Monday, June 1, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Iran may have entered Iraq's borders, a US (Republican operative) goes on Al Jazeera and says the MidEast is occupied by "barbarians," Iraq's Supreme Court certifies election results . . . almost 100%, and more.
The northern region of Iraq is the Kurdistan Regional Government and, throughout the Iraq War, the northern region has been bombed by the Turkish military. These days, Iran's shelling is becoming a concern. (Iran and Turkey share a border above Iraq.) Sherko Raouf, Shamil Aqrawi and Matt Robinson (Reuters) report that there are rumors (denied by Kurdish officials) that Iran has entered northern Iraq but that over 100 Iraqi families have fled the area in the last seven days. Sunday Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN)reported the Iranian shelling claimed the life of 1 teenage Iraqi girl in nothern Iraq. Xinhua (link has text and audio) identified the 14-year-old as Basouz Jabbar Agha. As with the Turkish military, Iranian military claims their target is the PKK -- a group identified by many countries (including the US) and the European Union as a terrorist organization and one that has established a base in nothern Iraq (among other places). [They would actually claim their target is PJAK and we're not drawing a line between the PKK and PJAK here -- they have the same leader, the same goals and are 'mingled' in the northern Iraq bases.] The PKK seeks an official Kurdish homeland (usually within Turkey) and points to decades of persecution. One of their leaders is Abudllah Ocalan who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999. The BBC reported over the weekend that he was rumored to have announced "he was abandoning efforts for dialogue with the Turkish government." Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hold a terrorism summit on Wednesday (Turkey labels the PKK a terrorist organization).
Meanwhile AFP quotes an unnamed "security official" stating that Iranian troops have moved "three kilometers" into northern Iraq. Caroline Alexander and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) quote KRG spokesperson Kawa Mahmoud stating, "These reports about an Iranian incursion into Krudistan are totally false. There may be Iranian activity near the border, but there is no incursion." The reality? At this point unknown. Iran's most recent invasion of Iran (December 2009) was greeted with denials from some Iraqi government officials and from some Iranian government officials. But the violation of sovereignty did take place. From the December 18th snapshot:
Iraq's requesting that Iran withdraw. Caroline Alexander and Margot Habiby (Bloomberg News) report, "Iraq's National Security Council said today that Iran violated their shared border and Iraq's 'territorial integrity' and called on the Islamic republic to withdraw its forces from the region." Timothy Williams and Eric Schmitt (New York Times) add, "The Iraqi government said Friday that Iranian troops had crossed the border and occupied a portion of an oil field situated on disputed land between the two countries, but Iranian officials immediately and vehemently disputed the account." Dow Jones Newswires states they were told that by a Missan Oil Compnay official that "Iranian forces took hold of an Iraqi well in a disputed section of the border after opening fire against Iraqi oil workers"; however, the official tells Dow Jones this action took place "two weeks ago." Suadad al-Salhy, Missy Ryan and Ralph Boulton (Reuters) quote Ahmed Ali al-Khafaji, Deputy Interior Minister, stating, "At 3:30 this afternoon, 11 Iranian [soldiers] infiltrated the Iran-Iraq border and took control of the oil well. They raised the Iranian flag, and they are still there until this moment." Gulf Daily News adds, "Officials have summoned Tehran's envoy in Iraq to discuss the matter, he said. Iraqi officials said the soldiers crossed into Iraqi territory yesterday and raised the Iranian flag at Fakka." Mosab Jasim (Al Jazeera) states, "The Iraqi president called for an emergency session to discuss what they describe as a violation from Iran, but nothing came out of the meeting and whatever actions they are going to take are still not clear." The President of Iraq is Jalal Talabani. However, the report indicates Jasim was referring to Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) offers this context, "Reports of the incident aggravated long-standing tensions between the countries, which fought a 1980-88 war that claimed as many as a million lives. Although Iraq's Shiite Muslim-led government and Shiite Iran have grown closer since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Iraq's Sunni Muslim dictator, Saddam Hussein, border issues remain thorny, with sporadic posturing from both sides." If it's been seized, what's been seized? Alice Fordham (Times of London) explains, "The well is one of several in the Fakka oil field, which was part of a group offered to foreign investors in June, but no contract was awarded." She also notes that Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani went on state television to insist, "Iraq will not give up its oil wealth" today. Adam Arnold (Sky News) offers US military reaction: "A spokesman for the US military confirmed the soldiers had taken control of the oil well but added it was in 'disputed territory' near the border and happened fairly frequently. 'There has been no violence related to this incident and we trust this will be resolved through peaceful diplomacy between the governments of Iraq and Iran,' he said." While that source is unnamed US Col Peter Newell is on the record offering Arnold context. What really happened? Who knows? It will slowly emerge over the weekend, most likely. What is known is that the talk/rumors/incident had one result. Nick Godt (MarketWatch) reports that the rumors led to an initial rise in the price of oil per barrel today.
