Chair Bernie Sanders: As I think we all know, it's now ten years since the US went to war in Iraq, and Afghanistan before that, and what we have learned in a variety of ways is that the cost of those wars have been very, very high. They were high not just in the loss -- the tragic loss -- of life that we've experienced, not just in terms of those who've come home without arms or legs or eyesight or hearing problems but also in terms of what we call the "invisible wounds of war" which are quite as real as any other kinds of wounds. And those wounds include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury -- TBI and all of the symptoms associated with those very serious illnesses. Further, and tragically, it includes the serious problem of suicide. We are losing about 22 veterans every single day as a result of suicide -- that's more than 8,000 veterans a year. And while suicide is a major, major problem in the United States as a whole for our civilian population, it is a terrible, terrible tragedy for the veterans' community and something that we must address. And let me preface my remarks by saying what I think everybody understands the issues that we are dealing with today are very, very tough issues and if anyone had any magic solution to the problems of mental illness in general, trust me, we would have heard about that a long, long time ago. So this is a tough issue. And we're going to do our best today to figure out where we are in terms of the needs of our veterans and where we are going to go forward.
Yesterday morning, Senator Bernie Sanders, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the issue of timely access to high quality care. In yesterday's snapshot, we noted Senator Patty Murray's remarks via a press release. Senator Patty Murray is now the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and she was previously the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. In the snapshot, I noted that there wasn't room to cover it that day and indicated it might go into Friday's. E-mails mean we put it in today and we start with. (We will grab the topic of Bradley Manning tomorrow.) Tonight at her site, Kat will cover Ranking Member Richard Burr, Wally will go over to Rebecca's site to cover Senator Richard Blumenthal and money and Ava will be at Trina's site covering a point three senators stressed as well a witness. She's going to criticize a witness, I stand with her on that. I think we all do (Kat and Wally are nodding as I dictate this). And all that coverage is a result of the e-mails -- the large number of e-mails -- asking that the hearing be covered.
The first panel was made up of Team Rubicon's Jacob Wood, Vermont Veterans Outreach Program's Andre Wing, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors' Kim Ruocco, National Alliance on Mental Illness' Veterans and Military Council Chair Kenny Allred and Give an Hour's Barbara Van Dahlen. The second panel was the Army's Col Rebecca Porter with the Office of the Surgeon General and VA's Robert Petzel accompanied by Janet Kemp, Sonja Batten and William Busby.
We'll cover two rounds of questioning from Chair Sanders. First up, from panel one, he wanted the witnesses to talk about their experiences and how you break through a culture of silence.
Chair Bernie Sanders: I think all of you have indicated that peer supported efforts of veterans talking to veterans is enormously important, that occasionally we have to go outside the box with, I think one of you said not everyone is alike and different individuals will respond to different approaches So let me just start off -- Let me just start off with you, Dr. Van Dahlen, in terms of how the VA, which we all know is a huge bureaucracy -- there's no ifs-ands-or-buts about that, how do we we enable them to become more flexible to reach out, to find community based groups, peer support groups that are out there. How do we do that?
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen: Uhm, thank you. What we find in communities -- and I know this from my work with several of my colleagues at the VA -- the desire often in the individual is there to work in the collaborative way but they're unclear whether they're allowed to. And so one of the things that I would like to suggest is that we literally work on what are the messages at each of the local -- every VA, whether it's a hospital center, whether it's a vets center, they will know and have access to the community. And so what we should do, and I think it would be pretty easy to do, is determine what gets in the way, as we've done, of having regular community, and others have done, gatherings where the VA serves as the convener and the catalyst, what stops that from happening? So that people begin talking to each other, they know then that if my organization can't serve that need, TAPS can do it or NAMI can do it.
Chair Bernie Sanders: Right.
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen: That's what needs to happen.
Chair Bernie Sanders: Okay, let me ask this. One of the cultural issues that we are struggling with -- the military is struggling with, the VA -- is the culture -- "the stigma" I think is what Col Allred used am I real mean if I have an emotional, mental problem? We understand that if I lost an arm and a leg, I go and I get treatment. How do we deal with a culture that says from a military perspective, "There's something not quite manly about you if you have PTSD or you have TBI"? How do we deal with that? Mr. Wood, do you want to respond to that?
