Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, March 22, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, at least one police officer is killed during a protest in the KRG, Baghdad activists explain the point of Liberation Square, Nouri claims safety when security incidents beg to differ, the White House continues to refuse to fall Congress' laws with regards to veterans and service members, and more.
Alsumaria TV reports that Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of the occupation, has declared Iraq to be "the most stable country in the region." Nouri was speaking at an agricultural conference. Nayla Razzouk and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) report that Iraq is need of foreign investment in order for "the country [to] become self-sufficient in grains within three years" and they note that Nouri asserted that Iraq currently is able to produce "half of its grain needs." Oops! Nouri didn't pay attention because Alsumaria reports that Sunday the US Embassy in Baghdad's Ron Verdonk was explaining "that Iraq imports 80% of its annual wheat consumption and 90% of its annual rice consumption". UPI adds that the plan is for Iraq to be "self-sufficient by 2014" when it comes to grain.  Related, today is World Water Day. AFP reported yesterday that the UN has declared Iraq is wasting 50% of its water resources. Alsumaria TV quotes a UNICEF statement: "Iraq faces difficulties in meeting the target of 91 percent of households using a safe drinking water supply by 2015" and "One in five or around six million Iraqis do not have access to safe water, of which the vast majority are in rural areas."  At the start of this month, UNICEF noted:
Unremitting violence not only sets the backdrop of daily life in much of Iraq, it has also weakened governance and crippled the ability of the country to feed, protect and educate its citizenry. Political and economic turmoil has led to the great vulnerabiilty of women and children, who are threatened by poverty, undrenutrition, lack of safe water and sanitation, insufficient educational resources and the prospect of personal violence and abuse.  Iraqis must contend with threats of drought, decimated infrastructure and a large population of refugees and internally displaced people.  The number of displaced Iraqis is counted in the millions, with a large number of Iraqis seeking refuge in neighouring countries and over a million displaced inside the country since the height of 2006 violence. Reutrn of people to their homes is thwarted by continuing fears and insecurity. Vulnerable Iraqi women and children -- whether in Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon or the Syrian Arab Republic -- require sustained, intense assistance to assure basic living standards and fundamental protection in a context of war, violence and political discord.
Aswat al-Iraq also notes Nouri's claim of stability, "Iraq became one of the most stable countries in the region after a period of violence and divisions." Of course, he leaves not only the violence but the fact that 47,000 or so US troops stationed on Iraqi soil guarantee (thus far) that he can't be toppled. His neighbors can't make the same claim, now can they?

