Wednesday, June 27, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri threatens early elections, we play out the worst case scenario which pits Nouri up against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (it could happen and it would be Nouri's fault if it did), a veterans wife tells the US Senate the VA shouldn't be able to destroy someone's dream of having a family, and more.
Today the editorial board of the Spokesman-Review observed the vast number of suicides among service members and veterans and noted the work of Senator Patty Murray including the bill she introduced Monday: "The bill spins off the discovery that as many as 285 soldiers -- or 40 percent of those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder -- had thos findings reversed at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma since 2007. A PTSD diagnosis can come with lifetime benefits, so a lot rides on those decisions. Murray became concerned that costs were becoming a factor in overriding legitimate diagnoses when she learned that a Madigan forensic psyhciatrist urged team members to be cognizant of the bottom line. It was at Madigan that many veterans were accused of faking symptoms to gain benefits. Many of those PTSD diagnoses were restored after news of the high reversal rate." Today she spoke of the bill, S. 3340.
Chair Patty Murray: The Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 is sweeping legislation that improves how VA provides mental health care. I think it is fitting that we are here considering this legislation on National PTSD Awareness Day. Over the past year, this Committee had repeatedly examined the alarming rate of suicide and the mental health crisis in our military and veterans populations. We know our service members and veterans have faced unprecedented challenges multiple deployments, difficulty finding a job whenhome, and isolation in their communities. Some have faced tough times reintegrating into family life, with loved ones trying to relate but not knowing how. These are the challenges our service membes and veterans know too well. But even as they turn to us for help, we're losing the battle. Time and time again, we've lost service members and veterans to suicide. We are losing more service members to suicide than we are to combat. Every 80 minutes a veteran takes his or her own life. On average this year, we have lost a service member to suicide once every day. But while the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have taken important steps towards addressing this crisis, we know there's a lot more that needs to be done. We know that any solution depends upon reducing wait times and improving access to mental health care, ensuring proper diagnosis, and achieving true coordination of care and information between the Departments. The Mental Health ACCESS Act would expand eligibility for VA mental health services to family members of veterans. It would require VA to offer peer support services at all medical centers and create opportunities to train more veterans to provide peer services. This bill will require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services. This Committee has held multiple hearings on VA mental health care, and we heard repeatedly about the incredibly long wait times to get into care. It's often only on the brink of crisis that a veteran seeks care. If they are told "sorry, we are too busy to help you," we have lost the opportunity to help and that is not acceptable. Without accurate measures, VA does not know the unmet needs. Without a credible staffing model, VA cannot deploy its personnel and resources effectively.
That was this morning where she presided over the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. There is a ton of stuff to cover in that hearing. Tonight at her site, Kat's grabbing Ranking Member Richard Burr as usual, Ava's going to fill in at Trina's site and cover Scott Brown, Wally will fill in at Rebecca's site to cover an aspect of the hearing which may be a cost issue but he's also considering a Bill of Rights and doesn't know yet what he'll go with. Again, it was a jam packed hearing. The purpose was to review and/or advocate for proposed legislation so you saw many US Senators not on the Committee appear before the Committee today. We'll probably note the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot as well because so much did take place but we'll focus on Chair Patty Murray today. If Murray's actions since becoming chair of the Committee were boiled down to one thing, I would argue she's been very firm that veterans have an equal playing field. If they're promised something, it needs to be delivered. If they're not promised something but civilians are, Murray's advocating for equality. She has two bills she covered in the hearing. We noted the mental health aspect. Her other bill is S. 3313, The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012. This pulls the VA into 2012 by recognizing reproductive injuries among other things. Tracy Keil appeared before the Committee and noted, "I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one." But without the bill, many veterans families won't have the opportunity because certain procedures are not covered currenty. She explained what happened to her and her husband, Iraq War veteran Matt Keil. This is from her written statement.
My husband Matt was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24, 2007 just 6 weeks after we were married. The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit his vertebral artery, went through his spinal cord and exited through his left shoulder blade. Matt instantly because a quadriplegic. When I first saw him 3 days after he was injured I was in shock, they explained to me that he had a "Christopher Reeve type injury." He would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never move his arms or legs.
Matt and I looked at each other in his hospital room at Walter Reed and he asked me if I still loved him? I said "baby you're stuck with me!" at that moment we knew that we would be okay if we stayed in this together. I knew that we just needed to work really hard to get Matt off his ventilator to increase his life expectancy. Ultimately we moved to Craigh Hospital in Denver to be closer to family support.
