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Thread: Human Terrain & Anthropology (merged thread)

  1. #801
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Van,

    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    Marc & Kivlonic,
    The document is copyrighted material, and I don't have a copy yet. Let me see the paper and the copyright date before I go making promises. If you assure me there is academic purpose, I don't have a problem.
    No worries on that score from my end - I am an academic, and one of my research areas is anthropology and the military.

    Cheers,

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
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  2. #802
    Council Member Billy Ruffian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    Library of Congress has been amazingly (for a gov't agency) helpful. A copy of the Margaret Mead document is on the way. I'll be receiving it as a hardcopy, but will be more than willing to share for academic purposes.
    The practitioners of the Librarian's craft are always helpful or else we execute them at our Free Mason/Library meetings.
    "I encounter civilians like you all the time. You believe the Empire is continually plotting to do harm. Let me tell you, your view of the Empire is far too dramatic. The Empire is a government. It keeps billions of beings fed and clothed. Day after day, year after year, on thousands of worlds people live their lives under Imperial rule without ever seeing a stormtrooper or hearing a TIE fighter scream overhead."
    ―Captain Thrawn

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    Default Librarians

    Or, like the uber-librarian, Mao, they schedule us for re-education.

    Steve

    Disclosure: Married to a librarian.

  4. #804
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Billy Ruffian View Post
    The practitioners of the Librarian's craft are always helpful or else we execute them at our Free Mason/Library meetings.
    J. Edgar Hoover was a Librarian at the Library Of Congress (I think) the original FBI Intelligence system was based on the card catalog and the Dewey Decimal System.....then they went to computers and have been going down hill ever since

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    Sometimes, organizing information on a systematic basis creates its own insights and connections.

    I was just looking back to an issue for the on-going Iraqi drought. Seems like the best reports and recommendations assemble and organize the work of expert, rather thanbeing the work of the experts themselves.

    Rory Stewart's group estimates that there are 5,000 foreign Afghan experts in Kabul these days. Wonder how to orchestrate them?

    Ain't it grand.

    Steve

  6. #806
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Steve,

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve the Planner View Post
    Sometimes, organizing information on a systematic basis creates its own insights and connections.
    And other times it creates its own reality where none existed before .

    I'm putting the finishing touches on a presentation that goes into this, but we just had an interesting short article show up that illustrates it nicely (see here). Still thinking about that one, but there are some extremely interesting points coming out of it.

    Cheers,

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
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    Default AAA report on HTS released

    Panel Criticizes Military’s Use of Embedded Anthropologists

    By PATRICIA COHEN
    New York Times
    Published: December 3, 2009

    A two-year-old Pentagon program that assigns social scientists to work with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan has come under sharp criticism from a panel of anthropologists who argue that the undertaking is dangerous, unethical and unscholarly.

    The committee, which released the report on Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, the discipline’s largest professional group, has been studying the program since its inception in 2007.

    The panel concluded that the Pentagon program, called the Human Terrain System, has two conflicting goals: counterinsurgency and research. Collecting data in the context of war, where coercion and offensive tactics are always potentially present, “can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology,” the report says.
    The full 73 page report of the AAA Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities can be found here.
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default We want to stay in our comfortable "ivory tower"

    I am sure anthropology was around in the World Wars and since 1945, did anthropology have no relevant use then? I suspect not, the subject has not changed, just the people. This type of comment annoys me.
    davidbfpo

  9. #809
    Council Member Van's Avatar
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    David,
    Read Anthropological Intelligence by David H. Price. He does a good job of explaining the history of the antipathy between the military and academic anthropologists, and how it goes back to WW I, based on events going back to the 19th Century British Empire.

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    Perhaps I'm the odd duck in this bunch, but I spent a lot of time studying the inherent conflict issues in Northern Iraq from a number of different socio-economic, demographic, ethnic, religious and historical perspectives, and I just believe that whatever HTS was doing, it missed the mark by such a wide margin that the question has to go far beyond simple ethical and competence issues---all too often, the work and advice was just the poor quality you would expect from taking some anthropologists and throwing them, based on short visits, a handful of first hand interviews, and, all too often, as the report indicates, asking these folks to speculate on answers far beyond their capabilities and competence. Too often, the results were GIGO, and, in many instances missed both the right questions, and the meaningful answers to those questions.

    Lately, I have been reading a lot of Gertrude Bell's works to try to peel back the myth that she and the wily First Sea Lord invented Iraq in the post-WWI Treaties. Personally, the more I study that myth, the more it looks like the rest of the mythologies from that era, especially related to Bell and Lawrence.

