Friday, November 12, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues until Nouri names a cabinet (and Parliament votes it stamp of approval), criticism of Nouri comes from all over, Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted, Julie Sullivan reports explosive news on the burn pits, the US military states they killed a politician's brother because he was attempting to kill them (didn't Barack say combat was over in Iraq?) and more.
Yesterday, horse trading allowed Iraq's Parliament to elect a Speaker, , and to elect Jalal Talabani (again) to the ceremonial post of president. Despite assurances and claims to US officials that Nouri would be named prime minister-delegate November 20th, Talabani immediately named him and the US government is currently attempting to figure out whether this was due to concern over the Iraqiya walkout or was part of a deliberate effort on the part of Nouri's bloc and the Kurds to deceive their US benefactors. On the horse trading, Nussaibah Younis (Guardian) weighs in:
If Iraqi politics is to continue in this way, we can all sit back and relax -- waiting every five years for the elections that mean nothing, the backstage horse trading in which politicians nakedly vie for personal advantage, and finally the divvying up of power between groups in a way that promises to hamstring the new government before it has even begun.
The 2010 elections gave Iraq's politicians a rare opportunity to take politics in another direction. Together, Allawi and Maliki gained overwhelming support because they spoke of Iraqi unity, reconciliation, and reconstruction. But when it came to forming a government, self-interest won. Neither could bear the thought of not being prime minister, and both were content to drag the process on and on -- waiting to clinch a political advantage while ordinary Iraqis paid with their lives in the escalating violence.
Jalal Talabani named Nouri prime minister-designate. That is not prime minister. Good for Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) who captures this: "Mr. Talabani then formally nominated Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a second term in office, giving him 30 days to form a cabinet of ministers." This is explained in Article 76 of [PDF format warning] the Iraqi Constitution:
First: The President of the Republic shall charge the nominee of the largest Council of Representatives bloc with the formation of the Council of Ministers within fifteen days from the date of the election of the President of the Republic.
Second: The Prime Minister-designate shall undertake the naming of the members of his Council of Ministers within a period not to exceed thirty days from the date of his designation.
Third: If the Prime Minister-designate fails to form the Council of Ministers during the period specified in clause "Second," the President of the Republic shall charge a new nominee for the post of Prime Minister within fifteen days.
Fourth: The Prime Minister-designate shall present the names of his members of the Council of Ministers and the ministerial program to the Council of Representatives. He is deemed to have gained its confidence upon the approval, by an absolute majority of the Council of Representatives, of the individual Ministers and the ministerial program.
Fifth: The President of the Republic shall charge another nominee to form the Council of Ministers within fifteen days in case the Council of Ministers did not win the vote of confidence.
Steven Lee Myers explains, "The long delay in forming a government -- still at least a month away -- frustrated the administration throughout the summer". And he documents some of the efforts by US President Barack Obama himself including phone calls. We've already noted that the US government thought they had a promise regarding the nomination of prime minister-designate coming in on November 20th -- they were either lied to or the walkout changed the dynamics. Eli Lake (Washington Times) emphasizes failed efforts on the part of both Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to get Jalal Talabani to step aside and to do so in order that the (ceremonial) post could be filled by non-Kurd Ayad Allawi. The president's son, Qubad Talabani, confirms to Lake that Barack pressured his father to step aside and states that "the Kurds were disappointed with the United States" over this.Qubad Talabani states, "The Kurds have been the strongest ally and partner of the United States since before the liberation and certainly during it. And for the United States to be leaning on us, as they are now, in effect handpicking the new leaders of Iraq, is not respectful of Iraq's parliamentary system and touches on all of the insecurities of the Kurds, that the United States will once again betray us." What would the Kurds have received if Talabani had stepped aside? Lake reports that Joe Biden promised them both the post of Speaker of the Parliament and the Minister of Oil. While it's long been known that the US government supported Nouri for them to offer the Minister of Oil -- a position Nouri's reportedly promised to three different people -- they must have had some indication from Nouri that he would go along with that. Did they misread Nouri's signals? Regardless, Kurds may not be happy their representatives shot that offer down. Considering the repeated and ongoing disputes over service contracts for oil fields -- conflicts between the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad -- holding the post of Minister of Oil could have given the Kurds tremendous power.
