Monday, May 23, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, May 23, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces deaths, the British military officially leaves Iraq, David Miliband weighs in on the Iraq War,  a meet-up in Erbil offers little for Nouri to spin, and more.
In the United States, unemployment among young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is a critical issue.  May 11th, US Senator Patty Murray, the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, held a news conference to note   Hiring Heroes Act of 2011.
and she also noted that one out of every four young veterans is unemployed.  From the news conference.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray:  We have an unemployment rate of over 27% among young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  That is 1 in 5 of our nation's heroes who cannot find a job to support their families, they don't have income to provide stability and they don't have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home. All too often, we read about the results of veterans who come home, often with the invisible wounds of war, who can't find the dignity and security that work provides.  We read about it in the sky rocketing suicide statistics, problems at home, substance abuse and even in the rising homelessness among our returning veterans.  But I've also heard a lot about it first hand from the veterans that we have failed to provide better job support to. I've had veterans tell me that they no longer write on their resume that they are a veteran because they fear the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war.  I've heard from medics who return home from treating battlefield wounds for days on end, in incredible conditions, who cannot get certification to be an EMT or even a ambuldance driver.  I've talked to veteran after veteran who's said they didn't have to go through the military's jobs skills training program or that they were never taught how to use the venacular of the business world to describe the job and experience they did when they come home.  These stories are heart breaking and they are frustrating.  But more than anything, they are a reminder that we have to act now. 
While we're on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, let's quickly note the following from Senator Murray's office:

In second of two major hearings, Chairman Murray will hear directly from veterans and top VA and Pentagon officials about challenges that remain in the care for amputees, rising suicide rates, poor coordination between the agencies, and delays in disability evaluations

(Washington, D.C.) – Wednesday, U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray will hear first-hand accounts from veterans who have faced challenges because of the lack of collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD). The hearing will focus on DoD and VA's joint disability evaluation process, military and veteran suicides, the lack of cooperation in certain areas between the two agencies, and the quality of care at the two Departments for amputees. During the hearing, Chairman Murray will also question VA's top mental health administrator about the recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling finding the mental health care offered by the VA to be so poor that it's unconstitutional.


WHO:             Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray

            Tim Horton, Iraq Veteran who was wounded and lost his leg to an  IED attack in Iraq

Steve Bohn, Iraq Veteran, representing Wounded Warrior Project

Janet E. "Jan" Kemp, VA National Suicide Prevention Coordinator

            Antonette Zeiss, Acting Deputy Chief Officer Mental Health Services, Office of Patient Care Services, Department of Veterans Affairs

Jim Lorraine, Lt. Col. ASAF (Ret.), Executive Director, Wounded Warrior Care Project

George Peach Taylor, Jr., MD, MPH, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health Protection and Readiness


WHAT:          Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Hearing on the State of VA/DoD Collaborations and the Challenges those Agencies Face in Caring for Veterans

