Monday, October 31, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, one year ago today Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad was attacked, US plans to use Kuwait as a stating area finally get serious attention from the US mainstream media, Nouri's screaming "Ba'athists!" again, and more.
Today Mark Thompson (Time magazine) observers, "Just like clockwork, the Administration lets the New York Times know that it's planning to leave a big force in Iraq's 'hood to keep an eye on troublemakers in Tehran, Baghdad and elsewhere." What's he referring to? Saturday (online, Sunday in print) Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reported, "The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran." Good for them for noting it, but why didn't anyone note it two Fridays ago (or the Saturday after) when covering Barack's assertions about 'all' troops coming 'home'? As Shanker and Myers note, this has been known for "months." We noted it two Fridays ago. And while it has been known for months, it's funny how so many outlets ignored it that day (the day Barack gave his speech) and in all the days that followed. When criticism got too much for the administration, as Mark Thompson notes, they ran to the New York Times which only then 'found' the story. (See Third's editorial, "Editorial: US press doesn't give a damn about Iraq.") Dar Addustour reports that DC is in negotiations to boost US troops in Kuwait to use it as a staging platform as well beef up its presence in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. Al Mada notes Kuwait has been discussed for months but now has "urgency" as the year ends and might end without the US securing 'trainers' in Iraq. The paper notes that this is among the alternative solutions being sought. Mark Thompson explains, "The betting here is that thousands of U.S. troops in Kuwait and elsewhere around the Gulf will keep the lid on any Iraq explosion -- at least until after next year's U.S. presidential eleciton."
Presidential candidate and US Senator Barack Obama who is perceived as an 'anti-war' candidate by some announced that he would not commit to a withdrawal, declared that he was comfortable sending US troops back into Iraq after a withdrawal started and lacked clarity on exactly what a withdrawal under a President Obama would mean. Declaring that "there are no good options in Iraq," Senator Obama went on to explain that even with his 16 month plan for withdrawal, he would continue to keep US troops in Iraq, agreeing that he would "leave behind residual force" even after what he is billing as a "troop withdrawal." "Even something as simple as protecting our embassy is going to be dependent on what is the security environment in Baghdad. If there is some sense of security, then that means one level of force. If you continue to have significant sectarian conflict, that means another, but this is an area where Senator Clinton and I do have a significant contrast," Senator Obama offered contrasting himself with his chief opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination. "I do think it is important for us not only to protect our embassy, but also to engage in counter-terrorism activities. We've seen progress against AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], but they are a resilient group and there's the possibility that they might try to set up new bases. I think that we should have some strike capability. But that is a very narrow mission, that we get in the business of counter terrorism as opposed to counter insurgency and even on the training and logistics front, what I have said is, if we have not seen progress politically, then our training approach should be greatly circumscribed or eliminated." The Senator insisted, "I want to be absolutely clear about this, because this has come up in a series of debates: I will remove all our combat troops, we will have troops there to protect our embassies and our civilian forces and we will engage in counter terrorism activities. How large that force is, whether it's located inside Iraq or as an over the horizon force is going to depend on what our military situation is."
On the subject of Iran, Barack Obama appears on the front page of this morning's New York Times. War pornographer Michael Gordon and Jeff Zeleny who lied in print (click here, here and here -- the paper finally retracted Zeleny's falsehood that should have never appeared) present a view of Barack Obama that's hardly pleasing. Among the many problems with the article is Obama as portrayed in the article -- and his campaign has issued no statement clarifying. The Times has the transcript online and from it, Barack Obama does mildly push the unproven claim that the Iranian government is supporting resistance in Iraq. Gordo's pushed that unproven claim repeatedly for over a year now. But Obama's remarks appear more of a reply and partial points in lengthy sentences -- not the sort of thing a functioning hard news reporter would lead with in an opening paragraph, touch on again in the third paragraph, in the fourth paragraph, in . . . But though this isn't the main emphasis of Obama's statements (at any time -- to be clear, when it pops up, it is a fleeting statement in an overly long, multi-sentenced paragraphs), it does go to the fact that Obama is once again reinforcing unproven claims of the right wing. In the transcript, he comes off as obsessed with Hillary Clinton. After her, he attempts to get a few jabs in at John Edwards and one in at Bill Richardson. Here is what real reporters should have made the lede of the front page: "Presidential candidate and US Senator Barack Obama who is perceived as an 'anti-war' candidate by some announced that he would not commit to a withdrawal, declared that he was comfortable sending US troops back into Iraq after a withdrawal started and lacked clarity on exactly what a withdrawal under a President Obama would mean." That is what the transcript reveals. Gordo really needs to let go of his blood lust for war with Iran.