Before I discuss the G20, I want to briefly comment on the agreement in Iraq that's taken place on the framework for a new government. There's still challenges to overcome, but all indications are that the government will be representative, inclusive, and reflect the will of the Iraqi people who cast their ballots in the last election. This agreement marks another milestone in the history of modern Iraq. Once again, Iraqis are showing their determination to unify Iraq and build its future and that those impulses are far stronger than those who want Iraq to descend into sectarian war and terror. For the last several months, the United States has worked closely with our Iraqi partners to promote a broad-based government -- one whose leaders share a commitment to serving all Iraqis as equal citizens. Now, Iraq's leaders must finish the job of forming their government so that they can meet the challenges that a diverse coalition will inevitably face. And going forward, we will support the Iraqi people as they strengthen their democracy, resolve political disputes, resettle those displaced by war, and build ties of commerce and cooperation with the United States, the region and the world.
"Another milestone." Barack's waves of Operation Happy Talk repeatedly include "milestones." While I am aware his vocabularly is highly limited and even more repetitive ("Let me be clear" and "make no mistake" for example), he cries "milestone!" the way Bruce Willis' character constantly cries "miracle!" in Death Becomes Her (one minute and three seconds in on the linked clip). Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), USA Today's Susan Page, filling in for Diane, spoke with Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Washington Post), David E. Sanger (New York Times) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) about Iraq. Excerpt:.
Susan Page: Eight months after their parliamentary elections, there's finally an agreement in Iraq for a power-sharing arrangement but it fell apart almost immediately, Nancy. Tell us what happened.
Nancy A. Youssef: That's right. The Parliament went to meet to start putting together this government that, so far, has Maliki still as prime minister, Jalal Talabani still as president, the Sunni still as Parliament Speaker and within hours the Sunnis walked out. And it really exposed not only how fragile this agreement was but how much sectarianism still dominates Iraqi politics. One of the reasons the Sunnis walked out is that they felt the Shia partners were holding them liable or punshing them for maybe being Ba'ath Party members of some level during Saddam Hussein's regime. That they were still being ostracized if you will. So it now remains precarious once again. It's hard to celebrate this right now because sectarian based politics appear to still dominate Iraq and that's dangerous at a time when we're starting to see rising levels of violence, most notabley a hundred and fifty people killed in the last week.
Susan Page: Rajiv, was this a surprise to US officials?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: No. You know, this was sort of the deal that the Obama administration had been pushing for. They did want Ayad Allawi, who is a secular Shi'ite but who commanded large numbers of Sunni followers, in a more secular, nationalistic slate and who actually won a narrow majority of seats in parliamentary elections lo these many months ago there was a desire to have him assume the presidency -- a largely symbolic role, but it would have shown that a Sunni Arab could be president while Maliki, the Shi'ite incumbent prime minister, would have kept that job The minority Kurdish population, largely in the northern part of the country, did not want to sede that post and this was one of the principle reasons for these months of gridlock. So then the compromise position out of the administration was: 'Alright, let's try to get Allawi to chair a new kind of committee on national security and economic policy' -- a very undefined, vague type role and the powers of which has still not been clearly spelled out and this is partly at the root of a lot of the angst on the part of the members of his coalition. And so what had happened here is that the Obama administration was sort of unable to force that change. Maliki, of course, has a great deal of support from Iran and it was essentially a kind of continuation of the status quo showing yet again how American leverage is diminished over there, how Iranian influence is ascendent and that even though you had a party -- a largely secular party that commanded a slim majority in the elections they were unable to-to bring together enough support to form a government and that the hope that everybody had months ago, that maybe we were seeing the first sort of indications of a more unified, nationalist, secular government starting to take shape has been completely shattered and what we see is the continuation --if not rise -- of more sectarian, divisive politics that will play out perhaps for the next several years.
Nancy A. Youssef: You know, Rajiv mentioned the diminished US influence in the country and that's right but this I call it sort of census-based politics because it breaks down to the proportions of the populations, is something that the United States introduced in 2003 in Iraq still has not been able to let go of. I couldn't help watching the results come out. At what point does Maliki relinquish control of the [prime minister post] and is there some concern about a new kind of strong man setup that's emerging in Iraq?
Susan Page: David?
David E. Sanger: You know Susan in the first hour you were talking about [C.I. note: We are not plugging that book so this section is deleted] . . . what you hear is "You just destroyed Iran's greatest enemy and now you're leaving and you're allowing Iran to spread its influence throughout the region. What's your plan for this?" And I think what we're hearing in this process is that we didn't have a plan for this.
