Nuri al-Maliki

Latest Catch-22 For US Military: Training Iraqi Troops Too Dangerous Due to Previous “Training”

The abject failure of US efforts to train troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been one of my most frequent topics. Even though the US mission in Iraq has officially ended and the mission in Afghanistan is mired in a surreal form of purgatory as the government re-invents it vote auditing procedure and even the structure of its government, the US military just can’t kick its addiction to training and is now contemplating yet another attempt at training Iraqi troops.

The New York Times tries to come to the aid of the military this morning with a front page story dedicated to re-starting the training process. The problem though, is that as the Times dives into the idea, it becomes apparent that our previous failures in training may have made it too dangerous to start (and, of course, fail again, but the Times doesn’t go there) the process yet again. That danger even makes it into the headline: “US Sees Risks in Assisting a Compromised Iraqi Force“.

The story opens:

A classified military assessment of Iraq’s security forces concludes that many units are so deeply infiltrated by either Sunni extremist informants or Shiite personnel backed by Iran that any Americans assigned to advise Baghdad’s forces could face risks to their safety, according to United States officials.

The report concludes that only about half of Iraq’s operational units are capable enough for American commandos to advise them if the White House decides to help roll back the advances made by Sunni militants in northern and western Iraq over the past month.

Imagine that. Despite eight years of work and over $25 billion invested, two and a half years after we left Iraq only about half of Iraq’s units are even fit enough for the US to advise them in an effort to take on their latest existential threat.

But the real beauty in the current conundrum lies in who stepped up to fill the training gap when the US left:

Adding to the administration’s dilemma is the assessment’s conclusion that Iraqi forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki are now heavily dependent on Shiite militias — many of which were trained in Iran — as well as on advisers from Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force.

Shiite militias fought American troops after the United States invaded Iraq and might again present a danger to American advisers. But without an American-led effort to rebuild Iraq’s security forces, there may be no hope of reducing the Iraqi government’s dependence on those Iranian-backed militias, officials caution.

So when we left, Maliki supplemented his military with the very Shiite militias that US forces had been fighting. At least one reason for Maliki’s move was that these militias knew how to fight and the troops the US trained were useless. Those militias have been trained by Iran. And as much as the US would love to “rebuild Iraq’s security forces” through yet another ride on the training carousel, that could well be too dangerous because many of the people we would then be training might remember that less than three years ago, the US trained their weapons on them while training other Iraqi troops to go after them. The Times article rightly recognizes this situation as ripe for a resurgence of green on blue insider killings if the US tried to train such forces. They quote Michael Barbero, who was in charge of training in Iraq from 2009 to 2011 (funny, once again, while discussing training failures, David Petraeus is never mentioned):

“The advisory mission has inherent risks, but they can be mitigated,” he added. “You can put security with them. You can be selective about where you put the advisers. We can apply the lessons learned from dealing with the insider threat in Afghanistan.”

Gosh. Our military just can’t stop looking at hopeless situations and saying that they are at the turning point where they will get better. Despite all those previous failures, this time, by golly, we’ll get it right:

And General Dempsey also emphasized any American military involvement in Iraq would be different than in the past.

You see, this time we’ll call our guys advisers instead of trainers. That should make all the difference. Even if those we are advising know that we were trying to kill them very recently…

What if US Government Had Not Demanded We “Drop It” on Maliki’s Corruption in 2010?

The other day, Marc Lynch wrote a piece posing these questions about the ISIS advance in Iraq.

The more interesting questions are about Iraq itself. Why are these cities falling virtually without a fight? Why are so many Iraqi Sunnis seemingly pleased to welcome the takeover from the Iraqi government by a truly extremist group with which they have a long, violent history? Why are Iraqi Sunni political factions and armed groups, which previously fought against al-Qaeda in Iraq, now seemingly cooperating with ISIS? Why is the Iraqi military dissolving rather than fighting to hold its territory? How can the United States help the Iraqi government fight ISIS without simply enabling Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s authoritarianism and sectarianism?

