Saturday, November 20, 2010

Still waiting on that 'movement' towards a government in Iraq

Yesterday a roadside bombing targeted Iraqiya's Mohammed al-Khalidi. John Leland and Khalid D. Ali (New York Times) report it was three Members of Parliament who were targeted (with, as known yesterday, one bodyguard killed and two others injured), that the bombing took place between two military checkpoints and that "police issued a warrant for two soldiers at the checkpoints, who then fled their post, heir weapons behind, said Atheel al-Najafi, the governor of Nineveh Province, who is a brother of the speaker." Parliament meets on Sunday and we're all supposed to pretend Jalal Talabani will 'just now' be naming a prime minister-delegate.


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 "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, thirteen days and counting.

Again, the Parliament is scheduled to meet on Tuesday. At the start of the month, there was much "Now they're on track!" nonsense. That was due to their finally holding their second and then third session. As the month winds down, they finally get around to the fourth meeting. Feisal Amin Rasould al-Istrabadi (Today) observes, "Seven months after Iraq's national elections, the United States has publicly denied taking sides in the wrangling over who will be Prime Minister. Privately, however, the US is backing the incumbent, Mr Nouri Al Maliki. The US has applied tremendous diplomatic pressure on Iraq's Arab neighbours to get them to accept another Maliki term. Most have refused. Initially, the US backed Mr Maliki in order to keep the Sadrist bloc from gaining a share of power. However, that has now backfired, since the Sadrists are the only group other than Mr Maliki's coalition of Shia parties that supports him."

In other violence, Reuters notes an armed Mosul clash in which one child was injured, Mosul notes a 1 army col was shot dead, a Shirqat bombing claimed the life of the wife of a police officer and left their child injured, a Shirqat sticky bombing injured two security guards and, dropping back to Friday, 1 suspect was shot dead by Iraqi forces in Mosul. On the Shirqat bombing targeting a police officer's home, Xiong Tong (Xinhua)quotes an unnamed police source who states that the bomb was planted inside the house.

Tuesday's snapshot included the following:

Meanwhile Ahmad Al Akabi apparently took his own life last night. Australia's ABC reports that he was among many immigrants at Sydney's Villawood detention center and that he had been attempting to receive asylum in Australia and that efforts were being made to expel him from Australia and send him back to Iraq: "Mr Al Akabi came to Australia by boat 12 months ago. He was a teacher and a truck driver in Karbala in southern Iraq. His fellow asylum seekers say his bid to stay in Australia was based on claims of persecution from the Shia Mahdi Army." AFP adds, "Human rights supporters said the man who had hanged himself in a bathroom on Tuesday was an Iraqi in his 40s who had left a wife and four children behind in Iraq, and arrived in Australia on a boat about a year ago."


Tuesday, the Christmas Island Detention Center was the site of protests for the late Ahmad Al Akabi. Australia's ABC reports that at least 10 people attempting to seek asylumn "have sewn their lips together" and that "180 other detainees are engaged in a peaceful protest in a common area at the centre." An unknown number are refusing food. Padraig Collins (Irish Times) adds, "The Social Justice Network, a refugee advocacy group, said about 250 asylum seekers on Christmas Island had been on hunger strike since Wednesday. The detainees, who are from Iran, Iraq, Algeria and Palestine, declared a hunger strike after they heard about the suicide of an Iraqi detainee, Ahmad al Akabi, in Sydney's Villawood detention centre earlier this week." AP informs, "The detainees are demanding reviews of their rejected refugee applications and speedier processing. Some have been housed in detention centers for more than a year." SBS presents Australia's Minister of Immigration Chris Bowen's position which is 'we don't negotiate with detainees' ("distressing" situation but it will have no impact).

In the US, whistle blowers continue to be targeted. We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "Non-Violent Response Urged to Oppose U.S. Aggression" (Scoop):

People the world over must find non-violent ways to oppose American military force lest they suffer the fate of the Iraqis---hundreds of thousands dead and a nation in ruins.


Given the growing menace of the American war machine, non-violent soul force should be considered as a response in international conflicts just as it was used nationally by Mahatma Gandhi in India and by the Reverend Martin Luther King in America.


During the Sixties, the Urban League's Whitney Young Jr. said of American blacks, “We can't win a shooting war.” He was right. He and other black civil rights leaders supported Dr. King's approach. The success of their non-violent movement made America a better nation in which to live.


Today, in response to U.S. arrogance and aggression, non-violent "soul force" must be seriously considered, particularly by small nations of the sort the U.S. has a history of overthrowing or attacking. It will require courage and restraint by the threatened nations but they will earn the sympathy and support of the world by displaying these traits.


Nations faced with illegal assault by the U.S.---here Iran is an example as the U.S. has criminally threatened it with nuclear war---could announce they will not fire back or oppose an invasion.


If this seems like a lot to ask, consider the alternative: the futility of stopping a sophisticated U.S. war machine funded with $800-billion a year. (Did you know the Pentagon spends more for war than all 50 American states spend for peaceful purposes?)