Jacob Wood: It's very challenging and it's not a problem we're going to solve over night. As a Marine sniper, I was part of one of the more elite units in the military and certainly one that carries that stigma very heavily. We don't often seek counseling. If you do seek counseling, like Clay actually did after being wounded in Iraq before being redeployed to Afghanistan, you're often seen as a weaker link and that's a stigma we have to fight absolutely. I myself have gone to seek mental health counseling since getting out of the military. I've worked with the VA and there make the connection that net initiative to provide a video testimonial to that. I think what it does require regular convenings as Dr. Van Dahlen mentioned where veterans can get together. And we need to get veterans together in their home towns. We need to get Marines together with soldiers together with Airmen together with sailors in Omaha, Nebraska, in Davenport, Iowa, in Oakland, California, where they can talk and share their experiences after transitioning out of the military.
Chair Bernie Sanders: Good. Okay, thank you. Andre, if you could, in Vermont, we're a very, very rural state. We sent a lot of National Guards people to Iraq and Afghanistan. Tell me about the peer-to-peer effort. Is it important -- just as Mr. Woods was saying -- that veterans who've been through that experience reach out to other veterans? And how do we do that?
Andre Wing: Thanks, Senator. As you know, my team has -- we have ten folks on my team, we're all combat veterans. So we've all had struggles with integration issues, we've all had struggles transitioning back to civilian life. I think in our state, with the National Guard, it's not as severe a stigma as it is on, maybe, an active duty base. Only because -- I hear on this panel that we've talked about community partnerships and we've really forged those ahead in the state of Vermont with different initiatives that we've stated. We have a Director of Psychological Health that works directly for the National Guard on the Air side and the Army side. That stigma, I think, is more on the military side. But as far as the peer-to-peer goes, we -- as you know, we got out, we meet the folks, we get --
Chair Bernie Sanders: You knock on doors.
Andre Wing: We knock on doors. And as I said, we have our feet under the kitchen table. And I know that the President's got a new initiative of 800 peer support folks going out there but I think you heard this: The common denominator is the peer-to-peer. It's very, very important because we can talk. The other thing too that's important is we have the military culture. So we can -- I can go into AHS [Agency of Human Services] with the field directors and tell them, "Hey, this is how maybe you need to approach some of these veterans, as an example."
Escape Fire: The Fight To Rescue American Healthcare is a documentary made by Susan Froemke and Matthew Heinemen. CNN began airing it last week. Earlier this month, they noted, "CNN has acquired the U.S. television broadcast rights for the award-winning documentary, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare. The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and received honors at the 2012 Silverdocs, Full Frame, and other prominent festivals. The two-hour feature-length film was produced and directed by Matthew Heineman and Academy Award-nominee Susan Froemke and distributed by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate. It will debut on CNN/U.S. on Sunday, March 10 at 8:00pm and air again at 11:00pm Eastern." You can click here to stream two brief clips from the documentary and also to read an article about it. This is the CNN program that gets referenced in this exchange from the second panel.
Chair Bernie Sanders: One of the, I think, recurring themes that we heard in the previous testimony is that every soldier is different, every problem is different and that we've got to think a little bit outside of the box and I think Senator Boozman raised that issue. Talk a little bit of out of the box therapies, talk a little bit about complimentary medicine. There was a piece, I don't know if you saw it, John, on CNN the other day, they were about over-medication which is a real, real issue and some of the over-medicated were then moved to acupuncture, for example, as pain relief which apparently, in what we saw in CNN at least, worked pretty well. To what degree is the VA looking at complimentary medicine -- acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy? Talk about that and the second issue, Senator Boozman raised that as well, you know, what we're dealing with our real life problems and life is complicated. And it is not necessarily just dispensing some medicine. It's certainly not filling out pages and pages of forms which would drive me, among other people, quite nuts if I needed help. And I want to talk to you about how we break through that old bureaucracy but things like, Senator Boozman mentioned, playing golf. If four veterans spend an afternoon out playing golf and feeling good about each other and talking and come back feeling a little bit better about themselves -- or they go trout fishing or they go camping together, those are real improvements which may mean a lot more to the veterans than getting some more medication. So the question is to what degree are we thinking outside the box to make people feel better about themselves in whatever way? And, by the way, Senator Bozeman, where we have to be careful of when we make these recommendations is not to see front page stories that "VA Pays For Golf Outings On The Part Of Veterans!" That's a very easy target for the media.