The most important answers lie inside Iraqi politics. Maliki lost Sunni Iraq through his sectarian and authoritarian policies. His repeated refusal over long years to strike an urgently needed political accord with the Sunni minority, his construction of corrupt, ineffective and sectarian state institutions, and his heavy-handed military repression in those areas are thekey factors in the long-developing disintegration of Iraq.

President Obama alluded similarly to Maliki’s failures in the comments he just made (will update when the transcript becomes available).

One challenge the US is facing as it tries to prevent the complete disintegration of the Middle East is that Nuri al-Maliki, long our (forced) partner in governing Iraq, has chosen the path of corruption and repression. Maliki largely enabled the assault in Iraq.

On February 28, 2013, Chelsea Manning made a statement before her providence inquiry. As part of that, she explained why she leaked details of the abusive crackdowns by the Iraqi Federal Police.

On 27 February 2010, a report was received from a subordinate battalion. The report described an event in which the FP detained fifteen (15) individuals for printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” By 2 March 2010, I received instructions from an S3 section officer in the 2-10BCT Tactical Operations Center to investigate the matter, and figure out who these “bad guys” were, and how significant this event was for the FP.

Over the course of my research, I found that none of the individuals had previous ties with anti-Iraqi actions or suspected terrorist or militia groups. A few hours later, I received several photos from the scene from the subordinate battalion.

[snip]

I printed a blown up copy of the high-resolution photo, and laminated it for ease of storage and transfer. I then walked to the TOC and delivered the laminated copy to our category 2 interpreter. She reviewed the information and about a half-hour later delivered a rough written transcript in English to the S2 section.

I read the transcript, and followed up with her, asking for her take on its contents. She said it was easy for her to transcribe verbatim since I blew up the photograph and laminated it. She said the general nature of the document was benign. The documentation, as I assessed as well, was merely a scholarly critique of the then-current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. It detailed corruption within the cabinet of al-Maliki’s government, and the financial impact of this corruption on the Iraqi people.

After discovering this discrepancy between FP’s report, and the interpreter’s transcript, I forwarded this discovery, in person to the TO OIC and Battle NCOIC.

The TOC OIC and, the overhearing Battlecaptain, informed me they didn’t need or want to know this information any more. They told me to “drop it” and to just assist them and the FP in finding out where more of these print shops creating “anti-Iraqi literature” might be. I couldn’t believe what I heard, (24-25)

Manning, we’ve been told over and over again, was not a whistleblower. Because, I guess, Maliki’s corruption and repression were not a problem in 2010?

Will Souring US-Russian Relations Enable US-Iran Bilateral Nuclear Technology Talks?

Michael Gordon reports in the New York Times that Iran may be making overtures for direct bilateral talks on Iran’s nuclear technology. As Gordon points out, however, news of the overture came to the US through Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, prompting some to wonder whether this is just Maliki trying to broker a deal:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq told the Obama administration this month that Iran was interested in direct talks with the United States on Iran’s nuclear program, and said that Iraq was prepared to facilitate the negotiations, Western officials said Thursday.

In a meeting in early July with the American ambassador in Baghdad, Mr. Maliki suggested that he was relaying a message from Iranian officials and asserted that Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s incoming president, would be serious about any discussions with the United States, according to accounts of the meeting.

Although Mr. Maliki indicated that he had been in touch with confidants of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he did not disclose precisely whom he was dealing with on the Iranian side. Some Western officials remain uncertain whether Iran’s leaders have sought to use Iraq as a conduit or whether the idea is mainly Mr. Maliki’s initiative.

Gordon goes on to note that negotiations so far have taken place in the P5+1 format and that “it is difficult to make major headway in such a committeelike forum”. However, besides including Russia in the list of countries comprising the P5+1 group (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US), the article does not mention worsening relations between the US and Russia over the Edward Snowden situation and the Boston Marathon bombing investigation.

