Entries in Iraq (24)


US May Have Wasted $8 Billion in Effort to Rebuild Iraq

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Almost ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an accounting of the $60 billion the U.S. spent to help rebuild the country has determined that at least $8 billion of it may have been wasted, a figure equal to 15 percent of the funds the U.S. dedicated to the effort.

The special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction (SIGIR) said it has been unable to find record-keeping to justify where the $8 billion may have been spent.

Established by Congress nine years ago to keep tabs on how the $60 billion in Iraq reconstruction money was being spent, SIGIR is wrapping up its work after having conducted 390 audits and 600 inspections.

Throughout those investigations, SIGIR officials often complained about shoddy record-keeping that made it difficult for them to track the funding and oversight of the reconstruction projects in Iraq.

According to the audit, “We found that incomplete and unstandarized databases left us unable to identify the specific use of billions of dollars spent on projects, because the U.S. government agencies involved were not required to manage project data in a uniform and comprehensive manner.”

SIGIR also released a 186-page final report entitled Learning from Iraq that contained interviews with senior American and Iraqi leaders who lamented the missed opportunities the aid money presented.   Their comments reaffirmed what SIGIR officials had determined over the years – that the U.S. undertook large projects in Iraq without much input from Iraqis or long-range planning for how they would be maintained after the U.S. military left Iraq, including $40 million spent on a prison in the Diyala province that was never finished, and that Iraqis have no plans to use.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Senate Panel Grills Candidate to Head Central Command

PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The general assigned to head the U.S. Central Command in the Middle East was grilled on Thursday about Afghanistan and Iraq by members on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

As it happened Army Gen. Lloyd Austin oversaw the final drawdown of forces in Iraq in 2011 that left virtually no American soldiers other than those who protected the embassy in Baghdad.

At the time, Austin's recommendation was for a force of above 3,500 troops but because Baghdad refused to grant U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution, the Obama administration decided against leaving a residual force.

Austin told the Senate panel that he found ongoing violence in Iraq troubling and that a residual force might have acted as a stabilizing influence as Iraqi national soldiers and police still get their bearings.

Meanwhile, the general suggested that plans for the U.S. and its coalition partners to fund a reduced Afghan force of 230,000 after 2014 could result in shakier security with the Taliban still threatening to take over the country.

Austin added that he has no input yet on the Obama administration's post-Afghanistan war strategy and how many American forces will be left there when the major withdrawal is completed next year.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Joe Biden Calls GOP a 'Different Breed of Cat'

ABC News(PORTSMOUTH, Ohio) – Vice President Joe Biden often proclaims how different the Republican Party is from generations ago, but in Portsmouth, Ohio, Sunday, he had a new way to describe them – a “different breed of cat.”

“They’re not bad guys. It’s just a different, as my brother would say, different breed of cat,” Biden said at Portsmouth High School.

In nearly every speech, Biden cites the transformation of the GOP with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan now at the helm of the party, telling audiences, “This is not your father’s Republican Party.”

Biden, whose son Beau is an Iraq war veteran, stressed the importance of acknowledging the sacrifices and contributions made by U.S. troops, a talking point he’s focused on since Romney failed to mention Afghanistan in his convention speech in August.

“Folks, folks, let me ask you: How many of you, like me, had a son or a daughter who went to Iraq or Afghanistan? How many of you have a brother or sister. How many of you know somebody who’s gone? You all know, you all know, we owe these young women and men an incredible debt to them, we owe those families an incredible debt,” he said.

“Those of you who have people deployed, you know — five, ten times a day, it just flashes through your mind. Folks we owe so much,” Biden later added. “This is going to go down, when we record this 9/11 generation, as the second greatest generation in the history of this country.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, Romney continued to defend his omission of Afghanistan from his speech at the Republican National Convention, saying that policy is more important than words.

“I have some differences on policy with the president. I happen to think those are more important than what word I mention in each speech,” Romney said.

A crowd of 700 gathered at the local high school to listen to Biden, who has campaigned in the state over the weekend and will return to the state Wednesday. The vice president expressed his comfort level campaigning in an area similar to where he grew up in Pennsylvania.

