The Blogiston Post

Politics, money, and war.

Wednesday, November 2


This blog may be old but I still keep tabs on it and remove spam comments. I keep this blog as it still has quite a bit of useful research tucked away in its pages.

So spammers, move along and go waste someone else's bandwidth..

Wednesday, May 17

An Iraq Contractor in the Fog of War

The following is the summary for my first article published at ePluribus Media where I am also a volunteer researcher and editor.

One Missing, One Dead: an Iraq Contractor in the Fog of War
by Susie Dow with Steven Reich
ePluribus Media
On October 9, 2003, Kirk von Ackermann disappeared from his car on a road in Iraq leaving behind a laptop computer, satellite phone and $40,000 in cash. Two months later, on December 14, 2003, his colleague Ryan Manelick was gunned down shortly after leaving a meeting at a base. Before he died, Manelick said the disppearance of von Ackermann was connected to fraud. Both worked for Ultra Services.

From a chance meeting in 2001 for a wedding in Kyrgyzstan, to an attempt by employees to steal the business, to a new company in Afghanistan, Dow's article traces Ultra Services into the the fog surrounding the company in Iraq with One Missing, One Dead.
The article will formally roll out this Sunday, May 21st. The link to the discussion area at the community site of ePluribus Media will become active at that time.

Additional reading:

The Missing Man
Missing in Iraq by Kirk von Ackermann's wife.

Saturday, March 25


There's an excellent article by Orville Schell in the New York Revew of Books that should not be missed. While it's basically a survey of the state of the Western journalist in Iraq, it's also a commentary on division. Those with security, and without. With T-Walls, without. Inside the wall, or out. Byline, no byline. Everywhere and nowhere.

Fascinating to read. And as hard as it might be to believe, makes me wish I could travel there to see what it is he saw--not all of which I suspect he has put into words.

Baghdad: The Besieged Press
The Baghdad International Airport terminal is full of armed guards and ringed by armored vehicles. I saw no buses or taxis awaiting arriving passengers. Almost everyone is "met." I am picked up by The New York Times's full-time British security chief, who has come in a miniature motorcade of "hardened," or bomb-proof, cars, escorted by several armed Iraqi guards in constant radio contact with each other.

As America approached the third anniversary of its involvement in Iraq, I had gone to Baghdad to observe not the war itself, but how it is being covered by the press. But of course, the war is inescapable. It has no battle lines, no fronts, not even the rural– urban divide that has usually characterized guerrilla wars. Instead, the conflict is everywhere and nowhere.

Friday, November 18

it's a bad soap opera

You know, you just can't make this sh*t up anymore. I'm thinking the folks in the White House just watched way way way to many epsiodes of Dallas and thought that was way the real life should be. How else to explain Tom Delay and his super killer buds Safavian and Abramoff? Or Mike Brown worrying about what to wear to dinner while the citizens of New Orleans drowned? Or Condoleezza Rice thinking a memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" was a historical memo?

Telling ya', it's become a really bad soap opera.

Issuing Contracts, Ex-Convict Took Bribes in Iraq, U.S. Says
by James Glanz, NY Times, November 18, 2005
A North Carolina man who was charged yesterday with accepting kickbacks and bribes as a comptroller and financial officer for the American occupation authority in Iraq was hired despite having served prison time for felony fraud in the 1990's.

The job gave the man, Robert J. Stein, control over $82 million in cash earmarked for Iraqi rebuilding projects.

Along with a web of other conspirators who have not yet been named, Mr. Stein and his wife received "bribes, kickbacks and gratuities amounting to at least $200,000 per month" to steer lucrative construction contracts to companies run by another American, Philip H. Bloom, an affidavit outlining the criminal complaint says. Mr. Stein's wife, who was not named, has not been charged with wrongdoing in the case; Mr. Bloom was charged with a range of crimes on Wednesday.

