Monday, March 31, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, March 31, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, US Senator Patty Murray calls out the latest VA scandal, the NSA leaks on itself (I believe we call that "piss") and no one notices that the NSA is lying because apparently no one in the press thinks about Iraq anymore, US President Barack Obama wants to keep arming thug Nouri al-Maliki, 2 Iraqi children are dead today and that's on Barack because he supplied the weapons and because he provides the 'intel,' Sattar Sa'ad won The Voice Arabia competition, and much more.

In the latest scandal for the Dept of Veterans Affairs, they're turning away homeless veterans.  Senator Patty Murray (Chair of the Senate Budget Committee) wants to know what the Dept thinks it's doing.  Her office issued the following today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                            CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Monday, March 31st, 2014                                                            202-224-2834
Senator Murray Introduces Emergency Bill to Reverse New VA Policy Change that Has Shut the Doors of Homeless Shelters to Veterans
Veterans have been turned away in the wake of sudden VA policy change made in February that limits eligibility for indispensable grant program that supports homeless shelters and providers
After Murray introduces legislation, VA NOW says it will temporarily rescind the policy change but final legal opinion could still shutter access for homeless veterans
(Washington D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, on Thursday introduced emergency legislation that would reverse a sudden and largely unexplained Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy change that has restricted homeless veterans' access to housing and services. Senator Murray’s bill, The Homeless Veterans Services Protection Act (S. 2179), reverses a new VA policy by allowing community organizations who receive funding through the VA’s Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program to once again count veterans who don’t meet certain length of service or discharge requirements when calculating the federal GPD allotment that often allows these facilities to operate.
Just two weeks ago, a VA memo went out to these programs forbidding them from counting new homeless veterans who didn’t serve for two years or were given certain “other than honorable” discharges from service. That instruction meant that community organizations in many instances had to begin denying homeless veterans housing, and reversed the standard that VA and these providers have used for two decades. No contingency plan was given to provide for the veterans who would be turned away.
“This is federal bureaucracy at its most heartless,” said Senator Murray. “For the VA to suddenly tell homeless providers that they are limiting a successful, 20 year-old program in a way that will put more veterans on the streets, defies all common sense, particularly when this Administration has set the bold and commendable goal of ending veterans homelessness by 2015. If this is a question of cost the VA needs to come forward and say that and I will fight just as hard for funding as I will to restore eligibility.”

The change also affects the critical Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which allows VA to award grants to organizations that assist very low income families living in or transitioning to permanent housing by providing them with a range of supportive services.
UPDATE: Monday morning VA announced that they would temporarily place a moratorium on the policy change after Senator Murray introduced legislation to reverse it. However, the VA has indicated that change is only temporary until a final legal opinion, which is expected to reaffirm this ban, is issued.
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct
Twitter: @mmcalvanah

RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office

It would appear the VA doesn't grasp concepts like accountability or transparency.  This is a huge change they made and they did so without informing Congress.  As Senator Murray notes, this impacts a significant number of veterans.

Along with hiding it from Congress, the VA hid the move from the public.  The last time the VA felt the need to inform the public about the issue of homeless veterans was in the January 14th press release entitled "Grant Program One of Many VA Initiatives to End Veterans' Homelessness."  The Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki is quoted in the release, "Those who have served our Nation should never find themselves on the streets, living without hope. These grants play a critical role in addressing Veteran homelessness by assisting our vital partners at the local level in their efforts.  We are making good progress towards our goal to end Veterans’ homelessness, but we still have work to do."

Those words ring hollow.  Eric Shinseki promised to keep Congress informed after the first big scandal of his tenure.  We covered it here, the House Veterans Affairs Committee on October 14, 2009.  When the country was aghast to learn the veterans attempting to attend college on the GI Bill were instead taking out loans and suffering because the VA couldn't get the checks out.  The press, so eager to prop up the White House, looked the other way and refused to report this statement Shinseki made in the hearing:

I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment.  'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.'  To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed.  Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take. We based our numbers on the Montgomery GI Bill which is about a 15 minute procedure. The uh chapter thirty-three procedures about an hour on average, maybe an hour and 15 minutes. So right off the bat, we had some issues with assumptions. Uh, we are still receiving certificates of enrollment. This week alone, we received 36,000 certificates of enrollment coming from schools who are working through the process and we put them into the execute of providing those checks -- three checks.