I find it significant that Maliki made the overture to the US in early July. Snowden has been holed up in the Moscow airport since June 23 and so early July coincides with the point at which the US began to realize that Russia does not intend to turn Snowden over to the US. Add to that the fact that the P5+1 negotiations mainly revolve around the Russian “step by step” plan, with the June 2012 negotiations on that plan having taken place in Moscow. It would make sense to me that Rohani would see that with US-Russian relations souring quickly, the US would be hesitant to follow a negotiation path set by Russia.

If this really is an Iranian overture, I see it as a very a good sign. It would suggest that Iran sees the worsening US-Russia feud and wants to suggest a way to remove that feud as an issue to be overcome in bringing a resolution to the nuclear technology situation. By suggesting such a course of action, it seems that Iran may be serious about finally resolving the nuclear technology issue.

Arguing against this rosy interpretation is the fact that Iran sees Russia as a strong ally, so cutting them out of the negotiations could be seen as Iran choosing sides in the feud and thereby risk their own relations with Russia. The timing could be explained simply by noting Rohani’s election in mid-June and the mere act of floating the idea of direct talks would be seen as cementing Rohani’s positioning as a moderate, even if the direct talks never materialize.

The situation bears close watching over the next few months.

Join a Military Exercise and Win a Drone!

William Arkin catalogs the 19 countries participating in the “largest US exercise in the Middle East” this month.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) now says that the exercise is “the largest annual exercise in the Central Command area of operations,” supplanting Bright Star, the exercise series previously conducted in Egypt.  I guess the masters of war planning have a lot of faith in the stability and resilience of the Jordanian government, come to think of it, just like they did about Egypt.

Eager Lion, which most press reports refer to as including 17 participants, actually includes 19 participants, according to CENTCOM.   They include Australia, Bahrain, Brunei, Egypt, France, Italy, Iraq, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Spain, Romania, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.  The exercise is touted as “building relationships,” but the 19 nations weren’t named until May 15th: I suppose it’s more like a furtive affair than a relationship.  It’s interesting to note that Turkey, previously reported as participating, evidently is not; and that Iraq is there.

Like Arkin, I’m struck by the addition of Iraq and the apparent withdrawal of Turkey from the exercise.

Particularly given this news:

Iraq is buying unmanned drones from the United States to help protect its southern oil platforms as the OPEC nation ramps up production after the withdrawal of the last American troops, U.S. and Iraqi officials said on Monday.

[snip]

Iraq’s 40,000-strong energy police stepped up protection to deter attacks it expected from Sunni Islamist armed groups linked to al-Qaeda. But officials long complained they were poorly equipped for the task of protecting the vital sector.

As noted, the ostensible threat these drones are targeting are Sunni insurgents. Given the current regime in Iraq and the Shia population in the south, where these drones will be used, that makes sense.

But I wonder whether it doesn’t represent a shift away from Iran. Iraq has been rather disinterested in playing the former colony, not only kicking us out but also siding with Iran last year on oil targets. But if it is participating in a military exercise targeting (even though DOD is pretending it is not) Iran, and then gets drones, it sure seems like it has changed its mind about playing client state to Iran, either.

Maybe someone has been reading about what has happened to Iran’s client state in Libya and what is in process of happening in Syria.

Iraq Learned the Ray Davis Lesson from Pakistan

Before I point out an (IMO) overlooked detail from the NYT story describing how contractors in Iraq are being “harassed,” let me first draw attention to what NYT has hidden in paragraph 8:

Private contractors are integral to postwar Iraq’s economic development and security, foreign businessmen and American officials say, but they remain a powerful symbol of American might, with some Iraqis accusing them of running roughshod over the country. [my emphasis]

I suppose NYT felt the need to offer an innocuous explanation for the presence of so many contractors. But when you realize who is offering that explanation, the attempt to normalize the contractors doesn’t seem so innocuous anymore.

