Monday, December 3, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri uncorks the crazy and threatens his political rivals, tensions between Erbil and Baghdad increase, the Peshmerga (and their tanks) station themselves around Kirkuk, violence increased in November, the Democratic Party needs to address the issue of Ranking Member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee because Corrine Brown and her non-stop defense of and excuses for the VA isn't going to cut it with veterans, and more.
This evening Hurriyet news reported that Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is "accusing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of continually suspecting conspiracies against him" and quotes Barzani stating, "We want to solve issues through dialogue, not through tanks or F-16s. The problems with al-Maliki are not personal. Most Iraqi factions support us." What is Barzani talking about? Nouri has created so many crises in Iraq that it can get confusing. This one stems from Iraq's law of the land.
Iraq's Constitution was written in 2005. At the time of the writing -- and still today -- there were areas in dispute. Three provinces are part of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. In addition, Kurds feel they have a right to other areas including oil-rich Kirkuk. The central government out of Baghdad also feels it has a claim to Kirkuk. What you have is two sides attempting to make historical claims to one piece of land. That will never resolve the issue, as the writers of the Constitution knew. So they created Article 140. It calls for a census and a referdum to resolve disputed areas. Nouri al-Maliki is installed by the US government as prime minister of Iraq in the spring of 2006. Article 140 is supposed to be implemented no later than the end of 2007.
Despite having had six years to implement Article 140 (and despite forever promising he was just about to), Nouri has refused to implement it. The climate was not just one of mistrust on this issue, it was one of Nouri refusing to follow the law. And he made it worse a few months ago by sending Iraqi forces (Tigris Operation Command) into these disputed areas. The Kurds fear that he is doing that to 'resolve' the dispute by force.
The dispute could have ended last week and it stood a serious chance. Dropping back to Thursday's snapshot:
Tensions continue between the KRG and the Baghdad-based central government over Nouri sending in the Tigris Operation Command forces into disputed regions, as Martin Kobler noted today when addressing the UN Security Council. In an interesting development, Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports Nouri is said to be angry because his generals are not providing him with details and summeries of the ongoing negotiations with the Kurdish Peshmerga officials. If Nouri is really being kept out of the loop, that says a great deal about how much his power has faded in the last weeks. Even more surprising since the Peshmerga has published the main points the two sides agreed upon:
1. Forming an operational mechanism, principles of cooperation and joint committees in the disputed regions. The joint operations in the disputed regions of Kurdistan will remain unchanged but the mechanism of operation will be revitalized between the federal forces and the forces of the Kurdistan Region.
2. The meetings of all the joint operations committees will be rescheduled to once a month. This will be increased if deemed necessary, especially for meetings of the SAC.
3. The location of the meetings and coordination for the meetings will be organized by the command of the Iraqi Armed Forces who will work as a coordinator for the work of the committees, especially the SAC.
4. A follow-up procedure will be conducted for the work and the decisions of the joint committees and punitive measures will be taken against any defaulting party or individual.
5. Any party or individual will be punished in case of reporting misleading information to their superiors in order to create problems and crisis at any level.
6. The SAC must be immediately informed about any problems that arise in the disputed areas in order to immediately work on solving them.
7. The agreements must be honored and the commanders, officials and individuals who violate the terms of the agreements will be punished.
8. Forming a quick mechanism to pull out all the forces of both sides that were mobilized to the region after Nov. 16, 2012. Pulling out these forces must be transparent, truthful and supervised by the supreme committee members after the consent of the SMC.
9. Reconsidering the decision of forming operations command in the region, especially the Tigris Operations Command, and giving back the authority of security in Kirkuk to the police, Asayish and internal forces.
This could have been the first step in resolving that crisis. Instead, Nouri nixed the deal and uncorked the crazy. And he was spewing it on Saturday. Al Mada reported the prime minister made a public statement in which he attacked Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds, stated that those attempting to withdraw confidence for him should be warned and floated "arrests" as part of his threats. It was a very disturbing speech. In the speech he made a demand that everyone attend a meet-up. All Iraq News notes that the Kurdistan Alliance has already: They won't be attending. They issued a statement explaining Nouri has refused to be practical and resolve the crisis (he created). While the Kurds willingly met with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi in good faith, Nouri blew off the exchange. When the Iraqi military and the Peshmerga came up with a 14-point plan to resolve the latest crisis (created by Nouri), Nouri said it would not be allowed.