Get it?  He was told there were problems, he then hired a consultant who said the same thing.  But he refused to tell Congress, he refused to tell the public.  Some veterans were still waiting in December and those with a child or children noted repeatedly that since they were still waiting for the checks they should have received the previous August or September, there would be no Christmas for their kids.

Heads should have rolled.

They didn't.

And in all the subsequent scandals we've heard Shinseki do the Accountability Comedy Routine.  That's when a government official says, "I take accountability."  They say that -- and here's the joke -- then they don't resign and they're not fired.  "I take accountability" really just means, "I'm bored, let's move on."

In March of 2013, Robert Rosebrock (Veterans Today) noted:

General Eric K. Shinseki (Ret. USA), Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), has continuously failed our Military Veterans, including failing to file and execute disability claims in a timely manner and to provide quality healthcare and housing for disabled homeless Veterans, particularly in Los Angeles where there’s already a National Veterans Home established 125 years ago, but the buildings are vacant and rat-infested while the land is misappropriated for non-Veteran use.
It’s well-documented that nationwide the VA has a shameful back-log of over 900,000 disability claims with Veterans waiting up to 650 days to get necessary healthcare care and disability benefits.
During a recent Senate Hearing, members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee demanded the VA turn over its internal performance data to give Congressional lawmakers direct insight as to why the agency is so dysfunctional.
Consistent with the VA’s modus operandi, Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits, was evasive, vague, dismissive, non-cooperative and refused to turn over requested data.

Think about it: If the VA openly and defiantly stonewalls the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and denies them pertinent information, what must it be like for lonely disabled Veterans in the isolated office of intimidating and confrontational VA bureaucrats?

Shinseki, Kathleen Sebelius and so many others think it's hilarious to stand up in public and perform the Accountability Comedy Routine because they long ago realized that no one gets fired in the current administration.   Even Lois I'm-a-public-servant-but-I-plead-the-5th-and-refuse-to-testify-to-Congress-about-the-work-I-did-work-the-taxpayers-paid-for Lerner was allowed to retire when she should have been fired.

But no one gets fired.

Look at the way the administration responds to whistle-blowers?  It's all out war.  NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden is demonized and threatened by the White House.  But, as Glenn Greenwald (Intercept) points out today, that's not the case for all leakers:

And now, Keith Alexander’s long-time deputy just fed one of the most pro-NSA reporters in the country, the Los Angeles Times‘ Ken Dilanian, some extraordinarily sensitive, top secret information about NSA activities in Iraq, which the Times published in an article that reads exactly like an NSA commercial:
FT. MEADE, Md. — In nearly nine years as head of the nation’s largest intelligence agency, Gen. Keith Alexander presided over a vast expansion of digital spying, acquiring information in a volume his predecessors would have found unimaginable.
In Iraq, for example, the National Security Agency went from intercepting only about half of enemy signals and taking hours to process them to being able to collect, sort and make available every Iraqi email, text message and phone-location signal in real time, said John “Chris” Inglis, who recently retired as the NSA’s top civilian.
The overhaul, which Alexander ordered shortly after taking leadership of the agency in August 2005, enabled U.S. ground commanders to find out when an insurgent leader had turned on his cellphone, where he was and whom he was calling.
“Absolutely invaluable,” retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview as he described the NSA’s efforts, which led to the dismantling of networks devoted to burying roadside bombs.

John “Chris” Inglis just revealed to the world that the NSA was–is?–intercepting every single email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time for the entire country of Iraq. Obviously, the fact that the NSA has this capability, and used it, is Top Secret. What authority did Chris Inglis have to disclose this? Should a Department of Justice leak investigation be commenced? The Post, last July, described Alexander’s “collect-it-all” mission in Iraq which then morphed into his approach on U.S. soil (“For NSA chief, terrorist threat drives passion to ‘collect it all,’ observers say”), but did not confirm the full-scale collection capabilities the NSA had actually developed.

The above should lead to outrage and to answers.  We'll get to what everyone's missing in terms of Iraq today but let's note what they're missing in terms of 2005 and 2006.

What liars.  I mean Petraeus can't keep it in his pants and refused to stand up for himself because he was threatened with losing his military pension.

This is what they're selling?

We ignored this crap when the Los Angeles Times ran it because it's written by a stooge and clearly there were no editors around.  Alexander Zavis, where were you?  If you didn't look at it before it was published, you should have noted it when it was.

