Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Gesture

the gesture

From November 15, 2009, that's "The Gesture."  Barack was again bowing -- this time to Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.  I have Rahm as a Banty Rooster.  Sir Hiss would be a more popular version of Rahm in the comic but he doesn't show up until later on.

I actually was (and am) bothered by Barack scraping and bowing before other leaders.  He's not supposed to for starters and second I think it's insulting for us as Americans when our leader doesn't have the sense or spine to stand erect.

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Saleh al-Mutlaq cozies up to Nouri, Iraqiya sees some fractures, Dan Choi has his day in court, and more.

Haider Ali Hussein Mullick (The Diplomat) insists today, "However, given that international terrorist organizations can -- and have -- threatened our livelihood, the United States can’t wish away counterinsurgency."  Actually, it could and it should.  But war addicts like Haider Ali Hussein Mullick are idiots and/or fools.  There is no proof that counter-insurgency has done a damn thing to protect the United States.  If you look at the root cause of 9-11 -- which all these years later, we still aren't supposed to -- counter-insurgency would fall into exactly the sort of actions that cause the hostility and resentments at the root of the 9-11 attacks.  Outside of the US there were wide discussions on the causes.  For example, September 29th, 2011, Arundhati Roy weighed in at the Guardian noting:

For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US government to persuade its public that their commitment to freedom and democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack. In the current atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it's an easy notion to peddle. However, if that were true, it's reasonable to wonder why the symbols of America's economic and military dominance - the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon - were chosen as the targets of the attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government's record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things - to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)? It must be hard for ordinary Americans, so recently bereaved, to look up at the world with their eyes full of tears and encounter what might appear to them to be indifference. It isn't indifference. It's just augury. An absence of surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing that what goes around eventually comes around. American people ought to know that it is not them but their government's policies that are so hated. They can't possibly doubt that they themselves, their extraordinary musicians, their writers, their actors, their spectacular sportsmen and their cinema, are universally welcomed. All of us have been moved by the courage and grace shown by firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary office staff in the days since the attacks.
America's grief at what happened has been immense and immensely public. It would be grotesque to expect it to calibrate or modulate its anguish. However, it will be a pity if, instead of using this as an opportunity to try to understand why September 11 happened, Americans use it as an opportunity to usurp the whole world's sorrow to mourn and avenge only their own. Because then it falls to the rest of us to ask the hard questions and say the harsh things. And for our pains, for our bad timing, we will be disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced.

Those conversations couldn't take place in the US.  When people tried they were demonized.  Susan Sontag wrote three paragraphs on 9-11, they were three well written paragraph, they were basic in logic, and for that the likes of tub of trash Andrew Sullivan demonized her.  He can pretend to be sorry about Iraq today all he wants, but he has never apologized for the way he demonized people in the years leading up to the start of the Iraq War.  He was a fat and ugly bully then and he's a fat and ugly bully now.  How did the US end up in the Iraq War?  Fat ugly bullies like Andrew Sullivan.  Here's Sontag's first paragraph:

The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.

Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism?  Are they really helping to improve US relations or are they just the breeding ground for future anger and future resentments?

If you're confused as to how to answer, maybe you waste your time trusting Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! to tell you the truth?  As Ava and I noted Sunday:

Let's clarify that.  It's not just that she didn't do the investigative report, it's that it didn't cost her.  British public television and England's Guardian newspaper paid for it.  Goody put it this way, "As we continue to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, we turn today to a shocking new report by The Guardian newspaper and BBC Arabic detailing how the United States armed and trained Iraqi police commando units that ran torture centers and death squads."

A shocking new report?  We'll we're in.  Oh, wait.  She was talking about James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq -- the documentary we covered in "TV: The War Crimes Documentary" two weeks ago.

14 days late and playing it cheap, Goody decided to kind-of, sort-of get serious.

Or as serious as a Class of '79 Harvard Whore can.

We were tipped off by a friend at The Guardian that the paper's Maggie O'Kane was asked not to use the term "counter-insurgency"  during her appearance on Democracy Now!

If you've seen the documentary, you know that counter-insurgency is what the documentary's all  about.

[. . .]

Counter-insurgency is at the heart of the British documentary.  It's a policy.  Goody wanted to reduce it to random acts of torture with no real American fingerprints on the crimes.  To hear Goody tell it and offer selective edits of the documentary, James Steele trained some bad guys and that's really all.

Harvard's connection to counterinsurgency ensures that Goody won't talk about counter-insurgency.  But others talk about.  For example, last week it was the topic of a Foreign Policy roundtable, and the participants were all COIN enthusiasts including Eliot Cohen who explained:

The first thing is just to remind us all, counterinsurgency is a kind of military operation. There's an American style to counterinsurgency; there was a German style to counterinsurgency; there's a Soviet or Russian style to counterinsurgency. It's just a kind of operation that militaries do, and I think particularly in the popular discussion there's this tendency to call counterinsurgency the kind of stuff that's in the manual.
[. . .]
And finally, having played a very modest role in helping get the COIN manual launched, I've got two big reservations about it. Actually three. One is a technical one, which is it underestimated the killing part of counterinsurgency and particularly what Stan McChrystal and his merry men were doing [with special operations]. I think that is a large part of our counterinsurgency success. We killed a lot of the people who needed to be killed, or captured them, and that's not something you want to talk about. You'd rather talk about building power plants and stuff, but the killing part was really important, and I think we have to wrestle with that one because it's obviously problematic.

Does that sound like it's helping?  Does Barack Obama's Drone War help?  As Cedric and Wally noted this morning, the chorus against The Drone War just added a choir.  Dan Merica (CNN) reports priests, rabbis and reverends have made a "video [which] criticizes the Obama administration, stating that the use of war does not follow Just War Theory, which has Roman and Catholic influences.  The theory includes criteria that legitimize war, including ensuring that war is a last resort and that it is being carried out with the right intentions. According to the religious leaders in the video, titled “Drones and Religion,” the drone program fails to meet several of these criteria."  The group is known as Brave New Foundation and they note:

Brave New Foundation has the honor of releasing a video to accompany a seminal report by human rights law experts at Stanford and New York University law schools. The report, entitled Living Under Drones presents chilling first-hand testimony from Pakistani civilians on the humanitarian and security costs of escalating drone attacks by the United States. The report uncovers civilian deaths, and shocking psychological and social damage to whole families and communities – where people are literally scared to leave their homes because of drones flying overhead 24 hours a day.
The report is based on nine months of research, including two investigations in Pakistan. The Stanford-NYU research team interviewed over 130 individuals, including civilians who traveled out of the largely inaccessible region of North Waziristan to meet with the researchers. They also interviewed medical doctors who treated strike victims, and humanitarian and journalist professionals who worked in drone impacted areas.
As U.S. citizens, we feel a responsibility to know the real impact of the policies of our government. We hope you will join us at to be part of this fight for a more humane and just world.

