Saturday, April 07, 2012

The mess that is Nouri

In Baghdad today, AP reports that a mini-bus bombing claimed 2 lives and left nine people injured. As the violence never fades, Heath Druzin (Stars and Stripes) offers an analysis of Iraq which includes:

In a four-day span last week, Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish government cut off oil shipments to Baghdad, Sunni-majority Qatar refused to hand over Iraq's fugitive Sunni vice president to the country’s Shiite-dominated authorities, and Iran hinted they might favor moving nuclear talks to Baghdad.
[. . .]
Perhaps as combustible as the Shiite-Sunni tensions, which broke out into a bloody sectarian civil war in 2006, is the ongoing sparring between the Arab-dominated Baghdad government and Kurdish authorities in the north, who cut off oil shipments to the South on Sunday. The move came amid Kurdish charges that Baghdad was delinquent on oil payments and countercharges that the Kurds had illegally negotiated their own oil contracts without Baghdad’s approval.


And there is also Baghdad's insistence that ExxonMobil cancel its contract with the Kurds. In fact, Nouri's government has gone so far to insist (repeatedly) this week that the contract has gotten the axe. As Reuters notes, the Kurds have stated the deal made in October is still on. Aabha Rathee (Wall St. Cheat Sheet) reports, "A statement on the Kurdish president Masoud Barzani’s website said Exxon chief executive officer Rex Tillerson has reaffirmed the company’s commitment. “Rex Tillerson renewed the commitment of his company’s signed contracts with Kurdistan and Iraq and expressed the readiness of Exxon Mobil to continue its work in Kurdistan,” the statement said." The Kurdish Globe also notes the story. The Trefis Team (Forbes) offers this background:

Exploration companies have been lured to sign contracts with the KRG as it has offered attractive production sharing contracts while the central government has given out service contracts that compensate players based on a production linked fee. [1] The better security environment in Kurdistan also makes the region more lucrative to companies intending to set up local operations. However, despite these advantages, most oil majors have stayed clear of pursuing deals with the KRG to avoid antagonizing the central government, which does not recognize the validity of such regional contracts.


ExxonMobil is not the only issue of difference between the Nouri's government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Pierre Betran (International Business Times) notes KRG President Massoud Barzani's visit to DC this week and points out, "At the heart of the Kurdish-Arab dispute is a constitutional provision that Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said last week hasn't been implemented by Baghdad. Speaking in Washington, he said the provision is designed to set governing and power-sharing agreements between the two governments. The law would also repatriate strategic oil-rich parts of Iraq to Kurdistan."

The ongoing political crisis in Iraq might have been resolved on Thursday had the national conference taken place as scheduled but it was called off. Not called off was Nouri al-Maliki's authoritarian way. And it's not just bothering the Kurds, Iraqiya and others in Iraq, it's bothering a number of people in the region. Mayada al-Askari (Gulf News) notes:


Gulf rulers snubbed Baghdad, staying away from the summit and sending a message of dissatisfaction. The blunt words of Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem Bin Jabr Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister, summarised the sentiment in Arab Gulf states. Speaking on Doha-owned Al Jazeera television, he said the no-show was a reflection of the disapproval of Iraq's marginalisation of the minority Sunni community, a policy he insisted was not in the interest of the country or the Arab world.
The tensions came to a boil with the recent visit of Sunni Vice-President Tarek Al Hashemi to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He is wanted by the government on "terrorism" charges, which according to Al Hashemi and his supporters are "politically motivated."

How bad are relations between Iraq and its neighbors? AFP reports Falih al-Fayaad went toTurky this week to meet with Turkish officials on Nour's behalf. As 2011 was winding down, what was Nouri doing? Oh, that's right, he was trashing the president and the prime minister of Turkey and doing so publicly and repeatedly. And when not issuing insults about them, he was accusing them of trying to control Iraq.

Yet now Nouri sends a minister to beg for forgiveness. That's how bad things are for Nouri's government right now.


The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


















Parades and baseball

Last week, Stephanie Casanova (Daily Wildcat) reported hundreds turned out in Tuscon for a Welcome Home Veterans Parade organized by Alan Toppel:

Tucsonans gathered along the parade route and clapped as vehicles cruised by with veterans and community members holding “Welcome Home” and “In Loving Memory of …” signs. From children to those who served in the Vietnam War, a diverse group of people came together to honor those who “enable our freedom,” said Alex Shemesh, a physiology senior.

KVOA offers video here. Today a parade was held in Houston, Texas. Demond Fernandez (KTRK -- link is text and video) reports, "The city of Houston saluted the local men and women who served this country during the Iraq war with a downtown parade, winding from the corner of Texas and San Jacinto to Minute Maid Park." Click2 Houston quotes (link is text and video) Houston Mayor Annise Parker declaring, "Houston has one of the largest veterans populations in the country. This is our opportunity as Houstonians to come forward and not do something we do every year, and not do something that is routine, but a special opportunity to say thank you to veterans who served in Iraq and are now coming home." The Houston Chronicle offers a photo essay, notes thousands turned out and that "KTRK-Channel 13 reports that uniformed veterans who participated in the parade, and their family members, got free admission to the baseball game."

On the topic of baseball, Matt Synder (CBS Sports) posts video today of the first pitch at Thursday's Pirates and Phillies match up which was thrown by Iraq War veteran Jeremy Feldsbusch.

Turning to the top of contractors, Charles Glass' new feature "The Warrior Class" (Harper's magazine) details the actions of various private contractors and they've posted clips of Blackwater in Iraq committing various abuses.

