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Morning Report 8/2/05Pumping Irony


Cowering in line for your fuel ration in Baghdad? I think Rumsfeld once called it ‘catastrophic success.’

High degrees of frustration: Trying to stay cool and calm, a Baghdad resident (above) has to fill his swamp cooler by the pail because of no running water. But the power is on only one hour in six, so what’s the difference? Meanwhile, the biggest noose in town (below) is Saddam Hussein, currently on trial and pictured here by the weekly paper Al-Bayyna.

Talk all you want about what’s fueling Iraqis’ anger and frustration these days, but the basic problem is what is not fueling them: water, food and, yes, fuel. The latest blow came yesterday, when Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr Uloum announced plans to start rationing kerosene, cooking gas, and gasoline.

Hope they don’t get blown up while they’re waiting for their fuel-ration cards.

The L.A. Times points out this morning that Iraq sits atop the world’s second-biggest pool of oil and adds:

Increased demand for fuel and the failure of the U.S.-led reconstruction effort to restore refining capacity has led to chronic shortages, resulting in long lines and short tempers at gas stations. The government has been spending millions of dollars a month to import fuel to meet the nation’s needs. …

“Do you believe that this country … would suffer from an oil crisis?” asked Mazen Abdul Aziz, 52, a mechanical engineer who watched a half-mile gas line snake past his copy shop Monday. “It’s unbelievable.”

Don’t get the idea, however, that this is something new. As I pointed out in September 2004 and again this past March, Iraq has been importing fuel since the unjustified U.S. invasion and all through the disastrous reign of Medal of Freedom winner Jerry Bremer.

This morning’s L.A. Times story points out that post-invasion looting was a prime cause of the current fuel crisis:

Oil industry experts said several factors were behind the fuel predicament. … Iraq’s refining capacity was badly damaged by looting after the U.S.-led March 2003 invasion, and American and Iraqi reconstruction efforts have failed to restore the installations to full capacity. The Oil Ministry announced plans Monday to build two major refineries at a cost of up to $1.4 billion.

After we barged into the country, we at first didn’t lift a finger to stop looters. Incredibly, that was our policy—right from the top. If you’ll recall, Secretary of War Don Rumsfeld contended on April 11, 2003, that looters were just expressing themselves.

It surely was one of the most remarkable press conferences Rumsfeld ever conducted. Read the transcript if you don’t believe me.

Peppered by reporters’ questions about the TV images of out-of-control looters throughout Iraq, he replied at one point:

Think what’s happened in our cities when we’ve had riots, and problems, and looting. Stuff happens! But in terms of what’s going on in that country, it is a fundamental misunderstanding to see those images over, and over, and over again of some boy walking out with a vase and say, “Oh, my goodness, you didn’t have a plan.” That’s nonsense. They know what they’re doing, and they’re doing a terrific job.

And it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that’s what’s going to happen here.

The looting, however, continued. We’re still wondering, along with U.S. government investigators like Stuart Bowen, the British NGO Christian Aid and others, what happened to the $9 billion in Iraqi oil revenue that Bremer’s regime oversaw but which can’t be exactly accounted for.

Before all that happened, reporters were on point in April 2003, grilling Rumsfeld about the chaos in Iraq and asking when law and order would arrive. But Rumsfeld was practically creaming in his jeans about the U.S. “victory” and would have none of it. Here’s another highlight of his hubris at the time:

This is fascinating. This is just fascinating. From the very beginning, we were convinced that we would succeed, and that means that that regime would end. And we were convinced that as we went from the end of that regime to something other than that regime, there would be a period of transition.

And, you cannot do everything instantaneously; it’s never been done, everything instantaneously. We did, however, recognize that there was at least a chance of catastrophic success, if you will, to reverse the phrase, that you could in a given place or places have a victory that occurred well before reasonable people might have expected it, and that we needed to be ready for that; we needed to be ready with medicine, with food, with water. And, we have been.

Well, you haven’t been, Don. But you have given us a memorable phrase that continues to define the Iraq debacle: “catastrophic success.”

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