Today Baghdad is slammed with bombings. Aswat al-Iraq notes 2 dead and at least eight injured from five bombings in the capital.  Reuters updates that to six bombings with 2 dead and thirteen injured.  Hisham Rikabi (Al Mada) reports that an Iraqi military spokesperson, Maj Gen Qassim Atta, is blaming the resurgence of assassinations and liquidations of government and security officials on opponents upon "criminal gangs and terrorists." Noting the recent assassinations of members of the Ministries of Oil and Defense, Dar Addustour reports that the police are stating that the assailants are using silencers and that people are blaming this increase on the fact that there is still no Minister of the Interior or Minister of Defense. (There is also still no Minister of National Security but that's not mentioned in the article.)  Reuters reports one or two police officers were killed in clashes with protesters in the KRG village of Halabja.
Dar Addustour reports that a senior citizen took his own life in Baghdad (he hanged himself) because he couldn't afford the cost of providing for his family (which included two children who may have been young or may have been kids).  Amer Qaisi pens a column for Al Mada entitled "The Road to Liberation Square."  "Liberation Square" is what protesters have re-named Baghdad's Tahrir Square.  Qaisi notes that every Friday the government attempts to block demonstrators from arriving at Liberation Square. Qaisi notes that protesters must travel between pits and piles of garbage to approach "Liberation Square" and then they encounter closed bridges and roads roped off with barbed wire to prevent vehicles from going an futher.  All of this and the harrassment and abuse of journalists and protesters indicate that the Iraqi government doesn't want to hear the voices making demands. Every Friday, Qasi continues, they must face the same scene all over again as well as the fear mongering of "al Qaeda!" and "Ba'athists!" No one believes Nouri has a magic wand nor that he'll discover Aladdin's lamp but the protests will continue and the protesters will continue to make their demands.
Many voices: Ka-thab.
Jane Arraf: There's a new song in town.
Many voices: Ka-thab.
Jane Arraf: Kathab in Iraqi Abaric means "liar." You hear the chant at every protest in Baghdad -- usually linked with the prime minister's name, Nouri al-Maliki. And when you ask protesters what Maliki's lied about, there's a long list starting with Maliki's claim that Saddam loyalists, Ba'athists, are behind the protests.  Yanar Mohammad is a women's activist.
Yanar Mohammad: Mr. Maliki tells us that we are Ba'athists. And our answer to him is that we all suffered under the Ba'ath.  Many of us escaped.  Many of us went into prisons. And we did suffer in the previous era of the Ba'athists but now in these eight years also millions are suffering, hundreds are being tortured right now in Maliki's prisons.  What about those people?  Why doesn't he answer to that? He says we're either Ba'athists or we are from al Qaeda.  Why is he lying?
Jane Arraf: Mohammad says she's so angry, she wants to storm the Green Zone where the government is based.  In Baghdad's Liberation Square, the protests attract all kinds of people.  Majdi Abdul Khalif is talented enough to have taught himself English from the movies and how to fix cell phones.  But he can't find a job.
Majdi Abdul Khalif: Our patience is finished.  To tell you the truth, we've seen the changes in Egypt and Tunisia and we need to try that.
One of the demands the protesters have made is for an end to corruption.  Dar Addustour reports that the Integrity Commission informed inspector generals yesterday that they could not hide files and that all reports on corruption in institutions will be turned over to the Commission. Al Rafidayn details a few investigations including one involving Ministry of the Interior employees, one of which was caught blackmailing employees of a Baghdad police station.
As noted in the March 14th snapshot, Gen Numan Dakhil, head of Nouri's Rapid Reaction Brigade in Baghdad was caught by the Integrity Commission investigators taking a $50,000 bribe and ordered his forces to attack the IC investigators, leaveing nine injured, three of which required hospitalization.  He was later cornered in a Baghdad shoot out before finally surrendering. Nouri's Rapid Reaction Brigade is back in the news. Al Rafidayn reports that the group is being criticized -- along with the US military -- for raids that have been taking place in Diwaniya Province.  The Provincial Council's Deputy Chair has called out the raids noting that contents of homes have been destroyed and the inhabitants terrorized by the joint forces and that these raids have taken place "without the knowledge of the local government."  He also expressed his surprise that, Baghdad being 180 km from Diwaniyah Province, the Rapid Reaction Brigade would be utilized.  He also accused the US forces of deliberately taking part in the raids in order to antagonize the Sadrists in the province and cause them to retaliate.
From Sardists to Moqtada al-Sadr himself, Xinhua (link has text and audio) reports that while Moqtada condemned the attacks on Libya (by the US, France and England), Nouri al-Maliki's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh read a statement which included, "The Iraqi government supports the international effort that aims to protect the people of Libya."
On the 8th anniversary of the Iraq War KALW was one of the few to do a special and link is audio and transcript.  And the eighth anniversary saw protests around the country.  We noted some in yesterday's snapshot.  KALW reports of the San Francisco protest, "Last Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at San Francisco's Union Square as a part of the International Day of Action in accordance with the eighth anniversary of U.S. military action in Iraq. The event began with a rally, including speeches from students, labor unions and the ANSWER Coaltion." In Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the Taunton Gazette reports, members of Citizens for an Informed Community held a protest as they do each year on the anniversary of the Iraq War.  Jordan Farrar and Joe Bernick (Peoples World) reports:
In Tuscon demonstrators marched and rallied demanding an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.  They also opposed and possible new U.S., military intervention in the region. 
The day began with a spirited march from Armory park, through downtown Tucson and on to De Anza Park for an anti-war rally.  The most prominent signs in the march were for "Jobs not war", and "Healthcare not warfare."
Dear War Loving (Democratic or Republican) Fraud,

I know many of you don't really care, but in exactly 15 days, it will be seven years since my oldest son (whom I never "abandoned" and raised with his father and three siblings until he went into the Army when he was 21), Casey was killed in this Empire's insane War OF Terror. Was Casey the first, or the last? No--but he was my first and the shock knocked me out of my quiet complacency--which was just as wrong as the Empire's unending wars.

