Friday, November 18, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, a US delegation is said to be in Baghdad to continue negotiations on immunity for US troops, Moqtada al-Sadr threatens to take his bloc and go home, Baghdad and the KRG continue to argue over the Exxon deal, DoD identifies the fallen, and more.
Starting with breaking news out of Iraq, Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports a mixture of White House officials and US military officials arrived in Baghdad Friday for a three day visit to discuss a number of issues including to "provide immunity to American trainers." The delegation will meet with President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's two vice presidents, with the prime minister, and with the head of the political blocs. In addition, it will visit the Krudistan Regional Government. Al Mada reports that Rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wasted no time in announcing that, should immunity be granted, his bloc would immediately withdraw from the National Alliance coalition. An MP with the Sadr bloc is quoted declaring that it is not the right of Nouri al-Maliki to provide the Americans with immunity
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn.
Spc. David E. Hickman, 23, of Greensboro, N.C., died Nov. 14, in Baghdad, Iraq, of injuries suffered after encountering an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
For more information related to this release, the media may contact the Fort Bragg public affairs office at 910-432-0661 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Today at the US State Dept, Deputy Dept Spokesperson Mark C. Toner gave the press briefing. Iraq came up at the end in an exchange with AFP's Lachlan Carmichael.
Lachlan Carmichael: Can I have one more here?
Mark C. Toner: Oh, I'm sorry, Lach. Sure. I'm sorry, guys.
Lachlan Carmichael: No, just -- in --
Mark C. Toner: It's just Friday. We're so close here.
Lachlan Carmichael: Yeah. In Brussels, the head of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Iraq raised concerns about the fate of Camp Ashraf refugees. He said that Iraq has served a virtual death warrant on the residents, and he pointed to an embassy note from the Iraqi Government saying that they're committed to close the camp by the end of 2011.
Mark C. Toner: That's correct, yeah.
Lachlan Carmichael: And it says that dissidents there are terrorists, and the Iraqis deny they have refugee status, and therefore the Europeans are fearing that the UNHCR will not be able to interview them as refugees.
Mark C. Toner: Well, we are working -- look, I don't have a detailed response to those accusations. I do know that we are working with international organizations, including UNHCR, to find a suitable outcome and a suitable destination for these individuals, and we recognize the urgency.
While this was going on at the US State Dept, AFP reports that the European Parliament's MEP Struan Stevenson declared that a "death warrant" had been signed today on the residents of Camp Ashraf when the government sent the European Parliament which refers to the residents as "terrorists" and asserts that they are not protected under the Geneva Convention nor do they have refugee status.
Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."
Tuesday the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing addressed many Iraq issues. In yesterday's snapshot, we noted the remarks on the residents of Camp Ashraf. We're going to go over most of those again today in light of the comments that a "death warrant" has been signed and what appears to be a refusal of the Iraqi government to honor the agreement that was made with the US government with regards to the residents of Camp Ashraf. Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Committee, Senator John McCain is Ranking Member on the Committee. The first panel the Committee heard testimony from was composed of US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsy.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Do you think -- do you think the people in Camp Ashraf, do you think they're going to get killed? What's going to happen to them?
General Martin Dempsey: The, uh, as you know, Senator, the State Department is leading an effort to ensure that -- work with the Iraqi government ---
Senator Lindsey Graham: Can you tell the people back here that the likelihood of their friends and family being killed has gone up greatly if there are no American forces up there policing the problem?
General Martin Dempsey: I won't say anything to those people because I'm not involved in the outcome.
Senator Lindsey Graham: Fair enough.
[. . .]
Ranking Member John McCain: Could I just say finally on the Camp Ashraf issue, I know the Secretary of Defense -- I mean, Secretary of State is addressing this issue, but it is American troops that are protecting them now. I hope that you can give us some idea of what disposition is going to be because I think it's -- I think it's very clear that the lives of these people are at risk and I thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: I appreciate that.
Chair Carl Levin: Well, just on that, to turn it into a question -- and, maybe, General, this needs to be addressed to you too -- what -- There's obviously a greater risk to folks there unless the Iraqis keep a commitment. What's going to be done to make sure, to the best of our ability, that they keep that committment and what about the question of removing them from the list of -- not them, the organization from the terrorist list?