Senator John Boozman: No, I agree totally. That's why I was asking if they had some evidence based as to what's working.
Chair Bernie Sanders: Yeah, but that's the question I want to throw out, if you can answer it.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Uh, uh thank you. Both. Uh, let me first drill -- deal -- with a little bit of the out-of-the-box. Uhm, We partner with a tremendous number of organizations around the country. Uhm, Give An Hour is an example of psychotherapy. The professional golf association and the local professional golf association have programs in virtually every city that we have a medical center that provide the opportunity for handicapped people to play golf. And we have a -- We actually sponsor a blinded golf tournament, uhm, that, uh, occurs every year in Iowa City. Uhm, there are many more examples of recreational activity. Horseback riding, kayaking -- where individual veterans and service organizations have put together these non-profits that provide these opportunities. We're looking for them everywhere we can find them Whether or not they're enough and whether we're using it enough is an open question but we are very much open to those opportunities.
Chair Bernie Sanders: I want to get back again to the issue that Senator Boozman appropriately raised and that is over-medication and perhaps other ways to deal with pain and other distress.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Ev -- I -- Again, let me deal first with opiates -- which is the most dangerous in my mind of our -- of our over medication issues. We've got a three pronged approach -- process -- where you begin with the least invasive, least dangerous, least risky things to manage chronic pain and this is being done at all of our medical centers. And that may include acupuncture. We provide acupuncture at the vast majority of our medical centers. And then, progressively, more complicated things such as rehabilitation, etc. And eventually, when you're not able to manage the pain in any other way, it's opiates. And then there are very careful protocols about how that prescribing should be done. Second step in that is that we have just, uh, begun producing a computer program that provides to the medical centers a listing of patients who are taking an unusually large number of opiates and prescribers who are prescribing an unusually large number. And that's transmitted back to medical center, a person is responsible for tracking that down at the medical center and seeing what the issues are. And the third thing is that we are participating now in the state reporting of, uh -- of, uh, opiates. That's very important because some of our patients are getting prescriptions outside of the VA and we need to be able to bring that data together so we fully understand the extent of the problem. So we'll be giving them our data and we'll be able to have access to the state-wide data.
This was one of Sander's first solo-chairings. I believe it was his second. (If it was his third, I've missed a hearing.) He won high marks for bringing up this topic and for trying to nail the witness down. As Sanders rightly notes, what works for one person may not for another. We have noted that here many times and the reason being because veterans note it to me. They have often spoken of the fact that the Congress seems to hung up on fixing things with pills as opposed to other treatments or approaches. So Chair Bernie Sanders was the crowd pleaser among veterans attending this hearing and there were other moments in the hearing that were noted but all seven I spoke to made a point to signal out his questions from the second panel above. Each Committee Chair brings their own strengths to the position and, right now, it appears Sanders has discovered one of his already.
