Wednesday, October 5, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, new details and avenues emerge regarding "trainers" (US soldiers) remaining in Iraq beyond the end of the year, the US State Dept takes out a bounty, the press 'forgets' Iraq in a governmental briefing today, US veterans of the current wars share their thoughts on the conflicts and surviving them, US Senators Patty Murray and Richard Burr prepare to host a veterans economic roundtable in DC tomorrow, and more.
Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports a series of gold shop robberies in Iraq today which left 2 people dead and three more injured. Reuters notes violence sweeps Iraq today with a Ramadi roadside bombing claiming 1 life and leaving fifteen more people injured, a Baghdad grenade attack claiming the life of 1 Iraqi soldier while injuring a second one, a Taji roadside bombing injuring four pilgrims, the mayor of Tuz Khurmato being shot dead, a Baghdad grenade attack left two Iraqi soldiers injured, another Baghdad attack left two police officers with bullet wounds, a Baquba attack claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers with three more injured, and, dropping back to last night, a Baquba boming claimed 1 life and left six more people injured, the corpse of 1 Sahwa was discovered in Qaiyara, and a Taza bombing injured one person.
In fact, the 39 remaining US military bases -- out of 505 -- included four large facilities which cost over $2 billion to build. The Al Asad Airfield in Anbar province, for example, is so well equipped that most servicemen refer to it as "Camp Cupcake." Likewise, at the Joint Base Balad, huge dining halls cater to thousands, many of whom have access to a "25-metre swimming pool, a high dive, a football field, a softball field, two full-service gyms, a squash court, a movie theatre, and the US military's largest airfield in Iraq." One can only imagine the numerous items stocked at each -- from toothbrushes to bombs -- though the Department of Defence estimated that at least 2.4 million pieces of equipment worth a total of at least $250 million (Dh919.5 million) were donated to the Iraqi army over the course of the past 12 months alone.
For reasons that remain murky, why did Washington authorise and actually build colossal facilities in Iraq if the assumption was not to transform the country into a long-term staging area for US troops in the Gulf region? Why create an extensive infrastructure to support large numbers of troops that would be fully operational with their latest equipment, if the American presence was temporary? Was it all a waste of money? Were there no dissenting voices that warned the Bush and Obama administrations that militarization was not a long-term option?
You might think people would show the same questioning with regards to the "trainers" issue currently. Most in the press don't. Rebecca Santana (AP) does:
When the security agreement was negotiated in 2008, U.S. and Iraqi negotiators figured out a solution that appeased both sides.
The agreement gives Iraq the right to exercise jurisdiction over U.S. troops for "grave premeditated felonies" when those crimes are committed by troops who are off-duty and outside of U.S. bases or facilities.
Good for Rebecca Santana and AP. News is more than a press release. A lot of people 'covering' the "trainers" issue don't get that as their 'reports' repeatedly indicate.
So the press that misreported on the "trainers," they were all over the press briefings today, right?
Jay Carney, White House spokesperson, did declare, "This President's position on Iraq, which was the principle preoccupation of the previous administration in terms of these wars, was clear during the campaign, and his promises are being kept. He is ending that war, has ended it. And we are on track to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of the year. And we are doing it -- we're ending that war in a responsible way."
Sadly, those lies -- Jay is quite the liar -- were in reply to the question about some Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans not feeling the war were worth it.
Not one question about Iraq was asked. Who's at fault? The public. Hell no. A lazy press that thinks they're cute laughing and cutting up with Jay Carney. (Not all. Jake Tapper asked hard questions as usual.) The press told us yesterday, this morning and this afternoon that there would be NO immunity for US troops remaining in Iraq beyond 2011. Who's commander in chief? Jay Carney's boss. But no one had time or sense enough to ask about this issue, did they? Again, that's a reflection on the press.
QUESTION: Yes. What is your reaction to the Iraqi Government decision not to extend immunity to U.S. advisors past the 31stt of December?
MS. NULAND: Well, first to say that we are reviewing the statements that were made -- that was made in Iraq yesterday. Ambassador Jeffrey and others are working with Iraqi leaders today on specifically what they have in mind. We certainly appreciate the democratic spirit that has been displayed by Iraqi leaders in debating this important subject, and we're going to continue those discussions.