The following community sites -- plus Ms. magazine -- updated last night and today:



And we'll close with this Veterans for Peace press release:

VETERANS FOR PEACE

NATIONAL OFFICE: 216 S. Meramec Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105

PHONE: (314) 725-6005 FAX: (314) 725-7103 E-MAIL: vfp@veteransforpeace.org

6 April 2012

PRESS ADVISORY

Contact: Leah Bolger, leahbolger@comcast.net, 541-207-7761

David Swanson, david@davidswanson.com, 202-329-7847

20-Year Veteran to Face Jail Time for Act of Civil Disobedience

Disruption of Congressional “Super Committee” could result in 6-month sentence

Retired Naval Commander Leah Bolger will appear in court Thursday, April 12th 2012 on charges stemming from her arrest on October 26th, 2011. Bolger, who is a peace activist and the President of Veterans For Peace, interrupted a public hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, commonly known as the Super Committee.

In a calm, articulate manner Bolger spoke for nearly a minute in the well of the Senate hearing room before Capitol Hill police escorted her out and placed her under arrest. Prominent social activist Ben Cohen praised Bolger for her courageous stand in this video which includes footage of her action: http://youtu.be/aZVtPhVBM5Q Bolger accused the sole witness, Chief Budget Officer Douglas Elmendorf, of obfuscating the true costs of military spending, and implored the Committee to enact the people’s plan for reducing the deficit—end the wars and tax the rich.

Ralph Nader, a member of Veterans For Peace, applauded retired Naval Commander, Bolger's effort to challenge the Super Committee for a minute of an un-scheduled reminder that cutting much needed social programs that saves lives rather than cutting the bloated military budget and taxing the 1% is Congressional insanity. "The government is dysfunctional, working for corporate interests rather than providing for the peoples necessities. Bolger showed what active citizens should be doing peacefully-- confronting the corruption head on and making sure the public knows what is really going on. She should be honored for her actions."

Bolger was a member of the Occupation of Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza. The occupation protested the Super Committee by holding an Occupied Super Committee hearing which was aired on C-SPAN, see CSPAN Coverage of Occupied Super Committee Hearings, and produced its own report. By cutting military spending and taxing the wealthy, the Occupied Super Committee reached the ten year deficit targets set by President Obama and Congress in two years, and was able to fund a jobs program, forgive student debt and secure social programs. See The 99%’s Deficit Proposal: How to create jobs, reduce the wealth divide and control spending. As a result of the actions of Bolger, the Occupy movement and other activists, the Super Committee, which had been on course to cut Social Security and Medicare, decided not to issue a report.

A press conference will be held at 8:30 am, Thursday April 12th in front of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 500 Indiana Ave NW, Washington DC. Those scheduled to speak and/or answer questions include:

Leah Bolger, defendant, President of Veterans For Peace (VFP)

Mark Goldstone, attorney for the defendant

Art Brennan, NH Retired Superior Court Associate Justice, member of VFP

Kevin Zeese, Co-director, Its Our Economy, organizer of Occupy Washington, DC

David Swanson, author, activist, radio host, member of VFP

####






The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


















Friday, April 06, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Friday, April 6, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Home Depot gets sued by the US Justice Dept over the firing of a National Guard member, KRG President Massoud Barzani visits the US and discusses Article 140 (and more), now Nouri doesn't want Tareq al-Hashemi to return to Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim calls out Nouri's raid on the Communist Party last week, and more.
 
Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is currently on a diplomatic tour of the surrounding region having already visited Qatar and currently Saudia Arabia.  Raman Brosk (AKnews) reports that State of Law is arguing that al-Hashemi should not be allowed to re-enter Iraq and Iraqiya's spokesperson Maisoun al-Damlouji is responding, "This is not acceptable at all.  Hashemi is the vice president of the Republic and he will return to the region." In December, after most US troops left, Nouri al-Maliki upped the political crisis by insisting that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his post and that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi be arrested on charges of 'terrorism.'  Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya (both are also Sunni) which is the political slate that won the most votes in the March 7, 2010 elections.  Nouri's State of Law slate came in second to Iraqiya.  The two slates are political rivals.  As an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers observed at Inside Iraq this week:
 
In a press conference Maliki said that he had a criminal file on Hashimi that he had been sitting on for three years, and was now ready to prosecute him.  For the objective observer, the timing of this announcement was telling. [. . .] Confessions of Hashimi's security personnel were aired on state television and an arrest warrent for Hashim himself was issued and also made public on state TV -- All this publicity on Maliki's side in order to burn the bridges and make any political deal impossible in this country where government is glued together with political deals.
 
 
 
A day after al-Hashemi went to the KRG, Nouri issued the arrest warrant.  Tareq al-Hashemi has remained in the KRG as a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani.  Sunday he left for a diplomatic tour of some of the neighboring Iraq countries.  He has visited Qatar and Saudi Arabia. 
 
Providing background on Nouri's relationships with Qatar and Saudi Arabia would require many, many snapshots.  So we'll just drop back to last week's Arab League Summit held in Baghdad.  Abeer Mohammed and Khalid Walid (Journal of Turkish Weekly) report:

While Iraq hoped the high-profile Arab League summit in Baghdad last week would mark a step forward in relations with its neighbours, observers say many regional states used the event to snub the government.
Although officials declared the event a success, only ten leaders from the 22 Arab League member states turned up. Apart from Kuwait, no Gulf state was represented at a high level. Saudi Arabia and Oman merely sent their Cairo-based Arab League ambassadors.


As demonstrated by actions this week (see Liz Sly's Washington Post report from yesterday) the Arab League Summit changed nothing of importance for Iraq. This despite all the money spent on it.  And several countries were able to use the summit to send a message.  That message was received loud and clear by Nouri who responded by attacking Qatar and Saudi Arabia over the weekend -- before al-Hashemi arrived there. And the attacks continue.  Today Alsumaria reports that Nouri's State of Law again elevated the rhetoric against Saudi Arabia and Qatar today as Abbas al-Bayati declared that the press for both countries was carrying out their governments' attack on Iraq's government.
 
