Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, US officials visit the region, a US official may have engaged in sex in a public place in Iraq, that US official may have been someone Barack Obama's currently nominating for a major appointment, the political crisis continues, suicides and 'suicides' plague Iraq, and more.
Three US officials are visiting troops stationed in/near war zones this week. Steve Klamkin (WPRO) reports on an overseas trip Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and South Dakota Govenor Dennis Daugaard.
Steve Klamkin: Governor Chafee met with Rhode Island troops on a trip to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Governor Lincoln Chafee: They're doing well. The Rhode Islanders are doing well. And, for the families, hang in there, they'll be home soon.
Steve Klamkin: With the governors of Michigan and South Dakota, Chafee visited a forward operating base in Iraq There's been a series of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan even before the group arrived.
Governor Lincoln Chafee: That's really the frustration they voiced with us. Just who is setting the IEDs? Where are the Tablian? How do they mix in the local population which are right outside the walls, they're right their surrounding where all these Rhode Islanders are?
Steve Klamkin: Chafee, who opposed the war in Iraq, thinks the Afghans will be able to control their own destiny when US troops pull out next year. Steve Klamkin, WPRO News.
Major Matthew Davis (Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System) reports on their visit in Kuwait yesterday where they met with "National Guard and Reserve service members" "from Michigan and other states who supported U.S. operations during the drawdown of forces from Iraq, and ongoing logistic operations in connection with Operating Enduring Freedom in Kuwait.
What if a video existed that showed a prominent State Department VIP on the roof of the Republican Palace in Baghdad receiving, um, pleasure of an oral nature from another State Department officer not his wife, or even his journalist mistress of the time? What if that video has been passed around among Marine Security Guards at the Embassy to the point where it is considered "viral" with many copies made? What if the Deputy Chief of Mission, hand in hand with the Diplomatic Security chief (RSO) at the time, decided that the whole thing needed to be swept under the rug and made to go away, at least until some blogger got a hold of it.
Would that count as poor judgement? What if it was published during his oft-delayed Congressional hearings? Funny that State aggressively punishes some extramarital fooling around while ignoring other, er, well-documented cases. Or would the State Department once again excuse the act itself and instead punish the person who made the act public, claiming THAT was the example of poor judgement, the crime of not hiding State's dirty laundry at a sensitive time?
Of the rumor Van Buren's floating, Michael Hastings (BuzzFeed) observes, "His description, however, contains clues: The location in the Republican Palace, and the delayed confirmation hearings in particular. That could only refer to a small handful of officials, and among those who fit that description is the high-profile nominee to be the next ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk." Author and journalist Michael Hastings has reported from Afghanistan and from Iraq and if he's seeing clues to Brett McGurk being the star of the rumor, he's got the background to suss out the rumor.
McGurk is US President Barack Obama's controversial nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq. No, after Chris Hill, it didn't seem likely we'd be again be referring to a controversial or questionable nominee for this post; however, here we are. McGurk has won some praise and backing since the nomination was announced. For example, Peter Feaver (Foreign Policy) feels his friend McGurk is qualified. Jake Cusak (Forbes) also endorsed McGurk who he hailed as "an old acquaintance."
However, outside of roll dogs, Brett McGurk hasn't had a lot of people singing his praises. As we've noted before, he's got no background in administrative supervision but Barack wants to put him over the State Dept's largest project -- most employees, biggest budget. He's held no supervisory post, he's held no financial post either. On the latter, he'd be responsible for the yearly $6 billion budget the State Dept gets for Iraq And that's before you get into the tensions and violence that continue in Iraq.
McGurk has headed NO mission in a foreign country before. But he's supposed to start -- and get on-the-job training? -- with Iraq? He doesn't speak Arabic. What traits does he have that makes him worthy of this important post?
Americans need to be asking that because over $6 billion US tax dollars will be wasted each year on Iraq for the foreseeable future unless something changes. Wasted? The State Dept sent someone a notch above intern to testify at a hearing they wanted to avoid. The young woman noted that the primary purpose of the mission -- besides a lot of airty talk -- was to train the Iraqi police. Dropping back to the October 4, 2006 snapshot:
CNN reports that it's time for retraining. As though deciding to let 'death squads' pass your security check point is akin to not knowing how to use the office copier. AFP reports they're on a US military base being retrained. BBC reports: "A programme has been under way for more than a month for comprehensive assessment and re-training of all national police unites -- a process called by the Americans 'transofrmational training.'" James Hider (Times of London) reports that since 2004, "US forces have been re-training the Iraqi police, but the programme has had little impact" and that a "survivor of Monday's mass kidnapping . . . described how half a dozen vehicles, with official security forces markings on them, pulled up and men in military fatigues rounded up all the Sunnis in the shops."
