Thursday, July 22, 2010

Militarizing the State Dept

Can diplomats field their own army? The State Department is laying plans to do precisely that in Iraq, in an unprecedented experiment that U.S. officials and some nervous lawmakers say could be risky.
In little more than a year, State Department contractors in Iraq could be driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft, operating surveillance systems, even retrieving casualties if there are violent incidents and disposing of unexploded ordnance.

The above is from Warren P. Strobel's "State Dept. planning to field a small army in Iraq" (McClatchy Newspapers). Strobel may be the only reporter whose grasped the implications of US Ambassador James Jeffrey's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday (click here for Tuesday's snapshot, Wednesday's snapshot, Kat's coverage, Ava's coverage and Wally's coverage). And it is "Ambassador Jeffrey," to ___ who e-mailed stating Jeffrey hasn't been confirmed. Hasn't been confirmed to the post of US Ambassador to Iraq. Yes. However, he is currently -- as he himself noted in testimony at the hearing -- US Ambassador to Turkey. It's really astounding how little press attention the hearing received. Last month a historic visit took place to Turkey and that got little attention as well. Even though PBS' NewsHour had Turkey's Foreign Minister on as a guest the day before, they didn't even bother to ask about the meeting. Robert Olson (Lexington Herald-Leader) offers:

Turkey reportedly offered KRG President Masoud Barzani these choices when he visited in June: The KRG takes unilateral armed action to destroy PKK bases in Iraq; or the KRG, Baghdad government and/or U.S. forces take joint action against the camps. Failing either of those, Turkey undertakes "unilateral armed action against the PKK in Iraq," including a substantial land invasion.
Turkey's top commanders say the U.S. -- loathe to diminish the political and military power of the KRG or the Kurds in Iraq -- would oppose a major Turkish incursion. But if the PKK attacks from Iraq into Turkey continue, Ankara may risk U.S. ire by launching an invasion into northern Iraq because Turkish nationalist outrage against the PKK and Kurds could hurt the ruling Justice and Development Part (JDP), led by Prime Minster Recep Tayyib Erdogan, in next year's national election.

Meanwhile, as Justin Vela (Asia Times) notes, Turkey is flooding northern Iraq with investment money which is, historically, one way to control a region. Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reports from a PKK camp in northern Iraq:

After a number of abortive approaches, we finally made contact with the PKK.
With the help of a guide, for hours we travelled by car along miles of bumpy, unpaved winding roads up into the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.
When we got to the camp, hidden in a dip in the mountains, our reception was friendly but guarded.
Few of the fighters wanted to talk to us. About a third of them are women. All were dressed in the same heavy green uniform. Most carried Kalashnikov rifles.

Ned Parker and Riyadh Mohammed (Los Angeles Times) and Ernesto Londono and Hassan Shimmary (Washington Post) report on yesterday's violence. Both outlets say 15 dead in the Baquba bombings.

Meanwhile March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. Three months and two days later, still no government. 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. It's four months and five days and, in 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. Today makes it four months and fifteen days without any government being established.

The Council of Foreign Relations' Mohamad Bazzi (New York Daily News) focuses on Moqtada al-Sadr's face-to-face with Ayad Allawi earlier this week, "But Sadr's political ascendance threatens to stoke sectarian tensions in Iraq: His followers were responsible for some of the worst atrocities against Sunnis during the country's recent civil war. Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, unleashed death squads that assassinated Sunnis and drove them out of Shiite neighborhoods." The editorial board of the New York Times weighs in on the stalemate:

Four months after national elections gave a cross-sectarian alliance led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, a two-seat lead over Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's Shiite coalition, Iraqi politicians are still squabbling over who should form the new government. Until that is sorted out, Mr. Maliki is in charge -- a caretaker with limited authority.
The list of problems for the new government to address is long. Iraq's economy is growing, but even the most optimistic estimate puts unemployment at 15 percent. Despite billions of dollars in American aid -- too much of it squandered on corruption and mismanagement -- Iraqis still lack adequate electricity.
Iraqi politicians also have yet to settle some of the most difficult, and potentially combustible, political issues. The government has to come up with a better plan for protecting, and employing, former Sunni insurgents whose decision to switch sides helped quell the violence. They are increasingly the target of revenge killings by Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Parliament still has not agreed on laws for negotiating oil contracts and for sharing oil revenues. Competing Kurdish and Arab claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk must be settled.

In England, Today (BBC News -- link has audio) speaks with Iraq War veteran Sgt Maj John Dale who states, "You can't come back and just switch off." Meanwhile in the US, Iraq War veteran Peter Kastner has taken his own life. WSAW reports that he was discovered at Yellowstone National Park. WQOW notes that Park Rangers began looking for him in May after finding his rental car but only discovered his body last week. His father Larry Kastner tells WXOW that his son suffered from PTSD. KOTV reports that the "autoposy revealed Kastner died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound." KRTV adds, "Kastner had been honorably discharged from the Marine Corps after serving for four years. During his service, he was injured twice by Improvised Explosive Devices while serving in Iraq." John Brewer (Pioneer Press) explains, "Male veterans are twice as likely as civilians of either gender to commit suicide, according to the VA, with 1,000 suicides occurring per year among veterans receiving VA care. About 5,000 suicides occur per year among all living veterans, the VA said, an average of 14 veterans a day."

The House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees have examined the suicide rate and other issues effecting veterans such as education which is the topic of a press release issued by Senator Daniel Akak who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:


Chairman holds hearing on strengthening new education program

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Following a favorable hearing on improving the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) is preparing to move forward with legislation to improve the new program.

“The original GI Bill changed my life and our country,” said Akaka, one of three current U.S. Senators who went to college on the original GI Bill. “I am committed to strengthening the new program for post-9/11 troops and veterans, and I look forward to moving this improvement bill to a vote.”

Akaka is the author of a S. 3447, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010, a bill to enhance the new education benefit for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is scheduled to hold a markup of pending legislation on August 5, 2010, at which point Akaka intends to bring the bill up for a vote.

At the hearing yesterday, witnesses testified in support of the legislation and offered suggestions.

Eric Hilleman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars stated that Senator Akaka’s legislation “addresses every area of concern the VFW has with improving the Post-9/11 GI Bill.”

Tim Embree from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America offered ideas for the draft bill as well as IAVA’s endorsement. Embree said the “discussion draft of S. 3447 will improve the New GI Bill and ensure that all student veterans have access to the most generous investment in veterans’ education since World War II.”

Akaka, a World War II veteran, attended the University of Hawaii-Manoa on the original GI Bill. He cosponsored the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and worked with Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) to revise and negotiate the legislation. More information about the hearing, including statements, testimony and the webcast is available here:

For more information on the GI Bill, please visit


Kawika Riley

Communications Director

U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman

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