Thursday, November 17, 2011

Working Class Barack


From April 27, 2008, that's "Working Class Barack."

He was, and is, such a fancy boy that he never was able to connect with working class voters. Even now. He could have worked on it the last 3 years but instead he acted like he was going to ride high in the polls forever. That didn't happen though, did it?

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, November 17, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq executes 11 people, Camp Ashraf residents get attention from the US Senate, Political Stalemate II continues, Nouri prepares to target more political opponents, Nouri launches secret arrests on Iraqi youths who had the 'nerve' to complain about the lack of employment in their country, and more.
Camp Ashraf is one of the worst reported subjects in the US press. We do get articles so slanted that even a paper's public editor calls out the slant (against the residents of Camp Ashraf) and we get hurled insults at Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and others for speaking out on behalf of the residents. But very little attention is given to the issue of their support. A US military official used the New York Times to smear Clark and Dean and suggest that they have sold their voices out to the highest bidders. US House Rep Bob Filner has not been paid on behalf of anyone to speak out for the residents of Camp Ashraf (a number of family members of the residents live in California, including in Bob Filner's district). You don't read about that. You don't read about hearings on topic or Congressional statements. This week, Camp Ashraf, yet again, came up in a Committee hearing. We're going to note the remarks. But first, let's provide some background on Camp Ashraf.
Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."
"The status of the residents at Camp Ashraf from the Iranian dissident group MEK remains unresolved," Senator Carl Levin declared Tuesday. "As the December 2011 deadline approaches, the administration needs to remain vigilant that the government of Iraq lives up to its commitments to provide for the safety of the Camp Ashraf residents until a resolution of their status can be reached. We need to make it clear to the government of Iraq that there cannot be a repeat of the deadly confrontation began last April by Iraqi security forces against Camp Ashraf residents."
He was speaking Tuesday morning at the Senate Armed Services Comittee hearing while delivering his opening remarks as Chair of the Committee. Senator John McCain is Ranking Member on the Committee. The first panel the Committee heard testimony from was composed of US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsy. Camp Ashraf came up in Chair Levin's opening remarks and it came up later during the first panel.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Do you think -- do you think the people in Camp Ashraf, do you think they're going to get killed? What's going to happen to them?
General Martin Dempsey: The, uh, as you know, Senator, the State Department is leading an effort to ensure that -- work with the Iraqi government ---
Senator Lindsey Graham: Can you tell the people back here that the likelihood of their friends and family being killed has gone up greatly if there are no American forces up there policing the problem?
General Martin Dempsey: I won't say anything to those people because I'm not involved in the outcome.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Fair enough.
In what was now the second round, John McCain went on to laugh with Leon Panetta and to thank him for appearing before the Comittee and putting up with pointed questions. He brought up a request that Panetta had made to him and Senator Graham (formally, in a letter) and noted they were working on that issue (defense funding). We're not going to excerpt that but since so much was made of the first round of questioning between Panetta and McCain, we will note that both laughed with one another in an exchange in the second round. (The hysterical gossip corps portrayed McCain being testy as new or novel and may have left many with images of poor Leon struggling for the vapors. Neither person was harmed by the exchange in the first round nor appeared to hold a grudge or ill will towards the other.) Near the end of his second round, McCain did bring up the issue of Camp Ashraf.
Ranking Member John McCain: Could I just say finally on the Camp Ashraf issue, I know the Secretary of Defense -- I mean, Secretary of State is addressing this issue, but it is American troops that are protecting them now. I hope that you can give us some idea of what disposition is going to be because I think it's -- I think it's very clear that the lives of these people are at risk and I thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: I appreciate that.
Chair Carl Levin: Well, just on that, to turn it into a question -- and, maybe, General, this needs to be addressed to you too -- what -- There's obviously a greater risk to folks there unless the Iraqis keep a commitment. What's going to be done to make sure, to the best of our ability, that they keep that committment and what about the question of removing them from the list of -- not them, the organization from the terrorist list?
General Martin Dempsey: Well, Senator --
Senator Carl Levin: We're all concerned about this --
General Martin Dempsey: And we share your concern. [General] Lloyd Austin shares your concern. And I know that Ambassador Jeffreys shares the concern and there is no -- we're not sparing any diplomatic effort to encourage the Iraqis to do what we think is right in this regard to ensure the protection of those folks in Camp Ashraf. But right now, actually, the Iraqi security forces guard Camp Ashraf with our advisory and assistance group with them. And so the concern, when we do leave that capacity, is a real one. And But I actually think we've got to put the pressure on the Iraqi government diplomatically to have the outcome that we think is correct.
Senator Carl Levin: Just assure them if you would that there's a real strong feeling around here that if they -- if they violate a committment to protect those people -- assuming that they're still there and that they haven't been removed from the terrorist list so that they can find other locations -- that if they violate that committment to us, that is going to have a severely negative impact on the relationship with the -- I think I can speak here -- the Congress although I'm reluctant to ever say this. I think there's a lot of concern in the Congress about it and this will, I believe, in my opinion, will severely negatively impact their relationship with the Congress. Let me leave it at that.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Senator, I want to assure you that Ambassador Jeffrey has made that point loud and clear, loud and clear the Iraqis.
Senator Carl Levin: Senator Lieberman?
Senator Joe Lieberman: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. And add my voice and I think you can speak for Congress members of both parties in both houses in expressing our concern about the safety of the people in Camp Ashraf.
Our gossip corps masquerading as a press corps missed that too, didn't they? The Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee declared that if the Iraqi government did not keep their promise to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf -- residents that the Iraqi forces have already twice attacked -- there would be serious damage to the government of Iraq's relationship with the US Congress.
Sounds like a headline to me. In fact, sounds like a first page, opening segment of the evening news type story. And that's before you factor in the remarks of the others or the consensus that Levin did speak for Congress in his remarks. Yes, independent Joe Lieberman did agree with Democrat Carl Levin who agreed with Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain but there were other Democrats present (Ben Nelson, Kay Hagan, Jeanne Shaheen) and other Republicans present (Jeff Sessions). No one lodged an objection. It would appear that the US Congress -- at least the Senate -- pretty much universally (if not fully) backs the protection of Camp Ashraf residents. That's a story you really don't get. But news outlets can make time and will make time to run stories implying that Howard Dean and Wesley Clark are only concerned with the protection of Camp Ashraf residents because they've been 'bought' and that no one would care about these people unless they were being paid to. The implication being not only that Dean and Clark are 'on the take' but also that the residents of Camp Ashraf are so low on the human chain or so digusting or so whatever that no one in their right mind could ever think these people were worthy of defending. That's a really ugly thing to suggest about Dean and Clark and it's extremely ugly and phobic to suggest that of the residents of Camp Ashraf.
If you need an example of this ugliness, you can refer to Josh Rogin's Foreign Policy piece. Tonight or at Third on Sunday, I plan to write about how people get hearings so wrong. You can find part of the answer in Josh Rogin's quote from Carl Levin. Yes, Levin did declare what Rogin quotes him stating -- but that's all Rogin quotes him stating and misses the exchange that we've quoted above. That's because like a lot of 'reporting' on this hearing, people didn't bother to attend the actual hearing. But we'll save that for tonight or I'll take it over to Third on Sunday.
Gary Feuerberg (Epoch Times) reports, "The Ashraf residents fear that they will be sent back to Iran, where they were an opposition group, and could be executed. Three Iranians visiting their sons in the camp, upon returning home, were each executed in Dec. 2010 - Jan. 2011. In the last few days, Iraqi troops in larger numbers have been outside the gates, awakening the residents early in the morning with taunts broadcast through loud speakers. The residents remember April 8 this year, when this kind of harassment was a prelude to the Iraqi military firing on unarmed residents, killing 36 and wounding scores that outside observers called a massacre." Outside observers include US Senator John Kerry who termed that assault a "massacre." British MP David Amess writes at the Independent of London's Foreign Desk blog:
At Camp Ashraf in Iraq, 3,400 residents are encircled. Loud speakers have been placed around the town's perimeter as part of a campaign of psychological intimidation. They blast out insults and threats in the early hours of the morning. The aggressors, Iraqi forces, are taking orders from the Iranian regime. They want Camp Ashraf cleared out and shut down because the residents are members of the People's Mohjahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), the main Iranian opposition group.
