Thursday, December 15, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Morning Joe brews a new form of sexism: Erasing all US women who served in the Iraq War, a mayor is kidnapped in Iraq (and killed), Senator Patty Murray calls for a new outpatient care center for veterans and more.
Celeste Headlee: Ned Parker has covered the war since the beginning as the former Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times now at the Council on Foreign Relations. So let me ask you about the future of Iraq. Obviously, we've gotten comments from American generals who are worried that this country will descend into chaos. You heard an Iraqi woman just a moment ago talking about how she's optimistic although the government is weak. What -- what do you think? Is this a country that will remain united? Where the path to diplomacy is shaky but-but sure?
Ned Parker: In terms of the country's internal politics?
Celeste Headlee: Yeah.
Ned Parker: Well -- I -- That's what struck me so much my recent trip to Iraq. I was in Iraq this summer from May 'till early August. And at that time I saw many worrying trends in Iraq. The politics of the country were becoming very polarized again and very sectarian -- reminiscent of 2003, 2004 and '05 and the build up to civil war. And also saw a lot of alarming trends from the government by -- from the prime minister's office of security forces being used in questionable raids where people were detained and would disappear into special jails where their families and lawyers could not talk to them. Pro-democracy protesters who were trying to have their own equivalent of an Arab Spring to criticize the corruption among the elite government officials and the lack of transparency started to be attacked in May and June by plain clothes government agents and pro-Maliki supporters. While army looked on, these men would go around and beat people on one occasion. And I had been in Egypt in Tahrir Square in February and had some mobs there attacking pro-democracy protesters. And it was the same thing. So I saw all of that this summer and when I came back it was the same if not worse. And Iraqis are in charge of their destiny and America I don't think in recent years has effectively used its clout and leverage to try to help promote this process of national reconciliation or the respect of civil liberties and freedom of speech.. Particularly I think since 2010 there was an effort of getting a government in place because there had been [crosstalk] Yeah and with the deadline on troops leaving, there was an emphasis on just having a stable figure in power that America could deal with at the expense of these important things: rule of law, freedom of speech. So all of these seems to be going and that was the case when I went back.
Celeste Headlee: Well we've got like a minute-and-a-half left so let me ask you this very complicated question which is Iraq five years from now, ten years from now, stable? Peaceful?
Ned Parker: It's uh -- I mean, I wish I had a crystal ball. I sure hope so. You know I very much respect Iraqis, I have spent a lot of time there and I think everyone wants to see Iraq work out for the best but we really don't know there are so many worrying and different trends there. As I said, the politics have become far more sectarian, in the political class there's very little trust between kind of the Shi'ite elite and Sunnis. There's talk within different provinces of creating their own regions because --
Celeste Headlee: Separating off.
Ned Parker: Right Sunni provinces no longer trust Baghdad so they want to declare their own region. With what's happening in Syria that could also polarize things So it's so complicated. That could lead to more unrest and an authoritarian regime. Or perhaps Iraq will have their own Arab Spring that will lead to responsible government and a process of reconciliation.
From radio we'll switch to TV but before noting something worth noting will first note PIG BOY Willie Geist. Willie is part of the sewer of MSNBC -- the non-news shows, the yackety-yack where buffoons pass themselves off as informed -- and today on Morning Joe he felt the need to weigh in on those US service members who had lost their lives serving in Iraq. It's a serious issue and it's insulting to here people say "4500" -- try getting the actual number you lazy ass fools (and, yes, I'm aware that would include Barack). But Willie did all of them one better, he wanted to talk about the "brothers" who were left behind because they died there. The "brothers." And no one corrected him, not one damn person -- guest or the huge cast of Morning Joe -- stopped the frat boy Bob Somerby has so rightly and so often criticized to inform him that US service members who died in the Iraq War were not just men, women died as well. In July of 2008, CNN would note that the number of female US service members who have died in the Iraq War had already reached 100. As of September 23, 2011, 111 female US service members had died in the Iraq War according to Noonie Fortin -- and 13 US civilian women died in the Iraq War as well. Fortin provides a write up on each one of the dead (including the civilians like DynCorp contractor Deborah Klecker who died at age 51 in June 2005). The first US female service member to die in Iraq was PFC Lori Ann Piestewa (also the first Native American to die in the Iraq War) on March 23, 2003. And the last so far was August 7, 2010, SPC Faith R. Hinkley of Colorado. Here's the link to trash (only because Ava and I will be commenting further at Third on Sunday unless Bob Somerby grabs it Friday).
