Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, January 29, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, provincial elections loom, 3 candidates in them are shot dead today, US House Rep Loretta Sanchez shocks the military by asking about accountability, and more.
Laura Watterson: I'll just start off.  This is very difficult.  I don't usually come out of my bedroom so coming all the way to DC is a little, well, freaking me out.  But however uncomfortable I may be, I think it is more important that I be here instead of worrying about my own problems because this really needs to be done.  [. . .]
When I entered the Air Force, I seriously considered making it a career for myself.  I wanted to travel and I wanted to have a stable life and career.  After I was assaulted, I no longer trusted anyone on base and my career was no longer an option for me.  Because of my MST and PTSD that resulted from it, I was forced to move in with my mother at the age of thirty because I could not take care of myself, keep a job or feel safe even in my own apartment.  I lived on cereal and microwaveable dinners so I did not end up causing a fire because I forgot that I was cooking something.  I was so depressed that I actually quit smoking because the task of actually picking up a cigarette and lighting it was just too much.  Of course, my doctors were happy about that but . . .     
I had crying fits that were so powerful I could not even get my head off of wherever it landed because of exhaustion.  One time my head landed in my shoe.  And it would leave me hoarse for three days from crying so hard. I have gained over sixty pounds and I would go into violent rages.  One time I ransacked the house to find every present I had ever given my mother, smashed them to bits and dumped them on her bed.   I would swear at her and throw things at her as if I had Tourette Syndrome.  Any attempt at communication with me, I would just flip her off.  This behavior was . . . I had never treated my mother like this before.  I didn't understand why this was happening and it ruined my self-esteem that much further.         
I have missed most family functions since being in the Air Force because I am unable to be around many people -- especially people who are asking a lot of personal questions like "Oh, how is life?  What are you up to? What are you doing?"  That kind of brings the family celebration down a little.  It has been only recently that I would even leave my bedroom.  I used to have very good credit.  And I was very proud of that.  Because of not being able to pay my bills because I could not keep a job -- just recently I had an attempt to have my wages garnished.  I was too afraid to wear anything at all 'inviting'.  I.e. I would wear men's clothing, usually in all black and several sizes too big.  I didn't want anyone to find me approachable.  I'm afraid of being assaulted again.  I used to have my hair and make up and nails match every day, no matter what I was wearing, for years.  Now, with the exception of today, I would only wear chapstick and stick my hair up in a bun.  And I rarely, if ever, painted my nails.  I don't have the energy to look good due to depression.  I have had meltdowns in the super market because if I saw someone -- especially if it was a man -- I knew they were stalking me and I would run from the grocery store.
My marriage to a man who I am still friends with ended due to my PTSD symptoms. I didn't realize why I was acting the way I was and neither did he.  Nonetheless, it ruined our marriage.  That's probably the hardest part [crying], excuse me.
I began . . . I began therapy at the VA because I had lost everything as a result.  I began to see patterns and realized that I needed to get my life back.  I realize that there are many other people who need to be helped to get back on track as well and that is also why I am a Veteran Advocate myself -- out of my bedroom and out of my own pocket. 
Part of my wellness is testifying today, forcing me to get out and do things that are challenging because they're more important.  I'll leave here today but hopefully my message will not leave.  If I had a caring SARC representative I believe I would not have ended up in the mess that I have ended up in.  I was never given a representative when I called to have some assistance.  No one came.  It got to the point that I called the 15th Air Force Commander who was in charge of the entire western half of the United States and whose name was also in all of the sexual assault booklets, leaflets and --
Since basic training, we'd all been taught the same thing.  I trusted in that.  I also trusted because I had friends before I went in, "Aren't you afraid after the sexual harassment, the whole Tail-hook thing?" I was like, "No.  With all this media why would they -- they must be really careful about it now."
The 15th Air Force Commander said, "Well why don't you just keep this on base, have them take care of it?"  They wouldn't.  I reported it as I was supposed to -- to my supervisor, as well as his.  They said it would be taken care of and I trusted that.   
Two weeks later, I was at work and everyone was asked to stand up because there was going to be a pinning-on ceremony.     
That pinning-on ceremony was for the man who assaulted me to now outrank me and become a supervisor.  He was rewarded.
This was when I got very angry.  After fighting and calling everyone I could possibly think of, my commander finally called me into his office with my supervisor who assaulted me here [call this Point A], the guy who assaulted me [Point B], my chair [Point C -- so they are seated right next to each other] and his supervisor [Point D]. So I was not even close to my supervisor, the one who should be protecting me or making me feel safe. 
I was told by my commander that I needed to understand that, "Different people have different personal bubbles. For example, when you go to England, sometimes when you meet people over there and you shake their hand, they like to hold on to your hand while they're speaking and, as Americans, because we don't do that, it's uncomfortable for us."  And that is how he told me that I needed to get over what had happened.
That is when I became --
I started drinking obscene amounts.  Again, not knowing anything about PTSD, I started having, you know, yelling at my husband over the stupidest things and having absolute fits of rage.  And, again, this is not me.  
After this meeting I had with my commander, my SARC, or whatever he was called at the time, offered me therapy.  I asked if it was going to be someone on base or if it was going to be civilian?   He told me it was going to be from someone on base and from the treatment that I had gotten so far to try and help me there was no way I was going to trust another military member to tell them how I felt and what was going on.  So when I refused help, they had me sign a waiver saying that because I refused treatment I was not going to be eligible for any VA treatment or benefits.  I, of course, did not realize that that was a load of malarkey until several years later when I had to go to the VA because I couldn't handle my own life.
I was also told that punishment of my perpetrator was not my business.  I think that is -- I don't know for sure what the real rule is about that now, but it is definitely the business because I trusted them in the first place to take care of it and promoting him two weeks later is not promoting it -- sorry, fixing it.