Which leads me to the detail that most struck me.

Iraqi authorities have detained a few hundred foreign contractors in recent weeks, industry officials say, including many Americans who work for the United States Embassy, in one of the first major signs of the Iraqi government’s asserting its sovereignty after the American troop withdrawal last month.

The detentions have occurred largely at the airport in Baghdad and at checkpoints around the capital after the Iraqi authorities raised questions about the contractors’ documents, including visas, weapons permits and authorizations to drive certain routes. Although no formal charges have been filed, the detentions have lasted from a few hours to nearly three weeks. [my emphasis]

You see, it’s not just that Iraq has created the TSA identity check from hell for the contractors at the Baghdad Airport. It’s not just that Iraq wants to keep track of who’s packing what. Iraq also has certain routes they’re restricting access to without appropriate paperwork, thereby limiting access to those areas for anyone not willing to go without a contractor protecting them or at least sufficient notice to get paperwork.

That kind of location-based “harassment” seems to be behind the most extreme case described, in which Iraq stopped a 10-car convoy–of the 15 contractors involved, 12 were Iraqi–on its way from south of Baghdad north of the city.

Last month, two Americans, a Fijian and 12 Iraqis employed by Triple Canopy, a private security company, were detained for 18 days after their 10-vehicle convoy from Kalsu, south of Baghdad, to Taji, north of the capital, was stopped for what Iraqi officials said was improper paperwork.

One of the Americans, Alex Antiohos, 32, a former Army Green Beret medic from North Babylon, N.Y., who served in the Iraq war, said in a telephone interview Sunday that he and his colleagues were kept at an Iraqi army camp, fed insect-infested plates of rice and fish, forced to sleep in a former jail, and though not physically mistreated were verbally threatened by an Iraqi general who visited them periodically. “At times, I feared for my safety,” Mr. Antiohos said.

It’s not clear whether this will continue. An anonymous DOD source quoted in the story suggests the tension reflects a period of adjustment. But to the extent it does continue, it does more than just push around the contractors who have been pushing around Iraqis for 8 years.

It also means that outside businessmen stay away from certain places. It makes it less likely that American intelligence officers will seek out certain parts of the country. That may–as NYT’s apologists suggest–hinder Iraq’s development. It may permit Nuri al-Maliki to assert control of the country in some very unsavory ways.

But this seems more than “asserting sovereignty,” like a teenage kid with a new drivers license. Iraq seems to be imposing specific restrictions that may restrict the plans we’ve got for Iraq going forward.

No, the Iraq War Is NOT Over

The NYT, which played a key propaganda role in getting us into the Iraq war, has a 1000-word article telling us the Iraq war has officially been declared over.

And while it is true that the Administration had a campaign event dog and pony show yesterday declaring the war over, it is not.

After all, Rand Paul tried to formally, legally end the Iraq war last month. And 67 Senators refused to do so.

The fact that the Iraq AUMF remains on the books matters. It matters because no matter how many times we wax eloquent about Iraqis controlling their own destiny, Nuri al-Maliki knows that little prevents Obama from bringing in troops again–or dropping drones in his country. Maybe that’s why Maliki is doing unfathomable things like laying a wreath at the military cemetery of the country that has occupied and ravaged his country for 8 years.

And, as I keep noting, the Iraq AUMF serves another purpose. That AUMF’s general language on “terrorism” has been used to authorize the use of “war powers” against people the Executive Branch claims are terrorists who have nothing to do with al Qaeda. The Iraq AUMF has been interpreted by the Executive Branch to authorize a war against all so-called terrorists, not just the terrorists who hit us on 9/11. And based on that argument, it was used to authorize the wiretapping of American citizens in the US.