Dar Addustour added that Nouri declared in his speech that the Kurds don't believe in the Constitution and that efforts at a no-confidence vote in him will be met by actions that have never been taken before. In addition, he announced he wants to arrest members of Parliament who raised the torture of Iraqi women in prisons. He also made a number of statements involving President Jalal Talabani which appear to be that the same people who put him (Nouri) in power put Jalal in power and if Nouri goes down so does Jalal. Al Rafidayn emphasized the attacks on Jalal Talabani in Nouri's remarks. Today the Iraq Times reports MP Amir al-Kanani, with Moqtada al-Sadr's political bloc, states that Nouri's speech was in response to the loss of popularity for his political party Dawa as a result of his attempts to end the food ration card system and as a result of the Russian arms deal that fell apart. Dawa is Nouri's political party. His political slate that he ran with in 2010 is State of Law. Provincial elections are supposed to take place in April which could be behind any concern about the popularity of Dawa. All Iraq News notes that State of Law was supposed to meet this evening in Nouri's offices to prepare their strategies for the upcoming elections.
Al Mada notes that the religious authorities in Najaf are said to be troubled by the escalation of the conflict. They're not the only ones troubled. Wael Grace (Al Mada) notes that the actions are troublinging investors and would-be investors dismaying the business community in Iraq. Also watching the situation closely is the government of Turkey. Rudaw reports, "Turkish officials say they are following recent tensions between the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi government with concern." Alsumaria reports Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi declared today that Nouri al-Maliki's actions have been an assault on the Kurdish region. It's noted that Allawi has spoken via telephone with both Barzani and Talabani about the issue already today. The Iraq Times notes that Allawi is scheduled to visit Erbil on Wednesday. Iraqiya is the political slate that came in first in the 2010 parliamentary elections.
How serious is the above? Not at all serious to the reporters covering the US State Dept. Despite the fact that a press conference was held today, no one asked spokesperson Mark Toner one question about Iraq.
In violence, Alsumaria reports a Kirkuk mortar attack injured a police officer. Also in Kirkuk, Alsumaria reports a 20-year-old man shot dead his 2 brothers and 1 sister behind the Dawa Party's offices and he shot his parents as well but they were left injured, not dead. All Iraq News notes 1 person was shot dead in Mousl. Friday ended the month of November. Iraq Body Count counted 244 deaths from violence in the month. AFP reports the government ministries (under)count 166 deaths. The outlets notes this is an increase from the government's claims of only 144 deaths in October.
As noted above, Nouri's threatening to arrest members of Parliament who spoke publicly about the abuse Iraqi women are suffering in prisons. The BRussels Tribunal has a very important article on this torture. We're going to highlight a little from their report each snapshot this week and hopefully include the entire thing that way. Here they are on the starting point:
The torture journey starts when security forces raid and search the houses, through random raids or ordered raids. The Fourth Commander of the Second Brigade – Team 6, Major Jumaa Al-Musawi, has confirmed this information. This man has a criminal record, and he was assigned to this position by the American Forces during their first training courses in intelligence gathering. He used to live in Al-Thawra (now called Sadr City) / Sector 87. In his own words:
"When we receive the raid and search orders from the Brigade Intelligence, we usually start with a little party and drink alcohol, or take some drugs. We choose the most cruel soldiers to carry out such operations. The first thing we do is to lock the men and youngsters in a room, and the women and children in another room. We start to steal what can be taken fast, like jewelry, and we mess up the house, like throwing the women's underwear here and there; some soldiers even steal some of this underwear. After that, we start to do a body search on the women, and having fun touching their private parts or breasts. We threaten them to arrest the men in the house when they refuse to be touched. If those women are pretty, we usually rape them immediately, and leave the house when we find no weapons or incriminating material. In case we find some weapons, every man and youngster in the house will be arrested, and if there are no men at home, we arrest all the women instead. This is totally according to the orders we receive."