Twelve minutes and 17 seconds into the clip, Willie Boy asks, ". . . what is the bitter-sweet feeling if that's the way to put it for some of these guys who are happy to be going home but remembering the brothers left behind?"
111 women dead. And no guest or cast member of Morning Joe (it's not a news show) could bother to object when "Tucker Carlson's boy toy" bothered to render women who have served in the Iraq War invisible, including those who died while serving. Maybe Morning Joe can spend tomorrow apologizing to the loved ones of the 111 women who died serving in Iraq as well as to the women who served in Iraq and made it home? (And the total number of US military personnel killed in the Iraq War? The Pentagon's official count currently stands at 4487 -- one up from last week. If you're going to note the deaths and if you think they matter, you bother to get the number right and not go with an estimate.)
Richard Engel: But the biggest change for Iraq may be closer ties with it's Shi'ite neighbor Iran. These days Alkadhimiya is full of Iranian tour groups who come with their own guides with signs in Farsi. Under Saddam, no Iranians came to Iraq, Saddam was Iran's enemy. Today, more than 2 million Iranians visit Iraq every year. Iraq's new dynamic is on display here every day. After nearly nine years, it's Iraq Shi'ites who have benefited the most, they have won this country. The United States toppled a dictator who's been replaced by a Shi'ite government with close ties to Iran. It's hard to imagine how that was ever part of the plan. Across town at Baghdad's famous book market, Kareem Hanash, himself a Shi'ite, doesn't want US troops to leave. He says Iran has calculated all of this very well; they want a Shi'ite Iraq so they can control the assets, economy and politics. Fear of Iran's growing power is sharper still in the Sunni-stronghold of Falljua. Once Iraq's deadliest war zone, Falluja remains violent. A bomb killed 3 policemen here just after we arrived. Police say Sunni radicals killed them because they work for the Shi'ite government. Compared to other parts of Iraq, there's been little development in Sunni towns like Falluja. This building was destroyed by US forces seven years ago and still looks like this. People here accuse the government of persecuting them, ignoring them, trying to cut Sunnis out of the new Iraq. A cloth merchant told me, "You crossed a thousand miles from America. Why? If you want the oil, take the oil. If you want our money, take it. But you have destroyed life, the whole system."
Staying on Falluja, Fadhil al-Badrani, Patrick Markey and Giles Elgood (Reuters) note the US military's two major assaults on Falluja, the first in March 2004, "Hundreds of Iraqis and dozens of U.S. troops were killed but the insurgency was not quelled. Six months later, the U.S. Marines went back in. A month-long assault destroyed much of the city, killed an estimated 1,300 Iraqi fighters and civilians, and wounded thousands more. More than 100 U.S. troops also died."
Turning to today's violence, Reuters notes the corpses of 3 government workers were found in Dhuluiya (all were shot dead, all had their hands bound), the mayor of Jurf al-Sakhar and his son were kidnapped (the mayor was then killed) and 2 Ramadi bicycle bombings claimed 2 lives and left three people injured.
Obama won the 2008 election in large measure due to the deep-going hostility among the American electorate to the wars begun under the Bush administration. He pledged to end the war in Iraq within 16 months of coming to office. Once in the White House, however, he retained Bush's secretary of defense, Robert Gates, and largely ceded policy decisions to the Pentagon brass.
The December 31, 2011 deadline for completing troop withdrawals was set not by Obama, but was rather part of the Status of Forces Agreement reached between Bush and the Iraqi regime in 2008. Bush, like Obama, had fully intended to renegotiate this pact to allow permanent stationing of US troops in the country.
As it is, Washington is doing its best to maintain its grip on Iraq, replacing uniformed troops with an army of up to 17,000 under the nominal direction of the US State Department. It is to include a force of 5,500 private mercenary security contractors, a massive CIA station, and Special Operations troops operating covertly out of uniform. Tens of thousands of US troops are being kept in place across Iraq's border in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf, while the US Navy and the US Air Force remain in control of the country's coastlines and airspace.
