Thursday, April 15, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, rumors swirl about alliances in building Iraq's next government, a Congressional hearing demonstrates how institutionally screwed up (by all means, use a stronger word) the US government is, and more.
This morning the US House Armed Services Committee held a hearing. They were taking testimony from an "independent" panel on the Quadrennial Defense Review. Chair Ike Skelton called the hearing to order and moved to welcome members of the 'independent' panel who were present but would not be giving testimony. He declared, "Congress created the independent panel in the Fiscal Year 2007 National Defense Authorization Act. It was charged with conducting an assessment of the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review] and presenting its findings to Congress. Last year, we expanded the panel by adding eight additional members appointed by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee."
And behind the curtain, waiting to provide testimony were William J. Perry and -- drum roll and possibly serial killer theme from a slasher movie -- Stephen J. Hadley.
Can someone explain that? Nancy Pelosi, you took impeachment "off the table." The country, the world didn't get the needed impeachment of Bully Boy Bush. You were a coward and put your own personal interests ahead of what the country and the Constitution needed -- what the Constitution demanded. But did you have to allow the criminals to be appointed by Congress to 'independent' panels?
Hadley's not the only one. In fact, the gossip girl Hadley's partner in crime in outing CIA agent Valerie Plame's on the panel. Explain HOW THE HELL THAT HAPPENS?
It happens because we have an INEFFECTIVE and INEPT Congress. They created this panel in 2007. If you're mind's functioning, you grasp that Democrats controlled both houses of Congress then (and now). There are 20 members on the panel. Congress only appoitns 8. They forked over 12 to the Secretary of Defense. With him/her selecting the majority of the members, it will never be independent and Congress needs to stop insulting the American people.
Nancy can at least take comfort in the fact that Stephen Hadley and his roll dog weren't appointed by Congress. Robert Gates appointed Hadley. He's also the one who appointed Richard Armitage. (Click here for DoD press release.)
Richard Armitage. The Hedda Hopper of the DC set stepped forward, for those who don't remember or never knew, after an investigation was opened into the outing of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame. Dick revealed he was a real Chatty Cathy and, WOOPSIE!, he's the one who told journalist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame was CIA. After that, you really should be off the government payroll, after that you really are done. You shouldn't be trusted with any information at all. It's as though Dick burned down the White House while playing with matches and, shortly afterward, the US government decided to make him a ranger in charge of Sequoia National Forest.
Why does the country have so many problems? Your answer is found in that 'independen't panel. Be a government employee who outs a CIA agent and you get to continue doing government work, being paid for by the government? Congress creates an 'independent' panel but gives the Secretary of Defense the power to select the bulk of the committee members. It's nonsense and it's why DC runs in circles chasing its own tail. There is no accountability and you can do the most vile and disgusting thing and continue to receive the US tax payer money instead of having to get a real job. And that's Dick Armitage and Stephen Hadley both. Throughout 2005, at this site and at Third, we were noting Hadley's role in the outing (click here for a July 2005 piece at Third). From SourceWatch:
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was "the senior administration official" who told Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, attorneys close to the investigation and intelligence officials" told Raw Story reporters Larisa Alexandrovna and Jason Leopold November 16, 2005.
Identified by the Washington Post as Rice's "top lieutenant", Hadley, "along with CIA Director George J. Tenet -- took responsibility for allowing into Bush's State of the Union 2003 address a dubious and ultimately inaccurate claim about Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain nuclear materials." 
Hadley not only outed Valerie Plame, he also couldn't properly vet a speech? And he's chairing a panel today -- with his salary paid for by the US tax payers?
There's no accountability and Congress rushes to turn over their own powers to flunkies in the executive branch. And it's there in the fact that Robert Gates remains Secretary of Defense when he should have been replaced long ago. How many scandals do you get to have on your watch before you are asked to step down? At the end of January, Kevin Baron (Stars & Stripes' Stripes Central blog) called out the 'independent' panel:
Independent? In this town? You can't throw a lobbyist into DC without hitting a former government official somewhere. Last week the president of the left-leaning Center for a New American Security trumpeted his own selection to the panel. By the way, the Pentagon's policy chief in charge of the QDR, Michele Flournoy, was the last president of CNAS.