All of the evidence that had been in my files about this was sanitized.  This is a normal and way too often thing that happens with files.  Things that are important that would have some thing to do with a claim are taken out of your files so, when you request them, over half of your file is no longer there.  So trying to fight the VA to get benefits is next to impossible because there's no proof any more -- even if you reported it to the on base police, even if you reported it to anybody who would listen, like I did, nothing. This, again, makes us trust the government even less.
I would be afraid even when the phone rang.  That could make me cry.  A few months ago, I was at a friend's house and her washing machine turned on and I had a panic attack from that.  I don't know why.  I have panic attacks all the time for the oddest reasons, I'm sure.  As I get further in my treatment I will figure out why certain things trigger me. 
I believe that there are some good SARCs but not enough.  The SARCs need to be on top of their game.  The victim is not going to seek out help.  They're going to do what I did.  They're going to stay in their room and drink.  They're not going to trust anybody else to go help them.  I also believe that a SARC should not be a dependent of a military member because the way that they would run their case may be far too influenced by their fear that if they go against the way the command is saying things should be done, that it could be detrimental to their spouse's career.   
Excuse me just a second.
The SARC also needs to be able to have complete confidentiality.  The things that a victim says and does with their SARC needs to be completely confidential.  It is maybe a month or two ago that a victim's SARC was subpoenaed to testify against their own victim.  And of course, they had no choice.
Just like you're doing now, let the MST victims be involved in the training of SARC personnel.  They know how it feels, they know what needs to be changed.  And commanders also need to be accountable when it comes to the rapist.  
We have plenty of rules that are not worth the paper that they are printed on.  For example, if somebody has done a sexual assault  it is supposed to stay in their record, they are supposed to sign up as -- on the -- I'm sorry, I'm blanking on the name but whatever the civilian thing is that a sex offender has to register under, that's a rule. I've had very little -- in fact, I don't think I've ever seen that done now that I'm even doing advocacy work for people who are still in.  The next base they [assailants] go to, that file does not follow them so the next command does not know it.  They are put in the same situation and they know they can get away with it.  I do not believe a lot of the rumors and the little two-bit ideas that most people have about "Well, it's the alcohol, well, women shouldn't be in the military, well, well, well." I believe it is due to the consistent and rewarded attitudes of misogyny.  Thinking that women -- and also men -- there's plenty of men that I've worked with who have been sexually assaulted as well.  They need to be able to be safe, feel like they have been taken care of  and when you find out that a person who has sexually assaulted you did it at the last base, where is the safety?
I felt like I was entering the band of the brothers as their sister.  I was then an outcast.  Alone.  And challenged on everything I did.   
There is also the Troops to Teachers Act.      
so when the person who sexually assaulted a member, when they get out of the Air Force,  or any Coast Guard or whatever, so they get to go be [. . .]  teachers and their file does not follow them because they have not registered as a sex offender.  So they get to be in schools with children as a sex offender.
That's Laura Watterson's testimony to the Military Personnel Subcommittee yesterday, chaired by US House Rep Susan Davis.  The subcommittee is part of the US House Armed Services Committee and watch the military reaction in the following exchange when US House Rep Loretta Sanchez proposes an accountability measure.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez:  Thank you, Madame Chair and thank you to all the panel for being here.  I have just one question because in the 12 years that I have been on this committee and in the Congress, we've had this problem and I believe it is a major problem.   When we are a volunteer force in particular and when we are looking at 50% of Americans being women and the fact that we need to draw the talents from that pool just as we do from the men.  And I believe women should be in the military.  And that this problem is continuing to happen and has for so many years . . . drives me crazy.  We were able to pass, as you know, a new UCMJ section that dealt with this and I hear back from the prosecutors that they love using this new law, that they are more effectively using it to get the prosecutions that they need.  But you know I've always said that there are three things that we need to do.  One, change the culture.  Two, change the law so that we do prosecute and we can prosecute.  And three, work well with those who, the victims who have had this happen and make sure that they don't lose their lives.  So let's go back to the first one: Change the culture. Because this shouldn't be happening at all.   I've zero tolerance for this.  And it seems to me that no matter what we try, no matter how many rules we put on and how many administrative issues and everything, it all comes down to how the top is handling this.  How the commander handles this, where ever it is, whether it's Iraq or the Air Force Academy or whether it's a base in Camp Pendleton in California or where ever it might be, that it's really about how the chain of command deals with this.  And they don't seem to deal with this very well.  And so my question is to Ms. Watterson who so bravely came forward today and I thank you for that because I, believe it or not, I personally know how difficult it is.  Uhm.  It's been my contention that the only way we're going to make the command understand how important this issue is is that it's actually a section on every promotion that they receive.  That in order for them to be promoted, they have to deal with, "What did you do about this?  How much of this has happened under you?  How come you were ineffective about this?"  And that they don't get promoted if they don't take this seriously.  Now that runs counter to so many people who say "Oh, we're just care about making fighting machines."  Ms. Watterson, do you think that if these people in command that you go to thought that if they didn't handle this correctly or didn't make an attempt to handle it, if they thought they would lose their ability to be promoted, that they might have taken this more seriously for you?
Laura Watterson: Yeah, that sounds like an excellent idea. That way they're held accountable. 
Loretta Sanchez: Because they're not held accountable.  This is not an accountability issue for the people in uniform.  Some do it well.  Some don't do it very well.  Some say, "Oh, the handshake was just a little too long."  Or, "Take care of it yourself." Or, "You're a big girl." And these are all things that I have heard from so many women who have been put in this spot.  So do you think that that would make a difference if they thought that they wouldn't get promoted if they just told you to handle it yourself?
Laura Watterson: I think that would be a great incentive.  I think that part of it should also be interview or contact with whoever the victim was and ask them how they were treated and if they think that everything was done fairly?
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: Now that would be part of it.  I mean, the way that we would judge whether this person, whomever was actully in command, took care of it would be that there would be some input from those that had suffered the acts and had been treated one way or the other by this person.  What about the rest of you?  What do you think?  Because you probably come across some commanders who really care about this thing and really do something right away about it and you probably come across people who sort of move the pieces on the checker board around.  What do you'll think?  Captain?
