Friday, June 17, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Friday, June 17, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraqis take to the streets to protest, tensions continue to fester between Nouri and Allawi, in the US, Bob Filner wonders where the VA money is going, US mayors call for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more. 
Today was Determination Friday in Iraq as activists take to the streets to demand a responsive government. Protests have been going on in Iraq this year since January. The college students and Iraqi youth began organizing around Friday's a designated day for protest each week. In Baghdad, citizens have turned out in strong numbers and I wish there was much coverage but there's not.  For the coverage, we're pulling from  Revolution of Iraq and The Great Iraqi Revolution -- so when you see a quoted statement that is linked, the link takes you to one of those two sources,  We'll also be working in the rare coverage elsewhere that did take place.

Starting in Baghdad, where "activists flocked to Liberation Square despite government forces harassing them and the checkpoints set around the square" and where "A new game the biggest liar Nouri Al Haliki is playing now. Information indicating that his supporters (supporters of all that is false and lies; supporters of riobbery and corruption) have orders to come out to Tahrir and mix the cards. This is a double edged ploy, of course, that they are either going to give the impression that was Firas Al Jibourie's family who attacked the Rebels or that his supporters will infact again attack the Rebels in Tahrir. We say to Haliki and his supporters that we are ready for them - The heroes of all the Tahrirs in Iraq from the very northern tip to the very southern tip of Iraq will bring you down!"
KUNA reports that the protesters chanted "Friday after Friday, Al-Maliki out" and that, "A group of the protestors read a statement at the crowd, accusing the government of protecting 'the criminals and corrupt.' They also called for recognizing citizens' rights for protesting and abstention from resorting to violence against the demonstrators.
Moreover, they called for a new electoral law to secure equal legislative representation for all political parties."  Last Friday, the activists were attacked by pro-government thugs who invaded the square to try to take it over and to stop the legitimate protest going on.

Today "Maliki sends his hooligans to demonstrate in Tahrir while security forces facilitate their route and entry into Tahrir! in the meantime making it difficult for the Rebelling Youth of Iraq to enter Tahrir." Despite those obstacles, "Growing numbers of the Rebel Youth demonstrating in Tahrir calling for the downfall of the government." The pro-government thugs sense they are losing so they attempt to enrage the actual activists. "Maliki's shakawat provoke the Rebels by shouting 'All the people are with you Nourie Al Maliki'!" The pro-government thugs "begin pretending they are demonstrating about the Dujail attack and Firas Al Jibourie - all in order to begin shouting slogans in support of Nouri al-Maliki." When that fails to derail the protests, "Maliki's shaqawat attempt to attack the Rebel Youth and the Rebels stop them, thus making them fail in their attmpt to cause injury and trouble," but the activists are Iraq and "Sunni and Shi'ite brothers" stand side by side.

Of US journalists, it would be hard to think of one that's spent more time covering Iraq than Jane Arraf whose coverage of the country goes back to CNN and long, long before the latest Iraq War.  Today Arraf works for the Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera and frequently teams up with McClatchy Newspaper's journalists such as Laith Hammoudi and Sahar Issa.  At her Twitter feed, Jane Arraf offered observations on the protests.
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Let's turn to some of today's reported violence. First up, The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "2 members of the Movement to Liberate the South, have been kidnapped by Special Interior Ministry Forces in Basra."  Reuters notes a Baghdad car bombing claimed 3 lives and left seven people injured, a Garma car bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left three more injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left three people injured and, dropping back to Thursday night for the rest, 1 man was shot dead in Mosul as he left a mosque, 1 man was shot dead outside his Mosul home, 1 Ministry of Electricity employee was shot dead in Baghdad and a Baghdad roadside bombing left one police officer injured.
As the security situation continues to fall apart, the tensions increase between Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister, and other elements in the Iraqi government such as Ayad Allawi.  Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram Weekly) reports
The latest crisis was sparked by a spat between the leaders of the two main blocs in the country's "partnership" government, Shia Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and the leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqia Coalition bloc, Iyad Allawi.
On Friday, Allawi charged Al-Maliki with "lying, hypocrisy and deception", saying that Al-Maliki had "depended on foreigners and Iran's support to become prime minister."
Allawi's remarks came hours after pro Al-Maliki demonstrators carried his picture when standing next to Firas Al-Jubouri, a man whom the government accuses of masterminding a massacre of some 70 Shias in 2006 while on their way to a wedding.