No-one is allowed out of the Camp to receive medical attention. Foreign observers, including Euro MPs, US congressmen and journalists, are not allowed to enter. In the latest sign that the siege is tightening, Ashraf's fuel supplied have been cut off. There have been no gasoline deliveries for almost a year, and very little diesel fuel and kerosene. Now that temperatures are dropping, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered an end to deliveries of coal and wood.
Iraq's Christian community has been repeatedly targeted. They were raised twice in Tuesday's hearing. Both times by Chair Carl Levin. First, he noted in his opening statement, "Our concern about the security of the Christian minorities is very strong. We need to work with the government of Iraq to ensure it has the will and capability to protect Iraq's religious minority communities from targeted violence and persecution."
Then he brought up the issue again when the first round of questioning started.
Chair Carl Levin: Let me ask you about protection of religious minorities, since our invasion of Iraq in 2003, I have worked with many members of the Congress and many members of Congress have worked with our military and civilian leadership both here and in Iraq to ensure that the small religious minority community in Iraq are protected from targeted violence and persecution. Give us your assessments, first Secretary and then perhaps general, of what the Iraqi government's willingness and ability to protect the religious minorities in Iraq, particularly the Christians?
Secretary Leon Panetta: I-I believe that, uh, Ambassador Jeffrey and the State Department continue to work very closely with the Iraqis to ensure that, uh, religious minorities are protected there. It is -- it is a problem. It's a concern. I think it's something that's going to demand continued vigilance by all of us, continuing pressure by all of us, on the Iraqi government that they do everything possible to recognize both human and religious rights. There's a lot of history here and a lot of challenges here but I am absolutely convinced when you talk to the political leadership in Iraq, uh, they -- they don't want to have these kind of divisions, they don't want to have this kind of discrimination take place within their country but it's going to require constant vigilance to make sure it doesn't happen.
Chair Carl Levin: General, do you have anything to comment on that?
General Martin Dempsey: No, just the -- just the comment, Senator, on the fact that in the pre-surge period, which many of us remember, it was very common for state sponsored militias out of the security ministries to be conducting these kind of attacks against uh-uh those religious groups that didn't agree with their particular faith. We haven't seen anything like that since the surge -- meaning the security ministries have become responsible agents of government. And though not discounting the continued pressure on the small religious communities, at least it -- there's no evidence that it will be state-sponsored. And that's a -- that's a significant change.
Yes, you did just hear a US general cite as "significant" progress that the Iraqi Christians were not being attacked by government forces. Which brings up the very real issue of why, in real time, we weren't told this? It's so wonderful as they reflect back on 2006 through 2008 and suddenly want to share with the world events that, when the US military appeared before Congress during those same years, they never raised. But, just like Dempsey on Tuesday, they always managed to insist Iraq was coming along nicely.
The reality for Iraqi Christians isn't pretty. Take Kirkuk where the Syriac Orthodox Church has now been bombed three times in five years. Most estimates on Christians in Baghdad are at 4,000 or under. That number was said to be at least 300,000 of Iraq's estimated 800,0000 Christians in 2002. Many have left Baghdad for other countries or to move to the Kurdish north which is thought to be a safer area for Iraqi Christians. So, when the Baghdad population is no longer targeted by Nouri's Iraqi security forces, it's not "significant," despite what Dempsey says. What's signficant is that a large number of them were killed, a large number of them left Baghdad for other countries (Iraqi Christians make up at least 25% of the Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanaon) and a large number moved to the KRG where Nouri's forces can't get to them. (The semi-autonomous KRG has its own security forces including the peshmerga.)
This week, Mark Pattison (Catholic News Service) reported Youngstown, Ohio's Bishop George V. Murry, just returned from Iraq, is calling for an increase in US financial aid to Iraq, what he terms a "modern-day version of the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe after the Second World War. [. ..] Iraq is suffering from the results of the war. The United States and the nations that joined with it in the war can help Iraq rebuild their infrastructure and rebuild their country." Joan Frawley Desmond (National Catholic Register) quotes the bishop stating, "We visited the Church of Our Lady of Salvation, where the militants entered and killed the faithful, including two priests. One still sees bloodstained walls." Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked October 31, 2010. An Iraqi Christian told the bishops on their visit, "We used to live in the Garden of Eden, and now we live in hell." As Jim Muir (BBC News -- link is text and video) observed after that attack, the Islamic State for Iraq declared "that all Christians in the country are now a legitimate target."
Levin was the only one to explore the issue of Iraqi Christians in the hearing. That might actually be a good thing when you notice how efforts were made to spin the KRG. For background, we drop back to Monday's snapshot:
AFP reports John Kirby declared at the Pentagon today that the US was deploying some of the predator drones in Iraq to Turkey to give "support to the Turkish military to deal with the specific threat posed by the PKK on their southern border." Reuters adds that the program "involves four US predator unmanned aircraft". Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) observes, "Moving them to Turkey could strengthen the diplomatic alliance with the United States, but it also risks putting the United States in the middle of a regional conflict between Turkey and Iraq, two putative allies. Pentagon officials declined to say whether the four Predator drones being flown out of Incirlik Air Base, a joint U.S. - Turkish military installation, would be allowed to cross into Iraqi air space." And how is Iraq going to feel knowing Turkey has a spy view on them? Not the US which is bad enough. But Turkey's a neighbor. There's really no chance Turkey won't use the drones to their own advantage? John Reed ( News) adds, "In what could be an effort to head off the popular discontent seen in other countries that have hosted U.S. drones, Davotugu claimed that the American UAV missions would be overseen by the Turkish military."
The following day, at Tuesday's hearing, this issue was raised in the hearing.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: [. . .] we have cooperated with Turkey in the past -- specifically with Kurds in northern Iraq. And we're seeing that violence between Turkey and the Kurd rebels has escalated since the summer. We saw a major Turkish operation into Iraq. And, yesterday, there were reports that US drones had deployed into Turkey from Iraq for surveillance flights. So can you just give us an update on that situation?
General Martin Dempsey: I can, thank you, Senator. You know each combatant commander has a theater security cooperation plan that supports both building the capability of our partners allows us to make ourselves better and deters potential adversaries. And so in Turkey, for example, we have, uhm, we've-we've recently, as you've described, taken the ISR platform that was apparently flying out of Balad Air Base and is now flying out of Incirlik in Turkey to support the Turks in their fight against terrorism. The Turks recently agreed to put the TPY-2 radar [Army/Navey/ Transportable Radar Surveillance] as part of the European phase adaptive approach, integrated air defense, against the possibility of a rogue missile strike from Iran if they develop that capability. So -- And then if you walk down the Gulf Cooperative Council, we have bi-lateral agreements with each of them -- some of which are multi-lateral, for example, air defense; some of which are exclusively bi-lateral. And then the other thing we do is exercises as well as this foreign military sales program, it becomes a significant cornerstone to our relationship with these countries.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: Relative to the US - Turkey cooperation on the Kurds, how is Iraq responding?
Genearl Martin Dempsey: Iraq has uh-uh consistently denounced the presence of the Kurdish -- the PKK on Iraq's soil and so too has the Kurdistan Regional Government. So there hasn't been any friction as long as there's been transparency about intent.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: So we're cooperating with them as we're doing these kind of
General Martin Dempsey: We are, Senator.
That was very far from the truth. Not only have there been protests throughout Iraq -- not just in the KRG -- against Turkey's latest bombing campaign which began August 17th, but members of Parliament have called out the bombing campaign -- called out publicly. Wednesday, Al Mada reported on the objections which include that Turkey, "under the pretext of attacking the PKK," has launched one of the most dangerous assaults on civilians and the transfer of drones is called "extremely dangerous" and attempt by the US government to curry favor with Turkey. If you're missing it, Iraqis are not dancing in the streets with joy over the use of drones to monitor their country and provide the results to Turkey.
Violence continued in Iraq today. Reuters notes a Tuz Khurmato sticky bombing (to a bulldozer) claimed 1 life. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds a Mosul bombing this morning claimed the life of police officer Lt Col Jabbar Rasheed and left three more police officers injured while a Mosul roadside bombing left nine people injured and a Mosul roadside bombing attack (three bombs) left ten people injured and a Mahmoudiya car bombing left six people injured.