“If you know northeast Pennsylvania, you’ll not be surprised. It’s not a whole lot different than southern Ohio, or actually a lot of parts of Ohio,” Biden said. “I feel really comfortable here. I’ve been here a lot. I plan on coming back a lot.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


President Obama to Troops: 'I Meant What I Said’ on War, Veterans’ Care

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages(FORT BLISS, Texas) -- President Obama told several hundred troops with the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss in Texas that he kept his promises as commander-in-chief during the past three-and-a-half years, ending the war in Iraq, drawing down forces in Afghanistan and redoubling care for returning veterans.

His record, he said, was proof that he can be trusted at the helm for four more years.

“I told the American people that all our troops would be out of Iraq by the end of [2011],” Obama said. “At the time I know some folks didn’t believe me. They were skeptical. Some thought the end of combat was just word games and semantics. But I meant what I said.”

“Two years ago I also told you that we’d keep up the fight in Afghanistan,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you the truth. This is still a very tough fight…. Just as in Iraq, we are going to end this war responsibly.”

The message, coming on the heels of the Republican National Convention and exactly two years after the U.S. ended combat operations in Iraq, was as much an appeal to war-weary voters as it was to the troops he leads.  Both constituencies are seen as key voting blocs by Obama’s re-election campaign.

As Obama spoke, his top aides pointed out that campaign rival Mitt Romney made no mention of war -- or the troops -- in his prime time convention address on Thursday night.  

“In an almost 45-minute speech, Romney didn’t find a moment to mention our troops in Afghanistan or how we’re providing for our veterans when they return home,” said senior Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod. “So American people last night didn’t get any straight answers from Mitt Romney. They got nothing but evasion, distraction and insults.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that he was “surprised” that Romney failed to “mention the 70,000 men and women who are serving in Afghanistan, executing a mission that is profoundly important to America’s national security in a conflict that was the direct result of an attack on the United States by al Qaeda.”

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams noted that on Wednesday the governor addressed the American Legion national convention, a group whose invitation Obama declined.

“The Obama campaign’s attack on Governor Romney today is another attempt to politicize the war in Afghanistan, a war in which President Obama has dangerously based his decisions on political calculations, endangering our mission,” Williams said.

Obama has implemented a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, with all American troops set to be out of the country by 2014.

The president last visited Ft. Bliss two years ago -- Aug. 31, 2010 -- to announce the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.  Sixteen months later the final U.S. troops withdrew from that country after nearly a decade of war. Nearly 4,500 Americans died in the Iraq War, including 198 from the 1st Armored Division based at Fort Bliss.

“When I was here last I made you a pledge. I said that as president, I will insist that America serves you and your families as well as you’ve served us,” Obama told the troops. “And there again, I meant what I said.”

Earlier Friday, Obama signed an executive order to expand mental health services and suicide prevention efforts for veterans and military families.

“I know that you join me in saying to everyone who’s ever worn the uniform, if you’re hurting, it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help. It’s a sign of strength,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama to Visit Fort Bliss to Highlight End of Iraq War

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As his Republican rivals kick off the final stretch of their campaign, President Obama on Friday will publicly remind voters of his record as commander-in-chief, traveling to a Texas military base to thank service members and commemorate a war he brought to an end.

Obama will visit Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas -- home to Army units that deployed in the Iraq War -- to hold a private roundtable discussion with service members and deliver an address to mark the two-year anniversary of the end of U.S. combat operations Iraq.  The last American troops withdrew from the country in December 2011.

The trip, billed as an official White House visit, is also an opportunity for Obama to highlight what is one of the signature achievements of his first term and the fulfillment of a popular campaign promise from 2008.

“His record is a substantive record when it comes to the profound commitment and decision to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home.  And his record is substantial when it comes to supporting our veterans,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday of the trip.

The president will emphasize “the effort that his administration is continuing to make and steps that the administration is continuing to take that are essential to ensure that those who fought for us overseas are being fought for by us here at home,” Carney added.

Obama has repeatedly over the past three years sought to remind Americans of his pledge to bring the increasingly unpopular war to a close, hoping to leverage public support for his leadership on the issue into a boost in the polls.