Today Alsumaria TV reports, "Central Quality Control revealed that local mineral water bottles in Iraq are more polluted than imported water bottles." Look for Nouri al-Maliki to attempt to spin that as yet another reason why he should continue as prime minister despite four failed years in the post already. Alsumaria TV reported Monday that Nouri was in the Kurdistan Region trying to drum up support there. Nouri continues his stay in the Kurdistan region as he continues attempting to woo the Kurdistan bloc. Alsumaria TV reports that he'll talk today with Jalal Talabani. Talabani is the current president and would like to remain as such -- the two will no doubt attempt to cut a deal on that; however, Jalal's not very popular in the KRG these days and, deal or no deal, his support may end up a negative and not a blessing.
March 7th, Iraq completed Parliamentary elections. Since then, Nouri has done everything legal and illegal to attempt to remain prime minister despite his political slate's second place win. Saturday Khaled Farhan (Reuters) reported, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday his party would not compromise on its choice of government leader, resisting pressure from potential coalition partners for him to step aside." Saad Abdul-Kadir (AP) added the "comments revealed an unwillingness to budge in negotiations." Mshari al-Zaydi (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reported Saturday that the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani has stated he is favoring no one and quotes Iraqiya's Raif al-Issawi stating, "Al Sistani expressed no explicit support for anyone." One meeting that has not taken place is between Nouri and Ayad Allawi. Sunday Rahmat al-Salaam (Asharq Alawsat Newspaper) reported, "An informed sources who spoke to Ashraq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed that the reason that Iraqi Prime Minister and leader of the State of Law coalition Nuri al-Maliki backed out of a meeting with the leader of the Iraqiya bloc Iyad Allawi, was a visit undertaken by a senior official from one of the neighboring countries. The source said that 'the official's visit which took place two days prior to the meeting that was scheduled to take place between Allawi and al-Maliki was to put pressure to prevent this meeting from taking place, and that is what happened'."