The gruesome crime, which included the raping of the women, including the bride, and the slaughtering of the men and children and the throwing of their bodies into the Tigris, was disclosed last month, infuriating many Shias who have demanded the public execution of the perpetrators.
But the incident also raises questions about why the government has waited so long to bring the assault to light and if it is now trying to implicate Allawi in it, especially following rumors that Al-Jubouri is a member of his National Accord Movement.
The disclosure came amid mounting criticism of Al-Maliki, who holds the portfolios of defense, interior and national security ministers in the Iraqi government, as well as that of intelligence chairman, and who has been accused of failing to stop the violence.
Some have suggested that Al-Maliki has filled these ministries and top security posts with his cronies and supporters who are inefficient or corrupt.
The editorial board of Gulf News also underscores the serious problems Nouri is facing:
Standards were set and consequences for failure were announced and yet when the time came for some stock-taking, Al Maliki's inaction has left him facing intense queries for which he would be hard- pressed to provide answers.
Admitting that the 100-day deadline hasn't worked would have been an easy way out. He could have always taken a fresh guard after that. With the Arab Spring touching new heights and with civil society sensing that they have made rapid breakthroughs across countries in the Middle East, Al Maliki can ill-afford to cloak his explanations in ambiguity.
This has been done by setting a fresh four-year plan for each ministry amid claims that 'massive progress' has been achieved in the stipulated 100 days. The opposition obviously does not agree. This is not the time for extreme long-term vision, especially when the route for the short term is littered with roadblocks.
Meanwhile Lara Jakes (AP) looks into the contract workers in Iraq and finds few make a solid living, let alone leave rich.  She notes, "With 900,000 Iraqis unemployed, the government has little sympathy for foreigners who have flocked here to take menial jobs as housekeepers or restaurant workers. And, to get here, authorities say immigrants are routinely fleeced by employment agencies who charge thousands of dollars for flights and temporary visas for workers who wind up earning only a few hundred dollars each month."  Today on The World (PRI), the issue was addressed.  Excerpt:
MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is the World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. Some 35,000 private security contractors are thought to be working in Iraq these days. That number is expected to increase dramatically as U.S. troops withdraw at the end of this year. Many Iraqis are concerned about that. Contractors have been involved in some controversial, even deadly incidents in Iraq, but they also have legal immunity against prosecution for any crimes they may have committed before 2009. Reporter Jane Arraf joins us from Baghdad. So, Jane, a group from the U.N. was just in Baghdad to discuss the role of security contractors there. What were they looking at in particular?
JANE ARRAF: Well, they were really looking at what sort of rules should be implemented and how it's been going so far. It's actually called the U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries. Now, these people are not mercenaries they point out, they are private security contractors, but their ranks are really going to grow. As the U.S. military leaves, they're going to have to hire more security contractors to protect the Embassy. And, really what this group wanted to do was a bit of a fact-finding mission. It wanted to talk to security contractors, wanted to talk to the Iraqi government, didn't quite get all it wanted on that front. And, basically come up with some recommendations.
WERMAN: Well, interesting that you mentioned this euphemism as security contractor, they're really mercenaries according to the U.N. Does the U.N. see them as mercenaries?
ARRAF:  Here in Iraq it's not so much mercenaries, because they are actually contracted employees. But, there are, as you point out, 35,000 of them, including 12,000 foreigners. The U.N. itself is in a bind, because it's going to have to rely on them after U.S. forces pull out. And, as the head of this working group, Jose Luis Gomez del Prado told us earlier today, there is really a gray area there in terms of immunity from prosecution.
In the US, a new call goes out to end the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.  CNN reports that in Baltimore today at the Annual Conference of US Mayors, a resolution was passed which "urged Congress [. . .] to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and redirect money spent to support those conflicts to domestic interests."  Alex Dominguez (AP) quotes Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stating, "How did we get to a deficit and a debt larger than at any time not only in U.S. history but in human history?  We got involved in two wars that, no matter what you think about those wars, we haven't paid for.  That we would build bridges in Baghdad and Kandahar and not Baltimore and Kansas City, absolutely boggles the mind."