What follows is one of many stories about the crimes committed by these corrupt creatures, who shamelessly brag about their misdeeds to each other. Al-Musawi and his assistant Lt. Rafid Al-Darraji (another criminal who was imprisoned in Abu-Ghraib and sentenced to death, but was released by the Americans, using him as a guardian, along with their own guard dogs, giving him the Lt. rank. He used to live in Al-Nuariyah District. Here is what they state:
"In July 2006, we received an order to raid and search the house of one of the fabric merchants in Karradah (his name is not mentioned). When we reached his house at 1:00 a.m., we didn't find the man, we only found his wife and his 17 year old son. During the search we found a rifle, which – according to our law – is permitted for the personal protection of civilians. But we threatened the woman that we would arrest her son if she didn't let us rape her. So, we handcuffed the son and locked him in a room, and one soldier after the other raped the lady in the other room. The other soldiers stole what they could find, then we headed to a well-known brothel in Al-Doura District in Um Alaa's house to enjoy the rest of the night there."
They continue: "The first thing we do when an arrested woman is being transported to the detention location, is that every part of her body is touched by all the soldiers in the vehicle, while using dirty language. When we reach the detention facility, we leave her in the investigation room, supervised by the intelligence officer and his assistants. They directly take all her clothes off, blindfold her, handcuff her, then the intelligence officer starts to rape her with his assistant. And later they ask her some questions: if she's guilty or innocent and so on. Then they blackmail her, saying that she should be cooperative and give important information about the District where she lives, otherwise they would distribute photos of her while she was naked and being raped. They would accuse her of false charges if she would file a complaint about harrassment and torture. If she receives a "guilty" verdict, she usually stays in the same location for a period of one to three months, in order to finish the procedures of her "case", to be sent to the headquarters. During these months, every single intelligence officer and soldier in the Brigade will rape her. After that, she will be sent to Al Tasfeerat Prison in Shaab Stadium, or to Al-Muthanna Airport Prison. Sometimes the prisoner is transferred to the facility of the Chief Commander's Office in the Green Zone, which is a cellar under the building of the Baghdad Operations Headquarter, supervised by Major General Adnan Al-Musawi. This place is one of the most dangerous, dirtiest prisons of Al-Maliki.
More than the Russian weapons deal, more than the escalation, this is the most dangerous story for Nouri al-Maliki. That's why he's threatening people who are talking about it. Why is it so dangerous?
Because it could be your mother, your sister, your daughter. This goes to the core of abuse in Iraq. And this story harms Nouri because he's over the prisons. So he wants it to go away and various of his flunkies have stepped forward in the last days to dismiss it. Yesterday, Aswat al-Iraq ran a story about how the judges are insisting that "only" 46 Iraqi women are being held right now for questioning. 46 women who are not charged with one damn thing shouldn't be held to begin with. But they want to happy talk it and tell you that it's "only" 46.
The Crazy has been let out and it is running free and, if you doubt that, note that the story continues that, oops, one of the women was pregnant. And she went into labor during questioning. Don't worry though. They're going to let her go just as they're done questioning her. They have held a pregnant woman without charge, they have upset her and she went into labor. She is still not released from custody.
In what world is that acceptable? It's not, especially not in Iraq.
And this news emerges just as the Iraqi people are again saying "enough." Kitabat puts the announcement on their front page:
Friday, January 25th, Iraqis are preparing to return to Baghdad's Tahrir Square and protest. It's another call for change and it will come ahead of the scheduled provincial elections. The announcement notes that Nouri al-Maliki has become more tyrannical, that the Parliament is more corrupt, that two years ago, Iraqis took to the streets calling for change and were promised change but there was none.
Nouri's abusive to Iraqi women and like most men who beat up on women, what really scares him is that people are going to learn what a petty, little coward he is that he has to beat up on women.