Does a small nation with a $5- or $10-billion defense budget think it can “win” against USA? Does it think it will not suffer horrendous casualties if it fights back?




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Iraq's targeted communities

Iraq's targeted communities can be boiled down to anyone not supporting the thug exiles the US government re-installed after the invasion. The cowards who plotted in absentia for decades and decades from the safety of other countries, involving the entire world in their petty little melodramas of he-wronged-me-how. Thugs who support violence when they've got American military standing in support of them, but when on their own, turned tail and ran right out of the country. They spent decades plotting and scheming ways to involve the entire world in their own little war. They had Tony Blair's ear, they had George W. Bush's ear. And when the Iraq War started, these 'brave hearts' finally made it back into Iraq -- a number of them less than 24 hours before the 'fall' of Saddam Hussein's statue so they could take part in the 'crowd' for that photo op.

Most thugs -- though not all -- have a shared trait: cowardice. They don't and won't stand up if they're at risk. But with the US military as their own personal bodyguards, the thugs finally found their 'courage.' And that 'bravery' has allowed them to personally target and to oversee the targeting of various groups in Iraq. Revenge is their motive for targeting the Sunni population. Hatred and ignorance is their 'excuse' when they attack women, Iraq's LGBT community and, yes, Iraq's religious minorities.

Iraqi Christians are one of the minority groups who have long been targeted since the start of the Iraq War. The latest wave of attacks started October 31st with the siege of Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church and the death of at least 70 people with over seventy more injured. Sam Eyoboka (Vanguard) reports, "Peeved by the continued massacre of Christians in Iraq, the umbrella body of Christians in Nigeria, the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, has appealed to the United Nations, UN, to intervene and save the lives of the Christian hostages in interest of world peace. Speaking in an interview, the National President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor also appealed to the Muslim fundamen-talists in that country to take advantage of the Muslim feast of Eid el Kabir to ensure that lasting peace reigns in that region." From Nigeria to Rome, Asia News notes, "Card Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI), said that the Italian Catholic Church was close to all 'those who are victims of violence'. He made the statement as he promoted a Day of Solidarity with Iraqi Christians, who are persecuted in their own country. The event includes prayers in all Italian parishes this Sunday." Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco is quoted stating, "Inviting everyone to pray for the persecuted Christians of Iraq in all the churches of our country on the occasion of the Solemnity of Christ the King is a concrete way to express our faith and show our closeness to all those who are victims of violence, like the people affected by the 31 October carnage in Baghdad's Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral."

A number of e-mails came in this week on one topic. PV Vivekanand (Gulf Today) covers that topic:

Is creating a new Christian-dominated province in northern Iraq a solution to the plight of Christians in the country? Well, that is the question being raised after Iraqi Christians proposed the idea and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani expressed support for the call, which came after a bloodbath in a Syrian-Catholic church in Baghdad in October.
Representatives of Assyrian, Chaldean and Aramaean Christians in Iraq are proposing the creation of an autonomously administered region for their people in the Ninewa province in the northern part of the country. “In the Ninewa plains, Christians, Shabak, Yazidi and Muslim Kurds make up the majority of the population. Thus the Assyrian/Chaldean/Aramaean demand is completely justified,” says the president of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), Tilman Z├╝lch.

Vivekanand words that carefully. Others haven't. Jalal Talabani is not calling for it, he is not leading on the part of it. His 'support' is worthless. If you doubt that, you missed Leila Fadel's article for the Washington Post this week where she detailed that, though Talabani's swearing he won't sign on for an execution, he never has and yet executions have continued in Iraq. In other words, he loves to grandstand but he doesn't do a damn thing about it. Jalal's latest weak statements have somehow been taken up around the world painting him as 'fair' and 'heroic' and -- as usual with Jalal -- he hasn't done a thing to warrant the praise.

Equally true with this 'proposal' is the fact that it has been a dead-ender. It has repeatedly been suggested. Most recently in the fall of 2008, during another heavy wave of persecution. Kirkuk is disputed territory and it's true that's at least partly due to it being an oil-rich region. But Iraq's borders are not growing. Any effort to 'give' land to one group will lead to objections from other groups. This notion of a Christian land (the new Israel?) has been floated throughout the Iraq War. It has never taken off. It most likely never will. It's a distration and that's why we ignored it. It's not reality. Christians are a minority in Iraq. They have neither the power nor the influence to get their own land.

Should the impossible happen, it would breed anger, distrust and violence because others would have to be displaced in order for 'new' land to be 'created.'

That's going to happen with Kirkuk. But the 2005 Constitution guaranteed that would be the case. Kirkuk has to be resolved and it's going to be a case of competing claims of being wronged and injured. However it is resolved -- and it needs to be resolved by Iraq or by the UN because the US does not need to be a party to it, there will be injured parties and the conflict over that region that has gone on for some time will continue.

Those thinking that new land will be discovered in Iraq or that new land can be magically stitched together by Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are kidding themselves.

Also kidding themselves? Editors at the New York Times for allowing this sentence in "Honor Killing in Iraqi Kurdistan:"

But the couple should never have married without permission.