Daniel Hanson: So I joined the Marine Corps in 2003. Shortly after I was deployed to Ramadi Iraq in 2004.  And it was a deployment that started with one of our Marines shooting himself in the head -- just kind of brushed that under the table.  And then 34 marines we lost -- throughout the deployment.  We had about 400, 450 Marines injured.  Came back and, uh, went on leave and that was -- that was that.  Started drinking pretty heavy, dealing with nightmares, dealing with things I wasn't really prepared to deal with, I would say. And I think one of the biggest reasons that I dealt with it myself was just because -- I mean, I was in a battalion with a thousand Marines, I don't think people wanted to hear, you know, my whining and complaining.  So -- Then shortly after we went on antoher deployment, non-combat which, uhm, uh, just kept on drinking, kept masking my issues with whatever -- whatever would take away any of the pain. Came back and then about six months later my unit was deployed again to Iraq. This time I was in the remain-behind-element so I was kind of able to see the other side of things -- when we would get the casualty reports, we would get the KIAs in and have to notifiy and take beyond that end of things as well.  I decided that I was going to get out of the Marine Corps and uh -- But I was persuaded by a good friend, Sgt Major JJ Ellis, to stay in but, on that deployment, he ended up getting killed.  I went to his funeral over in Arlington National Cemetery.  Then after that, a friend, also in  2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, Jonathan Schulze, hanged himself in the basement of his home and that kind of got me twirling out of control just before I was going to get out of the Marine Corps.  And then finally on March -- I got discharged in February, 2007.  And then on March 23, 2007, my brother -- who is also in the Marine Corps -- he hung himself in the basement of his home. And at that point, I think I decided I was going to do everything I could to avoid pain, that I was going to do everything to deal with it myself as I had been doing for the last three or four years.  And I got into drugs, I got into alcohol.  I got into whatever it was that would mask the pain that day. Eventually, I tried to kill myself.  I ended up in the St. Cloud VA Medical Center for about 48 hours in lock-up.  And then I was  released and off to do whatever it is that I wanted to do -- which was go back to work because that seemed like the normal thing to do after -- after something like that.  And eventually I found myself in and out of jail.  I'm not -- And I was getting treated on an outpatient basis for awhile at the VA Medical Center.  But when you were as messed up as I was, it takes a lot more than, you know, one or two sessions a week to get through my issues.  And so I eventually found my way into the dual diagnosis program to get help.  It was mostly to avoid a longer stint in jail for my DUIs.  Eventually, I got out after about 30 days.  I think I started drinking the next day.  About a year later I found myself in jail for, I don't know, the sixth or seventh time and I decided for myself that I was done hurting myself, I was done hurting my family, I was done hurting my children. And I checked into a 13 to 15 month faith-based program that was what changed my life.  About a week after jail, I stopped going to work, stopped going to school and I decided that I wasn't going to be very productive unless I got help.  And that's what I did at Minneapolis Teen Challenge. It was more of a holistic approach.  It was -- I went to the VA once a week to get help in the combat and the military specific issues and then I would stay there, you know, seven days a week.  I wasn't able to get any funding through the VA  because it was not -- it was not a VA funded program. Therefore, I got backed up on bills, I wasn't able to pay things and eventually filed bankruptcy. So in my dealing with the VA Medical Center, I always felt like I was in control, I was running my own rehabilitation althought I couldn't even, you know, put my shoes and socks on correctly most days.  I felt like it was "Whatever I wanted to do Mr. Hanson, whatever I wanted to do that I thought was best for me.  Well I thought what was best for me to go and get drunk and get high and forget about all my troubles and forget about all my nightmares.
Iraq War veteran Daniel Hanson was testifying Tuesday to the House Veterans Affairs Committee in their hearing on mental health.  A few notes about the above.  This is the hearing that I was hoping to get room for all week.  (Not the hearing that has a transcript, I wasn't interested in that hearing.)  A veteran who also attended the hearing asked me if I wasn't covering it because of Daniel Hanson's attitude towards treatment?  The only reason I hadn't covered it was we didn't have room.
But his treatment probably is as important as anything else in the hearing in many ways, so let's discuss that.  What works for me is not going to work for you unless we're very similar.  People are very different.  There is no cookie cutter treatment to help someone towards recovery.  For Dan Hanson, a faith-based program worked.  That's most likely because he's living a faith-based life. If someone is liviing that sort of life and he or she has a very strong faith, that faith needs to be part of the therapy.  It needs to be brought into it.  What the VA couldn't provide him with for whatever reasons, he kept searching until it came to him.  And good for him for that.