AFP reports that a spokesperson for Tareq al-Hashemi declared today -- as al-Hashemi has all week -- that he will return to Iraq after he's concluded his diplomatic mission and "that for Hasemi to remain abroad was 'the wish of his enemies,' in a clear reference to Maliki."  There is something very comical about Nouri's attitude as the week ends.
 
It started with him and his spokespeople blustering and bellowing about how Qatar would hand al-Hashemi over to Baghdad (they didn't) and how INTERPOL would show up if needed to remove al-Hashemi from Qatar and bring him to Baghdad. That was never going to happen as we explained on Sunday and Monday -- it is written into INTERPOL's charter that it does not take part in political arrests and that is so that INTERPOL will be seen as impartial. So he demanded Qatar hand the vice president over and then demanded the same of Saudi Arabia, insisted INTERPOL would return him and now Nouri's position is that Tareq al-Hashemi should not be allowed to re-enter the country?
 
In addition to the laughs prompted by Nouri's flip-flops, grasp that Nouri's court is supposed to try al-Hashemi May 3rd.  And Nouri's position is that al-Hashemi can't come back into Iraq?
 
In Iraq, the political crisis continues and intensifies.
 
The March 7, 2010 elections were followed by over 8 months of gridlock known as Political Stalemate I.  Nouri al-Maliki did not want to abide by the Constitution or the will of the Iraqi people expressed at the ballot box.  He did not want to stop being prime minister.  In 2014 (or 2015 the way Nouri drags his feet), this may be an issue again because although when Iraqis took to the streets in large number protesting against corruption in his government and more (February 25, 2011), he swore he would not run for a third term, his spokespeople and attorney have repeatedly told the press that Nouri is not bound by that and may decide to run again. 
 
With the White House backing him for a second term, Nouri knew he didn't have to compromise and could just stomp his feet in the hopes of getting his way.
 
In an attempt to soothe the stubborn child, the political blocs agreed to end the stalemate by signing off on the US-brokered Erbil Agreement.  That was November 2010.  By the end of December 2010, it was obvious that the only thing Nouri really intended to honor from that agreement was that he would get a second term as prime minister.  For months, the other political blocs waited and waited for the agreement to be implemented.  It never way.  Over the summer last year, the Kurds made it clear that the country needed to return to the Erbil Agreement.  Iraqiya quickly joined that call, then Moqtada al-Sadr and then others. 
 
 
Many Iraqis -- Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds alike --  fear that the U.S. withdrawal has given Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a conservative Shiite Islamist, free rein to consolidate power and turn himself into an intractable strongman.
Those worries were only compounded when the White House last month named Brett McGurk the new U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. As adviser to the past three envoys, McGurk had garnered a reputation among Iraqi political elites as a die-hard Maliki booster who turns a blind eye to the prime minister's emerging dictatorial streak.
"They basically sent someone from Maliki's office," one Sunni politician grumbled privately about the Obama administration's choice.
 
 
In December of last year, when Nouri went publicly nuts (deploying tanks to circle the homes of political rivals, for example), Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani began calling (December 21st) for a national conference to address the crisis.  That was supposed to have taken place yesterday; however, it was called off at the last minute.  Al Mada notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is calling for a new date to be set for a national conference to resolve the ongoing crisis in Iraq and that State of Law, as evidenced by the statemetns of Hussein Shahristani, is pleased that the conference was cancelled
 
In what Nouri hopes is an isolated move, Al Mada reports State of Law MP Jawad Albzona has withdrawn from Nouri's coalition and stated that he would prefer to be independent which, he believes, will allow him to better represent Iraqis by distancing himself from political squabbles and moving towards the needs of the citizens of Iraq. He is the second State of Law MP to announce a departure since 2010. Since December, he has repeatedly made public statements decrying the current political crisis and asking for the politicians to work on issues directly effecting the lives of Iraqis. An issue effecting Iraq's internally displaced refugees is living among piles of garbage Al Rafidayn reports. Currently the United Nations estimates there are 1.3 million displaced Iraqis within Iraq. On Albzona's departure from State of Law, Al Rafidayn notes the MP declared he will remain a member of the National Alliance (a larger coalition of Shi'ite political blocs).
 
Meanwhile the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (also a member of the National Alliance), Ammar al-Haskim, has weighed in on two key issues. Al Mada reports he declared the poverty program of the last two years a failure, noting that it has not reduced the rate of poverty in Iraq. He is calling not only for a new program and strategy but for the budget to reflect a strong goal to reduce poverty. In regard to the raid Nouri ordered last week on the Communist Party's newspaper headquarters, al-Hakim stated that when security forces violate the rights of the people negative images are reinforced and that the role of the security forces is to protect freedoms (not attack them). He decried the arrest of 12 people in the raid on the Communist Party.  Last week, Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi condemned the raid.  From the March 28th snapshot:

We'll close by noting the disturbing news of the day and news that wasn't picked up and front paged but should have been. Nouri al-Maliki is now going after Iraq's Communist Party. Al Mada reports that Nouri's security forces stormed the political party's headquarters and arrested 12 people who were arrested and questioned about protests. Ali Hussein (Al Mada) notes the Communist Party has a long history of fighting for Iraq, not against it. Hussein reports that Nouri's tanks have been sent to surround the homes of Communist Party members in Baghdad. Those who paid attention in December will remember that Nouri ordered tanks to circle the homes of Iraqiya members right before he demanded that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq be stripped of his posts and ordered the arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges of terrorism. Both al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi are members of Iraqiya as well as Sunnis. Ali Hussein notes that Nouri also ordered tanks to circle the homes of Communist Party members last year.