What's wrong with this 'reporting'?

The overhaul, which Alexander ordered shortly after taking leadership of the agency in August 2005, enabled U.S. ground commanders to find out when an insurgent leader had turned on his cellphone, where he was and whom he was calling.
“Absolutely invaluable,” retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview as he described the NSA’s efforts, which led to the dismantling of networks devoted to burying roadside bombs.

It was so valuable, was it?  Starting in August of 2005?  Letting ground commanders find insurgent leaders?

I'm sorry then why was the 'surge' needed?

Have we forgotten that?

If it was so valuable, why was Sahwa needed?

To combat rising violence, Bully Boy Bush 'surged' (sent more US troops into Iraq) and the military cultivated Sahwa.

Do we remember the week of April 2008, when The Petraeus and Crocker Show, was performed non-stop before Congress?  The then top-US commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, and then-US Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified to Congress  We reported on those hearings in real time.  Let's drop back to the April 8, 2008 snapshot:

Today The Petraeus & Crocker Variety Hour took their act on the road.  First stop, the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker are supposed to be providing a status report on the Iraq War.  They didn't.  In fact, Petraeus made clear that the status report would come . . . next September.  When the results are this bad, you stall -- which is exactly what Petraeus did. 
 The most dramatic moment came as committee chair Carl Levin was questioning Petraeus and a man in the gallery began exclaiming "Bring them home!" repeatedly.  (He did so at least 16 times before he was escorted out).  The most hilarious moment was hearing Petraeus explain that it's tough in the school yard and America needs to fork over their lunch money in Iraq to avoid getting beat up.  In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads.  These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."  Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to avoid being beat up. 
How much lunch money is the US forking over?  Members of the "Awakening" Council are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars).  By Petraeus' figures that mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month.  $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost".  Again, in this morning's hearings, the top commander in Iraq explained that the US strategy is forking over the lunch money to school yard bullies.  What a [proud] moment for the country.

Crocker's entire testimony can be boiled down to a statement he made in his opening statements, "What has been achieved is substantial, but it is also reversible."  Which would translate in the real world as nothing has really changed.  During questioning from Senator Jack Reed, Crocker would rush to shore up the "Awakening" Council members as well.  He would say there were about 90,000 of them and, pay attention, the transitioning of them is delayed due to "illliteracy and physical disabilities."  

91,000 Awakenings, Sons Of Iraq, Sahwa -- whatever you want to call them. And 30,000 addition US troops.  In December of 2011, Tom Bowman (NPR's All Things Considered, link is audio and text) noted:

Here's the conventional wisdom about the U.S. troop surge in Iraq: By 2006, Iraq was in chaos. Many Americans called for the U.S. to get out. Instead, President Bush sent in 30,000 additional troops. By the end of 2007, Iraq started to stabilize, and the move took on an almost mythic status.

Bowman then spoke to the New American Foundation's Doug Ollivant who stressed Sahwa and how he believed it drove down the violence.

Now whether you go with one or the other or both, you have to wonder why they were needed if the NSA had this miracle cure in August 2005?

Of the disclosure of the NSA spying program in Iraq, Glenn Greenwald writes, "This demonstrates how brazenly the NSA manipulates and exploits the consultation process in which media outlets are forced (mostly by legal considerations) to engage prior to publication of Top Secret documents: They’ll claim with no evidence that a story they don’t want published will 'endanger lives,' but then go and disclose something even more sensitive if they think doing so scores them a propaganda coup."

He'x exactly right, this disclosure was propaganda.

But someone needs to point out that if it was so amazing -- it wasn't -- that's part of the propaganda, why, almost two years later, was the US paying Sahwa and sending 30,000 more US troops into Iraq (while also extending the stay of service members already in Iraq)?

A real reporter -- Ken Dilanian isn't one -- would have thought to question that.  The editors of the paper should have caught it.

The program clearly didn't work.  Possibly that was due to it sucking up more information than the NSA workers could go through in an average day of work.  That would jibe with what intelligence officers in Iraq stated throughout the Iraq War.  It would also demonstrate that the NSA failed, their program was a failure. Since clearly they have been caught lying -- had the program worked from August 2005 forward, there would have been no need for a 'surge' or for Sahwa, the press should be all over them.

