Iraq in pieces, and money down the drain
Billions of dollars have been allocated to rebuild Iraq, but average citizens are seeing little of it in their lives...
Malnourished Iraqi children stand outside the highway's toilets looking for alms.
Their job is to clean the overflowing toilets on the motorway from the Jordanian border to Baghdad.
The actual road is in remarkable condition, accept for the demolished central divider which has been cleared of anything that might conceal a roadside bomb.
The toilets are a health threat. The wrecked piping, missing taps and handles were too lucrative to survive the imposition of UN sanctions in the 1990s.
The stench is almost overpowering and only the desperate enter. Most of the travellers who come out gulping fresh air try to give something, a token of kindness in a land being torn asunder.
Billions of dollars have been spent on Iraq but the country still produces orphans of the toilets.
US President George W Bush has already spent, officially, US$400 billion on Iraq, is looking for $150 billion more and has been granted a totally useless troop surge. Bush does not know how many Iraqis have died since the 2003 invasion - the US military does not do body counts - but he knows how many troops he wants to send there to end the violence.
No American politician, journalist or political commentator has ever publicly challenged him that if he doesn't know the death toll among Iraqis how does he know the precise figure of a troop surge to halt the violence?
The most scientific study on death rates puts the figure at about 655,000 but let's be generous to Bush and put the figure at 500,000.
Half a million dead, nice round figure. Bush wants authorised expenditure of $500 billion. All nice round figures which leads to another nice round figure, a million dollars for every death. Dead million dollar babies, men and women.
War is an insult to humanity but the Iraq war (combining the civil war in Iraq and the war against the Americans) takes absurdity to new levels. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction and the country is worse off today than under Saddam, according to the former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and Unicef.
Half a trillion dollars to bring about a situation where the electricity does not work, and leaving home carries with it a risk of fatality. The most dangerous task in the world for a civilian is to close a front door in Baghdad behind you.
Even staying at home is almost as dangerous due to raids, bombs, death squads, gunfire, snipers, contaminated food and water. But war is about money. No cash, no bash. So where exactly has the money gone?
The special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, a cruelly contradictory title, has come up with a list of things that has not abetted reconstruction.
A virtual pandemic of corruption costs the country $4 billion a year and some of that money goes straight to the Iraqi government's enemies. Oil smuggling, aided by corrupt officials, is netting insurgents at least $100 million a year.
War is about money, might as well pay for both sides.
Then there is the odd bit of skimming here and there. An oil pipeline never built... but more than $70 million paid for it. A police training station where the plumbing was disconnected, costing a few million give or take. Obviously take.
In December 2003, the US Army discovered it had been overcharged by $61 million for fuel transportation and $67 million for food services in Iraq. In 2003, the White House removed from the Iraq spending bill any provision to penalise war profiteers who defrauded US taxpayers.
In January 2006, the Bush administration intervened in a dispute between the Pentagon and Halliburton and agreed to pay the company $199 million in disputed charges. Every little helps. This is what we know and to twist a Rumsfeldian, what we don't know we don't give a damn about.
You'd think that with so much money being spent, the Iraqis would be grateful. This war is costing a fortune, the least they could do is show some gratitude.
No-one has ever spent so much money on them. They run a really serious risk that the occupying armies may just pack up and go home and lose interest in the place.
Then, I ask you, where would the Iraqis be?