Thursday, February 27, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, February 27, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Anbar continues, Nouri doesn't have the forces to enter Falluja but continues to pretend otherwise, Osama al-Nujaifi visits Erbil, Senator Patty Murray fights for veterans and their families, and more.

Starting in the US with Senator Patty Murray.

That's Senator Patty Murray speaking on the floor of the Senate today about a very important issue.  For those who need or prefer text, here are her remarks:

“On Tuesday I came here to the floor to discuss one issue we are rarely divided on in this building. And that is our duty to keep the promise we’ve made to provide not only care - but opportunity - to all those who’ve honorably served in our nation’s Armed Forces. The comprehensive veterans legislation before us today is really the test for many members of Congress. Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans to keep that promise? Can we show these heroes that - despite our differences - we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation?
“Unfortunately our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are indicating they’d prefer to put politics over promises under the guise of an alternative to this bill. Given what we have seen recently on other bills supported by a majority of Americans, I shouldn’t be surprised. But I truly did think this bill would be a different story. Because it contains ideas from both Democrats AND Republicans. Because this is an issue that has historically united this body. And because we have ALL pledged to do whatever it takes on behalf of our veterans. But once again, our colleagues have decided to use unrelated issues to sour this entire effort for the veterans and their families who stand to benefit the most from this comprehensive legislation.
“Additionally, with their alternative bill, they’ve stripped away life changing programs for veterans who are looking to take the skills they’ve learned from the battlefield to the boardroom. They’ve decided to halt the expansion of opportunities for caregivers – who are integral to the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable heroes. But among these – and many other – examples of the Republican effort to derail this landmark legislation, there is one issue I find most egregious: And that is their shameful opposition to providing our catastrophically wounded heroes with access to the reproductive services they so desperately need to start a family.   
“This shouldn’t be a political issue – Because this is about giving veterans who have sacrificed everything -- every option we have to help them fulfill the simple dream of starting a family. As we all know, our men and women in uniform have become increasingly susceptible to reproductive, spinal and traumatic brain injuries due to the changing weapons of war. But thanks to modern medicine, many of these servicemembers are being kept alive and are returning home. In fact, as of the New Year, there are 2,348 servicemembers who are living with reproductive, urinary or pelvic injuries. And like so many of our veterans, these men and women come home looking to return to their lives, to find employment, and so often to start a family. Yet what they find when they go to the VA is that the fertility services available don’t meet their complex needs. 
“In fact, veterans suffering from these injuries find that the VA is specifically barred from providing more advanced assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF. They are told that despite the fact they have made such an extreme sacrifice for our nation we cannot provide them with the medical services they need to start a family. Veterans like Staff Sergeant Matt Keil  – and his wife Tracy.
“Despite returning home from Iraq a quadriplegic, Staff Sergeant Keil and Tracy started exploring the possibilities of starting a family together. But because his injuries prevented him from having children naturally, Tracy turned to the VA and began to explore her options for fertility treatments.  But because of the VA ban, they were turned away. Out of options, the Keil’s decided this was important enough to them that they were willing to pay out-of-pocket for IVF treatment in the private sector – to the tune of almost $32,000 per round of treatment. Thankfully, Staff Sergeant Keil and Tracy welcomed their twins Matthew and Faith into the world after just one round of treatments.
“Tracy told me, ‘The day we had our children something changed in both of us. This is exactly what we had always wanted, our dreams had arrived. The VA, Congress and the American People have said countless times that they want to do everything they can to support my husband or make him feel whole again and this is your chance. Having a family is exactly what we needed to feel whole again. Please help us make these changes so that other families can share in this experience.’
“Tracy and Matt are not alone. There are many men and women out there who share this common thread of a desperate desire to fulfill their dream of starting a family only to find the catastrophic wounds they sustained while defending our country are now preventing them from seeing that dream through.
“It should not be this way. Unfortunately, Republicans are indicating they will not join us in overturning this absurd and antiquated ban. Apparently they’d rather our nation’s heroes spend tens of thousands of dollars in the private sector to get the advanced reproductive treatments they need to start a family. They don’t see the problem in letting our veterans’ marriages dissolve because the stress of infertility, in combination with the stresses of readjusting to life after severe injury, driving their relationship to a breaking point.
“Any servicemember who sustains this type of serious injury deserves so much more. Because we came VERY close to making this bill a reality last Congress. In fact, with Tracy Keil watching from the gallery here, we unanimously passed this legislation. Unanimously. 
“But here I am today, once again imploring Republicans to stand up and explain to our men and women in uniform – who I know are paying very close attention to this debate – And explain to them why they want to turn their back on the catastrophic reproductive wounds that have become a signature of these wars. On Tuesday, I spoke to a crowded room of heroes from Disabled American Veterans – and told them the heartbreaking story of the Keil Family and why we need this critical legislation. And if their cheers and applause are any indication, I’d say they wholeheartedly agree that our women veterans deserve this, our male veterans deserve this, and our military families deserve this.
“So I’ve come to the floor today to ask my colleagues a simple question: Are you willing to tell all those brave men and women -- that didn’t ask questions when they were put in harm’s way -- that you are going to let politics get in the way of our commitment to them? The catastrophic wounds we have seen from injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant that our veterans’ dreams to start a family have been put on hold because of the tremendous cost of IVF services. But we believe that’s a cost of war that VA absolutely should cover and it’s unacceptable to let unrelated issues stand in the way.
“Even the major Veterans Service Organizations and their leaders have said issues like Iran sanctions have no place in this comprehensive veterans legislation. People like American Legion Commander Daniel Dellinger who said, ‘Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war.’
“Or IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, who called this comprehensive legislation, ‘a game changer that will change the trajectory for millions of veterans for decades to come.’
“As serious and timely as they may be, unrelated issues like Iran sanctions are calculated attempts to intentionally dismantle our bipartisan effort to expand health care, education opportunities, employment and other benefits for our nation’s heroes. We can’t allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in separate issues or political grandstanding.
“I’d like to once again thank the Senator from Vermont and his staff for their tireless work to work to bring this legislation here to the floor.