Dan Merica (CNN) notes, "The video criticizes the Obama administration, stating that the use of war does not follow Just War Theory, which has Roman and Catholic influences.  The theory includes criteria that legitimize war, including ensuring that war is a last resort and that it is being carried out with the right intentions."  Bully Boy Bush said Just War Theory didn't matter when it declared illegal war on Iraq.  That's why Pope John Paul II made clear the war was illegal January 13, 2003 (two months before it broke out) with remarks which included:

War is not always inevitable.  It is always a defeat for humanity.  And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo?  War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations.

"War is not always inevitable," declared Pope John Paul II but Haider Ali Hussein Mullick insists that counter-insurgency can't be wished away?  The conceptual limitations of him and his ilk ensure that war will continue.  As Pope John Paul II also noted in that speech, "Yet everything can change.  It depends on each of us.  Everyone can develop withing himself his potential for faith, for honesty, for respect of others and for commitment to the service of others."

And we can make a change -- even the Haider Ali Hussein Mullicks -- if we can be honest with ourselves. 

Lt Dan Choi knows about honesty.  Speaking to Adam Kokesh on Adam vs. the Man last week,  he explained serving under Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Dan Choi:  Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a violation of the Constitution, I thought.   But it prevented me from telling the truth about who I was even though the West Point honor code said, "You will not lie or tolerate those who do."  And I never really thought that it was a lying issue, I never really thought that it was an honor or integrity issue because I said, "This is the rule, this is what I signed up for, I knew that was part of the contract."  And it wasn't until I fell in love for the very first time -- I was 26-years-old.  And I never had a girlfriend.  Never had a boyfriend.  Never expressed love.  Never felt that somebody else was that important to me, that would be more important to me than myself.  And when I did fall in love, and I had come back from Iraq, that's when I realized that it really was lying.  When you have to lie about the person that supports you no matter what, when you put them in the closet, it then became an intensely selfish thing, Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  And I know a lot of soldiers are out there, and I used to think the same way, that it's a very noble thing to suffer.  That's a very common soldier-military mentality.  And then I realized because you're forcing someone else to go into nonexistence for your own career, or for your own status or paycheck or rank, that's not anything that I signed up for.  I never got promised that I would be a one-star general, four-star general. That's not what service was about.  So I looked down the barrel of possibly of giving up everything in order to live a life of real truth.  And it was because of love that I found out what the honor code really meant.

In March 2009, Dan went on MSNBC and came out publicly.  He also became active in demanding US President Barack Obama honor the campaign promise he made to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Getting active meant speaking out and taking part in protests.  In 2010, that meant three times chaining himself to the White House fence.  That's what he was on trial for today.  August 31, 2011, Dan was appearing before Judge John Facciola who put the case on hold after, as Jessica Gressko (AP) reported, noting "Choi has shown, at least preliminary, that he is being treated differently because of the subject of his protests, the nature of his speech or what he said."

Dan's case was much weaker today as a result of a decision another judge made.  Ann E. Marinow (Washington Post) notes, "But Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled that the magistrate judge could not consider the issue of how Choi came to be prosecuted in reaching a verdict."  Why he was being prosecuted wasn't an issue?  What a sad day for justice.  Alice Ollstein filed a report for Free Speech Radio News.

Alice Ollstein:  Approaching the steps of the DC district court, Lt Dan Choi and his supporters sang a message to Justice Dept attorney Angela George who has been the lead prosecutor against Choi.  Wearing his full dress military uniform, Choi gave a short statement on the people's mike to his friends and supporters who came for the final day of testimony.

Dan Choi:   We are here for justice.  We will not we will not leave this place until we get justice. 

Alice Ollstein:  Over the last two year's Choi's legal team has argued that the government's charges should be dismissed because they were selective and vindictive.  Jim Ietrangelo, an attorney and fellow gay rights activist who represented Choi at the DC Superior Court gave the example of the crowds hanging on the fence at the White House the night the president announced the killing of Osama bin Laden. 

Jim Pietrangelo:   None of those people were arrested and none of them were convicted.  On a daily basis, there are people in front of the White House engaging in free speech and doing exactly the same thing or almost the same thing as Dan Choi but they're not arrested simply because their message is pro-government.  Dan criticized the government, he criticized the president.

Alice Ollstein:  Pietrangelo added that even most people protesting the US government government in that spot are only fined $100 or less for violating a White House ordinance.  But in 2011, the Justice Department used a rare tactic called a Write of Mandamus to  prevent Choi from using selective prosecution as a defense.  Choi appealed the order but lost.  District Judge John Facciola had to remind him of the Mandamus Write several times during Thursday's trial, cutting him off whenever he tried to argue that he was targeted for arrest because of the content of his speech.  Choi who was representing himself in court and did not have a lawyer was also reprimanded by the judge many times for raising his voice in the courtroom, using casual language like "dude," "freaking" and "bt dubbs" and interrupting the prosecutor and witnesses.  He also broke down crying several times, as did many of his friends in the courtroom. Before he took the podium to argue his case, he also asked the federal marshals to make sure to have a paramedic on hand, just in case,  Choi called and questioned several witnesses including  African-American civil rights leaders and members of the Park Police who participated in his multiple protest-related arrests.  He also questioned his fellow arrestees and others  dismissed from the military because of their sexuality.  One of them, Staff Sgt Miriam Ben-Shalom expressed frustration before the trial that no representatives from major LGBT rights groups were present.

Meriam Ben-Shalom:  Where are the people that say they represent us?  Where are the blue blazer, regimental tie and khaki bunch?  They ain't here.  The people are here.

Alice Ollstein:  Now that Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been repealed, this trial is the only obstacle  to Choi re-enlisting in the military -- which, he told the judge, is all he wants.  But he rejected the judge's suggestion that he file a motion saying that the government can't prove beyond all reasonable doubt that he failed to obey the US Park Police. Choi thanked the judge for looking out for him but said his future soldiers wouldn't respect him if he took that legal path for his own benefit.  A judgment could be handed down at any time and a decision finding Choi guilty of the criminal misdemeanor could land him in jail for a maximum of six months.  Alice Ollstein, Free Speech Radio News, Washington.

The Advocate notes that the judge fined Choi $100.  Since the fine could have been as high as $5,000, the one hundred dollar fine should be seen as something of a victory for Choi.  Should he choose not to pay it, he could face six months in prison.  Sara Haile-Marriam (Huffington Post) shares, "Dan is one of the bravest, strongest, best people I know. He's got a whole lot of guts and passion and love, and watching him as he literally crafts his own defense, arguing for his very dignity in a country that he risked his life to serve, has been one of the most heart-wrenching experiences of my life. He deserves better than this."

While it was a victory of sorts for Dan due to the fine, it wasn't a victory for the people in terms of the larger issue.  As he explained to Adam Kokesh last week:

The federal law does not just apply to the White House.  It applies to every federal land where the Park Police have jurisdiction to arrest people.  And so the consequences of case law, precedent that comes out of this, case law if the judge makes an opinion that says, "All you need to do is fail to obey" -- usually you have fail to obey with some kind of safety concerns, some violence, some kind of complaint, some kind of damage -- there was nothing.  There was not an iota of evidence so far, just the obedience and hypotheticals.

In Iraq today, the Parliament attempted to hold a session.  Alsumaria reports it was tabled due to the lack of a quorum and that they will try again on Sunday.  Alsumaria reports on other 'progress,' the Ministry of Electricity announced today that this will be the last summer that Iraqis have to resort to generators for electricity in their homes.  Of course, these promises have been made before and been forgotten.