In the staccato language of the affidavit, filed in Federal District Court in the District of Columbia, Mr. Stein, 50, was charged with wire fraud, conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen property and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

But the list of charges does little justice to the astonishing brazenness of the accusations described in the complaint, including a wire transfer of a $140,000 bribe, arranged by Mr. Bloom, to buy real estate for Mr. Stein in North Carolina. The affidavit also says that $65,762.63 was spent to buy cars for Mr. Stein and his wife (he bought a Chevrolet; she a Toyota), $44,471 for home improvements and $48,073 for jewelry, out of $258,000 sent directly to the Bragg Mutual Federal Credit Union into accounts controlled by the Steins.

Mr. Stein's wife even used $7,151.58 of the money for a "towing service," the complaint says. Much of this money was intended for Iraqi construction projects like building a new police academy in the ancient city of Babylon and rehabilitating the library in Karbala, the southern city that is among the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims.

Tell me that doesn't sound like a soap opera...Towing service? Wink, wink. Ah, jeebus, go read the rest of the article. There's so much crap in there worth quoting that it'd be best if you went off and read it yourself.

Can't wait for the Bush twin's twist on Luke & Laura's wedding. But it's going to be tough to top Noelle for drama.

Thursday, November 17

What goes up, must come down

U.S. Files First Criminal Charges Against Contractors in Iraq
November 17, 2005
The U.S. Justice Department filed the first criminal charges against a contractor receiving Iraq reconstruction contracts, according to court documents.

Philip H. Bloom, 65, funneled at least $693,000 in bribes and kickbacks through bank accounts in Iraq, Switzerland, Romania and the Netherlands in the year through January 2005, according to the documents filed yesterday. The money then went to at least two unnamed U.S. government officials and their spouses in exchange for reconstruction work valued at over $3.5 million, the documents show. [...]

Bloom's firms did business as Global Business Group, GBG Holdings and GBG-Logistics Division, the affidavit said.

It'll be interesting to see the fall out from this story. Too bad congress didn't demand accountability from the DoD until the 3rd supplemental. Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for having played party politics first rather than protecting American's tax dollars.

Look it up if you don't believe me. The Republicans voted twice, as a block, against accountability. They have no business calling themselves the party of "fiscal responsibility" until they clean this mess up.

Wednesday, November 2


Civilian contractors in Iraq dying at faster rate as insurgency grows
By Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers
As of Monday, 428 civilian contractors had been killed in Iraq and another 3,963 were injured, according to Department of Labor insurance-claims statistics obtained by Knight Ridder.


The Labor Department lists 156 dead for an L-3 Communications subsidiary in Virginia. The company, which provides translators who work with the military, puts the death toll at 167, of whom 15 were Americans. The Labor Department's accounting reports that Halliburton, the largest contractor in Iraq, has had 30 employees killed in Iraq and 2,471 injured. A Halliburton spokeswoman, Melissa Norcross, said Tuesday that the company had lost a total of 77 workers in Iraq, Afghanistan and its base in Kuwait. One worker is unaccounted for. Halliburton couldn't give a breakdown by country.

The government's listing shows the contractors' casualty rate is increasing. In the first 21 months of the war, 11 contractors were killed and 74 injured each month on average. This year, the monthly average death toll is nearly 20 and the average monthly number of injured is 243.


Kiernan noted that L-3's employees aren't killed in combat, they're being assassinated. Of the company's 152 dead Iraqi employees, 105 were murdered because they collaborated with Americans, he said.


Wednesday, October 19

Billions of dollars short, U.S. must scale back Iraq reconstruction
By Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers
The Bush administration cannot fulfill all its grand promises to rebuild Iraq because soaring security costs, mismanagement and poor planning have cost billons of dollars, federal auditors said Tuesday.

Some projects - including those to provide clean water for Iraqis - have been cancelled as a result.

In one case, security costs for a U.S. Agency for International Development program on economic reform increased from $894,000 to $37 million, an auditor told Congress. And hundreds of millions of dollars is being diverted to pay for training for Iraqis and for the maintenance of new facilities - expenses overlooked in the initial U.S. planning for the reconstruction, auditors said.

Add to that the rising prices for materials, cost overruns and delays, and there's far less money to rebuild Iraq as the Bush administration envisioned, said Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. He called the shortfall "the reconstruction gap."


Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said that when he visited Iraq, he found too many auditors, saying "there seems to be inspectors general just about everywhere." He said there was one auditor for every 1.5 contracting official.