Maybe "bipartisan revolving door panel" is a better term.
"Prevailing in today's wars will also help our military prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies," Hadley prattled on after noting that losing "today's wars" would create further conflict. Could it? If so, maybe Hadley doesn't need to be on the panel?
If you sold the Iraq War, should you really be advising anything at this point? Hadley served on the White House Iraq Group. From SourceWatch:
The White House Iraq Group (aka, White House Information Group or WHIG) was the marketing arm of the White House whose purpose was to sell the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the public.
[. . .]
Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus, in the August 10, 2003 Washington Post, seem to have broken the story of the White House Iraq Group, [. . .]:
"In September 2002, the White House was beginning a major press offensive designed to prove that Iraq had a robust nuclear weapons program. That campaign was meant to culminate in the president's Oct. 7 speech in Cincinnati." 
Why are we allowing anyone with these issues to advise -- on the tax payer dime -- what's needed and not needed?
I know Ike Skelton and like him, but he made a real fool of himself today patting himself and the Committee on the back as he claimed that they worked really hard to be not just bi-partisan but non-partisan. While appointing criminals to a panel? You want to brag about that? In fairness, repeating, Congress itself did not appoint Hadley and Armitage; however, when it surrendered the right to appoint all the members, they invited it, when they surrendered their own powers, they courted it. It's on them.
And Hadley couldn't stop mentioning Iran and he was far from the only one bringing it up in the hearing. That too is on the Democratically controlled Congress.
Today Hannah Allam (McClatchy's Miami Herald) reports that the last five months have seen at least $4 million counterfeit US dollars circulating in Iraq: "In recent weeks, the officers said, Iraqi and U.S. forces have launched an anti-counterfeiting push that involves educating merchants and bankers, as well as gathering intelligence on whether the money is linked to Iran's attempt to influence Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections and to launder money for militia activity in Iraq's southern Shiite heartland." It is thought (or spun) by unnamed US officials that the fake money entered as a way to influence the March 7th elections and that Iran was in some way involved. (Thought, not sourced, not backed up.) Today Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported on her interview with Ayad Allawi who declared he is warning other Iraqi political groups:
I told them, 'Don't embark on this course. It's going to be very dangerous, it's going to be counterproductive, and the backlash will be severe. The whole foundation of whatever infant democracy we've built will be ruined.
Allawi's political slate came out with 91 seats in the Parliament. The second biggest seat winner was Nouri al-Maliki's slate. Nouri continues to insist that there was voter fraud. Fadel reports that Allawi (rightly) points out that none of the benchmarks have been met. Those benchmarks were set by the White House with the US Congress and Nouri al-Maliki signing off. Bully Boy Bush's gone. Those benchmarks are still the Congress' duty and they're Barack's now as well. For those who've forgotten, 'tough talking' Nance Pelosi and others were going to pull war funding if Iraq didn't show 'progress' by meeting 'benchmarks.' Never met and the illegal war is still fully funded. I guess Nancy took benchmarks "off the table." Fadel offers that Allawi could be shut out if the National Alliance teams with State Of Law. Yeah, if that happens. If. But that's not the big rumor coming out of Iraq these days regarding the next prime minister. Yesterday, the biggest was that Irbrahim al-Jaafari has secured some sort of guarantee from a number of groups including the Kurds. That's a rumor. And it's one the US State Dept has heard. If true, it'll be known soon enough since the Kurdish delegation goes into Baghdad next week to start official talks. Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) reports:
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said the Kurdistan list consisting of his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdish President Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, stood ready to back a tie-up between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA).
Talabani made his comments after a meeting on Wednesday night with former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose faction is part of the INA.
