Wednesday, June 8, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, another US soldier dies in Iraq, four activists are released in Iraq, released after Nouri's attempt to frame them fails, Friday appears likely to be a big day for protests in Iraq, Senator Patty Murrray advocates for veterans and explains her Murray's Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, and more.
US House Rep Ron Paul: Yeah and I don't have much faith in that [promise of an Afghanistan drawdown]. It's sort of like, you know, it's all over in Iraq and you're just about to come home and all the sudden you hear more people are being killed and what's happening to the Christians and why it's a haven now for al Qaeda when it wasn't under Saddam Husein. And they wouldn't build those embassies and those bases if they actually wanted to go home or planned to go home. They're planning to stay, there's just no doubt about it. They might try to fool the people for awhile. But in this age of communication that we have, even from over there, that the information gets out and they won't be able to get away with it.
Scott Horton: Well and they've actually been pretty public about trying to get Nouri al-Maliki to socalled invite us to stay too.
US House Rep Scott Horton: Yeah.
Scott Horton: They haven't made much of a secret about it. 'Please, please invite us.'
US House Rep Scott Horton: And if you don't, we'll take all of your money away from you.
Tom Engelhardt (Middle Easton Online) observes, "Iraq? Where's that? Most Americans no longer seem to know and evidently could care less, but don't tell that to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, various key military figures and Washington officials, or some of the neocons, warrior-pundits, and liberal war-fighters circling them. They continue to relentlessly promote Iraq as a mission-never-accomplished-but-never-to-be-ended experience. Somehow, two decades after our Iraq wars began, they still can't get enough of them. Learning curve? Don't even think about it. It's as if they're trapped in that old Thomas Wolfe novel, You Can't Go Home Again."
"Where's that?" Engelhardt asks. It wasn't on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. Monday saw the worst assault on US soldiers in Iraq -- judging by the death toll -- in two years. David Zurawik (Baltimore Sun) observes of Scott Pelley's debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News Monday that they didn't launch immediately into the texting story, "But they waited almost 12 minutes before getting to those stories, because they wanted to first explore the news of five soldiers dying in Iraq. Good for Pelley and CBS News and their sense of what's important." As we noted, The NewsHour (PBS) reduced that to a very tiny headline, just three brief sentences, not even the main headline (click here for Stan's take on The NewsHour's 'coverage') while World News with Diane Sawyer completely ignored the five deaths (NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams was ranked second by me with their coverage and CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley first. Both Williams and Pelley noted the deaths and brought on an analyst to provide context). Equally distrubing what was Ruth wrote about last night: Free Speech Radio News -- a 30 minute, commercial free broadcast with headlines and news segments -- completely ignored the 5 deaths.
Speaking to the parents of two soldiers deployed to Iraq, WTKR (link is text and video) reports on the parents' reactions to the news of the 5 deaths and notes, a solider from the same brigade as the one attacked posted to the station's Facebook page, "My unit just lost another 5 soldiers, and over 15 soldiers are wounded.This is all from one incident. We have 3 months until we come home and we have lost 8 soldiers so far."
Were "over 15" injured in the attack? I have no idea. As of this evening, DoD still hasn't released the names of the five who died. There were reports that at least five more were injured in the attack. The Pentagon and the White House have been very lucky that reporters aren't really interested in Iraq. Otherwise, it would be pointed out that on Monday an attack took place and on Wednesday there was still no information. Ignoring DoD, the Union-Leader turns up some information, discovering the name of one of the fallen:
On Tuesday, the Air Force listed PFC. Michael B. Cook Jr. as one of several soldiers whose bodies was to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Michael B. Cook lived in Salem and was stationed in Iraq, according to the March obituary of his grandfather, Benjamin Cook. His wife, Samantha, is in Ft. Riley, Kansas; they have two children, Hailee and Michael B. Cook III.