Bowen said the actual ratio was 16 to 1, with 44 auditors and 715 contracting officials. Dent, he said, was repeating "a myth surfaced by the companies that would rather not have oversight."

Now that last little snippet is interesting. Republicans voted as a block against any oversight on Pentagon spending for Iraq and Afghanistan thru the first two supplementals. It wasn't until the third supplemental, and constituents throwing hissy fits over run away spending, that oversight amendments were finally added but not until long after the damage had been done.

Apparently, the Republican block still doesn't like accountability as evidenced by Dent's remarks on too many "auditors". Just to be clear, it's not really individual Republicans who don't like accountability for spending. It's the K Street lobbyists and the clients they represent, who want the brakes put on any attempts at following the money.

For a look into K Street, there was a good article a couple of years ago that's worth a read: Welcome to the Machine
By Nicholas Confessore
Washington Monthly
July/August 2003

Tuesday, October 18

How odd

Agency charged with spending oversight in Iraq left country in '04
By Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers
The chief Pentagon agency in charge of investigating and reporting fraud and waste in Defense Department spending in Iraq quietly pulled out of the war zone a year ago - leaving what experts say are gaps in the oversight of how more than $140 billion is being spent.

The Defense Department's inspector general sent auditors into Iraq when the war started more than two years ago to ensure that taxpayers were getting their money's worth for everything from bullets to meals-ready-to-eat.

The auditors were withdrawn in the fall of 2004 because other agencies were watching spending, too. But experts say those other agencies don't have the expertise, access and broad mandate that the inspector general has - and don't make their reports public.

Where does the Army's Major Procurement Fraud Unit at the CID fall into this?

Thursday, September 22

Another GAO Report

Defense Spending Is Overstated, GAO Report Says
The Pentagon has no accurate knowledge of the cost of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or the fight against terrorism, limiting Congress's ability to oversee spending, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report released yesterday.

The Defense Department has reported spending $191 billion to fight terrorism from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks through May 2005, with the annual sum ballooning from $11 billion in fiscal 2002 to a projected $71 billion in fiscal 2005. But the GAO investigation found many inaccuracies totaling billions of dollars.

"Neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing and details of how appropriated funds are being spent," the report to Congress stated. The GAO said the problem is rooted in long-standing weaknesses in the Pentagon's outmoded financial management system, which is designed to handle small-scale contingencies.
I believe this is the report cited in the article.

Global War on Terrorism: DOD Needs to Improve the Reliability of Cost Data and Provide Additional Guidance to Control Costs, GAO-05-882
GAO found numerous problems in DOD's processes for recording and reporting costs for GWOT, raising significant concerns about the overall reliability of DOD's reported cost data. As a result, neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing and details on how appropriated funds are being spent, or have historical data useful in considering future funding needs.
I haven't read the report...but I'll be looking at the foot notes in particular. That's where the good stuff usually is.

Saturday, September 17


Iraq is costing about $3 billion a week in US taxpayer dollars. Is it too much to ask that a little more than the cost of one week in Iraq, be used to cover Tricare insurance for guardsman/women and reservists for the next 5 years?

That's money I would consider well spent.

And, shame on you, Rep Duncan Hunter, R-CA. SHAME. ON. YOU.

Would extending Tricare coverage take guns out of troops' hands?
Extending federal health care to all drilling reservists would be so expensive that it could take guns out of troops' hands, a former Defense Department financial expert said Wednesday.

But reservist lobbying groups, which have been pushing for the coverage, called the comments scare tactics that miss the importance of the health care expansion.

In the spring, members of the House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment providing access to Tricare to all reserve and guard troops preparing for active duty, but chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., struck the proposal before it reached a vote before the full House, citing excessive costs.


On Wednesday, during a hearing before the committee, former Defense Department comptroller Dov Zakheim said paying for the health care expansion, estimated at about $3.8 billion over the next five years, would eat into the acquisition budget, "we're taking weapons out of everybody's hands."
The Department of Defense was slow to provide armor to troops, and now they are squawking about insurance.