    Instead, what I increasingly see is that Bell was a good observer of social, political and administrative patterns, and an agressive researcher and observer. But, when you break up the boundaries of Iraq that she supposedly "made up," all were pretty self-defined, self-defining, or undefined, both before and after her mythical whimsy in 1920.

    The southern boundary between Kuwait and the Ottoman Empire pre-dated 1920.

    The Iranian Border to the West was, according to Bell even, defined by the pre-existing Iranian boundary which, after the war, Russian troops were guarding at the time of British occupancy. The British Colonial instruction, upon contact with russians, was don't go there.

    The Eastern Border was never a border, but a well-defined historical corridor between Baghdad and Jerusalem/Jordan. The Hashemite Empire, to the East, was not a drug-induced fantasy of Lawrence and Bell, but a substantial fact on the ground, born of ancient routes and connections, including access for the substantial Baghdad Jewish population and Jerusalem. In fact, the desert boundaries between Saudi Arabia, to the southeast, and Iraq weren't established until decades after Bell's death, and, quite frankly, nobody cared because they were just open desert.

    The northern boundary, which I'm still studying, appears to be a wash of conflicting boundaries, all related to ancient Central Asia moving from loose confederations to the highly-defined physical boundaries of modern nation-states, along with, at that time, the background conflicts and ethnic purges of the Ottomans (and, by occupation, the Brits) in that region---the genocides went far beyond just the Armenians (who had played footsy with the russians, but extended to the Kurds and Turkmen). One could argue that, to a great extend, the Northern Boundary (beyond Mosul Province) was, while grounded in pre-existing Ottoman provincial boundaries, an unwilling division of problems by all parties.

    I'm still hunting down the long run history of Turkmen and Kurds (including their Persian and Afghan links), but the only conclusion so far is that it is very complicated.

    In one Bell report, she explains how, as the British occupied the Ottoman Empire's three Iraqi southern provinces (Mosul, Baghdad and Basrah), the Ottomans took all their maps and records and hit the road, leaving few if any records. The Treaty of Sevres maps show intricate details of villayets (provinces) and districts.

    In fact, though, the Brits turned to the locals, who were already hard-wired by the previous Ottoman systems of sub-districts, districts and provinces (villayets)---so the British Colonial officers suggest that they worked out the sub-provincial structure, but, I believe that the reality is that they were primarily just relying on the locals to re-bound the ancient nahias, qaddas and villayets that were both well-known and logical.

    There was, in fact, a great map-maker in Iraq---Sadaam. Especially in 1976,he took a meet-axe to the ancient and well-settled provincial boundary systems, carving up Irbil among Ninewa and Tamim. Butchering Tamim and Baghdad province, and leaving everyone confused and in disarray (his purpose). Behind that, he did similar violence to the integrity of district boundaries in places like Sinjar.

    Last, after manufacturing, from the whole cloth, his new maps of Iraq, he proceeded to change the facts on the ground to match his maps. Bulldozing tens of thousands of homes, hundreds of villages, and, if they were lucky, resettling the populations (the less fortunate just disappeared).

    In Bell's time, most of these "places" like Tikrit were little more than cattle stops at the time she went through (not that they di not have authentic ancient histories), as most of Iraq was before the huge urbanization trends (another big sphere of underlying social destabilization continuing today).

    We built the econ, market and infrastructure maps in 2008 through MND-North and NGA (the stock in trade info of any Bell Era mapmaker), so it was a gap that, incredibly, no one had gotten around to it in five years of occupancy... just a lot of tribal touchy-feely stuff that Bell and Lawrence would have looked at as useless.

    I've been gradually grinding through the reams of old census data I came home with last December, but the stories told by all the numbers define the patterns and flows of all this stuff played out over the social, political and physical landscape.

    So we stand here today in 2009, and these maps and that bloody mapmaker are the key and continuing conflict drivers in much of Iraq's disputed areas today and into the future.

    The US missed this entire sphere of what was driving much of the conflict and confusion in Iraq, and still doesn't know it today.

    Of course, these field anthropologists missed a lot.

    Sorry for the negativity, but, from what I have seen, and continue to study, the HTS system provided little useful real analysis.

  11. #811
    Council Member Beelzebubalicious's Avatar
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    It was an AAA panel so definitely not un-biased. I haven't read the report but I wonder where their data comes from. The question to me is not whether they provided rigorous scientific analysis and advice (not really possible) but whether they were able to further understanding and help commanders make better decisions. Lastly, it's like those USG IG audits. Hard not to find a lot of fault. Much harder to think in context and evaluate practical effectiveness.