“I hope our colleagues will reconsider opposing this common-sense step that will give those who have sacrificed everything the reproductive treatments they need to start a family.”

Good for Senator Murray.

But I'm really confused here because we've been attending House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearings for years and what Senator Murray's calling for and backing has never been seen as controversial in hearings.  It's been seen as needed and no member of either Committee over the years has ever uttered an objection in a hearing.  So these objections that are coming now?  No one offered to the faces of veterans and their families.

Senator Murray notes the Keil's in her statement today.  And no one had an objection when Tracy Keil appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and declared,  "I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."

Tracy's husband is Iraq War veteran Matt Keil.  She appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee June 12. Senator Murray was the Chair of the Committee then (she now chairs the Senate Budget Committee and Senator Bernie Sanders now chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee).  Murray had  S. 3313, The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012.  to address these issue.  We covered that hearing in the June 27th and June 28th snapshots and let's drop back so we can let Tracy Keil discuss why legislation is needed:

My husband Matt was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24, 2007 just 6 weeks after we were married.  The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit his vertebral artery, went through his spinal cord and exited through his left shoulder blade.  Matt instantly because a quadriplegic.  When I first saw him 3 days after he was injured I was in shock, they explained to me that he had a "Christopher Reeve type injury."  He would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never move his arms or legs.
Matt and I looked at each other in his hospital room at Walter Reed and he asked me if I still loved him? I said "baby you're stuck with me!" at that moment we knew that we would be okay if we stayed in this together.  I knew that we just needed to work really hard to get Matt off his ventilator to increase his life expectancy.  Ultimately we moved to Craigh Hospital in Denver to be closer to family support.
Four weeks to the day of arriving at Craig Hospital in Denver, Matt was officially off of his ventilator and we could truly concentrate on him doing physical rehabilitation.  Matt has regained about 10% function of his left arm but not his hand.  He was feeling good and getting used to his new normal of being in a wheelchair and asking for help for everything.
It was while we were at Craig Hospital that we started talking about having a family.  Craig doctors talked to us about in vitro fertilzation and recommended some doctors for us to speak to when we were ready to start a family.  We started to get really excited that even though so much had been taken away from Matt physically that we could still have the future we always dreamed of. 
My husband is the most amazing man I have ever met, he is strong, honest and loyal and he wanted us to both have everything we always wanted before his injury and we agreed that this injury wasn't the end, it was the beginning of a new life, and we were in this together.
We had our whole lives ahead of us.  Matt was just 24 when he was injured and I was 28.  We are very fortunate that he survived his injuries that day and we made a promise to each other on our wedding day "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" I meant every word and still do today.  It is a challenge for my husband and I everyday but we knew we still wanted to start a family.  I remember back when he was in rehabilitation at Craig  Hospital it's all we could talk about was when we were going to be adjusted to our new normal and when we would we be ready to have children. We always knew we had wanted children.
In 2008 we moved into a fully handicap accessible home built for us by Homes For Our Troops.  We were starting to feel like things were falling into place in our lives.  We felt like we were starting to get back on track to where we were before Matt was injured.
His injury unfortunately prevents him from having children naturally.  In mid 2008 I started asking the VA what services they could offer my husband and I to assist us with fertility.  I can remember hitting road blocks at every turn.  I decided to take things into my own hands and write letters and make phone calls to try and get anyone to listen to us that we needed help.  Fertility treatments are very expensive and since I had left my full time job we were still adjusting to living on one income.
I felt helpless and hopeless and thought that our dreams of having a family may never come true.  The VA finally said that they would cover the sperm withdrawal from my husband . . . that costs $1,000 and that they would store the sperm for us at no charge.