The New York Times could have published a story on this issue in 2007 but didn't. They did publish an expurgated transcript to the interview (that's what we used as source material for the piece at Third -- and all quotes in the Third article were from that transcript). It's a shame scribes for the Times are unaware what's in their own archives but it's a greater shame that when they had a real story in 2007, they pulled their punches and refused to inform readers the story they really had about 'anti-war' candidate Barack.
Simon Tisdall (Guardian) ponders the staging area plan, "Exactly what the Pentagon might do with its expanded Kuwait and Gulf-based forces, should Iraq implode again at some future date or become destabilised by the unrest in Syria, is unclear. A second invasion would not command much public support, to put it mildly. If, on the other hand, the new American deployments are primarily about containing, intimidating or potentially attacking Iran, the emerging picture becomes more comprehensible, although not more reassuring." Lara Jakes (AP) reports Ali Akbar Salehi, Foreign Minister of Iran, sees this as an attempt "to meddle" in Iraq's "internal affairs." Jakes notes US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's remarks that approximately 40,000 US troops will be stationed in the region. Coming home? Leaving the region? Another blow to Barack's big 'withdrawal' speech.
"The crackdown on ex-Ba'athists started earlier this month," Kelly McEvers observed today on Morning Edition (NPR -- link is audio and text). And the crackdown sees a response from the provinces. Thursday, Salahuddin Province's council voted to go semi-autonomous. Iraq has 18 provinces. Three make up the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government. Salahuddin Province's vote was to move towards that sort of relationship. (A form of federalism once advocated by Joe Biden when he was in the Senate.) The next step would be a referendum (that Nouri al-Maliki's government out of Baghdad would have to pay for) and, were the popular vote to back up the council and were the rules followed (always a big if with Nouri as prime minister), Baghdad would control only 14 provinces (of the 18). Though some outside the province are attempting to dispute that the council had the right to vote on the issue, the measure's apparently very positive with the residents (which would explain the 20 to zero vote on the council -- eight members were not present for the vote). Over the weekend, Al Mada reported that people turned out throughout Salahuddin Province (including in Tirkrit, Samarra, Dhuluyia and Sharqat) on Friday to take to the streets after morning prayers and demonstrate in support of the council's vote. Ahmed Abdul-Jabbar Karim, Deputy Governor of the Province, is quoted stating that this decision is something that the officials will not retreat from and that it was backed by the voice of the people. Various State of Law members are quoted offering varying reasons why the vote was wrong or doesn't matter. State of Law is Nouri's political slate. Friday, residents of Anbar Province took to the streets advocating for their province to follow Salahuddin's lead.
Saturday Nouri al-Maliki issued his own response. What does Nouri do when he's unhappy? Accuse them of being Ba'athists. So it's no surprise that Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) quoted a statement from Nouri declaring, "The Baath Party aims to use Salahuddin as a safe haven for Baathists and this will not happen thanks to the awareness of people in the province. Federalism is a constitutional issue and Salahuddin provincial council has no right to decide this issue."
Nouri, of course, sees Ba'athists everywhere. Al Mada noted that the campaign against so-called Ba'athists allegedly plotting a coup continues with at least 560 Iraqis arrested by his forces, on his orders in the last week. The article notes Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) has called the arrests illegal while MP Mahmoud Othman has stated these arrests are not helping to build cohesion or a strong government. Rebecca Santana (AP) noted 615 arrests and observed, "Sunnis say that Baghdad sometimes uses crackdowns on Baathists as a tool to exert political pressure." Al Mada states Nouri's threatening to cut off water to the province. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) explained, "Salahuddin officials said the timing of the vote was spurred by the recent firing of more than 100 professors at Tikrit University for alleged Baath Party connections, and by a nationwide roundup of Baathists in the course of this week." Hammoudi also counters Nouri's claims that he and the Parliament must okay any decision by a province to become semi-autonomous, "In actual fact, article 119 of the Iraqi constitution requires only that a referendum be held in a province following a request for regional status by one-third of the members of the provincial council, or one-tenth of the population." Aswat al-Iraq adds, "The chairman of the Higher Electoral Commission declared that any requests to form a region should be submitted to the Cabinet, underlining that some media organs are reporting inaccurate information with regards to this matter." Who is right? According to the Constitution, Laith Hammoudi's report is correct. From the Iraqi Constitution:
Article 119: One or more governorates shall have the right to organize into a region based on a request to be voted on in a referendum submitted in one of the following two methods: First: A request by one-third of the council members of each governorate intending to form a region. Second: A request by one-tenth of the voters in each of the governorates intending to form a region.