WHEN:          Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

                        10:00 AM EST/7:00 AM PST


WHERE:       Russell 418



Back to unemployment.  "We have to act now."  And Murray and senators on the Senate Committee -- Democrats and Republicans -- appear focused on the issue.  In the House of Representatives, it's another story.  Tomorrow morning, the House of Representatives' Veterans Affairs Committee was supposed to hold "Putting Veterans Back to Work."  This hearing has been postponed.  "Putting Veterans Back to Work" and "Postponed" -- pair the two up for the message (which I am sure is unintentional) that's being sent.  This would have been only the second, only the second, hearing the House Veterans Affairs Committee had held on employment.  The other hearing was March 3rd.  Is it a crisis or is not one?
The figures say it's a crisis.  The treatment of it by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee telegraphs it's a crisis. But in the House Comittee the issue gets little attention and when it's finally supposed to get attention, it's "postponed."  It sends a message.  And, no, this wouldn't have happened under Bob Filner's leadership.  But hopefully it's not an issue of political party.  US House Rep Bob Filner is a Democrat and, until January, was the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. The current Chair is Jeff Miller who is a Republican.  Hopefully, it's more an issue of someone new to being a chair failing to grasp the message being sent and also still stumbling with leadership issues.
Though addressing the needs of veterans can be ignored and postponed, the wars they serve in don't get put on hold -- or apparently end these days. 
Yesterday 2 US soldiers were killed while serving in Iraq.  AP notes all the US military shares is that the two died "conducting operations in central Iraq" and AP also notes they were the first US soldiers to die in Iraq this month.
Their deaths were part of a wave of violence across Iraq yesterday.  Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) reported on the two deaths and the deaths of multiple Iraqis, observing, "The bloodshed highlighted the tenuous situation around Baghdad, where assassinations and other attacks still occur almost daily. It also drew attention to Sunni Arab and Shiite militants' continuing efforts to kill American troops, who are scheduled to leave at the end of the year. There has been an increase in the shelling around U.S. military bases within Baghdad's airport grounds as well as the American Embassy compound in the fortified Green Zone enclave." Tim Craig (Washington Post) added, "Most of the explosions were directed at Iraqi police officers and government officials, who have become targets of terrorism in recent months. Security officials estimate that at least 21 people were killed and more than 80 injured during a succession of attacks that came from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m." Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) counts eighty injured today and explains, "There were bombings in both Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods, including two in Sadr City, the stronghold of the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, but it was unclear whether they were coordinated. Insurgents have often attacked both groups simultaneously, in an attempt to incite sectarian strife and further destabilize the country."  It was a day that began, Al Sabaah reports, with prime minister and puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki declaring this is the best time (ever) for businesses to invest in Iraq and that he made this declaration yesterday morning at a ribbon cutting ceremony at the opening of the al-Jihad housing complex.  Of the violence, Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) notes, "It raises again the question of whether a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011 will open the way for a vast increase in extremist violence. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has called for a national debate on whether to ask some U.S combat to remain after December 31."

Al Sabaah reports that Nouri al-Maliki has stated that Iraq's political blocs are unclear about an extension. He has called for them to use the next weeks to figure out where they stand. The paper states that he's accused the political blocs of using the issue to attack one another and that he's asking them to come to an understanding before the issue goes to his Cabinet or to the Parliament. He also stated a need for US trainers. US troops were thought to be leaving by the end of the year. Some may, some may not. What the US administration wants is an extension of the SOFA or a new agreement.

Barring that, they will go with their back up plan of keeping "hundreds" (possibly "thousands") of US soldiers in Iraq but switching them from the DoD umbrella to the State Dept one. This in addition to the Marines who will guard the US Embassy in Baghdad -- as they guard embassies around the world -- and in addition to the contractors which will also be under State Dept control. As Congress continues to resist turning over billions to the State Dept for "Iraq operations," the back up plan becomes less and less attractive and the White House pushes harder for an extension of the SOFA.

Back to Al Sabaah which quotes Kurdish MP Hamid Adel stating that the depature would leave Iraq an easy target for regional countries. Adel states that they need from Nouri an update on the Iraqi military including whether the army can protect its borders and whether the air force can protect the skies. Since Nouri and the military have long ago stated that Iraq will be unable to protect its borders and since the Iraqi air force is not up and running, it's doubtful an update would provide any new information.

Al Rafidayn reports Jabbar Yawar, Secretary-General of the Ministry of the Pesmerga, declared in an Erbil press conference yesterday that, "We welcome the move to extend presence of US forces in Iraq." He stated that the army continues to need weapons, the air force continues to need training and that the country needs US military support.

Violence continued today.  Aswat al-Iraq reports Ayad Ali Akbar, with the Ministry of Defense, was assassinated in Baghdad.   UPI reports, a Kirkuk car bombing has claimed at least 7 lives (five were police officers). AFP notes that the 2 others killed were soldiers -- peshmerga or Iraqi is not noted. Aswat al-Iraq reports a Baghdad bombing has claimed 1 life and left nine people injured.  Jamal Hashim (XInhua) reports, "Near Baghdad, a member of Awakening Council group of the town of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, was killed when a sticky bomb attached to his car detonated around midday as he was passing a security checkpoint in al-Shuhadaa neighborhood in central the town, a local police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity." Hashim also notes 1 police officer was shot dead in Anbar Province.  Marwan Ibrahim (AFP) adds, "Also Monday, a taxi driver was killed and his passenger wounded when a magnetic "sticky bomb" attached to their vehicle blew up in Ghazaliyah, west Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said." 