The Christian Community in Iraq is a lot smaller than it was in 2003 when the Coalition invaded. During the occupation, radical Muslims claimed the Christians were helping the invaders and used this as an excuse to attack them. Churches and shops were bombed and individual Christians were murdered or told to leave on pain of death. In an interview with the BBC, the priest at St Joseph's Chaldean Church in Baghdad said that in the past nine years his parish has shrunk from 1,200 families to 300. The New York Times reports that before the war the Christian population was estimated to be as high as 1.4 million, and has now dropped to less than 500,000. I met few Christians in my 17 days in Iraq other than some shopkeepers and the owners of a liquor store when I went on a beer run in Basra. I was anxious to see some of the early medieval centers of Christianity that make the country so important to Church history. The Christian community in Iraq is splintered into more than a dozen different churches, including the Assyrian Church of the East, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and many more. Many of their rites and beliefs are from a markedly different religious tradition than what we are familiar with in the West.
There are a series of photo that go with the essay. I would argue that Chrisians -- and all minorities groups -- immediately became at risk in Iraq following the US invasion as a result of the US government's desire to put thugs in charge to shock the Iraqi people into submission. Thugs in charge guaranteed that the murders of Iraq's various minorities never resulted in any real punishments.
One of the worst attacks on Iraqi Christians is back in the news so let's drop back to the November 1, 2010 snapshot for details:
Yesterday in Baghdad, Iraqi forces swarmed Our Lady of Salvation Church where people were being held hostage by assailants. Ernesto Londono and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) report, "The bulk of the bloodletting happened shortly after 9 p.m. when Iraqi Special Operations troops stormed Our Lady of Salvation church in the upscale Karradah neighborhood to try and free worshipers who had been taken hostage. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy's Miami Herald) reports, "Insurgents seized control of a church in central Baghdad on Sunday, taking hostages during evening mass after attacking a checkpoint at the Baghdad Stock Exchange." Graham Fitzgerald (Sky News) observes, "Apparently no attempt was made to negotiate with them and bring the siege to a peaceful conclusion." John Leland (New York Times) quotes police officer Hussain Nahidh stating, "It's a horrible scene. More than 50 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible. You can see human flesh everywhere. Flesh was stuck to the top roof of the hall. Many people went to hospitals without legs and hands." Lara Jakes (AP) reports there were 120 hostages in the church. Ned Parker and Jaber Zeki (Los Angeles Times via Sacremento Bee) add, "The Iraqi police immediately sealed off the surrounding area in the busy Karada commercial district. The American military was called in to help. As U.S. Army helicopters buzzed overheads, American officers accompanied Iraqi commanders and shared satellite imagery, according to Iraqi police and the U.S. military. A caller to the Baghdad satellite channel Baghdadiya, who insisted he was one of the attackers, said the group was demanding the release of al-Qaida prisoners in Egypt and threatened to execute the hostages if the authorities failed to meet their demands."
Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) reports, "The siege began when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades took an entire congregation hostage. Some 120 people were held in the church for at least four hours." Today the Telegraph of London explains (link has text and video) the death toll has risen to 52. BBC News offers a photo essay of the siege. Lewis Smith (Independent of London) quotes hostage Marzina Matti Yalda, "As we went outside the hall to see what was happening, gunmen stormed the main gates and they started to shoot at us. Many people fell down, including a priest, while some of us ran inside and took shelter in a locked room as we waited for the security forces to arrive." TheTelegraph of London quotes a young male hostage (unnamed) stating of the hostage takers, "They entered the church with their weapons, wearing military uniforms. They came into the prayer hall, and immediately killed the priest." Martin Chulov (Guardian) adds, "The priest they call Father Rafael is believed to have survived, but his colleague, Father Wissam, is believed to have been killed." Jim Muir (BBC News) offers a video report and an Iraqi female hostage states, "Gunmen entered the church and started to beat people. Some of the people were released but others were wounded and some died and one of the priests was killed." Muir points out that churches in Iraq have been attacked before "but there's never been anything like this."
Today All Iraq News reports the Ministry of Housing and Construction has announced that the reconstruction of the Chuch has been completed. They state reconstruction was done at a cost of 2.3 billion dinars. Last week in Australia, the Assyrian Times notes, Senator Concetta Fierravanit-Wells discussed the plight of Iraqi Christians before the Australian Senate and she made a number of motions including one which "calls upon the Government to raise the signficant human rights concerns of Christian Assyrians with the Iraqi Government."