We covered the November 30th House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the MiddleEast and South Asia in the December 1st snapshot and noted that Ranking Member Gary Ackerman had several questions. He declared, "Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the [police training] program? Interviews with senior Iaqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter didain for the program. When the Iraqis sugest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States. I think that might be a clue." The State Dept's Brooke Darby faced that Subcommittee. Ranking Member Gary Ackerman noted that the US had already spent 8 years training the Iraq police force and wanted Darby to answer as to whether it would take another 8 years before that training was complete? Her reply was, "I'm not prepared to put a time limit on it." She could and did talk up Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior Adnan al-Asadi as a great friend to the US government. But Ackerman and Subcommittee Chair Steve Chabot had already noted Adnan al-Asadi, but not by name. That's the Iraqi official, for example, Ackerman was referring to who made the suggestion "that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States." He made that remark to SIGIR Stuart Bowen.
Brooke Darby noted that he didn't deny that comment or retract it; however, she had spoken with him and he felt US trainers and training from the US was needed. The big question was never asked in the hearing: If the US government wants to know about this $500 million it is about to spend covering the 2012 training of the Ministry of the Interior's police, why are they talking to the Deputy Minister?
The US State Dept is not ready to put a time limit on it, by their own words. How long does the 'training' continue? How many years and how many billions? If it's really not clear to you, let's drop back to the House Foreign Relations Committee hearing of December 1st for this exchange.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye." Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.
The State Dept already can't answer basic questions regarding Iraq. And the White House wants to put the questionable McGurk in charge? Liz Sly (Washington Post) noted objection to the nomination in Iraq:
Sunni concerns have crystallized in recent weeks around Obama's nomination of Brett McGurk, 38, a lawyer who has frequently advised the U.S. Embassy but is not a diplomat to be the new ambassador to Iraq. As the chief adviser to Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and former ambassador Christopher R. Hill, McGurk is closely associated with the United States' controversial 2010 decision to support Maliki's candidacy as the better hope for future stability over that of Ayad Allawi, the head of the Iraqiya bloc, which narrowly won the most seats in parliament.
Should the Van Buren rumor be true and should it be about Brett McGurk, would that manage to sink the nomination?
Iraq's already struggling, it's really not the place where the US should send someone on a glorified travel-study.
In Iraq, though there's hope for recent (small) success with strawberries, the reality is that even the date palm industry in Iraq hasn't proved profitable yet ("yet" meaning post-invasion, Iraq's date industry is historically signficant and profitable). So despite years and years of calls by Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to diversify the economy, Iraq remains dependent on their sole money maker: Oil. Reuters reports, "Exxon Mobil has told Baghdad it will not break ground on its oil blocs in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north until the centeral government approves the contracts, Iraq's top energy official said on Wednesday." The official is Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani. That alone makes the claim questionable -- remember, April 3rd, he was in the news for insisting the Kurds were secretly selling oil to Iran. He's not seen as someone impartial or particularly honest.
But the reality is that it doesn't matter if he's telling the truth this time or not. Yet again, the world watches, the markets watch as Iraq's rulers can't get their act together. It does not put confidence in either the government or in the ability to do business with Iraq. Contracts were signed by ExxonMobil back in October with the KRG. Either those contracts will be honored or they won't.
But you're an energy company -- oil and gas -- and you can spend a year developing a relationship with another country rich in oil or you can spend that time on Iraq -- and know that a signed contract may mean nothing. Are you really going to make Iraq your focus after you know their history with ExxonMobil?
What Nouri and the idiots he's appointed don't grasp is that their petty fights and bickering make them look unreliable and unprofessional. And that goes beyond the oil industry. You're on an Australian committee exploring opening a Quay Hotel in the Middle East. In the discussions, someone tosses out Iraq. You point out that besides the continued daily violence, there's also all the problems ExxonMobil's faced in getting a signed contract honored. You'll be much more likely to recommend that Quay consider Kuwait or Jordan where a signed contract appears to actually mean something other than months and months of officials bickering in the press.