In addution, Al Rafidayn reports that 11 people were executed today and quotes a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice stating that this incuded a woman and a Tunisian. (Mohammed Tawfeeq covers the issue here for CNN for those who'd like a report in English.) Amnesty International notes:
The Iraqi authorities must commute all death sentences and ensure verdicts
are not based on forced confessions involving torture, Amnesty International
said today, after 11 people convicted of terrorism-related offences were
hanged in Baghdad.
The execution of the 11, including one woman, took place yesterday in
spite of attempts by the Tunisian authorities to obtain a pardon for a Tunisian national, Yosri Trigui, who was sentenced to death for his alleged
involvement in an attack against the al-'Askari Shi'a Muslim Shrine in
Samarra in 2006. The attack sparked an eruption of sectarian violence.
Trigui, who had been living in Iraq since 2003, was arrested in 2006 by
US forces for his alleged involvement in terrorist acts. He was also convicted
of the killing of a female Iraqi journalist from the Al Arabiya TV channel,
Atwar Bahjat. Amnesty has previously voiced concern that Trigui's trial
did not appear to meet international standards.
Meanwhile, a further 10 people are reportedly due to be executed in Iraq
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Acting Director
Philip Luther said:
"While the Iraqi government has the right to bring to justice those
responsible for serious crimes, the death penalty violates the right to life
and should not be used in any case.
"Given the appalling state of Iraq's justice system, it is questionable whether
these 11 people received a fair trial.
"Iraq must immediately commute the death sentences of the hundreds of
people remaining on death row in the country. The authorities must also
ensure that trials meet international standards for fair trial, and are not based
on confessions extracted under torture and other ill-treatment."
Trials in Iraq consistently fall short of international standards for fair trials. The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), established by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 after the US-led military invasion of the country, is the main criminal court, which handles crimes relating to terrorism, sectarian violence, organised crime and government corruption. The court has handed down the vast majority of death sentences.
Defendants in Iraq frequently complain that "confessions" are extracted under torture and other ill-treatment during pre-trial interrogation, often when they were held incommunicado in police stations or in detention. Defendants are often not brought before an investigative judge within a reasonable time and not told of the reason for their arrest. "Confessions" extracted from them are often used as evidence against them at their trials and accepted by the courts without taking any or adequate steps to investigate defendants' allegations of torture. Such "confessions" have also frequently been broadcast on the Iraqi government-controlled satellite TV station Al Iraqiya. This practice undermines the presumption of innocence, which is a fundamental human right.
Trial proceedings before the CCCI are very brief, often lasting only a few minutes before verdicts are handed down.
Staying on legal, Nouri's been crying 'Ba'athist!' to take out political opponents. This issue was even raised in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday -- Senator Scott Brown raised it and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated the White House was concerned over the arrests. From Ava's report at Trina's site Tuesday night:
Brown noted the crackdown taking place in Iraq on Nouri's political opponents, them being arrested and held without charge. He asked Panetta, "Are you concerned with these types of arrests and whether it will either require us to have a larger foot print or how it's going to be effected by our footprint being reduced?"

Panetta responded, "I am concerned by the actions the Prime Minister took with regards to arresting the Ba'athists." Love how he just went with Nouri's language. These are, by all accounts, ex-Ba'athists.

Panetta then stated, "I think that -- and they're being held at this point without charges and that raises concerns about due process. At the same time, I have to say that the Sunnis -- and it's a reflection of what's happened in Iraq -- that the Sunni population there recognizes that even in light of that that their actions ought to take place through the actions of government. And they're bringing their pressure through the Parliament and through the government to try to change that behavior and I think that's what democracy should do." Yea! A victory!

Reality: Nouri is fighting those moves.

Panetta wants to sell political targeting as evidence of a democracy. He clearly thinks the Committee is composed of idiots.

Al Sabaah reports that security sources are stating there is another list of 'Ba'athists' to be arrested in Dhi Qar. Al Rafidayn adds that the list has approximately 50 names on it. In other disturbing news, Al Mada reports that Iraqi security forces in Baghdad arrested a group of youths who were speaking to one another about the unemployment problem while eating a meal at a restaurant. The forces follwed the young people home and arrested them -- after forcing their way into the youth's homes. At least six people were arrested. One is Ashraf Mohamed whose mother states who explained that she was worried about her son's where abouts and after checking with the hospitals and police was told he was being held in detention. The secret arrests are being compared to the Iraqi security forces February 25th attack on four journalists who were at a restaurant eating lunch after covering the protest in Baghdad's Tahrir Square -- they were publicly beaten, hauled off and then tortured. One of the four was Hadi al-Mehdi who was assassinated September 8th and the government has made no effort to find his killer.

Political Stalemate I was a period in Iraq following the March 7, 2010 elections. It ended in November of 2010 only as a result of a meet-up in Erbil and the political parties signing off on an agreement in which all but State of Law made political concessions. The results of the March 7th elections, even after Nouri al-Maliki bitterly contested them and stamped his feet until a few post-election votes were tossed his way, were that Iraqiya came in first and Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second. Iraqis do not elect their prime minister, the Parliament does. Per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, should have had first crack at forming a government. First crack? You become prime minister-designate and then have thirty days to name a Cabinet (nominate people for positions and have Parliament vote in favor of them). If you can't accomplish that in 30 days, per the Constitution, a new prime minister-designate is supposed to be named.

Nouri al-Maliki refused to surrender the post of prime minister. So the March 7th elections were followed by over 8 months of gridlock, Political Stalemate I. The Erbil Agreement found all but State of Law making major concessions so that the country could pull together. (During that eight month period, Parliament had one session which was little more than roll call.) Iraqiya, the winner in the elections, was supposed to see their leader (Allawi) head an independent security commission, the KRG was promised Article 140 would finally be followed (Article 140 of the Constitution addresses disputed territories such as Kirkuk -- it calls for a census and referendum to be held in Kirkuk by the end of 2007. Nouri was prime minister then and refused to implement Article 140.) Many promises were made but the only one that concerned Nouri was that he would remain prime minister.

With all sides signing off on the Erbil Agreement, it appeared that Iraq would be moving forward on a national level. Nouri was named prime minister-designate (unofficially named, Jalal Talabani would wait two weeks before making it official to give Nouri 30 days plus two weeks to form a Cabinet). Before November drew to a close, Nouri would announce the planned census to take place in December was off. He would claim that the national security commission had to be put on hold but would be created earlier. By the time he was illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister, Iraq was in Political Stalemate II. And that's where it has remained. Illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister? The Constitution says 30 days to name Cabinet. That's not 'partial' cabinet, that's the full Cabinet. Nouri did not name a full Cabinet. Most importantly he said he would 'temporarily' fill the security ministries -- Defense, National Security and Interior.

The Kurds, the National Alliance and Iraqiya have all called for the Erbil Agreement to be followed ("the Kurds" does not include Goran). Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that Nouri and Iraqi president (and Kurd) Jalal Talabani have met and that steps are being taken to resolve the issues -- of course this has repeatedly been reported for months now with no resolution as of yet. Nouri and Talabani are said to be on the same page regarding the issues. If true, this should be a big surprise to the Kurdish delegation that visited Baghdad weeks ago and found no resolution or mutual understanding with Nouri. Dar Addustour adds that supposedly the two agreed that the three security ministries must be filled. Iraqiya tells Dar Addustour that Ayad Allawi is due back in Iraq and that there will be some important developments shortly. All options are open, their spokesperson states, including a vote of no-confidence for Nouri.

Meanwhile Al Rafidayn reports that Nouri held a press conference yesterday announcing and promoting a bill that, if passed, would give the provinces more say in their own affairs -- such as implementing water and health projects. Nouri's always so good about making statements to garner support. It's following up those statements with actual action that Nouri has problems with.

