President Obama continues to tout the withdrawal of troops from Iraq on the campaign trail as one of his foreign policy accomplishments. The other being the extrajudicial assassination of Osama bin Laden. But not all American troops are out of Iraq. Some have stayed behind to “help out” and they operate under the civilian umbrella of the gargantuan US Embassy in Baghdad. The catastrophic failure of reconstruction projects due to fraud and corruption and the disappearance of tens of billions of dollars in and from Iraq have been documented by journalists and investigated by Congress. But in all fairness, one should never overlook the success stories no matter how minor. The Al-Nahrain Center in Baghdad is one.
On 17 June, the Iraqi Prime Minister cut the ribbons to inaugurate the al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies. But he did not mention the role of the US Embassy in funding the project in his speech, nor did he inform Iraqi citizens of the scope of its activities. He stressed the role to be played by the War College and the National Defense College, both of which are linked to the al-Nahrain Center, in “training strategic cadres to build the state, internally and externally.” Two days later, on 19 June, the US Embassy in Baghdad issued a press release that was relatively less laconic than Maliki’s speech about the nature and actual goals of the center. Here are some excerpts from the release. I have bolded the revealing parts:
. . .The center was sponsored by the US Embassy in Baghdad, in coordination with the Government of Iraq, as set out by the Strategic Framework Agreement. The June 17 opening ceremony launched a three-day Iraqi Regional Security Seminar featuring presentations from scholars and experts from Iraq, the United States and other countries. The seminar’s objective was to define strategic relationships and reinforce the commitment to partnership and cooperation between Iraq, the U.S. and regional partners.
The center. . .will facilitate regional dialogue and serve as a basis for partnership building between Iraq and other nations throughout the region. The fifteen million dollar complex, with funding from the US Embassy, was completed in two years and represents Iraq’s commitment to professional development and strategic studies for senior Iraq officials. The complex features first-class conference and meeting facilities, video teleconference capabilities, classroom buildings, and a student center, complete with a library, auditorium and coffee shop.
Senior Iraqi leaders will receive education in areas such as defense economics, civil-military relations, leadership and management, regional security issues and strategic resource planning. The center will also engage academic partners, both regional and international, to facilitate out-of-country military-to-military exchanges for training and development. . .The US Embassy in Baghdad was honored to support this initiative.
It is truly heartwarming that this project, unlike hundreds of others that had to do with Iraq’s infrastructure and vital services and needs such as electricity, potable water, hospitals. . . etc., was completed efficiently and on time. Here you can watch a video of the facilities right before inauguration. American military personnel can be seen at 1:28 to 2:20. Here is an earlier video from the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) about the project.
In a country that had the highest level of literacy in the developing world by 1980, illiteracy has now jumped to twenty percent. Iraq’s higher education system is in shambles and the number of fake diplomas in Iraq is in the thousands. So why the urgency and who are the “cadres” Maliki is referering to in his speech? Those who are already practicing “state building” in Iraq and have distinguished themselves in corruption and pervasive violence, but need further training from American experts or regional counterparts? And what is exactly meant by “external state building?” The language in the press release and the code words (military training, strategic and regional cooperation. . . etc) are reminiscent of the discourse and practices of the notorious School of the Americas (SOA). The sixty thousand alumni of the SOA went on to terrorize and massacre civilian populations in their countries and have included eleven military dictators from Noriega (Panama), Galtieri and Viola (Argentina), Alvarado (Peru), to Suarez (Bolivia) and others who became “some of the worst human rights abusers in Latin American history.” Although the SOA was closed in December of 2000, it reopened in January 2001, but under a new name: the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
An upcoming two-day “Western style” seminar for 120 people at al-Nahrain Center (November 5-6) dubbed Iraq Regional Security Seminar (IRSS) will cost 233,000 dollars to host. This is according to the no-bid contract won by BH Defense. You can read the details here. This despite the fact that the US Inspector General had called for a halt in funding the entire project back in January 2011. This might explain why al-Nahrain’s previous appellation was the Iraq International Academy. Al-Nahrain (two rivers, i.e. the Tigris and Euphrates) is definitely cozier and more authentic. The “contract justification” cites Obama’s January 2012 speech “Sustaining US Global Leadership-Priorities for 21st Century Defense”:
“Whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities.”
It is neither innovative, unless drones are on the agenda, nor low-cost. I am sure if Iraqi citizens knew what this center represents and the violence it will perpetrate and institutionalize, they would want it closed yesterday.
This “small-footprint” is way too big.