Meanwhile some are arguing that there is progress on the protest issue.  But those arguing it don't appear to be speaking to the protesters.  Iraqi Spring MC -- the official voice of the protesters -- Tweeted three hours ago that there can be no negotiations with Nouri's government until the punishment of the killers of the innocent protesters in Falluja and Mosul -- and this was declared by the Anbar Tribal Sheiks speaking before the protesters today.

And Saleh al-Mutlaq?  Who attended Wednesday's Cabinet meeting?  Not quite the hero he thinks or tried to present.  al-Mutlaq's always been a question mark to many?  Al Mada reports he did not consult with Iraqiya before attending and that Iraqiya is calling on him to review his actions and decide whether he stands with the Iraqi people or not.

Saleh al-Mutlaq's disloyalty is popping up in social media with many pointing out that Iraqiya stood by him twice.  First, when he was disqualified by the Justice and Accountability Commission (called a "Ba'athist") and removed from the list of candidates in 2010, Iraqiya did not walk away from him.  Ayad Allawi demanded (and got) al-Mutlaq and others cleared.  Then in December 2011, Nouri targeted him and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  Iraqiya stood with both and defended both -- even while al-Mutlaq rushed to stab Tareq in the back.  Saleh al-Mutlaq's being called assorted names all over Arabic social media. 

In related news, NINA notes that Iraqiya MP Wahda al-Jumaili states that there are some in the Iraqiya bloc who have been bought off by crooked politicians using public money.  No names are mentioned by al-Jumail but the outlet notes Saleh al-Mutlaq, Mohammed Tamimi (Minster of Education) and Ahmed Karbouli (Minister of Industry) attended the Council meeting Wednesday "despite a boycott by the Iraqiya coalition."  Ali Abel Sadah (Al-Monitor) reports more on the tensions:

Sunni politicians of the Iraqiya list, led by Ayad Allawi, have deemed Saleh al-Mutlaq, head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, a traitor, particularly since he shifted his stance on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, recently decided to return to the cabinet, and held ministerial seats that once belonged to the rest of the Iraqiya factions.

Yet, the exchange of accusations between Sunni leaders in Iraq does not eliminate the bitter truth, from which the political faction that represents them has suffered for years. Since the 2010 legislative elections, the Iraqiya bloc has sustained harsh blows and defections that have undermined its strength in the face of its Shiite rival, Maliki.

Probably al-Mutlaq shouldn't have tried to present himself as the voice and hope of the protesters.  Today the response is verbal attacks.  The last time he tried to do this, protesters threw things at him.  He's not really popular.  And even within his National Dialogue Front, he's said to be losing influence.

That's what friendship with Nouri al-Maliki will do for you.  Daoud al-Ali (Niqash) feels it might do other things as well -- specifically get Saleh al-Mutlaq appointed Minister of Defense if he and Jamal al-Karbouli embrace Nouri:

Should the two men choose to join al-Maliki, their move would cause an even greater split in the Iraqiya party, which is already plagued by inner conflicts. "MPs who return to the Cabinet are making decisions that are contrary to the stand taken by the Iraqiya bloc,” one Iraqiya MP Hamza al-Kartani told NIQASH. “They are rebels. But their actions are outside of our control.”

Whatever does happen, it seems that there will be one main winner in this political contest of wills and brinkmanship: the Prime Minister, al-Maliki. Currently his ruling coalition is teetering – currently there are almost two dozen absent Ministers.

If al-Mutlaq returns to the Cabinet, rumours have it that he might get the plum job of Minister of Defence, a position currently held by al-Maliki himself. In terms of this though, there are apparently still disagreements about what kinds of powers al-Mutlaq would have in this job, especially when compared to power held by the commander of the Iraqi armed forces.

The Daily Star carries Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi's column today:

Iraq’s last general election, in 2010, brought hope of recovery in the form of a power-sharing agreement among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, which was supposed to ensure that the country did not revert to dictatorship. The Al-Iraqiyya bloc, which I lead, was the largest electoral bloc to emerge from that vote. But, despite our success, we agreed to give up the leadership position afforded by the constitution in the belief that a power-sharing system and respect for the rights of all Iraqis was the only formula for governing the country democratically. These hopes, however, soon vanished, as Iraq’s two-term prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, subsequently reneged on the agreement.
Today, the very human rights that were guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution are being violated, with a politicized judiciary routinely abused and manipulated in order to justify the actions of the prime minister. Instead of keeping the Maliki government in check, the courts only facilitate its quest to accumulate ever-greater power.
Making matters worse for Iraqis, public services have deteriorated to a dismal level, and unemployment is rising sharply, despite public expenditure in excess of $500 billion over the seven years of Maliki’s rule. Sectarianism and racism have become a regular feature of the political landscape. Corruption is rampant, and Baghdad is now considered one of the worst places in the world to live.
If Iraq continues along its current and disastrous path, the inevitable outcome will be mayhem and civil war, with dire consequences for the entire Middle East. Yet Iraqis continue to hope for a better future.
The advent of a new electoral cycle, which begins with local elections in April, may provide another opportunity to put the country on the right path. But that can happen only if the voting is free and the counting is fair.
The current government, however, is unable to supervise free and fair elections. Significant measures must be taken, including the active involvement of neutral international agencies and observers to keep the government in check and ensure that voters can have their say. We are hopeful that Iraqis, who have had their fill of sectarian political parties, will be allowed freely to choose candidates who embrace a nonsectarian and nonracist agenda.

The month ends Monday.  Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 367 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.  Today National Iraqi News Agency reports a Mosul sticky bombing has left three people injured1 Border Protection force was shot dead on the border Iraq shares with Syria1 army officer was shot dead in Tikrit, a Mosul bombing left two police officers and four civilians injured, and 1 police officer was shot dead in Mosul.   Meanwhile AFP reports, "Turkish forces fired artillery shells into north Iraq, apparently in a bid to intimidate Kurdish rebels with whom Ankara is in peace talks, security sources and rebels told AFP on Thursday. "  Yes, a ceasefire is supposed to be in place currently with the PKK and the Turkish government after years of fighting.  Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk."  KUNA notes of today's attack, "It is the first attack by the Turkish army against PKK targets following the call by the PKK leader for his followers to stop fighting Turkish forces and withdraw from Turkish territories. 

In other news, UNAMI is one of the sponsors of a new contest for Iraqi women:

Contest: Women journalists, the voices of Iraqi women
The UN in Iraq rewards Iraqi Women Journalists

Be the voice of Iraqi women : raise an issue faced by Iraqi women and write an inspiring story about it .

UN Iraq journalism contest

All over the world, women are facing different types of challenges . Whether at home where they face domestic violence, or in their professional lives where they struggle to have their competencies fully recognize d, or even in public life where they are not considered as equal to men, difficulties are still numerous for women in 2013 . Unfortunately, Iraqi women are no exception.