    I'll take a look and see, but I wouldn't give much credence to a report written by the AAA on this subject.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Beelzebubalicious View Post
    I'll take a look and see, but I wouldn't give much credence to a report written by the AAA on this subject.
    It is a rather thoughtful report in many respects, IMHO.

    As is evident from the report, part of the tension between the AAA and the HTS arises from portrayals of the latter as "anthropology" when much of what the HTTs do meets neither the methodological nor ethical expectations of the scholarly field. In this regard, it is hard to think who can speak more authoritatively on the issue than the AAA.

    The value of the HTS and the larger normative questions concerned are not issues that the report attempts to address, other than in passing.
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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    The report looks like what I saw a lot of from disconnected civilians dropped on a FOB without a whole lot of movement/access resources, clearly defined missions, or good translators.

    They didn't see much, couldn't go out much, generated a lot of powerpoints, though, surfed the net, and sent a lot of emails home. Always billed overtime.

    One of my PRT colleagues at a faraway satellite in Northen Iraq was visited upon by a CIA team. He said he was surprised by their questions; suggested they really didn't understand what was going on or what to ask.

    If a CIA team couldn't effectively engage the problem, how could you expect a "windshield" anthropologist, often with little contact or support from the military, to reach it?

    As just a dumbass technocrat, I would look at the quality and character of translations and just scratch my head. I read one report requesting urgent repairs for electrical generators that demonstrated the problem. The provincial DGs were asking for funding for enclosures to protect their generators from dust and heat. The translator turned ity into "porches" which the US civilian funders thought was something unnecessary for the Iraqi's to sit out on while watching the generator.

    The sadder mistranslation stories, which most of you know first hand, suggest that even if you were told the right answer, you may not have gotten it.

    More often, too, we got two answers---the first at a meeting with others present, and the second later in private (180 degree difference).

    You have to be pretty good to punch through all of that as a visiting civilian.

    Like the AAA report indicates, there were buck sergeants on their second tour whho knew more than most of the reports they got.

    More important, the HTS after-action comments sound pretty reminsicent of the PRT de-briefs done by USIP. A tremendous amount of wasted human resources, there at great very great costs (not just monitary).

  14. #814
    Council Member Van's Avatar
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    The AAA's positions and leaders are so rabidly anti-military and anti-U.S. government, that any report by them will be a hatchet job. They may have made valid criticisms, but their own extremism ruins their credibility.

    Note that in the executive summary the AAA stresses HTS as a de facto intelligence asset. For the most vocal members of AAA, this is like stating that HTS requires its members to violate babies, drink human blood, and oppose gay rights. In the AAA's world, the Intelligence Community is the standard of evil.

    The AAA sees an opening to attack the U.S. military by claiming special expertise and insisting that they are the only ones with the real authority to be the arbitors of what right and wrong are for HTS. The phenomenal arrogance of this position is beyond rational discussion.

    Look at their sources: the Open Anthropology blog, (now Zero Anthropology) authored by a guy who openly celebrated the murder of Paula Lloyd; American Counterinsurgency by a guy who passes judgement on current programs based on his opinions of things that happened decades ago and insists that anything an insurgent does is morally justified; and "anonymous sources" (as easily some nutjob in his mom's basement as someone with genuine information).

    And on the lighter side, Small Wars Journal was cited as a source for the report...

  15. #815
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Well, after slogging through the entire report, I do want to make a few "rebuttal" comments, Van ......

    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    The AAA's positions and leaders are so rabidly anti-military and anti-U.S. government, that any report by them will be a hatchet job. They may have made valid criticisms, but their own extremism ruins their credibility.
    First off, the report wasn't written by the AAAs leaders. When you look at the list of authors, several jump out who would be very hard to call "rabidly anti-military", i.e. Kerry Fosher (MCIA) and Laura McNamara (Sandia). There are, of course, several noted "anti-military", or at least anti-HTS people on the committe (e.g. David Price).

    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    Note that in the executive summary the AAA stresses HTS as a de facto intelligence asset. For the most vocal members of AAA, this is like stating that HTS requires its members to violate babies, drink human blood, and oppose gay rights. In the AAA's world, the Intelligence Community is the standard of evil.
    Unfortunate, but true. It is reflective of a general misunderstanding both of what "intelligence" means in a military context and what Boas was opposing (which was covert intelligence gathering under the cover of being an Anthropologist). The report itself does deal with the first issue in a fairly decent manner.

    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    The AAA sees an opening to attack the U.S. military by claiming special expertise and insisting that they are the only ones with the real authority to be the arbitors of what right and wrong are for HTS. The phenomenal arrogance of this position is beyond rational discussion.
    As a professional association, the AAA has an obligation to be concerned with how its profession is being constructed and construed in public debates. Arguing otherwise would be to argue that the AMA should say nothing about how medicine should be practiced. I'll also point out that organizations are not capable of action - they are vehicles (and covers) for people taking action, so ascribing a motive to an organization is tricky at best.