The Iraq Communist Party Tweeted last week, "Iraqi Communist Party condemns raid of its newspaper headquarters by security forces." They state that the raid took place late in the evening Monday and that their headquarters were ransacked by federal police who entered claiming that they were doing a sweep of the area for the Arab League Summit. An old weapon ("piece of junk") was on the roof and they used this as a pretext to arrest 12 of the people who were held overnight and only released after they signed documents -- documents they were forced to sign while blindfolded. While they were held, the federal police returned to the now empty headquarters and ransacked the place.  
 
Add a third political leader to the list.  In DC yesterday, Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani was asked if Nouri's authoritarian ways were reason to be concerned as he consolidated complete control of the security forces and Barzani responded,  "The new Iraqi army needs to be built on the basis of being the army of the country, not an army of an individual. So to be an army that belongs to the people of Iraq and the state of Iraq in accordance with the Constitution and the laws.  And also the Iraqi army should not interfere in the internal political differences of the country.  "
 
 
ABC News notes, "Barzani, who was in Washington to meet with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, said that unless Baghdad resolves simmering disputes involving its ethnic and political factions, the situation would be ripe for an autocratic government." Hurriyet Daily News adds, "The Obama administration has pressed Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) leader Masoud Barzani to re-engage with Baghdad amid high tension over the status of fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Al-Hashemi arrived in Saudi Arabia on April 4 and accused his country's prime minister of waging a systematic campaign against Sunni Arabs in Iraq." Today's Zaman reports:
 
"Barzani visited the US to complain about Maliki," said one diplomat on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity. Barzani met with President Barack Obama and with Vice President Joe Biden separately on Wednesday, and told them that Maliki is consolidating power in a dictatorial way. He said Obama and Biden reassured him that the United States would remain committed to cooperation with Kurdistan and committed to helping Iraq solve its serious internal political problems.
[. . .]
Bilgay Duman, an expert on Iraq from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Research (ORSAM), stated that Barzani's reception by high-ranking US officials should be perceived as a warning to Maliki to abandon his sectarian-based policies in the country. Iraq is suffering from severe instabilities due to daily clashes between Shiite and Sunni groups, which escalated after US troops withdrew from the country in December. The KRG is striving to maintain balanced ties with Iraq's rival Sunni and Shiite groups as they vie for influence in the country following the US withdrawal. Turkey is very critical of Maliki, saying the Shiite prime minister is using the arrest warrant against Hashemi to sideline Sunni political groups in the administration and hoard power for dominance of the Shiite bloc.
"The stance of Arbil and Ankara against Baghdad are very much in line, due to the fact that both are disturbed by Maliki's dictatorial government," affirmed Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from the Turkish think-tank -- the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (B─░LGESAM). He added that the US is now trying to forge ties between KRG and Turkey in order to secure the unity of Iraq.
 
So that we're all on the same page, the 2005 Iraqi Constitution includes Article 140:
 
First: The executive authority shall undertake the necessary steps to complete the implementation of the requirements of all subparagraphs of Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law.
 
Second: The responsibility placed upon the executive branch of Iraqi Transitional Government stipulated in Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law shall extend and continue to the executive authority elected in accordance with this Constitution, provided that it accomplishes completely (normalization and census and concludes with a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to determine the will of their citizens), by a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007.
 
The census and referendum are to take place no later than December 31, 2007.  Nouri al-Maliki becomes prime minister in 2006.  He took an oath to the Iraqi Constitution.  He never ordered the census or the referendum before the end of 2007.  His first term ended with him unable/unwilling to abide by the Constitution he took an oath to uphold. There has been no census or referendum.  He is and remains in violation of the Constitution.
 
With that understanding, we'll now note what KRG President Massoud Barzani declared yesterday in DC at the forum put on by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on the issue of Kirkuk and Article 140.
 
 
President Massoud Barzani: Article 140 is a Constitutional Article and it needed a lot of discussions and talks until we have reached this.  This is the best way to solve this problem. It's regarding solving the problems of the territories that have been detached from Kurdistan Region.  In fact, I do not want to call it "disputed areas" because we do not have any disputes on that. For us it is very clear for that. But we have shown upmost flexibility in order to find the legal and the Constitutional solution for this problem.  And in order to pave the way for the return of these areas, according to the Constitution and the basis of law and legally to the Kurdistan Region.  And we have found out that there is an effort to evade and run away from this responsibility for the last six years in implementing this Constitutional Article.  And I want to assure you that implementing this Constitutional Article is in the interest of Iraq and in the interest of stability.  There are people who think that time would make us forget about this.  They are wrong.  Time would not help forget or solve the problem. These are Kurdish countries, part of Kurdistan and it has to return to Kurdistan based on the mechanism that has been stipulated in the Constitution. And at the end of the day, as the Constitution stipulates, it's going back to what the people want to determine.  So there is a referendum for the people of these areas and they will decide. If the people decide to joing Kurdistan Region, they're welcome and if the people decide not to, at that time, we will look at any responsibility on our shoulders so people would be held responsible for their own decisions.
 
Barzani is not calling for any additional steps to resolving the issue of Kirkuk, he is only asking that what was already agreed to and written into the Constitution be followed.  In addition to taking questions, Barzani delivered a speech at the forum and you can see yesterday's snapshot for that.
 