Rahmat al-Salaam (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reports that the alliance is just waiting for the big announcement and:
As to choosing the next prime minister, the SLC spokesman said "the method will be within the framework of a mechanism that the two sides agree on and this allows all the parties inside this alliance to present their candidates. The person who will lead the next government will be chosen under this mechanism." Regarding the INA's conditions for having an alliance with the SLC, Al-Husni said "no conditions were imposed. The talk is about the government program, the mechanism for forming it, and making the decisions through it", adding that "there are no conditions and no concessions between the parties that will forge an alliance to form the largest parliamentary bloc."
Alsumaria TV reports, "Al Iraqiya LIst spokeman Haidar Al Mulla affirmed that the alliance between the State of Law Coalition and Iraq's National alliance is not clear yet. Al Iraqiya List has many chances to ally with other parties, Al Mulla noted. The Federal Court stipulates that to form a new government, both coalitions should be merged not allied, he argued. Al Iraqiya List will withdraw from the political process if the State of Law Coalition and Iraqi National Alliance merges." If the alliance takes place and if all members of both blocs are in the reported alliance, that would bring Nouri, et al 2 seats short of the needed 163. As noted some time ago, Iraq's religious minorities could end up being "king makers." Should they announce their merger and have no additional seats (or have a few from their two blocs bail), Allawi's slate could still be a winner. There are 325 people who were elected to Parliament. 161 (or less) going to the new alliance would still leave 164 seats.
82 of those seats, Quil Lawrence (NPR's Morning Edition) reported today, are held by women.
Quil Lawrence: Afaf Abdel-Razzak would only be interviewed by phone. She's effectively gone into hiding since she won. Groups like al-Qaida still operate in Anbar and might target a female politician. She's been moving between Anbar and Baghdad, until the new parliament opens and she gets her official guard detail. Afaf is a teacher, and as a lawmaker, she's hoping to promote education along with women's rights. At the beginning, it wasn't conceivable that a woman could run, she says. But now, even in Anbar province, people will get used to the idea of having women be their voice in parliament.
An online poll at Aswat Al Iraq asks: "How far did the Independent High Electoral Commision (IHEC) succeed in organizing and guaranteeing the integrity of the legislative elections?" The biggest vote getter is "No success" with 61% (1,220 votes), followed by (29%, 584 votes) "Great success," then "Medium Success" (7%, 149 votes) and "Limited succes" (3%, 52 votes). That is a non-scientific poll and is 'limited' to anyone who visits their website.
"Iraqi politicians insist they're forming a coalition government through a truly Iraqi process of consulation. It may seem strange then that the most substanitive meetings should happen in neighboring countries," declared NPR's Quil Lawrence (All Things Considered). Lawrence noted Nouri's strong criticism of 'outsiders' and states it was clear that Nouri was referring to Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, he reports that Nouri wasn't invited to visit Riyadh and that this was seen by some as a "snub" to Nouri. Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports that Rafea al-Isaawi represented Iraqiya in Tehran yesterday while meeting with Ali Larijani, Speaker of Iran's Parliament, and with Saeed Jalili, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and they note that he was "expected as well to meet with Sayyed Moqtada Al Sadr over government formation talks and the possibility of new alliances" according to Iranian television.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a Baghdad drive by in which 1 Iraqi soldier was wounded and 3 suspected assailants were killed, 1 person was shot dead in a Mosul drive-by and a Mosul home invasion left 4 people shot dead (three were women).
Reuters notes 14 corpses were discovered in Samarra. Aswat Al Iraq reports that 1 corpse was discovered in Kut, a "decaying body, belongs to a 20-year-old man, bore signs of torture".
Salah Hemeid offers a think piece at Al-Ahram Weekly which includes the following:
US president Barack Obama, who swept into office on an anti-Iraq war ticket and has since claimed that the war is winding down, has signaled his determination to pull all US forces out of the country by the end of 2011. Commentators are nevertheless sceptical that Obama's pledge to remove "combat troops" by 1 September, leaving about 50,000 troops in "non-combat" roles, will bring about a real end to the war. If the violence in the country continues to soar, as has been threatened by last week's bombings, and goes on to spark another sectarian chain reaction, then, they argue, the United States will be forced to keep its troops in the country longer than has been promised.