I think you know that as a matter of practice, when we enter into these long-term relationships, which is what we are negotiating now, we always ensure that our forces have the protections they need when they're deployed overseas. So we have to work through these issues.
QUESTION: Well, the statement, when it came out at 4 o'clock Washington time, essentially caught the Defense Department by surprise. And one person said this isn't going to make the negotiations any easier. We've already started far later than we should have. And if they insist on no immunity for U.S. forces, that's it, we're not going to do it.
MS. NULAND: Was there a question there, Ros?
QUESTION: Was there any signal from the Iraqi Government that this was going to be coming down the pike? Was there any heads-up to anyone in the building on this?
MS. NULAND: I, frankly, can't speak to what our Embassy and our folks on the ground knew with regard to this particular statement. But as you know, Ambassador Jeffrey and General Allen have been in nonstop communication with the Iraqis. We are working through this now, and as I said, we appreciate the fact that the Iraqis have been working hard to build a constituency for a continued training relationship, and we need to work on that together.
QUESTION: Was there ever a sense that the Iraqis appreciate the bind that they're essentially putting the U.S. military in, and by extension, the work of the U.S. State Department in Iraq starting next year by, one, waiting so late to decide that they wanted to talk about what happens next, and then two, to let things like this come out on official letterhead, long into the evening and people are thinking about other things?
MS. NULAND: I wouldn't characterize it that way, Ros. We've been talking about these issues for a long time, and we need to talk about them until we come to an agreement that is strong for Iraq and strong for the United States and strong for the region.
Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) spoke with Iraqi MP Iskander Witwit who told him that what was reported yesterday was what it was. And he quotes Witwit stating, "This is the finish. It is final." Well there's no reason he would know what Nouri al-Maliki is planning or discussing with the US currently. But you'd hope he'd at least know what the Parliament was doing -- or is he one of the 100-plus MPs who have trouble making it to the sessions? At any rate he looks like a fool (as does Gutman who framed his report around Witwit) because Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports, "Iraqi lawmakers on Wednesday said they were discussing a deal to extend a NATO training mission that could allow U.S. troops to stay as trainers beyond the year-end deadline for withdrawal, with the type of legal protections demanded by Washington." Wait, it gets better, al-Salhy reports the bill was read out loud to the Parliament once already. Witwit (and Gutman) where were you?
And who was foolish enough to think Witwit was a go to? He's Iraqiya. He's got no inside line to Nouri's thoughts. More importantly, Iraqiya's wised up a little and is now toeing a tough line with all things US to have a position to negotiate from (as opposed to the lead up to the Erbil Agreement when Iraqiy unwisely gave up too much and had nothing to show for it). In fairness to Roy Gutman, he does grasp what took place on Tuesday which cannot be said for most outlets (including but not limited to the New York Times, Reuters, etc.) It is not a minor point and if the snapshot weren't being edited quickly to eliminate at least 30K, we'd have more in here on that. However, Gutman got what went down yesterday. Very few did. He deserves much credit for that. The Tehran Times reports that the Sadr bloc says they are opposed to US troops staying beyond the end of this year with or without immunity.
On the topic of immunity, Al Mada reports that Parliament's backing Sabah al-Saadi and not lifting immunity from the MP. Nouri al-Maliki swore out an arrest warrant on al-Saadi because the MP is a critic of Nouri's and because of a private conversation al-Saadi had in which he told another person that Nouri would face the same ending that Saddam Hussein did. Nouri can't arrest al-Saadi as long as he has immunity -- which all MPs do -- so he's attempted to get Parliament to lift the immunity. Nouri's attorney has stated that if it's not lifted, they'll just wait (years) until Parliament's term ends and then arrest him.
Today, the Department of State designated Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, also known as Abu Du'a, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224. The consequences of this designation include a prohibition against knowingly providing material support or resources to, or engaging in other transactions with Abu Du'a, and the freezing of all property and interests in property of Abu Du'a that is in the United States, or comes within the United States or the control of U.S. persons. Today, the Department's Rewards for Justice program is also offering a $10 million reward for information that leads to the location of Abu Du'a.
Abu Du'a is the leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI). AQI is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), and was listed by the UNSCR 1267 Committee in 2004.
