In less flippant Iraq news, Juan Cole has the rightly angry take on new reports of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on a failed attempt to rebuild Iraq's water, sewage, and electrical systems.

Oddly, the Los Angeles Times piece Cole quotes seems to go out of its way to blame Iraqi incompetence for being unable to run the electrical and water treatment plants that were built by the private U.S. contractors. But that's ludicrous on its face. Iraqis had little trouble, it seems, running these sorts of plants before the U.S. invasion in 2003—under a regime, mind you, crippled by sanctions and suffering a "brain drain" from the fleeing educated class. So why are they having so much trouble now? Cole thinks it's because the plants were build "in the American way," rather than using Iraqi techniques and parts. Maybe. The Iraqis in the Times piece, meanwhile, complain that "the Americans excluded them from the early stages of the projects and have not provided adequate funds for upkeep." Either way, read the Times piece—it's a fascinating glimpse at how chaotic and shamefully inept the entire reconstruction process has really been.

Wow, new Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is sure walking around like he owns the place. Amnesty for Sunni insurgents, he says. No Islamic family law, he says. Do the Shiites know about all this?

Besides the continuing uproar over Tom DeLay, the John Bolton confirmation hearings, and the frenzied attacks on conservative judges, the other big news in Congress this week is whether or not the GOP is ever going to go through with its "nuclear option" and strip the Democrats of their ability to filibuster judicial nominees.

Over the past few weeks, the various reports I've read indicated that moderate Republicans are nervous about going this route because the Democrats have threatened to retaliate by bringing Congress to a halt using the black arts outlined in the Senate procedural rulebook. In short, they would "point of order" Congress to a standstill. But that seems entirely unlikely; as Michael Crowley argues in this week's New Republic, this is a weak position for Democrats to be in. The president can always saunter on down to Capitol Hill and demand that they pass bill X or bill Y on "national security" grounds. (Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has already said he wouldn't block bills dealing with national security or "critical government services.") So the more likely story is that Senate Republican leader Bill Frist simply doesn't have the votes he needs to go nuclear. Too many Republicans are worried that one day, they won't be in the majority, and believe that the filibuster is more useful to conservatives than liberals.

The truly imaginative interpretation, meanwhile, is that Frist is simply afraid to abolish the filibuster. If the GOP Senate started passing the sort of judges that Christian conservatives want them to pass—judges who would ban abortion or eliminate workplace protections for gays or order a camera in every bedroom to regulate sexual activity—that Republican majority would be gone quite quickly. But again I'm not sure if this would actually happen or not; there are, after all, plenty of conservative judges who both oppose abortion publicly but are sufficiently committed to judicial precedent that they wouldn't overturn Roe vs. Wade willy-nilly—a compromise that would seemingly satisfy everyone.

It's also important to keep in mind that the ultimately Republican goal here isn't to strip away Roe vs. Wade—after all, the party gets plenty of mileage out of its angry evangelical activists, and there's no sense placating them—but to install lots and lots of pro-business judges who will roll back the sort of economic regulations crafted during and after the New Deal. Workplace standards, wage guarantees, labor regulations. That's the end goal. Michael Scherer reported on this ongoing "judicial revolution" in Mother Jones a few years back and the piece is still very relevant today.

Iraq: The Real Election: What exactly did the January vote in Iraq mean? By Mark Danner.

Creating an Uncivil Society: The Bush assault on civil liberties and the most basic aspects of civil society. By Tom Engelhardt.

Just go read it.

...also, Eric Reeves' latest dispatch on Sudan is out, so go read that too. For those who still think the recent ICC referral is going to "deter" the genocidaires in Darfur, consider this:

A Darfuri in exile, with exceptionally good contacts on the ground in Darfur, also reports that in the wake of the UN's referral of Darfur war crimes to the ICC, there is a "feeling among the NGO and humanitarian aid community that the Janjaweed would escalate their attacks on foreigners." This source also refers to Khartoum's opening of "camps for training foreign Janjaweed and Arab mujahadeen from other countries to fight [foreigners]. These people may now target the foreign [humanitarian aid] community in Darfur."

Out of control! Do these sound like the sort of folks, by the way, who will be deterred by a bit more "diplomatic pressure" from Robert Zoellick? Or by a UN resolution that freezes their assets and slaps down travel bans? No, clearly not. And the situation is getting worse by the day: starvation, death, destruction, it's all there. Meanwhile, what the hell is wrong with Condoleeza Rice? From the Times today: "Ms. Rice did not hold out much hope that the administration's strategy would accomplish a great deal. The Sudanese leaders, she said, 'have learned that much of what we consider terribly wrong, they can get away with.'" Not holding out much hope? Then for Christ's sake, Condi, it's time to try something else.

Lou Dubose, who's written about Tom DeLay for Mother Jones in the past, has an excellent overview of the House Majority Leader in Salon today, with a useful explanation of why so many Republicans are lashing themselves to his sinking ship. (Hint: Money can buy loyalty.) Also, Slate's running a much-linked summary of the varieties of DeLay shadiness. They seem to be a bit too lenient on the flying scandals, though, especially if it turns out to be true that DeLay's vote against the air war in Kosovo was somehow linked to Russian lobbying. I seem to remember the right getting itself worked up in a lather during the (still-being-investigated) rumors in 2003 that Labor MP George Galloway in Britain opposed the Iraq war because he was on Saddam's payroll. Well, where's the outrage now? Froth! I want froth!