On a very limited scale, strawberries are doing well in Iraq (as a result of a lot of help -- money and technology -- from USAID). 2012 is an important year for that industry. At the end of it, figures will indicate whether or not this is a stand-alone industry that can successfully supports itself or whether the limited success resulted from USAID. Right now, the only money making story is oil and with no real leader to lead, the bickering and the non-stop 'updates' on the ExxonMobil deal ensure that Iraq looks like it's not ready for the world stage. In Nouri were any kind of a leader, he would have ended this nonsense a long time ago -- even if that meant going along with the KRG contracts that he didn't want to go through. Instead, it looks like a circus and this as James Herron (Dow Jones) announces, "Iraq has revised its medium-term oil field redevelopment plan, meaning that production will peak slightly lower than the previous 12 million barrel a day target, but, said the country's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy, Hussein al-Shahristani, Wednesday." And Dow Jones reports, "Iraq wants to follow the current expansion of its oil production capacity with an expansion of its domestic refining industry, but won't be able to do so without the cooperation of international companies, said the country's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussein al-Shahristani Wednesday."
In bad news for Nouri, Al Mada reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama Najafi states that the National Alliance has confirmed that they support the full implementation of the Erbil Agreement. April 5th, KRG President Massoud Barzani noted the Erbil Agreement while speaking at an event sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
KRG President Massoud Barzani: We have been waiting for the last six years for promises that were not delivered, for agreements that were not honored. We have waited and everytime they give us an excuse. Once they say that there are elections in Baghdad, another time, elections in the region. Once there is election in the United States. Then there is the Arab Summit, etc., etc. We have found out that we have passed six years waiting for these promises to be delivered. We cannot anymore wait for unfulfilled promises and undelivered promises. There has to be a specific and determined timeline for this to be delivered. We got tired of this and we are fed up with that. Therefore, what we will do is that we will work on the preferred option to work with the other Iraqi groups to find a solution. If not, then we go back to our people and to put all of these realities inf ront of our people for the people to be free to make their own decision. As far as the issue of the oil is concerned, in 2007, when we were working and we reached an agreement on a draft oil hydrocarbons law, we both agreed that if that law did not pass in the Parliament until May that same year that both sides -- the KRG and the federal government -- are free to continuing signing contracts with international oil companies. Therefore, whatever we have done in the region, we have not violated the Constitution. We have acted legally and Constitutionally within the framework of the Constitution.
Political Stalemate I is the eight month period which followed the March 2010 elections. Nouri refused to step aside despite the fact that his State of Law had come in second in the elections to Iraqiya. He wanted to remain prime minister. And the US government and the Iranian government were backing him -- backing him over the Iraqi people and the will they expressed at the ballot box. In November 2010, the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed off on by all major political blocs. Nouri got to be prime minister for a second term and, in exchange, he made certain concessions. Among them, he would agree to an independent national security commission to be headed by Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) and he would finally abide by the Constitution (Article 140) and allow the census and referendum on Kirkuk. Nouri got his second term and promptly refused to follow the Erbil Agreement throwing Iraq into Political Stalemate II which has now lasted 16 months (December 2010 to the present). Since the summer, the Kurds have been calling on Nouri to return to the Erbil Agreement. Iraqiya has joined the call as has Moqtada al-Sadr. Moqtada is part of the National Alliance as is State of Law. Amir al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq is also part of the National Alliance (ISCI, State of Law and Moqtada's bloc are the three largest components of the National Alliance).
Al Sabaah reports that the National Alliance is meeting today and the meeting has been labeled as "important." Among the items to be discussed are the relationship between Baghdad and the KRG. Hiwa Osman (Rudaw) reports on the tensions including:
Speaking to Rudaw, Shwan Muhammad, a Kurdish member of Iraqi Parliament, said, "In Iraq, no component has a major role. Nouri Maliki alone has monopolized all the powers in the ranks of the army and internal security forces." Muhammad believes that although a Kurd, Babakr Zebari, Iraq's military chief of staff, must still answer to the prime minister. "All the powers are concentrated in the hands of the commander in chief (Maliki)," says Muhammad. Muhammad admits that a Kurd is in charge of the air force, but Maliki has created a special unit called "military aviation" that is run by people very close to him. This unit is said to have full control of 500 helicopters. "The air force whose commander is a Kurd does not even have an aircraft," said Muhammad, who is also a member of the defense and security committee in Iraq's parliament. Barzani and some of Iraq's Sunni leaders believe PM Maliki has brought most of Iraq's major institutions, such as the Ministry of Defense, national intelligence and the central bank, under his direct control, which they argue is unconstitutional.