Credulous journalists may want to accept the Administration’s propaganda about the Iraq war ending. But until we take the expanded powers given to the President pursuant to a vile propaganda campaign away from him, the Iraq war is not over. And Obama should not be able to use it as a campaign line until he actually gives up those powers.

The Cost of $100 Million Prison Expansions and Other “Civilian-Led” Blowback

In addition to green-lighting debt collection calls to cell phones, another of the deficit plans Obama rolled out today is basically claiming credit for military withdrawals.

The plan also realizes more than $1 trillion in savings over the next 10 years from our drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As DDay notes, these “cuts” are scheduled to happen anyway. It’s just funny accounting, particularly since the foreverwar hawks will fight some of these changes in any case.

But there’s another reason I think this is funny accounting. We’re not withdrawing, we’re switching to “civilian-led” efforts in these places. And Obama is not measuring the costs of these civilian-led efforts.

Such as the $100 million expansion we’re making to habeas-free Parwan prison in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE) Middle East District intends to solicit names of construction firms or joint ventures experienced in working in the Middle East region who are interested in submitting a firm-fixed price offer for this project. To be considered a construction firm, the firm must perform construction as a significant portion of its business. This announcement is for the construction of Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP), Bagram, Afghanistan. The contractor shall comply with all base security requirements. Defense Base Act Insurance and Construction surety will be required. The estimated cost of the project is between $25,000,000 to $100,000,000.

PROJECT SCOPE: The scope of the Project includes construct detainee housing capability for approximately 2000 detainees. [my emphasis]

Glenn Greenwald hits much of what needs to be said about this expansion:

Budgetary madness to the side, this is going to be yet another addition to what Human Rights First recently documented is the oppressive, due-process-free prison regime the U.S. continues to maintain around the world:

Ten years after the September 11 attacks, few Americans realize that the United States is still imprisoning more than 2800 men outside the United States without charge or trial. Sprawling U.S. military prisons have become part of the post-9/11 landscape, and the concept of “indefinite detention” – previously foreign to our system of government — has meant that such prisons, and their captives, could remain a legacy of the 9/11 attacks and the “war on terror” for the indefinite future. . . . .

The secrecy surrounding the U.S. prison in Afghanistan makes it impossible for the public to judge whether those imprisoned there deserve to be there. What’s more, because much of the military’s evidence against them is classified, the detainees themselves have no right to see it. So although detainees at Bagram are now entitled to hearings at the prison every six months, they’re often not allowed to confront the evidence against them. As a result, they have no real opportunity to contest it.

In one of the first moves signalling just how closely the Obama administration intended to track its predecessor in these areas, it won the right to hold Bagram prisoners without any habeas corpus rights, successfully arguing that the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision — which candidate Obama cheered because it guaranteed habeas rights to Guantanamo detainees — was inapplicable to Bagram.  Numerous groups doing field work in Afghanistan have documented that the maintenance of these prisons is a leading recruitment tool for the Taliban and a prime source of anti-American hatred.  Despite that fact — or, more accurately (as usual), because of it — the U.S. is now going to build a brand new, enormous prison there.

And then there’s the expansion we’re doing to the “Embassy” in Baghdad. Dan Froomkin lays this out.

U.S. diplomats, military advisers and other officials are planning to fall back to the gargantuan embassy in Baghdad — a heavily fortified, self-contained compound the size of Vatican City.

The embassy compound is by far the largest the world has ever seen, at one and a half square miles, big enough for 94 football fields. It cost three quarters of a billion dollars to build (coming in about $150 million over budget). Inside its high walls, guard towers and machine-gun emplacements lie not just the embassy itself, but more than 20 other buildings, including residential quarters, a gym and swimming pool, commercial facilities, a power station and a water-treatment plant.

[snip]

The number of personnel under the authority of the U.S. ambassador to Iraq will swell from 8,000 to about 16,000 as the troop presence is drawn down, a State Department official told The Huffington Post. “About 10 percent would be core programmatic staff, 10 percent management and aviation, 30 percent life support contractors — and 50 percent security,” he said.