You are invited to write a news article about Iraqi women who are trying to make significant changes to improve women’s rights in Iraq. You are asked to choose one (1) challenge faced by Iraqi women in their daily life and write about how women are addressing it to make things better for them selves, and their communities . UNAMI is look ing for experienced journalists with excellent writing skills to share inspiring news story about women who are working to make a difference in Iraq.


The winning news stories will be those reflecting best the issue (only one) faced by women in Iraq , taking into account the content and the quality of the language. All news stories will be evaluated anonymously by a UN panel.

To participate, please send an email including the following :

- Name, age, nationality ;
- Current employer (or Iraqi medi a for which you freelance regularly) ;
- A copy of your story ;
- A copy of your CV ;

The email should be sent before 31 March 2013 to: with the title: UNAMI WOMEN JOURNALISM AWARD

Terms and conditions

1. Participants must be women journalists working (or freelancing) for an Iraqi media in Iraq (Iraqi citizens only);
2. Only one story per person;
3. Stories can be written in Arabic, English or Kurdish;
4. All stories must be received before 23:59 Baghdad time on Saturday 31 March 2013;
5. UNAMI will accept original news stories as well as items that have already been published.


Lastly, Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports,  "The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers between $4 trillion to $6 trillion, taking into account the medical care of wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a force depleted by more than a decade fighting, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher [Linda J. Bilmes]."   Danielle Kurtzleben (US News and World Reports) adds:

Of the nearly 1.6 million troops that have been discharged from the wars, over half have received Veterans' Affairs medical treatment and will also receive benefits for the rest of their lives. Those costs will stack up as more troops are discharged and need benefits. The study finds that providing medical and disability benefits to vets will eventually cost over $836 billion.
This long tail of spending follows a well-established historical trend, writes Bilmes: disability spending on World War I veterans hit its peak in 1969, and spending on World War II veterans was at its highest in the late 1980s.

Read on ...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

That Barack

That Barack

From November 8, 2009, that's "That Barack."  Barack's dressed as Marlo Thomas in That Girl.  But what's weird about this really is that the wig he wears really looks like the one that Michelle's wearing right now. 

Let me answer some questions about the comics.

I am using a different scanner than when I started.  I switched scanners in the last year of the Bully Boy Bush occupation.  I'm about to switch scanners again.  Though I've used two main scanners for the last years, I've also grabbed some others.

There's a bad image -- but I think good comic -- that went up in 2012 (2011?) that I tried to handheld scan but it wouldn't turn out so I finally just photographed it and sent that to C.I.

She put it up and I'm sure she was thinking, "This photo is lousy."  It was.

But it was a timely comic.  And I wanted it up.  And I couldn't get the handheld to work and I was at work.  So it had to be a photo.

I use three different sets of pencils.  Usually depending on the mood right before I start the comic.  If I know I'm going with a certain image -- cartoon -- I'll go with the water color pencils.  I dip those in water and they give a darker shade.

I think that addresses all the technical questions.

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, journalists from around the world reflect on Iraq, Nouri comes up with a new reason to postpone elections in Anbar and Nineveh: Fraud!, Martin Kobler notes the protesters, Ayad Allawi pens a column, and more.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  As I think we all know, it's now ten years since the US went to war in Iraq, and Afghanistan before that, and what we have learned in  a variety of ways is that the cost of those wars have been very, very high.  They were high not just in the loss -- the tragic loss -- of life that we've experienced, not just in terms of  those who've come home without arms or legs or eyesight or hearing problems but also in terms of what we call the "invisible wounds of war" which are quite as real as any other kinds of wounds.  And those wounds include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury -- TBI and all of the symptoms associated with those very serious illnesses.  Further, and tragically, it includes the serious problem of suicide.  We are losing about 22 veterans every single day as a result of suicide -- that's more than 8,000 veterans a year.  And while suicide is a major, major problem in the United States as a whole for our civilian population, it is a terrible, terrible tragedy for the veterans' community and something that we must address.  And let me preface my remarks by saying what I think everybody understands the issues that we are dealing with today are very, very tough issues and if anyone had any magic solution to the problems of mental illness in general, trust me, we would have heard about that a long, long time ago.  So this is a tough issue.  And we're going to do our best today to figure out where we are in terms of the needs of our veterans and where we are going to go forward.

Yesterday morning, Senator Bernie Sanders, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the issue of timely access to high quality care.  In yesterday's snapshot, we noted Senator Patty Murray's remarks via a press release.  Senator Patty Murray is now the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and she was previously the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  In the snapshot, I noted that there wasn't room to cover it that day and indicated it might go into Friday's.  E-mails mean we put it in today and we start with.  (We will grab the topic of Bradley Manning tomorrow.)  Tonight at her site, Kat will cover Ranking Member Richard Burr, Wally will go over to Rebecca's site to cover Senator Richard Blumenthal and money and Ava will be at Trina's site covering a point three senators stressed as well a witness.  She's going to criticize a witness, I stand with her on that.  I think we all do (Kat and Wally are nodding as I dictate this). And all that coverage is a result of the e-mails -- the large number of e-mails -- asking that the hearing be covered.

The first panel was made up of Team Rubicon's Jacob Wood, Vermont Veterans Outreach Program's Andre Wing, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors' Kim Ruocco, National Alliance on Mental Illness' Veterans and Military Council Chair Kenny Allred and Give an Hour's Barbara Van Dahlen.  The second panel was the Army's Col Rebecca Porter with the Office of the Surgeon General and VA's Robert Petzel accompanied by Janet Kemp, Sonja Batten and William Busby.

We'll cover two rounds of questioning from Chair Sanders.  First up, from panel one, he wanted the witnesses to talk about their experiences and how you break through a culture of silence.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  I think all of you have indicated that peer supported efforts of veterans talking to veterans is enormously important, that occasionally we have to go outside the box with, I think one of you said not everyone is alike and different individuals will respond to different approaches  So let me just start off -- Let me just start off with you, Dr. Van Dahlen, in terms of how the VA, which we all know is a huge bureaucracy -- there's no ifs-ands-or-buts about that, how do we we enable them to become more flexible to reach out, to find community based groups, peer support groups that are out there.  How do we do that?

Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen:   Uhm, thank you.  What we find in communities -- and I know this from my work with several of my colleagues at the VA -- the desire often in the individual is there to work in the collaborative way but they're unclear whether they're allowed to.  And so one of the things that I would like to suggest is that we literally work on what are the messages at each of the local -- every VA, whether it's a hospital center, whether it's a vets center, they will know and have access to the community.  And so what we should do, and I think it would be pretty easy to do, is determine what gets in the way, as we've done, of having regular community, and others have done, gatherings where the VA serves as the convener and the catalyst, what stops that from happening?  So that people begin talking to each other, they know then that if my organization can't serve that need, TAPS can do it or NAMI can do it.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Right.

Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen:  That's what needs to happen.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Okay, let me ask this.  One of the cultural issues that we are struggling with -- the military is struggling with, the VA -- is the culture -- "the stigma" I think is what Col Allred used am I real mean if I have an emotional, mental problem?  We understand that if I lost an arm and a leg, I go and I get treatment.  How do we deal with a culture that says from a military perspective, "There's something not quite manly about you if you have PTSD or you have TBI"?  How do we deal with that?  Mr. Wood, do you want to respond to that?