Had that been a quote of someone being interviewed for the article, no problem. But it's not a quote. It is the third paragraph of the article -- in full -- presented as fact. It's a judgment, it's an ethical judgment (posing as a moral one) and it doesn't belong in a report.

'Honor' killing? Not something we defend or justify in the so-called civilized world. We also don't push the belief that someone killed 'asked for it' but that's exactly what that opinion masquerading as fact in the report does.

The following community sites -- plus Antiwar.com, Liberal Oasis and Washington Week -- updated last night:


We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "Cervical Cancer can be Prevented Yet 13,000 women in the US get it" (Global Research):

While one of the singular achievements of American medicine in recent years has been to reduce the largely preventable incidence of cervical cancer, 13,000 women nevertheless will come down with it this year mainly because they have not had a Pap smear to detect it. As the disease ordinarily takes about 10 years to progress, “cervix cancer happens to be a cancer that you can use screening techniques to try to pick up early” and treat, says Dr. Ursula Matulonis, of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Globally, about 40 percent of the 500,000 women stricken with the disease will die for lack of a proper medical treatment, she says. That's because women in some countries do not routinely get Pap smears and when the transmitting agent, human papillomavirus(HPV), infects the cervix it does not get treated because of society's inadequate medical infrastructure. When the disease is undetected and allowed to grow, the victims will suffer pain and bleeding as the cancer spreads. It is caused by one of the 75 types of HPV, a ubiquitous virus that is present in both men and women and which causes 95 percent of the cancers.


Compared to other forms of cancer, the cervical form is still a relatively rare tumor, Dr. Matulonis says. Ovarian cancer afflicts 25,000 American women annually; breast cancer, 180,000 women; and lung cancer about 200,000 women. Since the cervical form can be detected early and treated successfully, the number of women who have Stage IV cervical cancer “should be zero,” she says. Even though the death rate from cervical cancer has been declining by 4 percent a year, the grim news is that, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition of West Hills, Calif., more than 4,000 American women die of the disease annually. Many of them are of the 11 percent of U.S. women who do not have Pap screenings.


The Pap test is used by gynecologists to detect any premalignant or malignant cells gathered from the outer opening of the cervix and examined for abnormalities. In general, observes Wikipedia, the test is recommended for women aged 25 to 65 who have had sex. “Most women contract HPV soon after becoming sexually active. It takes an average of a year, but can take up to four years, for a woman's immune system to control the initial infection. Screening during this period may show this immune reaction and repair as mild abnormalities, which are usually not associated with cervical cancer, but could cause the woman stress and result in further tests and possible treatment,” Wikipedia says.


It's important for folks to know that you do not have to have intercourse to spread the virus, but that the virus could be spread just by skin-to-skin contact,” Dr. Matulonis warns, explaining that the virus “probably gets into the cervix cells just by small breaks in the skin.” Dr. Matulonis made her comments in an interview with law Professor Diane Sullivan for the Comcast SportsNet broadcast “Educational Forum,” produced by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. “Worldwide, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in adults,” Wikipedia reports, noting that more than 80 percent of American women will have contracted at least one strain of HPV by age fifty.



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thomas friedman is a great man






oh boy it never ends















Friday, November 19, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Friday, November 19, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqiya targeted with a bombing, Congress explores differing medical evaluations from DoD than from VA, PTSD, and more.
Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), USA Today's Susan Page filled in for Diane and her panelists were David Ignatius (Washington Post), Courtney Kobe (NBC) and Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Newspapers). Iraq was alluded to but not a topic itself. We'll note one of the times it was alluded to.