The thing that bothers me the most about his testimony -- and I thought he was very brave to have shared all he did -- is that he's talking about feeling like all the choices were up to him.  In the civilian world there might be a likelihood of treatments -- at the start -- being like that.  But not all are. And I'm especially surprised that one would be geared towards veterans like that.  To use Dan Hanson's life as an example, he was in a lot of pain and he was spiraling out of control.  He correctly identifies himself as not having the skills at that point to go beyond what was probably labeled "stinking thinking" in his treatment (the "stinking thinking" that led him into the situation).  Especially for veterans, that seems misguided.  Just listening to his story, Dan Hanson was managing -- maybe not coping -- and had to grab additional resources (alcohol, drugs) to continue to manage each day.  This was in the military.  His use of alcohol most likely increased out of the military because there are certain structures within the daily life of the military that would make it much more difficult for him to show up for duty drunk off his as.
And the military structure is something that's instilled in training.  The point being, if you're a veteran and you're seeking treatment for some behaviours that are harmful and out of control, you need structure.  You need to see that you are part of your treatment and you need to see that you can work your treatment or program.  But before you can go anywhere, a sesne of structure has to be imposed upon you by the program.
That's what Dan Hanson did not get from the VA and what he's talking about when he refers to feeling like the VA attitude was: Do what you want, you know best.  If you talk to Elaine generically about this sort of topic (she keeps patient confidentiality and never discusses specifics), she would tell you that your life needs some structure and she'd work with you to construct that (with the earliest stages of your treatment being the most highly stuctured).  So I'm confused as to how anyone at the VA thought that sort of 'treatment' would help.  His life was chaos and felt chaos on the inside which is why he was using alcohol and other drugs to mask what was going on inside.  It disturbs me that something so obvious as missed and if was missed with one person, then it's been missed with many.  Dan Hanson was very brave to share his story.  And his story isn't just a story of 'this didn't work for me but that did.'  It's also a story of VA not grasping emotional distress. 
He used Minneapolis Teen Challenge.  Many of today's veterans are very young but they may not realize that 'teen' addiction treatment centers can often treat them as well because they are actually teen and young adult.  Most go up to at least the age of 24 when accepting clients. Of live-in treatment programs, those tend to provide more structure than those geared solely for adults.  So that is something that is a resource to any veteran who's 24 or under and relates to Dan Hanson's journey.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Jeff Miller and the Ranking Member is Bob Filner.  Bob Filner noted that the Committee he had repeatedly lodged complaints about the backlog and he did do that.  And it's also true that he and others offered the VA their ear, asked the VA repeatedly, "What do you need?"  Time and again, the Committee was told they needed nothing from Congress. I can remember many Subcommittee hearings where Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin would be the Chair and she would specifically ask about the backlog.  And she would be told that they didn't need additional employees and that, in fact, additional employees would slow them down because they'd have to pull people away from working claims to train the new employees.  So the backlog isn't a minor issue, it's not one that Congress has ignored, it's one that the VA has repeatedly stated was fixed or about to be fixed, etc.  And it's not been fixed. 
This came up during the hearing on Tuesday when the VA's Dr. Karen Seal spoke of the hiring freeze at her VA when Ranking Member Bob Filner brought up the issue of veterans unemployment and wondered why the VA wasn't hiring veterans for duties such as outreach and interaction.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: I don't mean to interrupt you.  Mr. Chairman, I've heard this in several places.  There's a hiring freeze.  I mean, we have the biggest problem we've ever had.  We've given the VA more money than they've ever had. And we keep hearing about hiring freeze.  What is going on here?  I mean, we're under-resourced you [Dr. Seal] say. I mean, we have increased the VA budget every year for as long as we've been here and it's 60, 70% higher than it was just five years ago.  What is going on?
Phil Roe is a House Veterans Affairs Committee Member and he's also a medical doctor.  He wanted to explore the faith-based aspect   And this probably was the unique part of the hearing because that topic hasn't been discussed at prior hearings I've attended.  So let's emphasize Roe and Hanson's exchange.
US House Rep Phil Roe: I want to hear a little bit more about your faith-based, how the program you felt was successful for you.  I think that's really important because obviously everybody's different but this clearly worked with you and I think you'd made  your mind up too that you were going to change your life. I think it had a lot to do with you also.