Jacob Wood:  It's very challenging and it's not a problem we're going to solve over night. As a Marine sniper, I was part of one of the more elite units in the military and certainly one that carries that stigma very heavily.  We don't often seek counseling.  If you do seek counseling, like Clay actually did after being wounded in Iraq before being redeployed to Afghanistan, you're often seen as a weaker link and that's a stigma we have to fight absolutely.  I myself have gone to seek mental health counseling since getting out of the military.  I've worked with the VA and there make the connection that net initiative to provide a video testimonial to that.  I think what it does require regular convenings as Dr. Van Dahlen mentioned where veterans can get together.  And we need to get veterans together in their home towns.  We need to get Marines together with soldiers together with Airmen together with sailors in Omaha, Nebraska, in Davenport, Iowa, in Oakland, California, where they can talk and share their experiences after transitioning out of the military. 

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Good.  Okay, thank you.  Andre, if you could, in Vermont, we're a very, very rural state.  We sent a lot of National Guards people to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Tell me about the peer-to-peer effort.  Is it important -- just as Mr. Woods was saying -- that veterans who've been through that experience reach out to other veterans?  And how do we do that?

Andre Wing:  Thanks, Senator.  As you know, my team has -- we have ten folks on my team, we're all combat veterans.  So we've all had struggles with integration issues, we've all had struggles transitioning back to civilian life.  I think in our state, with the National Guard, it's not as severe a stigma as it is on, maybe, an active duty base.  Only because -- I hear on this panel that we've talked about community partnerships and we've really forged those ahead in the state of Vermont with different initiatives that we've stated.  We have a Director of Psychological Health that works directly for the National Guard on the Air side and the Army side.  That stigma, I think, is more on the military side.  But as far as the peer-to-peer goes, we -- as you know, we got out, we meet the folks, we get --

Chair Bernie Sanders:  You knock on doors.

Andre Wing:  We knock on doors.  And as I said, we have our feet under the kitchen table.  And I know that the President's got a new initiative of 800 peer support folks going out there but I think you heard this: The common denominator is the peer-to-peer.  It's very, very important because we can talk.  The other thing too that's important is we have the military culture.  So we can -- I can go into AHS [Agency of Human Services] with the field directors and tell them, "Hey, this is how maybe you need to approach some of these veterans, as an example."

Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare is a documentary made by Susan Froemke and Matthew Heinemen.  CNN began airing it last week.  Earlier this month, they noted, "CNN has acquired the U.S. television broadcast rights for the award-winning documentary, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare.  The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and received honors at the 2012 Silverdocs, Full Frame, and other prominent festivals.  The two-hour feature-length film was produced and directed by Matthew Heineman and Academy Award-nominee Susan Froemke and distributed by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate.  It will debut on CNN/U.S. on Sunday, March 10 at 8:00pm and air again at 11:00pm Eastern." You can click here to stream two brief clips from the documentary and also to read an article about it.  This is the CNN program that gets referenced in this exchange from the second panel.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  One of the, I think, recurring themes that we heard in the previous testimony is that every soldier is different, every problem is different and that we've got to think a little bit outside of the box and I think Senator Boozman raised that issue.  Talk a little bit of out of the box therapies, talk a little bit about complimentary medicine.  There was a piece, I don't know if you saw it, John, on CNN the other day, they were about over-medication which is a real, real issue and some of the over-medicated were then moved to acupuncture, for example, as pain relief which apparently, in what we saw in CNN at least, worked pretty well. To what degree is the VA looking at complimentary medicine -- acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy?  Talk about that and the second issue, Senator Boozman raised that as well, you know, what we're dealing with our real life problems and life is complicated.  And it is not necessarily just dispensing some medicine.  It's certainly not filling out pages and pages of forms which would drive me, among other people, quite nuts if I needed help.  And I want to talk to you about how we break through that old bureaucracy but things like, Senator Boozman mentioned, playing golf.  If four veterans spend an afternoon out playing golf and feeling good about each other and talking and come back feeling a little bit better about themselves -- or they go trout fishing or they go camping together, those are real improvements which may mean a lot more to the veterans than getting some more medication.  So the question is to what degree are we thinking outside the box to make people feel better about themselves in whatever way?  And, by the way, Senator Bozeman, where we have to be careful of when we make these recommendations is not to see front page stories that "VA Pays For Golf Outings On The Part Of Veterans!"  That's a very easy target for the media.

Senator John Boozman: No, I agree totally.  That's why I was asking if they had some evidence based as to what's working.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  Yeah, but that's the question I want to throw out, if you can answer it. 

Dr. Robert Petzel:  Uh, uh thank you.  Both.  Uh, let me first drill -- deal -- with a little bit of the out-of-the-box.  Uhm,  We partner with a tremendous number of organizations around the country.  Uhm, Give An Hour is an example of psychotherapy.  The professional golf association and the local professional golf association have programs in virtually every city that we have a medical center that provide the opportunity for handicapped people to play golf.  And we have a -- We actually sponsor a blinded golf tournament, uhm, that, uh, occurs every year in Iowa City.   Uhm, there are many more examples of recreational activity.  Horseback riding,  kayaking -- where individual veterans and service organizations have put together these non-profits that provide these opportunities.  We're looking for them everywhere we can find them  Whether or not they're enough and whether we're using it enough is an open question but we are very much open to those opportunities.

Chair Bernie Sanders:  I want to get back again to the issue that Senator Boozman appropriately raised and that is over-medication and perhaps other ways to deal with pain and other distress.

Dr. Robert Petzel:  Ev -- I -- Again, let me deal first with opiates -- which is the most dangerous in my mind of our -- of our over medication issues.  We've got a three pronged approach -- process -- where you begin with the least invasive, least dangerous, least risky things to manage chronic pain and this is being done at all of our medical centers.  And that may include acupuncture.  We provide acupuncture at the vast majority of our medical centers.  And then, progressively, more complicated things such as rehabilitation, etc.  And eventually, when you're not able to manage the pain in any other way, it's opiates.  And then there are very careful protocols about how that prescribing should be done.  Second step in that is that we have just, uh, begun producing a computer program that provides to the medical centers a listing of patients who are taking an unusually large number of opiates and prescribers who are prescribing an unusually large number.  And that's transmitted back to medical center, a person is responsible for tracking that down at the medical center and seeing what the issues are.  And the third thing is that we are participating now in the state reporting of, uh -- of, uh, opiates.  That's very important because some of our patients are getting prescriptions outside of the VA and we need to be able to bring that data together so we fully understand the extent of the problem.  So we'll be giving them our data and we'll be able to have access to the state-wide data

This was one of Sander's first solo-chairings.  I believe it was his second.  (If it was his third, I've missed a hearing.)  He won high marks for bringing up this topic and for trying to nail the witness down.  As Sanders rightly notes, what works for one person may not for another.  We have noted that here many times and the reason being because veterans note it to me.  They have often spoken of the fact that the Congress seems to hung up on fixing things with pills as opposed to other treatments or approaches.  So Chair Bernie Sanders was the crowd pleaser among veterans attending this hearing and there were other moments in the hearing that were noted but all seven I spoke to made a point to signal out his questions from the second panel above.   Each Committee Chair brings their own strengths to the position and, right now, it appears Sanders has discovered one of his already.