Susan Page: Getting several e-mails from people expressing a lot of concern about what's happening in Afghanistan. Here's one from John, who writes us from Missouri, he writes, "2011, 2014, 2020 or beyond, Afghanistan will not turn out well. Like Iraq, there will be thousand of our troops remaining into the foreseeable future. There's been no victory in Iraq. There will be none in Afghanistan. We sacrifice our young men and women plus trillions we do not have. To my government, I say, 'How dare you?'"
Courtney Kobe: Well that's a tough argument -- tough statement to argue against.
There was much in the second hour but not much on Iraq. Ava and I may pull from it for a piece on White House communication -- this 'new' problem -- which was discussed at length. But without the needed foundation. And last Friday, Susan also filled in for Diane and spoke about international issues with Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Washington Post), David E. Sanger (New York Times) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers). Iraq was a major topic then and I noted in last Friday's snapshot that we tried to pick up another point Nancy A. Youssef was making.
Susan Page: Well it's certainly true that no foreign policy issue played a role -- a significant role -- in the midterm elections except the degree to which the economy is a global concern. But you go back four years and the war in Iraq played a big role in the political debate that year. So how can you be certain that this remains not on the front burner for Americans?
*Nancy A. Youssef*: I agree. I mean, I think rising troop deaths could effect that. Also, as we talk about where cuts need to be made and the Pentagon keeps coming back and saying we need however many billion dollars to keep fighting this war, how much room they'll have to do that. We saw the commission that the president put together -- the fourteen member commission recommend budget cuts. I think Rajiv and David are absolutely right but I also think the war is a fickle issue and can crop again in domestic politics.
[Added: Apologies, "*Nancy A. Youssef*" because I wrongly said "Leila Fadel" when dictating the snapshot. My apologies to both Youssef and Fadel and to those reading.]
Nick Turse (Asia Times) notes, "Notably unnerving for the Obama administration was a deal reportedly brokered by Iran in which Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- whose forces had repeatedly clashed with US troops only a few short years ago -- threw his support behind Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, currently vying for a second term in office. This was allegedly part of a regional agreement involving Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah that could leave the US military out in the cold. A source informed the Guardian that 'Maliki told [his new regional partners that] he will never extend, or renew [andy bases] or give any facilities to the Americans or British after the end of next year'." Nouri gave his word, did he? He also gave his word to the US. If there was one characteristic of Nouri's occupation of the post of prime minister from 2006 through 2010, it was his non-stop ability to break his word. Now we could provide many, many examples of this -- of Nouri wooing Iraqis with one version of what-if and wooing his American string-holders with another, but Turse is writing about Nouri promising Iraqis that the US military will not be staying in Iraq so let's use the best example for that. This is most like in late 2006 when Nouri renewed the United Nations mandate authorizing the occupation of Iraq, bypassing the Parliament in order to do so and creating massive ill will in the process. In response to the outcry, Nouri promised that this was a one-time thing and he would, of course, not bypass the Parliament again. But 2007 rolled around and, golly-gosh, there was Nouri doing the exact same thing he'd done as 2006 concluded, the exact same thing that had outraged so many, the exact thing he'd promised not to do.
Could this be the time that Nouri double-crosses the US? Possibly. The US influence is waning. But it's equally true that the US government has so compromised themselves that Nouri would be crazy to double-cross them. Events of this year demonstrated for all to see that the US government doesn't give a damn about the fate of the average Iraqi and will break any and every rule in order to back up Nouri. They've looked the other way with regards to torture. Does it really look like if Joe Biden's worst case scenario comes true (Nouri begins attacking his own people -- a scenario Joe publicly floated in April of 2008) that the US military will be used to take Nouri down? No. The US government this year's actions indicate that the US government will order the US military to ensure that Nouri is protected and remains in place. It's a reading Nouri has as well, an opinion he shares. And he would not have remained prime minister from 2006 through 2010 were it not for the presence on the ground in Iraqof the US military. He would have been overthrown and one of the many conspiracies to put his head on top of a pike in Nasser Square would have been more than the starting point to one of his public and paranoid remblings, it would have been reality.

So Nouri could go back on his promise to the US. That's the thing about free will, you never know what will happen. But he could stick to it. His past record -- as well as what would personally benefit him -- indicates he is likely to stick with the promise he made to the US government. As Lily Tomlin says to Jane Fonda in 9 to 5, "Well I'll be damned. Just look who got paid off for services rendered."

And he's currently prime minister-delegate and may or may not be Iraq's next prime minister. 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 "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, twelve days and counting.
A great deal of time has focused on the power-sharing arrangement between the big blocks but Nick Turse (Asia Times) explores the power-sharing arrangement Nouri first worked out with Shi'ite slates:
Notably unnerving for the Obama administration was a deal reportedly brokered by Iran in which Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - whose forces had repeatedly clashed with US troops only a few short years ago - threw his support behind Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, currently vying for a second term in office.
This was allegedly part of a regional agreement involving Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah that could leave the US military out in the cold. A source informed the Guardian that "Maliki told [his new regional partners that] he will never extend, or renew [any bases] or give any facilities to the Americans or British after the end of next year."


Nouri gave his word, did he? He also gave his word to the US. If there was one characteristic of Nouri's occupation of the post of prime minister from 2006 through 2010, it was his non-stop ability to break his word. Now we could provide many, many examples of this -- of Nouri wooing Iraqis with one version of what-if and wooing his American string-holders with another, but Turse is writing about Nouri promising Iraqis that the US military will not be staying in Iraq so let's use the best example for that. This is most like in late 2006 when Nouri renewed the United Nations mandate authorizing the occupation of Iraq, bypassing the Parliament in order to do so and creating massive ill will in the process. In response to the outcry, Nouri promised that this was a one-time thing and he would, of course, not bypass the Parliament again. But 2007 rolled around and golly-gosh, there was Nouri doing the exact same thing he'd done as 2006 concluded, the exact same thing that had outraged so many, the exact thing he'd promised not to do.

To get US support and backing for another term as prime minister, Nouri promised that he would allow the US military to remain on Iraqi soil past 2011. That is why the US government allowed Nouri to remain prime minister instead of heeding calls for the UN to appoint a caretaker government. This week, Gareth Porter (Dissident Voice) broke new ground with his monumental scoop detailing how the White House has actively been working to decieve the US voters into believing the Iraq War would end when, in fact, it would not. NSC-er Puneet Talwar was dispatched to offer Iraq 15,000 US troops after the end of 2011 'withdrawal' and to explain that the would simply shove these 15,000 under the US Embassy to hide the remainders. Excerpt from his article:


The Iraqis also asked whether the 15,000 regular combat troops could be augmented with Special Operations Forces, according to the Iraqi official's account. Talwar said the additional deployment of SOF troops after the withdrawal deadline would be possible, because the United States had never publicly acknowledged the presence of SOF units in Iraq.
The Pentagon signaled last summer that it was assuming the post-2011 U.S. military presence in Iraq would be less than 20,000 troops. In a press briefing last August, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East, Colin Kahl, said Iraq "is not going to need tens of thousands of [American] forces".
Talwar also told the Iraqis that any deployment of combat troops in Iraq beyond the termination date of the U.S.-Iraqi agreement would require a letter from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Iraqi officials said the letter would be sent.