Maybe Mr. Rumsfeld believes troops are "fungible" but this American happens to disagree with his assessment. Give your senators a piece of your mind and demand Tricare insurance for all reservists and guardsmen/women.

I can't help but wonder WHO exactly is lobbying AGAINST the guardsmen/women and reservists. Lockheed Martin? L3? Raytheon? Someone who is afraid a little portion of their missile defense boondoggle budget will be eaten into.

Wednesday, September 14

Blog Search

Google has a new blog search feature. Easy to use. I'm liking it so far.

Remains to be seen how easy the new service is to manipulate with google bombs.

Tuesday, September 13

Same old same old

There is a commentary posted at the ePluribus Media scoop site that's worth a looksee. The connections to contracts in Iraq, in this case, telecommunications, and the reward of a cushy job with a defense contractor.

Another Cush Job
by Gottlieb
Joseph E. Schmitz, son of John G. Schmitz, the fiercely conservative former congressman from Orange County, is the Inspector General at the Pentagon. He is leaving the Dept. of Defense under a dark cloud of investigation over whether or not he has blocked other investigations of senior Bush officials.

Schmitz has been hired as COO and General Counsel for the Prince Group based in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Prince Group is the parent company of Blackwater USA.
There's more and it's not pretty.

Sunday, September 11

No money to follow

Iraqis To Bush - Where Did All Our Money Go?
by Evelyn Pringle
...a United Nations sanctioned audit concluded that about half of the $5 billion in Iraq reconstruction funds could not be accounted for because of poor financial controls, according to the PDF - Development Fund of Iraq-Report of Factual Findings in connection with Disbursements from January 1, 2004 to 28 June 2004, by the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, in September 2004

Until the summer of 2004, the CPA refused to release the names of companies that were awarded contracts paid for with Iraqi funds. Although information was available about US funded contracts, there was no public information available about companies paid with Iraqi money. In August 2004, information was finally made available for contracts valued at more than $5 million. But to this day, no details have been released about contracts worth less than $5 million.

An analysis of the data released in August 2004, showed that the CPA had awarded 85% of the contracts to US and UK firms. By contrast, Iraqi companies received a mere 2% of the contracts paid for with Iraqi funds.

A March 18, 2004 audit report by the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General, titled, PDF - Acquisition: Contracts Awarded by the Coalition Provisional Authority by the Defense Contracting Command-Washington determined that the CPA and its predecessor, the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), had circumvented federal contracting procedures since the early days of the occupation.


Saturday, September 10

A bad nightmare...

...or is it Groundhog Day?

Shaw Awarded Contract from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Hurricane Katrina Recovery and Rebuilding
The Shaw Group Inc. (SGR) today that is has been awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (ID/IQ) contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to aid in the recovery and rebuilding efforts. [...]

The $100 million contract has a base period of one-year, with an additional one-year option. Shaw announced earlier today a $100 million ID/IQ contract award by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide support services in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, including housing assistance for displaced residents.
Former head of FEMA, Joe Allbaugh and his wife have a family business. One of their clients is the Shaw Group. First Iraq, now New Orleans. Lucky Shaw. Lucky Halliburton. Lucky SCI...SCI, who?

FEMA mortuary move irritates volunteer
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a hired contractor to provide services that a local mortician says have been available from volunteers through the National Funeral Directors Association. [...]

"The company that FEMA has chosen to outsource the recovery work in Louisiana is Kenyon, a worldwide disaster management company, wholly owned subsidiary of Service Corporation International," according to the NFDA.

SCI, of Houston, Texas, provides funeral, cremation and cemetery services in North America and Reuters reported Kenyon International Emergency Services spokesman Jay Kirsch said it was sending 50 workers to the area struck by Katrina to help recover the bodies of those killed by the hurricane.

So what, you say?

Funeralgate Hits Texas
On April 15, 1998, funeral magnate Robert Waltrip talked with Gov. George W. Bush in the Texas Capitol. That much is not in dispute. However, the content of their discussion is the subject of considerable dispute. And the actions taken by the governor's staff members, a half-dozen legislators, and Texas Attorney General John Cornyn after that April 15 meeting are part of what may be the biggest influence-buying scandal in recent memory.