When I began protesting, Bush was president and my protest and the energy that grew around it was used by you Democrats to regain political power in the federal government. Four years later and a change of Executive, this nation is still mired in Arab countries waging a war against Arabs of all, or no, faith. Now brought to us by the Blue Team.

Three days after the current evil Emperor was installed by the oligarchy, he ordered a drone bombing in Northern Pakistan (a country that we are supposedly not at war with) that killed 36 civilians and since then, he has been absolutely mad about drone bombings, increasing Bush's total over 300 percent in far fewer years. Even though I never supported Obama who funded wars as a Senator and who is NOT a peace president, I said at the time: "Three days in and already a war criminal." I was thoroughly attacked by Democrats who once affiliated as "peace" activists for not giving Obama "time."

Well, Gitmo is still open, military tribunals will resume for men who have been illegally detained for up to a decade now, US Tomahawk missiles are raining down on innocents in Libya (killing people to save them is the NEW PEACE), dictators are still supported, Israel is still occupying and oppressing Palestine, activists are being targeted by Obama's DOJ while BushCo are being protected, the USA PATRIOT ACT was renewed, the Gulf is dying--and where is the outrage?

That's the opening.  Use the link to read in full.  One of Cindy's many great strengths is that she never shies from sharing what she's experiencing.  Sharing those experiences has helped more people than she will ever meet face-to-face.  And it's probably not easy for her to do that but she has a lot of courage.  Maj Mark Citarella writes at the New York Times' At War blog about his current deployment and how, shortly after he deployed, his new girlfriend told him via "emial and a text" that it was over.  This is something that many will be able to relate to as well including his anguish:
Sometimes the stress causes soldiers to exhibit suicidal behavior.  That happened to a sergeant on my last deployment. After the breakup of a relationship, all he wanted to do was go outside the wire on every mission.  Take every chance with his life, as if it didn't matter anymore. I also struggled with powerful emotions, even as I was trying to lead soldiers. I wanted to let loose. Sometimes I just wanted to start shooting my rifle. But I had to remind myself that I was a professional with a job to do. Being an officer and a commander, I couldn't let my troops see me fall.  For a leader to express any sort of weakness would create doubts among his troops: "If he can't handle himself here, how can he be trusted to keep others safe?" So I tried my hardest to internalize the pain even when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball.
Suicides in the military continue at an alarming rate. When someone higher up shares, as Citarella has done, it can have an impact on others who are struggling.  When 2010's figures were released, the military noted that it was the second year in a row where more service members died of suicide than from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.   Kevin Caruso (Suicide.org) offers an overview on military suicidesThe Army has a suicide prevention resource page.  1-800-273-TALK (8255) is the Suicide Prevention Lifeline for service members, veterans and their families.  Chris Hedges (CounterCurrents) reports on Iraq War veteran Jess Goodell who served in the Marines' Mortuary Affairs unit and, in that capacity, encountered many service members who had taken their own lives in Iraq:
The unit was sent to collect the bodies of the Marines who killed themselves, usually by putting rifles under their chins and pulling the trigger.
"We had a Marine who was in a port-a-john when he blew his face off," she said. "We had another Marine who shot himself through the neck.  Often they would do it in the corner of a bunker or an abandoned building.  We had a couple that did it in port-a-johns. We had to go in and peel and pull off chunks of flesh and brain tissue that had sprayed the walls. Those were the most frustrating bodies to get. On those bodies we were also on cleanup crew. It was gross. We sent the suicide notes home with the bodies."
"We had the paperwork to do fingerprinting, but we started getting bodies in which there weren't any hands or we would get bodies that were just meat," said Goodell, who in May will publish a memoir called "Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq." The book title refers to the form that required those in the mortuary unit to shade in black the body parts that were missing from a corpse. "Very quickly it became irrelevant to have a fingerprinting page to fill out.  By the time we would get a body it might have been a while and rigor mortis had already set in.  Their hands were usually clenched as if they were still holding their rifle. We could not unbend the fingers easily."
Last week we saw the White House lobby to cut health care for active duty and their family members [if you're late to the party on that, refer to this "Iraq snapshot" and this "Iraq snapshot"] and now Kimberly Hefling (AP) reports that the Pentagon is misinterpreting a law Congress passed three years ago in order to deny veterans retirement benefits. Hefling's report comes after Congress has discovered that the VA is deliberately misinterpreting the law they passed on caregivers. Earlier this month, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee released the following statement:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office – (202) 224-2834

