Monday, August 20, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq helps Iran skirt economic sanctions, Barack's nervous about a confrontation with Nouri, Total continues business with the KRG, violence claims the life of a prominent Sunni, Barack gives a press conference, and more.
QUESTION: A different topic. I have a quick question regarding the oil agreements made in Northern Iraq. I had asked this question last week during a panel to Brett McGurk. He is a special advisor to Madam Secretary, probably, as I understand it. There are some American companies who made deals with KRG directly, bypassing Baghdad government, and this is an issue between KRG and Baghdad government right now, these oil agreements. And also, Turkey and KRG -- Turkish Government and KRG mad an -- agreements between two governments, and the -- some trucks started to transfer some oil to Turkey from Northern Iraq.
I'm wondering this -- the official position of U.S. Government on this issue, because the Baghdad government is arguing that this is unconstitutional, these kind of agreements, but KRG is arguing that no, they have license to do that. What is the official position of USA -- U.S. Government on this issue?
MS. NULAND: I mean, our position on this has not changed. We've spoken about it many times here. We speak about it in Iraq. With regard to our own companies, we continue to tell them that signing contracts for oil exploration or production with any region of Iraq without approval from the federal Iraqi authorities exposes them to potential legal risk, and we continue to tell them -- obviously, they'll make their own business decisions, but unless and until we have federal legislation in Iraq governing these things, something that we've been urging, that there are risks for them. So that's our message to our companies.
QUESTION: Did you raise this issue with the companies directly?
MS. NULAND: We do. When they come to us and ask what we think, then we raise this issue with them, yes.
QUESTION: And how about Turkey?
MS. NULAND: What do you mean?
QUESTION: Did you raise this issue with Turkey, I mean, in terms of this agreement made by -- between Turkish Government and KRG?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, they know where we are on our view of this issue. When the Secretary was in Istanbul, I think Foreign Minister Davutoglu had just been in Northern Iraq, so obviously, they talked about that trip, and they talked about Iraq as a general matter and our interest in seeing the groups work together and get through some of the political issues that they have so that they can get back to things like working on the oil legislation that is important for everybody.
Though Nouri al-Maliki seems to struggle with this concept, in the US, oil companies aren't controlled by the government.
In more bad news for Nouri, Reuters reports, "French oil major Total has bought a minority share in an exploration block in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, ignoring threats from the central government in Baghdad made after a similar deal last month." Oil and Gas Journal adds the company's purchased "a 20% participating interest in the Taza PSC."
At The National Interest last week, Joost R. Hiltermann weighs in on the conflict between Erbil and Baghdad: Pipelines connecting the Kurdish region to the Mediterranean are still two years away. The Turkish government has not yet decided what kind of direct hydrocarbons relationship it wants with the KRG. That decision could lead to Iraq's break-up, a prospect that Ankara has historically feared and actively resisted because of the threat it would pose to Turkey's own territorial unity. Yet times are changing: the Syria crisis and a possible U.S.-Iran war could redraw the region's borders. Not knowing how the chips will fall, political actors are starting to move to secure their interests as best they can and maximize any advantage they might gain.The Maliki government and the Kurds are therefore unlikely to kiss and make up. Any new agreement will be a temporary accommodation that would give each what they need most right now—Baghdad: revenues from Kurdish crude before its own production in the south ramps up; Erbil: the ability to pay producing companies before they throw in the towel in utter frustration. The real battle—over the future of Iraq and Kurdistan—is still a couple years away.
Meanwhile AFP reports "at least 409 people" died in the month of Ramadan with another 975 left injured. That's basically two week of July through Saturday. For the month of August, through Saturday, Iraq Body Count records 323 deaths from violence.
Violence continued over the weekend and there was one high profile incident.
Sunday brought news of the death of a notable figure. KUNA reports, "Head of the Sunni fatwa authority in Iraq Sheikh Madhi al-Sumaidaie has sustained critical injuries due to a car-bomb blast that targeted his motorcade in west of the Iraqi capital, an police source said on Sunday." AP notes four body guards were killed in the attack and three more were left injured and they explain, "Al-Sumaidaie has sided with the government against Sunni extremists. Earlier this year, he called for a unified religious authority to bridge the gap between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites. " Al -Arabiya elaborates, "Sumaidi, who extermist Sunni groups viewed as aligned with the government, had called for all Iraqis to disarm after the formal withdrawal of U.S. troops last year, saying that those who carried weapons were aginast Iraq and its interests."
Kareem Raheem (Reuters) adds, "The attack came as Al Qaeda's local wing, Islamic State of Iraq, has warned of a new campaign and security analysts say fighters in Iraq are benefitting from funds and morale from Islamists slipping into Syria to join the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad next door." Political analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie, also the Shaeikh's cousin, tells AFP, "Gunmen driving a car tried to cut off Sheikh al-Sumaidaie's convoy, and when the convoy came to a halt, another car driving fast crashed into his car and blew up."