Moving over to England where Murray Wardrop (Telegraph of London) reports, "The panel, led by Sir John Chilcot, had been expected to deliver its initial conclusions by the end of the year, but yesterday announced that it was postponing the draft report until 'at least Summer 2012'. The inquiry is being held up in delivering its findings as it is locked in negotiations with Whitehall officials over how much information it can release in classified documents." The Iraq Inquiry. An official inquiry -- promised by Gordon Brown -- a government inquiry in fact. And the results are delayed again due to, yes, government secrecy. Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) adds, "The inquiry makes it clear that Whitehall departments are continuing to block the disclosure of documents about the circumstances surrounding the invasion of Iraq." BBC News reminds, "At one hearing in early 2010, inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot expressed his frustration about his committee's inability to publish certain classified documents relating to Iraq policy. Although the committee could see these documents, their public release had not been sanctioned by the government - a move also criticised by Lord Goldsmith, attorney general in the run-up to war."
Read on ...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Big Cry Baby


That's "Big Cry Baby" from April 23, 2008. Barack's whining that "Big States And Debates Scare Me." I always liked this one myself. And I would explain all the whys of that.

But, no time tonight.

I've done a rough drawing of a comic for The Common Ills for tomorrow morning. I need to do the dialogue balloons and I need to color the cartoon.

So look for that online tomorrow morning. But I've got get on it and finish it.