Could this be the time that Nouri double-crosses the US? Possibly. The US influence is waning. But it's equally true that the US government has so compromised themselves that Nouri would be crazy to double-cross them. Events of this year demonstrated for all to see that the US government doesn't give a damn about the fate of the average Iraqi and will break any and every rule in order to back up Nouri. They've looked the other way with regards to torture. Does it really look like if Joe Biden's worst case scenario comes true (Nouri begins attacking his own people -- a scenario Joe publicly floated in April of 2008) that the US military will be used to take Nouri down? No. The US government this year's actions indicate that the US government will order the US military to ensure that Nouri is protected and remains in place. It's a reading Nouri has as well, an opinion he shares. And he would not have remained prime minister from 2006 through 2010 were it not for the presence on the ground in Iraqof the US military. He would have been overthrown and one of the many conspiracies to put his head on top of a pike in Nasser Square would have been more than the starting point to one of his public and paranoid remblings, it would have been reality.

So Nouri could go back on his promise to the US. That's the thing about free will, you never know what will happen. But he could stick to it. His past record -- as well as what would personally benefit him -- indicates he is likely to stick with the promise he made to the US government. As Lily Tomlin says to Jane Fonda in 9 to 5, "Well I'll be damned. Just look who got paid off for services rendered."
Implementing the agreement hinges on two main conditions: first, creating a National Council for Higher Strategic Policies with real executive power and second, lifting the ban on political participation by three important Sunni leaders -- Rasem Awadi, Saleh Mutlaq, and Dhafer Aani. The agreement also calls for launching a national reconciliation process.
But the agreement does not appear to be legally enforceable. Take the National Council, for instance. While it was originally created to curb Maliki's power, it cannot do so without a constitutional amendment, and the constitution precludes amendments until the end of the this election cycle four years hence. Therefore, the council's influence will depend largely on Maliki's willingness to comply with its decisions. That likelihood is not great.
In today's reported violence, Saad Abdul-Kadir (AP) reports a Mosul roadside bombing attack on Iraqiya's Mohammed al-Khalidi and, while Khalidi survived, 1 bodyguard was killed and another injured. Reuters also notes that 1 "oil facility guard" was shot dead outside his home in Mosul.
Religious minorities remain targeted in Iraq and we'll drop back to Tuesday's snapshot for an overview of one group being persecuted:

Now turning to the Mandaeans. This group goes back centuries -- and may date back to Antiquity -- and now is estimated to number less than 100,000. Until the Iraq War began, the majority of Mandaens could be found in Iraq. Like other religious minorities, they've become external refugees (many have fled to Iran, others to Syira and Jordan and a small number have left the Middle East). It's estimated that as much as 90% of the community has left Iraq since the start of the Iraq War. In 2007, US professor Nathaniel Deutsch wrote a column for the New York Times calling for the US to grant this community refugee status (which did take place) and noting, "Unlike Christian and Muslim refugees, the Mandeans do not belong to a larger religious community that can provide them with protection and aid. Fundamentally alone in the world, the Mandeans are even more vulnerable and fewer than the Yazidis, another Iraqi minority that has suffered tremendously, since the latter have their own villages in the generally safer nother, while the Mandeans are scattered in pockets around the south. They are the only minority group in Iraq without a safe enclave." Nadia Keilani is an Iraqi-American, an attorney and a Mandean. In 2008, she explained for CNN: "I belong to a religious minority called Mandaean, also known as Sabeans or Sabean-Mandaean. We are a Gnostic sect that claims Adam as the first in a line of "teachers" and John the Baptist as the last. Even today, our baptisms are conducted in the same manner that John the Baptist baptized Jesus and others of his time. Mandaeanism is a pacifist religion that forbids violence even in defense of life. In the anarchy that is today's Iraq, this has proved fatal to the existence of this small but important part of human religious history." The water issue is important to the faith when resettling. Lakes and rivers being ideal due to the baptisms. Settling is not a small issue and it goes beyond the issue of needing to be near a body of water. Keilani noted, "To be a Mandaean, you must be born to two Mandaean parents. To survive, Mandaean communities must exist in large enough numbers for young people to meet, marry and have children. Since 2003, the number of Mandaeans inside Iraq has dwindled to fewer than 5,000. Tens of thousands are scattered throughout Europe, Australia and the United States. The results of this diaspora are clear: Our religion probably will cease to exist in my children's lifetime."