After returning from his first visit to Fort Bliss on Aug. 31, 2010, Obama delivered a nationally-televised Oval Office address to declare Operation Iraqi Freedom over.  In October 2011, he took to the White House briefing room to herald a planned complete drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq by year’s end.  Three months later, Obama hailed the official end of war in Iraq on a visit to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

“This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making,” Obama said in December.  “And today, we remember everything that you did to make it possible. … Hard work and sacrifice.  Those words only begin to describe the cost of this war and the courage of the men and women who have fought it.  We know well the heavy cost of this war.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Praises Self for Ending Iraq War on Bloodiest Day of Year There

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama’s campaign on Monday released a video praising the president for ending the war in Iraq.  The clip comes on the same day that has proven to be the deadliest day of the year in that country.

A wave of attacks throughout Iraq Monday, involving IEDs, explosions and gunmen, resulted in more than 100 people killed and more than 200 wounded.

On Sunday, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al Qaeda’s top leader in Iraq, released an audio message announcing, ”We are setting off a new stage of our struggle, with the launch of a plan named ‘breaking the walls.’”

None of those killed Monday appear to be American.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rep. Joe Walsh: Iraq War Vet Opponent Talks Too Much to Be ‘True’ Hero

US House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Joe Walsh’s Facebook page is flooded with negative comments after the Illinois Republican said Tuesday that his opponent, Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, was not a “true” hero because she often makes reference to her military service on the campaign trail.

Duckworth lost both her legs after an RPG attack in Iraq brought down the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting in 2004.

Walsh has not served in the military.

“My God, that’s all she talks about,” Walsh said of Duckworth’s military career in a video recorded at Walsh’s town hall speech Sunday and posted by Think Progress. “Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, my God, that’s the last thing in the world they talk about. That’s why we are so indebted and in awe of what they have done.”

Duckworth’s campaign bio is almost entirely dedicated to her military career. She is currently a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.

“Congressman Walsh’s comments insult those who sacrificed to make this country free,” Duckworth’s campaign manager Kaitlin Fahey said in a statement. “Tammy is proud of her over twenty years of service with the Army and her family’s legacy of fighting for this country.”

In a statement Tuesday, Walsh insisted that he was not implying that Duckworth is not a hero, but instead criticizing her for speaking only about her military service and not about her policies.

“Of course Tammy Duckworth is a hero. I have called her a hero 100′s of times in the past four months,” Walsh said. “However, unlike most veterans I have had the honor to meet since my election to Congress, who rarely if ever talk about their service or the combat they’ve seen, that is darn near all of what Tammy Duckworth talks about.

“We are about four months from Election Day and the people of Illinois have no idea where Tammy Duckworth stands on these issues,” he said.

Emily’s List, a group devoted to electing women to Congress, launched a petition against Walsh over his comments Tuesday, saying “if Tammy Duckworth isn’t a hero, then there are no heroes in this world,”

“Tomorrow is a day for all Americans to honor the men and women who fought for our country’s independence. But instead, Joe Walsh is questioning Tammy’s service and sacrifice to this nation,” the group’s executive director, Amy Dacey, wrote in an email to supporters. “I am so completely outraged about this, and I am sure you are too.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


McGurk Withdrawing Nomination to Be Ambassador to Iraq

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk, has withdrawn his nomination amid questions about his professionalism and experience.

Some on Capitol Hill already had questions about McGurk, a former National Security Council staffer for both President George W. Bush and President Obama, given his lack of managerial experience and role in negotiations with Iraq that ended with the United States withdrawing all combat troops.

It seemed McGurk might weather those criticisms, but earlier this month someone leaked emails he sent in 2008 while in Iraq, ones in which he wooed a female Wall Street Journal reporter — perhaps jokingly referencing favors of access and information. He later divorced his wife and married the reporter. Senators wanted to question McGurk about suggestions in the emails, jokingly or otherwise, that he would give a reporter access to sensitive information and power if their relationship blossomed.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement: “We greatly appreciate Brett’s years of service on behalf of the United States, to include tireless and effective leadership in Iraq from the height of the war to the moment our last troops left Iraq in December and through the challenging transition earlier this year. He served in two administrations, and his commitment to the national interest and to the mission was always clear. He has proven himself to be a skilled diplomat willing to take on some of the toughest challenges at the toughest times in a difficult region. While we regret to see Brett withdraw his candidacy there is no doubt that he will be called on again to serve the country.”