It was very difficult when I found out there was no help available for us from the VA or Tricare. I felt very defeated, sad, disappointed and in some ways I felt helpless.  I researched everything I could about how to get Tricare to cover some of the costs but they couldn't because it was a direct result of my husband's injury and that fell under the VA.  The VA said that they had no programs in place for this sort of thing.  I even started asking non profits to assist with the cost and they couldn't help due to the other immediate needs of injured service members.

Why did Tracy and Matt suffer?

Because there was nothing in place to take their situation into account.  There are many other veterans families in the same situation.  They're not asking for a high rise or a shiny car, they just want to be able to have a family.  And they can.  It is medically possible.

Matt Keil didn't say, "Hey, I want a vacation.  I think I'll go to Ramadi and work on my tan."  The US government sent him to Iraq and that is where he was injured.  How dare anyone in Congress think they can ignore his needs now.

And there was no objection in the Senate in 2012.  The following year, US House Rep Rick Larsen noted, "The Senate unanimously approved a version of this bill authored by Sen. Patty Murray last year, but the House did not act on the companion legislation that Larsen had introduced before the end of the 112th Congress. Murray reintroduced the Senate version of the bill earlier this year."  So in 2012, universal support and, two years later, someone's 'rethought' it?  Maybe they need to explain to the veterans?  Rick Larsen is a Democrat.  He made his observation when he and Republican House member Steve Stivers joined together to introduce similar legislation in the House.

It also needs to be pointed out that DoD  provides this service  for service members.  It's just VA that's not providing it for veterans.  It is thought that the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War have produced approximately 2,000 veterans who could utilize this service.  Why are they being denied it?  How does this not fall under needed health care.

The costs would not 'break the bank' and it really is the right thing to do.  To quote Tracy Keil one more time, "I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."  Shame on anyone in the US Congress who can't grasp -- or refuses to grasp -- that.

Violence has slammed Iraq this month. Just through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 853 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.  And the violence didn't stop yesterday.  The Buenos Aires Herald counts 52 deaths today.

National Iraqi News Agency reports an al-Shaab bus bombing claimed 1 life and left three more people injured, Commander Rashid Falih announced 4 suspects were shot dead in Anbar, a Tarmiyah bombing left three Iraqi soldiers injured, Commander Mohamed Khalaf al-Dulaimi of the 10th Army Division announced 10 suspects were killed in Krahh Village near Kirkuk, 1 person was shot dead in Muqdadiyah, Baghdad Operations Command's Saad Maan announced 7 snipers were shot dead outside Qarma, an armed battle in Albu Jabir left 3 rebels dead (and two more injured), the Ministry of the Interior announced they killed 4 Da'ash "near al-Mowdhafeen bridge in Anbar," a Mosul attack left one police officer injured, the Ministy of Interior says they killed 4 Da'ash in the desert of Ishtar, and a Sadr City motorcycle bombing left 11 dead and 35 injured.