WMUR (link has text and video) notes of Michael Cook, "Monday would have been his 27th birthday." (If that's not clear, he died on his birthday. It was this week, not next Monday.) They also note that his high school, Salem High, has a flag in the gym honoring those who have died in the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War with a plaque listing their names next to the flag: "Cook is now the fifth member of the school and third member of his class of 2003 to die in those wars. Principal Maura Palmer said the plan is to remember Cook's sacrifice in November." She states, "At our Veteran's Day program in the fall, we would also add his name to the plaque. We would also honor him and have his family here, as well." Jose Luis Magana (AP) has a photo of the dignified transfer of Michael B. Cook's remains to Dover Air Force Base today. US Senator Jeanne Shaheen's office issued the following today:
(Washington, D.C.) -- U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen released the following statement in response to reports of the death of Pfc. Michael Cook, formerly of Salem, N.H.:
"My deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Pfc. Michael Cook. Like many brave sons and daughters of New Hampshire, he sought to serve his country and protect his fellow Americans, and he did so with honor and courage.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Michael's family at this difficult time."
The Eagle Tribune speaks to the superintendent of Salem's school system, Michael Delahanty who was principal of Salem High School when Michael Cook attended.and he tells the paper, "There are some kids who stand out and Michael was one of those kids."
Meanwhile CNN notes another US soldier was killed in Iraq today ("southern Iraq"). Gulf Times includes the military's one-sentence statement on the incident, "A US service member was killed Wednesday while conducting operations in southern Iraq." DoD's count of the US military deaths in Iraq currently stands at 4457; however, that does not include today's deaht or the 5 from Monday. They are not included in the DoD count until after DoD releases a statement on their deaths. (DoD does not make death announcements -- USF in Iraq is supposed to do that to the press. After loved ones have been notified, DoD issues a statement identifying the fallen by name. After it does that, it adds the fallen to their count.) .
Turning to the other reported violence of today, Reuters notes a Falluja sticky bombing which claimed 1 life and left another person wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left four people injured, 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul, the corpse of 1 Yazidi was discovered in Mosul (he had been kidnapped earlier), a Baghdad second roadside bombing left four people injured, a Rashad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa member and an assassination attempt on the general manager of the health department in Diayala Province, Ali Hussein, resulted in four by-standers being injured but no reported injuries to Ali Hussein.
A marker has come and gone and Nouri's 100 Days ended Tuesday. 100 Days was Nouri's desperate attempt to distract citizens from the problems they face and to buy time. Al Sabaah notes that Nouri is now asking for patience and claiming that "the concept of partnership is a beautiful one," however, it might not be practical. Fakhri Karim (Al Mada) dubs "100 Days of humiliation" and notes Nouri wanted the "reset" and now refuses to admit any failure. Reset? Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki said he is set to implement a new plan during the next 100 day deadline in order to improve the government's performance and endorse the previous deadline, a source told Alsumaria." If true, Nouri seems to think he can just declare "100 More Days!" at any time.
Iraqi Revolution compares Nouri and his 100 Days to Scheherazade and her One Thousand and One Nights. It's both a humorous comparison and an accurate one. Scheherazade launched into her one thousand and one nights of story telling in order to save her life and the 100 Days were all about Nouri trying to save his political career and remain as prime minister. Scheherazade, I'm oversimplifying the story, lived in a Persian Empire which King Shahryar ruled. Due to infedility in a previous marriage, the king had decided to marry only virgins and that, after one night with them, they would be killed. Scheherazade outsmarted him by arranging her sister to visit on the wedding night and, as they said their farewells (for Scheherazade was to die), her sister would ask her to tell a story. Scheherazde launched into a captivating story and then noted that the morning dawn was breaking so she had to stop her story. The king was caught up in the story and had to know what happened next. So her life was spared and this pattern repeated with her finishing the story from the night before and starting a new one that she would finish the next night. She knew exactly 1001 stories. When she had run out of stories, but by that time they had children and he'd fallen in love with her so her life was no longer in jeopardy. Nouri may be hoping something similar will happen with him; however, he should remember that he became prime minister in 2006 and yet, in all the years leading up to the March 2010 elections, the Iraqi people didn't fall in love with him enough to make his political slate the winner in those elections.
It does not appear at this point that any party or faction has actually reached a firm decision that it wants the government to fail -- thus reopening a painful negotiation process that took nine months to complete, or even leading to early elections. But it is abundantly clear that all are playing a game of brinkmanship, trying to push their advantage to the utmost and testing the limits of what they can achieve. A misjudgment by one of the major players could easily create a crisis with unforeseeable consequences.
