The Cable

Report: State Department's Iraq police training program being scaled back even further

The State Department's flagship program in Iraq to train police officers is failing and is being further scaled back to 10 percent of the original plan, according to a new audit report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

The massive program, which has cost more than $8 billion since 2003, was meant to employ over 350 police training advisors but now will be scaled back to just 36 U.S. advisors, 18 in Baghdad and 18 in Erbil.

That means that this year each advisor will cost the U.S. taxpayer $2.1 million and next year that number will jump to $4.2 million, the report said. The police development program in Basrah is also being shut down and the overall future of the program is in jeopardy, SIGIR reported.

"The State Department wisely has reduced the scope of the program in light of the level of Iraqi interest," said SIGIR Stuart Bowen in an interview with The Cable. "It's an unfortunate consequence of poor planning and a lack of Iraqi buy-in."

State Department officials had touted the program as one of their premier efforts in Iraq following the departure of all U.S. military forces last December, but they never figured out how they were going to handle the task and were always on a different page than the Iraqis.

"The U.S. wanted a large program, but the State Department didn't have any inherent capacity to carry out this program when they took it over and the Iraqis were never clear what they wanted, which was apparently much, much smaller," Bowen said.

Even the drastically scaled-down program as it stands has little chance of fulfilling its mission to help the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI) train a modern police force that can maintain security and be part of a functioning law enforcement scheme, according to the report, mostly because the Iraqi government never wanted it and never committed to it in the first place.

"Without the MOI's written commitment to the program, there is little reason to have confidence that the training program currently being planned will be accepted six months from now," the report said.

What's more, the State Department has closed the brand-new, $108 million facility is built for the program, called the Baghdad Police College Annex (BPAX), which it couldn't use because of security concerns. It simply costs too much for security to get U.S. personnel and contractors from the embassy compound to the new facility, so the whole complex was just handed over to the Iraqis. They may use the fields there for sports, Bowen said.

"Although BPAX's facilities will be given to the Iraqis, its closure amounts to a de facto waste of the estimated $108 million to be invested in its construction," the report stated. "In addition, DoS [the State Department] contributed $98 million in PDP funds for constructing the Basrah Consulate so it could be used for PDP training. It too will not be used because the MOI decided to terminate training at that location. This brings the total amount of de facto waste in the PDP-that is, funds not meaningfully used for the purpose of their appropriation-to about $206 million."

The program's problems are not new. In SIGIR's last audit of the police program last October, the oversight group said that State had not done an adequate assessment or proper strategic planning for the program, and that State had not determined what the Iraqis actually wanted or needed.

One main reason for the problems is that State can't handle the security needs of implementing the police program since the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq last December. Ninety-four percent of the money spent on the program is spent on overhead, mostly security, Bowen said.

Another problem was that the Iraqis didn't like the training they were receiving, as SIGIR explained in its April 2011 quarterly report. Bowen said those criticisms were still being heard one year later.

"We did learn from Iraqi government reporting that they were dissatisfied with the quality of the training they were receiving," Bowen said. "Some of the training they were receiving was low quality."

As of June 30, 2012, there were 15,007 people supporting the U.S. mission in Iraq -- 1,235 U.S. government employees and 13,772 contractors. The size of the overall mission is expected to go down dramatically in the coming months.

The Cable

Washington punk rockers rally for Pussy Riot

More than 40 local punk-rock and arts community activists braved the sweltering Washington heat on Friday afternoon to demonstrate outside the Russian embassy in support of Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, whose members were arrested and jailed in February after performing a punk-rock prayer in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ of the Russian Orthodox Church lambasting President Vladimir Putin.

Amnesty International, which organized the protest, has deemed Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tokokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samutsevitch "prisoners of conscience," since they have been charged with hooliganism and denied bail. The three women face up to seven years in prison and are scheduled to go on trial Monday in Moscow.

"We are very concerned not only for these three young women in their twenties who have been kept away from their families and their kids, but that this is a very chilling sign of what's happening in Russia in terms of freedom of expression, and also that they have been denied due process rights," Amnesty's chief of campaigns and programs Michelle Ringuette told The Cable. "It has stark implications for what kind of message is being sent."

The event began in front of the embassy, an imposing Soviet-style compound, with a rousing megaphone call of, "We won't stay quiet, set free Pussy Riot," while participants marched around in circles holding fluorescent signs and photos of the three women to the beat of Washington punk-rock band Brenda's Leah Gage drum.

Protesters, some wearing Pussy Riot's signature brightly-colored balaclavas, were disappointed when federal authorities informed them that they had to stay off the brick driveway in front of the embassy and limit their activities to the sidewalk.

There were nonetheless speeches from Amnesty representatives, Brenda member Dave Lesser, and Mark Andersen of local punk activist group Positive Force, who rallied the protesters with his rousing indictment of Putin and the Russian government.

"The people who are inside this building need to understand that people are watching around the world,  and if Vladimir Putin wants to pretend to be a royal leader worthy of recognition or respect, he should act like it," Andersen shouted into the megaphone. "I have to say, I think it's very strange that I have to stand in front of the Russian embassy to talk about something like this. I'm old enough so that I know all about what happened in the Soviet Union. That was supposed to be in the ashbin of history."

After Andersen's speech, authorities moved in and told participants to move to a small park across the street, where local punk bands were supposed to stage a concert as part of the event. According to the protest's Facebook page, however, some last-minute pushback from the Washington city government forced them to cancel it. After the move to the park and some more megaphone preaching, the fledgling protest died down as people began to disperse as Amnesty workers continued to circulate petitions.

No Russian authorities appeared on the scene at any point during the demonstration, but some drivers honked their horns, and onlookers across the street whipped out their cameras. It was unclear whether any of them actually knew what Amnesty was protesting, as most seemed bewildered by the young crowd wearing ski masks and demanding the band's release. Even the members of Brenda had no idea who Pussy Riot was until they were invited to the protest.

"First, it all of it was we got a show, and then as we started to learn more about Pussy Riot and how much it sucks that you can be detained with the threat of seven years in prison, it became about supporting them," band member Dave Lesser told The Cable. "I think this process has been transformative, realizing that music isn't necesssarily a right, it's a privilege."

Even a few Russian citizens eventually showed up.

"I think Russia is a country that still struggles with the separation of church and state, and this is one of the cases that I think is very indicative of that," a Russian citizen, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Cable.

According to Amnesty's Ringuette, the protest was only a part of a larger campaign to free Pussy Riot. She said the NGO is encouraging people to sent letters to the Russian embassy through its website.

Peter Cane