The politicos and the funeral company are at the heart of a whistleblower lawsuit filed March 23 against the state, funeral home giant Service Corporation International (SCI), and Waltrip, the company's chairman and CEO. The suit alleges that Bush and other politicos worked to thwart an investigation by the Texas Funeral Service Commission (TFSC) into improperly licensed embalmers working out of SCI funeral homes in Dallas. [...]

And why did Allbaugh get involved? Did he, as Bush's chief of staff, simply make his own decision to intervene on behalf of SCI? Could Allbaugh have been persuaded by a $35,000 political contribution?

Monday, August 22

Iraqi Defense Ministry

Millions embezzled at Iraqi ministry
by Ed Vulliamy and Richard Norton-Taylor
A report compiled by the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit has concluded that at least half, and probably more, of $1.27bn (£700m) of Iraqi money spent on military procurement has disappeared into a miasma of kickbacks and vanished middlemen - or else has been spent on useless equipment.

The report, leaked to the US news organisation Knight Ridder, comes as a blow to the credibility of the Iraqi army and its ability to contain the increasingly cogent insurgency.

According to the report, led by former human rights minister Abdel Baset al-Turki, the vanished money came solely from Iraqi funds, not from foreign donations to Iraq's military or the US-funded training budget.

The report focuses on an eight-month period after the transfer of sovereignty from the US-led occupation to caretaker Iraqi authorities on June 28 2004.


Nine ministry officials, all of them appointed by the US, have been fired by the ministry, and face possible criminal charges. Among them is the ministry's procurement chief, Ziad Cattan.

It doesn't look good that so many of the offiicals were appointed by the US. Next question: who from the US recommended the Iraqi officials to begin with? They didn't just pop up out of nowhere.

Saturday, August 20

An Iraqi Company

Former employee of Halliburton subsidiary pleads guilty to accepting kickbacks
A former employee of a Halliburton Co. subsidiary pleaded guilty Friday to accepting more than $100,000 in kickbacks from an Iraqi company in exchange for securing it a U.S. military construction contract, prosecutors said.

Glenn Allen Powell, 40, of Cedar Park, Texas, will be sentenced Nov. 18 in federal court for major fraud against the United States and violating the anti-kickback act. He faces 10 years in prison on each count and up to $1.25 million in fines.


In exchange for $110,300 in kickbacks, Powell recommended the Iraqi company for a $609,000 subcontract to renovate four buildings into office and warehouse space, prosecutors say. Prosecutors declined to name the company.

Tuesday, August 16

Remember those seized funds?

Worries Raised on Handling of Funds in Iraq
It weighed 28 tons and took up as much room as 74 washing machines. It was $2.4 billion in $100 bills, and Baghdad needed it ASAP.

The initial request from U.S. officials in charge of Iraq required the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to decide whether it could open its vault on a Sunday, a day banks aren't usually open.

"Just when you think you've seen it all," read one e-mail from an exasperated Fed official.

"Pocket change," said another e-mail.

Then, when the shipment date changed, officials had to scramble to line up U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo planes to hold the money. They did, and the $2,401,600,000 was delivered to Baghdad on June 22, 2004.

It was the largest one-time cash transfer in the history of the New York Fed.

Same $2.4 Billion dollars?

Friday, August 12

Report: Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit

Audit: Iraq fraud drained $1 billion
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder Newspapers, August 11, 2005
Iraqi investigators have uncovered widespread fraud and waste in more than $1 billion worth of weapons deals arranged by middlemen who reneged or took huge kickbacks on contracts to arm Iraq's fledgling military, according to a confidential report and interviews with U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, in a report reviewed by Knight Ridder, describes transactions suggesting that senior U.S.-appointed Iraqi officials in the Defense Ministry used three intermediary companies to hide the kickbacks they received from contracts involving unnecessary, overpriced or outdated equipment.

Knight Ridder reported last month that $300 million in defense funds had been lost. But the report indicates that the audit board uncovered a much larger scandal, with losses likely to exceed $500 million, that's roiling the ministry as it struggles to build up its armed forces.