That's the Constitution on the matter, there are no articles or sub-clauses on the issue. Per the Constitution, Salahuddin Province has already met step one. Step two shouldn't be too hard since only 10% of the voters are required to sign off on the request.
Aswat al-Iraq reports, "A conference on federalism was convened today in Basra, aiming to press the central government to expedite the formalities to declare the province a region. Kareem al-Jabiri, an organizer, said that the people of Basra wanted the federal option in the province, whose people suffer of negligence despite its enormous resources."
An Iraqi woman explained to NPR how the crackdown works, "They searched our houses, tossed our furniture. Some of the men on the arrest list are more than 70 years old. You think they're planning to overthrow the country?"
Dar Addustour notes that Parliament's Committee of the Regions is exploring amendments to the the Constitution's Article 119. Faraj al-Haidari, of the Independent High Electoral Committee, continues to insist that there's a governing law that requires provinces to seek permission from the Cabinet. There is no such law in the Constitution. But this may be an indication that when Nouri attempted his seizure of the IHEC last January, he had managed to managed to muzzle them. Al Mada reports Nouri told Salahuddin officials yesterday that their move towards semi-autonomy was destroying national unity. (Saturday he was screaming they were Ba'athists so his latest whine could be seen as an improvement.) Alsumaria TV notes Salhauddin Province's Sabhan Mulla Jiyad responding, "Maliki's assertion that the ministerial council will refuse to declare Salahuddin as an autonomous region is strange and possibly rushed. The Constitution grants us the right to establish a region." In related news, Dar Addustour reports Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that the borders of some governorates need to be changed/fixed. He most likely is referring to Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah which are part of the KRG.
Reuters notes a Khan Bani Saad home invasion that resulted in the death of 1 Sahwa and his brother, and, dropping back to Sunday for the rest, an attack on a Baquba military checkpoint in which 1 Iraqi soldier was killed and when other soldiers responded a bomb went off claiming the lives of 2, and an attack on the Bakuba Patriotic Union of Kurdistan left two guards injured.
And on any hopes for democracy? Don't bet your savings just yet. Mvelase Peppetta (Memeburn) reports alarm that the government of Syria has "internaet censorship equipment." It's illegal, according to US law, for it to have this Blue Coat Systems 'filter.' How did it get it? Apparently from Iraq. The US government okayed the sale of web censorship equipment to Iraq. Did the US government bother to run that past either the Iraqi people or the American people? No. Nor did it publicize the sale.
Today marks the anniversary of last year's four-hour siege on a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad that ended with al-Qaida linked militants massacring 58 worshippers. The attack was the worst against Iraqi Christians since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and enticed many of the already dwindling Christian population in Baghdad to leave the city permanently. "We've had enough now. Leaving Iraq has become a must," Jamal Habo Korges, a Christian mechanic and father of three, told the United Nation's humanitarian news outlet IRIN. "We've been suffering since 2003 and we can't take it anymore. The latest carnage is the final warning." Father Douglas al-Bazi, who was kidnapped and tortured four years earlier, told The Christian Science Monitor after the attack that his Chaldean parish in Baghdad had dwindled from 2,500 families in the 1990s to less than 300. "Of course I cannot ask anyone to stay," he said. "Everyone tells me 'Father, I am sorry - I will leave.' I tell them, 'Don't be sorry, okay? No one is pushing you to die, what's the benefit of dying?'" Iraq's Christian population prior to 2003 was estimated at one million or more. Today, fewer than 400,000 remain. Those who leave either become internally displaced - most toing to the less violent Kurdish north - or flee the country altogether.
NOW Lebanon reports, "Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai on Monday headed to Iraq for an official visit." Lebanon's Daily Star adds he'll be performing the Mass at the Church on the first anniversary of the attack:
The delegation, scheduled to leave Beirut airport shortly before midday Monday, includes Bishop Camille Zaidan and Environment Minister Nazem al-Khoury, on behalf of President Michel Sleiman. [. . .] Rai is expected to hold talks with a number of Iraqi officials before his return home Wednesday evening.
