June 19, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issues a report about keeping US troops in the region, the State Dept wants to talk human trafficking and anything except McGurk, tomorrow is World Refugee Day, Nouri wants Barack to tell ExxonMobil what to do, US Senator Patty Murray continues fighting for the rights of veterans, and more.
Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released [PDF format warning] "The Gulf Security Architecture: Partnership With The Gulf Co-Operation Council." On page v., Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, notes, "Home to more than half of the world's oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas, the stability of the Persian Gulf is critical to the global economy." Chair John Kerry has stated of the report, "The Gulf Region is strategically important to the United States economically, politically, and for security reasons. This is a period of historic, but turbulent change in the Middle East. We need to be clear-eyed about what these interests are and how best to promote them. This report provides a thoughtful set of recommendations designed to do exactly that."
The report may well map out that for many. That's not what stood out to me. The takeaway for me is US troops remain in the region, right next to Iraq in Kuwait and the Committee's recommendation is that they remain present. (For those who don't want to read the report in full or operating systems are not PDF friendly, click here for the Committee's one page explanation of the report.)
A series of challenges are listed early on and we'll note the fourth one.
Challenge 4: The United States must carefully shape its military presence so as not to creat a popular backlash, while retaining the capability to protect the free flow or critical natural resources and to provide a counterbalance to Iraq.
With the war there officially "ended" and most of our troops back home, Iraq isn't getting much ink these days. But the story is far from over. Indeed, according to Wadah Khanfar, former director general of Al Jazeera, Iraq is still the most important story in the Middle East -- with a far greater impact on the region's future than Syria. "Nobody's paying attention to Iraq anymore," he told me during dinner in London over the weekend, "but it's becoming a client state of Iran, with a giant amount of oil between them." This state of affairs is, of course, primarily our doing.
And yet, as our soldiers have left, so has our attention. "The war in Iraq will soon belong to history," proclaimed President Obama at Fort Bragg as he marked the occasion of bringing the last troops home. But while the military chapter of that disastrous undertaking might belong to history, its consequences belong very much to the present. A present in which the very same voices that rose to push us into war with Iraq are again rising to push us into war with Iran -- but without ever noting that it was their misadventure in Iraq that gave Iran a new and powerful ally.
If the goal/challenge was to keep Iran and Iraq from growing closer, you don't, as the current White House did, back Nouri al-Maliki for a second term. You note instead that his political slate came in second and demand he step aside so that Iraqiya can have a crack at forming a governmnet. Instead, the US chose to spit on the political process, the Iraqi Constitution, democracy and the will of the Iraqis who voted by backing second place Nouri for a second term as prime minister.
Now let's move to another challenge.
Challenge 7: Relations between the Gulf monarchies and Iraq remain cool. There has been a tendency of some Arab states to remain disengaged from Iraq, largely over its relations with Iran. Unfortunately, this tendency has had the effect of pushing Iraq closer to Iran.
Recommendation: The United States should promote the gradual political reintegration of Iraq into the Arab fold.
Again, the problem is Nouri. He can't stop accusing Arab states. Just last week, he was again insisting Saudi Arabia and Qatar were out to get him. He's paranoid and he's not trust worthy. How the US government ever thought Nouri al-Maliki would bring Iraq closer to the Arab states is a head scratcher. Someone really needs to answer to that question: The White House ensured that second place Nouri remained prime minister; how was this supposed to improve relations between Iraq and the Arab states?
Further into the report, we get the point AP' was emphasizing this morning. AP: "The United States is planning a significant military presence of 13,500 troops in Kuwait to give it the flexibility to respond to sudden conflicts in the region as Iraq adjusts to the withdrawal of American combat forces and the world nervously eyes Iran, according to a congressional report." Page nine of the report:
A residual American military presence in the Gulf and increased burden-sharing with GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states are fundamental components of such a framework. However, the United States must also carefully shape its military footprint to protect the free-flow of critical natural resources and promote regional stability while not creating a popular backlash.
Kuwait is especially keen to maintain a significant U.S. military presence. In fact, the Kuwaiti public perception of the United States is more positive than any other Gulf country, dating back to the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Kuwait paid over $16 billion to compensate coalition efforts for costs incurred during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and $350 million for Operation Southern Watch. In 2004, the Bush Administration designated Kuwait a major non-NATO ally.