Capt Daniel Katka: Well, ma'am, in the ten seconds we have, you know, a culture change, I would love to be able to see genuine.  Disingenuous, uhm, using people as ranks, and things like that, perhaps would promote disingenous culture change. Rather than real cultural change.  Completely my opinion.  But I understand where you're going and in a criteria issue, what would you put in that promotion?  What would be, you know, the criteria for that promotoin, the statistics -- if statistics are up, is that good on the commander?  Or is that bad on the commander? So there are a lot of questions that I just immediately have that we probably don't have time, maybe, to get into.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: Thank you.  Chief?
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: I agree ma'am that if it were done right it would be an effective way of pushing the program forward.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: That is would not or would be?
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: That is would.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez:  That it would.
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: But again that  would be a threat.  That's my opinion
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: I'm just asking your opinion.  It's not threats.  It's sort of like this is important to us for you to be graded on.  I mean when you go to a class in college, you, if you're a smart student, you understand what the professor wants and what they're going to grade you on.  And you tend to work on those issues that are going to get you the A if you care about the grade.
Sgt 1st Class Michael Horwath: I can see it being effective.  [. . .] I can see that a soldier may look on that as being more important if they see it officially in their paperwork, yes.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: Thank you. Chief?.
US House Rep: Susan Davis: Thank you, Ms. Sanchez.  [To Chief McKennie] Can you respond really quickly?
Chief Petty Officer Tonya D. McKennie: I can.  I believe that it would be effective but it would also take training as well in combination with that.  So that it would be genuine and effective. 
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: Thank you. Thank you, Madame Chair.
The idea that adding a grading measure to performance evaluation -- one grading measure -- is cause for a freak out goes to the problem with the culture.  Grading measures are added all the time.  What caused the freak out was that a military culture that refuses to take assaults seriously might be graded on their response.  As if supervision wasn't already needed?  Sanchez was 100% correct, it's not a threat.  It's a criteria.  And commanders are supposed to be responsible supervisors so they should be graded on how they are handling -- or not handling -- sexual assault complaints. We covered the hearing yesterday and will cover some more of it tomorrow.  Kat offered some of her observations of the hearing here.  [She also covered last night's theme of rumors as did Mike's "Barney, Debra Sweet," Rebecca's "rod stewart," Marcia's "Porn Star ON-J," "Eddie Murphy," Trina's "The cross dressing J. Edgar Hoover," Ruth's "Liberace," Stan's "Wonder Years rocker," Elaine's "Paul is dead" and Kat's "When I tried to smoke a banana." -- You just mentioned Kat! Yes, and she says it will be easier for people to copy and paste the theme posts if I toss her in there.  Cedric's "How to make the economy worse" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! FIX THE ECONOMY BY CUTTING JOBS!" continued there humorous joint-posts.]
From sexual assault to all kinds of assault including domestic abuse, on the prime time special yesterday of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Couric filed a report on spousal abuse in the military noting that "more than 25,000 spouses and domestic partners have been attacked over the past decade.  Nearly 90 spouses have died."  Among those she spoke with was Jessacia Patton about Patton's husband Lenny McIntire.  Below is a transcript to the online bonus footage of their interview:
Katie Couric: He went to Iraq, came back.  How had he changed once he came back?
Jessacia Patton: He hardly ever slept.  He was awake all the time.  Didn't want to be at home.  Didn't want to be around me, Bella [their daughter], couldn't take the crying, didn't like the noise we made when we ate.  He was always out at bars.  I'd come home from work and he'd have girls over at the apartment.  And -- and, just never wanted to be around us.  Always was always about the [Army] Rangers and I just didn't take into that life.  I didn't -- I grew up in Washington, around Fort Lewis, I had my own friends.  And that made it really hard too, the fact that I didn't pay enough attention to him, I was paid too much attention to our infant daughter than him.  That sparkle that he used to  have, that I fell in love with was gone.  He was just blank in the eyes and angry and mad all the time. 
Katie Couric: When you were having problems initially when he first came home, did you contact anyone at the base or anyone with the US military? 
Jessacia Patton: We went to the chapel and I talked to the chaplain --
Katie Couric: Together with your husband?
Jessacia Patton: Mmm-hmm.  And then I went separately by myself.  And if you're not there with your spouse, you don't get any help.  They'll just push you off to someone else.  "Well, we can't help you.  But go to this service, they can help you."  So then we go to another service.  "Go to Family Advocate, they can help you."  Somebody else can always help you.  "Call LG, he can help you." And they "We can't help you but go here".
Katie Couric: So they gave you the run around?
Jessacia Patton: Mmm-hmm. I came home and she had a bloody lip and there's red blood all over her face and he'd just left her in her crib.  I said, "What happened?"  "Well the dogs jumped on her."  "How did the dogs jump on her?"  She doesn't even crawl, she just lays on the ground or is held.
Katie Couric: How old is she?
Jessacia Patton: Five months old.   And he said, "Well the dogs must have done it."
Katie Couric: Four months later, he attacked again, but this time you were the victim.
Jessacia Patton: I'm glad my daughter wasn't.  I'm not glad that it happened but I'm glad that Bella wasn't there because it could have been much worse.
Katie Couric:  What happened?
Jessacia Patton: If I just could have run a little bit faster I might have made it but he tackled me out back and started kicking and hitting me and I started screaming for help but nobody came.  And that's when he grabbed my face and slammed it into the ground and said that if I yelled again, he would kill me right there. Cause after the incident, I went to the chaplain and I'm crying and I need help and I don't know who to turn to and I went to the Rangers even though he's not in the battalion anymore and they're like, "Well we washed our hands of him."  And I went to his battalion and nobody would help me out.  Nobody -- and being a civilian, how do you deal with martial law?  I don't know martial law.  So I'm stuck in between --
Katie Couric: Or military law.
Jessacia Patton: Yeah. I'm just in that gray area. 
Katie Couric: Well having been through what you've been through, what do you think is the major flaw in the way the US military, at least in your experience deals with domestic violence?