And Nouri remains in control of Iraq because the US government installed the puppet during the Bush administration and because the Barack administration wasn't going to allow anyone else to be prime minister, the will of the voters (expressed in the 2010 elections) be damned. Dar Addustour reports that the only hope for Iraq's government is for the blocs to meet and iron out their differences. Al Sabaah notes Parliament wants Nouri to appear before them next week to answer questions regarding the status of Iraqi security forces, the withdrawal and the absence of heads for the three security ministries (Defense, Interior and National Security). (This would be the questioning that Moqtada al-Sadr called for weeks ago.) Yes, Iraq remains in Political Stalemate II -- a fact that so much Iraq coverage this week has ignored repeatedly. Noting Barack's false claim that the Iraqi government is inclusive, Warren Olney (To the Point) launched into a discussion Tuesday about the realities. A journalist wasn't up to reality (your first clue was the assertion that "the Americans are leaving" -- which the journalist stated she told to Iraqis who complained about the ongoing occupation. No, 17,000 State Dept employees aren't leaving. Not even all US troops are leaving. There's no reason not to know these things or to not know that violence has increased over the last 17 months.) So instead of wasting our time on that nonsense, We'll note the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Anthony Cordesman from the same broadcast:
Anthony Cordesman: Well I think we need to be concerned more broadly. The structure that we created around the Constitution really never properly defined the role of the Council to the Republic, the legislature. It attempted to limit the power of the president [prime minister[, but it gave him authority in ways where whoever drafted it was less concerned with money and military appointments than theoretical lines of authority. They've never really resolved how to manage the provincial and local government structures -- although that has improved over time. And here we are, nearly two years after the last election [March 7, 2010], you really don't have a functioning Cabinet. You don't have a Minister of Interior who is in charge of the internal security forces. And the Prime Minister is acting as Minister of Defense in part because a body which also is not part of the Constitution but was supposed to be a mix of Sunni and Shi'ite parties with the head or the leading opposition figure [Ayad] Allawi has never been able to work. We really need to be extremely cautious about what is happening there and certainly Maliki has attempted to centralize power but the problem goes far deeper than Maliki.
Warren Olney: Thank you for calling him "prime minister." I called him "president" earlier and that is not the office that he holds. How concerned are you, Anthony Cordesman, about the sectarian issues?
Anthony Cordseman: Well I think again we need to be very concerned. The reason that the US tried to keep troops was the risk of bringing back Sunni and Shi'ite tension and an insurgency. But, more than that, the real fear that clashes in the north between the Kurds and the Arabs could turn into a significant new form of fighting and that, at best, it needed a buffer so that it could be resolved peacefully. We look at the levels of violence and the way that the US tends to count violence in terms of signficant acts still shows a relatively high count. But if you look at other ways of counting which are sort of terrorist and lower levels of violence -- the counts that are used, for example, by the counter-terrorism center, still show a very high level of violence inside Iraq. And reports by another US figure indicated that the pattern of violence was rising as US forces went down.
Once an inner ring of Iraq's wartime inferno, Falluja is only too eager to say goodbye to nearly nine shattering years of raids, bombings and house-to-house urban combat. At least 200 American troops were killed in this city. Untold thousands of Iraqis died, civilians and insurgents who are mourned equally as martyrs.
We noted the rally in yesterday's snapshot. Strangely, Healy was the only one with an article published this morning (in print, last night online) who could explore the rally. Equally strange, the Operation Happy Talk-ers had no time to mention what Ann noted last night, Press TV reported:
Unknown gunmen have attacked a US military base in the southern Iraq city of Basra with several mortar shells, military sources say. Possible casualties or damages are yet to be reported. The outpost is located in Basra International Airport, the second largest international airport in Iraq.
A lot of waves of Operation Happy Talk crashing up against reality as they had time to file on Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense, taking part in a "white flag" ceremony in Baghdad today.
Meanwhile Dar Addustour speaks with officials in Moqtada al-Sadr's political bloc who explain that Iraq has put special forces on the ground in civilian clothing and, in addition, they note that there are "foreign" intelligence agents in Iraq (US). And in another article they note Moqtada's words about resisting the continuation of US occupation in any manner are again being noted.