Four weeks to the day of arriving at Craig Hospital in Denver, Matt was officially off of his ventilator and we could truly concentrate on him doing physical rehabilitation. Matt has regained about 10% function of his left arm but not his hand. He was feeling good and getting used to his new normal of being in a wheelchair and asking for help for everything.
It was while we were at Craigh hospital that we started talking about having a family. Craig doctors talked to us about invitro fertilzation and recommended some doctors for us to speak to when we were ready tos tart a family. We started to get really excited that even though so much had been taken away from Matt physically that we could still have the future we always dreamed of.
My husband is the msot amazing man I have ever met, he is strong, honest and loyal and he wanted us to both have everything we always wanted before his injury and we agreed that this injury wasn't the end, it was the beginning of a new life, and we were in this together.
We had our whole lives ahead of us. Matt was just 24 when he was injured and I was 28. We are very fortunate that he survived his injuries that day and we made a promise to each other on our wedding day "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" I meant every word and still do today. It is a challenge for my husband and I everyday but we knew we still wanted to start a family. I remember back when he was in rehabilitation at Craigh Hospital it's all we could talk about was when we were going to be adjusted to our new normal and when we would we be ready to have children. We always knew we had wanted children.
In 2008 we moved into a fully handicap accessible home built for us by Homes For Our Troops. We were strating to feel like things were falling into place in our lives. We felt like we were starting to get back on track to where we were before Matt was injured.
His injury unfortunately prvents him from having children naturally. In mid 2008 I started asking the VA what services they could offer my husband and I to assist us with fertility. I can remember hitting road blocks at every turn. I decided to take things into my own hands and write letters and make phone calls to try and get anyone to listen to us that we needed help. Fertility treatments are very expensive and since I had left my full time job we were still adjusting to living on one income.
I felt helpless and hopeless and thought that our dreams of having a family may never come true. The VA finally said that they would cover the sperm withdrawal from my husband . . . that costs $1,000 and that they would store the sperm for us at no charge.
It was very difficult when I found out there was no help available for us from the VA or Tricare. I felt very defeated, sad, disappointed and in some ways I felt helpless. I researched everything I could about how to get Tricare to cover some of the costs but they couldn't because it was a direct result of my husband's injury and that fell under the VA. The VA said that they had no programs in place for this sort of thing. I even started asking non profits to assist with the cost and they couldn't help due to the other immediate needs of injured service members.
They had to jump through hurdles they never should have had to but , on November 9, 2010,
Tracy Keil gave birth to their twins Faith and Matthew.
Chair Patty Murray: The Dept of Defense, as I mentioned earlier, provides access to advanced reproductive treatments. And recently issued some guidance on offering these services at no cost to severely injured service members and their spouses. The VA on the other hand can't provide these services and it's pretty clear that they don't meet the reproductive health care needs of veterans who have experienced severe trauma as you outlined to us in your testimony a few moments ago. When you and your husband Matt were trying to conceive, you faced some very substantial road blocks from both the Dept of Defense and VA. And since that time, DoD has changed their policy. They now do offer fertility services for severely injured veterans. I believe that veterans like Matt have earned DoD and VA coverage and there should be no difference. I assume you agree with that?
Tracy Keil: I absolutely agree. My understanding is that you would need to travel to a military treatment facility in order to receive those services that the DoD is offering -- whether that be Fort Bragg or Walter Reed. That's not an option for families of the most severely injured such as my husband. There's no way that I could travel to one of those treatment facilities and care for my husband. And I want him there every step of the way. So that, for us, would not be an option. I feel that he, with his service and sacrifice, I feel that he now falls under the VA guidelines of care. He is a retired -- medically retired -- service member. And he ultimately is the VA's responsibility. So I feel that we fall under their responsibility.
A lot's going on in Iraq -- as usual -- so that's going to have to be it on the hearing for today.
In Iraq today a new development in the ongoing political crisis. Khalid Al Ansary and Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) report, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will call for early elections if dialogue fails to resolve a political crisis, his media adviser Ali al-Moussawi said." Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) notes that Nouri is threatening to "call for early elections if other political parties refuse to negotiate to end crisis over power-sharing that threatens to revive sectarian tensions." To throw some reality at the topic, the crisis could end at any time -- as Moqtada al-Sadr has repeatedly noted -- by Nouri returning to the Erbil Agreement. I realize that journalists are cowardly and stupid (friends excepted of course) but do they realize how bad they look as they report on the political crisis without addressing what's going on? Since last summer, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada have been calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement. For months now, as they have explored getting Nouri out of office, it has been noted that Nouri can stop that effort at any point by returning to the Erbil Agreement.