The US Ambassador to Iraq is Stephen Beecroft. He oversees the US mission in Iraq which has slashed its staff of 16,000 by a little over 500. AP reports Beecroft says that number will be about half by December 2013. Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) offers, "The money just isn’t there, and neither is the appetite to put that sort of effort into Iraq after years of waste. Instead, the enormous embassy will be a mostly empty reminder of the disastrous adventure into Iraq." That could be correct. I was honestly hoping Ditz was hearing what I was hearing from the State Dept. I've already noted that Secretary of State John Kerry deserves some credit for this. I'll throw out what I've been told by several at the State Dept. This isn't about money. This is about concern for the diplomatic staff and the concern stems from what's going on right now on the ground and from the fact that the administration suddenly realizes that Nouri al-Maliki repeatedly tells them "yes" but doesn't follow up. Such as when it's conveyed to him that he must stop attacking the protesters. And Nouri is in complete agreement. And then his forces go on to attack the protesters in Mosul. This is happening repeatedly with a wide variety of areas. What I'm told is that Kerry (with backing from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel) made clear that those working for the State Dept must be safe. Is that Benghazi on his mind? I don't know. I would guess it is more likely how he grew up. He's spoken of his being raised overseas with his diplomat father many times, of his trip in Germany, around the Berlin Wall to East Germany, and of how with that one, his father stressed afterwards that it wasn't a smart move and went over safety basics. I think its just part of his character due to his parents. (A very good part.) But that's what I'm hearing. I'd love for it to be a money issue. That would mean everyone was coming out. But what I was told is that they're trying to get down to a level that they feel can be easily protected. That may not be accurate. That may be office gossip that turned into a game of telephone. But I've been told that repeatedly by friends with the State Dept. And I did note that Hagel is said to have backed up Kerry on that. I'm not a fan of Hagel's. If what I'm being told is correct, that was a solid move by Hagel for which he deserves credit.
Let's turn to media. Walter Pincus (Washington Post), in his review of the ten years, emphasizes, "What many forget is that Iraq and Afghanistan also mark the first U.S. wars in which a president, first Bush and now President Obama, has not sought a war tax. The result: nearly $2 trillion in war expenditures put on the nation’s credit card." Donald Kirk (World Tribune) recalls his time in Iraq reporting for the magazine Institutional Investor and for CBS News Radio:
My other impression was how incredibly dangerous it was. I don’t think I knew how dangerous. At the sound of explosions near my hotel, I rushed to the scene as if I were back in Saigon during the Vietnam War, when you were a whole lot safer.
Foolishly, in retrospect, I thought nothing of going down darkened streets in search of a guy who, after his guards ushered me through about three gates, gave me a tremendous briefing in his elaborate apartment. I had to enter the central bank by a back gate through a barbed-wire fence, guarded by a nervous guy with an AK-47. One guy whom I interviewed hefted an Uzi on his desk. Another had me picked up in his own armored car with two guards and a driver.
Donald Kirk was an unembedded journalist -- meaning he was not 'stationed' with a branch of the military. Sometimes when he was reporting for CBS News Radio, he had a bodyguard and possibly one in a car trailing them. With the magazine, he was on his own.
A great deal of on the ground reporting was done by Iraqis. Today Michele Martin (NPR's Tell Me More -- link is audio and there will be transcript at link by tomorrow if not tonight) speaks with former New York Times correspondent Abdulrazzaq al-Saiedi. He is an Iraqi who became a journalist after the war started. "For me, this is really important that we're telling the truth and that we describe the scene as it is -- for good or for bad." He arrived on the scene in Falluja, March 31, 2004, of the 4 American contractors who were killed (burned) and then hung in the air.
Abdulrazzaq al-Saiedi: I saw 2 bodies were completley burned, were hung and there's 2 just on the ground. And the two on the ground -- There's children there, and one of the -- one of the kids, I think he was ten or like eleven years old, and he was kicking one of the bodies and he kept saying this is Pacha, Pacha. And Pacha is an Iraqi meal made of the head of the sheep. And that for me, I said this is like too much. I-I-I can't stand it. But also at the same time I have my camera with me but I was so scared if I would take pictures maybe this mob -- They were so excited and mostly teenager, children. And there was no policemen, no American soldiers. No any. None. And then they look at me because I think maybe they ask themselves who is this? And then I find myself with people there, staring at me. And I know with one war, I could be the fifth body. And then they look at me and I pretend I'm excited, you know, with -- with this. And then I decide to leave. So I left. But I left with a story.