Abu Du'a is in charge of running AQI operations currently based in Iraq and is responsible for managing and directing large scale operations, such as the August 28, 2011 attack on the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad, which killed prominent Sunni lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi. In a statement eulogizing Usama bin Laden, Abu Du'a threatened violent retaliation for bin Laden's death. Three days after bin Laden's death, Abu Du'a claimed responsibility for an attack in Hilla, Iraq, that killed 24 policemen and wounded 72 others. The group claimed 23 other attacks south of Baghdad between March and April 2011; all of these attacks have been carried out under Abu Du'a's guidance.
On August 15, 2011, a wave of AQI suicide attacks began in Mosul, Iraq, which has resulted in over 70 deaths. Shortly thereafter, AQI, under Abu Du'a's direction, pledged on its website to carry out 100 attacks across Iraq in retaliation for bin Laden's death. The statement claimed the campaign would include varied attacks, including raids, suicide attacks, roadside bombs and small arms attacks in all cities and rural areas across Iraq.
This designation plays a critical role in our fight against terrorism and is an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to abandon terrorism.
Information about Abu Du'a is located on the Rewards for Justice web site (www.rewardsforjustice.net/dua). We encourage anyone with information on Abu Du'a's location to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, any U.S. military commander, or the Rewards for Justice office via the website, by e-mail (RFJ@state.gov) or by mail at Rewards for Justice, Washington, DC 20520-0303, USA. All information will be kept strictly confidential. Since its inception in 1984, the Rewards for Justice Program has paid more than $100 million to more than 70 persons who provided actionable information that put terrorists behind bars or prevented acts of international terrorism worldwide.
Meanwhile Al Mada notes that MP Safia al-Suhail issued a statement this week condemning the attacks on Iraqi activists in general and specifically the attack on Ayatollah al-Lami. Earlier this week, Al Mada reported on Ayatollah al-Lami, a feminist who protested last Friday in Baghdad's Tahrir Squre and was abducted and tortured by a group which claims to 'defend Iraqi women's freedom' but actually is under Nouri's control. Photographs demonstrate that once abducted by Nouri's group, al-Lami's face was beaten and wounds on her back showed other signs of torture. Nouri has targeted the protesters for months now as well as journalists that cover the protests. MP Safia al-Suhail referred to these attacks as "flagrant acts of aggression" and a violation of human rights, "a flagrant violation of Iraqi laws" and of the Constitution.
Meanwhile DPA reports that, in Spain, Judge Santiago Pedraz has re-opened the case into the April 8, 2003 death of Telecinco journalist Jose Couso who (along with Reuters journalist Taras Protsyuk) was killed when the US military attacked the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. Al Goodman (CNN) adds Pedraz "has again indicted three U.S. soldiers [. . .] Philip de Camp, Phillip Wolford and Thomas Gibson [. . .] and also ordered the three soldiers to each post bond of one million euros ($1.33 million) within 24 hours or face an embargo order on their assets, the court order said." Last month Press TV reminded, "It's been almost a year since WikiLeaks revealed that the Spanish government was pressured to close the legal case brought by the Jose Couso family."