March, 9th 2011 Jon Clark (Miller) – (202) 225 – 3527

Chandler Smith (Burr) – (202) 224-2074

Meredith McFadden (Filner) - (202) 225-8045

Bipartisan Congressional Veterans Leaders Urge President to Block VA's Plan to Limit Support for Caregivers of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

Leaders of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committees call on President Obama to stop the VA from severely limiting a benefit for those who are forced to leave careers, health care behind to care for their loved ones

(Washington, D.C.) – Leaders of the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committee sent a bi-partisan, bi-cameral letter to President Barack Obama yesterday calling on him to ensure that eligibility for a law Congress passed to support veterans caregivers is not limited and that the law is implemented in a timely manner. In the letter, the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Congressional Committees that oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expressed their frustration over VA and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) delays in moving forward with caregivers support, and with additional criteria that will severely limit the ability for some family caregivers to access the benefit. Specifically, the Congressional leaders asked the President to direct OMB to "ensure that the regulations or other elements of the program's implementation comply with the specific eligibility criteria that are set out in the law."

"It's simply unacceptable that the VA would limit a program Congress designed to support family members of veterans who have left behind careers, lives, and responsibilities to see that their loved one can recover at home," said Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray. "We are calling on the President to make sure that the will of Congress and the needs of these veterans are not being ignored. Caring for our veterans is part of the cost of war. This program is part of the cost of war."

"When he signed the Caregiver Law, President Obama stood with wounded veterans and caregivers in promising that they'd be getting the help they needed," said House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller. "We're now calling on him to fulfill that pledge and direct his administration to hear the will of Congress, veterans, and caregivers to get this program right."

"This legislation was originally designed to provide a path forward for caregivers who are already sacrificing their own aspirations in order to make the lives of severely wounded veterans easier to bear," said Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "I urge the President to work with VA to get this bill right so that caregivers in dire need of assistance can receive the benefits promised to them,"

"VA's continued delay in the implementation of such a vital program is inexcusable. Many of these caregivers have wiped out their savings, have had to forego their own health care coverage and have given up their careers in order to care for their loved one," said Rep. Bob Filner Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. "Last year, Congress saw fit to extend critical benefits to the Caregivers of our nation's veterans and we will not stand idly by as VA prolongs the process. Too much time has passed already."

The full text of the letter follows:

March 8, 2011

The President
The White House

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing regarding the family caregivers assistance program established in Public Law 111-163, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, which you signed into law on May 5, 2010. To date, implementation of this program is significantly behind the schedule mandated in law. The statutory deadline for the full implementation of this program was January 30, 2011. Our concerns were raised with you about this previously, and after conversations with members of your senior staff, we understand that you are directing your Administration to get this program back on track such that services should commence early this summer.

We ask that you direct the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Office of Management and Budget to implement the necessary interim-final regulations for this program within 60 days of the date of this letter. We also ask that you direct OMB to ensure that the regulations and other elements of the program's implementation comply with the specific eligibility criteria that are set out in the law. VA's reluctance to work with Congress and veterans advocates has led to a situation where caregivers remain unclear if they will receive the support Congress intended for them.