There are three major levels of tensions threatening the survival of the government and the stability of Iraq more broadly: rising divisions among the governing coalition's parties, tension between the parliament and the executive branch, and competition between the central and regional governments.
They then immediately go to the Erbil Agreement. That was the agreement that the Kurds, Iraqiya, the National Alliance, State of Law and the US hammered out which allowed Nouri to stay on as prime minister and was supposed to guarantee Iraqiya (which won the March 2010 election, garnering more seats in the Parliament than any other slate) certain items. Nouri got what he wanted and quickly trashed the agreement. That's when tensions especially simmer.
Meanwhile, The Great Iraqi Revolution informs, "SWAT troops under Maliki's direct command at a checkpoint in Baghdad I(Al Mansour, Dawoodi) armed with M4 rifles fitted with silencers, bearing in mind that a few days ago officials stated that silence rs were being manufactgured locally and that there are no imported silencers whatsoever! So belive it when it is said that policemen and thieves wore similar clothing!"
The Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "Help us encourage people for next Friday's Demonstration by sending at least 10 SMS messages per person saying the following: "YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR PEOPLE NEED YOU. PARTICIPATE IN OUR REVOLUTION IN TAHRIR SQUARE NEXT FRIDAY." They are gearing up for protests this Friday -- protests which will take place despite Nouri's attempt to stop the Baghdad protests. The Great Iraqi Revolution offers a poem by Issra Abd which includes:
Why are you silent for this is our Iraq and these are our sons and those are our mothers and those are our children and our brothers ..... and you are remaining silent, Why? Don't you see, Don't you hear, or have your eyes become blind and your ears deaf Look at them Youth who have been detained and women who have been widowed, children orphaned and mothers traumatized by the death of their sons and houses destroyed and You are still silent; Why all this awful silence from those you fear.... what are you frightened of.... Are you frightened of speaking Speak Up and Don't be Silent As God Is Your Witness What are you doing Come Along Speak Up And Don't Be Silent It is time you spoke up Come on Rise Up Altogether with a loud voice No to Corruption.... No to Occupation..... No to the Plunder of the People...... No to Tyrany ..... No to Dictatorship
In preparation for the end of 100 Days, Nouri upped the crackdown on protesters. This included, on May 27th, arresting four activists on trumped up charges. The Great Iraqi Revolution noted the four arrested: "THE 4 YOUNG ACTIVISTS WHO WERE ARRESTED TODAY BY QASSIM ATTA AND TAKEN TO A PLACE UNKNOWN - 27.5.2011 - THEIR NAMES ARE: JIHAD JALEEL, ALI ABDUL KHALIQ, MOUAYED AL TAYEB AND AHMED AL BAGHDADI. We pray God to have them released very soon."
New Sabah reports the 4 were finally released yesterday. Nouri's officials had claimed the 4 were arrested for false IDs. New Sabah reports that when the four appeared before the judge, the government supplied four fake IDs as evidence.
The IDs were indeed of the four men. The photos clearly showed their faces. It was the four men. And it was even easier to tell it was them by their clothes. They were wearing prison uniforms issued by the government.
In case you're waking up slowly this morning, the government presented FAKE evidence. The fake IDs were clearly made after the four men were arrested and Nouri and his goons weren't even smart enough to pull off a frame up.
David Ali (Al Mada) reminds the four were abudcted while taking part in a participation. He reports how he repeatedly attempted to interview the four after the arrest but the government denied him access. A spokesperson for the four states they were tortured. They also state they were repeatedly told ("told" is probably too mild a word) to sign a document claiming they had been treated fairly but that they refused to sign it. Their torture while imprisoned is said to have included beatings, electrical shocks and more. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) quotes Mouyed Faisal stating, "When I left al-Tahrir Square [Friday, May 27th], a group of Iraqi security forces surrounded me. Meanwhile an ambulance parked next to me and I was being carried into it after they beat me." Tawfeeq notes the four plan to continue their protests and quotes Ahmed al-Baghdadi stating, "We are not afraid and we will continue to protest in Tahrir Square every Friday."