And here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, November 10, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the Washington Post reports remains of the fallen were dumped by the Air Force into a landfill, the Air Force Chief of Staff appears today at a Senate committee hearing but only two senators felt the need to bring the issue of the landfill with remains of the fallen up, arrests continue in Iraq, and more.
Today Jon Swaine (Telegraph of London) reports, "US Air Force officials admitted that from 2003 to 2008, body parts sent from war zones to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were burned before being handed to a private contractor for disposal in Virginia. Family members of the dead troops were not aware of the practice, which emerged amid anger over earlier disclosures that remains were also lost and mishandled by mortuary officials at the base." Craig Whitlock and Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) broke the story: "Air Force officials acknowledged the practice Wednesday in response to inquiries from The Washington Post. [. . .] Asked if it was appropriate or dignified to incinerate troops' body parts and dispose of them in a landfill, [Lt Gen Darrell G.] Jones declined to answer directly." Julian E. Barnes (Wall Street Journal) adds, "The revelation that a landfill was used for the remains came a day after the Air Force released the results of an extensive investigation into complaints that body parts were lost in 2009 in at least two cases at the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, which handles the bodies of all service members killed in action oversees. The use of a landfill for some of the partial remains was not connected to the cases of missing body parts."
The issue was raised today in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing into whether or not the Chief of the National Guard should be a Joint-Chief of Staff. Appearing before the Committee was the Defense Dept's General Counsel Jeh Johnson, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey, Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm James Winnefeld Jr., the Army Chief of Staff Gen Ray Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm Jonathan W. Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen Jame Amos, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen Norton Schwartz and the National Guard Bureau Chief Gen Craig McKinley. Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In his opening remarks, Chair Levin noted, "I believe that this hearing is a first -- the first time that we have had every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a single hearing. Each of them has appeared before us individually and in different combinations, but never all together." The plan was to cover the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot since tomorrow is Veterans Day. We're going to stick to that with the exception of the issue of remains of the fallen being dumped into landfills. A number of senators weren't present for this full Committee hearing.
Senator Kelly Ayotte: General Schwartz, on a different topic and I just feel the need to ask -- ask about this. Uhm, I'm deeply troubled by the reports about what happened at the mortuary at the Dover Air Force Base. And I'm sure you would agree with me this is outrageous that remains of our soldiers would be put in a landfill and not treated with the appropriate dignity and honor which they deserve. Can you tell me, uh, where we are with this? And how we're going to ensure that this never happens again? And, most importantly, that those who have participated in this outrage are going to be held accountable?
Gen Norton Schwartz: Senator Ayotte, first of all, let me clarify the allegation about putting remains in a landfill. These were portions, prior to 2008, which were sent away from the Dover mortuary to a funeral home for cremation -- which is an authorized method of dealing with remains, particularly those that are separated from the larger portions of remains returned to the family. After that, the results of the cremation came back to the mortuary were sent to a medical support company for incineration. So you had cremation, then incineration and it was at that point that this medical support organizations placed the residuals from that effort to a landfill. In 19 -- In 2008, the Air Force came to the conclusion that that was not the best way to deal with those remains and so it is now done in a traditional fashion of burial at sea. It has been that way since 2008. It will continue to be that way in the future and let me just conclude by saying the Secretary of the Air Force, Mike Donley [Secretary of the US Air Force] and I take personal responsibility for this. Our obligation is to treat our fallen with reverence and dignity and respect and to provide the best possible support and care for their families. That is our mission. The people who did not fulfill our expectations were disciplined and there's no doubt what our expectations are today.
Senator Kelly Ayotte: Well I -- General Schwartz, I appreciate your updating on that and, uh, when I think about the fact that we have Veterans Day tomorrow, this is so important, obviously, that we treat the remains of our fallen with dignity and respect and I know that you share that concern as well. And please know that members of this Committee will be there to support you in any way to make sure that the families know that we certainly won't allow this to happen again.
Let's examine Schwartz' statement.
Senator Ayotte, first of all, let me clarify the allegation about putting remains in a landfill. These were portions, prior to 2008, which were sent away from the Dover mortuary to a funeral home for cremation -- which is an authorized method of dealing with remains, particularly those that are separated from the larger portions of remains returned to the family. After that, the results of the cremation came back to the mortuary were sent to a medical support company for incineration. So you had cremation, then incineration and it was at that point that this medical support organizations placed the residuals from that effort to a landfill.
So remains were dumped in a landfill. You didn't clarify a damn thing, you did try to pretty up what happened and make it seem formal and dignified. Dumping ashes of the fallen into a landfill will never pass for "formal," "dignified" or "proper" unless that is in fact what the service member specifies for their remains in writing.
In 19 -- In 2008, the Air Force came to the conclusion that that was not the best way to deal with those remains and so it is now done in a traditional fashion of burial at sea. It has been that way since 2008.
What's the deal with 2008? In the next section, he'll note himself and Michael Donley and 2008 again. What's the deal?
Donley becomes Secretary of the Air Force October 17, 2008. Schwartz becomes Chief of Staff of the US Air Force in August 2008. The floating of 2008 repeatedly is an attempt to say, "This didn't happen under my watch or under Donley's." (The Washington Post reports the policy was changed in June 2008.)
It will continue to be that way in the future and let me just conclude by saying the Secretary of the Air Force, Mike Donley and I take personal responsibility for this. Our obligation is to treat our fallen with reverence and dignity and respect and to provide the best possible support and care for their families. That is our mission. The people who did not fulfill our expectations were disciplined and there's no doubt what our expectations are today.
If you take full responsibility, then you take full responsibility. I realize that Schwartz uttered those words on Tuesday as well. It seems to be his standard phrase that he thinks let's him off the hook.
But does it?
No, it doesn't. He may have come on board after the policy was changed but he was in charge when whistleblowers who stepped forward on the loss and damage to remains took place. Tuesday David Martin (CBS Evening News -- link has text and video) reported that three whistle blowers (Mary Ellen Spera, Bill Zwicharowski and James Parsons) had been subject to retaliation for coming forwarded with Zwicharowski being put on administrative leave and James Parsons being fired. Martin notes that they have their jobs today because "a federal office created to protect whistle blowers stepped in." That was under Schwartz watch. He takes responsibility?
Tom Bowman (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) reported yesterday on Schwartz Tuesday remarks to the press including that the families who were given fallen remains -- partial remains -- due to body parts being 'misplaced,' would have been notified but that, due to the issue of the whistleblowers, they were unable to tell families per the Office of Special Counsel. From Bowman's report:
CAROLYN LERNER: That's patently false.
BOWMAN: Carolyn Lerner is the special counsel. She says her office urged Air Force lawyers back in March to talk with the families, and they did so again recently.
LERNER: We asked them again, why hadn't you notified them? Their response was that these families, some of them had blogs; they couldn't be trusted - that they might go to the media.
BOWMAN: The special counsel's report, which is now with the White House and Capitol Hill, says the Air Force is still unwilling to acknowledge culpability.
You didn't notify the families? And you lied about why you didn't? Or, to be kind, you didn't actually know why you didn't? And you're claiming you take responsibility? Seems like you need to be out the door right now to demonstrate that there is accountability. I'm thinking back on US House Rep Phil Roe who is a doctor and a hearing about the Miami VA Medical Center (the October 12th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing covered in the October 20th snapshot) and it's failure to contact service members potentially exposed to diseases while receiving care due to the medical center's lack of proper care of medical instruments. Dr. Roe was appalled to find out that calls weren't made. He talked about how he made mistakes in his practice and when he did he picked up the phone himself as the director of the Miami VA Medical Center should have done. Roe has spoken of this in other hearings as well. If Schwartz had appeared before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, it would be very likely that, based on past Committee record,
US House Rep Phil Roe would have raised that issue and pursued it.
Today one senator did bother to raise it. In doing so, she became on the second senator in the hearing to note the disrespect for the remains of the fallen. Yes, both times it was women who had to do the heavy lifting in the hearing.
Senator Claire McCaskill: I want to specifically, for a minute, General Schwartz, go to the situation at Dover and I don't want to dwell on how hard this has to be for you and the leadership at the Air Force. No one needs to convince me that you want to get this right at Dover. I'll tell you what I do want to bring to your attention and I've did so with a letter today and that is with the finding of the Office of Special Counsel. And so people understand what the Office of Special Counsel is. It's an investigatory and prosecution oriented agency whose primary responsibility under our law is to be independent of all of the agencies and protect whistle blowers. And what I am concerned about is their investigation into what the Air Force did in response to the whistle blowers. And specifically the fact that the IG of the Air Force, they failed to admit wrong doing in their report. And while I understand people have been moved around as a result of the problems that have occured because of mishandling of the sacred remains of the fallen, I'm not sure that they have been held as accountable as what we saw happen at Arlington in connection with that heart breaking incompetence. And what I want to make sure is that there is an independent investigation as to whether or not the IG shaded it a little bit [Chair Carl Levin began nodding his head in vigrous agreement with what McCaskill was saying] because everyone was feeling a little bit protective of the institution for all the right reasons. The vast majority of the people who serve at Dover and who do this work, I'm sure, do it with a heavy heart but with a passion for getting it right. But when we have a circumstance like this arise, I want to make sure the Inspector Generals are not so busy looking after the institution that they fail to point out wrong doing -- which was not ever acknowledged -- and that there is accountability for the people involved. And so, I want you to address the Special Counsel's report as it relates to the Air Force investigation.
Gen Norton Schwartz: Senator McCaskill, there was -- There were -- Clearly were unacceptable mistakes made. Whether they constitute wrong doing is another matter entirely. And when you look at a situation like this, you look at the facts of a case, as an attorney might say. You look at the context in which the event or the mistakes occurred. And you also consider the demands that are -- are placed on individuals and-and organizations. With respect to accountability, we also had an obligation to ensure that the statutory requirements for Due Process were followed. We did that precisely. I can only speak for the case of the uniformed officer. But the uniformed officer received a letter of reprimand. We established an unfavorable information file. We removed him from the command list and his anticipated job as a group commander at Shaw Air Force Base was red-lined. This is not a trivial sanction.
Senator Claire McCaskill: Well I - I understand that's not a trivial sanction but I-I-I'm worried that there was a conclusion that there was not an obligation to notify the families in these instances and obviously this deals with more than uniform personnel and obviously the Secretary of the Air Force is also copied on the letter that I sent today calling for this independent investigation. What happened at Arlington, nobody was intentionally mismarking graves. They were mistakes too. And I just want to make sure that we have really clear eyes while we have full hearts about the right aggressive need for investigations by Inspector Generals in circumstances like this. And thank you very much and thank all of you for being here today.
McCaskill's call for an independent investigation has been picked up by the head of the Department and Charles Hoskinson (POLITICO) explains US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has stated, "None of us will be satisfied until we have proven to the families of our fallen heroes that we have taken every step necessary to protect the honor and dignity [of the fallens' remains]. This department has to be fully accountable in what we intend to deliver on this matter."
Disclosure: I know and like Leon Panetta. How he handles this will reflect on his tenure as Secretary of Defense and should. And whether or not the sexual assault rate within the ranks drops is also a part of how his tenure should be graded. But Leon's only been in this position since the summer. Is anyone going to go back and 'regrade' Robert Gates who was Defense Secretary during this? No. Of course not, they didn't grade him the first time, they just praised him and -- judging by the off-the-record photo-op we covered here in real time -- they praised him for all the interviews and access he gave them. The military sexual assualt rate did not decline despite his telling Congress over and over that he was taking the issue seriously and addressing it. The military suicide rate did not show a significant drop. Somehow on his Never Ending Farewell Tour, Gates managed to pick up non-stop press about what a 'great' job he'd done with no one ever stopping to actually grade him on what his job was. I like Leon, but when he's done serving as the Defense Secretary, the press doesn't need to gush. They need to grade. If he's done a great job, praise him. That's fine. But if he hasn't accomplished anything on the suicide rate or the sexual assault rate, then he hasn't done his job. Gates granting the press access didn't stop one military suicide or one military sexual assault.
Let's stay with the issue of military suicide because Diane Rehm explored it and veteran suicide on the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR -- link has audio and transcript options -- transcript is provided by the program for free, accessible to all who can surf the web and not just those who can benefit from streaming audio). Her guests were Give An Hour's Barbara van Dahlen, RAND's Rajeev Ramchand, VA's Jan Kemp and DC's Dept of Mental Health's Elspeth Cameron Ritchie. Excerpt.
Diane Rehm: Elspeth Ritchie, talk about the risk factors in the military and for veterans. Are they different from the risk factors in the general population?
Elspeth Ritchie: Yes, absolutely. As you know, Diane, I retired from the Army last year and -- after spending 28 years in the Army and looked very closely at risk factors for especially Army soldiers. And we published a paper recently on the prevalence and risk factors associated with Army suicides. And, basically, Army suicides are very different from the suicides in the civilian population. In the civilian population, it is usually people with psychiatric disease who are prone to kill themselves. In the Army, the risk factors are pretty simple: the breakup of a relationship, and they are also getting in trouble at work and having a legal problem. And in the Army, if you have a legal problem, you have an occupational problem. And what we've seen over time is that these precipitants -- often very humiliating events are what precipitate a suicide. The other thing that's very important to talk about, and people don't in general, is that about 70 percent of Army suicides are committed by gun, by either the personal weapon back here or the service weapon in theater. And I believe that we don't do nearly enough discussion about how dangerous it is to have the -- what I call the gun in the nightstand, the easily available gun there at a time when you might be having a fight with your wife or just found out that you're going to get in trouble.
Diane Rehm: Now, as I understand it, a third of all suicides in the military are among those who have yet to deploy. What are the factors at work there?
Elspeth Ritchie: What I believe is the most important factor there is not the individual deployment history, but the unit deployment history. So our bases with the highest, what we call up tempo, operations tempo are also those with essentially the highest suicide rate. So where we've had a high suicide rate for a number of years: Fort Carson, Fort Stewart, Fort -- not Fort Bragg so much anymore, Fort Campbell, Fort Riley. Those are all bases, and others, where the troops are constantly coming and going. And what the leaders told me, when we went down to investigate suicides, is they don't know their troops anymore 'cause they're just so busy. They get back from theater, and, shortly after that, they're going to different deployments or different schools or different units. And so the new kid who comes in, that in the old days were being integrated with picnics and barbeques and unit runs, now isn't integrated in the same way 'cause it's just going so quickly.
The Veterans Crisis Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. That is the same number that active duty service members will be referred to. And we'll also note one of Diane's callers from today's program, Deb:
Yes, Diane. I'm calling because I feel like the suicide problem in the military extends beyond the soldiers, to the families of the soldiers, specifically in our family. My husband's son was killed in Afghanistan a number of years ago. And this morning, we just came back from a counseling session through the VA. And I can't tell you how many times I have had concerns for my husband's safety. And I think that the problem right now is there's a ripple in a pond. And when a soldier is either wounded or killed, it not only affects the soldier but all of those in his circle who love him.
Moving to Iraq, Azzaman reports Joe Biden, US Vice president, is expected to discuss a number of issues with Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of the occupation, when he visits Iraq and notes he met over the weekend in DC with the KRG's Prime Minister Barham Salih. Dar Addustour is an Iraqi paper in Arabic. On their home page they have a poll currently asking whether Iraq should grant US troops immunity after December 31, 2011. The results? 55% (746 votes) have said yes. It's not a scientific poll, it's not in any way limited to Iraqis. But it is surprising that one of Iraq's leading papers would have a poll on that topic and get that sort of result. Yes, a small tiny group -- even one outside Iraq -- could skew the poll. But so could a group on the other side and the percentages really aren't changing this week -- the poll's been up all week and, in fact, went up last week. In other news, Michelle Tan (Army Times) reports:

Soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division have been "remissioned" and will move from Iraq to Kuwait for the remainder of their 12-month tour, the brigade commander announced Wednesday.
The announcement from Col. Scott Efflandt was posted on the unit's Facebook page.
"Troops and families of the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division are being notified that [the unit] will likely be repositioned within the [Central Command] area of responsibility for the remainder of their 12-month deployment," according to Efflandt's note. "This force will function as a reserve in the region to provide maximum flexibility for response to contingencies. It also demonstrates our lasting commitment to regional stability and security, and the robust security relationships we maintain with our regional partners."