In recent weeks there has been much speculation in the US media that the military might indeed try to slow down the withdrawal. Head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, had said the US may leave stronger-than-expected forces in northern Iraq if the situation requires it, even as it acts to reduce troops elsewhere in the country to targeted levels. Testifying before a Senate panel, Petraeus confirmed plans to meet Obama's target of 50,000 US troops in the country by the end of August, down from about 97,000 today. He also noted that the situation in Iraq remains fragile, despite declining levels of violence and the high turnout in the recent national elections, and said that the US military was still tinkering with plans on how best to administer the drawdown.
Last month General Ray Odierno, the top US general in Iraq, made international headlines when his request to keep a military combat unit in the contentious northern city of Kirkuk after next September was leaked to the media. Pentagon officials have made clear that US troops remaining in Iraq after 1 September, although technically on an "advise and assist" mission, will still be capable of conducting military operations.
And even as regular forces are withdrawn, many observers expect that the level of Special Operations forces will remain constant. Some have also argued that the designation of non-combat status is "a false dichotomy," since it implies that "everyone in the military is a combat soldier."
No matter what detailed conclusions one might draw, it remains clear that the US is in a serious situation that might force the Obama administration into rethinking its plans in Iraq. Is it time to start bringing the troops home, or is more time needed to complete US goals in the country?
Though vague while playing the rainmaker in those tent revivals throughout 2007 and 2008, Barack was very clear to the press that if things got 'worse' in Iraq, he wasn't opposed to halting a withdrawal schedule (which was then 1 brigade a month -- a broken promise) or sending in MORE troops.
In yesterday's snapshot, this appeared:
Earlier this week, Nouri al-Maliki was throwing public fits over the fact that Iraq's neighbors were expressing interest. Thankfully few listen to him. (We're not noting his "I stopped a major bombing!" spin.)
At the time 'terrorism plot foiled!' was the story being pushed hard. Many gladly embraced it and made fools of themselves. Nouri the hero! Preventing terrorist attacks! Foiling plots to attack with planes! 9-11 style!
Prima facie, it was laughable. But, again, some ran with it. 'Najaf! And maybe Baghdad! Almost the targets of planes!' CNN reports today: "Sheikh Fayyad al-Shimari, head of the Najaf provincial council, and other officials downplayed reports of a security threat. 'There were talks concerning some security threats in Najaf,' he said. 'Those threats are not new to the province'." Reuters notes, "A Defence Ministry spokesman today denied reports a plot to crash a passenger jet into the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, in southern Iraq, had been foiled while local Iraqi officials said reports like that had circulated for up to a year." It then goes on to cite a US official insisting it is true. And like most 'truth tellers,' the US official goes . . . unnamed.
Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of an assault in Iraq. Lamar W. Hankins (San Marcos Mercury) weighs in:
As a longtime member of Military Families Speak Out, I don't write about war atrocities easily. But I believe that the American people as a whole have an unrealistic view about war and an unwillingness to accept that committing atrocities during war is inevitable. My conclusion is that engaging in war is morally justified only in self-defense or defense of another. Neither the Iraq nor Afghan war qualifies as justified under that standard.
The US military (like virtually all other militaries in the world) train our troops using propaganda and psychological techniques from the ancient to the modern. We use these techniques to manipulate our troops into becoming a part of an operation whose primary purpose is to kill other human beings for purposes fancied by our political leaders. We tell our soldiers that they are serving their country, that they are protecting it, but too often they are merely carrying out some politically inspired or economically desired purpose that has nothing to do with serving and protecting the American people.
Teba Mohammad (Independent Florida Alligator) also weighs in:
I was outraged by the video -- not necessarily shocked -- because the U.S. Army has a history of slaying innocents and has always labeled it as "collateral damage." Since the war started in Iraq, civilians -- including journalists, farmers, doctors and children, to name a few -- have been ambushed and caught in the line of fire by military forces.