The US Ambassador to Iraq is Stephen Beecroft.  He oversees the US mission in Iraq which has slashed its staff of 16,000 by a little over 500.  AP reports Beecroft says that number will be about half by December 2013.  Jason Ditz ( offers, "The money just isn’t there, and neither is the appetite to put that sort of effort into Iraq after years of waste. Instead, the enormous embassy will be a mostly empty reminder of the disastrous adventure into Iraq."  That could be correct.  I was honestly hoping Ditz was hearing what I was hearing from the State Dept.  I've already noted that Secretary of State John Kerry deserves some credit for this.  I'll throw out what I've been told by several at the State Dept. This isn't about money.  This is about concern for the diplomatic staff and the concern stems from what's going on right now on the ground and from the fact that the administration suddenly realizes that Nouri al-Maliki repeatedly tells them "yes" but doesn't follow up.  Such as when it's conveyed to him that he must stop attacking the protesters.  And Nouri is in complete agreement.  And then his forces go on to attack the protesters in Mosul.  This is happening repeatedly with a wide variety of areas.  What I'm told is that Kerry (with backing from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel) made clear that those working for the State Dept must be safe.  Is that Benghazi on his mind?  I don't know.  I would guess it is more likely how he grew up.  He's spoken of his being raised overseas with his diplomat father many times, of his trip in Germany, around the Berlin Wall to East Germany, and of how with that one, his father stressed afterwards that it wasn't a smart move and went over safety basics.  I think its just part of his character due to his parents.  (A very good part.)  But that's what I'm hearing.  I'd love for it to be a money issue.  That would mean everyone was coming out.  But what I was told is that they're trying to get down to a level that they feel can be easily protected.  That may not be accurate.  That may be office gossip that turned into a game of telephone.  But I've been told that repeatedly by friends with the State Dept.  And I did note that Hagel is said to have backed up Kerry on that.  I'm not a fan of Hagel's.  If what I'm being told is correct, that was a solid move by Hagel for which he deserves credit.

Let's turn to media.  Walter Pincus (Washington Post), in his review of the ten years, emphasizes, "What many forget is that Iraq and Afghanistan also mark the first U.S. wars in which a president, first Bush and now President Obama, has not sought a war tax. The result: nearly $2 trillion in war expenditures put on the nation’s credit card."  Donald Kirk (World Tribune) recalls his time in Iraq reporting for the magazine Institutional Investor and for CBS News Radio:

My other impression was how incredibly dangerous it was. I don’t think I knew how dangerous. At the sound of explosions near my hotel, I rushed to the scene as if I were back in Saigon during the Vietnam War, when you were a whole lot safer.
Foolishly, in retrospect, I thought nothing of going down darkened streets in search of a guy who, after his guards ushered me through about three gates, gave me a tremendous briefing in his elaborate apartment. I had to enter the central bank by a back gate through a barbed-wire fence, guarded by a nervous guy with an AK-47. One guy whom I interviewed hefted an Uzi on his desk. Another had me picked up in his own armored car with two guards and a driver.
Donald Kirk was an unembedded journalist -- meaning he was not 'stationed' with a branch of the military.  Sometimes when he was reporting for CBS News Radio, he had a bodyguard and possibly one in a car trailing them.  With the magazine, he was on his own. 

A great deal of on the ground reporting was done by Iraqis.   Today Michele Martin (NPR's Tell Me More -- link is audio and there will be transcript at link by tomorrow if not tonight) speaks with former New York Times correspondent Abdulrazzaq al-Saiedi.  He is an Iraqi who became a journalist after the war started.  "For me, this is really important that we're telling the truth and that we describe the scene as it is -- for good or for bad."  He arrived on the scene in Falluja, March 31, 2004, of the 4 American contractors who were killed (burned) and then hung in the air. 

Abdulrazzaq al-Saiedi:  I saw 2 bodies were completley burned, were hung and there's 2 just on the ground.  And the two on the ground -- There's children there, and one of the -- one of the kids, I think he was ten or like eleven years old, and he was kicking one of the bodies and he kept saying this is Pacha, Pacha.  And Pacha is an Iraqi meal made of the head of the sheep. And that for me, I said this is like too much.  I-I-I can't stand it.  But also at the same time I have my camera with me but I was so scared if I would take pictures maybe this mob -- They were so excited and mostly teenager, children.  And there was no policemen, no American soldiers.  No any.  None.  And then they look at me because I think maybe they ask themselves who is this?  And then I find myself with people there, staring at me.  And I know with one war, I could be the fifth body.  And then they look at me and I pretend I'm excited, you know, with -- with this.  And then I decide to leave.  So I left.  But I left with a story.

He wrote about this for last Sunday's New York Times Magazine in a feature article entitled "The Unwilling Witness."  When we list the toll of journalists in the Iraq War, we don't buy into the 'media assistant' or anything else.  And stringer is really insulting for what a lot of them do.  So if you worked in media in Iraq, my view is you were a journalist and you earned that title -- good journalist or bad journalist -- so we always use one total.  So while the Committee to Protect Journalists counts 139 journalists and 51 media workers killed in Iraq since the start of the war, we would call that 190 journalists killed.  That's only one number and, in 2012, we noted that CPJ was missing deaths as they happened.  As 2012 came to end Yang Lina (Xinhua) noted 5 had died in 2012 and 373 had died since the start of the Iraq War.  For years now, we've noted that Xinhua is much better on the ground in Iraq than many outlets. (Robert Fisk says the Telegraph of London is the best in Iraq when it comes to covering British intel.)

On the topic of Xinhua, Pang Lei (Economic Observer) notes that Xinhua is thought to be the first wire service, back in 2003, to report that the war had started.  Jamal Hashim was the reporter in Baghdad who "phoned Xinhua's Middle East Bureau from Baghdad at 5.33am (local time) on the morning of March 20, 2003 after he first heard air raid sirens blaring and then raced to the roof of his building and heard the sounds of explosions from the city. [. . .] Xinhua was elated to have beat out the other wire services in breaking one of the biggest stories of the decade and they feted their new star reporter. Hashim was officially offered a reporting position with Xinhua (he continues to file stories from Iraq for Xinhua), awarded $1,000 and invited to Beiijng to meet with the head of the news agency and receive two of their highest honors. "

In this NBC News video from earlier this week, you can see AP's Kimberly Dozier and NBC News' Mike Taibbi and Kerry Sanders reflect on covering Iraq.  Kimberly Dozier was among the journalists injured while covering the Iraq War.  Jill Carroll, Richard Butler, Marie Jeanne Ion, Sorin Dumitru Miscoci, Ovidiu Ohanesian, Florence Aubenas, Paul Taggart, John Martinkus, Stephen Farrell, Jeffrey Gettleman and Giuliana Sgrena are among the many journalists who were kidnapped while covering Iraq and were released alive.  Others, such as Fakher Haider, Abdulrazak Hashim Ayal and Jamal al-Zubaidi, were kidnapped and killed.  The dead also includes ITV's Terry Lloyd and his interpreter Hussein Oman who were killed by US forces.  ITV News notes March 22nd is the tenth anniversary of Lloyd's killing -- which a British inquest found to be an unlawful killing.  His daughter Chelsey Lloyd is part of a documentary retracing her father's death and you can stream a preview of the documentary here here.