Jane Arraf: 18,000 concrete walls down and 62,000 more to go.  They are meant to protect people and buildings from car bombs  Some officials estimate hundreds of miles of the walls have been put up since 2003 -- most of them by the US military.  The government says, apart from the Green Zone and government buildings, they'll all come down by the end of the year.
Bagdhad Security spokesperson Qassim al- Atta:  General security is developing and progressing and there's no need now for barriers and street closings.
Jane Arraf: The last time authorities tried to dismantle the blast walls two years ago, suicide truck bombs detonated outside the Foreign and Finance Ministries killing more than 80 people.  On Palestine Street, where a lot of walls were taken down a few weeks ago, some are afraid it will happen again.
Shop owner Ali Hassan Abdul Jabar: After they removed the blast walls, the next day a bomb was planted and killed two steet cleaners.  The poor people, it blew up right in their faces.
Jane Arraf: In some parts of Baghdad, the walls have become concrete canvases for Iraqi artists.  But no matter how you dress them up, they've still closed off major parts of the city.  And during the sectarian violence, they sprung up to divide Sunni and Shia neighborhoods. 
The walls divided the city, sectioned off.  And now they come down?  At a time when violence has been increasing and when the bulk of US forces could leave at the end of the year, most wouldn't be taking down the walls.  In fact, the only strong reason to do so now would be if you were attempting to nudge the results on stay-or-go over to "US military stay!" by increasing the likelihood of violence.   Whether the bulk of US troops stay or go, Saturday  Jack Healy (New York Times) noted the following Americans remain missing in Iraq: Jeffrey Ake, Aban Elias, Abbas Kareem Naama, Neenus Khoshaba, Bob Hamze, Dean Sadek, Hussain al-Zurufi and Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie."
Over the weekend, Al Sabaah reported Nouri was insisting that it's time to push national reconciliation (after, please note, he's bullied his way into getting everything he wanted) and that the statements came as he prepared to for Monday's big meet-up.  Dar Addustour noted the big meet-up  in Erbil thismroning between the political blocs with the goal of ironing out the many problems (which result from Nouri's failure to live up to the Erbil Agreement).  Alsumaria TV reports, "Al Iraqiya List led by Iyad Allawi stressed that it insists on implementing Arbil agreements fully noting that the party is keen on national partnership, a source told Alsumaria. Renouncing national partnership is a way of disclaiming the political process, it argued."  In related news, Aswat al-Iraq reports Iraqiya's spokesperson Shaker Kattab has issued a denial of any knowledge that Iraqiya plans to nominate him for Minister of Defense.  Iraq still has no Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior and Minister of National Security.  Alsumaria TV notes, "Iraqi Vice President Tarek Al Hashemi urged security officials to introduce immediate amendments to the security plan in light of mounting security violations.  Al Hashemi called for an urgent stand to accelerate the appointment of security ministers, a source told Alsumaria."
Despite its inevitable collapse, the United States strongly supports Iraq's unity government, praising it as a mature step forward. The U.S.-brokered settlement "reflects the results of those elections," wrote Vice President Joseph Biden at the time, and "does not exclude or marginalize anyone." Yet, the deal secured Nouri al-Maliki another term as prime minister, despite his bloc's second-place finish in the elections. The cornerstone of the accord was the foolhardy establishment of a National Council for Higher Policies.
The council was intended to hold "executive" and "binding" authorities to check Maliki's power, and was to integrate former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi into the government as its first chairman. But today, little American leverage remains to compel Maliki to cede any of his powers, especially to a committed rival. At best, the council stands to be largely an advisory body with no significant clout.
In idly sponsoring a national partnership, the U.S. endorsed a false promise for Iraq's future. The concept represented a gross misreading of Iraqi politics. Since the Sunni boycott of the 2005 elections, misconstrued Western biases have supported such a framework as a way of advancing national unity. But in reality, there are no broadly-shared ideological or overarching visions to sustain such a government. The practice of "governing by consensus" is not indigenous to Iraqi political culture. The experiment today is viewed as an American venture, and Iraqis perceive its foundations as a formula for dividing the spoils, not sharing power.
Moreover, the national partnership has reinforced Iraq's dysfunctional polity. To house a gargantuan government, some positions were arbitrarily created to satisfy Iraqi personalities. The new officialdom embraces 42 ministries, three deputy prime ministers, and three vice presidents. Many roles are ill-defined, and in some cases lack a constitutional basis. But unlike titles, governing power has become a zero-sum game: as a rule of thumb, no sharing agreement, however creative, will satisfy all of Iraq's major players.