Susan Page: Well we don't have a plan and what is happening is, eight months after the elections, we still don't have a real, functioning government. Does that have the possibility of effecting US committment to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by the end of next year, Rajiv?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Well certainly if violence continues ticking up and the last few weeks have been particularly ugly in Baghdad -- the siege of the church in which more than fifty people were killed, another string of bombings, further attacks on Iraq's minority Christian community. If that violence continues to rise, it's certainly going to put the Obama administration in a much more difficult spot in terms of trying to fulfill that commitment to get all the troops out by the end of 2011 and that is, I think, directly tied to what sort of government they have, If there is a perception and an actual reality in part as seen by the Sunni population that the government doesn't represent them and this government continues to further marginalize the Sunni population -- which you've already seen over the last couple of years with Prime Minister Maliki's efforts to disband the Sons Of Iraq type programs which were seen as instrumental in bringing down the violence a few years ago, you could see, potentially, some of those rejoining some sort of insurgency against the government so there's a very real path that could occur between the political tension that exists in Baghdad and a resumption of violence.
Susan Page: Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates this week for the first time introduced this idea of troops potentially staying. It was a very tepid introduction. Somebody asked him and he said if the Iraqis asked us we would consider it but there are two things that are in the way of it.
Nancy A. Youssef went on to discuss the cost and to note that "even if those troops stayed what effect could they have?" We'll pick up with Nancy next week, hopefully on Monday. My apologies to David E. Sanger who had good points, solid points to make. But we don't promote that book he mentioned (not his own book). That's our stated policy and I ignored Cindy Sheehan's wonderful column because it dealt with that. We are not helping to advance a War Hawk's book, we are not the street team to get the word out and move books for him. With Sewell Chan and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, David E. Sanger has "Obama's Trade Strategy Runs Into Stiff Resistance" in this morning's New York Times and we'll gladly link to that. The issue wasn't Sanger, it was that book and we're not noting it here, we're not going to help create a 'buzz' on it or make it 'controversial.' Our job is not to promote that book.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 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. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with via "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, four days and counting.
With the US shouldering everyone out of the way so that he had no competition and with them able to strong arm Parliament, he still couldn't put a cabinet together and present it to Parliament on time for them to vote on. The odds aren't breaking for him these days. If the rules had been followed, he wouldn't be prime minister-delegate currently. What took place was Nouri refused to compromise or budge -- while the US government insisted the Kurds and Iraqiya compromise non-stop -- and he did so from the illegal position of prime minister. His term expired. The Constitution is clear on that. Allawi rightly asked for the UN to create a caretaker government to be put in place. The US shot down that idea. Refused it. (In part because Nouri's promised Joe Biden that, if he remains prime minister, he'll allow US troops to remain on Iraqi soil after 2011.) Had Nouri been kicked out of the post -- his term had expired -- and a caretaker government set up, he couldn't have dug in his heels. The rest of the Shi'ites didn't want him -- and that includes Moqtada al-Sadr who was doing his usual embarrassing act -- 'We will never support Nouri!' Remember that?
Maybe you remember that Moqtada wanted to paint himself as the picture of democracy? How was his bloc going to determine whom to support? They would hold an election (they did starting April 2nd) and they would go with those results (they didn't, the choice from al-Sadr's election was Ibrahim al-Jaafari). Moqtada broke his word and did so because the Iranian government strong-armed him. None of this goes to a democratic process. Nouri should have been kicked out the second his term was up and the UN should have appointed a caretaker government. Realizing how badly a caretaker government was needed -- even after they shot it down -- the White House began pressing key reporters to start referring to what Nouri was doing -- illegally doing -- as "a caretaker government." They knew if they could get just a few to start doing that, others would follow. And sure enough they did. Nouri could not be part of a caretaker government. Not only because his term as prime minister had expired but also because he wanted to continue in that post.
By allowing him to stay in it during all of this, the US government gave him the power to say -- and he did -- that he would just continue on for months like he was doing. It wouldn't matter -- and didn't to him -- because he was getting to remain prime minister. In fact, he enjoyed even more because he (illegally) bypassed the Parliament repeatedly during his 'caretaking' role.