Al Mannarah reports that Saleh al-Mutlaq, Deputy Prime Minister for Service Affairs, declared on Tuesday that the Diyala provincial council's decision to move towards semi-autonomy for the province was "rushed" and would harm Iraq because, with so many US forces leaving, everyone must work together on security and stability. Dar Addustour notes that a delegation from Parliament went to Diyala to discuss the latest issue (the move towards semi-autonomy). They're also exploring the protests against the move (protests by residents in Diyala Province) and hearing from Mohammed Hassan, provincial council chief, that he had nothing to do with it, he didn't know that this was going to happen, he didn't even know that there was going to be a request forwarded for semi-autonomy. If he thinks that makes him look good, I'm at a loss as to how. He's the chief of the council. He should have had some inkling towards the feelings of the council members on this issue.
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will leave Iraq to go to Turkey (Friday) where he will discuss, Dar Addustour notes, $111 million of drone equipment the US will be providing Turkey.
In the US, veterans care is already overwhelming the VA health care system and that's only going to get worse. Senator Patty Muarry is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and she's calling for a new outpatient clinic in the state of Washington:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office Thursday, December 15, 2011 (202) 224-2834
Chairman Murray Urges VA to Establish New, Full-Time CBOC on North Olympic Peninsula
(Washington, D.C.) -- Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray has sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki about the critical need to establish a new, full-time Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) on the North Olympic Peninsula. In her letter, which urges the VA to include funding for a new clinic in the Department's Fiscal Year 2013 budget, Murray cites the growing need for veterans care in the Northern Peninsula region and rising enrollment at the current Port Angeles facility. In addition to sending the letter to Secretary Shinseki, Murray also hand delivered the letter and discussed this issue with Dr. Robert A. Petzel, the VA's top health official, yesterday in a meeting in her office.
"For too long, the needs in the North Olympic Peninsula have outpaced VA's ability to provide veterans in the region with adequate health care services," said Chairman Murray. "While the current lease has been extended until the end of fiscal year 2012, I believe that veterans in the North Olympic Peninsula cannot wait any longer for a new clinic that has sufficient staff, space and hours to meet the needs of veterans living in this rural region of Washington state."
Since its establishment in 2008, the Port Angeles outreach clinic has served more than 14,000 veterans living on the North Olympic Peninsula. As a result of the strong growth in this rural area, the Port Angeles outreach clinic has already exceeded maximum physical capacity and can neither expand services nor accommodate additional personnel. The need for care is expected to grow, with a 20 percent increase in enrollment projected over the next 10 years. Currently, the clinic occupies approximately 1,500 net usable square feet in a building owned by the Olympic Medical Center. A new CBOC would provide primary care and mental health services in a much larger space five days a week.
The full text of Chairman Murray's letter is below:
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki Secretary of Veterans Affairs 810 Vermont Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
As you continue to work toward our shared goal of increasing veterans' access to VA services and benefits, I write to urge your support for the establishment of a new, full-time Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Since its establishment in 2008, the Port Angeles outreach clinic has served a critical and growing need for the more than 14,000 veterans living on the North Olympic Peninsula. In FY 2010, the clinic delivered primary care and mental health services to 1,200 veterans (a 6.5 percent increase over FY 2009), and accommodated 4,876 patient visits (a 5 percent increase over FY 2009). As a result of the strong growth in this rural area, the Port Angeles outreach clinic has already exceeded maximum physical capacity and can neither expand services nor accommodate additional personnel. The need for care is expected to grow, with a 20 percent increase in enrollment projected over the next 10 years.
When I wrote to you in August 2010 requesting that the Department examine in earnest a full service CBOC to serve veterans in the North Olympic Peninsula, you let me know that the VA Puget Sound Health Care System (VAPSHCS) was working on a lease expansion proposal to develop a larger outreach clinic when the current lease with Olympic Medical Center expires at the end of fiscal year 2011 and that VAPSHCS will request that the outreach clinic be upgraded to a full-time CBOC "as space, staff and hours of operations are expanded." I believe the time has come for veterans living on the North Olympic Peninsula to have access to the level of care and services afforded by a full-time CBOC.
For too long, the needs in the North Olympic Peninsula have outpaced VA's ability to provide veterans in the region with adequate health care services. While the current lease has been extended until the end of fiscal year 2012, I believe that veterans in the North Olympic Peninsula cannot wait any longer for a new clinic that has sufficient staff, space and hours to meet the needs of veterans living in this rural region of Washington state.
As you finalize the Department's Fiscal Year 2013 budget, I urge you to include in your request sufficient funding to establish a new, full-time CBOC on the North Olympic Peninsula.
I thank you for your enduring commitment to our nation's veterans and look forward to learning of your plans.