In the year since the attack, Nouri al-Maliki's accomplished nothing to help Iraq's Christian population. Not at all surprising when the official government response in the week after the attack was to turn around and attack France which offered medical care to the wounded. France opened the door and took the wounded in, airlifted them in at no cost to Iraq, provided them with medical treatment at no cost to anyone and the response to that humanitarian gesture was for Nouri's government to condemn France's kindness.
Alan Holdren (Catholic News Agency) notes the dead from the attack included "three children, two priests and a pregnant woman" and that they were remembered today at Rome's Santa Maria in Mass. Father Mukhlis Shisha remembers, "Father Thair Sa'adallah was just beginning his homily after having read the Gospel. When he saw the terrorists enter, he took the Gospel in hand and held it up, saying, 'In the name of the Gospel, leave them and take me. Me for them!'" He also remembers Father Wasseem Sabb'ieh was able to get two families out of the church and, "Before he closed the door, one of the people he helped said to him, 'Father, leave them and come with us and you will be saved.' He answered, 'I won't leave them like this' and he locked the door." Amelie Herenstein (AFP) reports Iraqi Christians ("hundreds") were at the Church today including Nofal Sabah who has a brother who "was wounded and was being treated in Lyon, Franche, while another 'has psychological problems because he saw everything'." He reports his family is attempting to leave Iraq but are unable to get visas. (The AFP article has an uncredited photo of women in the church lighting candles.)
In the Kurdistan Regional Government, where many Iraqi Christians have resettled, you have efforts between the KRG and various religious bodies to build churches -- a Baptist Church, a Catholic Church, etc. The KRG has been much more responsive to the issue of religious persecution than has Iraq. From the October 21st snapshot:
John Pontifex (Scottish Catholic Observer) reported earlier this month on the increase in Ankawa's Christian population noting that "1500 have arrived within the last year alone" and that "Christians arriving in Ankawa have fled not only from the Iraqi capital but from all across the country -- Mosul in the north, Kirkuk in the north-east, and even Basra, hundreds of miles away in the extreme south." Rob Kerby (Belief Net) notes that the Kurdistan Regional Government is offering Iraqi Christians "plots of land as well as $10,000 per family to settle in the village of Se Ganian, whose population was murdered by poison gas during Saddam's campaign against the Kurds." Joni B. Hannigan (Florida Baptist Witness via Asia News) adds, "The Grace Baptist Cultural Center in Dohuk [Province, in the Kurdistan Regional Government] -- a partnership between Iraqi, Jordan, Brazilian, American and Lebanese Baptists -- is being built with the blessing of Iraqi Kurdistan's Regional Government, who donated the $2 million properly. The land is in the same village, Simele, where in 1933 an estimated 6,000 Assyrians and Chaldeans were slaughtered by the Iraqi government following the withdrawal of British troops from the region after a treaty granting Iraq's independence in 1930."
Where did Iraq's Christian population go? Over 1.5 million before the start of the war, down to less than 500,000 today. Internally, it shifted from throughout Iraq to the KRG. But many more elected to leave the country becoming part of Iraq's refugee population -- the largest refugee population in the region since 1948. If you think the US has opened the doors, you may be remembering campaign promises from Barack. Those promises were long ago set aside and no one in the press appears to care. There were target goals for admitting Iraqis to this country. They are fiscal year targets. October 1st the new fiscal year started. No one pressed the White House or State Dept for those figures (they haven't been pressed since the fall of 2009). No one notes that they don't meet the established numbers.
It's not often James Dao comes off foolish but it does happen. It happened today at the New York Times' blog when Dao elected to write about a white wash 'study' on burn pits which finds they aren't at all responsible for breathing problems or other problems. Dao foolishly writes that, "The report by the Institute of Medicine, an independent policy organization, [. . .]" That may be the but "the Institute of Medicine" did not write the report -- individuals did. For example, John R. Balmes who, as the end notes to the report (Appendix A) explain, has his research "funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." Or David J. Tollerud 'forgets' to note that's he's working on a Jefferson County children's study currently -- "the largest government-funded long-term study." It's funny how he 'forgot' that. Any reporter should grasp that there are rewards to be grabbed in scientific America by insisting the burn pits weren't harmful and that those on the government dole would have incentive to be less than forthcoming. (And, yes, we can continue the government funding connections with nearly everyone listed who took part in the 'study.' Most, like Tollerud, 'forget' to note their government funding connections -- disclosures of conflicts of interest apparently having gone out of fashion.)