Jessacia Patton: I think that spouses don't get enough attention.  When it's a soldier then soldiers get all the attention.  But when a soldier beats his wife, the wife falls through the crack.  They make it very impossible to get through the system and get anything done.  You just get the run around.  They need to listen to military wives.  They need to have something -- some organization, some club something set up that a wife can go into and speak about this instead of just getting shrugged off because problems just get worse.
In the report last night, Couric explained that even though he later entered a guilty plea to child abuse, even though "he attacked and raped his wife," it was only when "threatened his fellow soldiers and went AWOL that the Army decided to press charges. Three weeks ago, he was sentenced to seven years in a military prison." This evening, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric tells Sgt James Pitts' story.  On a related noted, David Morgan and Philip Barbara (Reuters) report that US Army suicides have increased eleven percent continuing the increase that has been evident "among active duty soldiers and reservists since 2004."
Turning to Iraq where provincial elections will be held in fourteen of the eighteen provinces this Saturday.  Jafar Jani (Wall St. Journal's Baghdad Life) reports a reason for excitement in Iraq:
Many Iraqis are wishing the provincial elections would occur every few months, instead of every four years, because of the benefits they are receiving from the campaign season, from new construction projects to mobile phone cards and blankets given as gifts by political parties or candidates.
Early voting already began.  Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) notes that the early voters are "soldiers, police, prisoners and hospital patients".  She notes that authoritieis are claiming 15 million people have register to vote.  That figure may suggest voter fraud. The CIA's current (July 2008) estimate for the population is 28,221,180 Iraqis. That's an estimate and it's only remotely accurate if Iraq's had a baby boom in the midst of the illegal war (it may have). You have had the "brain drain" (the flight of the technocrats, medical profession, etc), you have had the refugee flight (which follows the "brain drain" -- follows it several years later). It also doesn't appear (short of an ongoing baby boom in Iraq) to acknowledge the approximately 1.5 million Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war.