That position is actually similar to Nouri's.  Over the weekend,  New Sabah quoted Nouri stating that "There is no minority that can control Iraq." Al Rafidayn reported that Nouri made the statement while speaking with Salahuddin Province tribal sheikhs and, with his statements regarding sections and factions, he may also be laying the groundwork for an all State Of Law Cabinet -- or possibly just a Shi'ite one.
In the background of all of Nouri's statements is what happens come June 7th. In an attempt to defuse Iraqi outrage, Nouri announced a 100 day period during which corruption would be dealt with.  The 100 days comes to an end June 7th and Nouri has very little to show for it.  He may have hoped for good news out of the Erbil meet-up but that appears to have gone the way it always does (stalemate).  He needs something to distract from no end to corruption and Friday's prison break.

From Friday's snapshot:

Alsumaria TV reports, "An Iraqi informed security source revealed on Friday that five chiefs of the Mehdi Army managed to escape from Taji prison, north of Baghdad. Three detainees were reported missing while transferring them to Karkh central prison, the Justice Ministry said. A special force from Prime Minister's office headed on Thursday night to Taji Prison, nothern Baghdad, to transfer detainees to one of the capital's prisons, the source told Alsumarianews. Five chiefs of the Mehdi Army including senior leader Saad Sowar managed to escape during the transfer, the source said." New Sabah states that 182 detainees were being transferred when the escape took place.

Dar Addustour reported Saturday that the Justice Ministry has announced it is signing a contract with the US to install devices that will allow them to jam cell phones within prisons. Al Mada added that the Taji prison escape has resulted in numerous "conflicting statements" about the prison break. But the announcement regarding jamming cell phones appears to be a response to (if not an acknowledgment of) the veracity of the rumors that the prisoners used cell phones to stay in contact with helpers outside the prison. Cell phones may have also been used to organize and execute a prison riot which provided some cover for the prison break.

Sunday British forces kind-of-sort-of withdrew (finally) from IraqRosa Prince (Telegraph of London) reports David Miliband stated, "Iraq obviously divided not only our country, but divided the whole world really. It proved how much easier it is to win wars than to win the peace and I think that is the sort of lesson that we have got to learn. I am afraid the failure of the Western forces to develop a proper strategy for peace, not a strategy for war, has held back the country."  David Miliband made his statements on The Andrew Marr Show (BBC)Click here for video, here for transcript.  Excerpt:
ANDREW MARR: Right now our last forces are pulling out of Iraq and forces will start to pull out of Afghanistan in the not too distant future. So it's a moment of reflection, I suppose, about our engagement across the whole region. At that moment, tell us what you think now about Iraq?
DAVID MILIBAND: I think you think, first of all, of the people that we've lost. You think, secondly, that while there have been gains, the list of negatives is long - longer than the list of gains. But you also think, thirdly, that there is still history to be made in Iraq and the possibility of a multi-confessional, multi-denominational political system in Iraq that is more or less democratic, can send out a message to the rest of the Arab world that is consonant with the sort of changes that you've been discussing in Egypt and elsewhere. Iraq obviously divided not just our country, but divided the whole world really. It proved how much easier it is to win wars than to win the peace, and I think that that is the sort of lesson that we've got to learn.
ANDREW MARR: And when you say the list of negatives is longer than the list of gains - that's what you mean, is it: that what followed the war was so horrific?
DAVID MILIBAND: Yes, exactly. I mean six, seven, even eight months after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the sort of Sunni-Shia conflict that came to mark the Iraq episode - hundreds of thousands of deaths - hadn't really started. It was still in the balance. I'm afraid the failure of the Western forces to develop a proper strategy for peace, not a strategy for war, has held back the country. Now it's still to play for despite the loss of blood and treasure, but I think that that is the key lesson.
As disclosed before, I know David Miliband.  On Law and Disorder Radio  this week ( WBAI had a two hour fundraising live broadcast of Law and Disorder Radio today, but on this week's actual hour long program which broadcasts around the country throughout the week), Michael Ratner, Heidi Boghosian and Michael S. Smith are joined by attorney Abdeen Jabara (American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) to discuss events in Egypt and by journalists Arun Gupta.  Also, commenting on last week's speech, Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Little Man" went up Sunday.