Running Out of Gas in Iraq

Harkavy/Pentagon

Weekly report: There's no fuel, but flames intensify.

We're probably too busy getting killed, but couldn't we spare the time to drag ex-SecDef Don Rumsfeld back up to Capitol Hill to answer more questions about Iraq?

We certainly can't wait for General David Petraeus to file his progress report next month with Congress — the "coalition" commander promises he won't "pull any punches." But the current Iraq Weekly Status Report — reports prepared by the State Department that I've written about many times and that try to put the best possible light on the situation — already contains some staggering blows. Especially to Iraqis.

Keep in mind that an increasing number of Iraqis are getting blown up or otherwise killed. The Washington Post's Meg Greenwell rounded up those figures in her August 6 story, "Spike in Mass Bombings Against Civilians." My favorite paragraph of spin — not by Greenwell but by the Pentagon:

US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver said the relatively high number of people killed in large-scale attacks in July belied the significantly larger number of times security forces had been able to prevent bombings.

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The news for Iraqis who are still alive is almost as bad. Why the press — especially in the U.S. — ignores the State Department's own weekly reports is beyond me. From the August 8 status report:

Fuel: The bad news is that oil production is falling. The good news is that we've lowered the target for oil production. Oil-rich Iraq imports 58 percent of its gasoline, 27 percent of its natural gas, and 26 percent of its diesel.

Current fuel supplies? The target is 15 days' worth of fuels. Diesel supplies have fallen from 3 days' worth in June and July to only 2 days' worth in August, kerosene from 4 days' worth previously to 3, and gasoline from 3 days' worth in June to 2 days' worth in July to 1 day's worth of gasoline on hand right now. Thankfully, supplies of LPG (natural gas) have held steady: There was 1 day's supply in June, 1 in July, and 1 in August.

Electricity: The August 1-7 daily demand is 20 percent higher than during the same period last year. The daily supply is 12 percent lower. 43 percent of the total electricity demand is being met this year, compared with 58 percent last year. While temperatures are triple digit, Baghdad residents have only 4.9 hours of electricity a day right now, compared with a whopping 6.3 hours a day last August. Nationwide, Iraqis get 9.3 hours of power a day, compared with 10.7 last year.

Imagine the political hell that's raised in this country when the trains stop running, the bridges fall down, or the power goes out. Multiply that by a thousand and you'll understand why outside of Baghdad, major trouble is brewing, especially in the Shi'ite stronghold of Najaf. Even the U.S. State Department's deliberately sunny weekly reports can't put a smile on what's going in northern and southern Iraq, where all the oil fields are. Quoting from the August 8 report:

Najaf's unplugging of its power station from the national grid was a sign of provincial dissent over claimed unequal electricity distribution. The Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), is leading the charge to form an autonomous "South of Baghdad Region", but 45 tribal notables in Najaf signed their own pact that envisions creating "the self-rule government of the unified Iraqi south."Regardless of which group wins out, Baghdad faces a challenge that could affect not just electricity, but also revenue from the region's ports and oil fields.

What about north of Baghdad, in the supposedly more stable Kurdish areas? More from the report:

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) parliament unanimously approved the autonomous region's oil law August 6, signaling that the Kurds are moving forward with their own petroleum policy as Iraq's federal oil plans languish in Baghdad. Kurdish Oil Minister Ashti Hawrami is quoted as saying the legislation will now go to the Kurdistan Regional Government's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. The minister said the petroleum law was done within the federal framework of the constitution and added that he remained hopeful that Baghdad would move forward with its long-stalled federal oil law, possibly in September.

The power outages and oil struggles are helping cause Iraq's government to short out. Once upon a time, Iraq's central government officials in Baghdad were firing subordinates. Now they're firing themselves.

Government: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government is grinding to a halt. It can't even summon a minyan. Ayad Allawi, the ex-prime minister, announced August 7 that three of his party's cabinet ministers would no longer attend meetings. From our own State Department's August 8 report:

This move brings to 15 the number of Iraqi ministers who have withdrawn from Maliki's cabinet, almost half of the 37 cabinet members, dealing a major setback for Maliki's efforts to achieve national reconciliation among the county's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

We've spent $450 billion on the Iraq Debacle — wait a sec, it's closer to $451 billion.

Now climb aboard the Wayback Machine and go back just before the invasion of Iraq. These are the first two paragraphs of a February 28, 2003, New York Times story by Eric Schmitt:

In a contentious exchange over the costs of war with Iraq, the Pentagon's second-ranking official today disparaged a top Army general's assessment of the number of troops needed to secure postwar Iraq. House Democrats then accused the Pentagon official, Paul D. Wolfowitz, of concealing internal administration estimates on the cost of fighting and rebuilding the country.

Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, "wildly off the mark." Pentagon officials have put the figure closer to 100,000 troops.

Mr. Wolfowitz then dismissed articles in several newspapers this week asserting that Pentagon budget specialists put the cost of war and reconstruction at $60 billion to $95 billion in this fiscal year. He said it was impossible to predict accurately a war's duration, its destruction and the extent of rebuilding afterward.

In those heady days, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld displayed hubris that took your breath away. Now it's taken thousands of lives away. Neither would brook any criticism:

Enlisting countries to help to pay for this war and its aftermath would take more time, [Wolfowitz] said. "I expect we will get a lot of mitigation, but it will be easier after the fact than before the fact," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

Mr. Wolfowitz spent much of the hearing knocking down published estimates of the costs of war and rebuilding, saying the upper range of $95 billion was too high, and that the estimates were almost meaningless because of the variables. Moreover, he said such estimates, and speculation that postwar reconstruction costs could climb even higher, ignored the fact that Iraq is a wealthy country, with annual oil exports worth $15 billion to $20 billion. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he said.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld said the factors influencing cost estimates made even ranges imperfect. Asked whether he would release such ranges to permit a useful public debate on the subject, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "I've already decided that. It's not useful."

Now, however, it's useful.

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