He wrote about this for last Sunday's New York Times Magazine in a feature article entitled "The Unwilling Witness." When we list the toll of journalists in the Iraq War, we don't buy into the 'media assistant' or anything else. And stringer is really insulting for what a lot of them do. So if you worked in media in Iraq, my view is you were a journalist and you earned that title -- good journalist or bad journalist -- so we always use one total. So while the Committee to Protect Journalists counts 139 journalists and 51 media workers killed in Iraq since the start of the war, we would call that 190 journalists killed. That's only one number and, in 2012, we noted that CPJ was missing deaths as they happened. As 2012 came to end Yang Lina (Xinhua) noted 5 had died in 2012 and 373 had died since the start of the Iraq War. For years now, we've noted that Xinhua is much better on the ground in Iraq than many outlets. (Robert Fisk says the Telegraph of London is the best in Iraq when it comes to covering British intel.)
On the topic of Xinhua, Pang Lei (Economic Observer) notes that Xinhua is thought to be the first wire service, back in 2003, to report that the war had started. Jamal Hashim was the reporter in Baghdad who "phoned Xinhua's Middle East Bureau from Baghdad at 5.33am (local time) on the morning of March 20, 2003 after he first heard air raid sirens blaring and then raced to the roof of his building and heard the sounds of explosions from the city. [. . .] Xinhua was elated to have beat out the other wire services in breaking one of the biggest stories of the decade and they feted their new star reporter. Hashim was officially offered a reporting position with Xinhua (he continues to file stories from Iraq for Xinhua), awarded $1,000 and invited to Beiijng to meet with the head of the news agency and receive two of their highest honors. "
In this NBC News video from earlier this week, you can see AP's Kimberly Dozier and NBC News' Mike Taibbi and Kerry Sanders reflect on covering Iraq. Kimberly Dozier was among the journalists injured while covering the Iraq War. Jill Carroll, Richard Butler, Marie Jeanne Ion, Sorin Dumitru Miscoci, Ovidiu Ohanesian, Florence Aubenas, Paul Taggart, John Martinkus, Stephen Farrell, Jeffrey Gettleman and Giuliana Sgrena are among the many journalists who were kidnapped while covering Iraq and were released alive. Others, such as Fakher Haider, Abdulrazak Hashim Ayal and Jamal al-Zubaidi, were kidnapped and killed. The dead also includes ITV's Terry Lloyd and his interpreter Hussein Oman who were killed by US forces. ITV News notes March 22nd is the tenth anniversary of Lloyd's killing -- which a British inquest found to be an unlawful killing. His daughter Chelsey Lloyd is part of a documentary retracing her father's death and you can stream a preview of the documentary here here.
As Ann noted last night, Sara Flounders (Workers World via Global Research) has a critique of the selling of the war that the US media took part in:
The corporate media in the U.S. play a powerful role in preparation for imperialist war. They play an even more insidious role in rewriting the history of U.S. wars and obstructing the purpose of U.S. wars.
They are totally intertwined with U.S. military, oil and banking corporations. In every war, this enormously powerful institution known as the ‘fourth estate’ attempts, as the public relations arm of corporate dominance, to justify imperialist plunder and overwhelm all dissent.
The corporate media’s reminiscences and evaluations this week of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, which began March 19, 2003, are a stark reminder of their criminal complicity in the war.
In the many articles there is barely any mention of the hundreds of news stories that totally saturated the media for months leading to the Pentagon onslaught. The news coverage in 2003 was wholly unsubstantiated, with wild fabrications of Iraqi secret ”weapons of mass destruction,” ominous nuclear threats, germ warfare programs, purchases of yellow cake uranium, nerve gas labs and the racist demonization of Saddam Hussein as the greatest threat to humanity. All of this is now glossed over and forgotten.
Another media critique is from Anthony DiMaggio (CounterPunch) who points out:
I won’t fault the New York Times for pointing out the stupefying incompetence of the Bush administration in its post-invasion occupation. I do take the paper to task, however, for its complete unwillingness to recognize the real reasons why the American public opposed the Iraq war. Those reasons have to do with moral and substantive rejection of the application of U.S. imperial power abroad. This reality has scarcely been recognized by academics, journalists, political leaders, or even professional polling organizations (pollsters generally rely on political officials and the media to set the agenda for the types of questions they will ask).