Mowaffak Rubaie used to be in Nouri's Dawa Party. He also used to be Nouri's National Security Advisor. Now he tells Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times), "I personally am owrried that our whole political program is going down the drain. What did we come for? I campaigned for three things throughout my life: democracy, federalism-community rights and human rights. The Shia are enjoying our community rights but we are persecuting the other community. We are getting closer and closer to a one-party state." Arwa Damon (CNN) reports Allawi is making similar observations, quoting him stating, "This is a new dictatorship that is happening in Iraq. It's becoming humiliating, it's becoming very dictatorial, and they don't want to respect those people who have other views than them." Last night on The NewsHour (PBS -- link has text, video and audio options), Margaret Warner moderated a discussion on the latest trades and deals between Meghan O'Sullivan who served in the Bully Boy Bush administration and Feisal Istrabadi who was Iraq's Deputy Ambassador to the UN (2004 - 2007). Excerpt:
MARGARET WARNER: Let me just interrupt, and quickly, because I -- before we run out of time, what is this going to mean for the violence we have been seeing on the rise in Iraq, Mr. Istrabadi?
FEISAL ISTRABADI: I don't see any indications that Nouri al-Maliki has the first idea of what to do about the rising violence. The violence cannot be dealt with -- and we have been saying this for five years -- the violence cannot be dealt with merely militarily. There has to be reconciliation amongst the various factions. Nothing in Nouri al-Maliki's history indicates that he is prepared to undertake such reconciliation.
In today's violence, Reuters notes a Garma roadside bombing wounded three people and the US military is asserting they were almost attacked by Anbar Provincial Council Member Mahmoud Rasheed Mudin's brother so they had to shoot him (Hamad Rasheed Mudin) dead and another broather was arrested.
One of the killers shot a pregnant woman to death as she pleaded for mercy. Another, killed a bishop then killed another prelate saying, in response to his pleas, "what did you expect?". Members of the congregation noted that the attackers spoke 'classical Arabic' not demotic Iraqi – a strong indication that they were foreigners possibly even non-Arabs who had been taught Arabic by Islamic purists and trained with prepared responses to any emotional appeals by victims. Since 2003, Iraq has become a dar-el-harb zone where global jihadis go to prosecute their fantasies of martyrdom as the sword arm reincarnate of Islam's early warrior days. Sunni Iraqis who joined the 'Sons of Iraq' movement to resist them did so because they saw that these necrolators cared not a whit for the survival of locals. Mesopotamian Syriac Christians are emphatically locals: they descend directly from the earliest of churches founded by Jesus's apostles. They speak a variant of the Aramaic that Jesus spoke. In fact, they are the ethnic descendants of the ancient Assyrians from 2000 B.C.. This much is not open to argument: under Saddam they were better off. Under Mr. Bush's liberated Iraq they may cease to exist after thousands of years. That is saying something, one measure of the enormity his incompetence let loose.
On her knees, slumped over the end of the coffin laid out closest to me, was a young mother who had obviously just lost her husband.
Their bright little daughter, less than two-years-old, was playing on the coffin, and running back and forth - obviously just too young to understand.
Every so often she would ask her mother, "Where's papa?" And the reply would come, "Papa's with Jesus."
You could tell from the dull, faraway look in the mother's eyes, that she was looking back on the life she had been living, that had just been abruptly ended, and ahead to a new, harder life, as a widow with young children to bring up, in a place where life and loved ones could be taken away at any moment without warning.
Iraqi Christian communities had coexisted alongside their Muslim neighbors for hundreds of years. The churches of the two main Christian groups, the Assyrians and Chaldeans are dated back to the years A.D. 33 and 34 respectively. A recent editorial in an Arab newspaper was entitled "Arab Christians should feel at home." As moving as the article was, the fact is and it remains that Arab Christians should not have to feel at home -- they already are at home. Their roots date back to the days of Jesus Christ, and since then they have maintained a unique identity and proud history under the most difficult of circumstances.