Rudi Stettner (The Rant) notes some objections and concerns regarding asylum for Mandaeans:

That may well be the case, but Mandaeans seem to be very good low risk candidates to accept as refugees. They are pacifists, they do not proselytise and have an attitude of extending charity to Mandaean and non Mandaean alike. The largest community of Mandaeans in the US is the greater Boston area with about 450 of them.It would be good for the various countries that have taken in Mandaeans to work with the Mandaean leadership to at least settle groups of Mandaeans in close enough proximity that they can easily maintain regular contact. The Mandaeans have endured terrible trauma as a community since the start of the war in Iraq. It is not hard to understand their desire to survive as a community. We should try to work with them on this issue.

Jason Dzubow (ILW) argues
, "In this instance, the UN and the receiving countries should make a greater effort to resettle the Mandaeans in larger number in order to create sustainable communities. If not, this ancient religion could vanish forever." All religious minorities are targeted in Iraq (as are women, the LGBT community, you name it). Iraqi Christians have been targeted throughout the illegal war. The latest wave of attacks began October 31st when Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked and over 70 people died and over seventy were wounded. Noori Barka (San Diego Union Tribune) observes, "Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, along with the rise of terrorism within Iraq, more than 60 Christian churches and monasteries have been bombed and destroyed. Thousands of Christians have been killed, kidnapped and injured. This wave of displacement reached a peak during the years 2006 - 2008, in which the number of displaced Christians in Mosul, in the north, was more than 10,000 people.[. . .] Since the American invasion in 2003, the Christians of Iraq have faced a real ethnic cleansing campaign. Ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity under the statutes of the International Criminal Court. The U.S. has both a legal and moral obligation to protect the Iraqi Christians along with all the other vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities, to offer them equal constituational rights, to preserve their identity, religion and culture, and even to have a small share of Iraq's oil revenues, as the Iraqi Arabs and Kurds do."


Turning to the US and service members and veterans issues, yesterday the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee held a hearing. Committee Chair Daniel Akaka's office released the following:

WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing today on the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). This evaluation system, recently tested as a pilot program, is a collaborative effort between VA and DoD to streamline the process by which servicemembers are evaluated for disabilities by both departments.

"Both departments must ensure that each new location has what it needs to effectively operate the Integrated Disability Evaluation System before it is expanded," said Chairman Akaka. "The rush to move forward quickly should not come before our goal to provide a quality process to servicemembers.

"If broadened before it is ready, the new process could negatively impact servicemembers and veterans. I am optimistic that an effectively implemented program will improve the transition from active duty to civilian life for warriors disabled during their service to the nation."

Currently, wounded servicemembers who are discharged after receiving their disability rating from the military must go through the process again to receive a new rating from VA. The program, if implemented effectively, would eliminate this duplication.

At the core of IDES is a joint disability medical examination that can be used for the existing DoD Medical Evaluation Board/ Physical Evaluation Board process and VA disability compensation process. The hearing examined the problems that have surfaced over the course of the pilot program and VA and DoD's plans to expand the program worldwide.

John R. Campbell from the Department of Defense, Daniel Bertoni from the Government Accountability Office, and John Medve from the Department of Veterans Affairs provided testimony for this hearing.

Chairman Akaka and the other members of the committee posed a number of questions regarding issues encountered during oversight visits in the pilot phase of the program, including shortages of staff to perform disability medical evaluations, program funding, and program participants' satisfaction.

More information about the hearing including statements, testimony and the webcast is available here: LINK.

Who determines disability for veterans and active duty service members? The Defense Dept or the VA? The question matters because they grade differently, on different criteria. Currently, there is a test program, begun in November 2007, where the two evaluation systems are integrated.

US Senator Richard Burr explained Thursday morning, "For any servicemembers whose medical conditions keep them from continuing to serve in the military, there must be an effective, hassle-free process to get them the benefits and services they need and help them to smoothly transition to civilian life. But, several years ago, it became very clear that the disability system at the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs was not living up that standard. In 2007, news reports, as well as several panels of experts, detailed how injured servicemembers had to go through a long, bureaucratic process at DoD, followed by a similar process at the VA, to find out what disability benefits they would receive. Wounded servicemembers and their families were becoming frustrated, confused and disappointed with both systems."


Three witnesses appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee: the Defense Dept's John Campbell, the VA's John Medve and the Government Accountability Office's Daniel Bertoni.

In his opening remarks, Chair Daniel Akaka declared, "While streamlining the two systems is important, the implementation of this joint program has not been without problems. At a few pilot sites, VA staffing shortages, due to a lack of personnel to conduct disability medical examinations, caused significant delay in the processing of servicemembers. There were also personnel shortages at DoD among those responsible for guiding servicemembers through the new process. Issues of servicemember satisfaction and quality of life are also of concern. Other issues have been identified through Committee staff oversight and by the GAO in its draft report on the new process. These include problems with integrating VA staff at military installations, difficulty in having various I.T. systems work together, and ensuring that an adequate number of DoD physicians serve on Medical Evaluation Boards. The Committee needs to hear from VA and DoD on how these challenges are being addressed."
Chair Daniel Akaka: Mr. Bertoni, in your opinion, are the Departments adequately addressing all the major problems that were identified during the pilot? I ask this because I'm concerned that some issues might not be fully addressed before it's rolled out to the rest of the military.