    As an organization, the AAA has a limited control over the practice of its discipline, much less control than, say, the APA or the AMA. One of the really interesting discussions in the report is in the conclusion: "Is it Anthropology"? to which they basically argue that it isn't.

    Quote Originally Posted by Van View Post
    Look at their sources: the Open Anthropology blog, (now Zero Anthropology) authored by a guy who openly celebrated the murder of Paula Lloyd; American Counterinsurgency by a guy who passes judgement on current programs based on his opinions of things that happened decades ago and insists that anything an insurgent does is morally justified; and "anonymous sources" (as easily some nutjob in his mom's basement as someone with genuine information).

    And on the lighter side, Small Wars Journal was cited as a source for the report...
    And a whole bunch of other ones too such as Military Review, Foreign Policy, etc. and, yes, us .

    Personally, I thought it was quite a decent report given the constraints of their data (see section 3. Sources of Information on the Program). It is also crucial to remember that the audience for the report was the membership of the AAA and other Anthropologists, so of course it will use our disciplinary frameworks and language.

    I need to think about it for a few more days before I put anything solid together on it, though.

    Cheers,

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
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    Van:

    The AAA sees an opening to attack the U.S. military by claiming special expertise and insisting that they are the only ones with the real authority to be the arbitors of what right and wrong are for HTS. The phenomenal arrogance of this position is beyond rational discussion.
    I did not read the AAA report as an attack on the military, per se, or its' legitimate interest in collecting or using relevant background research, including kinship and cultural connections.

    They draw the line, however on calling this anthropology, and trying to key the type and quality of HTS field work it into a relationship with their professional sphere and legitimate academic arena.

    As a geographer, and demographer by training, I found nothing in their report that remotely suggested any negativity about the use of mapping, demographics, etc... Notwithstanding, my experience with "windshield" anthropology (informal and often inaccurate/misleading) of the kind they reviewed, is the same---it lacks a professional standard for reliable decision-making,and sucks up valuable resources and "headspace" that should be directed to more technical amd fact-based analysis.

    As a professional civilian planner, and member of the American Planning Association, and its professional association---the American Institute of Certified Planners, we have very specific professional standards, and an adopted Ethics standard which, in part, requires professional approaches to analysis and opinions provided.

    Although few professional civilian planners are engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan, either on the civilian or military side, I could certainly understand a circumstance where, as with HTS/AAA, one group was claiming a planning study was done in a professional manner, while an actual AICP provided a contrary position based on actual standards that contradicted the first---and that became a professional dispute as os the HTS/AAA matter.

    In Iraq, Research Triangle Institute (RTI), through LGP/USAID, worked in support of development of Provincial Development Plans in 2007. Some of the work was of very poor quality, attributable to ground conditions and a lack of relevant facts, but where those conditions allowed (such as in the KRG areas), the work was remarkably good and in conformance with the professional standards expected of a planner anywhere in the World: Step 1: Background Assessment of Current Conditions, including Populations to Be Served; Status of Current Systems, Services and Conditions; and Structure of Governance and Government Capacity; Step 2: Identify Intended Goals/Visions; Step 3: Based on 1 and 2, Identify Factors which need to be addressed; Step 4: Identify a Plan, Process, Schedule, and Preliminary Budgetary Requirements Needed. Behind every step was the highest level possible of public engagement (sometimes very little, and sometimes a great deal, dependent on the province's condition).

    Notwithstanding that later conditions allowed for substantial refinement, and, sometimes, complete re-write, I still believe that those 2007 PDS snapshots developed by RTI/USAID were significant documents prepared in complete adherence to APA/AICP professional standards. And based on the best information available to an uncleared civilian effort.

    In part, my regret, however, was that that civilian process in 2007 was not, in most instances, informed by the best available information and condition assessments that could have been obtained had the US Military understood and supported the activity. It would, in my opinion, have avoided substantial delays in civilian reconstruction, and avoided wasting billions of US tax payer dollars, and have provided the substantial opportunity for synchronization of US and Iraqi efforts.

    But that is not a criticism of RTI/USAID, but, in substantial part, a criticism of the military's need to substantially change it's civilian engagement process, CMO capabilities, and HTS program---they missed the human terrain that mattered, and it was all in the professional technical space of technical evaluation and planning. Traditional APA/AICP standards and methodology should have been used, and not disputed "windshield" anthropology---but they sucked all of the air out of the room (and budgets and staffing), and the military remained, in many instances, blind to other more obvious and straight-forward Ways Forward.