Further delay of this program hurts veterans and caregivers in need of these critical benefits and services. Further, limiting eligibility to arbitrary and stringent criteria, contrary to the intent of the law, creates undue hardship for veterans and family caregivers meant to be helped by the new program. Instruction and training in the provision of care, respite, technical assistance, counseling, and a living stipend for those who are forced to leave their jobs or work fewer hours to provide care to their loved ones are all being withheld as some in VA attempt to stymie this program. VA and OMB need your leadership to implement this program.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL 1st), Chairman, House Veterans' Affairs Committee
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA 51st), Ranking Member, House Veterans' Affairs Committee


Either the White House is intent upon gutting programs that serve service members and veterans needs or the White House is inept. Either way, it doesn't matter, the end result is that veterans and service members (and their families) suffer. A functioning White House would have long ago gotten the VA and the DoD in line. That hasn't happened. And, in fact, the efforts by DoD to push the burden of health care cost off on active duty is part of the White House proposed budget to Congress. For all of Barack's big claims that he would be different than Bush, the result is he's more of the same.  And while the White House works to push the burden off onto active duty, retired and veterans, they continue to send service members into war.  AP notes that there was a send-off ceremony Sunday for members of the 2219th Brigade Support Ccompany with the Indiana National Guard who are deploying to Iraq. The Iraq War continues and it's Barack's war now. The Son of a Bush is dealt with in Micahel Oplinger column for the Daily Collegian:

On the big issues, Obama has continued the same policies that Bush championed --  the same ones much of the country disapproved of by the end of his eight years in office.
The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans can now be referred to as the Obama tax cuts as the current law has the Democrat's signature on it.
Despite Obama ordering the closure of Guantanamo Bay, the prison remains open and its controversial tactics likely remain in practice.
Obama has failed to voice strong support for union rights as battles rage on, despite union members making up a large portion of the Democratic voting block.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to drag on, despite their unpopularity and staggeringly high costs.
Now, Obama has announced the United States will engage in military conflict in Libya.
The decision is eerily similar to Bush's decision to enter Iraq, including the announcement eight years to the day after Bush made his announcement.

Today DoD issued the following: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn.  Cpl. Brandon S. Hocking, 24, of Seattle, Wash., died March 21 in As Samawah, Iraq, when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.  He was assigned to the 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga. For more information, the media may contact the Fort Stewart public affairs office at 912-435-9879 or after 4 p.m. call 912-767-8666."
Staying on veterans issues: Stop-loss.  Stop-loss is the backdoor draft and, supposedly, the US military is now done with it.  That remains to be seen.  But many service members would be at the end of their service contracts and planning to leave the military when they would be informed thaty had been "stop-lossed" meaning time had been extended on their contract.  It's legality was questionable for US citizens but it was flat out illegal when it was done to non-US citizens serving in the US military.  If you were stop-lossed, you were owed additional money.  That money needs to be claimed.  DoD announces the date to file for that additional payment has been extended:
The deadline for eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to April 8, 2011, allowing personnel more time to apply for the benefits they've earned under the program guidelines.
            The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama Friday, providing funding for federal government operations through April 8, 2011.
            Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay was established to compensate for the hardships military members encountered when their service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss Authority between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2009.  Eligible members or their beneficiaries may submit a claim to their respective military service in order to receive the benefit of $500 for each full or partial month served in a Stop Loss status.
            When RSLSP began on Oct. 21, 2009, the services estimated 145,000 service members, veterans and beneficiaries were eligible for this benefit.  Because the majority of those eligible had separated from the military, the services have engaged in extensive and persistent outreach efforts to reach them and remind them to apply.  Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through April 8, 2011.
            To apply for more information, or to gather more information on RSLSP, including submission requirements and service-specific links, go to http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.

The reality is that DoD knows who was stop-lossed.  They were the ones doing it.  But if they have to contact the people, then the payments will be much more than if they just do these little announcements and then say, "Well we made the announcement."  If you were stop-lossed you have until April 8th (at this point) to apply for the money owed you.  If you know someone who was stop-lossed, you might want to check with them and be sure they know about this.  In a perfect world, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and ABC World News with Diane Sawyer would all lead with the announcement on the same night to really get the word out. 
Finally in veterans news, Iraq War veteran Jeff Key wrote a play about his experiences entitled The Eyes Of Bablyon. Some portions of it were featured in the 2007 documentary Sempre Fi: One Marine's Journey.  Key outed himself on CNN (March 31, 2004) and was kicked out of the military. His play is being performed at the Bristol Riverside Theatre through April 3rd.  Gwen Shrift (Philly Burbs) writes a rave review, "In the realm of bravery, some have physical courage, some have moral conviction, and some have creative audacity. Jeff Key, playwright, actor and former Marine, possesses all three in abundance."