Kareem Raheem, Suadad al-Salhy, Ned Parker and Mark Heinrich (Reuters) report  the death toll of the Sadr City bombing increased to 31 with the number injured increasing to 51.  Mu Xuequan (Xinhau) notes the death toll then rose to 32 with the injured rising to 56.  The Irish Times adds, "The motorcycle was in a market in the Shia Muslim neighbourhood that sells used bikes and was filled with people, mostly young men."

It should also be noted that many outlets are running with usual claims of Sunnis and blah blah.  Why would Sadr City be attacked by Sunnis?  And the attack also comes after yesterday's report that Moqtada al-Sadr had left and returned to Iran for more religious studies.

Who knows who attacked Sadr City?

But the best guess anyone could make right now would be that a Shi'ite group attacked and that possibly the increased danger in Sadr City is why Moqtada left for Iran.

Moving to another topic,  Anadolu Agency reports Iraq's Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi went to Erbil (in the Kurdistan Region) today to meet with  KRG President Massoud Barazni and discuss the "tension between the sides [Baghdad and Erbil] over oil exports and budget distribution."  NINA reports Sadr bloc MP Bahaa al-Araji has talked about the visit, "Al-Araji told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / that Nujaifi’s visit to the Kurdistan region came upon the authorization of the heads of political blocs , who met with him in order to finally resolve the standoff between the federal government and the Regional government. " Hiwa Barznjy (Niqash) explains the issues behind the conflict:

Conflict between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan over oil exports has resulted in something of a financial crisis in the northern region. State employees haven’t been paid, MPs are threatening to resign and there are rumours that Turkey was asked for a loan. Negotiations are continuing but some senior politicians are saying that Iraqi Kurdistan is ready for financial independence if a compromise is not reached soon.

Negotiators from the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan have visited Baghdad three times already this year. They went there to discuss many of the seemingly-intractable conflicts that the partially-independent region populated mainly by Iraqis of Kurdish ethnicity is having with the rest of the country, as governed from Baghdad.

The list of these conflicts is similar to those of past years: The disputed areas of Iraq which the Iraqi Kurdish say should belong to their region but which Baghdad says belong to Iraq proper. The oil and gas law - Iraqi Kurdistan has one and Baghdad does not. Who pays for the services of the Iraqi Kurdish military, the Peshmerga. Iraqi Kurdistan’s share of national income, based on oil earnings.

Nouri al-Maliki has been unable to stop the KRG's various oil and gas deals because there's no national oil and gas law.  Along with stomping and screaming like an angry child, Nouri's also attempted to use the country's budget to blackmail the Kurds.   Press TV (link is text and video) notes:

The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region says Baghdad’s decision to withhold the budget is a declaration of war against Kurdistan. President Massoud Barzani’s comments come as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to withhold Kurdistan’s share of the national budget. That includes monthly wages of more than $700m for hundreds of thousands of government employees. 

Rudaw adds, "The Iraqi government has suspended the flights of two small airlines that operate between Europe and the Kurdistan Region, an airport official in Erbil said, the latest in an oil feud between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurds."  NINA reports:

The President of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani said: "The source of the problems is (breach the constitution and the monopoly of power and the failure to provide security)."
Barzani added, during a meeting with the Director General of the Department of Middle East and North Africa in the French Foreign Ministry, Francois Giroux, according to a statement to the presidency of the Kurdistan region, " getting Iraq away from all the meanings of the state and non- delivery of services and the failure to provide security is the result of breaching the Constitution and the monopoly of power."
Barzani expressed his hope that "the political parties' commitment by the constitution and hold elections for the House of Representatives opens avenues towards resolving the problems in Iraq."

Nouri has been a huge failure.  The Economist notes of his assault on Anbar:

Since sending the Iraqi army to dismantle a protest camp in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, in December, Iraqi security forces have been embroiled in a standoff with tribal fighters, some backed by al-Qaeda types who are also fighting in neighbouring Syria. From a former American base, the Iraqi army has mortared the outskirts of the city of Fallujah, sending over 300,000 civilians fleeing in the biggest displacement since the civil war of 2006-2007.
Iraq’s government bills the battle as a fight against al-Qaeda rather than a struggle against Sunni Iraqis who say the government arrests and executes its young men and has shut it out of power. Unable to speed up delivery of American attack helicopters, the Iraqi government has persuaded the American government to lease it some. Both Iraqi and foreign journalists are banned from the area.