In other Iraq news, Al Rafidayn is reporting that 34 people were arrested yesterday in Baghdad on charges of terrorism ("including 22 girls and a child"). The charges include trading in human organs and drugs. Al Sabaah adds that Iraqi officials are stating that the 'terrorist gang' is comprised of "the most dangerous terrorists in Iraq" -- apparently including the 18-year-old women who were hired to watch over the young children. New Sabah reports that Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, has been in Jordan attempting to negotiate the release of 15 Iraqis imprisoned in Jordan.
"Today," declared Senator Patty Murray this morning as she brought the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to order, "we have a very ambitious agenda which really reflects the hard work of members on both sides of the aisle. We have numerous challenges to meet for our nation's veterans and I am pleased that this Committee has worked -- and will continue to work -- to develop legislation that substantially improves the lives -- their lives and the lives of their families, especially during this time of war."
This was a hearing on proposed legislation. Ranking Member Richard Burr will be covered, as usual, by Kat at her site tonight. The Committee was joined by Senator Olympia Snowe, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who do not serve on the Committee but had bills they wanted to discuss. Snowe, for example, has a bill regarding the military funerals, specifically the protests by one church group that makes homophobic remarks and other remarks on signs and in shouting and chanting. Senator Snowe stated her bill did not attempt to curtail speech, did not impose any rules on what can be stated, but that it would increase the area of protection for the mourners -- instead of protesters needing to remain at least 100 feet away, her bill would change that to 300 feet. (I am not endorsing or opposing this bill. I'm just noting it. Many would argue -- and they have a point -- that if speech is outside an area where it can be heard, it's really not free speech.) The Committee also heard from two panels. The first was government officials: VA's John McWilliam and VA's Robert Jesse. The second was VFW's Raymond Kelley, the American Legion's Jeff Steele, the AFL-CIO's J. David Cox and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante.
Before we go further Rob Hotakainen has an article that is or will be appearing in all the McClatchy Newspapers (link goes to Kansas City Star) where he looks at Iraq War veteran Eric Smith, 26-years-old, repeatedly searching for work -- full time, but willing to take part-time in an attempt to make ends meet (and, no, part-time's never going to make it work). How bad has the employment scene been for him? He even took part in a medical drug trial study to earn $1,200. Hotakainen notes, "In late March, he and 27 other veterans participated in IAVA's 'Storm the Hill' lobbying campaign. They went to 117 offices on Capitol Hill and met with 57 members of Congress, asking them to commission a study on military vocational skills and certifications. Smith and other veterans complain that the skills they learn in the military aren't enough to get them civilian certifications in their fields when they return home." Eric Smith supports the bill Chair Muarry is proposing (and he took part in the press conference for the bill last month).
Committee Chair Patty Murray: There is much on the agenda that is important but I want to speak briefly about one item -- the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011. Ensuring that our veterans can find employment when they come home is an area where we must do more. For too long, we have been investing billions of dollars training our young men and women to protect our nation, only to ignore them when they come home. For too long, we have patted them on the back and pushed them into the civilian job market with no support. This is simply unacceptable and does not meet the promise we made to our men and women in uniform. Our hands-off approach has left us with an unemployment rate in February of over 27 percent among young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That is over one in four of our nation's heroes who can't find a job to support their family. Over one in four of our service men and women lack the stability that is so critical to their transition home. That's why last month I introduced the bipartisan Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 which now has 19 co-sponsors. This legislation will help us rething the way we support our service members as they return home and search for living-wage jobs. I introduced this critical legislation because I've heard first-hand from the veterans for whom we've failed to provide better job support. I've had veterans tell me that they no longer write that they're a veteran on their resume 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 who can't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance. These stories are as heartbreaking as they are frustratng. But more than anything, they're a reminder that we have to act now. The Hiring Heroes Act would allow our men and women in uniform to capitalize on their services while also ensuring that the American people capitalize on the investment we have made in them. For the first time, it would require every service member transitioning from active duty to partipate in the Transition Assistance Program [TAP]. This program supports our veterans by providing them with broad job skills training before they separate from service. This bill would also allow service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation. It would also require the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable to the civilian sector. This is a much needed step toward making it simpler for veterans to obtain much needed licenses and certifications. And, finally, my legislation would allow for innovative partnerships between VA, DoD and organizations that provide mentorship and training programs designed to lead to job placements for veterans. All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work and they come at a pivotal time for our economic recovery and our service members.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: I do have a couple of questions for both of you. You mentioned the figure of 45% of service members attend TAP. Is that for all branches? Am I wrong in that the Marines do require, it is mandatory for their service members to attend TAP before they are discharged? And do we know if their percentages are any higher than the other branches?