Sadly, I have not seen a single polling question asked in the last ten years that measured whether Americans thought the war in Iraq was imperialist or not. The question of whether the war was a “well-intentioned mistake” or “fundamentally wrong and immoral” has never appeared once in the national discourse when it comes to public opinion surveys. Polls that might have questioned whether the U.S. invaded Iraq primarily for its massive oil reserves seldom materialized because the answers would have been too damning to report in a country where the political discussion revolved around whether the war was just and necessary or a noble mistake.
One media critique that I'm not seeing any of the American journalists make is one about Nouri al-Maliki who long ago declared war on the media. In December alone, he shut down two broadcast outlets (three if you factor in that one of the TV channels also had a radio station). He's repeatedly used his armed forces to prevent journalists from access to news sites. In 2006, he was doing that with regards to bombings. He didn't want photos of the victims emerging because that might underscore how violent things actually were in Iraq. Today, he resorts to it to keep reporters away from the ongoing protests.
That may be an improvement from 2011 when he had reporters who covered the protests kidnapped and tortured. February 28, 2011, Kelley McEvers (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and text) reported on what happened to Hadi al-Mahdi, activist and journalist, after a morning of covering the protests when he stopped to have lunch.
MCEVERS: Hadi al Mahdi runs a popular radio show that's long been critical of the government. He recently encouraged his 6,000 Facebook followers to protest against corruption. A few days ago, he was eating lunch with other journalists when soldiers pulled up, blindfolded them, and whisked them away. Mahdi was beaten in the leg, eyes, and head. A soldier tried to get him to admit he was being paid to topple the regime.
Mr. AL MAHDI: (Through translator) I replied, I told the guy who was investigating me, I'm pretty sure that your brother is unemployed, and the street in your area is unpaved, and you know that this political regime is a very corrupt one.
MCEVERS: Mahdi was later put in a room with what he says were about 200 detainees, some of them journalists and intellectuals, many of them young protesters.
Mr. MAHDI: (Through translator) I started hearing voices of other people. So, for instance, one guy was crying, another was saying, where's my brother? And a third one was saying, for the sake of god, help me.
MCEVERS: Mahdi was shown lists of names and asked to reveal people's addresses. He was forced to sign documents while blindfolded. Eventually he was released.
Mahdi says the experience was worse than the times he was detained under Saddam Hussein. He says the regime that's taken Saddam's place is no improvement on the past. This, he says, should serve as a cautionary tale for other Arab countries trying to oust their dictators.
Mr. MAHDI: (Through translator) They toppled the regime, but they brought the worst - they brought a bunch of thieves, thugs, killers, and corrupt people, stealers.
As I've noted before, I exchanged e-mails with Hadi al-Mahdi. He wrote to (kindly) correct me on a few things and to steer me to some other resources for a topic. He doesn't do his radio show anymore. He was assassinated on September 8, 2011. From that day's snapshot:
Madhi had filed a complained with the courts against the Iraqi security forces, noting that they had now warrant and that they kidnapped him in broad daylight and that they beat him. Mohamed Tawfeeq (CNN) adds, "Hadi al-Mehdi was inside his apartment on Abu Nawas street in central Baghdad when gunmen shot him twice with silencer-equipped pistols, said the ministry official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to media." Mazin Yahya (AP) notes that in addition to calling for improvements in the basic services (electricity, water and sanitation), on his radio program, Hadi al-Mehdi also used Facebook to get the word out on the Friday protests in Baghdad's Tahrir Square.
Despite international outcry, no effort was made to find his killer/s. I firmly believe Nouri al-Maliki was behind that attack. I believe he was behind the hacking of the Iraqi news sites Al Mada and Kitabat and there's no question that he's attempted to use the military to intimidate Al Mada's Chair and editor Fakhri Karim. That's the reality of what happens to Iraqi journalists in Nouri's Iraq. Al Mada's Adnan Hussein noted in a February column for England's New Statesman:
Ultimately, al-Maliki and his Dawa Party have managed to create a new kind of dictatorship. This is a curse not only to the Sunnis, or the Kurds, or the swaths of Shias, but to the country as a whole.
As an editor and columnist of al-Mada, a critical, oppositional newspaper in Iraq, I am given considerable editorial freedom, and there is certainly no shortage of subjects to cover. I am, however, concerned about the freedom of the press.