[snip]

As the Department of Defense pulls out and its spending drops, the State Department is expecting its costs to skyrocket. State asked Congress for $2.7 billion for its Iraqi operations in fiscal year 2011, and got $2.1 billion. It wants $6.2 billion for next year. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee estimates that State’s plans will cost $25 to $30 billion over the next five years.

I use scarequotes for the word “Embassy” because I think it’s time we set aside the fiction that this is a State Department operation. Froomkin notes, for example, that the $6 billion a year State will be spending on this “Embassy” adds to the only $14 billion State spends, in total, right now.

It’s not just the actual spending I’m objecting to–the $100 million here, the $30 billion there–though Glenn’s point, that we refuse to spend a fraction of $100 million to fix CA’s prison overcrowding, is an important one.

It’s that in one of our colonies we’re doubling the size of our replacement Gitmo, right there in plain view of the people it will antagonize (though the expansion does raise questions about whether we’ll fill the prison with detainees from other countries, too).

And in another of our colonies we’re expanding our giant concrete intelligence bunker (I am open to suggestions for better names for this monstrosity), replete with numbers equal to the numbers of troops Nuri al-Maliki can’t publicly approve. Will the fact that intelligence and contractor personnel are watching over our colony be any less incendiary to the Moqtada al-Sadrs of Iraq than men and women we explicitly called troops? Isn’t this stupid fiction–with the legal fiction it exploits–be in a number of ways worse?

Call it a crazy suspicion. But our non-withdrawal withdrawals from our colonies seems ripe for blowback in a very very big (and expensive) way.

Of course that’s precisely the kind of cost even the deficit hawks refuse to count, so we’ll never see it accounted for in any budget.

Condi’s Pissing Contest with Moqtada al-Sadr

Siun and Spencer make what I believe to be the most important point about Condi’s taunt of Moqtada al-Sadr.

“I know he’s sitting in Iran,” Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr’s latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. “I guess it’s all-out war for anybody but him,” Rice said. “I guess that’s the message; his followers can go [to] their deaths and he’s in Iran.”

Here’s Siun:

Hmmm … am I missing something here? Aside from the fact that it is only the U.S. military that keeps claiming al Sadr is always in Iran, I had not noticed the redeployment of the Bush White House and State Department to the streets of Iraq. Occasional drop-ins at the Green Zone, less occasional speed tours of locations outside the GZ (complete with air cover and hundreds of military escorts), sure, but … when did George and Condi move to Baghdad?

And here’s Spencer:

So Sadr is a coward for making threats from Iran… and Condoleezza Rice is a stateswoman for blustering Sadr into making a move that carries the potential of killing American soldiers. Why is this woman respected again?

Once again, this Administration’s claims of manlihood are so much empty fluff.

But I’d like to point out something else about Condi’s taunt. Back when Dick Cheney snuck off to Iraq to meet with Nuri al-Maliki, it remained unclear whether or not Cheney’s visit had some causal relationship with what came next: Maliki’s ill-fated offensive into Basra. It seemed like a pretty telling coincidence, but the Administration barely admitted the US was providing air support, much less admit that Dick at least approved–if not incited–the offensive.

I submit we will have no doubts about what comes next. Condi has made it very clear she owns–we own–whatever atrocities are about to happen in Sadr City.

Update: Here’s Scarecrow making the same point. He also notes that, by inciting more civil war, the US seems to be engaging in an effort to further empower Iran.

The Administration wanted this fight, and Petraeus’ first duty is to protect the Green Zone from rocket attacks. His only tactical complaint was his claim — which now appears disingenuous — that the Iraqis tried to move against Basra before US forces were ready. He blamed al Maliki’s impatience for the initial stumbles, but as soon as the offensive stalled, the Americans (and British) bailed out the Continue reading

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