Christina Roof: When I spoke with Marine Corps officials last week, I was told it is mandatory that their Marines complete the TAP program. I was also told there were some exceptions, of course, you know, like critical injuries involved and so on. But I was told last week that it is mandatory that all their Marines complete TAP before their service discharge.
Subcommittee Chair: Marlin Stutzman: So that's with no exceptions? Every Marine coming out does -- has completed TAP or . . .
Christina Roof: Again, I can only go on what they told me which was, it is mandatory which I think is a great idea that should be across the board. I can't speak, again, to each individual case but it seems like they are enforcing it.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: So would the 45% number have Marines in that percentage? Or do we not know more of -- the demographics or --
Christina Roof: I'll let my colleague, I think that was his number.
Marco Reininger: Sir, if I may, I'm not 100% sure whether or not this number includes the Marine Corps but I believe that making it mandatory DoD wide would be the right solution here. That same survey indicated that many veterans didn't attend the TAP program where TAP courses were offered because it had a reputation of being redundant, not really useful for making a successful transition. And, in some cases even, commanding officers wouldn't let them go. This is what they say, again, this is what the survey indicated. So mandating it DoD wide for all service branches would be the right answer here, sir. And, of course, along with that comes having to overhaul the program so that it actually works and makes sense for people to actually attend.
[. . .]
Ranking Member Bruce Braley: Let me ask you this basic question. Isn't it true that the Department of Defense could make these programs mandatory, across the board right now without any further action by Congress if they wanted to? [They nod their heads.] That was a "yes" from both of you.
Marco Reininger: Yes, sir, absolutely, the executive branch could order this to be mandatory and that would most likely be the end of it as far as I understand the process.
So Committee Chair Murray's bill would not impose something new with regards to TAP, it would bring the other branches up to the same standard that the Marines already are compelled to meet. That's all the more reason to support it because to address problems that are spread out across the various branches, there needs to be standardization among the branches in terms of requirements.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I thank you all for your testimony and your efforts. This is obviously a Congressional hearing and we have oversight of the VA. I haven't heard any suggestions on what we ought to be doing or what the VA ought to be doing. Looks like the only guy who's doing anything in government is Mr. Jefferson over here -- I mean, from the testimony -- I know you're false modest. But what are we all doing here? I mean this ought to be a top priority for everybody. And I can imagine -- you guys are the experts -- but if I just thought about it for a few seconds I could think of what the VA could be doing. I mean, why isn't every regional office, for example, putting out a list of veterans and their specialties and what they're seeking jobs as? You guys all said we have trouble linking up with who the veterans are. Well the VA knows every veteran. Let's just put out a list of everybody who's looking for a job. I mean, it just doesn't seem difficult. We hear about the transition of skills in the military being hard to translate. We could deem anybody who's in electronics or a medic or a truck driver -- I mean, we can give them a certificate that says "For the purposes of hiring, this serves as" you know "what ever entry level." And people can be trained further. But they have incredible skills. We've been working on this civilian certification for, I don't know, decades. Nobody can seem to solve it. We've got guys truck driving all over Iraq or Afghanistan, they come home and they find out they have to take a six month course to get a commercial driving license. They say, "Hey, what do I need that for?" And they get discouraged. They're truck drivers. They know how to do it and they do it under the most difficult conditions you can imagine. Let them have a certificate that starts with a job. Or electronics people or medics. I mean, I've watched these medics. They have incredible -- they do things that no civilian would ever think of doing and yet they've got to go through some other certification, masters and go to this college and that college. Come on. They have the training. And we could just do it. I'd like you to give us some suggestions in either law, regulation, just executive order that we can help you do the kind of things you're doing every day. You are out there. We ought to be helping you in every way we can and the VA's job is to do that.