Who should form the government? In Alsumaria TV's ongoing poll, 58.59% currently say Ayad Allawi. Of course it's a nonscientific poll but then so was the one Quil Lawrence and others pimped the day after the election -- the one that had Nouri's State Of Law sweeping the elections with a clear majority. No doubt due to time and space limitations, Quil and the others were unable to explain that Nouri's spokespeople provided them with the poll or that State Of Law paid for the poll. You had to go to the European media to find those facts out. Hassan Hafidh (Wall St. Journal) reports that the election results have been certified by Iraq's Supreme Court . . . But it's never that easy. 323 people have been certified as winners. But there were 325 races. The two not certified yet are Iraqiya's Omar al-Karbouly and the Iraqi National Alliance's Furat Muhssein Saeed. Jim Muir (BBC News) points out that this development should not be read as the coalition government is on the verge of being formed and, "The ruling meant that all Mr Maliki's relentless efforts to whittle away at Mr Allawi's narrow lead by lodging complaints and demanding a manual recount in Baghdad were in vain. The court referred the cases of two of the elected MPs for further examination, but only one belonged to the Iraqiyya bloc, and both could be replaced from within their own lists, so this would not make any difference." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) explains what, according to the Constitution, is supposed to happen next, "Within 15 days, President Jalal Talabani is supposed to summon the new parliament for its first session, at which the 325 legislators are to choose a speaker and two deputies. Within 30 days of that first meeting, the parliament is to elect a new president, who will be empowered to ask the leader of the biggest bloc to name a prime minister and form a government." Andrew England (Financial Times of London) notes, "Diplomats hope the parties will form an inclusive government that represents all groups in a nation blighted by sectarian and ethnic divisions. But the concern is that Iraq will have a Shia-dominated administration, similar to the one that took office in 2005. If so, Arab Sunnis, who turned out in force to vote for Iraqiya, may feel excluded from the political process." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the following statement today:
I welcome today's action by the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court certifying the results of the national election. Voter turnout in the March 7th vote was strong across Iraq's 18 provinces. Iraq's electoral commission and security forces successfully organized and carried out a credible and competitive election. Since then, the electoral commission has worked in a careful, professional way to bring the process to this concluding point. This experience demonstrates that Iraqis want to use the political process to choose their leaders and settle differences.
With the election results officially certified, we call on Iraq's political leaders to move forward without delay to form an inclusive and representative government that will work on behalf of the Iraqi people.
In the coming months, we will work together as our partnership continues its transition with the goal of building a robust and long-lasting relationship between our two nations -- a partnership that will contribute to growing peace and prosperity in Iraq and stability in the Middle East.
Meanwhile Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that Iraqi exiles with ties to the Ba'ath Party, apparently former leaders, have held meetings in Istanbul and Damascus:
The groups could find receptive audiences in Iraq if the next government is widely seen as having insufficient Sunni representation. Many Sunnis accuse the Shiite-led Iraqi government of being sectarian, pointing to factors such as the disproportionate number of Sunni detainees and efforts to weed out Sunnis from government jobs.
Sunnis made a strong showing in the March 7 parliamentary elections, propelling the largely secular Iraqiya bloc to a first-place finish. The bloc did not win enough seats to secure the majority needed to form a government, however, making it likelier that an alliance of two Shiite groups will appoint the new prime minister.
Hannah Allam (McClatchy's Miami Herald) observes, "The nearly three-month delay is frustrating for ordinary Iraqis, who risked their lives to vote, and for American officials, who need to coordinate the full withdrawal of U.S. forces with the next government. The Obama administration hopes to have just 50,000 service members remaining in Iraq by the end of August, but many political observers are skeptical that the incoming Iraqi government will be seated by then." Adam Levine and Paul Steinhauser (CNN) report on a new CNN - Opinion Research Corp poll which found that if an Iraqi government is formed by August, US respondents support the drawdown by 64% but that public approval slips to 51% if there's not a government in place. The term "stable" is used, that's a qualifier and it's meaningless. Go over the polling data and the judgment being made by respondents is whether or not a government is in place. The slip still keeps those favoring the drawdown at above 50%; however, go over the polling data and you see weakening factors. In other words, should a bloodbath take place in Iraq, that over 50% could drop further.
"For seven long years, experts kept telling us Iraq stands at crossroads," Jasim noted on the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera began airing Friday) before beginning a discussion with journalist Robert Fisk, political analyst Anas Altikriti and and noted 'scholarship' provider Jack Burkman.
Jasim Azawi: . . . Robert Fisk, the domino effect that was predicted by Condalezza Rice as well as Bush that once that Iraq becomes a democracy, the rest of the Middle East -- We will wake up and we will find democracy. That was seven years ago. Has that happened?