* U.S. Military Presence: A U.S.-Kuwaiti defense agreement signed in 1991 and extended in 2001 provides a framework that guards the legal rights of American troops and promotes military cooperation. When U.S. troops departed Iraq at the end of 2011, Kuwait welcomed a more enduring American footprint. Currently, there are approximately 15,000 U.S. forces in Kuwait, but the number is likely to decrease to 13,500. Kuwaiti bases such as Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Field, and Camp Buehring offer the United States major staging hubs, training rages, and logistical support for regional operations. U.S. forces also operate Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait, which are vital to theater missile defense.
On page 20, the report notes, "Amid relatively high sectarian tensions in the Middle East -- a consequence of violence in Iraq and, more recently, in Syria, and growing concerns about Iran -- the United States should encourage its partners, including in the Gulf region, to pursue nonsectarian policies." Again, that begs the question of why, in 2010, the White House backed Nouri al-Maliki for a second term? He's not about reconciliation, he's about demonization as we've seen repeatedly in the last months starting in the fall of 2011 when mass arrests began targeting Sunnis accused of being terrorists. They weren't terrorists. They were college professors, they were the elderly. Most importantly, they were Iraqis. At what point does Nouri cease trying to divide the fragile country and start uniting it?
Relations between Gulf monarchies and Iraq remain cool. There has been a tendency of some Arab states to remain disengaged from Iraq, largely over its relations with Iran. Unfortunately, this tendency has had the effect of pushing Iraq closer to Iran.
That's partly true but it's also true that what is seen as Nouri's targeting of Sunnis is not well received in Sunni-Arab countries. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Again, this begs the questions why, when Iraqiya won the March 2010 elections, did the White House decide to back second place Nouri for a second term as prime minister?
That is the question that will haunt the Barack Obama administration throughout history.
Someone might want to start preparing some version of an answer.
Just as the report refuses to seriously note how Sunni-dominant countries see the current events in Iraq, it also wants to pretend the Arab League Summit meant something. First off, this is flat-out wrong: "In April, the annual Arab League summit was held in Iraq for the first time since . . ."
The Arab League Summit was March 29th. March 29th, grab a calendar if this confusing to you, is not in the month of April. Your first clue there is probably the "March" in "March 29th." From the March 29, 2012 snapshot:
The Arab League Summit was held today in Baghdad. It didn't change a thing because Nouri never learned how to charm. So instead of starting with it, let's start with the ongoing political crisis in Iraq. [. . .] Also telling was the turnout for today's Arab League Summit. Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report, "Sunni Muslim rulers largely shunned an Arab League summit hosted by Shiite-led Iraq on Thursday, illustrating how powerfully the sectarian split and the rivalry with Iran define Middle Eastern politics in the era of the Arab Spring." It was not all that, to put it mildly. A friend who covered the summit deemed it, "Not so much a who's who as a who's that?" Who attended? Among others, the Oman Observer reports Talabani "received the credentials of Shaikh Mussalam bin Bakheet bin Zaidan al Bar'ami, Sultanate's Ambassador to Jordan, as the Sultanate's non-resident ambassador to Iraq" yesterday. Today Al Sabaah reports Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh, prime minister of Jordan arrived, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. [. . .] Who were the notable no-shows? Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) report that the no-shows included rulers from "Saudi Arabia, Qatar and most other Gulf countries, as well as Morocco and Jordan -- all of them headed by Sunni monarchs who deeply distrust the close ties between Baghdad's Shiite-dominated government and their top regional rival, Iran."
We could continue but I believe the point's been made. It was a one day summit. You can drop back to March 28th, the day before, for when various countries' foreign ministers met in Baghdad but that wasn't the Arab League Summit nor was that "April." The Senate Foreign Relations Committee sees the summit as a success. March 30th, the morning after, we graded it. It didn't look then and has looked since like a success. Here's some of the criteria we used to judge the summit on March 30th:
The Arab League Summit took place in Baghdad yesterday. Al Mada reports 15 ministers attended. There are 22 countries in the Arab League. Patrick Martin (Globe & Mail) observes, "That 12 of the 22 Arab League leaders did not show up and sent lower-level envoys instead did not go unnoticed [. . .]" Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) put the number of Arab League leaders who attended at 10 and they pointed out that Qatar, Saudi Arabi, Morocco and Jordan were among those who sent lower-level officials to the summit. Patrick Martin explains that Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani (Prime Minister of Qatar) declared on television that Qatar's "low level of representation" was meant to send "a 'message' to Iraq's majority Shiites to stop what he called the marginalization of its minority Sunnis." Al Mada noted yesterday morning that the Iraqi public and Parliament would be judging the summit a success or not based upon whether the leaders turned out for the summit. On that scale, it wasn't a success. In other words, attendence needs improvement and absences hinder progress. In addition to snubs and rebukes, Liz Sly, Aziz Alwan and Asaad Majeed (Washington Post) also note, "The blast at the Iranian Embassy undermined the government's boasts that it had managed to pull off the summit without incident, although it would have gone unheard in the conference room deep inside the vast palace. Zebari and Elaraby both seemed surprised when asked about it by a journalist." Not a success. Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) points out, "It spent almost $1 billion on preparations that included unprecedented security measures -- jamming cellphone networks and mobilizing 100,000 security-force members -- and rolling out a catered menu for dignitaries that featured a dessert of 24-carat-gold-laced dates." Not a success.