President Massoud Barzani: As far as the second part of your question, the Erbil Agreement.  In fact, the agreement was not only for the sake of forming the government and forming the three presidencies -- the presidency, the Speakership of Parliament and premier.  In fact, it was a package -- a package that included a number of essential items.  First, to put in place a general partnership in the country.  Second, commitment to the Constitution and its implementation, the issue of fedarlism, the return of balance of power and especially in all the state institutions,the establishment in [. . .] mainly in the armed forces and the security forces, the hydrocarbons law, the Article 140 of the Constitution, the status of the pesh merga.  These were all part of the package that had been there.  Had this Erbil Agreement been implemented, we would not have faced the situation that we are in today.  Therefore, if we do not implement the Erbil Agreement then there would certainly be problems in Iraq.
 
Again, the political crisis did not start over the accusations Nouri hurled at Saleq al-Mutlaq and Tareq al-Hashemi.  The failure to follow the Erbil Agreement -- the document ending Political Stalemate I -- is what caused the current crisis -- a crisis that has now lasted over a year and four months.
 
 
Turning to the United States, yesterday Caitlin Duffy (Forbes) reported of Home Depot, "The home improvement retailer's shares are once again hitting fresh multi-year highs, with the stock up 1.4% on the day at $50.56 as of 12:35 p.m. in New York trade. Call activity on Home Depot suggests at least one strategist is gearing up for the bullish momentum to continue in the near term." But how long will the outlook remain bullish as word leaks out about a new lawsuit? The US Justice Dept issued the following yesterday:


WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department announced today the filing of a complaint in U.S. District Court in Arizona against Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. for violating the employment rights of California Army National Guard soldier Brian Bailey under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).


The department's complaint alleges that Home Depot willfully violated USERRA by terminating Bailey's employment because of his military service obligations. Bailey, an Iraq War veteran, worked at a Home Depot store in Flagstaff, Ariz., as a department supervisor while at the same time serving in the California Army National Guard. Throughout his employment with Home Depot, Bailey took periodic leave from work to fulfill his military obligations with the National Guard. According to the Justice Department's complaint, Bailey was removed from his position as a department supervisor after Home Depot management officials at the Flagstaff store openly expressed their displeasure with his periodic absences from work due to his military obligations and further indicated their desire to remove him from his position because of those absences.


Bailey initially filed a complaint with the Labor Department's Veterans' Employment and Training Service, which investigated the matter, determined that the complaint had merit and referred the matter to the Justice Department. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division subsequently decided to represent Bailey in this matter and filed this lawsuit on his behalf.



USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against National Guard soldiers, such as Bailey, with respect to employment opportunities based on their past, current or future uniformed service obligations. Under USERRA, it is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee because he has to miss work due to military obligations.



Among other things, the suit seeks compensation for Bailey's lost wages and benefits, liquidated damages and reinstatement of Bailey's employment with Home Depot.



"The men and women who wear our nation's uniform need to know that they do not have to sacrifice their job at home in order to serve our country," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Civil Rights Division is committed to aggressive enforcement of USERRA to protect the rights of those who, through their bravery and sacrifice, secure the rights of all Americans."


"The National Guard is composed primarily of civilian men and women who serve their country, state and community on a part-time basis," said Acting U.S. Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel. "National Guard members, and their employers, should know that we will employ all of USERRA's tools to protect the employment rights of those in uniform while they sacrifice time away from their families and jobs for training and active duty."


This case is being handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona.


Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department websites www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp and www.servicemembers.gov, as well as the Labor Department website www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.
12-434
Civil Rights Division
 
 
Staying with the issue of the US military, on Saturday, David Brown (Washington Post) reported on studies -- apparent Pentagon studies -- that researched the signature wounds of the modern wars and demonstrated a weak link between TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD (Post-Trumatic Stress Disorder) and "outright violent behavior." As we have noted for years here, those suffering from PTSD are far more likely to self-harm than to harm others.  That was true not only in the early research on PTSD during these wars but true as well when you go back to studies on similar conditions such as what was once known as "shell shocked."  In all of that, self-harm could and sometimes did include self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs.  What's distrubing about the Post report is "outright violent behavior."  Some might agree (some might not) with the conclusion that a drunken brawl with a friend isn't "outright violent behavior."  I would hope at this late date, in the US, no one would conclude -- as the Pentagon apparently has -- that domestic abuse is not "outright violent behavior."  Domestic abuse is a crime.  it is a serious crime.  The military can do whatever they want with drunken brawls among friends, I don't really care (some people may), but when you classify domestic abuse as something other than "outright violent behavior," we do have a problem -- a very serious problem. Domestic violence is a crime, it is violence and I think a strong argument can be made that it's a form of terrorism.  As Maureen Orth detailed in Vanity Fair nearly nine years ago, there are life and death consequences. The US military has a long history of looking the other way when a woman is assaulted or raped.  Supposedly that's changed.  We heard it over and over, for example, from then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when he would appear before the Congress.  But if the climate actually had changed, beating a woman would not be classified as something less than "outright violent behavior."
 
In related news on this still-existing culture of denial within the higher ranks of the US military, Sandra S. Park (ACLU Blog of Rights) noted the following disturbing event on Monday:
 
While it is estimated that over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010, a rate far higher than among civilians, the government has failed systematically to investigate complaints, appropriately punish perpetrators, and treat trauma and other health conditions suffered by survivors. The profound personal and social consequences that arise from the government's systemic failures are powerfully profiled in the new film, The Invisible War. Turning a blind eye to these crimes has allowed them to continue, imperiling the lives of victims and degrading their service.
On Friday, a federal district court judge cited yet another example of the military's unwillingness to acknowledge sexual violence within its ranks. In response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) and the ACLU seeking records from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs regarding their response to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in the military, the Army Crime Records Center claimed it couldn't provide records about "sexual assault" because its records are organized by specific criminal offenses such as "rape," not under the general heading of "sexual assault."
"'Sexual assault' is easily read as encompassing rape and other non-consensual sexual crimes defined in the Army's offense codes," the judge found. "The fact that the agency was unwilling to read the Plaintiffs' request liberally to include such terms seems to be almost willful blindness."
The judge further ruled that several other sections of the Departments failed to adequately respond to our requests and ordered the government to fulfill its obligations under FOIA. We will continue to press the government for the information we need to truly understand, address, and end the epidemic of sexual violence in the military.
 