Fortunately, a draft anti-media law has now been reversed, much to the relief of my colleagues and peers. Journalism is a dangerous business, and yet the level of hazards is hardly higher than the tension about the car bombs and assassinations that continue to plague the people of Iraq.
Moving over to poetry . . .
Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn't notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.
That's from Dunya Mikhail's poem "I Was In A Hurry." Renee Montagne (NPR's Morning Edition -- link is audio and transcript) spoke with the Iraqi who left the country back in the 90s and Mikhail read two of her poems. That was today. Wednesday? Fars News Agency reports that yesterday "Iraq marked the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion [. . .] a day after a spate of deadly bombings and gun attacks left over 60 people dead." Zab Mustefa (Pakistan's Express Tribune) offers:
When I ask Iraqis if their country is better off since foreign troops touched the ground, opinions are varied. But a vast proportion agree that Iraq is now worse than it has ever been.
A corrupt puppet in office (Nour al-Maliki), that discriminates against Sunni Muslims, further poverty and sectarian violence at its peak has crumbled the country and proven costly to America, which spent over $800,000 billion so far.
For me, one of the most saddening things about Iraq is the post-war effect. Fallujah was at the centre of the US and UK military campaign and now, more than half of the babies conceived after the foreign invasion are born with deformed and missing limbs, brain damage, tumours and heart defects.
Today United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative to Iraq addressed the UN Security Council. We'll try to fit it in tomorrow. He noted "UNAMI urges the Government to respond to those popular demands which can be addressed in the short term, and to do so immediately. Other demands will require more time for a response." But for months, Nouri has brushed them aside when not attacking them outright. Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya is calling for a session of the Council of Ministers to hear the protesters' demands and figure a way to implement them. Today Iraqi Spring MC has posted in the last 14 hours about military equipment being moved from Baghdad to Anbar Province. Thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared Tuesday that Anbar and Nineveh Province will not be voting April 20th when provincial elections are held. He's decreed that it's too violent there and he made that decree on the day over 60 deaths took place in Baghdad Province. But he's not attempting to halt the vote there.
Many see the move as an effort to punish the protesters in the two provinces. Equally true, he probably doesn't want to see the success of political rivals at the polls in those two provinces.
Nouri and his State of Law goons can never get the message straight. Today, MP Salman al-Moussawi sets the hymnal aside and sings off tone. National Iraqi News Agency reports al-Moussawi is stating that the elections in the two provinces were postponed "to stop the fraud in the elections." So on Tuesday, the world is told it's due to violence. On Thursday, the world is told it's due to fear of fraud.
Aswat al-Iraq notes Nouri has decreed they are postponed for six months.
United Nations Secretrary-General Ban Ki-Moon has a Special Envoy in Iraq, Martin Kobler. As noted yesterday, the UN quotes Kobler declaring today, "There is no democracy without elections. The citizens of these provinces are looking forward to these elections with great hope. They should not be disappointed." And now, according to State of Law's latest switch-around, they're being postponed due to fear of fraud. It'll be interesting to hear the UN's response to that.
In the March 2010 parliamentary elections, Nouri al-Maliki cried fraud and stomped his feet. He wasn't happy to come in second place. He demanded a recount. There was no fraud, he came in second. State of Law has a real problem dealing with election results. First place Iraqiya is headed by Ayad Allawi who has a nationally syndicated column in the US via Project Syndicate:
Iraq’s last general election, in 2010, brought hope of recovery in the form of a power-sharing agreement among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds, which was supposed to ensure that the country did not revert to dictatorship. Iraqiya, which I lead, was the largest electoral bloc to emerge from that vote. But, despite our status, we agreed to give up the leadership position afforded by the Constitution in the belief that power-sharing and respect for the rights of all Iraqis is the only formula for governing the country democratically. These hopes, however, soon vanished, as Iraq’s two-term prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, subsequently reneged on the agreement.
Today, the very human rights that were guaranteed by the constitution are being violated, with a politicized judiciary routinely abused and manipulated in order to justify the prime minister’s actions. Instead of keeping the Maliki government in check, the courts facilitate its quest for ever-greater power.