Ray McGovern has a piece at OpEd News on Susan Rice that we will try to highlight a section of tomorrow. We are short on time and space today so I'm pulling the last part of Martin Kobler's briefing to the UN Security Council and we'll include it tomorrow. Right now we have to go over a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.
US House Rep Bob Filner served in Congress for many years. He chose not to seek re-election last November and instead ran for, and won, Mayor of San Diego. He was sworn in today and hopefully will be as strong a voice for the San Diego community as he was for veterans in the last year as he served as Chair of the House Veterans Committee or Ranking Member (depending on whether or not Democrats controlled the House) on the Committee. His departure leaves a huge hole on the Democratic side of the Committee. Bob Filner didn't play games. He didn't care who was in the White House and who appointed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. If it was a Democrat, his questions were just as tough in hearings as they were when it was a Republican. He put the veterans first and he brought common sense into every hearing to cut through all the double talk various officials wanted to try to hide behind.
US House Rep Linda Sanchez has that same focus and intensity and she would make a great Ranking Member. US House Rep Michael Michaud is a bit lower key but he has a methodical approach that could be a real plus for the Committee. US House Rep Silvestre Reyes also has a lower key approach but echoes Filner's common sense approach that cuts through the double talk. Those are the three strongest Democrats on the Committee currently and any of the three would make a great Ranking Member.
A veteran of the Iraq War stopped me last Wednesday after a House Veterans Affairs Committee and said, "Please tell me they're not making her Committee Chair. I can't understand her and she looks like she's ready to go on the road with Bootsy [Collins] and George [Clinton]." He was referring to Corrine Brown. [And her bad wig -- her bad wigs are infamous.] Veterans do not feel she is on their side because all she does is make excuses.
That's all she did at last week's hearing. It's all she ever does. US House Rep Al Green sat in on the hearing and I believe he's just been assigned to this Committee. The former judge was first elected to Congress in November 2004 and has been re-elected every two years since. He made a point to state Wednesday that on the Veterans Affairs Committee, he doesn't come in saying he's a Democrat, "I'm a person who respects people who are willing to risk their lives for us. They go to distance places and they don't always return the way they left. And I just believe that we have to do as much as we can to assist them. And I'm a believer that when it comes to these issues, we can transcend party lines and work hard for them." It's a shame he doesn't have more seniority because he'd be a wonderful Ranking Member or (when the House goes back to the Democrats) Chair.
The topic of the hearing was the money that VA has wasted on trips. And US House Rep Corrine Brown wanted to offer excuses and whined about how the VA having to go through their records to provide answers to Congress was an imposition on VA. Is the woman crazy? If it takes too many hours for the VA to gather the information, that goes to their not doing an adequate job with their record retention which does include storage.
While Brown made one excuse after another, US House Rep Al Green stated, "The optics of this are quite disturbing. I sense that you are contrite. I sense that you want to attone. But I have to let you know the optics are quite disturbing." He is correct. Appearing before the Committee? VA's Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould and he was accompanied by the VA's Phillipa Anderson and W. Todd Grams. US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair and he outlined the issues right at the start.
Chair Jeff Miller: We are here to examine, in detail, VA's conference spdning, particularly following the VA Inspector General's report highlighting the wasteful spending that occurred at HR conferences in Orlando, Florida in 2011. We will also examine VA's response to Congress regarding its conference spending. Fundamentally, this hearing is about accountability -- accountability to veterans, to taxpayers and to this oversight Committee. I am concerned on all fronts. Let me briefly share the reason why. On August 16, 2012, the Ranking Member and I sent a letter to the Secretary asking a series of questions related to VA's conference spending. In that letter we referenced the conflicting testimony we received over the course of the 112th Congress regarding VA's total expenditures. First we were told $20 million was spent in FY 2011 on conferences. Then we were told it was a little over $100 million. Finally, we were told that no accurate, reliable figure on conference expenditures exists. Because of these discrepancies, we asked for clarification of VA's total conference spending for that year and prior years, as well as a breakdown of all individual conferences. Rather than receiving a coherent response clearly explaining these discrepancies and answering all of the questions we posed, VA produced a data dump of information to the Committee under the cover of a letter by Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Joan Mooney, on August 24, 2012. Even though I discussed what I believed was the lack of a response to our letter at the Committee's September 25, 2012 hearing, we were not informed by Ms. Mooney until a week later that her latter, and the information provided along with it, served as the Secretary's official response. But even assuming what was provided in August was the Secretary's official response, our questions still weren't answered. And those questions that were answered conflicted with prior VA testimony. For example, when we tallied up the total VA conference expenditures for FY2011 based on the information VA provided, it came to $86.5 million. This represents the fourth answer provided it came to $86.5 million. This represents the fourth answer provided to the Committee this Congress on VA conference spending in FY2011: First $20 million, then over $100 million, then no reliable number and, now, $86.5 million.