I recall a group of Iraqi children from a Chaldeans school dressed up in beautiful dark blue uniforms performing the morning nashids (songs) before going to class. They were so innocent and full of life. Their eyes spoke of promise and excitement about the future. I dread to imagine how many of these children were killed, wounded or forcefully displaced with their families, like millions of other Iraqis from all ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George is the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Catholic Culture reports he has written Barack stating that it is "the moreal responsibility that the United States bears for working effectively with the Iraqi government to stem the violence. Prior to the war, our Conference of Bishops raised grave moral questions regarding the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and warned of 'unpredicatable consequences.' The decimation of the Christian community in Iraq and the continuing violence that threatens all Iraqis are among those tragic consequences." Shaikh Shuja, Chair of the British Muslim Council, writes to the Guardian, "The Muslims of Britain condemn the atrocious crimes of murder of Christians in Iraq (Report, 11 November) and they express their deep sorrow and sympathy for the families of the victims of the heinous crimes committed by people who in reality have nothing to do with any religion. It is a great tragedy that even seven years after the overthrow of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussain, and in spite of enormous financial and other resources thrown into Iraq, the country has yet not seen a strong and viable government which could maintain law and order. This a tragedy not only for the Christians, but all the people of Iraq. One fails to understand what role the US army is playing. If the object of the US army is to provide a viable government in Iraq, then it has certainly failed to do so." The statement continues, we're not interested. Our position is perfectly clear and already established: Iraqi Christians will decide for themselves what they will do -- stay in Iraq or leave. It is their lives, it is their choice. We support all countries opening their arms to welcome this targeted population -- as well as other of Iraq's targeted populations -- and providing asylum. But that's to Iraqis that want it. Those who don't have the right to stay in Iraq. Anyone who is outside of Iraq has no say in the issue. (That includes me.) It is not our decision because it is not our lives. When a statement condemns the attacks, that's good. But when a statement goes on to tell Iraqi Christians they should do, that's wrong. Especially if it's telling them to have to stay in a dangerous place. AFP reports that, following Nouri's whines and attacks, Eric Besson, Minister of Immigration in France, has responded to complaints that France is offering treatment to some of the wounded in the Church siege and offering asylum to some of them and their families, "The French government's concern is not to make all the Christians of the Middle East and of Iraq come here. France's aim is to strengthen the protection of Christians in the Middle East and in Iraq to preserve communities which have been home to multiple faiths for centuries." It's sad that when French immigration officials finally have something to brag about (the policies have not been 'helpful' in the last few years in France) and instead are forced to defend themselves. France didn't kidnap any Christian. They offered help -- needed medical help -- and they offered asylum and they did so at no cost to the Iraqi government. That was real aid and much more than the US government has done, so much more. France didn't create the problem but they did offer real assistance. Martin Chulov and Enas Ibrahim (Guardian) report on Marouky who wants to leave Iraq with her four daughters, "I cannot trust my neighbours. My only solution is to isolate myself and to hide from society. How is this life? I say again that if any country accepts me, I will leave right now."
Charlie Butts (OneNewsNow) speaks with the Vice Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Elizabeth Prodromou: "As for the reaction from Iraqi officials, Prodromou explains that it has 'at least rhetorically spoken about its concern for the plight of these minorities.' So her group has 'asked that they take immediate measures to step up security at these sights'." When noting those who spoke out against the attacks on the Iraqi Christians, I did not even think to check the USCIRF. They issued a statement November 3rd and you can read it here. My apologies for forgetting them. We usually only note them once a year when they issue their yearly report. It was my mistake and error not to check to see if they had issued a statement. We'll include it in full this weekend but we're editing the snapshot right now to get it down below 120 K and there's not room for the statement in it. The Mandaens are also struggling with persecution and asylum and we'll try to include them next week.
The burn pits. "While I was stationed at Balad, I experienced the effects of the massive burn pit that burned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The ten-acre pit was located in the northwest corner of the base. An acrid, dark black smoke from the pit would accumulate and hang low over the base for weeks at a time. Every spot on the base was touched by smoke from the pit; everyone who served at the base was exposed to the smoke. It was almost impossible to escape, even in our living units," L. Russell Keith explained to the Democratic Policy CommitteeNovember 6, 2009. Keith worked for KBR in Iraq at Joint Base Balad from March 2006 through July 2007. Like many service members and contractors, he was unnecessarily exposed to toxins which put his life at risk.
The Chair of the DPC, Senator Byron Dorgan, noted at the start of that day's hearing, "Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only in short-term emergency situations -- regulations that have now been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal, Kellogg Brown & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke."