Making matters worse for ordinary Iraqis, public services have deteriorated to a dismal level, and unemployment is rising sharply, despite public expenditure in excess of $500 billion over the seven years of Maliki’s rule. Sectarianism and racism have become a regular feature of the political landscape. Corruption is rampant, and Baghdad is now considered one of the world’s worst places to live.
If Iraq continues along its current disastrous path, mayhem and civil war will be the inevitable outcome, with dire consequences for the entire region. Yet Iraqis continue to hope for a better future.
Yesterday, Alsumaria reported that Iraqiya MP Nahida Daini said that postponing the elections for the reasons given would be caving into violence. She'll need to amend that statement to postpoing the elections out of fear of fraud is giving into fraud. Alsumaria reports today that the Sadr bloc has called Nouri's move "illegal and unconstitutional." The Sadr bloc MP Ali al-Timimi is quoted by All Iraq News stating that the UN has refused the postponement and that this "came after the visit of the Deputy UNSG's Special Representative for Iraq, Georgi Posten, to the Ahrar bloc and giving them a document which asserted that." Alsumaria notes Anbar Province Sahwa leader Abu Rhisha is also calling out the decision to postpone elections.
Meanwhile Nouri's declaring that this week's bombings (he means Tuesday in Baghdad -- the Green Zone was in trouble, so Nouri cares) are the result of people -- "officials and parliamentarians" -- calling for sectarianism. Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya and the Sadr bloc are calling for Nouri and other security leaders to appear before Parliament and answer questions about the bombings. Nouri would be appearing as commander and chief as well as the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of National Security. Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support." That remains true today. Nouri's ignored the Constitution and refused to nominate people for the three posts and let Parliament confirm or shoot them down. If Parliament confirmed them -- this is confusing in the US, I know -- Nouri would lose control of the Ministry. The head of the ministry, once confirmed, cannot be removed unless Parliament votes to remove them. Nouri can't fire a minister. The minister is in charge of the ministry budget and the ministry's mission. It's not like in the US with the White House's Cabinet.
How easy is to get Parliament to 'fire' someone? For over two years now, Nouri's tried to get them to fire Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. They have refused. He remains Vice President.
On Tareq al-Hashemi and other issues, Zvi Bar'el (Haaretz) offers this look at Iraq today:
On the surface, it would appear that there is a division of power among the Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish segments of the population, and the justice system seems to be functioning adequately.
However, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is ruling Iraq like a dictator. He recently used massive force to suppress protest rallies by Sunni Muslims in the western province of Anbar. Demonstrators were arrested, some of whom simply “vanished.” Torture and physical abuse are still part of the routine followed by the security forces.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is Sunni, fled the country after al-Maliki had a warrant issued for his arrest over involvement in terrorist activity. Cabinet ministers and members of parliament live in houses protected by high walls; they have personal security guards whose services they pay for themselves because they do not rely on the security services provided by the state.
Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth observes at CNN:
Arrests occur routinely without warrants. Thousands of people are held without charge with no end in sight, sometimes in unofficial detention facilities. Torture during interrogation is common. People brought to trial are often convicted through coerced confessions and secret informant testimony. Corruption is reportedly rife in the Interior Ministry, and collusion between officials and judges is said to be common. Judges typically close their eyes to evidence of torture, and due process at trial is rare. Executions are skyrocketing – 129 in 2012 compared with 62 the prior year – with few details available about the identity of those condemned or the charges against them. The government justifies many arrests in the name of fighting “terrorism,” but the common denominator among those caught up in this system of injustice is perceived opposition to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Rather than build a broad political coalition, al-Maliki has used repression to address political threats.
The violence continues today. National Iraqi News Agency notes that a Mosul roadside bombing has claimed the life of 1 Iraqi military officer and left three soldiers injured, a Tirkit bombing left 3 Iraqi soldiers dead and two wounded, 1 person was shot dead in Baquba, and 1 farmer has been shot dead in Diyala Province. Through Wednesday, Iraq Body Count counts 306 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.
national iraqi news agency
all iraq news
haaretz zvi bar'el
human rights watch