Now Nouri's saying that he'll call for early elections if others -- If others. So the news? If Nouri's making that threat it is reasonable to conclude that he (still) will not return to the Erbil Agreement.
What's the Erbil Agreement?
In March 2010, parliamentary elections were held. Despite Nouri's 'polls' insisting his State of Lead would win by an overwhelming margin, they didn't. They didn't even win. Ayad Allaw's Iraqiya won. Nouri refused to allow the Constitution to be followed, he refused to step aside and allow someone else to be named prime minister-designate. He refused for over eight months. It was Political Stalemate I. The White House backed Nouri. Otherwise he would have been forced out of office. In November 2010, the US government negotiated an agreement, the contract known as the Erbil Agreement. Nouri and the other leaders signed off on it. In exchange for various concessions from Nouri, the blocs would allow him a second term as prime minister.
The tantrum throwing brat was appeased. Nouri grabbed the Erbil Agreement and ran with it to have a second term as prime minister. But he refused to honor the written promises he made in the contract. And the US government was more than happy to play dumb.
As noted earlier, this is what the political crisis is about.
As the calls to return to the Erbil Agreement increased and as Nouri refused to do anything. People began to explore other possible actions and outcomes. April 28th, Iraqiya, the Kurdisan Alliance and Iraqiya met in Erbil to discuss withdrawing confidence from Nouri.
A press conference followed that meeting as these participants attempted to present a unified front. And certain questions remained not only unanswered but also unasked. Mustafa Habib (Niqash) asked the questions when he interviewed MP Diaa N. al-Asadi of the Sadr bloc last week. For example:
NIQASH: Who came up with the idea of withdrawing confidence?
Al-Asadi: In a meeting in Erbil attended by the leaders of various political blocs and also by al-Sadr, the President [of Iraq] Jalal Talabani suggested it because he felt there was a lot of support for the idea. Talabani himself felt that his role was being marginalized and his powers diminished. Those who met in Erbil concluded that al-Maliki really had no intention to reform and that the best way change this situation was to initiate a motion of no confidence. Al-Sadr said that he was with them if they collected 124 votes [from MPs] supporting this motion. In which case, he would join them and then there would be enough votes [the Ahrar bloc have 40 votes, 163 were needed].
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani came up with the idea of a vote of no-confidence?
For those who've forgotten, Jalal was a big talker. He also told those present that he could do a vote of no-confidence all by himself, without any need for a petition or a for a call from the floor of Parliament. But it was decided to go the petition for no confidence vote. And 176 signatures -- more than needed -- were collected.
It seemed a done deal.
Then Jalal came up with a new 'power.' He could go through and authenticate the signatures -- that's not in the Constitution. Per the Constitution, he's merely to pass any such petition onto the Parliament. But authenticity turned out not to be enough for Jalal.
He eliminated signatures. How come? Because people said they signed it but they'd changed their minds. That's not how a petition works. Once you sign it, you've signed it. You can vote in Parliament anyway you want but an MP who says, "Yes, I signed it but I've changed my mind"? That's someone who needs to be told, "You can register that change when the Parliament takes a vote." Under Jalal's 'rules' any petition you signed for a stop sign? Call your local government. Explain to them that you did sign the petition but now you've changed your mind and you want your name off. See how long they laugh at you and grasp that Iraqi -- especially in the KRG -- are laughing even longer and harder at Jalal Talabani.
That's why he fled to Germany for an 'emergency procedure' that required him ignoring the request not to leave Iraq during this political crisis. (The 'emergeny procedure'? Knee surgery.)
Nouri's threat to call early elections is only the most recent tactic. Already, he's been rejecting calls to appear before the Parliament. Kitabat reports today that the Speaker of Parliament's office released a statement noting that the Constitution outlines this process and that Parliament is an equal partner in government. In addition, the statement notes that the Parliament is the legitimate representatives of the people and that must be recognized. Unlike the post of prime minister or the Cabinet of Ministers, the people vote in Parliament elections. (It's a bit more complicated than that in practice but we don't have time this morning. Suffice is to say, most of the MPs were not voted on as individuals.) Alsumaria notes that the statement goes onto point out that the Parliament's successfully passed "hundreds" of bills in the legislative session and that they are doing the work of the people. The statement notes that the Constitution must be respected.
Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second in the 2010 elections. That may explain the perpetual chip they have on their shoulder. Alsumaria notes they are saying Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi made a "fatal error" by signing onto an agreement in Erbil. They're not clear on which agreement. It's a 2012 one and may mean the April 28th deal or something later. It's so very hard to tell what the half-wits of State of Law mean to say. They're also attacking Moqtada al-Sadr and stating now that his decision not to take part in questioning of Nouri (should Nouri appear before Parliament) indicates he's on their side. No, it indicates that Moqtada's acting consistent with what's he's stated for months now: This isn't about dumping Nouri, this is about returning to the Erbil Agreement.
Al Rafidayn reports Ibrahim al-Jaafari has declared the Nationl Alliance will create a reform body. Talk about meaningless gesutres. A toothless body of Nouri supporters will 'oversee' Nouri? Already Alsumaria reports Iraqiya (who came in first in the 2010 elections) is calling the measure a non-starter that will not resolve the crisis. It's in that environment that Nouri threatened to call early elections. Hevidar Ahmed (Rudaw) quotes Kurdish MP Arif Tayfur (Kurdistan Democratic Party) offering of the chances of Nouri keeping political promises, "He has not done it for six years and he has constantly attempted to add to this crisis."
W.G. Dunlop (AFP) quotes Nouri's website where a statement reads, "When the other side refuses to sit at the table of dialogue and insists on the policy of provoking successive crises in a way that causes serious damage to the supreme interests of the Iraqi people, the prime minister found himself forced to call for early elections." (Whether it was intended as an inside joke or not, Dunlop's "President Jalal Talabani's position on the issue was not immediately clear." made me laugh. And, intended joke or not, Dunlop's report is the strongest factually of any on the topic. The weakest? AP because, yet again, they treat an ongoing crisis as something that only started December 21st.)
Some might see that as a good way to go and possibly it is. But there is a potential negative side. Parliament gets dissolved and Nouri rules through the next elections. The next elections would not be in a matter of weeks. The KRG is currently working on their laws ahead of the 2013 provincial election. This could take months and the KRG runs smoother than any other part of Iraq. Meaning parlimentary elections are scheduled for 2014. The Nouri al-Maliki who let over 8 months of gridlock pass following the March 2010 elections isn't necessarily someone who feels pressure to move in a speedy manner. He could easily stall and delay it so that there are no elections until 2014 when they ae scheduled to take place.
Also, you might remember that the 2010 parliamentary elections were supposed to take place in 2009. But kept getting pushed back and pushed back. Remember all of Chris Hill's assurance on them that ended up being wrong? Chris hopes you don't, he's still pretending an expert on Iraq. Bare minimum for early elections: all voting laws must be in compliance and be fair (the KRG is addressing a law that reads so that Christians can only vote for other Christians, that's the law they're trying to amend currently), a law for the election must be passed -- which requires agreement (one big sticking point in 2009 was the issue of how many external refugees Iraq had and whether or not they were properly represented -- remember that, we'll come back to it) and you need to print up the ballots and have the election centers in place. The ballots is with the help of the United Nations. As November progressed in 2009, the UN announced there would be no 2009 elections because there was no longer enough time to print the ballots. For the March 7, 2010 election ballots, the UN began printing those on January 21, 2010 and they were pressed but managed to do it in 45 days.
Here's the Iraqi Constitution's Article 61:
First: The Council of Representatives may dissolve itself with the consent of the absolute majority of its members, upon the request of one-third of its members or upon the request of the Prime Minister and the consent of the President of the Republic. The Council may not be dissolved during the period in which the Prime Minister is being questioned.
Second: Upon the dissolution of the Council of Representatives, the President of the Republic shall call for general elections in the country within a period not to exceed sixty days from the date of its dissolution. The Cabinet in this case is considered resigned and continues to run everyday business.
Remember the refugee issue and how we were talking about how it was part of the delay in 2009 on parliamentary elections? Sunnis make up a larger number of external refugees than do Shi'ites (and refugees are allowed to vote in Iraqi elections, they do not have to be living in Iraq). And this was among the reasons that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi wanted them to be represented properly (a quota is set aside). When he didn't get what he wanted, he vetoed the proposed law as was his right.
What our 'constitutional' experts who've never studied a Constitution don't understand is that a Constitution has stated powers and implied powers. In addition, there are powers that become powers via custom. In the US, for example, the failure to hold Barack Obama accountable for the same crimes that Bush committed? A legal argument can now be made that those powers exist for the presidency now via custom. You have had a Republican do it and now a Democrat do it and the Congress never bothered to outlaw it or challenge it. So, it can be argued, it's now a power of the office via custom.
All the Nir Rosens and his circle jerk buddies cheering on Nouri's authoritarian stance never seemed to grasp that in a country with a new Constitution, it was not only important that the Constitution be followed, it was vital that it be followed.