In the US, Pew Research Center has conducted a poll of veterans. The most important finding is that "more than four-in-ten (44%) report that they have had difficulties readjusting to civilian life, and 37% say that -- whether or not they have been formally diagnosed -- they have suffered from post-traumatic stress." Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) notes the difficulties is an increase from prior wars, "Forty-four percent of those surveyed say their adjustment to civilian life has been difficult, compared with the 25% of veterans surveyed from previous eras. Half of those who served in combat report signs of post-traumatic stress, and 75% report living with nightmares and flashbacks from their combat experience." Moni Basu (CNN) adds, "Veterans -- 84% -- said most Americans do not understand the myriad problems they and their families have had to face, including long separations, physical and psychological injuries, and stress. Some 71% of the public agreed." Pew's survey comes on the heels of a Veterans for Common Sense's study. David Goldstein (McClatchy Newspapers) notes the report found almost "20 percent of the more than 2 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from mental health conditions" and he quotes Paul Sullivan who notes that the government estimate in 2003 was that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would result in "50,000 new patients for both wars": however, Goldstein points out that the study finds "more than 1 million total patients from the wars by the end of 2013." Kelley B. Vlahos provided an overview of the report yesterday at The American Conservative. FYI, Kelley Vlahos will be taking part in a Saturday event. This is Angela Keaton's write up for Antiwar.com:
On the topic of veterans, Atticus Brigham (Washington Square News) observes, "Prior to 2003, civilian suicides outnumbered military suicides nearly two to one. Now, government statistics show the opposite. For example, the rate of suicides by Texan veterans ages 18-35 is twice the rate of civilian suicides in the comparable population. In Oregon, male veterans 18-24 are almost five times more likely to commit suicide as the comparable civilian population. Californian soldiers under 35 are three times more likely to die of suicide than be killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. Nationally, veterans commit about one-fifth of all suicides, though they comprise significantly less than one-thousandth of the United States' population." The suicide increase is most likely part of the struggle being documented in the Pew poll and the Veterans for Common Sense study. Yesterday US Senator Patty Murray's office released a letter that Murray -- the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee -- sent to the VA's Dr. outlining her grave concerns over the findings in a VA study that veterans are not getting the help they request in a timely manner:
October 3, 2011
The Honorable Robert A. Petzel, MD
Under Secretary for Health
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Dr. Petzel:
Under your leadership, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made strides in improving mental health care for veterans. In addition to implementing the Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008, VA has written state-of-the-art policies, begun integrating mental health in primary care, and created groundbreaking new programs, such as the suicide hotline. VA has improved staffing guidelines, created new outreach programs and anti-stigma efforts, and required extended hours at some of its mental health clinics. The Department also continues to seek improvements, such as the ongoing effort to create joint clinical practice guidelines for the provision of mental health care from both VA and the Department of Defense.
However, much more remains to be done. At a Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing this summer reviewing the Department's mental health services, Daniel Williams, a veteran, and Andrea Sawyer, a caregiver for her husband Loyd Sawyer, testified that they waited months to get follow-up appointments. They are not the only ones, however. Data provided by the Department on wait times for mental health appointments show unacceptably long delays in accessing care. For example, at the Spokane medical center in my home state of Washington, the average wait time for a psychiatry appointment is almost 21 days, with barely more than half of such appointments meeting the 14 day standard, or at the Walla Walla clinic where less than half of mental health appointments are made according to the standard.
Almost three years after VA adopted the Uniform Mental Health Services Handbook, I continue to hear from veterans, their caregivers and health care providers that it has not been fully implemented. To understand the disconnect between VA policy and practice, I asked the Department to survey its mental health care providers across the country. VA asked them what they thought about access, and the results were very troubling.
VA received responses from 272 mental health providers within five Veterans Integrated Service Networks. Of these providers, nearly 40 percent said they cannot schedule an appointment in their own clinic for a new patient within 14 days. Seventy percent said they did not have adequate staff or space to meet the mental health care needs of the veterans they serve, and 46 percent said the lack of off-hour appointments prevented veterans from accessing care. In addition, over 26 percent of VA mental health providers said the need to perform compensation and pension examinations pulled them away from patient care.
More troubling, however, is the apparent lack of a plan of action to address the issues these data illustrate. Particularly in the Department's written submission, the action items listed are almost entirely devoid of specific concrete steps which will be taken. I am pleased that the Department is moving to a more robust and comprehensive measure of access to mental health care and will make this metric a component of VISN directors' performance contracts, though I question why this was not done earlier. I remain very concerned that the Department is going to delay other action for more than a year in order to conduct focus groups. While I understand the Department has concerns that this survey is not comprehensive, after the countless Inspector General reports, GAO reports, hearings, public laws, conferences, and stories from veterans and clinicians in the field, it is time to act.
The sad truth is that veterans who call to get a VA appointment have at least made the decision to reach out to VA for help. That is the critical step in accessing care, and it is not acceptable to have veterans, who have stepped up and shown the courage to ask for help, be denied that care. Additionally, there are many veterans who, because of their mental illness, are unwilling or unable to navigate the VA system to get the help they need. Many who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may develop severe symptoms a year or more after they return home. VA must find a way to reach out to those veterans, and not wait for them to contact VA.