But let's stick with 28 million while noting the figure is questionable. That would mean 13 million are not registered to vote. Since we know some adult Iraqis are refusing to take part in the process, that means the 13 million is made up more of than just the youth (defined here as "under legal voting age"). The 15 million figure seems rather high considering all the deaths during the illegal war, the brain drain, the refugee crisis, etc. (And note, the US State Dept estimates the population in Iraq to be 27,499,638 -- an estimate that still seems high.)

Susman notes there are 440 council seats up for grabs with 14,467 people competing for those slots and that, unlike in 2005, Sunnis are expected to participate in this election at higher rates. Zaid Sabah (Washington Post) notes early voting also includes "residents forced from contested towns". Sabah informs that "three Kurdish provinces" intend to vote later this year and no one knows when Kirkuk will be allowed to vote. And al-Maliki continues trolling for votes in an election he's not a candidate in:

The Dawa party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose popularity has been bolstered by the decline in violence, is seeking to chip away at the power of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which controls four of the nine predominantly Shiite southern provinces. Followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric whose men have fought rival Shiites, the army and the U.S. military, are backing lists of nominally independent candidates.
"What makes us happy is the preparations we are seeing today -- a slap in the face of those who are betting that Iraqis will not go to the ballot boxes because they are despairing," Maliki said during a televised election rally in the southern city of Amarah.