And that's just some of the criteria.
Where the report succeeds (possibly without intending to) is by making clear that the alleged withdrawal and returning home of the troops never happened. Basically, 15,000 US troops were marched out of Saks to Fendi. They didn't return home. Yes, they left Saks, they even crossed a few streets, all the way through West 53rd, but they're still on Fifth Avenue. Remember, the press and the White House sold it as "withdrawal." The Pentagon used the term "drawdown."
emphasized this morning.
Another US government report was released today. The State Dept issued their "Trafficking in Persons Report 2012." [Link goes to an overview page -- from the overview page, anything you click will be PDF format.] Of Iraq, the report notes:
Iraq is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Iraqi women and girls are sujbected to conditions of trafficking within the country and in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia for forced prostitution and sexual exploitation within households. Anecdotal reporting suggests that trafficking in forced prostitution and bonded labor are increasing in Iraq, partially owing to pervasive corruption and an overall increase in criminal activity.
Women are lured into forced prostitution through false promises of work. An international organization reports an increase in forced prostitution in the city of Tikrit; women between the ages of 15 to 22 years from Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Syria are sold to traffickers in Tikrit for the equivalent of $1,000 - 5,000 and then replaced or sold again every two or three months. Women are also subjected to involuntary servitude through forced marriages, often as payment of a debt, and women who flee such marriages are often vulnerable to further forced labor or sexual servitude. One NGO reports that recruiters rape women and girls on film and blackmail them into prostitution or recruit them in prisons by posting bail and then forcing them into prostitution via debt bondage. Some women and children are pressured into prostitution by family members to escape desperate economic circumstances, to pay debts, or to resolve disputes between families. NGOs report that these women are often prostituted in private residendences, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. Some women and girls are trafficked within Iraq for the purpose of sexual exploitation through the use of temproary marriages (muta'a), by which the family of the girl receives money in the form of a dowry in exchange for permission to marry the girl for a limited period of time. Some Iraqi parents have reportedly collaborated with traffickers to leave children at the Iraqi side of the border with Syria with the expectation that traffickers will arrange forced documents for them to enter Syria and find employment in a nightclub. An Iraqi official revealed networks of women have been involved in the trafficking and sale of male and female children for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
We'll come back to the report in a moment.
At the State Dept today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted how happy she was to see the room so full and had the team that worked on the report stand for deserved applause. She also thanked Jada Pinkett-Smith and Will Smith for being present and Jada for her interest and focus on this issue. But another reason Hillary might have been happy is that this took the focus off the failed nomination of Brett McGurk to be US Ambassador to Iraq. If she thought she needed a new report to distract the compliant press, she missed the State Dept press briefing. News of the withdrawal of the nomination broke yesterday late in the afternoon, well after Monday's press briefing. So today would have been the first time that the press covering the State Dept had a chance to ask about that. They had no interest in the issue. They had no interest in Iraq even -- despite the Senate Foreign Relations Committee releasing a report on Iraq and the region today.
If you were attending, you might have thought to ask Victoria Nuland for some comment on the matter, for some indication of when a new nominee would be named, for whether or not the administration learned anything from McGurk's failed nomination.
But the paid members of the press wouldn't and didn't. And that's among the reasons the press has such a lousy image.
President Barack Obama's pick for ambassador to Iraq has withdrawn his nomination following Republican opposition and claims of inappropriate contact with a journalist. Brett McGurk had come under fire from Senate Republicans over revelations of a racy e-mail exchange with a Wall Street Journal reporter while he served in Iraq in 2008. McGurk and the reporter, Gina Chon, later married. Chon resigned from the Wall St. Journal last week.