Among the 12 Iraqis killed on that tragic day was Namir Noor-Eldeen, a prominent photojournalist who worked for Reuters.
Though he was only 22 when he was killed, friends and coworkers describe him as a well-respected, brave human being who left behind an incredible body of work that documents the reality of war in Iraq. Another victim was Saeed Chmagh, a Reuters driver and assistant. He was 40 years old and left behind a wife and four children. Along with the dozen deceased Iraqis, two children were wounded.
I could not help but think about these two human beings who had nothing to do with insurgency and did not even have weapons.
They were normal, hardworking men with families, values and passion for their profession. How come these acts of murder are not covered by the U.S. media? Why do so many Iraqi victims get killed this way and their stories go untold?
In the US, Binghamton, New York may be getting a counter/cost ticker at City Hall which would detail the financial costs of the wars in real time. WBNG reports that the counter is scheduled to go up next week and that the city's mayor, Matt Ryan, "says it's needed so people realize the toll federal spending is taking on local budgets." George Basler (Press & Sun-Bulletin) adds, "Ryan emphasized not one penny of taxpayer money is going to pay for the electronic sign, which will go up next week. The cost, set at about $6,000, is being funded entirely by private contributions from the Broome County Cost of War (COW) Project, a local peace action group that has been demonstrating against the two wars. The group also will pay for the sign's upkeep." USMC Combat veteran Nicholas Legos writes the Press & Sun-Bulletin to remind that the cost of war includes the dead and wounded as well as the financial cost. IPA issued the following press release yesterday:
The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote Tuesday: "A group called the National Priorities Project has a popular web site that keeps a running tally of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It even breaks down the cost per city and suggests what could have been purchased in a year with that tax money. ...
"Matt Ryan, the mayor of Binghamton, N.Y., population 47,000, was so impressed with the numbers for his town that he plans to attach a digital cost-of-war counter to the facade of City Hall. By September, Binghamton taxpayers will have contributed $138 million to fund the wars."
A member of the Broome County Cost of War Project, McAnanama is speaking at a news conference Wednesday with Mayor Ryan.
McAnanama said today: "People need to be aware of the simple facts about where our money is going. This year our Pentagon budget is $700 billion while our community and so many others around the nation are facing cutbacks and crises. ...
"Binghamton taxpayers have spent $140 million for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001, which is more than enough to cover ALL local property tax bills for the next FOUR years. ... New York taxpayers have already spent $67 billion for the seven years of war in Iraq. Compare that to New York State's 2009 High Speed Rail Plan, announced in March of 2009, which aims to spend $10.7 billion to 'transform' and upgrade our transportation systems -- over the next 20 years. ... Private sources paid for the sign and even the electricity for it; no taxpayer funds were used for this project." For further information, see the Binghamton Bridge web site.
Comerford is executive director and Hellman is communications liaison for the National Priorities Project. This year their web site has a tax calculator where taxpayers can put in the amount of federal taxes they paid in 2009 (or 2008) and take stock of how the federal government spent each of their income tax dollars. It also provides localized information that community groups are using to create flyers that some are passing out in front of post offices as many people mail their tax forms tomorrow.
Comerford wrote the piece "Tax Day and America's Wars: What the Mayor of One Community Hard Hit by War Spending Is Doing," which states: "A construction crew will soon arrive to install Binghamton's 'cost of war' counter which will overlook the city's busiest intersection and spur conversation around tax day. During the three minutes local motorists wait at the nearby traffic light, they can join Mayor Ryan in waving good-bye to $100. And Binghamton as a whole can grapple with spending $49,650 in war costs every day of 2010."
For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167
Time and space won't permit more than a link to Zeina Khodr (Al Jaezeera) on Iraqi security (link has text and video) but hopefully we can pick it up tomorrow and we may cover another hearing from today in tomorrow's snapshot.