Last week, six Republican senators on the Foreign Relations Committee asked the president to withdraw McGurk’s nomination. White House press secretary Jay Carney said in response that “the president put forward this nominee because he is qualified for the job and will serve ably when he’s confirmed.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senate GOP Calls on Obama to Pull McGurk Nomination

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Six Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today called on President Obama to withdraw his nominee for U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk, after a racy email exchange and affair with a reporter was leaked late last week.

The senators call into question McGurk’s judgment given the email scandal in which he perhaps jokingly references favors of access and information to a Wall Street Journal journalist, who he had an affair with.

“As members of the committee, with the responsibility of providing advice and consent, we write to respectfully urge you to reconsider this nomination,” Senators Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, James Risch, R-Idaho, John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, Mike Lee, R-Utah, Marco Rubio, R-Florida and James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, write. “There are strong concerns about Mr. McGurk’s qualifications, his ability to work with Iraqi officials, and now his judgment.”

The senators highlight concerns they had about McGurk even before the emails were leaked – his lack of “leadership and management experience, his lead role in the “botched 2011 Status of Forces Agreement negotiation, and reports that some Iraqi political groups have stated they will not work with Mr. McGurk if confirmed as the next Ambassador.”

But it is this latest email scandal that may have been the last straw for McGurk, the senators’ letter implies.

“The public release of information detailing unprofessional conduct demonstrates poor judgment and will affect the nominee’s credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve. The fact that this information was not disclosed to senators is also disconcerting.”

All these issues together, the Republican Senators state, cannot be overlooked.

“The U.S.-Iraq relationship is of the utmost importance to us, and we respectfully request that you withdraw this nominee and nominate someone with the qualifications necessary to ensure success in this position,” the letter stated.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today was adamant that the White House still backs McGurk’s nomination.

“We believe that the United States will be greatly served by Mr. McGurk’s experience in Iraq, which is substantial,” Carney said in response to the letter this afternoon. “The president supports his nomination he put forward. He has a great deal of experience in Iraq, not just in this administration but in the prior administration. He thinks he will serve ably as ambassador.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


State Department Sticks By McGurk, Despite Racy Emails

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When sexually explicit emails first surfaced between Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s nominee to be the ambassador to Iraq, and a Wall Street Journal reporter who later became McGurk’s wife, the State Department refused to comment.

But now spokesperson Victoria Nuland is making it clear the State Department is sticking by its choice.

Nuland defended the nomination of McGurk calling him “uniquely qualified” for the position.

“He spent the better part of the last decade serving our country in and out of Iraq, working for a Republican administration, a Democratic administration,” she told reporters. “He is in our view uniquely qualified to serve as the ambassador and we urge the Senate to act quickly on his nomination,” she said.

Nuland would not comment directly on the explicit nature of the emails, some of which included references to masturbation. The email exchanges were sent to Gina Chon in 2008 when McGurk was working in Iraq negotiating sensitive diplomatic issues such as the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops. Chon was covering Iraq for the Journal. At the time McGurk was married. The blog Cryptome published their racy correspondence earlier this week. ABC News has confirmed the authenticity of the emails.

Senate sources tell ABC News that they have questions over whether McGurk was offering access to information and power, even jokingly, to Chon as part of their blooming relationship. For example in one email Chon jokingly refers to reporters as vultures attacking sources, to which he replies, “If treated to many glasses of wine -- you could be the chosen vulture.”

McGurk also talks about bringing the reporter with him to dinner with a leading Iraqi politician. He ultimately does not, but writes later, “I had a very good day with the Iraqi’s … the best yet. Can’t tell you about it of course. But you should definitely stay past Sunday,” he writes.

McGurk and Chon are now married, a point Nuland made to reporters saying that she had no comment on the emails except that “they are out there for everyone to see between him and the woman who subsequently became his wife.”

As to whether McGurk was properly vetted, Nuland maintained that “all of the necessary things were done before his nomination” and managed with the exact same process the administration uses for all nominations.

Nuland would not comment specifically about Republican Senate criticism of the emails and McGurk’s nomination, but confirmed that the department is continuing to work with members of Congress over McGurk’s nomination process, “in support of it as we do on all nominees.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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