At that day's hearing, Lt Col Darrin Curtis was among the witnesses and we'll note this exchange he had with Senator Dorgan.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Mr. Curtis, why did you decide to write the 2006 memorandum? And did anyone else at that point share your concerns about the health impact of burn pits?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, Senator, they did. The Chief of Air Space Medicine had the same concerns I did. The memo was initially written so that we could expedite the installation of the incinerators. From my understanding, there were spending limits of monies with health issues and not health issues so I wanted to write the report to show that there are health issues associated with burn pits so that we could hopefully accelerate the installation of the incinerators.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Of the type of burn pit you saw in Iraq in 2006 -- that's some while after the war began and infrastructure had been created and so on except without incinerators -- if something of that nature were occurring in a neighborhood here in Washington DC or any American city, what are the consequences to them?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: At least fines and possibly jail.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Because?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Of the regulations that are out there today.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Because it's a serious risk to human health?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, sir.
Chair Byron Dorgan: You say that when you arrived in Iraq an inspector for the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine -- which is CHPPM -- told you that the Balad burn pit was the worst environmental site that he has seen and that included the ten years he had performed environmental clean up for the Army and Defense's Logistic Agency. And yet in your testimony, you also say that CHPPM has done this study and says adverse health risks are unlikely. So you're talking about an inspector from CHPPM that says 'this is the worst I've seen' and then a report comes out later from CHPPM that says: "Adverse health risks are unlikely. Long-term health effects are not expected to occur from breathing the smoke." Contradiction there and why?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think any organization, you're going to have people with differences of opinion. But at CHPPM, I'm sure that was the same-same outcome there. Cause I don't know if that individual --
Chair Byron Dorgan: (Overlapping) Do you think that CHPPM -- do you think CHPPM assessment that's been relied on now is just wrong?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: (Overlapping) I think -- I think -- Senator, I think the hard line that there is no health effects is a -- is a very strong comment that we don't have the data to say. Do we have the data to say that it is a health risk? I don't think we have that either. But I do not think we have the data to say there is no health risk.
Chair Byron Dorgan: You are a bio-environmental engineer what is -- what is your own opinion? Without testing or data, you saw the burn pits, you were there, you hear the testimony of what went in the burn pits, you hear Dr. Szema's assessment. What's your assessment?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think we're going to look at a lot of sick people later on.
Documents exchanged in an Oregon lawsuit suggest that Kellogg, Brown and Root managers had medical tests proving workers at an Iraqi water treatment plant had "significant exposure" to a cancer-causing chemical, and managers worried about KBR's liability as a result. The minutes of an Oct. 2, 2003 meeting about blood and urine tests from workers at the Qarmat Ali plant contradicts KBR's long-standing claims that there was no medical evidence of harm. The documents also indicate KBR's top health, safety and environmental manager knew plant workers continued to use the toxic chemical long after health alarms were raised. While piles of the corrosion fighter containing hexavalent chromium blew in the desert wind, the workers inside mixing the material wore gas masks.
"The ones responsible" is a category that includes far more than KBR. KBR couldn't have gotten away with what they did without being waived through repeatedly. Last month, Matthew D. LaPlante (Salt Lake Tribune) explained the results of a new GAO report:
Although defense health experts have now conceded that many service members may have been made sick by the fumes, the military is continuing to break its own rules and is continuing to expose its members to potentially toxic emissions, according to a federal audit released Friday. The report, from the Government Accountability Office, also concluded U.S. military leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to monitor burn pit emissions and have been slow to implement alternatives to open-air burning, such as filtered incinerators. Finally, the report describes operations at four large military bases in Iraq where, investigators say, none of the active burn pits were in compliance with current environmental regulations. "I wish I could say, 'Oh my. You're kidding. They're breaking the rules again?' but I'm really just sitting here thinking that nothing has changed," said Jill Wilkins, whose husband died days after being diagnosed with a brain tumor she believes may have been caused by his exposure to burn pit emissions during two tours of duty in Iraq.
Shaleionaires While some complain that extracting natural gas from shale rock formations is tainting their water supply, others who have allowed drilling on their property are getting wealthy and becoming "shaleionaires." Lesley Stahl reports.
Haiti The earthquake made things in already-poor Haiti bad enough, but now a cholera epidemic is threatening to kill more Haitians, whose living conditions after the quake help to spread the water-borne infection. Byron Pitts reports.
Medal of Honor The first living soldier to win the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War tells Lara Logan in an emotional interview just what he did to earn the nation's highest combat honor and how the recognition makes him uncomfortable.