As Ann noted last night, Sara Flounders (Workers World via Global Research) has a critique of the selling of the war that the US media took part in:
The corporate media in the U.S. play a powerful role in preparation for imperialist war. They play an even more insidious role in rewriting the history of U.S. wars and obstructing the purpose of U.S. wars.
They are totally intertwined with U.S. military, oil and banking corporations. In every war, this enormously powerful institution known as the ‘fourth estate’ attempts, as the public relations arm of corporate dominance, to justify imperialist plunder and overwhelm all dissent.
The corporate media’s reminiscences and evaluations this week of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, which began March 19, 2003, are a stark reminder of their criminal complicity in the war.
In the many articles there is barely any mention of the hundreds of news stories that totally saturated the media for months leading to the Pentagon onslaught. The news coverage in 2003 was wholly unsubstantiated, with wild fabrications of Iraqi secret ”weapons of mass destruction,” ominous nuclear threats, germ warfare programs, purchases of yellow cake uranium, nerve gas labs and the racist demonization of Saddam Hussein as the greatest threat to humanity. All of this is now glossed over and forgotten.

Another media critique is from Anthony DiMaggio (CounterPunch) who points out:
I won’t fault the New York Times for pointing out the stupefying incompetence of the Bush administration in its post-invasion occupation.  I do take the paper to task, however, for its complete unwillingness to recognize the real reasons why the American public opposed the Iraq war.  Those reasons have to do with moral and substantive rejection of the application of U.S. imperial power abroad.  This reality has scarcely been recognized by academics, journalists, political leaders, or even professional polling organizations (pollsters generally rely on political officials and the media to set the agenda for the types of questions they will ask).
Sadly, I have not seen a single polling question asked in the last ten years that measured whether Americans thought the war in Iraq was imperialist or not.  The question of whether the war was a “well-intentioned mistake” or “fundamentally wrong and immoral” has never appeared once in the national discourse when it comes to public opinion surveys.   Polls that might have questioned whether the U.S. invaded Iraq primarily for its massive oil reserves seldom materialized because the answers would have been too damning to report in a country where the political discussion revolved around whether the war was just and necessary or a noble mistake.

One media critique that I'm not seeing any of the American journalists make is one about Nouri al-Maliki who long ago declared war on the media.  In December alone, he shut down two broadcast outlets (three if you factor in that one of the TV channels also had a radio station).  He's repeatedly used his armed forces to prevent journalists from access to news sites.  In 2006, he was doing that with regards to bombings.  He didn't want photos of the victims emerging because that might underscore how violent things actually were in Iraq.  Today, he resorts to it to keep reporters away from the ongoing protests. 

That may be an improvement from 2011 when he had reporters who covered the protests kidnapped and tortured.  February 28, 2011, Kelley McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and text) reported on what happened to Hadi al-Mahdi, activist and journalist, after a morning of covering the protests when he stopped to have lunch.

MCEVERS: Hadi al Mahdi runs a popular radio show that's long been critical of the government. He recently encouraged his 6,000 Facebook followers to protest against corruption. A few days ago, he was eating lunch with other journalists when soldiers pulled up, blindfolded them, and whisked them away. Mahdi was beaten in the leg, eyes, and head. A soldier tried to get him to admit he was being paid to topple the regime.
Mr. AL MAHDI: (Through translator) I replied, I told the guy who was investigating me, I'm pretty sure that your brother is unemployed, and the street in your area is unpaved, and you know that this political regime is a very corrupt one.
MCEVERS: Mahdi was later put in a room with what he says were about 200 detainees, some of them journalists and intellectuals, many of them young protesters.
Mr. MAHDI: (Through translator) I started hearing voices of other people. So, for instance, one guy was crying, another was saying, where's my brother? And a third one was saying, for the sake of god, help me.
MCEVERS: Mahdi was shown lists of names and asked to reveal people's addresses. He was forced to sign documents while blindfolded. Eventually he was released.
Mahdi says the experience was worse than the times he was detained under Saddam Hussein. He says the regime that's taken Saddam's place is no improvement on the past. This, he says, should serve as a cautionary tale for other Arab countries trying to oust their dictators.
Mr. MAHDI: (Through translator) They toppled the regime, but they brought the worst - they brought a bunch of thieves, thugs, killers, and corrupt people, stealers.

As I've noted before, I exchanged e-mails with Hadi al-Mahdi.  He wrote to (kindly) correct me on a few things and to steer me to some other resources for a topic.  He doesn't do his radio show anymore.  He was assassinated on September 8, 2011.  From that day's snapshot:

Madhi had filed a complained with the courts against the Iraqi security forces, noting that they had now warrant and that they kidnapped him in broad daylight and that they beat him.  Mohamed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds, "Hadi al-Mehdi was inside his apartment on Abu Nawas street in central Baghdad when gunmen shot him twice with silencer-equipped pistols, said the ministry official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to media."  Mazin Yahya (AP) notes that in addition to calling for improvements in the basic services (electricity, water and sanitation), on his radio program, Hadi al-Mehdi also used Facebook to get the word out on the Friday protests in Baghdad's Tahrir Square.

Despite international outcry, no effort was made to find his killer/s.  I firmly believe Nouri al-Maliki was behind that attack.  I believe he was behind the hacking of the Iraqi news sites Al Mada and Kitabat and there's no question that he's attempted to use the military to intimidate Al Mada's Chair and editor Fakhri Karim.  That's the reality of what happens to Iraqi journalists in Nouri's Iraq.  Al Mada's Adnan Hussein noted in a February column for England's New Statesman:

Ultimately, al-Maliki and his Dawa Party have managed to create a new kind of dictatorship. This is a curse not only to the Sunnis, or the Kurds, or the swaths of Shias, but to the country as a whole.
As an editor and columnist of al-Mada, a critical, oppositional newspaper in Iraq, I am given considerable editorial freedom, and there is certainly no shortage of subjects to cover. I am, however, concerned about the freedom of the press.
Fortunately, a draft anti-media law has now been reversed, much to the relief of my colleagues and peers. Journalism is a dangerous business, and yet the level of hazards is hardly higher than the tension about the car bombs and assassinations that continue to plague the people of Iraq.

Moving over to poetry . . .

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn't notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.

That's from Dunya Mikhail's poem "I Was In A Hurry."  Renee Montagne (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and transcript) spoke with the Iraqi who left the country back in the 90s and Mikhail read two of her poems. That was today.  Wednesday?   Fars News Agency reports that yesterday "Iraq marked the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion [. . .] a day after a spate of deadly bombings and gun attacks left over 60 people dead."  Zab Mustefa (Pakistan's Express Tribune) offers:

When I ask Iraqis if their country is better off since foreign troops touched the ground, opinions are varied. But a vast proportion agree that Iraq is now worse than it has ever been.
A corrupt puppet in office (Nour al-Maliki), that discriminates against Sunni Muslims, further poverty and sectarian violence at its peak has crumbled the country and proven costly to America, which spent over $800,000 billion so far.
For me, one of the most saddening things about Iraq is the post-war effect. Fallujah was at the centre of the US and UK military campaign and now, more than half of the babies conceived after the foreign invasion are born with deformed and missing limbs, brain damage, tumours and heart defects.