General Martin Dempsey: Well, Senator --
Senator Carl Levin: We're all concerned about this --
General Martin Dempsey: And we share your concern. [General] Lloyd Austin shares your concern. And I know that Ambassador Jeffreys shares the concern and there is no -- we're not sparing any diplomatic effort to encourage the Iraqis to do what we think is right in this regard to ensure the protection of those folks in Camp Ashraf. But right now, actually, the Iraqi security forces guard Camp Ashraf with our advisory and assistance group with them. And so the concern, when we do leave that capacity, is a real one. And But I actually think we've got to put the pressure on the Iraqi government diplomatically to have the outcome that we think is correct.
Senator Carl Levin: Just assure them if you would that there's a real strong feeling around here that if they -- if they violate a committment to protect those people -- assuming that they're still there and that they haven't been removed from the terrorist list so that they can find other locations -- that if they violate that committment to us, that is going to have a severely negative impact on the relationship with the -- I think I can speak here -- the Congress although I'm reluctant to ever say this. I think there's a lot of concern in the Congress about it and this will, I believe, in my opinion, will severely negatively impact their relationship with the Congress. Let me leave it at that.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Senator, I want to assure you that Ambassador Jeffrey has made that point loud and clear, loud and clear the Iraqis.
Senator Carl Levin: Senator Lieberman?
Senator Joe Lieberman: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. And add my voice and I think you can speak for Congress members of both parties in both houses in expressing our concern about the safety of the people in Camp Ashraf.
The concerns have been expressed, a supposed understanding was reached, yet reports today indicate that the understanding meant nothing to the government of Nouri al-Maliki.
Turning to issues revolving around the provinces, Aswat al-Iraq notes "Tahreer Square in Baghdad witnesses since last February different types of demonstrators, including terminating political differences and ending corruption dossiers." And they note today's protest included a call for provinces not to move towards being semi-autonomous. Alsumaria TV adds that the participants in the protest numbered in the "tens." Along with today's protesters, the move is opposed by Nouri al-Maliki and Moqtada al-Sadr. Nouri is especially ticked off at the Speaker of Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, because he continues to cite what the Constitution states on this issue while Nouri and his lackeys on the 'independent' electoral commission repeatedly attempt to pretend that the Constitution gave the Council of Ministers the right to make these decisions. (Article 119, as McClatchy Newspapers' Laith Hammoudi has reported, notes the process for a province to move to semi-autonomy.) Apparently having difficulty maintaining all of his many grudges, Nouri's focusing on al-Nujaifi but, Al Rafidayn reports, he's decided that Ayad Allawi is a-okay. The Iraqiya leader pissed off Nouri weeks ago when he offered a strong critique to a London paper about the current state of Iraq. Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram Weekly) covers the province issue and other developments:
On 2 November, a Sunni-dominated province of Iraq created uproar when its local council voted to establish itself as an "independent region within a unified Iraq." The provincial council of Salaheddin, which hosts Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, voted by 20 votes out of 28 to set up the new federal region, sparking speculation that other Sunni provinces may now follow suit. In trying to explain the shift, the council's leaders said that the establishment of an autonomous region was a reaction to the Iraqi government's negligence, exclusion and marginalisation of Sunnis. They said that the request to set up an autonomous region had been intended to boost the province's share of federal revenues and to protest against the domination of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's Shia-led government. Coming in the aftermath of a nationwide crackdown on former Saddam loyalists, the timing of the vote seemed to have been spurred by the firing of more than 100 lecturers at Tikrit University for alleged Baath Party connections and a roundup of suspected Baathists in the province. Hundreds of former Baathists have been arrested in recent weeks following government reports that they were conspiring to overthrow Al-Maliki's government.
And to clarify on the Salahuddin vote, there are 28 members of the provincial council. Twenty of them voted on the measure. All voting on the measure voted "yes." On the alleged conspiracy, Aswat al-Iraq reports that over 2,000 people marched in Salahuddin's Samarra today to declare their support for Salahudding becoming a semi-autonomous province. In other 'oops Nouri' news, Al Mada reports Iraqiya's Salman Jumaili has declared Iraqiya intends to host a session in the Parliament over the claims of the existence of a conspiracy. With several dents already in Nouri's public claims, the prime minister may be sweating that possible session.