Transition time

Apparently it's "all Iraq, all the time" day here at Mother Jones. Nevertheless, I stumbled on a few backgrounders from the Council on Foreign Relations that provide as good a look as any on the new government and what we can expect in the coming months in Iraq:

  • Backgrounder on new Shiite prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaaferi. Interestingly, Shiite scholar Faleh Jabar claims that Jaaferi tried to keep his political organization, al-Daawa, independent from the Iranian government during the group's exile there in the 1980s and 90s. This despite "tremendous Iranian pressure." But links between Daawa and Iran are still "murky." Also, experts disagree on whether Jaaferi will be able to forge compromises between Iraq's different ethnic/sectarian groups, or whether his government will be too weak to form a consensus.
  • Backgrounder on the transitional government. Note that the National Assembly is supposed to draft Iraq's new constitution by August 15th. The new president, Jalal Talabani, claims that they'll get it done by then, but given how long it took just to form a new government, odds are they'll have to ask for an extension.
  • Backgrounder on de-Baathification. Interestingly, most Western scholars quoted are against a widespread purge of Baathists, most of whom are Sunnis, from the government. But the Shiites and Kurds now in charge are hinting at taking strong anti-Baath measures, not only to remove the thousands of ex-Baathists currently in government, but banning any former Baath Party member from ever taking high-ranking political or military jobs again. The problem here is that a lot of those disgruntled former military officers and ministry employees could end up taking their knowledge and going to play with the Sunni insurgency. That's what happened after the original Baath purges, under Paul Bremer in 2003.
  • Following up on the post below, I'm a bit unclear as to why fighting alongside openly gay soldiers would be such a problem. After all, it seems that the Army has been doing it in Iraq for nearly two years now:

    [I]t should be noted that American troops have been serving with gay British soldiers in Iraq for the past 18 months. British military authorities have noted that there have been no problems. The British navy is so pleased with gay personnel that they are now actively recruiting gays and lesbians. Part of this effort includes allowing gay couples to live in housing previously reserved for married couples. Royal Navy Commodore Paul Docherty said they want to change the military's culture so that gays will feel comfortable working there.

    Hm, maybe if Iraq ever implodes and a real civil war breaks out—none of this weak-kneed "fifty attacks, scores of dead Iraqis a day" business—conservatives can blame it all on British homosexuality.

    Here's an interesting story about Sgt. Robert Stout, a soldier wounded in Iraq who has asked to stay in the Army as an openly gay soldier. The first openly gay soldier, in fact. Some details: Stout "has not encountered trouble from his fellow soldiers," and he notes that changing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, in which gay men and women can serve if they keep their sexuality a secret, could be the answer to the military's recruitment woes. "I know a ton of gay men that would be more than willing to stay in the Army if they could just be open." Hm, well, given the much-noted trouble the Army has had in finding new soldiers, maybe change will come sooner than we think.

    Then again, for the past few years the military has had no qualms about putting its injunction against homosexuals above its own, more pressing needs. In an age where the military has been struggling mightily to train its troops and intelligence officers in foreign languages, especially in Middle Eastern languages, at least 20 Arabic speakers and six Farsi speakers were discharged between 1998 and 2004, all because they were gay. So best of luck to Sgt. Stout, but he's swimming against a strong, strong current here.

    It's not often we link to gossip columnists, but Lloyd Grove's bit in the New York Daily News today about the controversy surrounding the New York Times' Badghdad Bureau is sort of intriguing:

    The perils of Iraq have nothing on the nasty fracas erupting between former New York Times Baghdad Bureau Chief Susan Sachs and her ex-colleagues, Times Baghdad correspondents Dexter Filkins and John Burns.

    The Gray Lady's management has just fired Sachs, a widely respected and experienced journalist who has tangled bitterly with Burns and Filkins, over allegations that she sent anonymous letters and an E-mail to their wives alleging bad behavior with women in the war zone….

    But there's certainly no love lost between Sachs and her former colleagues in Baghdad. Back in January, The New York Observer reported that relations between Sachs and Burns and Filkins had become so toxic that Times Executive Editor Bill Keller dispatched then-foreign editor Roger Cohen to broker peace. During a meeting at the bureau to quell the antagonism, Sachs demanded the session be tape-recorded. Soon after the failed effort, Sachs - who loudly complained when Filkins starting carrying a gun - was recalled to New York.

    Can't say Iraq is the sort of place where tensions wouldn't run high. On a far, far more substantial note, though, the International Federation of Journalists today published "credible and convincing" reports that the United States has been targeting journalists in Iraq. (You'll recall that Eason Jordan of CNN was forced to resign after making similar accusations a few months back.) I don't at all feel comfortable judging or assessing what's going on here—or distinguishing between "targeted" killings and journalists getting caught in the crossfire—but the fact that the U.S. seems to have whitewashed any and all investigations into the matter is pretty deeply disturbing.

    UPDATE: And here's a story that, by rights, ought to placate those who think the media is ought to "sabotage" or "undermine" the U.S. military in Iraq. Al Kamen reports that an Army Stryker Brigade in Mosul brought a journalist along to a site "where school supplies were to be handed out to needy students." But when the reporter got there, no schoolchildren! So did the rabid leftwing journalist embarrass the brigade by plastering this little folly on the next day's front page? No. The reporter, it seems, "understood what had happened." Not bad for a Fifth Columnist, eh?