Daniel Bertoni: As noted in -- in our statement, I think that they made progress in several areas -- especially in regard to getting out in front of the staffing issues. That's a big one. Uh, I-I can't stress that one enough. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of specialized services and skills and services they need and there's at least an acknowledgement that the staffing portion of this or the component of this is critical to success and we would agree with that. It's how we're going to get there that is a question to us. You can relocate, you can hire, you can bring in additional contractors but we would really like to see or need to see a service delivery plan or an operations plan going forward to discern how that's going to happen. And I-I appreciate the comment that you all may be looking back at the original 27 sites do sort of look at those issues because I think there are still lingering issues out there in regards to staffing that are very important. Beyond that, certainly the issue of monitoring. I think having good MI data at the local level as to what's happening with these particular sites. If things start to go awry, staffing shifts, attrition, problems with diagnoses, problems with exam summaries -- you can know this sooner, rather than later, and get out in front of that problem and come into play with remedial training, guidance, etc to sort of prevent some of these issues from getting worse. So there's an acknowledgement. There appears to be a plan. We haven't seen that operational plan but at least there's an acknowledgement that there's some issues to work on.

Chair Daniel Akaka: Thank you. Mr. Campbell and Mr. Medve, are you both able to track individual sites to determine if there are problems with staffing and insufficient medical exams. Mr. Campbell?

John Campbell: I would like to make the point that no site will go into IOC unless it passes a series of-of strict tests. We have checklists. We're looking at the sites weekly, those that are in - in prepartion for the expansion, we're looking at them weekly to make sure that they pass these tests. And once the sites go live, we will be monitoring them as well. So I believe that it's probably fair to say that no service member is going to be endangered. We're not racing to get the sites complete so we can adhere to some timeline. This is really a criterian driven basis and we - we feel comfortable that we have sufficient safeguards built in that the sites will not go live until they're ready.

Chair Daniel Akaka: Mr. Medve?

John Medve: Senator, thank you for the question. And I'd like to echo what Mr. Campbell said. I mean we have instituted as a base of lessons learned from the pilot sites a certification process that now has a much more robust understanding of the requirement that will inform staffing decisions. During the pilot site, I think we used about a year's worth of data and it turned out not to include things like how many deployment cycles sites had gone through which had an impact on the number of cases and the type of cases that sites went in, which impacted the type of examinations that needed to be done . So we now use a multi-year view of that. Obviously, our understanding as we've gone through has increased and we are developing robust staffing plans for the oncoming sites. And, again, just to reiterate what - what Mr. Campbell said, and we made it clear to all sites that unless there is the capability and the capacity to move forward, they are not to move forward with this.

Chair Daniel Akaka: Thank you, Mr. Campbell. I'm concerned that VA may bear a disproportionate burden in administering this program. Can you respond with your thoughts on that?

John Campbell: Yes, sir. I'd be happy to. We have signed -- the DoD and VA have signed a memorandum of understanding -- an agreement -- to share these costs equitably and the process is one where the costs will be allocated as - as they - as they become live costs and then, at the end of this period, we will look at whether we owe the VA money or they - they owe us money?

Chair Daniel Akaka: Senator Burr, your questions.

Ranking Member Richard Burr: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Bertoni, VA and DoD have estimated that the IPDES system is faster than the old legacy disability process. Now their estimate is the old legacy process was 540 days. But you noted, and I quote, "The extent to which the IPDES is an improvement over the legacy system cannot be known because of the limitations in the legacy data." And that the 540 day estimate, again I quote, "is based on a small non-representative sample of cases." And, first of all, can you explain for the record how many cases were used to come up with the 540 day estimate?