The episode deprives Iraq's military of essential gear that could help prepare the way for U.S. forces to withdraw. It also raises questions about the new government's ability to provide an effective defense against an entrenched insurgency and win broad acceptance among Iraqis.

The audit board's investigators looked at 89 contracts of the past year and discovered a pattern of deception and sloppiness that squandered more than half the Defense Ministry's annual budget aimed at standing up a self-sufficient force, according to a copy of the 33-page report.


The Board of Supreme Audit, led by former Human Rights Minister Abdel Baset al-Turki, examined defense contracts that had been signed starting with the transfer of sovereignty June 28, 2004, through Feb. 28, 2005. The investigation's results, supported by bank statements, receipts and internal Defense Ministry memos, were delivered to al-Jaafari's office May 16.


Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the U.S. military's training of Iraqi troops, conducts weekly briefings with the defense minister. Other Iraqi defense officials seldom are spotted without American civilian advisers nearby. The close relationship has raised questions as to how $500 million or more could vanish without U.S. intervention to stop the suspicious contracts that flowed for at least eight months.

Why was Petraeus office so lax about confronting fraud issues--not his money so he didn't really care how it was spent?

One excerpt from the above article that is a bit disturbing was this one: "The sole beneficiary on 43 of the 89 contracts was a former currency-exchange operator, Nair Mohamed al-Jumaili, whose name doesn't even appear on the contracts."

PS I'm going to start highlighting some of the names and organizations to try and make it easier to keep track, my head spins a little with all of the various groups and people.

Sunday, August 7

Ol' Halliburton

Army Whistleblower Draws Fire
by Deborah Hastings, AP National Writer
Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse is the Principal Assistant Responsible for Contracting ("PARC" in the alphabet soup of military acronyms) in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lest the title fool, she is responsible for awarding billions upon billions in taxpayers' money to private companies hired to resurrect war-torn
Iraq and to feed, clothe, shelter and do the laundry of American troops stationed there.

She has rained a mighty storm upon herself for standing up, before members of Congress and live on C-SPAN to proclaim things are just not right in this staggeringly profitable business.

She has asked many questions: Why is Halliburton — a giant Texas firm that holds more than 50 percent of all rebuilding efforts in Iraq — getting billions in contracts without competitive bidding? Do the durations of those contracts make sense? Have there been violations of federal laws regulating how the government can spend its money?


Greenhouse has known for a long time that her days may be numbered. Her needling of contracts awarded to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) predated the war in Iraq, beginning with costs she said were spiraling "out of control" from a 2000 Bosnia contract to service U.S. troops. From 1995 to 2000, Halliburton's CEO was
Dick Cheney, who left to run for vice president. He maintains his former company has not received preferential treatment from the government.

Since then, she had questioned both the amounts and the reasons for giving KBR tremendous contracts in the buildup to invading Iraq. At first she was ignored, she said. Then she was cut out of the decision-making process.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Guess the Pentagon forgot that particular motto.

Saturday, August 6


Guard members from East Bay said to charge Iraqis 'rent'
California Army National Guard troops from a unit based in the East Bay charged unauthorized, off-the-books "rent" to Iraqi-owned businesses inside Baghdad's Green Zone to raise money for a "soldiers fund," military officials and sources within the troops' battalion said Friday.

The disclosure is the latest to emerge from a wide-ranging investigation into the conduct of the 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment of the Guard.

Military officials had confirmed earlier that the battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Patrick Frey, was suspended and that one of the battalion's companies, based in Fullerton (Orange County), had been removed from patrol duties and restricted to an Army base south of Baghdad.

Earlier this year, according to military officials and members of the battalion, soldiers from the battalion's Bravo Company approached several businesses owned and operated by Iraqis. Bravo Company is based in Dublin, and the 1st Battalion has its headquarters in Modesto.

The businesses -- a dry cleaner, a convenience store and others -- catered to U.S. soldiers and were located on the fringe of the U.S. military's operating base inside the Green Zone, the fortified hub of the Iraqi government, U.S. occupation officials, foreign embassies and contractor headquarters. The businesses were asked to pay the soldiers "rent."

They used to have a name for that: extortion.