Meanwhile Sam Dagher (New York Times) covers the topic too often ignored: Iraqi women.
Dagher reports women make up nearly 4,000 of the 14,400 candidates (vying for 440 seats) and that posters have been defaced with mud or beards drawn on, torn down and that a Baghdad home invasion yesterday targeted a female member of the Iraqi Islamic Party and she was murdered, shot "10 times in the chest". She's the second women known/thought to be killed as a result of the upcoming elections. Last month, Calwiz-Nahla Hussein of the Communist Party in Kirkuk was shot dead. Click here for UNAMI statement.  The violence aimed at the candidates and political parties continued today.  Wisam Mohammed (Reuters) reports, "Gunmen killed three Iraqi election candidates in separate incidents on Thursday, two days before Iraq holds provincial polls that will test the war-weary country's fragile democracy." Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports political candidate Omar Faruq al-Ani was shot dead not far from his Baghdad home and that candidate Hazim Salim Ahmed was shot dead Mosul today. Wisam Mohammed explains the third candidate shot dead today was Abbas Farhan.  Al Jazeera adds, "The three, all from the Sunni Arab minority, were killed by assailants in separate incidents on Thursday."
On the upcoming elections, Dagher notes that women were supposed to be legally guaranteed a certain percentage of seats in the elections but that somehow disappeared when the law was rewritten and no one still can provide an explanation as to how that happened and that some Iraqi women see the quota system as worthless to begin with. Mahdiya Abed-Hassan al-Lami feels it is "manipulated by major political parties" in order "to marginalize women" by choosing women who are ineffective and will not challenge or question their male peers. She says, "If women are simply followers they cannot fulfill their roles properly." Dagher details how Liza Hido runs in secret ("private gatherings") due to threats when she served "on a municipal council".  Law professor and women's rights advocate Bushra al-Obeidi tells Dagher that the system is fixed against women and the religious extremists control the game, "I assure you, they are against women.  They are lying to us."  Abigail Hauslohner (Time magazine) explains that the tensions between the provinces not voting and the central Iraq government is thought by "U.S. commanders" to be the 'hotspot' that "could produce one of the most dangerous flash points.  U.S. officers in Diyala have spent weeks mediating between Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi military over security arrangements for next week's provincial elecitons.  The national army had planned to set up security checkpoints in northern Diyala, just as they will do all over the country on polling day.  But the Kurds were furious.  While ethnically mixed Diyala is under the jurisdiction of Baghdad, the province's northern section is predominantly Kurdish and falls along the fuzzy but increasingly agitated fault line that separates the Kurdish north from the rest of Iraq."  Throughout the lead up to the provincial elections, the KRG president and Iraq's prime minister have publicly taken shots at one another despite the fact that the KRG provinces are not holding provincial elections at this time and al-Maliki is not running in the provincial elections.
In mercenary news, Ernesto Londono and Qais Mizher (Washington Post)report that Iraq's Interior Ministry told the US Embassy/Fortress in Iraq that Blackwater will not receive "a new operating license" in what the paper dubs "one of the boldest moves the [Iraqi] government has made since the Jan. 1 implementation of a security agreement". If you were or are a Blackwater employee, the reporters explain, and you "have not been accused of improper conduct," you can switch over to another mercenary company operating in Iraq. They quote the US State Dept spokesperson Noel Clay: "We will work with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision in a way that minimizes any impact on safety and security of embassy Baghdad personnel." And they give Blackwater a chance to speak which is the usual Blackwater/KBR/et al dance of "We haven't heard this so we can't comment blah blah blah."  Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) reminds, "Blackwater was accused of an improper use of force in a series of fatal incidents in Iraq, among them the killing of a bodyguard of Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi in 2006 in the heavily fortified Green Zone by an employee who was drunk and off duty."  She also notes the September 16th slaughter of Iraqis by BlackwaterMonte Morin (Los Angeles Times) offers, "At the time, the Iraqi government demanded that Blackwater be banned, but backed down when the U.S. Embassy approved the firm's resumption of work activities."
In some of today's other reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports two Diyala Province roadside bombings that resulted in eight Iraqi service members being injured
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 men were shot dead after being kidnapped outside of Baquba and 1 person shot dead in Kirkuk yesterday.