Today United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative to Iraq addressed the UN Security Council.  We'll try to fit it in tomorrow.  He noted "UNAMI urges the Government to respond to those popular demands which can be addressed in the short term, and to do so immediately. Other demands will require more time for a response."  But for months, Nouri has brushed them aside when not attacking them outright.  Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya is calling for a session of the Council of Ministers to hear the protesters' demands and figure a way to implement them.   Today Iraqi Spring MC has posted in the last 14 hours about military equipment being moved from Baghdad to Anbar Province. Thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared Tuesday that Anbar and Nineveh Province will not be voting April 20th when provincial elections are held.  He's decreed that it's too violent there and he made that decree on the day over 60 deaths took place in Baghdad Province.  But he's not attempting to halt the vote there.

Many see the move as an effort to punish the protesters in the two provinces.  Equally true, he probably doesn't want to see the success of political rivals at the polls in those two provinces.

Nouri and his State of Law goons can never get the message straight.  Today, MP Salman al-Moussawi sets the hymnal aside and sings off tone.  National Iraqi News Agency reports al-Moussawi is stating that the elections in the two provinces were postponed "to stop the fraud in the elections."  So on Tuesday, the world is told it's due to violence.  On Thursday, the world is told it's due to fear of fraud.  

 Aswat al-Iraq notes Nouri has decreed they are postponed for six months.

United Nations Secretrary-General Ban Ki-Moon has a Special Envoy in Iraq, Martin Kobler.  As noted yesterdaythe UN quotes Kobler declaring today, "There is no democracy without elections.  The citizens of these provinces are looking forward to these elections with great hope.  They should not be disappointed." And now, according to State of Law's latest switch-around, they're being postponed due to fear of fraud.  It'll be interesting to hear the UN's response to that.

In the March 2010 parliamentary elections, Nouri al-Maliki cried fraud and stomped his feet.  He wasn't happy to come in second place.  He demanded a recount.  There was no fraud, he came in second.  State of Law has a real problem dealing with election results. First place Iraqiya is headed by Ayad Allawi who has a nationally syndicated column in the US via Project Syndicate:

Iraq’s last general election, in 2010, brought hope of recovery in the form of a power-sharing agreement among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds, which was supposed to ensure that the country did not revert to dictatorship. Iraqiya, which I lead, was the largest electoral bloc to emerge from that vote. But, despite our status, we agreed to give up the leadership position afforded by the Constitution in the belief that power-sharing and respect for the rights of all Iraqis is the only formula for governing the country democratically. These hopes, however, soon vanished, as Iraq’s two-term prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, subsequently reneged on the agreement.

Today, the very human rights that were guaranteed by the constitution are being violated, with a politicized judiciary routinely abused and manipulated in order to justify the prime minister’s actions. Instead of keeping the Maliki government in check, the courts facilitate its quest for ever-greater power.
Making matters worse for ordinary Iraqis, public services have deteriorated to a dismal level, and unemployment is rising sharply, despite public expenditure in excess of $500 billion over the seven years of Maliki’s rule. Sectarianism and racism have become a regular feature of the political landscape. Corruption is rampant, and Baghdad is now considered one of the world’s worst places to live.
If Iraq continues along its current disastrous path, mayhem and civil war will be the inevitable outcome, with dire consequences for the entire region. Yet Iraqis continue to hope for a better future.

Yesterday, Alsumaria reported that Iraqiya MP Nahida Daini said that postponing the elections for the reasons given would be caving into violence.  She'll need to amend that statement to postpoing the elections out of fear of fraud is giving into fraud.  Alsumaria reports today that the Sadr bloc has called Nouri's move "illegal and unconstitutional."  The Sadr bloc MP Ali al-Timimi is quoted by All Iraq News stating that the UN has refused the postponement and that this "came after the visit of the Deputy UNSG's Special Representative for Iraq, Georgi Posten, to the Ahrar bloc and giving them a document which asserted that."  Alsumaria notes Anbar Province Sahwa leader Abu Rhisha is also calling out the decision to postpone elections.

Meanwhile Nouri's declaring that this week's bombings (he means Tuesday in Baghdad -- the Green Zone was in trouble, so Nouri cares) are the result of people -- "officials and parliamentarians" -- calling for sectarianism.  Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya and the Sadr bloc are calling for Nouri and other security leaders to appear before Parliament and answer questions about the bombings.  Nouri would be appearing as commander and chief as well as the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of National Security.  Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."  That remains true today.  Nouri's ignored the Constitution and refused to nominate people for the three posts and let Parliament confirm or shoot them down.  If Parliament confirmed them -- this is confusing in the US, I know -- Nouri would lose control of the Ministry.  The head of the ministry, once confirmed, cannot be removed unless Parliament votes to remove them.  Nouri can't fire a minister.  The minister is in charge of the ministry budget and the ministry's mission.  It's not like in the US with the White House's Cabinet.

How easy is to get Parliament to 'fire' someone?  For over two years now, Nouri's tried to get them to fire Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.  They have refused.  He remains Vice President.

On Tareq al-Hashemi and other issues, Zvi Bar'el (Haaretz) offers this look at Iraq today:

On the surface, it would appear that there is a division of power among the Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish segments of the population, and the justice system seems to be functioning adequately.
However, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is ruling Iraq like a dictator. He recently used massive force to suppress protest rallies by Sunni Muslims in the western province of Anbar. Demonstrators were arrested, some of whom simply “vanished.” Torture and physical abuse are still part of the routine followed by the security forces.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is Sunni, fled the country after al-Maliki had a warrant issued for his arrest over involvement in terrorist activity. Cabinet ministers and members of parliament live in houses protected by high walls; they have personal security guards whose services they pay for themselves because they do not rely on the security services provided by the state.

Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth observes at CNN:

Arrests occur routinely without warrants. Thousands of people are held without charge with no end in sight, sometimes in unofficial detention facilities. Torture during interrogation is common. People brought to trial are often convicted through coerced confessions and secret informant testimony. Corruption is reportedly rife in the Interior Ministry, and collusion between officials and judges is said to be common. Judges typically close their eyes to evidence of torture, and due process at trial is rare. Executions are skyrocketing – 129 in 2012 compared with 62 the prior year – with few details available about the identity of those condemned or the charges against them. The government justifies many arrests in the name of fighting “terrorism,” but the common denominator among those caught up in this system of injustice is perceived opposition to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Rather than build a broad political coalition, al-Maliki has used repression to address political threats.

The violence continues today.  National Iraqi News Agency notes that a Mosul roadside bombing has claimed the life of 1 Iraqi military officer and left three soldiers injured, a Tirkit bombing left 3 Iraqi soldiers dead and two wounded, 1 person was shot dead in Baquba,  and 1 farmer has been shot dead in Diyala Province.  Through Wednesday, Iraq Body Count counts 306 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.


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