Not a word about sleeping with a source, not a word about allowing her lover to vet her copy. Her lover a Bush official. Not a word about Chon's violation of the Dow Jones ethical policies. Amy Goodman may have been one of the pigs writing for Larry Flynt's trashy skin magazine, but she never looked more whorish than she did today. As we noted Sunday at Third in "Editorial: Destroying their own credibility:"
It was 2008 and Amy Goodman was on the road hawking another clip-job she'd written with her brother, one that called on people to "challenge the corporate media" (Standing Up To The Madness, page 219). She was on the road hawking her wares and promoting the documentary Independent Media In A Time Of War.
NEWS CLIP: I'm back with two of our military analysts who've been with us this morning who are helping us understand this war.
AMY GOODMAN: We now have people like Wesley Clarke, General Wesley Clarke on the payroll of CNN who is questioning their embedded reporter on the front line. He is questioning the reporter and the reporter is saying "Yes sir, No Sir".
NEWS CLIP: This is a very special moment in time for the men and families and for this country. It is often fascinating for me. General Clarke and I have spent a good amount of time together today and over the week.
AMY GOODMAN: This is journalism in America today. They have redefined general news and we have got to challenge that.
Amy Goodman was calling out reporters saying "yes, sir" and "no, sir."
Yet for two weeks she hasn't called out the pillow talk between Gina Chon and Brett McGurk.
Two weeks ago, the story emerged of their affair. Gina Chon's been rightly fired from The Wall Street Journal.
If the scandal had come out in 2008, Amy Goodman and everyone would have been screaming their heads off. But the Bush official that Gina Chon was f**king? He's Barack Obama's new nominee to be US Ambassador to Iraq.
So they don't say a word.
Please grasp what you witnessed today from Amy Goodman. In 2008, the Queen of Panhandle Media was ticked off that retired general Wesley Clarke was addressed by a reporter with "yes, sir" and "no, sir." But four years later, when there's a reporter sleeping with a Bush official while she's covering the Bush policies in Iraq and while she's letting her lover see her copy and vet it before she turns it in, when that happens, Amy Goodman doesn't say, "Boo!" Because she's a coward and completely unethical. Maybe she's planning to fundraise in 2013, as she did in 2009, by auctioning off Barack Obama inauguration ball tickets? Don't say Goody Trash doesn't have her own vested interests as she forever pretends to be Last Journalist Standing while ensuring that there's a huge gulf between the actual news and the propaganda she supplies.
The large population of internally displaced persons and refugees moving within Iraq and across its borders are particularly at risk of being trafficked. Women from Iran, China, and the Philippines reportedly may be trafficked to or through Iraq for commercial sexual exploitation. Some Iraqi refugees in Syria reportedly have contracted their daughters to work as maids in Syrian households, where they may have been subsequently raped, forced into prostitution, or subjected to forced labor. In other instances, Iraqi refugees' children remained in Syria while their parents left the country in search of improved economic circumstances, leaving the children vulnerable to trafficking.
* 5 - 7% people living with disabilities, one third of them children
* 15.2 million were refugees, of which:
* 46% were children under the age of 18
* 48% were women and girls
* 895,000 asylum-seekers
* 26.4 million IDPs
* 12 million stateless persons
* 3.7 million returnees
Yesterday, the UN released UNHCR Global Trends 2011 which contains details such as 46% of refugees are under the age of 18, that three areas of concern are the displaced of Columbia, of the Democratic Republic of Congo and of Iraq, and that the Middle East and North Africa have a larger number of refugees than the Americas and and Asia and Pacific combined. (Africa has the largest number of refugees with 2.1 million to the Middle East and North Africa's 1.9 million.) Through the end of last year, Iraq could claim 1,428,3000 refugees. Only Afghanistan topped that figure (Afghanistan had 2.6 million).
Today AFP reports that some Syrians have been seeking asylum in Iraq due to the unrest in Syria and they note that those coming into Iraq have "to be smuggled across the border." Into the continued violence of Iraq where Alsumaria reports that the son of a local council member was kidnapped in Ramadi today and that security forces quickly secured the area and began searching for clues. While kidnappings have not been uncommon throughout the Iraq War, today's may end up getting attention due to the fact that is it one of two kidnappings. Al Rafidayn reports two young girls were kidnapped yesterday in Tikrit and that one is the daughter of a a member of Tikrit's security council. One refugee, Abu Samir, tells AFP, "The Kurdistan region welcomed us and we are grateful. Because I am Kurdish, I preferred the Kurdistan region and I am comfortable here."