Instead, no one's calling this nonsense out.

Let's move over to something more current with regards to the NSA's actions in Iraq.

In 2012, protesters were being tracked by their cell phones and their calls were being listened in on.  By 2013, a new 'trick' emerged, cell phone and net communication was being shut down.  This also happened in the lead up to encircling Falluja and Ramadi earlier this year.  Where was prime minister and chief thug of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki getting this techonology?  Or was the NSA executing these attacks on behalf of Nouri?

Nouri's assault on Anbar Province hasn't brought peace.  It has killed a number of civilians.  It's around 400 now just from Nouri shelling residential neighborhoods in Falluja.  Today, for example, NINA reports Nouri's shelling left 2 children dead and two more injured.

When Nouri bombs these neighborhoods of home, we are aware -- aren't we?, that he's getting 'intel' from the United States.  That's the deal he walked away with November 1st.

So the US government is telling him where to bomb.  Like today when Nouri sent helicopters to bomb "Zuwbaa in the south east of Fallujah."

So the US government and Nouri killed 2 Iraqi children today.

That blood's on Barack's hands.  And Press TV notes, "The United Nations says about 400,000 people have been displaced this year due to the ongoing violence in the western Iraqi province of Anbar."

Barack apparently wants to bathe in the blood of Iraqis.  There's news  on the White House  supplying Nouri with arms.  Allen McDuffee (Wired) reports the US Congress was informed by the Pentagon that three weapons deals with Iraq are near completion.  He quotes Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon stating, "I believe our national strategy towards Iraq might soon need to be reassessed.  Business as usual with arms sales to a government that is in some ways stoking an internal conflict may need to be rethought. I'm not sure any arms sales make sense, or at least not any new ones, until we see Maliki stop harassing people like [former Iraqi deputy prime minister Rafi] al-Issawi."  McDuffee notes:

In 2011, as finance minister, al-Issawi warned of the risks of providing arms to a sectarian army.
“It is very risky to arm a sectarian army,” el-Issawi told the New York Times. “It is very risky with all the sacrifices we’ve made, with all the budget to be spent, with all the support of America — at the end of the day, the result will be a formal militia army.”

Mass arrests have been taking place in Anbar and throughout Iraq since Nouri launched his assault on December 30th.  But now they've increased to the point that the press has to start addressing it.  Which is difficult in a country where reporters who criticize Nouri end up arrested, sued or dead.  That does explain why Asharq Al-Awsat's report today carries no byline but does note:

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, an Iraqi MP in the Mutahidoun bloc, Mazhar Al-Janabi, said: “As the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Maliki is responsible for the crisis and its outcomes. He also bears responsibility for the widespread arrests currently taking place in the Baghdad Belts.”
Janabi accused Maliki and the security forces of disproportionately targeting Sunnis, who make up the majority of the population of Anbar.

“Arrests of innocent people from a specific demographic in specific places means there is a complex failure in managing the security file,” he said, calling on the government “to identify the enemy so that we [can] all unite in confronting it.”

Haifa Zangana (Al Jazeera) points out:

In Iraq today, security means lawlessness and the rule of law means the rule of sectarian militias, especially the US-trained Special Forces now attached directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office.
The familiar scenario for victims of arbitrary arrests goes like this: First, they are accused of being terrorists, so they are detained at a secret prison whose existence is denied by the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Human Rights. Then, they are tortured to obtain forced confessions, held for months without trial mostly with the aim of extortion from families; then, sentenced to either long-term imprisonment or death penalty, based on the forced confession or information supplied by secret informants.

In some ways, this is a reproduction of how the US and other powerful states view human rights and international law.

Violence continues.  National Iraqi News Agency reports an Adhamiya sticky bombing left one police member injured, Baghdad Operations Command announced they killed 16 suspects "west of Baghdad," a Mosul car bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier while leaving five more injured, 1 person was shot dead in eastern Baghdad, 1 person was shot dead in Basra, a Zammar roadside bombing left 1 Iraqi soldier and 1 civilian dead with ten more people injured, a Hit roadside bombing left 3 Iraqi soldiers dead (and one injured), 1 police officer was shot dead in Hit2 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead at a western Mosul military checkpoing (al-Yarmouk district), 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead at another western Mosul checkpoint (al-Meshairfar area)federal police announced they killed 1 person in the Waziriyah area of Baghdad, a car bombing "northwest of Hilla" left 6 Iraqi soldiers dead1 corpse was discovered dumped in southern Baghdad, and the corpse of 1 gas station guard was discovered dumped in Husseiniya.