Tan explains that the White House is working to secure a deal to use Kuwait as a staging platform for several thousand US troops. Meanwhile, UPI notes the CIA's not leaving Iraq, "The Central Intelligence Agency, which until recently operated outside the military establishment, is expected to stay on in various guises within the 17,000 U.S. personnel who will remain under State Department jurisdiction." Walter Pincus (Washington Post) addressed yesterday how the US government will be using security contractors in Iraq: "The latest example comes from the Army, which said in a recent notice that it has increased the number of contracted security teams hired to escort convoys of food and fuel coming in from Kuwait." And this use of contractors is happening while the State Dept refuses to present Congress or the SIGIR with any hard numbers or other facts leaving the American tax payer at risk of more tax dollars wasted on corruption and graft. And at a time when the Commission on Wartime Contracting -- whose salaries were paid for by US tax payers -- had declared it's not sharing its work. From the October 4th snapshot:

Over the weekend, Nathan Hodge (Wall St. Journal) reported on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, "The internal records of a congressionally mandated panel that reported staggering estimates of wasteful U.S. wartime spending will remain sealed to the public until 2031, officials confirmed, as the panel closed its doors on Friday." They've finished their study and they've closed their books. And, if you were at the hearing today, you learned just how wrong that is as Co-Chair Shays waived around the Commission's published findings and declared, "Our problem with Mr. Tieffer was that this book would have been three times as thick if we'd let him put in everything he wanted to put in so we limited him to 40 cases. But it could have been many more."
Great, so US tax payer money went down the drain again. The Commission unearthed tons of things but decided just to publish 40 of them. Because they didn't want their book to be too thick.
Right. We covered the Commission's public hearings. It was always a waste of time which describe the Commission itself and those members of Congress that pushed for it. The only value the Commission could have had was in making public its records now while the wars continue in the hopes that contract waste and abuse could be caught and some money saved. However, that's not going to happen with the Commisson's records being sealed and the published report only focusing on a small number of cases of fraud and abuse. As noted before, the Commission's purpose was never to find fraud and abuse. The purpose was to distract outraged Americans from what was being done with their money. The Commission had no powers. No charges have been filed over fraud. The Commission has wrapped up their business.

Erik Slavin (Stars and Stripes) reports today:

Two U.S. senators slammed a request by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan to seal its records for 20 years and called on higher officials to publicly release them, according to a statement released Thursday.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., co-signed a Nov. 7 letter to Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero calling on him to overrule the commission's request, which would effectively prevent the public from learning the details of an investigation into a massive misuse of taxpayer dollars.

AP adds, "Webb and McCaskill sponsored the legislation that created the commission." And it should be noted that the intent was not for the commission to be a private study group fiercely guarding their findings. The intent was for it to be open and for it to provide resources allowing for lessons to be learned. Writing for Jordan's As-Sabeel, the Washington Institute's Michael Knights estimates the US State Dept will be using approximately 14,000 contractors and that as many as 5,000 of those will be armed security contractors. So this will be a large number and, the weaponization of diplomacy being a new thing, the State Dept has no training in this area. Knights also notes that the Defense Dept will provide 157 personnel (in addition to the 763 contractors) to the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq and that in Defense Dept personnel (military or civilian) would be covered with immunity via the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations -- and that this is agreed to by Nouri al-Maliki who was pushing for this understanding when there was talk of 200 to 300 US forces staying in Iraq beyond 2011. And on why an immunity deal wasn't reachable (so far at least), Omar (Iraq The Model) offered this argument at the start of last month:
The cause of this deadlock is rooted in the disagreements on power, land and money. All the Iraqi political leaders (except the Sadrists) are willing to vote in favor of immunity, but they will not give this to PM Maliki for free. Specifically, Iraqiya wants the Policies Council and Defense Ministry, while the Kurdistani Alliance wants a friendly oil and gas law [there is coordination on this issue with Iraqiya to reach a mutually accepted draft] and, eventually, some progress on disputed territories. If the Kurds and Iraqiya get these some of these demands, they will support Maliki's request for parliament to give immunity to US troops.
Aswat al-Iraq reports that Dr. Hom al-Khishaly, Iraqi Army Doctor, is being held in Diyala Province as a 'terrorism' suspect. Basaer News notes that Nouri's security forces have arrested over 1,000 Iraqi citizens in the last month. The Association of Muslim Scholars notes that many were arbitrary with the most arrests taking place in Diyala Province (277) and Nineveh having the second highest arrest rate (163).
Read on ...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Big Boy Barack


That's "Big Boy Barack" from April 20, 2008. The worst campaign in memory. The press was completely one-sided. I've never seen anything like it.

It wasn't about democracy. It was only about a number of White people voting for a biracial man and feeling they were noble because they declared him Black.