Robert Fisk: Well flowers grow very well in graveyards and I think that first of all we never planned. We never planned what was going to happen after overthrowing Saddam. And then our own morality -- which has been outrageous -- has always been based on the fact that whatever we do in Iraq is okay because it's always going to be better than Saddam was. The fact that we constantly bring up Saddam as being a kind of linchpin of awfulness against which our actions must always be better -- well they would be, wouldn't they? That applies to Hitler too.
Jack Burkman: (Interrupting and cross talk) What have we done wrong? I'm just curious.
Robert Fisk: Well a million dead. 100,00 dead --
Jack Burkman: You said American morality is terrible, what have we done wrong?
Robert Fisk: I didn't. I actually said "we," Jack. I associated you and I together at that point as "the West." America is not the only Western nation. The point --
Jack Burkman: How is Western morality bad? What have we done wrong? Tell me what we've done wrong. You said morality's bad. How is it bad?
Robert Fisk: Well I can tell you straight away. We have more troops per head of population, more Western soldiers in the Muslim world than we did at the time of the Crusades. That's not very good, is it? That's not about --
Jack Burkman: So!
Robert Fisk: -- democracy. That's about --
Jack Burkman: So!
Robert Fisk: -- military domination. That's not about democracy. That's the problem. These people in this region -- including Iraq, which you say you love so much, or you appear to. They would love doctors, they would love our academics, they would love our engineering, everything. But it seems to me, given the situation, they don't want our soldiers. And this is something that America will not realize.
Jasim Azawi: Before Jack responds, let me ask Anas a very simple question posed by Jack: What wrong have we done? Go ahead.
Anas Altikriti: Well I assume from Jack's introduction that he hasn't recently visited Iraq nor has he walked the streets of Iraq, nor has he visited any towns and cities up and down Iraq. Most of which most of us here couldn't even name let alone locate on a map. Anyone who would, anyone who had the experience of doing so would find a totally different story to the one reflected by Jack or at least within the perception of what Jack introduced and that is that this has been a success. I-I-I would like to assume that when he says that this is a success story he's talking about America and American insterests -- which, by the way, even then we could argue that America has been served very badly by this escapade; however, if he also meant to say that this success extends to the Iraqi people then that is not only ludicrous, it is preposterous. And it's extremely offensive to the Iraqi people, as Bob said, 100,000s of whom cannot even be with us today to testify to the fact of whether they like it or not simply because they have perished as a result of this particular escapade.
Like many a woman not paid by Jack, I don't feel the need to feign interest in his babbles. So we'll skip ahead to pick up when he begins getting really offensive and please remember he was speaking on Al Jazeera.
Jack Burkman: You know, I mean, think about it. Your George Bush. It's the aftermath of 9-11. You look at this region. You've got a bunch of, uh, oh, I hate to say it, but you've got a bunch of barbarians in the desert. What do you do with this region? You have to take a step to improve the region. You can't just drift on --
Jasim Azawi: Who are you calling "barbarians in the desert," Jack Burkman?
Jack Burkman: Oh, I mean let's face it, let's face --
Jasim Azawi: No, who are you referring to? I would like you to point that out.
Jack Burkman: I'm referring -- I am referring to the entire MidEast. The world is doing well, the world --
Jasim Azawi: Barbarians? Barbarians?
Jack Burkman: This world -- Sure they are! You've got people living in the sixth century, for God's sake. I mean, most of the Islamic world, Islam has become this crazy ideology where people are living in the sixth century. I mean -- and they want to blame -- they want to blame the colonialism. They want to blame the British and the Americans --
Jasim Azawi: Jack Burkman, if there was ever any sympathy before this show started with you, you lost it when you called "barbarian in the desert."
Jack Burkman: You have to understand something. If you look at, I mean -- George W. Bush -- look at what kind of countries you had. You had Saddam there. The fact that Saddam was taken out -- Bush had to make, uh -- Bush had to do something to improve the region --
Anas Altikriti: Why? Can I ask you why -- why did he have to do something? Was it out of the kindness of his heart? Was it to rescue these "barbarians," as you put it, from their own selves and their own "crazed ideologies," as you put it? I mean, why on earth do you think George W. Bush -- I mean, who's the barbarian here, Jack? You have sent your sons and daughters to bombard peoples' homes, to burn their homes, to obliterate their livings and they have done nothing to you. Yet they are the "barbarians" in this case? I'm sorry. I beg to differ. I beg to differ.