Dr. Petzel, I know that you and your leadership team are working hard to improve the delivery of health care to veterans, but the results of this survey and the mental health wait times data demonstrate there is much more that needs to be done. I would like to know if you feel the Department has everything it needs, including sufficient resources and appropriate statutory authorities, to make the needed improvements.
Thank you for all you are doing and I look forward to working with you to support our nation's veterans.
In additon Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray and Ranking Member Richar Burr will host an employment roundtable in DC tomorrow. Murray's office notes:
(Washington, D.C.) -- On Thursday, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray and Ranking Member Richard Burr, together with Microsoft Corp., will convene a roundtable discussion about training and hiring America's unemployed veterans for skilledjobs. In August, Microsoft announced an expansion of its Elevate America veterans initiative, in partnership with the Department of Labor, to provide additional support to veterans in their transition to the civilian workforce. Attendees will hear from veterans and the National Commander of the American Legion, Fang Wong, about the difficult employment landscape our returning veterans face.
In June, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee unanimously passed Chairman Murray's Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 - the first of its kind to require broad job skills training for all service members returning home. In addition to providing new job skills training to all service members, the bill will also create new direct federal hiring authority so more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military, and will for the first time require the military to provide separating servicemembers with the tools to help them find jobs when they return home.
Back to the Pew survey, MJ Lee (POLITICO) notes another aspect of it, "Only one in three veterans think the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were worth fighting . . . [and] 33 percent said the two wars were not worth fighting". Aliyah Shadid (New York Daily News) notes that the percentage of veterans who thinks the wars were worth fighting (34%) "is slightly above the 28% of the general public who says the wars are worth fighting." And as the US Great Recession continues, the financial costs of the wars increase (economists Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz noted last month was over $2.5 trillion thus far). With the increase comes attention. Mike Lillis (The Hill) reports that US House Rep Barney Frank declared in DC yesterday, "We are now spending $120 billion a year in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And incredibly, President Obama -- who I strongly support in general -- is contemplating staying in Iraq even longer than George Bush wanted to. That is totally unacceptable, and we must make that very clear." Democrat Frank is running for re-election in 2012. What of Republicans vying for their party's presidential nomination? Bradley Klapper (Associated Press) surveys the field and notes Texas Governor Rick Perry has called out the spending on the Afghanistan War (he's done the same with the Iraq War but that's not noted) and former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman argues that nation-building needs to be done in the US and not overseas. US House Rep Ron Paul is mentioned in the article but we'll note this from Paul's campaign site
Today, however, hundreds of thousands of our fighting men and women have been stretched thin all across the globe in over 135 countries -- often without a clear mission, any sense of what defines victory, or the knowledge of when they'll be permanently reunited with their families.
Acting as the world's policeman and nation-building weakens our country, puts our troops in harm's way, and sends precious resources to other nations in the midst of an historic economic crisis.
Taxpayers are forced to spend billions of dollars each year to protect the borders of other countries, while Washington refuses to deal with our own border security needs.
Congress has been rendered virtually irrelevant in foreign policy decisions and regularly cedes authority to an executive branch that refuses to be held accountable for its actions.
Far from defeating the enemy, our current policies provide incentive for more to take up arms against us.
That's why, as Commander-in-Chief, Dr. Paul will lead the fight to:
* Make securing our borders the top national security priority.
* Avoid long and expensive land wars that bankrupt our country by using constitutional means to capture or kill terrorist leaders who helped attack the U.S. and continue to plot further attacks.
* Guarantee our intelligence community's efforts are directed toward legitimate threats and not spying on innocent Americans through unconstitutional power grabs like the Patriot Act.
* End the nation-building that is draining troop morale, increasing our debt, and sacrificing lives with no end in sight.
* Follow the Constitution by asking Congress to declare war before one is waged.
* Only send our military into conflict with a clear mission and all the tools they need to complete the job -- and then bring them home.
That's an excerpt, visit the page in full for more. We are not a campaign site. We do not obsess over elections. If candidates for office mention Iraq, then they may pop up in the snapshots. (We did make a point to check the websites of Michele Bachman and Herman Cain to see if they had anything worth including. Neither mentions Iraq. So no links, no quotes. Mitt Romney mentions the US being engaged in "three hot wars" and states he will "Oppose efforts to cut our military budget.")