And, as the economy demonstrates, there were many important and actual issues we should have focused on instead in 2008.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, November 3, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Moqtad al-Sadr says the occupation of Iraq continues, Sahwa gets targeted, the US Senate hears about lending practices (lending mispractice) when it comes to veterans, and more.
Holly Petraeus: As a lifetime military family member, I've seen first hand the devastating impact financial scams and predatory lending can have on our military families. I also spent six years as the head of the Better Business Bureau's BBB Military Line program and that was an education for me about the consumer issues and scams that impact the military. Unfortunately, there are still too many young troops learning financial lessons through hard experience and years of paying off expensive debt. In January 2011, I was asked to join the CFPB and head up the Office of Servicemember Affairs. The OSA's job is to educate and empower service members to make better informed decisions regarding consumer financial products and services , to monitor their complaints about consumer financial products and services and the responses to those complains and to coordinate the efforts of Federal and state agencies to improve consumer protection measures for military families. In support of our mission, we've already signed a Joint Statement of Princiles with the Judge Advocate Generals of all the services about how we will coordinate the exchange of information between us concerning military complaints and the actions we take to protect service members. We've already set up a working agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs. We are now referring any military personnel or veterans who call the CFPB's hotline claiming that they are in danger of foreclosure directly to the VA home loan program [1-800-827-1000]. As for our educational mission, I think it's important to get out and hear from military families about the issues that concern them the most. I've visited bases all over the United States since I started my job. I also met with the National Guard in Oklahoma, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. So what are the issues that have come up? First, the housing meltdown has hit military families hard. When they received orders to move, . often they can't sell their homes for enough to pay off the mortage. They can't rent it out for enough to cover their mortgage payments. They're told they can't get a loan modification or short sell because they're not yet delinquent and they can't refinance for a better rate because it will no longer be considered their principal residence once they leave. We've heard of a number of cases where the service member has opted to go alone to the new duty station and that's pretty tough when you consider that he or she may have just had an overseas deployment and the family is now facing another separation -- this time for finanacial reasons. [. . .] Another big issue we've been hearing about concerns military education benefits and for-profit colleges. There have been cases of very agressive marketing by for-profit colleges to military personnel and their families -- of both educational programs and private student loans. Another issue is car loans. Service members are often sold clunkers at inflated prices with high financing charges and when the original clunker breaks down, they sometimes take an offer to roll the existing debt into another loan for yet another clunker which may also break down. There is also yo-you financing, where service members drive away thinking they have qualified for financing only to be told later that the financing fell through and they will have to pay more.
That's Holly Petraeus (yes, her husband is David Petraeus) testifying before the Senate Banking Committee this morning. The above is from her opening remarks and that's remarks delivered orally (the written remarks cover the same topics but in more depth). She was part of a panel along with Rushmore Consumer Credit Resource Center's CEO Bonnie Spain, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society CEO Charles Abbot (retired US admiral), USAA's CAO and Executive Vice President Kevin Bergner (retired major general) and Pentagon Federal Credit Union's President and CEO Frank Pollack. Senator Tim Johnson is the Chair of the Committee and Richard Shelby is the Ranking Member.
We'll note this exchange.
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: Mrs. Petraeus, in your testimony, you discussed that you joined the [Better Business] Bureau in January of this year. to start an entirely new office, the Office of Servicemember Affairs. How many people have you hired to work in your office? How many total staff members do you hope to hire? What's your budget? And, lastly, are you getting the resources that you need here?
Holly Petraeus: Thank you for the question, Ranking Member Shelby. We now have -- I have six employees working for me. So we're a small but mighty office I hope. I don't expect to have it get much larger than that -- at least not for the moment. Of course, everybody has a wish list and there's nobody that if you ask "Can you use more employess?" that they would say "no." And I do have a wish list of a few more to extend our reach but you know there are other divisions with the CFPB that we are able to tap for their expertise as well. So we don't have to -- don't have to do everything ourselves. As for our budget, that's still being hammered out and, thankfully for me, my deputy's doing the numbers, so I'm a little bit removed from that, so I can't give you accurate information on that right now.
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: You think you're getting the resources overall that you need thus far? I know you're just getting started in a way.
Holly Petraeus: Yes. Although the resources are there but I think it's a frustration, again, to not be able to do everything that people expected us to do. When I first began, I got letters saying that 'We're so excited that there's an agency right now that you, Mrs. Petraeus, will be able to do something about these people that pray on the military.' So I'm very excited about the day that our non-bank supervision team can -- if I can use an analogy -- stop circling the earth field and get permission to land and start their work.
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: Mrs. Petraeus, as you well know, in 2006, Congress passed the Military Lending and this gave the Department of Defense the ability to promulgate regulations that addressed these unscrupulous lending practices that targeted the military. And after Dodd-Frank legislation was passed, the Department of Defense still continues to have the sole authority to write regulations implementing that particular act. What's your view of the effectiveness of the act in stopping unscrupulous lending?
Holly Petraeus: Well I think we heard from Adm Abbot --
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: Absolutely.
Holly Petraeus: -- that there has been success on the classic definition of a pay day loan. I think the problem is there are a lot of predatory products out there right now that have managed to write themselves a definition that puts themselves outside of the implementation. I went online yesterday and I searched the search term "military loans" and I got 9,980,000 hits and the top two search terms that came up were "military loans bad credit" -- which was almost two million -- and "military loans no credit" which came back also two million. So there's obviously a ton of people out there who are managing to exist outside of the protections of the Military Lending Act and it's a problem.
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: Uhm, Mrs. Spain, should the VA require first time home buyers to receive financial education of some sort before they can obtain a VA secured loan? In other words, counseling -- serious counseling as to the implications and obligations of a loan like this.
Bonnie Spain: My opinion would be yes. And the reason that I say that is that buying a home is a complicated process and unless you are a realtor or a morgage lender you can't possibly know everything that you need to know.
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: And it's a big buy for most people, isn't it?
Bonnie Spain: It is a big buy. It's probably the most important, largest purchase they will ever make.
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: Adm Abbot, have you, uh -- In your testimony, among other things, you stated that the Military Lending Act -- and I'll quote your words -- "has dramatically curtailed payday loans to active duty service members." We're glad to hear that. You also point out, however, that some financial institutions have found loopholes in the regulations that the Department of Defense promulgated in 2007. They always do this and you have to come back. Have you contacted the Department of Defense regarding these issues and, if so, what's been that response to close some of those loopholes?
Charles Abbot: Yes, senator, we did in fact, in the year immediately after the act was passed and implemented, have a period where we examined its effect and we reported the results that we had seen to the Department of Defense and it had already begun to be clear that it was having a positive effect and also the same phenomenon you described of the work arounds were coming. The narrowness with which we saw the act implemented gave us concerns at the beginning and now in the light of four years of experience it continues to cause us concern and that is the direction that the financial industry has gone in using the particular limited application of closed-end loans in certain circumstances to, in effect, offer new products that were essentially new pay day loans.
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: Regarding online lending and the growth there, are there additional steps DoD can take to ensure that they adequately cover online lending because people will be resourceful to get around anything.
Charles Abbot: You know, Senator, I believe that education may be the single most important weapon in that particular fight.
Ranking Member Richard Shelby: So you agree with Ms. Spain?
Charles Abbot: Yes.
And we'll note Bonnie Spain from her opening remarks explaining the steps she felt needed to be taken to best prepare service members and veterans as they seek loans throughout their lifetimes.
Bonnie Spain: In wrapping up I'd like to recommend the following actions: Let's close the loopholes that pay day lenders are using to charge military members over 36% interest, require online businesses to post their locations and their range of interest rates, strengthen regulation for the debt settlement companies that target individuals and are abusive, apply the same standards for for-profit credit counseling agencies that non-profits have to adhere to. continue to support financial education for our military and allow the bases to use the funds to purchase materials that they know are good for their agencies and their military, require home buyer education for first time home buyers It's vital we help people seek homes to revitalize our troubled economy, and support and fund housing counseling.
That excerpt pretty much sums up the hearing. It lasted about an hour and three minutes and over 20 minutes alone went to opening statements. On the topic of veterans,
Friday, November 11th is Veterans Day in the US. The White House released this statement today from President Barack Obama that we'll note now on it:
Today, our Nation comes together to honor our veterans and commemorate the legacy of profound service and sacrifice they have upheld in pursuit of a more perfect Union. Through their steadfast defense of America's ideals, our service members have ensured our country still stands strong, our founding principles still shine, and nations around the world know the blessings of freedom. As we offer our sincere appreciation and respect to our veterans, to their families, to those who are still in harm's way, and to those we have laid to rest, let us rededicate ourselves to serving them as well as they have served the United States of America.
Our men and women in uniform are bearers of a proud military tradition that has been dutifully passed forward -- from generation to generation -- for more than two centuries. In times of war and peace alike, our veterans have served with courage and distinction in the face of tremendous adversity, demonstrating an unfaltering commitment to America and our people. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the country they loved. The selflessness of our service members is unmatched, and they remind us that there are few things more fundamentally American than doing our utmost to make a difference in the lives of others.
Just as our veterans stood watch on freedom's frontier, so have they safeguarded the prosperity of our Nation in our neighborhoods, our businesses, and our homes. As teachers and engineers, doctors and parents, these patriots have made contributions to civilian life that serve as a testament to their dedication to the welfare of our country. We owe them a debt of honor, and it is our moral obligation to ensure they receive our support for as long as they live as proud veterans of the United States Armed Forces. This year, as our troops in Iraq complete their mission, we will honor them and all who serve by working tirelessly to give them the care, the benefits, and the opportunities they have earned.
On Veterans Day, we pay tribute to our veterans, to the fallen, and to their families. To honor their contributions to our Nation, let us strive with renewed determination to keep the promises we have made to all who have answered our country's call. As we fulfill our obligations to them, we keep faith with the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve our Union, and with the ideals of service and sacrifice upon which our Republic was founded.
With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service members have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation's veterans.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2011, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this third day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.


