Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Nouri's spying devices, poor schools, refugees

Dar Addustour reports that the government of Iraq is denying that they passed on listening devices to Syria. The devices would allow for eavesdropping on cell phone calls as well as spying on internet action. Al Rafidayn explains it was the Ministry of Communication that issued the denial and specifically denies having purchased Blue Coat Systems equipment. From yesterday's snapshot:

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.

The denial might be more believable had (a) protesters in Iraq not repeatedly claimed of electronic surveillance and (b) Blue Coat Systems not already confirmed that they sold the equipment to Iraq.

While wasting the money on undemocratic equipment, Al Sabaah notes that Iraq still needs 5,000 new schools in order to end "double shifts" at schools and to get rid of mud buildings and they need to repair schools with leaky roofs as was all noted this time last year when committees checked out schools and recorded their observations. Clearly Nouri al-Maliki's government had 'better' things to do. Like spend billions on fighters jets that they won't see before the end of the year or next year. That was apparently more important than, for instance, putting panes of glass in otherwise open windows. The government wants credit for 2650 schools being built since 2003. That's over 8 years. That averages out to less than 400 a year. And doesn't take into consideration that this does include the mud schools as well as the schools built poorly that are already falling apart (many of those in the early years of the war were built by the US -- poorly built). Money allocated in 2008 for the building 200 schools still sits around somewhere -- no specific answers on where exactly. But 200 schools were budgeted for in 2008 and never built.

Instead of building schools, the government of Iraq wastes time continuing to deny the refugee crisis. They've done that throughout the Iraq War. Al Rafidayn reports on new figures from the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees which finds they have 169,000 Iraqis registered in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Iraqi government (mis)uses this figure to insist that the governments have lied about their figures so that they could receive financial assistance from international agencies and Western countries.


They want to go there? The country that promised it would provide funds to neighboring countries who had taken in refugees -- the country that made the promise but never followed through on it now wants to claim others lied.

That's cute.

As the UN has noted repeatedly, not all refugees register with them. Some fear deportation will result. Having entered the country for a 'visit' or through other measures but intending to live there, some refugees are too scared to register. Registering also creates a paper trail and many of the neighboring countries refuse to allow refugees to hold jobs. There are many, many reasons why refugees do not register with the UN and the UN has noted this itself over and over throughout the refugee crisis. In addition, recent violence in Syria has sent at least a small number (possibly higher) of Iraqi refugees out of that country.

In addition, the UN has been working all this time on finding asylum countries for these refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. In addition to the official route to other countries, Amelie Herenstein (AFP) reported yesterday that, for $10,000 US dollars, Iraqis can be smuggled into Germany.

Ending 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
Dear Colleague;
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 legislation is already supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Veterans (AMVETS) and the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN).  And the issue of burn pits was recently reported on in the October 24th edition of USA Today (which can be found here) http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/story/2011-10-24/gulf-war-illness/50897804/1
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.
As drafted, the purpose of the
Burn Pit Registry  (bill text found here) is to:
• 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
scientific organization;
• 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
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