As part of his continued power grab, last Thursday Nouri had the Independent High Electoral Commission's chair Farah al-Haidari and commission member Karim al-Tamimi arrested. Al Mada notes that as a result of these arrests, the United Nation's Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler states that it is unlikely the Parliament will now vote on the new commissioners for the Independent High Electoral Commission. As explained yesterday, State of Law is throwing up roadblocks to prevent the vote in Parliament.
Meanwhile Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr called his followers to unify ranks if they desire to form their own government." In addition to targeting the Independent High Electoral Commission, Nouri's also insisted that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested for 'terrorism.'
Replying to questions of AA correspondent, Hashemi claimed that the lawsuit filed against him was a political one and he would not stand trial in Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Hashemi said he believed that a fair trial would not be held in the capital. Witnesses' statements against him have been obtained by means of torture, he said and adding that one of his bodyguards was tortured and killed. Hashemi said that he could not receive a fair trial in Baghdad, because the courts have been controlled by Maliki, he said. He said he has offered to stand trial in Kirkuk, but the government refused it. "The case filed against me was a political one since the beginning. Thus its solution had to be political. President, prime minister and parliament speaker should come together and find a political solution to it," he said.
JA: One of the problems has been that one of your deputies, Tariq al-Hashemi, who was given refuge here in the Kurdish region and allowed to leave in spite of an arrest warrant. Will you allow him to come back to Kurdistan?'
Talabani: I would like to explain to you - Mr Hashemi is the first vice-president - I appointed him first. He came to a meeting with another vice-president, Dr Kuzai. When he came here, the court asked him to go to court. He didn't prefer to go to court - he said: "I am afraid in Baghdad to go to court." We asked them to change [the venue] and they refused. I don't know if he will come back here, or stay outside. This issue - my opinion was [to] solve it through dialogue with the leaders of Iraq. Because if he goes to court, he will be sentenced - we don't want him to be sentenced. We also need a kind of consensus about his problem. Maybe some of his bodyguards committed some crimes, but Tariq Hashemi is still vice-president. He was not sentenced, and any man until he is sentenced is considered to be innocent. He's not convicted.
Trend News Agency reports KRG President Massoud Barzani will visit Turkey Turkey and "meet with Turkish Preisdent Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu" and "Sources say that during his visit to Turkey Barzani will also meet with al-Hashemi, for whom the Shiite-led central government issued an arrest warrant in late 2011." Press TV maintains of Tareq al-Hashemi, "He has recently met with Erdogan to discuss the developments in Iraq and asked for Ankara's political support. Hashemi has also asked for Ankara's protection since he has received death threats and is said to be guarded by more than a dozen security forces. The Turkish government has settled Hashemi, his family, and those accompanying him in two houses in Basak, Istanbul, while Jordan has not responded to the Iraqi official's asylum appeal."
Iraq and its neighbors. The Arab League Summit met in Baghdad March 29th. Less than half of the heads of state bothered to show. A number of Arab countries chose to send a message by not attending. The one thing Nouri was able to flaunt was his new closeness with Kuwait. But it's a kind-of-push, kind-of-pull relationship. An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers points out:
The first Kuwaiti flight to Iraq in more than twenty years landed in Najaf Airport today.
But why in the southern, holy city of Najaf and not in Baghdad? Officials said that trips to Baghdad will be the next step, withought mentioning details.
After the significant role Kuwait played in the occupation of Iraq in 2003, one would have thought that its relations with the new Iraqi leaders would have been "chummy" - At least that's what many Iraqis thought. But the truth of the matter is that relations between Iraq and Kuwait are still "strained".
Yesterday, a man apparently hanged himself in Basra. Al Rafidayn reports the man was 38-years-old, had a wife and four children. He is thought to be the seventh man in the area who has taken their own life due to poverty in the last six months. Although Basra is well known for its fishing industry, lack of government support and conflict with Iran and Kuwait fishing industries have left Basra's industry reeling. Basra is in southern Iraq.