Just yesterday, we were noting, "Nouri's crackdown on 'Ba'athists' has taken a lot of attention off the continued targeting of Sahwa also known as 'Sons Of Iraq' and 'Awakenings'" They're getting press attention today and, as usual when it comes to Iraq, that means violence. First who are the Sahwa? Dropping back to the April 8, 2008 snapshot when General David Petraeus -- then top commander in Iraq -- and Ryan Crocker -- then US Ambassador to Iraq -- appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads. These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts." Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to avoid being beat up.
How much lunch money is the US forking over? Members of the "Awakening" Council are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars). By Petraeus' figures that mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month. $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost". Again, in this morning's hearings, the top commander in Iraq explained that the US strategy is forking over the lunch money to school yard bullies.
The plan was for Nouri al-Maliki to take over the payments -- largely due to Senator Barbara Boxer's repeated questioning -- with Crocker and Petraeus at one point admitting they'd never thought of asking that the Iraqi government pay the Sahwa. They were supposed to be brought into the process via government jobs which would allow Sahwa -- an armed militia -- to be phased out. That did not happen.
Today, Aseel Kami, Kareem Raheem, Jim Loney and Elizabeth Piper (Reuters) report there was a double bombing -- suicide bomber and car bombing -- in Baquba today apparently targeting Sahwa one of whom, Younis Mohammed, is quoted stating, 'We heard the sound of an explosion inside the headquarters followed by shooting. We felt panicked, fearful and confused and we started running to the main street in fear the explosion was to be followed by another. We saw a civilian car heading towards us and we felt it was a suicide car bomb. Then it went off and I felw into the air and then hit the ground." Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) explains those killed "all were members of Sahwa" and that they are now "targeted by insurgents who call them traitors." Fang Yang (Xinhua) counts 10 dead and twenty-five injured and notes, "The victims were gathering at the entrance of the base to collect their salaries when the suicide bomber attacked them, the source said." Andrew E. Kramer (New York Times) notes payment for the Sahwa "has gradually been handed over to the Iraqi government over the past three years." Kramer also explains, "A prominent militia leader in Baghdad, Ali Hatim Suliman, said members were now receiving salaries as irregularly as once every three months. Back pay is owed to about 5,000 members, he said." Alsumaria TV counts ten dead citing an unidentified police source who states, "Ambulance cars rushed to the incident area and transported the wounded to a nearby hospital as well as dead bodies to forensic medicine's department. A security force surrounded the incident area and closed all roads leading to it." Citing an unnamed Ministry of the Interior official, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) counts 10 dead and forty injured and notes last night 3 bombs targeted Basra coffee shops and left 6 dead with forty injured. Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) adds, "Less than a week earlier, 18 people were killed in twin blasts in Baghdad."
In addition to the targeting of Sahwa, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing was followed by a second bombing which claimed 4 lives and left six polilce officers injured, a Qaiyara home invasion in which a police officer (the owner) was killed, a Mosul roadside bombing which injured two people, a Kirkuk sticky bombing last night which claimed the life of 1 man and left his daughter injured and they give the final toll for the Basra coffee shops attack: 12 dead and seventy injured.

Baquba, where the attack on the Sahwa today took place, is in Diyala Province. Ayub Nuri (Rudaw) observes that Iraqiya members in Diyala are calling for the province to become semi-autonomous if their demands, such as the peshmerga leaving and that transferring prisoners from the province to other provinces immediately stop. They've set a time limit of three days for a decision to be made in Baghdad. If their demands are not met, they will follow Salahuddin Province's lead from last week. (The Provincial Council voted to become semi-autonomous, notified Baghdad and now a referendum on the matter -- per Article 119 of the Constitution -- should resolve the issue.) Last week also saw residents of Anbar Province call for a similar move. Aswat al-Iraq reports that, "Parlimentary Speaker Usama Nujaifi regarded the demand of Salah al-Din province to establish a region is 'constitutional' and 'no right to any one, including the government, to intervene'."
Today was the emergency session of Parliament that Moqtada al-Sadr requested. Dar Addustour reported this morning that Moqtada's bloc had been working hard to promote the session including making multiple phone calls to urge members to attend so they would meet the necessary quorum to hold the session and discuss what the US government is doing in Iraq right now and planning in 2013. The session took place one day after Lolita C. Baldor (AP) is reported, "While all but a small number of U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year, they won't all be home for the holidays as President Barack Obama promised last month. The Pentagon is poised to move at least 4,000 soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait at the end of the year, pending a final decision expected soon by Pentagon and Kuwaiti leaders, U.S. officials said Wednesday." Lara Jakes (AP) reports Moqtada al-Sadr took to the airwaves, via Al-Arabiya TV, to declare, "The American occupation will stay in Iraq under different names. [. . .] I say to the American soldier: Get out for good." Reuters quotes him stating, "We do not accept any kind of U.S. presence in Iraq, whether it is military or not. If they stay in Iraq, through a military or non-military (presence) . . . we will consider them an occupation and we will resist them whatever the price will be. Even a civilian presence, we reject it."

Peter Feaver (Foreign Policy) weighs in on with his take on Iraq spin:
In public and private settings, Obama supporters have taken pains to remind people that it was President Bush who negotiated and signed the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) that obligates U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Indeed, some have claimed that this is an inconvenient fact of its own, at least for Republican critics who want to charge that Obama is being reckless in his Iraq policy.
The implicit message is obvious: "we can't be criticized for ending the war in this way because, after all, we are just following the treaty obligations that Bush agreed to. If they were good enough for Bush, they are good enough for us."
That's not quite fair to the Bush policy, however. The Bush team viewed the 2008 SoFA, and in particular the 2011 sunset, as a least-worst deal that they could strike with Maliki in advance of Iraqi elections. It was widely understood - and this understanding was directly encouraged by Iraqi interlocutors - that the SoFA would be renegotiated after the Iraqi elections, when the new Iraqi government would have a bit more freedom to take necessary but unpopular decisions like allowing a follow-on stabilization force. Bush officials disagreed amongst themselves as to how forthcoming the Iraqis would be in a follow-on deal, but most agreed that it was imperative that a serious attempt be made to renegotiate the SoFA at the earliest possible moment.
You don't have to take my word for it. If the plan all along had been simply to implement the 2008 SoFA, why did President Obama send a team to Iraq to negotiate a new agreement? Why did the military plan on leaving a residual force? Indeed, as Tom Ricks quotes a colleague as asking, if that was really the plan then why the heck didn't the military plan on leaving at the end of 2011?
Occupy Wall Street. In this community, Trina's covered it. I have a number of friends either participating in it or covering it and I had several requesting that I please note I'm noting it but, as I explained, "I don't whore for anyone." Meaning? I'm happy to note Kimberly Wilder when she has something on the OWS (I've never met Kimberly, I know her only through her strong writing online). And I'm happy to note our only real national labor journalist: David Bacon. Other than that, I am leery. I trust Occupy Oakland, I trust Occupy Boston, I trust Occupy LA, I trust a number of the Occupy Wall Street in NYC. The others? I'm not four-years-old, I don't go to bed at night blilndly believing in tooth fairies or super heroes.
Forbes just released their power list. Who did they rank as the most powerful person in the world? Barack Obama. When OWS wants to take on the most powerful person, I might consider them a real movement. Currently, they aren't. DC is the most embarrassing example -- and the most racially insensitive as well. But every time they step forward with a lie about how 'poor little Barry really wishes he could' another nail is hammered into their coffin and I wait for the late night monologues about how, big suprise, a bunch of young people can free load and camp out. In fact, it's that these jokes haven't come that tells so many of us that OWS isn't a real movement. Real movement's struggle, real movements are put down and scorned. The same media that propped up Barack has propped up OWS. And this idea that they have support? This is not longterm support. At some point you have to take a stand and do something other than blame everyone but the leader of the country for what's wrong. I have been in 13 or 14 different states since OWS kicked off. Consider me the weather vane. People are waiting to see real demands made and if none are forthcoming and if the truly powerful aren't called out the support vanishes very quickly.
Support vanishes even faster if OWS across the country continue to use the homeless by rushing off at night to sleep somewhere else while expecting the homeless to keep the camps going on their own. That is very limousine liberal, it's like the text book case and it's a damn shame that this has been going on at various camps with the one in DC being the most guilty. OWS better address that real quick nationally because otherwise it's not just going to be homeless advocates complaining (as they are currently), it's going to take the shine off the camps across the country and it will be damn hard to bring that back. Again, I don't whore for anyone. I mentioned because we've received e-mails but mainly because I had 5 friends call me asking for it to be mentioned today. It got mentioned and I stopped biting my tongue. OWS needs to get its act together real quick and I'm not joking about homeless advocates throughout the country getting pissed off about the way the homeless are being used. Utilize them, fine but don't use them. There is a difference and it goes to treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve. Don't use them to hold your spot for you because this isn't the line for Coldplay tickets, this is supposed to be about economic justice.
, even those who do not have VA-guaranteed loans
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