 

Nouri loses an MP, al-Hakim calls out the raid on the Communist Party

Iraqi officials emphasized the fact that the Arab League, the region's premier diplomatic organization, had convened its annual summit in Baghdad late last month. They said it was a sign that Iraq was back in the Arab fold after decades of isolation from its neighbors during more than eight years of American occupation. That made the conference's price tag -- in excess of $500 million -- worth every penny.
But behind the scenes, the summit was utter chaos, with the long-simmering mistrust between the Kurd-led Foreign Ministry and the Shiite-led Interior Ministry exploding into arguments over the slow issuing of badges, a lack of accommodations for hundreds of accredited journalists and hours-long convoy delays at checkpoints.
On social media platforms, Iraqi leaders were ripped as tasteless for serving VIP guests a dessert of dates dipped in 24-karat gold in a war-ravaged country where thousands of women were forced to sell off their gold to pay their husbands' and sons' kidnap ransoms.


The above is from Hannah Allam's "Iraq still divided after U.S. withdrawal" (McClatchy Newspapers) in this morning's Sacremento Bee. Also covering last week's Arab League Summit today are Abeer Mohammed and Khalid Walid (Journal of Turkish Weekly) who observe:

While Iraq hoped the high-profile Arab League summit in Baghdad last week would mark a step forward in relations with its neighbours, observers say many regional states used the event to snub the government.
Although officials declared the event a success, only ten leaders from the 22 Arab League member states turned up. Apart from Kuwait, no Gulf state was represented at a high level. Saudi Arabia and Oman merely sent their Cairo-based Arab League ambassadors.


As demonstrated by actions this week (see Liz Sly's Washington Post report from yesterday) the Arab League Summit changed nothing of importance for Iraq. This despite all the money spent on it. Hadeel Al Sayegh (The National Newspapers) observes:

Baghdad spent about $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) sprucing up the capital for this summit, planting palm trees, repaving roads, constructing villas and renovating hotels as it sought to re-establish its ties with the Arab world.
But Iraqi politics seem caught in a time warp, ignoring the pressing issues facing the region today. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki took pains to refer to Baghdad by its historic name, Dar Al Salam, the house of peace. There was a startling lack of irony from a man who has hounded his rivals out of the capital.
Since the summit closed its doors with hardly a single note of substance, Iraq's sectarian rivalry has continued unabated. Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi, one of the most senior Iraqi Sunni politicians, has in the last few days fled from the Kurdish autonomous region, first to Qatar and on Wednesday to Saudi Arabia. The national meeting that was scheduled for yesterday to discuss Mr Al Hashemi's fate has been postponed indefinitely."

Al Mada notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is calling for a new date to be set for a national conference to resolve the ongoing crisis in Iraq and that State of Law, as evidenced by the statemetns of Hussein Shahristani, is pleased that the conference was cancelled. The conference was to have taken place Thursday but, approximately 24 hours before it was set to commence, the national conference was called off. KRG President Massoud Barzani visited the US and spoke in DC yesterday. ABC News notes, "Barzani, who was in Washington to meet with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, said that unless Baghdad resolves simmering disputes involving its ethnic and political factions, the situation would be ripe for an autocratic government." Hurriyet Daily News adds, "The Obama administration has pressed Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) leader Masoud Barzani to re-engage with Baghdad amid high tension over the status of fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Al-Hashemi arrived in Saudi Arabia on April 4 and accused his country's prime minister of waging a systematic campaign against Sunni Arabs in Iraq." Yes, the White House has pressured Barzani. Not a smart move. Not when you've made promises for years that you've never kept. Two consecutive administrations have promised the Kurds that, among other things, the issue of disputed Kirkuk would be resolved. It never has been. Even when the US-brokered Erbil Agreement included it, it meant nothing (just like Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, apparently) and that was part of the reason for Barzani's speech in DC yesterday.