Let's stay with the Kurds. Iraq sits atop a huge wealth of oil. But the most recent bidding on the oil & gas wares was a bomb. Jen Alic (OilPrice.com) summed it up days after it ended, "Iraq's latest energy auction was a flop, and while major international companies balked at everything from unattractive contract terms to security concerns, the failure of the auction highlights how the struggle for power between north and south is shaping the future of energy in the region and beyond. "
We're on the topic of oil because ExxonMobil is back in the news. Last January, Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) reported, "The political crisis engulfing Iraq's power-sharing government threatens to further delay a landmark draft of its long-delayed oil law -- five years after the first version was submitted to parliament. [. . .] The first hydrocarbon draft law was agreed by Iraq's diverse politcal blocs in 2007, but its approval has been held back by infighting among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish political groups, worrying investors seeking more guarantees for the industry." A month later, Kadhim Ajrash and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) were reporting:
Iraq's proposed energy law, intended to spur foreign investment in the world's fifth-largest holder of oil deposits, will be delayed for the rest of this year due to political divisions, the prime minister's top adviser said.
The draft law, held up since 2005, may resolve a dispute about oil revenue and sovereignty between the central government and the country's semi-autonomous Kurds that has blocked an agreement with Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Thamir Ghadhban said in an interview in Baghdad. Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq angered the government by signing a separate contract with Exxon, which operates one of the nation's largest oil fields.
Nouri's failure -- in two terms now -- to get oil legislation passed is telling of what extreme failure he is. How stupid is he? Or how crafty?
The US isn't Iraq. ExxonMobil is a private company, not a state-owned one. A US president might, at best, make a request. At best. But Barack has no power over ExxonMobil. Is Nouri that stupid?
Or he is being crafty? Barack sticks his nose into this and the already outraged business community sees Barack as even more anti-business. Not an image to cultivate as you're trying to be re-elected. Maybe he's crafty. It's not as though Nouri's reaching out to the White House currently.
Back on June 6th, we included: "Al Mada notes State of Law continues to insist that the White House won't allow Nouri to be removed from his post and that US Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting soon." But that was then. Today, Iran's Fars News Agency reported:
"Nuri al-Maliki did not allowed US Vice-President Joe Biden to visit Iraq," an informed source in the Iraqi prime minister's information bureau told FNA in Baghdad on Tuesday.
Noting that Biden was scheduled to visit Baghdad in coming days to meet with Iraqi officials to discuss the recent differences and the political standoff between different parties and factions in the country, he added that Maliki informed Biden via the US embassy in Baghdad that Iraq is not ready to host him.
The source said the Iraqi embassy in the US has also conveyed a similar message from Maliki to the White House and State Department's officials.
Earlier reports by a website affiliated to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq said that the cancellation of Biden's visit by Maliki was ordered after it was revealed that the US vice-president is due to visit Erbil and meet President of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani.
Suddenly Joe wasn't wanted. After blocking Biden's visit to the country, Nouri now wants to ask a favor of the White House?
In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. She continues fighting for veterans and her latest bill would put veterans on an equal footing with the non-military when it comes to reproductive issues.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
Chairman Murray Introduces Bill to Provide Veterans with Genital and Reproductive Wounds with Access to In Vitro Fertilization through the VA
As veterans continue to return home with catastrophic IED injuries, Murray bill reverses VA ban on critical fertility treatment; will help veterans and their spouses have children.
If forced to turn to the private sector, veterans and their spouses often have to pay tens of thousands in out-of-pocket costs to access IVF services
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, introduced legislation that will end the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ban on providing In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) services. Murray's bill, the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2012, also will begin child care programs at Vet Centers for women seeking counseling, and improving outreach to women veterans.
Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011 over 600 servicemembers have suffered reproductive and urinary tract trauma. The reliance on foot patrols in Afghanistan and the prevalence of improvised explosive devices has left servicemembers far more susceptible to these injuries.
"Reproductive injuries are some of the most impactful and serious wonds of these wars," Senator Murray said today upon introduction of the bill. "VA has an obligation to care for the combat wounded. For those with such catastrophic injuries, that includes access to the fertility care they needed. Veterans and their spouses are specifically barred from accessing In Vitro Fertilization services at the VA and often times have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. These veterans deserve far more."
Veterans who have severe reproductive and urinary tract injuries and spinal cord injuries (SCI) often need highly specialized treatments and procedures like IVF to conceive. However, under current law, IVF is expressly excluded from fertility services that are provided by the VA to veterans or their spouses. This is a significant barrier for veterans with SCI and genital and uringary tract injuries and as a result they have to seek care outside of the VA. The Department of Defense currently provides access to IVF services under the Tricare program and coverage for IVF and other fertility treatments at no charge to severely combat wounded servicemembers. Senator Murray's bill would provide veterans with the same access.