March 8, 2014, International Women's Day, Iraqi women protested in Baghdad against Nouri al-Maliki's proposed bill which would allow father's to marry off daughters as young as nine-years-old, strip away the need for consent to sex,  and would strip custodial rights from mothers.  University of Pittsburgh School of Law's Haider Ala Hamoudi weighs in on the law at  Jurist:

There has been much controversy over the Iraqi cabinet's approval of a draft Shi'i Personal Status Law [Arabic], applicable exclusively to the Shi'a in Iraq. The draft law purports to bring the regulation of personal status--encompassing family law, wills and inheritance--in conformity with the religious rules articulated by Shi'a Islam's premier juristic authorities. The cabinet has sent the draft law to the Iraqi legislature for its consideration and potential enactment.

The criticisms of the draft law that have appeared in the press concerning women's rights are broadly correct. However, the focus of this article will be to demonstrate that the draft law is also sloppily drafted and poorly organized, so much so that the prominent Shi'a juristic authorities themselves have sharply denounced it. It is thus probably best described as a political stunt, cobbled together hastily and endorsed by Shi'a politicians on the eve of national elections merely to burnish Islamist credentials rather than actually pass meaningful legislation.  

Parliamentary elections are supposed to take place April 30th in Iraq.  Yesterday,  All Iraq News, citing Independent High Electoral Commission deputy chair Kate' al-Zawbae as the source, reported the Board of Commissioners of the IHEC have withdrawn their resignations.   Which might have been seen as progress. Last Tuesday brought the news that the entire board of the Independent High Electoral Commission was submitting their resignations.

This was especially surprising since parliamentary elections are so close.  Saturday,  Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reported the commissioners say there are three possibilities:

1) Parliament passes some form of immunity that would bar the commissioners from being prosecuted for their decisions regarding who can run for office.

2) The election law itself can be modified.

3) The elections can be cancelled. 

Apparently, there was a fourth option the commissioners didn't consider: Withdraw their resignations.

Hamza Mustafa (Asharq Al-Awsat) reports:

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, IHEC member Mohsen Al-Moussawi, said: “MPs and candidates who were excluded by IHEC for different reasons and on the basis of judicial resolutions can no longer appeal to return [to the electoral race] after approving the names of the candidates who will stand in the forthcoming elections.”
“Entities and blocs have to present alternative candidates one day before the elections campaign starts,” he said. “There is no need for the parliament to issue resolutions granting immunity to IHEC against prosecution after the approval of the names of the candidates.”
As for how IHEC will deal with potential breaches on the part of the candidates during the election campaign, Moussawi said: “IHEC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Baghdad Secretariat and the Ministry of Municipalities regarding where candidates can post billboards and posters during the election campaign between April 1 and 29.”

But on progress?  Another pot hole appears to have emerged on the street to progress.  All Iraq News reports today, "The employees of the Independent High Electoral Commission in Siniya district of nothern Tikrit have resigned due to the threats of the armed groups."

There's major news for Iraq this weekend regarding the arts.  All Iraq News notes Sattar Sa'ad, after three months of competing,  won The Voice Arabia singing contest and that it was announced on Saturday's broadcast which also included singer Ricky Martin performing two songs in this variation of The Voice franchise.  Kadim Al Saher --  a popular Iraqi singer, songwriter and poet, here for a YouTube channel devoted to his music, acted as Sattar's coach and Sattar now has "a brand new car and a recording contract with Universal Music Group."  Nick Vivarelli (Variety) reports:

Aired by satcaster Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), The Arab version of “The Voice” wrapped with Saad draped in an Iraqi flag on stage receiving the trophy from his coach, Iraqi pop music sensation Kadim Al Sahir.
Saad’s victory, which sparked celebrations in the streets of Baghdad, earned him a record contract with Universal Music Group.

Gulf News notes, "Following his crowning, he expressed his joy, thanked his supporters and coach who he said believed in his talent from the start."  Al Arabiya News notes:, "The show, which featured 100 participants from across the Arab world, had its contestants receiving training and supervision from some of the region’s big music stars."  Click here to stream him performing on Saturday's broadcast.

al arabiya news