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Peter Van Buren, How the American Taxpayer Got Plucked in Iraq

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This story originally appeared at  TomDispatch .com.

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Who doesn't like roasted chicken? Fresh, crispy with a little salt, it falls off the bone into your mouth. It's a great thing, unless the price is $2.5 million of your tax dollars.

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As a Foreign Service Officer with a 20-year career in the State Department, and as part of the George W. Obama global wars of terror, I was sent to play a small part in the largest nation-building project since the post-World War II Marshall Plan: the reconstruction of Iraq following the American invasion of 2003. My contractor colleagues and I were told to spend money, lots of money, to rebuild water and sewage systems, fix up schools, and most of all, create an economic base so wonderful that Iraqis would turn away from terrorism for a shot at capitalism. Shopping bags full of affirmation would displace suicide vests.

Through a process amply illustrated below, in my neck of rural Iraq all this lofty sounding idealism translated into putting millions of dollars into building a chicken-processing plant. It would, so the thinking went, push aside the live-chickens-in-the-marketplace system that Iraqis had used for 5,000 years, including 4,992 years without either the Americans or al-Qaeda around. It did not work, for all sorts of reasons illustrated in the story below.  We did have great ambitions, however, and even made a video to celebrate opening day. Don't miss the sign at the very the beginning thanking us Americans for "the rehabilitation of [the] massacre of poultry." We sure paid for the sign, but the quality of the proofreading gives you an idea of how much thought went into the whole affair.

If the old saying that there is nothing more frightening than ignorance in action is true, you should be terrified after reading this excerpt from my new book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. And keep in mind that it all happened on your dime.  What follows catches my experience of what was blithely called "reconstruction" in post-invasion Iraq.  I can assure you of one thing: the State Department isn't exactly thrilled with my version of their operations in Iraq -- and they've acted accordingly when it comes to me (something you can read about by clicking here).  For this excerpt, I suggest adding only a little salt.  Peter Van Buren

Chickening Out in Iraq
How Your Tax Dollars Financed "Reconstruction" Madness in the Middle East

By Peter Van Buren

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Very few people outside the agricultural world know that if the rooster in a flock dies the hens will continue to produce fertile eggs for up to four weeks because "sperm nests," located in the ovary ducts of hens, collect and store sperm as a survival mechanism to ensure fertile eggs even after the male is gone. I had to know this as part of my role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Like learning that Baghdad produced 8,000 tons of trash every day, who could have imagined when we invaded Iraq that such information would be important to the Global War on Terror? If I were to meet George W., I would tell him this by way of suggesting that he did not know what he was getting the country into.

I would also invite the former president along to visit a chicken-processing plant built with your tax dollars and overseen by my ePRT (embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team). We really bought into the chicken idea and spent like drunken sailors on shore leave to prove it. In this case, the price was $2.58 million for the facility.

The first indication this was all chicken sh*t was the smell as we arrived at the plant with a group of Embassy friends on a field trip. The odor that greeted us when we walked into what should have been the chicken-killing fields of Iraq was fresh paint. There was no evidence of chicken killing as we walked past a line of refrigerated coolers.

When we opened one fridge door, expecting to see chickens chilling, we found instead old buckets of paint. Our guide quickly noted that the plant had purchased 25 chickens that morning specifically to kill for us and to feature in a video on the glories of the new plant. This was good news, a 100% jump in productivity from previous days, when the plant killed no chickens at all.

Investing in a Tramway of Chicken Death

The first step in Iraqi chicken killing was remarkably old. The plant had a small window, actually the single window in the whole place, that faced toward a parking lot and, way beyond that, Mecca. A sad, skinny man pulled a chicken out of a wire cage, showed it the parking lot, and then cut off its head.

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The man continued to grab, point, and cut 25 times. Soon 25 heads accumulated at his feet. The sharply bright red blood began to pool on the floor, floating the heads. It was enough to turn you vegan on the spot, swearing never to eat anything substantive enough to cast a shadow. The slasher did not appear to like or dislike his work. He looked bored. I kept expecting him to pull a carny sideshow grin or wave a chicken head at us, but he killed the chickens and then walked out. This appeared to be the extent of his job.

Once the executioner was done, the few other workers present started up the chicken-processing machinery, a long traveling belt with hooks to transport the chickens to and through the various processing stations, like the ultimate adventure ride. But instead of passing Cinderella's castle and Tomorrowland, the tramway stopped at the boiler, the defeatherer, and the leg saw.

First, it paused in front of an employee who took a dead chicken and hung it by its feet on a hook, launching it on its journey to the next station, where it was sprayed with pressurized steam. This loosened the feathers before the belt transported the carcasses to spinning brushes, like a car wash, that knocked the feathers off. Fluff and chicken water flew everywhere.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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