Staying with the topic of burn pits. Burn pits have resulted in many service members and contractors being exposed to chemicals and toxins that have seriously harmed their bodies. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee held hearings on this issue when Byron Dorgan was the Chair of the DPC. Click here to go to the hearing archives page. A registry is something that Leroy and Rosita Lopez-Torres are now working on. It should be noted that were it not for US Senator Jim Webb, the nation would already have such a registery. In October 21, 2009, then-Senator Evan Bayh appeared before the US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee explaining the bill for a registry he was sponsoring, advocating for it.
I am here today to testify about a tragedy that took place in 2003 on the outskirts of Basra in Iraq. I am here on behalf of Lt Col James Gentry and the brave men and women who served under his command in the First Battalion, 152nd Infantry of the Indiana National Guard. I spoke with Lt Col Gentry by phone just this last week. Unfortunately, he is at home with his wife, Luanne, waging a vliant fight against terminal cancer. The Lt Col was a healthy man when he left for Iraq. Today, he is fighting for his life. Tragically, many of his men are facing their own bleak prognosis as a result of their exposure to sodium dichromate, one of the most lethal carcinogens in existence. The chemical is used as an anti-corrosive for pipes. It was strewn all over the water treatment facility guarded by the 152nd Infantry. More than 600 soldiers from Indiana, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina were exposed. One Indiana Guardsman has already died from lung disease and the Army has classified it as a service-related death. Dozens of the others have come forward with a range of serious-respiratory symptoms. [. . .] Mr. Chairman, today I would like to tell this Committee about S1779. It is legislation that I have written to ensure that we provide full and timely medical care to soldiers exposed to hazardous chemicals during wartime military service like those on the outskirts of Basra. The Health Care for Veterans Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act of 2009 is bipartisan legislation that has already been co-sponsored by Senators Lugar, Dorgan, Rockefeller, Byrd, Wyden and Merkley. With a CBO score of just $10 million, it is a bill with a modest cost but a critical objective: To enusre that we do right by America's soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals while defending our country. This bill is modeled after similar legislation that Congress approved in 1978 following the Agent Orange exposure in the Vietnam conflict.
An important bill but one that never got out of Committee. Iraq War veteran Leroy Torres and his wife Rosie Torres have continued to battle on behalf of veterans exposed to burn pits and contiuned to educate the nation on the issue. The Torres have a website entitled BURNPITS 360. They are also on Facebook. It's a personal issue, Capt Leroy Torres was exposed to the burn pit on Balad Airbase. They note that a member of Congress is working on the issue.
From: The Honorable W. Todd Akin
Please sign on to be an original cosponsor to legislation that is important to our veterans. Numerous veterans have suffered serious health problems after exposure to open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. This legislation will establish a registry, similar to the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Syndrome Registry. This is the first step toward providing better care for veterans who have been affected by open burn pits.
This bill will also be introduced in a bipartisan/bicameral fashion with companion legislation being introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
This bill is scheduled to be introduced on November 3rd, so please contact my office soon to become an original cosponsor.
W. Todd Akin
Member of Congress
Rep. W. Todd Akin
Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011
Department of Veterans Affairs
Based on recent accounts of health maladies of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and a possible link to toxic fumes released in open burn pits it has become necessary to voluntarily track and account for these individuals.
This registry will ensure that members of the Armed Forces who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes while serving overseas can be better informed regarding exposure and possible effects. This legislation
is modeled after legislation that created the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Syndrome Registry.
• Establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for those individuals who
may have been exposed during their military service;
• Include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines applicable to possible health effects of this exposure;
• Develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the
• Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.
In order to ensure that the Veterans Administration conducts the registry in the most effective manner, the legislation:
• Requires an assessment and report to Congress by an independent
• This report contains an assessment of the effectiveness of the Secretary
of the VA to collect and maintain information as well as recommendations
to improve the collection and maintenance of this information;
• The report will also include recommendations regarding the most effective
means of addressing medical needs due to exposure;
• This report will be due to Congress no later than 18 months after the date
which the registry is established.
• CBO states that this registry would cost $2 million over 5 years
We learned from this country's issues with Agent Orange that the need to get
ahead of this issue is of paramount importance.
The establishment of a burn pit registry will help the VA determine not only to what extent the ramifications of burn pits may have on service members but can also be of great use in information dissemination.
If you have any questions please contact Rep. Akin's office at 5-2561 and speak