Thursday, March 06, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, March 6, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Anbar continues, Nouri's crony apparently refuses to allow a plane to land because it left Lebanon before his son could get on, Nouri claims the Constitution doesn't matter, in the US the Senate again fails to pass needed legislation, the House and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committees hold a joint-hearing, and much more.

John Rowan: [. . .] We have just recently in conjunction with the Veterans Legal Service Clinic at Yale Law School put out a report on the illegal personality and adjustment disorder discharges by the Coast Guard.  This is the tip of the iceberg of what's going on in the military with bad discharges.  I-I worked on a program 40 years ago dealing with Vietnam veterans with bad discharges.  Half-a-million people came out of the Vietnam era with a bad paper discharge -- most of them administrative nonsense.  We overturned many of them but unfortunately there's still many of them out there and we're concerned the same thing is happening again.  And as the military downsizes, it starts to throw people out, they're going to take any excuse to get people out the door.  And an unsuspecting 20-year-old who doesn't know they're signing their life away, is putting a noose around their neck for the rest of their lives, is susceptible to manipulation. 

John Rowan is the national president of Vietnam Veterans of America.  He was speaking this morning at the joint House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committtee hearing.  Also appearing to offer testimony was National Guard Association of the US's Peter Duffy, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs' Clyde Marsh, Jewish War Veterans' Robert E. Pickard, AMVETS' John Mitchell, Militatry Order of the Purple Heart's Ron Siebels, Retired Enlisted Association's Rick Delaney, Military Officers Association of America's Robert F. Norton and Blinded Veterans Association's Mark Cornell.

Last week, February 25th, the two Committee held a joint hearing as well.  Many members were absent from that hearing.

Acting Senate Chair Richard Blumenthal:  He [Senator Bernie Sanders] could not be here today because, indeed, he is helping to  manage the bill, the comprehensive bill that's under consideration this week before the United States Senate and indeed, I may have to leave early, I will have to leave early to assist him in that effort. 

The comprehensive bill was S.1982 "The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014."  And it failed to pass the Senate.

This morning, one of the witnesses raised that failure.

Ron Siebels: Congress has proved that it has the wisdom and compassion to accomplish great things.  But for some reason, the wall between the parties often hinders progress.  The military's success is achieved because the different branches work together and never let each other down.  That's one of the reasons the military is well respected.  We believe Congress can dramatically upgrade  its own public image cordial compromise instead of carving party lines in the sand. We thank Senator Sanders and every co-sponsor of Senate bill 1982.  We think that well constructed legislation would have resolved many of the issues you're being confronted with now. We fully understand there are costs and balances  so Congress can meet their promise to veterans. With that in mind, I offer my personal suggestions.  I would get a portion of it from bonuses paid to under performing VA executives who have not reduced the lingering backlog of VA claims.  I'd get some of it from the rapidly expanding social benefits VA paid to people who have never contributed anything to anyone in America.  

I want to note an exchange from the hearing.

Senator Mark Begich: On women's veterans' issues, this is a continued, growing opportunity in a way -- and I say in a positive way -- women are joining the military in greater number than before but more veterans are coming into the system and because of that there's more requirements and more issues we should be focused on.  Can you each tell me -- and, Ron, I'll ask you and then I'll go to Col Norton specifically -- what are those one or two things that you think that we could be doing better specially around women veterans.  Ron, I know introduced me to a woman that's running your efforts within the [Militatry Order of the] Purple Heart which I think is fantastic and I give you a lot of credit for that.  So could you give me a little thought there.

Ron Siebels: Yes, Senator.  Obviously MST [Military Sexual Trauma] is a big issue. The other thing is homelessness.  The fastest growing segment is women veterans.  I talk to a lady not long ago.  She's living out of a car.  She's a single mom, two kids, living out of a car.  She needs help.  She can't even afford to go to a hospital with a sick kid, can't even get her kids registered for school.  Those women need some help.  And I don't know all the answers but that's why I applaud the VSOs and staff who are bringing women's veterans issues to the forefront.  Women are veterans too and they're serving this country very well.  And most of the women when they get out of the service, the first thing they look at is taking care of their kids, taking care of their families.  Guys like us, we want to get back with the guys, we want to get back into the groove.  Well women look at those things a little different.  They've veterans too, they're just like us but they do have some separate issues so I don't really have the answers but I think those answers lie within people like Wendy Buckingham who I appointed our National Women's Director and Wendy's here today and if you ever want a chance to meet a lady that's doing a terrific job for  veterans spend some time with Wendy Buckingham sitting here behind me.  She's doing a fantastic job, I'm so proud of her.  But we need more people like that to get involved, people that care, people that know what they're doing.  And if we do that, I think we'll extract the answers you're looking for, Senator.  I don't know if I've answered your question but hopefully I have.