Daniel Bertoni: Yeah. I - I believe that originated with the original table-top exercise way back in 2007 where I think there were 70 cases where -- across all services where they went in and looked at the average processing time for those kind of cases and came up with a number for DoD's side of the shop and that was about 300 days. And then they extrapolated to the VA side with an average of can take up to 200 days and to process a VA claim and tack that on to the overall total so they came up with the 540 day average. We had some concern with that. It's not as rigorous as we would like. We tried to reconstruct it on our own and we found very quickly that it was an apples to oranges comparison by trying to bring in the various services in the Army. It really wasn't possible in terms of the quality and the integrity of the data. We did do our own analysis of the Army data which we felt was sufficient to do this type of analysis. And Army being -- representing 60% of the IPDES cases? Pretty substantial if we could verify that and we did our analysis and were able to determine that it came out to about 369 days to complete that IPDES portion of the process. Recongnize that it would be reasonable to assume that it could possibly take up to 200 days to complete the VA rating side. So, uh, fairly reasonable estimate -- not entirely rigorous.
Senator Mike Johanns stated he was concerned about nuts and bolts issues and asked, "How pervasive is the issue of the different diagnosis between VA and DoD?" Daniel Bertoni claimed/seized the question . . . saying having just done an audit . . . that there was no answer to that at present. Okay, Johanns tried again, if DoD says one thing and VA says another, is the service member just "stuck in limbo" until it's resolved? Bertoni noted that it had "to be resolved. That can take time. [. . .] Right now, there's no specific DoD guidance of how that's to be resolved." Johanns wondered, "If there's no guidance, how do you even solve the problem?"
Senator Scott Brown: It seems like several years now that the DoD and the Dept of Veterans Affairs are kind of doing the blame game when it comes to the DS pilot program and meanwhile military members are trying to move on with their lives. Frankly, from what I've heard, the hurdles seem very high for them. They're waiting, hoping the doctor's appointment don't get cancelled, months and sometimes years go by, and as a result of that, I'm a little uneasy with the declaration made by the DoD that plans to conduct a global rollout of this program by the end of next Fiscal Year is something that you're focused on actually doing . It seems like a decision of this magnitude -- in my view -- requires a better understanding of the measurable verified factual basis on which the DoD has made the decision to launch a worldwide program. Beacuse, unless I'm wrong, there seems to be a lack of personnel and resources to do that. So I guess, with that being said, my question is: Will this program require more medical exam doctors throughout the country and across the globe? Mr. Campbell?
Campbell stated, "Nothing will roll out unless we're convinced -- both VA and DoD -- that these sites are ready." Medve stated that VA was addressing staffing issues. Brown also wanted to know if there were efforts -- "any new program," any "thinking outside the box" -- being made to help service members find employment as they transitioned out and while they were waiting for medical evaluations?
The most disturbing moments of the hearing were in its final minutes. Ranking Member Burr was basically giving Bertoni -- GAO staff -- a walk through on what needs to be done and how you measure tasks, etc. Great that Burr knew it but sad that the GAO -- for all Bertoni's comments after of, basically, 'I know' -- didn't know enough to be properly prepared. This was followed by Bertonia declaring, "I don't think that any of the averages are being met right now in terms of the goals for the program." That should have been in his opening statements so that it could have been explored as opposed to in his second to last response of the hearing.
June 22nd, the Senate Armed Services Committee took testimony from various officials -- one of which was Gen Peter Chiarelli who referred to PTSD as a behavioral issue. As we noted then: "PTSD and TBI are not behavioral issues (I am aware some treat them as if they were, I'm also aware those treatments do not have longterm success rates) and that, after all this time and all this supposed education, a United States general doesn't know that, doesn't grasp that, it's rather telling. And it goes a long way towards explaining the manner in which the second response was delivered which was in a between-you-and-me kind of way and seemed to mock the illnesses. Not behavior issues, illnesses. And the Army would do well to get away from that term as well as to get away from calling medical providers 'behavioral specialists'." Today Chaplain Kathie (Veterans Today) notes a Fort Drum doctor is also calling PTSD a "behavioral health condition." Chaplain Kathie points out, "The idea that PTSD is a 'behavioral health condition' is more like a slap in the face to all veterans with PTSD because of what comes with it. Some of the symptoms of PTSD do in fact cause problems with what they do and what they say but if the doctors view PTSD the same as a child needing to be punished and sent to their room because of their behavior then maybe we're finally getting to the bottom of where all these bad attitudes come from."
July 24, 2007, the Justice Dept [PDF format warning] announced their indictment of Houston's Samir Mahmoud Itani, owner of American Grocers, Inc, who was "charged in a 46-count indictment with conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims and with making fale claims." Specifcally, he was supplying the US military in Iraq with food -- with bad food, out of date food -- and changing the dates on the boxes. P.J. Huffstutter and Andrew Blankstein (Los Angeles Times) report that Itani will be paying $15 million and that the company was allegedly using not only nail polish to remove original expire dates on packaging but they also "used acetone, spray pain or a small drill."
At Amped Status, David DeGraw takes on the issue of the federal reserve. TV notes. On PBS' Washington Week, John Harwood (New York Times), Janet Hook (Wall St. Journal, David Sanger (New York Times) and Pete Williams (NBC) join Gwen around the table. Gwen now has a weekly column at Washington Week and the current one is "GREAT EXPECTATIONS: The New Congress Comes to Town." This week, Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Melinda Henneberger, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mercedes Viana Schlapp and Tara Setmayer to discuss the week's news on the latest broadcast of PBS' To The Contrary. And this week's To The Contrary online extra is a discussion about a potential White House in 2012 by Sarah Palin. Turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:


Merchant of Death
The Drug Enforcement Administration agents who caught the alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout explain how they lured and then captured the suspect one of them calls "one of the most dangerous men on the face of the Earth." Armen Keteyian reports. |
Watch Video

Designing Life
Steve Kroft profiles famous microbiologist J. Craig Venter, whose scientists have already mapped the human genome and created what he calls "the first synthetic species." |
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Mark Wahlberg
From street thug, to rapper to actor and now producer, Mark Wahlberg has reinvented himself to the top of the Hollywood heap. Lara Logan profiles Wahlberg as he prepares for his most challenging role: a boxer. |
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60 Minutes, Sunday, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.