    All that aside, I have comparitively reviewed the work of routine US contractors like Berger/USAID/DoD for "windshield" planning at the outset of the War and throughout. Oftentimes, you wonder why that type of product was actually paid for, and shake my head when, in some instances, it was actually used.

    I'll take legitimate professional APA/AICP approaches like RTI used anyday.

    Steve
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 12-05-2009 at 09:12 PM. Reason: Quote marks added

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    From the January 18, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 17 Weekly Standard, Getting to Know You: The U.S. military maps the human terrain of Afghanistan BY Claudia Anderson

    They are also reminders that human terrain is always complex and elusive terrain, lacking the stable definition of a mountain pass or valley floor. The Human Terrain Teams and other innovations by which the U.S. armed forces are lessening their ignorance of the Afghan people are no doubt imperfect, even crude, instruments for meeting the challenges of a war where the enemy is at home and we come from far away, geographically and culturally. Regardless of the magnitude of the challenge, the HTTs and the rest will be judged by their success on the ground. Still, it is not too soon to recognize the energy and imagination with which the armed forces are working to apply their lessons learned.
    Rounding out the morning was Professor Michael Bishop, expert in something called Geographic Information Science. He showed a rapt audience how using remote sensing and computer maps of Afghanistan they can display numerous physical features of the country—soil quality, vegetation, water, snow, cloud cover, and many more—at high resolution at the click of a mouse. This capability has myriad applications, from the design of irrigation systems to prediction of floods to the location of safe construction sites. It will be made available via a “reachback” system now being developed to allow HTTs to consult distant experts and databases by email.


    During their time in Omaha, HTT trainees have classes in the history and politics of Afghanistan in the 20th century, Pashtun society and culture, women in Afghanistan, religion in Afghanistan, the Afghan Army and its evolving structure, the globalization of religious extremism, medicine in Afghanistan, and the role of drugs in international terrorism. Six of their ten instructors are Afghans. It’s during their longer stay at Fort Leavenworth that they receive basic survival training and concentrate on social science methods and analysis. Some are sent to participate in exercises at a simulated Afghan village in Death Valley.
    Sapere Aude

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    Default Zip Codes

    "Does Iraq have anything like the US Postal Zip Code System? "

    Yes, it does.

    The most astounding thing for many folks is that it has the same types of property tax registration system as the US, too. State, County, Tax Map and Parcel. All keyed to the adopted administrative boundary maps.

    Seeing those in early 2008 reminded me that, if they hadn't had one like ours, there would have to be one pretty similar. But there was.

    And it all keys into the Land Records and cadestral maps, and census maps. How many goats and internet cafes per census block?

    A beautiful system for data mining on a property/person specific basis.

    On of the things the Embassy DOT Attaches was working on last year was the formal naming system for roads/place names needed for international road mapping and directional signage systems/standards.

    In and around the census, you will see the formalization of many of these things with some pretty worthwhile tweaks.

    After international naming standards are adopted/applied, a lot of the changeable/multiple names for places will go the way they did in the US when the railroads came through.

    Steve

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    PS- As one provincial census counter explained, the consequences of an error in the Saddam Era could be pretty significant, so everything was always accurately counted and reported higher (to Minisitry of Planning Census staff).

    They had also been substantially uptrained by the UN pre-2003, so the census folks were pretty good.

    The first "real" census, as you will often see it referred to, was 1957. This is the first one done with surveyed maps (British field surveys). The district, subdistrict/nahia/blocks are all numbered by hierarchical systems keyed into each higher admin. unit.

    Basic governance structure stuff set forth in administrative decrees and reflected in the census detail sets. (A lot of folks have seen the summary tables, but not the detailed reports---or the DG field notes). Really good work.

    They also break the Ethnic and Religious data down accordingly to blocks.

    In Baghdad, I spent a lot of time with the folks who managed the pre-2003 administrative/intel maps. They really had a phenomenal amount of information on property ownerships, uses, infrastructure systems, cattle breeding stations, agricultural rail sidings, graves (by ethnicity)---you name it. The operating manual for pre-war Iraq. Another very good operational information resource. (And they have english symbology, since they were started by the Brits in the 50s).

    Nothing about Iraq should have been a mystery to anyone---it was all there all the time -other than the mass graves and, of course, the WMD.

    Steve

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    Default 2003 List of Gov/Qadda/Nahia

    Attached (hopefully) is an pdf of the CoSIT spreadsheet showing the approved admin structure c. 2003 (immediately pre-invasion).
    Attached Files Attached Files

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