Currently, Nouri's Baghdad government is engaged in a game of chicken with the Kurdistan Regional Government -- Exxon being the prize. Javier Blas (Financial Times of London) reviews the companies interested in oil exploration in the Kurdistan Regional Government. Blas notes in addition to oil, Turkey's eyeing the KRG's natural gas reserves and that Erbil is becoming a boom town. This follows on the deal that the KRG says is a done deal and that the government out of Baghdad is still making noises about. Pierre Bertrand (International Business Times) reports, "After several days of loaded proclamations, a deal may be in the offering between ExxonMobil, the Kurdish regional government, and Iraq's central government, in relation to an oil exploration contract the company signed with Kurdistan that the central government calls illegal ." Ipek Yezdani (Hurriyet Daily News) reports, "Iraq's deputy prime minister for energy, Hussain al-Shahristani, said the Iraqi govenrment did not recognize the oil agreement signed between the KRG and Exxon Mobil in northern Iraq [. . .] this contract is not approved by the Iraqi government and is not legal."
Turning to the US, Rand Paul is a Senator from Kentucky. His father is US House Rep Ron Paul who is currently in a race for the GOP's presidential nomination. Senator Paul's office notes:
Nov 17, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Rand Paul introduced an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill to formally end the war in Iraq.
The war in Iraq cannot be considered definitively concluded if Congress does not reclaim its constitutional power to declare war by repealing the underlying authorization. Until Congress takes this action, the President would still possess the legal authority to move troops into Iraq or to conduct kinetic operations within its borders, agreements with the Iraqi government notwithstanding.
"On several occasions this year, Congress has been ignored or remained silent while the President committed our forces to combat. It is my intention to urge Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority over the decision to go to war, or to end a war - it is one of the body's most important powers," Sen. Paul said. "It is right that we wrest it back from a President who has shown he cannot be trusted to obey the Constitution or powers prescribed to Congress in it."
The President has ordered withdrawal of most forces by the end of the year, and Sen. Paul's amendment continues the spirit of that decision by formally ending the war. Sen. Paul will push for a vote on this measure during consideration of the Defense bill. Under existing laws, necessary actions to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq (such as at the embassy) will still be allowed.
"Americans should celebrate the safe return of our soldiers, thank those who served, and mourn those we lost. We should honor them by committing to a return to a more rational and constitutional foreign policy," Sen. Paul added.
The Army released suicide data today for the month of October. Among active-duty soldiers, there were 17 potential suicides: one has been confirmed as suicide and 16 remain under investigation. For September 2011, the Army reported 16 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, one case has been added for a total of 17 cases. Three cases have been confirmed as suicide and 14 cases remain under investigation.
During October 2011, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were 12 potential suicides: none have been confirmed as suicide and 12 remain under investigation. For September 2011, the Army reported six potential suicides among not-on-active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, two cases have been added for a total of eight cases. Three cases have been confirmed as suicide and five cases remain under investigation.
Maj. Gen. David E. Quantock, director of the Army Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Task Force, knows how the tragedy of suicide affects our soldiers, civilians, and families. He joins the task force as the former commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. "Our people are the Army and their health and well-being are top priorities. This is very important work and I can assure you that the Army team is fully engaged and is totally committed to it," said Quantock.
Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org .
Army leaders can access current health promotion guidance in newly revised Army Regulation 600-63 (Health Promotion) at: http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r600_63.pdf and Army Pamphlet 600-24 (Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention) at http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/p600_24.pdf .
The Army's comprehensive list of Suicide Prevention Program information is located at http://www.preventsuicide.army.mil .
Suicide prevention training resources for Army families can be accessed at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/training_sub.asp?sub_cat=20 (requires Army Knowledge Online access to download materials).
Information about Military OneSource is located at http://www.militaryonesource.com or by dialing the toll-free number 1-800-342-9647 for those residing in the continental United States. Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource website for dialing instructions for their specific location.
Information about the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is located at http://www.army.mil/csf/.
The Defense Center for Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) Outreach Center can be contacted at 1-866-966-1020, via electronic mail at Resources@DCoEOutreach.org and at http://www.dcoe.health.mil .
The website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is http://www.afsp.org/, and the Suicide Prevention Resource Council site is found at http://www.sprc.org/index.asp .