Daniel Hanson:  Yes, sir. I mean I was at the point where it was either -- I mean, I was on my knees in my jail cell praying.  I said, "God, either use me or kill me."  And I eventually went to Teen Challenge and the reason I feel that was so effective was it was more of a holistic -- I mean, I was such an immoral -- I used to say "social parasite" -- where, you know, I was a liar, I was an alcoholic, I was a dead beat dad essentially.  And when I went into Minnesota Teen Challenge, I was able to deal with ,the moral and not just the things that happened in combat but going all the way back to childhood and some of those issues and get to the heart.  And for 13 to 15 months, you know, you're going to get through a lot of the issues.  I still have issues, but they are considerably less.  I mean, it was physical healing, emotional healing, spiritual healing.  It was, you know, mental healing.  And it was, like I said, more of a holistic approach  of getting help for not just what happened when I was in the Marine Corps but before and after, and the damage I had done, the survivor's guilt. And knowing that what happened happened but I have a future and I have the chance to make the best out of it.  And that's what I intend on doing now.
US House Rep Phil Roe:  And you've obviously done a great job with that and a real asset not only as a soldier and a Marine but as just a citizen of the country and as a father .  And again to the Chairman and Mr. Filner's question, how do you think the VA could use some of the experiences you've had to make it better for other Marines or soldiers or Airmen who have experienced the same thing?
Daniel Hanson: Well I definitely feel that at times, if I would have got the kick in the butt I needed to get into rehab -- where if the VA would have said, "Lookit, either you go to rehab, you get better or, you know, you're not welcome here. Basically, if you don't want to use what we have set up for us then maybe you should use somewhere else.  Because if there's people that really want to get help, this place needs to be open for those individuals."  And for years, I had great opportunities to get help but I didn't because I didn't want to.  And I think that if the VA, you know, instead of a friendship role, took that parent role when I know there's plenty of times my dad made choices where I hated him for it at the beginning but I saw the absolute necessity of it years down the road. I appreciated him much more for it obviously instead of him not parenting me.  And it's a wierd analogy to use -- the VA as a parent -- but I just think if the VA would be possibly more assertive in their treatment and saying, "Lookit, you're obviously messed up, you've been through this, you've been through this, you have this police record. It's time to either get help or, you know, find somewhere else to try to get help." 
US House Rep Michael Michaud and Daniel Hanson spoke about the need to have knowledge of a variety of programs before you discharge from the military and become a veteran. He spoke about how when he was active duty, it would have been helpful to know about different ways to get help and "to know it wasn't 'weird' or 'weak'" to get help.  Michaud noted that on trips to Iraq, he asks what's needed to help with issues like TBI and PTSD and traumas and the brass tells him they have all they need.  But a lower ranking official pulled him aside and suggested he speak to the clergy about the issue.  He noted he now does that on every visit to Iraq, "And they [the clergy] were telling me that more and more of the soldiers were going to them because they were afraid to seek help from a doctor because they were afraid of what other soldiers would say."
Burials will take place this weekend of US soldiers who died in Iraq.  One took place yesterday and Susan Demar Lafferty (Chicago Sun-Times) has the best text report on that funeral:

Flags waved, tears flowed and hundreds of supporters lined roads from Homer Glen to Elwood on Thursday to pay tribute to U.S. Army Pfc. Michael Olivieri, who was laid to rest at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
The Homer Glen resident, remembered as a "great guy" and respected for his military service by those who came out to pay tribute, was killed in Iraq on June 6 along with four others when militants attacked their base.
At a brief and somber graveside military service, Olivieri's wife, Sharon; parents Michael and Jody; and three siblings were surrounded by hundreds of mourners as they sat tearfully in white folding chairs in front of a flag-draped casket.

The worst text report? Homer Glen is a suburb of Chicago. Chicago has two major dailies. While the Sun-Times did their job, the Tribune wasn't up to the task. At three brief sentences, it's practically a Tweet. And if you had written it, you'd be glad there was no byline as well. Video of Lockport High School students watching the procession is here. WGN notes, "Olivier was laid to rest at Abraham Lincoln national cemetery in Elwood. "

Wednesday was the wake, yesterday was the funeral and burial. Bob Rakow (Southtown Star) reports on the wake and quotes Rosemary Koning, a family friend who attended, stating, "I think for the family, it helps to know that people support them. His life was not in vain."

Michael Olivieri died Monday, June 6th in a Baghdad attack along with four other US soldiers. He is one of at least eight US soldiers to die serving in Iraq in the last two weeks.

Susan Demar Lafferty reports, "Sharon Olivieri put her head down on the casket while clutching her husband's flag. The couple were one week shy of their first wedding anniversary when the 26-year-old Olivieri was killed."