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The Pentagon, no doubt while Robert Gates was busy elsewhere, trying along with Condi Rice to rekindle a sense of bi-partisan goals between Russia and the United States, was up to mischief in Iraq. Serious stuff--the kind of decision-making that characterized the early blunders by L. Paul Bremer, for which we are still paying a huge price.

Someone over at the Pentagon may be trying to set themselves up for a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Walter Pincus, over at the Washington Post reports

In August, the U.S. military requested bids on a new biometric credential system to provide identification cards for three Iraqi government ministries.

Identification cards. While most Iraqis hide as best they can any remote connection to U.S. forces (or even the Maliki government), so they are not targeted as ‘aiding the infidels,’ the Pentagon is proposing to make them carry ID cards. Brilliant.

"Without a strong ID program, anti-Iraqi forces can enter controlled areas and disrupt electrical systems, petroleum transportation and processing facilities," says a statement of work from the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq, which is seeking a "strong credential identification system" for 40,000 employees who work across Iraq for the Oil, Electricity and Water ministries.

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What Joint Contracting Command-Iraq chooses to ignore is that Iraqis are being killed on a daily basis for holding those jobs. Currently (take your choice), Sunnis are being killed at Shiite checkpoints, while Shiites are pulled from their cars by Sunnis, roaming work-routes.

Now, in a truly inspired program we have made them all victims. What could possibly be more democratic than equal-opportunity killing?

"Problems persist with individuals being represented as employees at various sites, with multiple records and duplicate salaries."

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"The best solution," according to the work statement, "is to enroll these workers biometrically by taking their fingerprints and other supporting biographical data. . . . This eliminates ghost employees because a duplicate enrollment can be immediately detected."

'Ghost employees' is about as ironic a choice of wording as could be achieved, even within the deeply ironic Defense Department. The ID program will also immediately eliminate four out of five employees who choose to starve rather than die, a reduction from 40,000 to 5,000. Think of the savings. But wait, the plan gets even better;

The fingerprints can also determine "trustworthy" employees because they be checked against the Iraqi Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which contains 300,000 criminal records from the former government of Saddam Hussein, as well as latent fingerprints collected by the United States from roadside bombs and insurgents' weapons.

In an ultimate insult from the grave, Saddam Hussein becomes arbiter of who is trustworthy.

I’m far from the only critic who has compared the Green Zone to OZ, but if any doubters remain let them parse the wording of the Request For Proposals (RFP). This is

  • A program devised within the privileged sanctity and safety of the Pentagon,
  • To be carried out from the near monastic comfort of the Green Zone and
  • Imposed upon victims of the shooting-gallery Baghdad has become.

There isn't a single American involved in this foolish imposition of IDs who would personally carry one through the streets of Baghdad or any other Iraqi area outside the blast-walls of the Green Zone. Just ask for a demonstration, prior to implementing the program. That's not an unusual request.

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The winning contractor is to design the system and provide equipment that would work with the Iraqi fingerprint program and the personnel operations of the three Iraqi ministries. The contractor would also provide technical support, program management and training, but the ID system would be in the hands of Iraqis and U.S. government personnel.

Anybody interested in working for Bush or Maliki? Just line up outside the gates. Or would you rather huddle with what’s left of your family and wait for starvation, or the next knock on the door from whoever roams your neighborhood with an AK-47?

This proposal will add another 40,000 desperate and unemployed Iraqis to the 400,000 desperate and unemployed Iraqis L. Paul Bremer created by disbanding the Iraqi Army. In a government that can't begin to weed out the terrorists from its newly formed police and army (presuming they are not purposely planted there), the statement that 'the ID system would be in the hands of Iraqis' pinpoints yet another American strategic mistake of horrendous proportion.

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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)

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