KRG President Massoud Barzani: My visit to Washington came at the invitation of the US government in order to talk about the situation in Iraq, in the wider region, and also the situation between Kurdistan region and Iraq in detail. Yesterday, during our meetings with the President, the Vice President and other officials of the US administration, we have talked about all of these issues in detail. I'm sure many of you know that the people of Kurdistan have sacrificed a great deal and have shed a lot of blood for the sake of building a federal, democratic and pluralistic Iraq. But you always are mindful of the fact that, had it not been for the US support and assistance, without the sacrifices of men and women in uniform, the sacrifices that have been made, this objective would not have been achieved and the regime would not have been toppled. So we got a golden opportunity to build a new Iraq, an Iraq that's federa, democratic, l pluralistic, an Iraq that's new and better. And also to be clear that what's the composition of this new Iraq? It's three main pillars that constitute Iraq. It's the Kurds, the Shias and the Sunnis. Having said that, we have to be mindful of the fact that we have other national minorities living with us, that they have to be respected, they have to be equally treated. We've got the Turkomen, the Chaldean Assyrian, the Syriac and also an Albanian minority. But we also have to realize that in terms of nationalities, Iraq is made up of two main nationalities: Arabs and Kurds. I can say that in Kurdistan we have an experience that to a great extent has been a successful one. I cannot claim that this is an ideal experience without any flaws or shortcomings. But I can say for sure that the security stability situation is very good. The economy and social activies are good. Socially we have made a lot of progress. We in the region have adopted a tolerant policy. We have not resorted to revenge and retaliation. We have opened a new page and therefore we have been able to provide a safe and secure environment and to protect our people. And for that, we are grateful to the support and assistance that we have received from own own people but also thanks to the dedication of the security and law enforcement people. And the safe and secure environment has been the reason for inviting and attracting foreign companies and here lately American oil companies have also started to come to the region and start their investment and other activities. I will give you some brief examples to show you the difference that we have made and theprogress that we have made. After the fall of the regime in 2003, the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] per capita for individuals in the Kurdistan region was $275 per annum and now it exceeds $5,000. And also the electricity rate was 57%. It has reduced or dropped to 16%. Regarding other services and mainly electricity, we've been able to improve that sector. I can say that we're almost able to provide electritiy to all the main cities and townships and rural areas. In certain areas, we have got four hours of electricity. What has come to the Iraqi Treasury from 2003 until now, it has exceeded half-of-a-trillion [dollars]. You can check that information to see what kind of electricity has been provided in other parts of Iraq which does not exceed three to four hours. There are one million people under arms [security forces] but still terrorism and the threat of terrorism continues. Iraq is facing a serious crisis today. Yesterday, we have discussed that very frankly with the President, the Vice President and it's going to one-man rule. It's going towards control of all the establishments of state. So we have got a situation or we ended up having a situation in Baghdad where one individual is the Prime Minister and at the same time he's the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he's the Minister of Defense, he's the Minister of the Interior and the Chief of the Intelligence and lately he has sent a correspondence to the president of the Central Bank in Iraq that that establishment would also come under the Prime Minister. Where in the world would you find such an example? We as the people of Kurdistan, we believe that this government has come to be as a result of the blood that we have shed and as a result of the sacrifices that we have contributed. We are eager to see the situation reformed. Therefore, we will not leave Baghdad for others. So, therefore, we see the situation in Iraq that it requires to be ruled in partnership -- for that power-sharing and partnership to consist of the Kurds and the Arabs -- both the Shia Arabs and the Sunni Arabs. Of course, we have to be mindful of the fact that the Iraqis themselves have to find solutions for the problems. When they try to find solutions for themselves, then their friends in the international community can help. But if they wait for others, for the outsiders to help solve their problems, they will wait forever and they will not see solutions. They have to do it themselves. It's very natural to have relations with the neighboring countries and also with the international community. But also specifically with the neighboring countries in order to exchange views and to exchange ideas about this but not to give them an opportunity to interfere int he internal affairs of Iraq or for them to come to solve the problems or for them to act on behalf of the Iraqi people. The Iraqis have to do it themselves. But my visit has nothing to do with the other visit it was separate.

An e-mail asked if that was the full speech? I believe there was a sentence or two of thanks (including to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy which hosted the event). But I just transcribed the above. I also took notes during question and answering and, as I said in yesterday's snapshot, I'd like to include some of that in today's snapshot. (Article 140 remarks if nothing else.)

Al Mada reports that Iraqiya's MP Hayder Mullah has given Nouri two weeks to respond to questions regarding Nouri's claim that there is a planned coup to overthrow the government. Possibly more disturbing to Nouri (who has a tendency to ignore questions from Parliament), Al Mada reports State of Law MP Jawad Albzona has withdrawn from Nouri's coalition and stated that he would prefer to be independent which, he believes, will allow him to better represent Iraqis by distancing himself from political squabbles and moving towards the needs of the citizens of Iraq. He is the second State of Law MP to announce a departure since 2010. Since December, he has repeatedly made public statements decrying the current political crisis and asking for the politicians to work on issues directly effecting the lives of Iraqis. An issue effecting Iraq's internally displaced refugees is living among piles of garbage Al Rafidayn reports. Currently the United Nations estimates there are 1.3 million displaced Iraqis within Iraq. On Albzona's departure from State of Law, Al Rafidayn notes the MP declared he will remain a member of the National Alliance (a larger coalition of Shi'ite political blocs).

Meanwhile Alsumaria reports that Nouri's State of Law elevated the rhetoric against Saudi Arabia and Qatar today as Abbas al-Bayati declared that the press for both countries was carrying out their governments' attack on Iraq's government. Qatar and Saudi Arabia's heads of state did not attend the Arab League Summit and comments have been made back and forth in the days since. In addition, Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has visited both countries despite Nouri al-Maliki's attempts to have him arrested. Both countries refused to extradite him to Baghdad. (And INTERPOL? As I said at the start of this week when Nouri was insisting INTERPOL would nab al-Hashemi, the agency's charter prevents it from getting involved political disputes -- this is done to help INTERPOL be seen as impartial and non-political.)

In Iraq, al-Hashemi has sought asylum in the Kurdistan Regional Government where he has been a guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani. Alsumaria reports Talabani has declared that he did not give permission for al-Hashemi's current diplomatic tour of the region. A more valid point is that Talabani has never granted (or denied) permission for diplomatic tours of any of Iraq's vice presidents nor does the Constitution require that vice presidents get permission. Al Mada notes that, in Saudi Arabia, al-Hashemi repeated what he has repeatedly stated throughout his current tour, he will be returning to Iraq (to the KRG) at the end of his diplomatic mission.

Meanwhile the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Haskim, has weighed in on two key issues. Al Mada reports he declared the poverty program of the last two years a failure, noting that it has not reduced the rate of poverty in Iraq. He is calling not only for a new program and strategy but for the budget to reflect a strong goal to reduce poverty. In regard to the raid Nouri ordered last week on the Communist Party's newspaper headquarters, al-Hakim stated that when security forces violate the rights of the people negative images are reinforced and that the role of the security forces is to protect freedoms (not attack them). He decried the arrest of 12 people in the raid on the Communist Party.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.































