To the south in Kirkuk, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced visit to the city that Iraq's Kurds call their Jerusalem, an oil-rich territory claimed by many.
Rice was meeting members of a civilian-military reconstruction unit based in Kirkuk and provincial politicians. She was to meet Iraq's central leadership later in Baghdad.
"Kirkuk is very critical," Rice told reporters after her meeting.
Yes, it is "very critical" in may ways -- for instance CBS and AP describe it (rightly) as "the hub of Iraq's northern oil fields." Who will have control of it is also "very critical" and the northern, Kurdish region wants it and the central (puppet) government in Baghdad wants it. December 9th, Stephen Farrell's "As Iraqis Vie for Kirkuk's Oil, Refugee Kurds Becomes Pawns" ran on the front page of the New York Times and revealed some realities that are rarely told regarding the power struggle going on outside of Kirkuk. In the Kurdish region, people were being evicted, forced to move to Kirkuk in anticipation of the upcoming referendum in which 'the people of Kirkuk' would determine their fate. It was a strong piece and interesting to read Talabani repeatedly claim that no one was being evicted, had been evicted, would be evicted and then to see Farrell provide the stories of the many who were forced out, the ones who, for instance, now live in "the squalor of the Kirkuk soccer stadium." (We noted the article here.)
With the Turkish military having just launched an attack on Sunday (or Saturday, according to some reports) and CNN noting Turkish troops have "crossed" into Iraq again today, with the US providing targets to Turkey and given permission for the attacks on northern Iraq, Condi probably did need to do face time with Talabani.
CBS and AP also note a meet up with "members of a civilian-military reconstruction unit based in Kirkuk". That was needed as well. Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security has a hearing scheduled to begin at 10:15 a.m. What's the topic?
The abuse of and assault of women by US contractors in Iraq and people working for the US State Department. This hearing results from the investigative reporting done by ABC News. Brian Ross, Maddy Sauer and Justin Rood reported on Jamie Leigh Jones last week. Jones was gang-raped while working in Iraq, gang-raped by and then imprisoned by KBR. Her father contacted US House Rep Ted Poe who immediately contacted the State Department -- that would be the department Condi is supposed to be in charge of. Though the State Department would free Jones from a KBR 'pod,' nothing appears to have happened in terms of punishing the criminals.
From Senator Hillary Clinton's letter to Secretary of State Condi Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week:
As I hope you are all aware, recent news accounts indicate that Ms. Jones, a Halliburton/KBR employee in Baghdad, alleges she was gang-raped by her fellow employees and then held under guard against her will in a shipping container in order to prevent her from reporting the horrific crime. She states that she was denied food and water during her detention and told that she would be fired if she left Iraq to seek medical attention. More than two years later, news reports state that no U.S. government agency or department has undertaken a proper investigation of the incident. These claims must be taken seriously and the U.S. government must act immediately to investigate Ms. Jones' claims. These allegations implicate all three of your departments. If one of your departments has already launched a private investigation, I urge you to disclose your findings without delay. If no investigation has been started, I urge you to decide the proper course for an inquiry into these claims and to commence your investigation with the utmost urgency.
[PDF format warning, click here for the letter.]
Now that alone is rather damning to Condi's 'leadership' (not that her 'leadership' prior to State was anything to brag about). But that wasn't the end of it. Ross, Sauer and Rood also reported on Tracy Barker who was sexually assaulted while working in Iraq and that assault came via the State Department's Ali Mookhtare -- who remains employed by the State Department. The links to Ross, Sauer and Rood's reports contain the video option because the reports were combined for the first segment of last Friday's 20/20.
Condi had many, many reasons to go to Iraq and that includes giving the impression that she's doing her job on the eve of a Congressional hearing that will likely explore the realities of her department.
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