All Iraq News notes that Sabah Karhot, Chair of the Anbar Provincial Council, is declaring that Nouri's extended a 'cease-fire,' "'The duration granted by the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki to suspend the military operations in Fallujah city, was extended for a week.''

What a load of nonsense.

Nouri did a 72-hour move he called a 'cease-fire' (one he called '72 hours' as well) and it wasn't (see Monday's snapshot).  Civilians in Anbar were injured and killed by the military's bombings.

Get honest, it's insulting at this point to lie so.

Nouri doesn't have to forces to enter Falluja.

He's been threatening to count to three and turn this car around, he means it, for about five weeks now.


Because it's past time to enter Falluja.

But he can't.  The military keeps deserting on him.  They don't want to go in.  I doubt they're 'scared,' it's like Nouri 2008 attack on Basra.

That resulted in mass exodus from the ranks.  They self-checked out because they didn't want to go hand-to-hand with other Iraqis, they didn't see signing up for the Iraqi military meaning they had to kill Iraqis.  It's happened again.  It's the least reported development in the assault on Anbar, the defections. There was a very high profile one over the weekend but AP, Reuters, AFP all ignored it.  All Iraq News reported, "The chairman of the military council of Anbar, Ali Hatim al-Sulaiman, fled of Anbar to unknown destination."

Nouri's a War Criminal.  He's not being nice or doing a 'cease-fire.'  He's had an excuse one week after another.  And the reason for these excuses?   He doesn't have the forces to enter Falluja successfully.

Despite Nouri's attacks on the Iraqi people, the White House keeps insisting he must armed and armed again.   Erin Evers (Human Rights Watch) observes:

The US has long supported the Iraqi government with arms, though the Iraqi government has committed serious, widespread abuses against its own people in the name of counterterrorism. That has proven ineffective in combating terrorism but has stoked resentment. Psaki acknowledged that the US has “providedthe Iraqi military and security forces with more than $15 billion in equipment, services, and training,” and recently delivered to Iraq “Hellfire missiles and hundreds of small arms along with large quantities of small arms and tank ammunition,” but did not address the copious evidence giving cause for concern that Iraq will use these weapons to continue abuses.
The State Department’s own 2012 Human Rights report noted that “Human rights violations committed by [Iraqi Security Forces] personnel were rarely investigated, and perpetrators were seldom punished,” and that the government “did not take widespread action to reform security forces to improve human rights.”
The new Human Rights Watch research about the treatment of women in Iraq’s criminal justice system, for example, shows that security forces frequently subject detained women to torture and ill-treatment, including the threat of sexual abuse. In early January, Anbar residents told us that the army’s mortar fire on residential neighborhoods had killed at least 25 residents in the first few days of fighting in Fallujah.

In November, we documented how Iraqi security forces, including agents from Special Weapons and Tactics [SWAT] in the Counterterrorism Service [CTS]—precisely the security forces who, along with the army, are at the forefront of the fighting in Anbar—abused residents by surrounding and closing off majority Sunni neighborhoods, illegally raiding homes and carrying out mass arrests. Since 2010 we have repeatedly reported that security forces including SWAT, Federal Police, and the army use unlawful force against peaceful protesters; carry out illegal arrests, interrogations, and detentions, and systematically use torture during interrogations.

It's just one critical pan after another for thug Nouri al-Maliki.  Justin Marozzi (The National Newspaper) reviews constitutional attorney Zaid al-Ali's new book The Struggle for Iraq's Future: How Corruption, Incompetence and Sectarianism Have Undermined Democracy:

Much of this book, in fact, can be read as a passionate polemic against Al Maliki who, with the Americans, must surely take a great share of the responsibility for the unholy mess in which Iraq is now stewing.
Instead of seeking to build an Iraq that eschewed sectarianism, al-Ali writes, “his sole concern became to capture the state and to divide and conquer opponents, to remain in power for as long as possible”. By those limited, cynical criteria, so typical of Iraqi politics in living memory, and perhaps far beyond, Al Maliki’s efforts have been an unqualified success: parliament emasculated; armed forces shunted under his direct control; the judiciary nobbled; critics intimidated and silenced.