But here's where Nouri's power grabs could potentially bite him in the butt. Nouri's refused to name the security ministries. He's refused to nominate anyone and send them to the Parliament for a vote. He's instead created 'acting' ministers -- a term that doesn't exist in the Constitution. But he's done that for some time now. Jalal Talabani, as we noted last week, in what was probably a pathetic bid for sympathy, floated the notion that when he returned to Iraq after his 'delicate' surgery, he would step down as president.
If that happens, who's president of Iraq? Until one's electing, it can be argued that a vice president becomes 'acting.' Article 69 makes no mention of this and outlines how the Parliament would begin to elect a president if one resigned. But there's no mention of 'acting' ministers in the Cabinet either and the Parliament might have other things to do or might be on a break.
Were that to happen -- and this will shock some -- the 'acting' president of Iraq would be Tareq al-Hashemi. Some will gasp, "He's on trial!" Check the Constitution. He's not been removed from his office. And to be removed the Speaker of Parliament would have to go along with it. That's Osama al-Nujaifi. Like al-Hashemi, al-Nujaifi is both Sunni and a member of Iraqiya.
During Nouri's first term as prime minister (beginning in 2006), Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi were Iraq's two vice presidents. In early 2011, there was a move towards upping it to three vice presidents and it would have gone through at that time but, among other reasons, sexism prevented it. The three would have been Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Tareq al-Hashemi and female Turkman. Sexism doomed that. But the idea of three wasn't dropped and the male Khudair Khuzaie was quickly named to the spot along with Abdul-Mahdi and al-Hashemi. This caused the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front issued the following statement February 14, 2011:
We, as the Iraqi Turkmen Front, as a political organization defending the legal national rights of the Turkmen nation, thank the President of Iraq for his request for a fourth vice presidency and for the candidate to be a Turkmen. However, we would have wished that the third vice presidency position be offered to the Turkmen and we would like to take the opportunity to ask the distinguished Presidenty why the third vice presidency was not offered to a Turkmen candidate.
The distinguished President could have requested the fourth vice presidency position and refrained from disclosing the names of the three other vice presidents and sending them to the Iraqi parliament before this position was approved.
The names of the three vice presidents presented to the Iraqi Parliament in a single list and a request to the same parliament for a fourth vice presidency position is just a ruse thrown in front of those who obstruct the Turkmen and their legal rights. Those segments have resisted the deputizing of a Turkmen vice president from the beginning.
For this reason, we request that after the fourth vice presidency is approved, the names of all four vice presidents are presented to the Iraqi Parliament together. Otherwise, we must accept that the proposal was not serious and just an incident targeting the rights and jurisprudence of the Turkmen.
Dr. Sadettin Ergec
Leader of Iraqi Turkmen Front
In May of 2011, when the 100 days Nouri asked the protesters for (give him 100 days and he would address the lack of public utilities, the issue of unemployment, the issue of the missing in Iraq, etc. and all the corruption) expired and Nouri hadn't done anything, Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced government was not serving the Iraqi people and he was resigning. That makes Tareq al-Hashemi the senior vice president. He remains in office. By the rules Nouri's created over the years for acting ministers -- including in 2010 when he forced the Minister of Oil off as also being the Minister of Energy when the latter minister quit -- Tareq al-Hashemi can assume the presidency if Jalal steps down. He can be 'acting' president until the time comes that Parliament votes in a new president.
There is nothing in the Constitution -- read it -- that says the president must be in Baghdad. In fact, as written, al-Hashemi could be president of Iraq -- 'acting' president -- from Saudi Arabia if he wanted. So if Jalal does make good on his threat and Nouri tries to make good on his, there is a chance that Tareq al-Hashemi could announce himself 'acting president.' And you can be sure Osama al-Nujaifi, in his role of Speaker of Parliament, would recognize al-Hashemi as that.
That would mean no consent for early elections and that would also mean al-Hashemi would immediately call for a withdrawal of confidence vote.
The Constitution needs to be followed. Nouri's lived outside it for two terms now. In doing so, he's created powers that don't exist but have remained unchallenged.
Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) notes that Iraq experiences bombings again today. Lu Hui (Xinhua) counts two bombings which left 11 dead and twelve injured with one of the bombings targeting the home of a Sahwa and, when people arrived on the scene, another bomb went off. Alsumaria notes that another house was also bombed killing 3 women in one family. While some outlets are counting three bombings, AFP and BBC count two. In addition, Alsumaria reports a Babel sticky bombing which claimed 1 life and left another person injured.