AKnews notes a statement from Nouri al-Maliki saying that this was an effort to "silence any moderate national voice." It was left to Kitabat to offer actual journalism, they pointed out that the Ministry of the Interior had ordered that Sheikh al-Sumaidaie's convoy was always to be protected with at least two police cars. Where were those cars today, Kitabat -- and only Kitabat -- asks? The orders were put in place after the January Baghdad assassiantion of Sheikh Mullah Nazim al-Juburi. Since those orders were put in place, al-Sumaidaie has been the target of many public threats, the paper explains, including several just last week.
In the face of all of this, there are still no heads of the security ministries. Nouri was supposed to nominated people in December 2010 and didn't. All this time later, he still hasn't made nominations. Today, Raman Brosk (AKnews) reports, "The State of Law Coalition (SLC) led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said that it is not responsible for naming the interior and defense ministers, adding that resolving the file needs sincere intentions from all of the political blocs."
Saturday Diyala Province Governor Hashim Hayali and his wife died in what's being called a car accident (Hayali most recently survived an assassination attempt April 21st). All Iraq News notes that Iraqiya issued a statement noting the "tragic loss."
Meanwhile AFP reports, "Iraq insisted Monday that its trade with Iran was honest, denying reports that it was helping the Islamic republic skirt sanctions by smuggling oil and moving cash in secret." What are they talking about?
The front page of yesterday's New York Times which featured James Risen and Duraid Adnan's "U.S. Says Iraqis Are Helping Iran to Skirt Sanctions" about the White House's knowledge that Iraq is helping Iran "skirt economic sanctions." And, the two reported, Barack was "not eager for a public showdown with Nouri." The New York Times-owned Boston Globe runs the story but 'forgets' a byline and may leave readers with the impression that they originated the story. The Toledo Blade runs the story but credits it to the Times. AFP writes about the Times report and highlights this statement by Nouri al-Maliki's spokesperson, "We also have good relations with Iran that we do not want to break." Covering the report, Reuters notes, "Barack Obama, the US president, acknowledged the problem last month when he barred a small Iraqi bank, the Elaf Islamic Bank, from any dealings with the American banking system, according to the report."
At Third yesterday, we offered "Editorial: We're giving that guy the F-16?" because it doesn't make a lot of sense to share F-16 technology with a government who's already helping Iran get around legal sanctions. But when does the US government make a great deal of sense? Al Arabia and AFP report that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin "Dempsey acknowleged arch-foe Iran was trying to expand its influence in Iraq but said the Baghdad leadership wanted to build up relations with the American military." Dempsey's headed to Iraq to smooth things over because apparently money is more important than safety and it's more important to the White House that the F-16 deal goes through possibly because, as Dar Addustour noted last week, Iraq is also seeking arms from the Russian government.
Iraq is currently observing Eid al-Fitr. All Iraq News reports that Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc is calling on politicians to use the religious holiday to work towards a true reconciliation which will benefit Iraqis and resolve the differences. While Moqtada's group calls for reconciliation, the outlet notes that Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim used the holiday to sepak of martyrs, blood and warn of coming risks. He then voiced his support for President Jalal Talabani's renewed call for a national conference. Kitabat notes that this holiday sees thousands of children forced to play in dumps (cities) or in yards and orchards next to dumps (small towns) and that children are at risk being next to the waste disposal. All Iraq News notes that the largest percent of orphans in the Arab world are in Iraq where over five million exist as a result of the violence.
Saturday came news of Camp Ashraf where 1,200 residents remain and have thus far insisted that they will not move to Camp Libert with the other residents who have already moved there. Gulf Times quoted Maryam Rajavi (President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran) stating, "As a gesutre of goodwill, the residents of Ashraf will commence the 6th convoy of 400 residents from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty on August 23." Martin Kobler, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, declared, "I welcome the announcement that the next group of 400 residents are willing to commence the move from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya immediately after the Eid holiday."
The intro notes that women are "the fastest growing cohort of the Veterna community" with 1.8 million of veterans last year being women (2 million predicted in 8 years) and with women making up 14% of the current active duty and 18% of the National Guard ("In contrast, the percentage of women in uniform was just 2 percent in 1950"). The work group "identified issues or needs of women Veterans:"
* Underutilization of services
* Lack of awareness of benefits or eligibility
* Personal privacy and environment of care
* Fragmentation and gaps in health care
* Access to mental health care services
* Access to gender-specific specialty care (OB/GYN)
* Gender-based health disparities
* Underrepresentation in research; lack of data
* Need for child care
* Military sexual trauma (MST) and related issues (i.e. PTSD coverage, employment, etc)
* Domestic violence
And to address these issues?
* Develop a department-wide integrated action plan for meeting the needs of women Veterans.
* Analyze the current organizational design, relationships and internal accountability measures and mechanisms. Identify organizational and business process enablers and barriers throughout VA, and identify opportunities for improvement.
* Formalize the roles, responsibilities, accountability and reporting mechanisms across the VA organizations that are engaged in addressing the unique needs of women Veterans.