Home Depot fires people for being deployed?

home depot

When they boast of "More saving. More doing," Home Depot probably doesn't mean for consumers to picture a corporation so cheap that they would not only break the law but also fire servicemembers for being deployed to war zones but maybe that's what they mean by "more doing"?

Yesterday Caitlin Duffy (Forbes) reported of Home Depot, "The home improvement retailer’s shares are once again hitting fresh multi-year highs, with the stock up 1.4% on the day at $50.56 as of 12:35 p.m. in New York trade. Call activity on Home Depot suggests at least one strategist is gearing up for the bullish momentum to continue in the near term." But how long will the outlook remain bullish as word leaks out about a new lawsuit?


The US Justice Dept has filed charges against Home Depot. If true, even if just confined to one store in Arizona, it is (and should be) a public relations nightmare for the corporation. Iraq War veteran Brian Bailey served in the National Guard and it is said he was fired for absence from work due to his service in the military.

The Justice Dept issued the following yesterday:


WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today the filing of a complaint in U.S. District Court in Arizona against Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. for violating the employment rights of California Army National Guard soldier Brian Bailey under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).


The department’s complaint alleges that Home Depot willfully violated USERRA by terminating Bailey’s employment because of his military service obligations. Bailey, an Iraq War veteran, worked at a Home Depot store in Flagstaff, Ariz., as a department supervisor while at the same time serving in the California Army National Guard. Throughout his employment with Home Depot, Bailey took periodic leave from work to fulfill his military obligations with the National Guard. According to the Justice Department’s complaint, Bailey was removed from his position as a department supervisor after Home Depot management officials at the Flagstaff store openly expressed their displeasure with his periodic absences from work due to his military obligations and further indicated their desire to remove him from his position because of those absences.


Bailey initially filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, which investigated the matter, determined that the complaint had merit and referred the matter to the Justice Department. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division subsequently decided to represent Bailey in this matter and filed this lawsuit on his behalf.



USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against National Guard soldiers, such as Bailey, with respect to employment opportunities based on their past, current or future uniformed service obligations. Under USERRA, it is unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee because he has to miss work due to military obligations.



Among other things, the suit seeks compensation for Bailey’s lost wages and benefits, liquidated damages and reinstatement of Bailey’s employment with Home Depot.



"The men and women who wear our nation’s uniform need to know that they do not have to sacrifice their job at home in order to serve our country," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Civil Rights Division is committed to aggressive enforcement of USERRA to protect the rights of those who, through their bravery and sacrifice, secure the rights of all Americans."


"The National Guard is composed primarily of civilian men and women who serve their country, state and community on a part-time basis," said Acting U.S. Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel. "National Guard members, and their employers, should know that we will employ all of USERRA’s tools to protect the employment rights of those in uniform while they sacrifice time away from their families and jobs for training and active duty."


This case is being handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona.


Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department websites www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp and www.servicemembers.gov, as well as the Labor Department website www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.
12-434
Civil Rights Division




A friend at the Justice Dept called about the above yesterday and I said we'd work it in today. We'll also cover it in the snapshot. We have covered this issue many times. That includes noting how common it is -- across the country -- for the deployed to return home and find there job is gone. I've also noted, about a year ago, three lawsuits by veterans in California who had lost their jobs while deployed (they are being represented by a friend of mine). There was the infamous February 2nd House Subcommittee hearing we covered:



I'm being really kind and not naming names but it was more than one member who, by their own remarks during the first panel, demonstrated they were unaware that it was against the law to fire a Guard or Reserve member who was on active-duty. How do I know that for sure? Because the second time it came up, I stepped out during the first panel to call a friend at the Justice Dept and ask if the law had changed? (No, it had not.) I thought surely that members of Congress, hearing about an issue they supposedly cared about would know the basics of the law. I was very much wrong.



Whether the charges are true or false regarding the one Home Depot store, hopefully, this will put a needed scare into a number of employers. This is not an isolated incident but something service members and veterans are encountering over and over. The lawsuit will hopefully raise everyone's awareness about the law and how it is illegal to fire someone because they were called up for deployment.


And while I'm writing about (and believe in) the power of raising awareness, let me add, if it's you that's suffered from being fired for being deployed and a company wants to make the problem go away with a monetary figure that you're comfortable with, grab the money. You've already suffered. One Guard member I know in California was offered a significant amount of money and he and his wife were expecting a child. He spoke to everyone about what he should do. It is great to take something public and it can make a world of difference for many when you do. But at the same time, you may have real world expenses and obligations that will lead you to settle out of court. If that's similar to your situation, you need to remember you've already been the wronged party and if a settlement offer works for you, you're under no obligation to become the public face of anything. If you can see something through to court, great. If waiting for that process to play out won't impose any hardship on you, go for it. But, otherwise, you've already given time to serve and you have every right to want to move forward with the life in front of you.

The following community sites -- plus Jane Fonda, Antiwar.com, Adam Kokesh and Chocolate City -- updated last night and this morning:







FYI, I support reproductive rights, I support abortion rights. We're happy to note that topic at the ending of morning posts with one exception: I'm not letting you use the issue as a political football you trot out at election time. A friend with an organization is upset that I'm not interested in noting a two-bit fraud who 'cares' about abortion rather suddenly as she tries to use it to rip apart the GOP and glorify the Democratic Party. As a Democrat, I'd love to be able to say my party's done amazing work on reproductive rights in the last ten or so years; however, I don't whore. Most recently, we've seen the President who hid behind the skirt of his Health and Human Services Secretary to cave yet again on reproductive rights. There's been no leadership on this issue from either major political party. I'm not interested in your (mis)using reproductive rights to whore for the Democratic Party.


The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.