Yesterday was Memorial Day in the US. Terry Gross notes Memorial Day by offering a repeat of a March interview with Military Times' Kelly Kennedy (Fresh Air, NPR), Law & Disorder explores ongoing wars, Korea and military tribunals (in all news segments from Michael Ratner, Michael Smith and Heidi Boghosian), Amy Goodman uses the hour of Democracy Now! to offer Noam Chomsky explaining inequities and the last two can be listened to at the WBAI archives in addition to the show links. For All Things Considered (NPR -- link has text and audio), Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported from Iraq:
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: At 9 a.m. at Forward Operating Base Union in Baghdad's Green Zone, a few dozen soldiers came together to mark Memorial Day. The flag was raised and then lowered to half-mast in honor of America's fallen. Everyone observed a moment of silence. Iraq has faded from the headlines. The U.S. mission is winding down. By summer's end, if all goes according to plan, the U.S. force will be cut in half. But for many here, including Major General Michael Barbero, who has spent a total of 36 months serving in Iraq, the memories of those who have died here live on.
Major General MICHAEL BARBERO (Commander, Multi-National Security Transition Command): Stories of sacrifice are often highlighted in our society for only a short period of time. Over time, the power of their example fades. The strength of their sacrifice diminishes and the nobility of their service is forgotten. And this is why Memorial Day is so important, for on Memorial Day, as a nation, we pause to honor and celebrate our veterans and to remember.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thirty-seven-year-old Major Leticia Bryant(ph) was also in attendance. This is her first tour. She says she wants her friends and family back home to remember what this day is really about.
Major LETICIA BRYANT: I posted on my Facebook account. I was like, you know, before you guys head off for your long weekend or fire up those grills, you know, just take a moment to think about those families that won't be with their loved ones because, you know, they've laid down their lives for you to have these, you know, these freedoms. And so you got to remember that. So I posted that on my site.
Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports from Camp Victory, "They thought about their families waiting for them to come home. They thought about the fallen comrades lost in the past seven years of occupation and war. They thought about what would come next. "
Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) also reports from Camp Victory in Iraq on Memorial Day reflections of service members and notes, "Speeches at the ceremony never mentioned American contractors, who've assumed increased responsibilities with the drawdown of U.S. forces. The Obama administration plans to have just 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq by the end of summer, though the lack of a stable Iraqi government threatens to delay that goal." Meanwhile CBS News' David Martin (link has text and video) used Memorial Day to highlight Iraq and Afghanistan service members who have lost limbs:
David Martin: May was a cruel month. The number of service men and women who have lost an arm or a leg since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began went over 1,000, many of them more than one. They come here to the physical therapy room at Walter Reed. And you lost both legs?
Sgt Maj Raymond Mackey: I lost both legs, yes, sir.
David Martin: Above the knee?
Sgt Maj Raymond Mackey: Both are above the knee, yes, sir.
David Martin: So that makes it tough.
Sgt Maj Raymond Mackey: It does -- but, you know, you gotta' -- you gotta' keep going.
David Martin: Marine Sgt. Maj Raymond Mackey stepped on a mine in Afghanistan last December 23rd. His goal is to be walking again by next December 23rd.
Sgt Maj Raymond Mackey: I have just got my legs, my C-legs, my computer legs, I'm learning how to put them on and how to fire it to where the knee comes forward and everything like that.