Another province in southern Iraq is Dhi Qar Province which is also experiencing suicides. Al Sabaah reports there's a suicide or 'suicide' epidemic taking place. Those allegedly taking their own lives? Young girls under the age of 18. There are accusations that the police are in partnership with families to cover up the fact that these girls are not suicides but have been killed -- possibly so-called 'honor' killings. There are also allegations that the girls are taking their own lives but doing so because they are being denied their basic freedoms and pushed into forced marriages by their families. Local citizen Ahmed Saidi maintains that most are not suicides and "90 percent are murders." The province saw 13 suicides in 2011 of young girls between the ages of 15 and 18 while, already this month, there have been 2 young females who have died and are said to have taken their own lives. Feminist Shada Qaisi states that the society lacks the communication skills to deal openly with these deaths and she also states that the police are more than willing to see a killing as suicide and not open an investigation into the death of a young girl. The police department refused to comment to the paper.
In the United States, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Chairman Murray Introduces Legislation to Better Protect Veterans, Servicemembers from Unemployment and Foreclosure
Legislation would strengthen U.S. Department of Justice's ability to enforce current laws
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, with high unemployment and foreclosure rates continuing to affect our nation's veterans and servicemembers, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, introduced the Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012. Currently, many of the protections put in place to help shield our nation's heroes -- specifically the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) -- have been violated in a disturbing number of cases within the past several years. Co-sponsoring Chairman Murray's legislation are Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act, which includes a significant number of proposals provided to the Congress by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), would strengthen DoJ's ability to enforce these laws on behalf of servicemembers and veterans.
"Our men and women in uniform serve with tremendous dignity on the battlefield," said Chairman Murray. "Our nation owes it to them to guarantee protection under the law wh when they return home. The Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Act will help force the hand of those who have failed to follow the law when it comes to providing our nation's heroes with the basic safeguards they deserve."
'"Our nation's growing reliance on the National Guard and Reserves for operational duties here and overseas means that our warrior-citizens must have airtight reemployment rights and financial protections when they are called to the colors, "said VADM Norb Ryan, President, Military Officers Assocication of America (MOAA). "The Military Officers Association of America strongly supports the 'Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012' and urges quick passage of the bill to strengthen enforcement of the rights of those who defend the rest of America."
"Millions of service members depend on USERRA and SCRA protections when called to serve their country," said Commander Fang Won, American Legion. "USERRA and SCRA were created to prohibit discrimination and eliminate disadvantages faced by deployed service members. This legislation will strengthen the enforcement on USERRA and SCRA. This bill confirms a tremendous need for transparency and effective consequences for non-compliance of USERRA and SCRA regulations and ensure that veterans are not disadvantaged or unable to return to their previous jobs due to their honorable service to our Nation."
"IAVA strongly supports Senator Murray's efforts to bolster the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA)," said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "Servicemembers who currentlys eek relief under these acts often face significant roadblocks. Even if a violation exists, it can be difficult and expensive for vets to challenge employers armed with greater legal and financial resources. This bill will empower the Attorney General to investigate and compel employers to respond to USERRA complaints. More importantly, it will allow the Attoreny General to better represent service members who have a case. Both steps are absolutely critical to open doors for new veterans and ensure they come home to the job security they deserve after serving our country."
USERRA secures servicemembers' employment rights during periods of military service and prohibits employer discrimination based upon military service or obligation.
To ensure that those protections are fully enforced this bill:
* Enables the Attorney General to investigate and file suit against a patter or practice of USERRA violatiosn by a state or private employer.
* Allows the United States to serve as named plaintiff in USERRA suits and to issue civil investigative demands for relevant documentary material; and
* Provides the Special Counsel with authority to subpoena relevant testimony and documents from Federal employees and agencies to carry out investigations.
Over the past year, it has come to light that several banks improperly overcharged and foreclosed upon deployed servicemembers in violation of the SCRA. Failure to comply with SCRA protections is unacceptable.
This bill strengthens the statutory protections of SCRA as well as the mechanisms used to enforce them by:
* Strengthening the protections that prevent judgments againt a servicemember when they cannot appear in court because of military service.
* Broadening the authority of the Attorney General to investigate allegations of SCRA violations; and
* Clarifying the right of servicemembers to bring a private law suit to assert their SCRA rights.