Meanwhile, the hapless insist, "There's Got To Be A Withdrawal The Morning After" being sworn in.  But, as Peter Baker and Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) explain, maybe not.  The reporters see Barack as "recommitted to ending the war in Iraq but not to his specific campaign pledge to pull out roughly one combat brigade a month for the first 16 months of his presidency." He's never pledged to end the illegal war. He did infer -- in statements at rallies -- that he would pull all US troops out of Iraq but his actual 'plan' was combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months leaving behind as many as 80,000 potentially (the White House unofficially says the number would be 70,000). That 'plan' was revealed as empty words by then-foreign policy advisor Samantha Power when speaking to the BBC in March 2008 and by Barack when speaking to CNN in June of last year. We'll note this section of the article:

Among those consulted by the president was Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, who has developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama's campaign timetable, by pulling out two brigades over the next six months. In an interview in Iraq on Wednesday, General Odierno suggested that it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly.
"I believe that if we can get through the next year peacefully, with incidents about what they are today or better, I think we're getting close to enduring stability, which enables us to really reduce," General Odierno said as he inspected a polling center south of Baghdad in advance of provincial elections on Saturday.
General Odierno said the period between this weekend's elections and the national elections to be held about a year from now would be critical to determining the future of Iraq. While some American forces could be withdrawn before then, he suggested that the bulk of any pullout would probably come after that.

In other words, after nearly six years of illegal war, it's still too soon to judge whether or not the US can drawdown -- drawdown, not withdraw. No one's promised withdrawal -- Barack refused to pledge that, if elected, all US troops would be out of Iraq by the close of 2012.
 We'll close with this from Refugees International:

Relocation of Palestinian Refugees from Iraq to Sudan Moving Forward

Washington D.C. -- The new U.S. administration must join with other
countries and urgently resettle 3,000 Palestinian refugees from the
Syrian-Iraqi border, Refugees International (RI) announced today. The UN
Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)
and Sudan will soon be relocating this population to pre-fabricated
housing in Khartoum. As the three parties prepare to take the refugees
to Sudan, RI called for the U.S. and other resettlement countries to
ensure a voluntary, dignified process that allows this vulnerable
population to find a permanent, stable home.

"The Obama administration must step in and send a clear message to the
world that we are interested in helping displaced people find stable
homes," said Kristele Younes, Senior Advocate with Refugees
International. "The plan to send Palestinians trapped at the
Iraqi-Syrian border to Sudan is outrageous. The U.S. has finally started
resettlement processing for vulnerable, displaced people inside Iraq who
have not had the resources to flee their country. These Palestinians are
among the most vulnerable, and the U.S. should prioritize their

Approximately 34,000 stateless Palestinians have lived in Iraq since
2003. Since the beginning of U.S. military operations in Iraq, many
suffered persecution at the hands of the Iraqi government and other
armed groups. More than 3,000 fled to the Syrian-Iraqi border, where
they live in makeshift tents in the desert with limited access to basic
services. Syria refuses to allow them to enter its territory and only a
few have been resettled, mostly to Sweden and Chile. Failure to act on
the part of the U.S. government and other resettlement countries led
UNHCR to sign a tripartite agreement with the PLO and the Government of
Sudan that called for the relocation of this population to a
neighborhood of Khartoum.

"The international community's failure to act and resettle this
extremely vulnerable population has led the United Nations to consider
Sudan as the only viable option for them," said Younes. "This is not a
durable solution. Sudan will not provide them with a path to citizenship
and the Palestinians will be vulnerable to civil unrest and threats of

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established unique,
discriminatory criteria to assess the vulnerability of Palestinians from
Iraq for the purpose of resettlement to the U.S. Refugees International
urges President Obama to insist that the criteria be the same for Iraqis
and Palestinians in Iraq, and to request that the U.S. State
Department's Refugee Bureau create a special category to process the
applications. Any process should be conducted without prejudice to the
Palestinians' right to return to their homeland.

"While the U.S. resettled nearly 14,000 Iraqi refugees in 2008, only
3,000 refugees have been allowed in for the first few months of the 2009
fiscal year," Younes added. "Many Iraqis can never return home, but a
stable Iraq will only occur when displaced Iraqis find solutions to
their plight. The U.S. and its allies must continue to increase the
number of Iraqis resettled, and should start with this group of

Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that
advocates to end refugee crises. In the last two years, the organization
has conducted seven missions to the Middle East to identify the problems
facing Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people in Iraq. In
November 2008, a delegation of NGOs including Refugees International
conducted a field mission to Palestinian camps at the Syria-Iraq border
and released, "From Fast Death to Slow Death: Palestinian Refugees from
Iraq Trapped on the Syria-Iraq Border."