Senator Mark Begich:  No, that's good, Ron.  Let me also say, Col Norton, before you comment, I know when you, in your commentary, you made a note and I wanted to restate it because I know the Chairman's here now, thank you for your comment on Chained CPI.  I too, like the Chairman [Bernie Sanders], don't believe we should be messing with Chained CPI, it should not be part of the equation when it comes to our Social Security, veterans benefits, I think it really does a disservice -- long term, what it does is take away benefits, pure and simple, so thank you for those that mentioned it.  But on the women's issues, you had mentioned in your testimony and I just wanted to tap on that for a second if I could.

Robert F. Norton:  Yes, Senator, thank you.  I would say first of all it is a cultural issue to begin with overall in the VA system.  As you know, it's largely a male dominated enterprise, if you will, at this point.  The VA needs to be more welcoming and more responsive to the unique needs of women veterans.  For example, I know Senator Sanders will probably mention the great initiative in his state  where they opened up a separate entrance for women veterans at the hospital in Vermont.  Unemployment is a huge issue.  Higher unemployment among female veterans than among male veterans -- that is a big issue.  Especially because, as Mr. Siebels mentioned, a lot of women veterans are single parents and so they have that additional complication.  Thirdly, of course, is the alarming number of women veterans -- as well as male veterans -- who have been sexually assaulted in military service.  So counseling, medical intervention, pyschiatric, psychological, social work support for our women veterans in the VA is very important.  That's a provision in a bill that's sponsored out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee as you know, thank you.

I'm noting the exchange for a reason.  This was a solid hearing.  So was last week's joint-hearing.

That's not been the case.

The joint-hearings from VSOs are the VSO making a presentation which is prepared remarks (submitted in writing ahead of time) that they read out loud.  Some statements can go on for 30 minutes.

I get, I've been at these hearings for 8 years now, I get that you can just want to leave.

And in the past, that's what's really happened.  Credit to House Chair Jeff Miller and Ranking Member Mike Michaud and Senate Chair Bernie Sanders and Ranking Member Richard Burr as well as everyone on the two committees.  They have changed the rush to say, "Thanks for coming!  You know where the exits are!"

Instead, last week's joint hearing and this week's has made a point to use this opportunity to ask the witnesses specific questions.

I don't consider this minor.

I'm already ticked off that the United Nations Security Council takes regular reports on Iraq without ever asking one single question.  It's a waste of time.  Stop holding the hearings, stop having people fly in to testify, just post online the written statements they plan to read.

Good for the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees for using this opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.  It's not minor and I say thank you and, last week, I spoke to three veterans at the joint-hearing who were also happy that the members of the Committee had questions following the presentations.  It' not a minor thing and praise to the leadership of both Committees for this change.

We're not done with today's hearing.

John Rowan:  One, we support Senator Gillibrand in her efforts to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act and we hope the Senate votes on that this afternoon. 

That's from Rowan's opening remarks.  Last week, an important bill was killed in the Senate, as we already noted above.  Today, it repeated.  The important bill Rowan spoke of did not pass.

Tom Brune (Newsday) reports, "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's bill to fundamentally revamp the military justice system for sexual assault victims hit a wall Thursday when it failed to advance in a procedural vote.  An unusually bipartisan majority in the Senate voted 55-45 to break a filibuster of her bill, but that fell short of the 60 votes needed to clear it for a final vote. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) lost two co-sponsors and couldn't win over undecided senators."  Donna Cassata (AP) points out, "Conservative Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky backed her effort, while the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, opposed the measure."

Stacy Kaper (National Journal) reports:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand blamed the White House's lack of support for the failure of her sexual-assault bill in the Senate on Thursday, and she vowed to keep fighting to reform the military justice system.
"I made my greatest case, I advocated for this position, this reform, and the president has been very clear: He wants to end sexual assault in the military, he wants it to be further studied, and he wants to see progress and whether it's been accomplished in the next year," the New York Democrat said at a press conference after her bill went down.
When asked if she would have succeeded if President Obama had pushed for her bill and whether she was disappointed by the White House's lack of support, she quickly answered, "Yes, yes."

