The shipment of laptop computers that arrived in Iraq’s main seaport in February was a small but important part of the American military’s mission here to win hearts and minds. What happened afterward is a tale of good intentions mugged by Iraq’s reality.
The computers — 8,080 in all, worth $1.8 million — were bought for schoolchildren in Babil, modern-day Babylon, a gift of the American taxpayers. Only they became mired for months in customs at the port, Umm Qasr, stalled by bureaucracy or venality, or some combination of the two. And then they were gone.
Corruption is so rampant here — and American reconstruction efforts so replete with their own mismanagement — that the fate of the computers could have ended as an anecdote in a familiar, if disturbing trend. Iraq, after all, ranks above only Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia on Transparency International’s annual corruption index.
But the American military commander in southern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, was clearly furious. Even if the culprits are not exactly known, the victims are: Iraqi children and American taxpayers. He issued a rare and stinging public rebuke of a government that the United States hopes to treat as an equal, strategic partner — flawed, perhaps, but getting better.
In a statement, he demanded an investigation into the actions of “a senior Umm Qasr official,” who, even now, has not been identified…
Then, in August, Iraqis auctioned off 4,200 of the computers — for $45,700. The whereabouts of the rest are unknown…
In early September, the auctioned computers were recovered, according to Iraqi officials, who nevertheless declined to discuss how or where. They had been sold to a businessman in Basra, Hussein Nuri al-Hassan. He could not be found last week at the address he gave when buying the computers..
None of the officials, most of whom would speak only on the condition of anonymity, could explain what happened to the rest of the computers…
RTFA. There’s lots of detail before the disappearance – and after. You should be able to imagine most of it.
I don’t think things were especially different before we started on this neocon, nation-building adventure in the Middle East. Not in my experience, anyway. But, watching our government trying week after week to put a shiny coat of wax on a rusty 1957 Plymouth – and call it a Chrysler Imperial – is a farce.