Yesterday our survey of veterans noted, "Veterans of the current wars participating in the survey feel that PTSD is an important issue but feel that other wounds -- hearing, blindness, loss of limb -- top three cited and in that order -- are not being addressed in committee hearings." Maybe Martin's report will motivate Congress to explore these wounds. Tomorrow morning at North Dakota's Fargo VA Medical Center, US Senator Kent Conrad will be taking part in PTSD awareness event:
For many of our soldiers returning from war, the battle does not end when they come home. All too many veterans today face Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms like anxiety, anger, and depression as they try to adjust to life after war. We cannot sweep these problems under the rug. PTSD is real. More must be done to educate veterans, families and communities about this illness and the resources and treatments available to them.
I recently learned about the efforts of North Dakota National Guardsmen to draw attention to PTSD and pay tribute to Staff Sgt. Joe Biel, their friend and fellow member of the 164th Engineer Combat Battalion. Biel suffered from PTSD and took his life in April 2007 after returning to North Dakota following his second tour in Iraq.
The efforts of Sgt. Biel's friends to raise awareness of PTSD inspired me to draft a Senate Resolution declaring June 27 National PTSD Awareness Day. This campaign is all about awareness, assuring our troops -- both past and present -- that it's okay to come forward and say they need help. They need to know that it's a real sign of strength, not weakness, to seek assistance.
I will present Sgt. Biel's friends from the 164th Combat Engineer Battalion with a copy of the Senate Resolution on Wednesday, June 2, at the Fargo VA Medical Center. If you are in the area, I encourage you to join me in this effort to raise public awareness about PTSD.
Again, the event will be held Wednesday, June 2, at 10:00 am at Fargo VA Medical Center, 2101 Elm Street North in the UND Atrium.
I hope you can join us.
Meanwhile US Senator Daniel Akaka's office notes:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Kawika Riley (Veterans' Affairs)
May 28, 2010 (202) 224-9126
AKAKA INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO IMPROVE GI BILL
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) introduced S. 3447, a bill to improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits program. Akaka introduced the bill yesterday to provide a starting point for discussion among Members of Congress, veterans service organizations, and concerned Americans who want to improve this important benefit program.
"The World War II GI Bill changed my life, and my generation," said Akaka, one of three current senators who attended college on the original GI Bill. "Hundreds of thousands of troops and veterans are already using the new GI Bill to pursue their education. Now that we have seen the benefit in action, this new legislation can improve the existing framework. I look forward to working through a comprehensive legislative process to pass a good improvement bill," said Akaka.
Senator Akaka chaired an oversight hearing on the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill on April 21: LINK
To read Senator Akaka's introductory remarks on the bill in the Congressional Record, click here: LINK
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman
On American Public Media's Marketplace yesterday (link has text and audio), Bob Mommn spoke with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Tim Embree about the Post-9/11 GI Bill and modifications that are needed:
Moon: One of the issues that I've heard discussed is online courses or distance learning isn't covered under the current law. Why is that important?
Embree: Well, what it is is we have a lot of folks that maybe come home and are dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or recovering from a traumatic brain injury or live in a rural area, and they're trying to attend these non-traditional colleges, online, through correspondence, because a lot of times they can't get to the brick-and-mortar schools. So we want to make sure that their tuition is covered, and also they have a living stipend. Because we know how tough it is where if you're taking a class online -- and the reason for that is because maybe it is tough for you to get out of the house -- we want to be able to make it so these folks can pay their rent or pay their mortgage.
Moon: What about troops returning from service who don't want to go to a four-year college?
Embree: That's a big one. If you actually look at the original GI Bill, over 70 percent of folks in the original GI Bill went to vocational schools, on-the-job training programs, and apprenticeships programs. And that was one of the things that we're really trying to push to be part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. In fact, Senator Akaka just the other day dropped the comprehensive upgrade package that we had been working with his office as well as Senator Webb's office and a few other folks on. And this is one of the things that it points out is making sure that folks can go to vocational schools, can go to on-the-job training, can do that apprenticeship. Because these are the folks that are opening up your mechanic shops, and your repair shops. These are the EMTs and folks like that. So it's a really important thing.