on everything from property disputes to a reopening of the Tikrit airport.

What it curious -- both in tone and content -- is this last sentence. Can you interpret Khalilzad's role as anything but a viceroy if he serves as the ultimate authority among local leaders (especially in the palace he supposedly just returned!). And what can we make of the mandate "the local authorities" do possess considering they don't even sit in disposition of property disputes?

(image 1: Associated Press Television. Tikrit, Iraq. November 23, 2005. image 2: Bassim Daham/Associated Press. Tikrit, Iraq. November 22, 2005.


Titles may obscure but not change the nature of the job. Iraq belongs (nominaly) to the U.S. it a defacto colony of the United States. Just like voting does not a democracy make, neither does anouncing that "soveringty has been handed over" make a sovering state. Real soveringty will come when the Iraqis have the ability to:

1. Determine the status of foreign forces in-country.

2. Control the purse strings. Today's Iraq is wholly finaced by U.S. taxpayers, which gives the Admisntration complete finacial control of the country.

3. Control of its natural resources. That's in the hands of the U.S. thanks in part to Halliburton/KBR.

The passage quoted above sounds like whistling past the graveyard to me.

Robert Blair - 1742
Excerpt from "The Grave":

"Oft in the lone church yard at night I've seen,
By glimpse of moonshine chequering thro' the trees,
The school boy, with his satchel in his hand,
Whistling aloud to bear his courage up,
And lightly tripping o'er the long flat stones,
(With nettles skirted, and with moss o'ergrown,)
That tell in homely phrase who lie below.
Sudden he starts, and hears, or thinks he hears,
The sound of something purring at his heels;
Full fast he flies, and dare not look behind him,
'Till, out of breath, he overtakes his fellows,
Who gather round and wonder at the tale
Of horrid apparition tall and ghastly,
That walks at dead of night, or takes his stand
O'er some new-open'd grave; and (strange to tell!)
Evanishes at crowing of the cock."

Baggalums, Hope you've seen the photo of the banlieus on the Times website. They're still not doing them justice, though.

A tipping point kind of photo: it's hard to square the images here with anything other than the growing awareness that we are completely losing control in Iraq. E.g. here, a photo op created to "catapault the propaganda" that we are winning was hijacked in a humiliating way. The NYT story shows how even controlling the superficial seems beyond our grasp. [Before starting to read the BAG, I wouldn't have thought about how someone must have costumed the guests for photographic impact: "Iraqi dignitaries lined up with the Americans on white plastic chairs in the weak winter sunshine, some resplendent in gold-trimmed Bedouin robes and headdresses."]

The story shows that the chaos and fragile control are more than just the surface of these pictures: To demonstrate the new Iraqi security capabilities, the guests had to be flown in by helicopter; to demonstrate our viceroys' importance, they were described as too busy to tour their new palaces because they were "meeting with local leaders in the palace to accept petitions on everything [from soup to nuts]." BAG: one tiny clarification: you attribute their meetings with local "authorities", which implies they met with people who had the authority to actually accomplish something, rather than "leaders", the word used in the article, which only implies a big mouth and two people who nod when you say something. And any fool can "accept petitions" on subjects great and small.

But in the end, the image of our uniformed soldiers and assembled dignataries scrambling for cover under the garden furniture will trump what will certainly be a desparate new WH victory campaign.

The most intersting image from the video to me was the soldier at the podium when the mortar landed just slowly crouched down, so it looked like he was sinking into the podium under the bunch of 5 or 6 microphones.

It was smooth the way he did it, so it looked like a person making a joke, or doing the mime going down in an elevator. At first I thought it might be an SNL skit since the only prop on screen was the podium and the microphones (with a backdrop of maybe some tent and desert).

I hate to say this but it made me laugh.

More international insecurity.

It's likely that the "armed guards" around Ambassador Khalilzad are Diplomatic Security Special Agents working for the U.S. Department of State. This official photograph shows DSSA personnel escorting* Hamid Karzai.

*A perfectly legitimate description, but maybe you were expecting strapless dresses and stiletto heels?

fotonique, Hamid Karzai's initial guards were Pashtun locals but they didn't work out, so 'The Commander In Chief' assigned the DDSA to the mayor of Kabul.
from the brochure:
" Diplomatic Security special agents are Foreign Service security officers assigned domestically and overseas to ensure that American diplomacy is conducted in a safe and secure environment"
When a national leader can't find a half dozen loyal men in the whole country what does that say about nation building and American diplomacy.?

As the US Ambassador, Khalilzad would definitely qualify for the services of the DSSA. Did he feel briefly insubordinate to General Casey in the missionary position resulting from that brief mortar greeting.
Wonder how the Iraqi unemployed feel when they can't be trusted to wash dishes etc and see workers from all over Asia doing thousands of jobs while they live on scraps. A small sacrifice for enjoying their new found freedoms I guess. Another chance to win hearts and mind (bellies) squandered.

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