On the issue of unemployment, the report notes that for last year, "the annual average unemployment rate for women Veterans was 9.1 percent compared with 8.2 percent for non-Veteran women." According to this March 20, 2012 Labor Dept press release, the 2011 unemployment rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent. That would make the unemployment rate higher last year for female veterans than for male veterans overall. (The VA report does not break down the numbers by age group.
The report moves on to note, "There has been a considerable investment in enhancing VA's programs, benefits, and services for women Veterans but there remain policies, practices, programs, and related activities that are not yet fully responsive or sensitive to the needs of women veterans." Which is accurate but may cause some who follow the issue to reflect.
For example, in the May 21, 2008 Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, Senator Patty Murray was noting that despite the huge number of women veterans today, "only 255,00 of those women actually use the VA health care services." When Murray met with female veterans in her state of Washington, "Some told me they had been intimidate by the VA and viewed the VA as a male only facility. Others simply told me that they couldn't find someone to watch their kids so they could attend a counseling session or find time for other care." This was the hearing where the VA's Dr. Gerald Cross objected to a bill (Murray and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's bill, S. 2799, Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2008) that would allow for childcare. Cross declared that if the childcare option were included, veterans in need of "mental health care or other intensive health care services at the VA" would not get the care they needed because the bill would "divert funds." Senator Murray replied by referring to Cross' own opening remarks, Cross was observing that lack of child care prevents some women from access "for mental health or other intensive services -- so you identified the lack of child care as a barrier [. . .] but you're unwilling to do anything about it?"
US Senator Patty Murray: I hear a lot from women about the access of child care being a barrier to the VA. You, several of you, mentioned this in your testimony and I don't think a lot of people realize that you tell a woman there's no child care, they just simply don't go, they don't get their health care. Do you for all the panelists, do you think that the VA providing child care would increase the number of women veterans who go to the VA and get the care that they need? Joy?
Joy Ilem: I would say definitely. I think researchers have repeatedly shown this as a barrier for women veterans and that's the frustration, you know? How many research surveys do you have to do when women keep saying this is a barrier to access for care? And I think it was Kayla who mentioned the experience of someone who was told it was inappropriate for them to bring their child with them and some of these very personalized for appointments for mental health or other things -- it may be very difficult but they have no other choice. I think it would definitely be a benefit and we would see an increase in the number of women veterans who would probably come to VA.
Senator Patty Murray: Ms. Williams?
Kayla Williams: I definitely think that usage rates of the VA would increase if women knew that they had child care available. There are a variety of innovative ways that we could try to address the problem of women having to balance their needs of child care with their needs to get services. Among them would be increasing the availability of tele-help and tele-medicine where women don't have to necessarily go all the way to a remote facility and spend four hours trying to get to and from and then be in-care. And there are also opportunities for innovative programs. For example, the VA has small business loans available if they could provide loans to women veterans who want to provide child care facilities near VA facilities, that would be a great way to try to marry these two needs. There are also a lot of community organizations that stand ready and waiting to help that would be happy just given a small office to staff it with volunteers and be able to provide that care for the time that a woman has to be in appointment. I think, as many others have said, the specific solutions may vary by location but there are a lot of innovative way that we could forge public-private partnerships to try to meet these needs.
But the VA wanted to say no, no and no. In December of 2009, Senator Patty Murray was able to announce that planning and design had been funded for the Women and Children's Center at Madigan Army Medical Center, she'd been able to tack it on the Fiscal Year 2010 Consolidation Appropriations Committee. And you can look at that and applaud the progress -- and should -- but you should realize what a struggle it was to get that far and how when a bi-partisan bill couldn't pass on this issue, it took perseverance. You should also grasp that this issue has required starting at zero in many cases because there was so little information about women veterans.
2012 is a presidential election year in the United States. The editorial board of the Saudi Gazette notes the silence in the US election cycle on the issue of Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama claimed that US forces were leaving behind "a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq." But the eruption of widespread violence in Baghdad within hours of the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq after nine years showed how incalculable was the damage done by Bush's war to Iraq's social fabric. All this would have been overlooked if reconstruction in Iraq has succeeded and living conditions of the ordinary people have improved even slightly. No, it failed dismally. The US couldn't even restore the country's electric system or give a majority of its people potable water. The situation is no different in Afghanistan where the central government's writ does not run beyond the capital Kabul. That a vanquished enemy, Taliban, can disturb the equanimity of US and NATO forces even after a decade tells its own story.
Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports on Barack's press conference today where he denied that his campaign suggesting Mitt Romney was a felon and more qualified as "out of bounds" campaigning. Barack went on to lie that Mitt Romney releasing "his 2010 tax returns and an estimate of his 2011 returns" is not like the "precedent that was set decades ago, including by Mr. Romney's father. And for us to day that it makes sense to release your tax returns, as I did, as John McCain did, as Bill Clinton did, as the two President Bushes did, I don't think is in any way out of bounds." When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeated the lie about what others released, Bob Somerby (Daily Howler) noted, "Surely, Reid understands that Candidate McCain released only two years of tax returns, just as Candidate Romney is doing. Candidate Palin also released only two years of returns."