That's not minor. And although Corrine Brown may feel that it 'imposes' on VA to make them accountable, that is -- someone get her a copy of the Constitution -- Congress' job. As always, US House Rep Phil Roe -- a medical doctor -- could be counted on to provide wisdom in these areas. He noted that, at his practice, they figure out the next year's continued education needs and then they figure out a budget and then they start booking. He also addressed what he'd learned in the continued education classes he'd taught. And he noted that it's nonsense to claim that it takes months to find out these costs. He said he could make one phone call and find out the costs of continued education for the 450 employees and have the answer in five minutes. Gould wanted to argue that with 320,000 employees -- they took months to reply. And as Roe pointed out, these are written checks. It shouldn't be difficult to calculate.
US House Rep Bill Flores objected to sending VA staff to Italy -- on the taxpayer's dime -- and wondered why, when additional training is needed, it can't be done online? US House Rep Tim Walz made several good points. We'll note this comment by Walz, "The thing that's always concerned me about professional development is: Why aren't we backplanning it from the results that Dr. Roe talked about, what we're going to get out of this? I've got to be honest with you, if you're doing professional development and the wait time on claims increases, your professional development stinks. And that's the way it is."
That's an overview. We're not done. We have to go back to Brown. In the hearing, she noted she was made fun of about her comments at a previous hearing. Unless someone else wrote about the hearing the way we covered it in the snapshot, she was referring to my comments.
To which I say, when she was demanding accountability from the VA (when Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House), I looked the other way on her speaking. We never could quote her in full because she's so bad about not finishing sentences. But we would selectively quote her. Now? I'm going to try and transcribe her bad speech as she makes idiotic statements using lousy grammer? Forget that. I don't want to pick up her bad habits.
Reality, she's a member of Congress and has been for nearly 30 years. She should have worked to improve herself. She didn't. She didn't even try. She sounds like an idiot.
No sympathy? I arrived in college with a huge knowledge gap because I arrived with a huge memory gap of whole years wiped away.
In college, this huge knowledge gap of things I learned but couldn't recall was embarrassing. I was an idiot throughout freshman year. The most basic things my peers knew, I had no idea about. (World War II to give but one example.) I was funny and could make the entire room erupt in laughter but, honestly, a lot of those 'jokes' that people thought were so funny? No joke. I was being serious. I was that ignorant. And it was a very steep climb but I worked very hard and made up for as much as I could as quickly as I could.
So I don't really have a lot of sympathy for a Congress member who, year after year, opens their mouth and sounds like an idiot because they don't know proper English, because they can't finish their sentences and because they're reading level is so low that it's embarrassing when they try to read from their opening statements. I'm sorry, Corrine, I have no sympathy for you. Life has obstacles. Anyone who works to overcome their own, I don't mock them. There's a Democrat in the House who has a condition that makes his speaking a struggle. I have never and would never mock him and I congratulate him on the long road back that he's made and is making. But a woman who sits in Congress for 29 years and can't learn to speak? Who is never tempted to better herself and thinks sounding like a buffoon is acceptable? Get used to the mocking because if you're going to be Ranking Member, your poor speech is about to get a lot more attention. And not just from me. You're a member of the US Congress. That should force you to strive for something better, not beg you to be a public embarrassment. If no one's ever before made it clear to you how embarrassing you are, hate me but use that hate to improve yourself because your current speaking abilities are unacceptable.