Senator Gillibrand's office issued the following statement after the vote:

March 6, 2014

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand delivered the following remarks Thursday following the vote on the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act, which despite having the support of a bipartisan majority of the Senate, fell five votes shy of breaking a filibuster.

Senator Gillibrand’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

I want to first thank my colleagues who stood so strong and united in this effort from the very beginning. Your leadership truly made the difference to gain the support of a majority of the Senate.

From the very beginning – this was never about being a Democratic idea or a Republican idea. It was just the right thing to do – that people of good faith from both parties could unite around.

And I want to thank the retired Generals, former commanders and veterans of every rank for making their voices heard – to make the military they love so dear as strong as it can be.

And I want to especially thank all the survivors. We owe our gratitude to the brave survivors who, despite being betrayed by their chain of command, continue to serve their country by fighting for a justice system that will help make sure no one else suffers the same tragedy they did. Their struggles, sacrifice and courage inspire me every day.

They may not wear the uniform anymore, but they believe so strongly in these reforms that for a full year now, they marched the halls of this Congress, reliving the horror they endured, telling their stories, in hopes that no one else who serves our country has to suffer as they did.

Tragically, today the Senate failed them. Despite earning the support of the majority of the Senate, we fell five votes short of overcoming the 60-vote filibuster threshold. But we will not walk away, we will continue to work harder than ever in the coming year to strengthen our military.

Without a doubt, with the National Defense bill we passed, and Senator McCaskill’s Victims Protection Act, we have taken good steps to stand up for victims, and hold offenders accountable.

But we have not taken a step far enough. We know the deck is stacked against victims of sexual assault in the military, and today, we saw the same in the halls of Congress.

For two full decades, since Dick Cheney served as the Defense Secretary during the Tailhook scandal that shook the military and shocked the nation, we’ve heard the same thing: “zero tolerance” to sexual assault in the military.

But the truth is in the results, and that’s “zero accountability.”

I always hoped we could do the right thing here – and deliver a military justice system that is free from bias and conflict of interest – a military justice system that is worthy of the brave men and women who fight for us.

But today the Senate turned its back on a majority of its members.

As painful as today’s vote is, our struggle on behalf of the brave men and women who serve in our military will go on. We owe so much to those who bravely serve our country, and I will never quit on them.

For the men and women who sign up to serve our country for all the right reasons – only to be twice betrayed by their chain of command – if they can find the courage to make their voices heard to strengthen the military they hold so dear– we have to keep up this fight.

We will continue to the fight for justice and accountability. That is our duty.

The truth is there is "zero accountability."  She is correct.  Her bill will most likely pass.  Maybe in the next Congress, in fact.  And there will be a time in the near future where a Vermont VA won't need separate entrances for women.  Those entrances are to keep the women from being harassed.  When John Hall served in the US Congress, he explored these issues at length.

The women veterans aren't facing catcalls or abuse from veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan War.  It's from veterans a little older -- because doesn't always mean smarter.  For them, female veterans aren't that common.  But for veterans of today's war, it's a different story.  As they age through the system, there will be less need for separate entrances.  And Senator Gillibrand is so very right to connect what happened today to the 90s Tailhook scandals.

What she did today, the fight she took to the Senate floor?

There was nothing like that during Tailhook.

There was outrage.  There were promises, few of which were kept.

But did you get a sense that there was a real fighter on the Senate floor for this issue back then?

I didn't.

I do with Senator Gillibrand.  And when the time comes that she leaves the Senate, there will probably be at least ten more strong senators following in her footsteps because of the fight she's mounted.

I wish the bill had passed today.  It should have.  But her fighting for the bill -- before and after the vote -- is a victory that is making an impression on the country and on future members of the Senate.

Some people make a difference for the better and then, on the other side, there's Nouri.   Whether he's killing civilians, refusing to appear before Parliament or attempting to unconstitutionally declare a budget, Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and chief thug of Iraq, destroys the country he supposedly leads a little more with each passing day.

Today was supposed to be the day when Parliament addressed Nouri's ongoing attack on Anbar Province.  But despite being called before Parliament, Nouri violated the Constitution (again) and refused to show up. National Iraqi News Agency notes MP Salman Jumaili of the Motthaidoon bloc decried the "absence of Prime Minister General Commander of the Armed Forces Nouri al-Maliki, security leaders or concerned ministers or even the governor of the province, except Chairman of the Board of Anbar province who attended to the parliament."  Why did some not attend?  All Iraq News notes a press briefing today by Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi in which explained, "The Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged the MPs to avoid attending the sessions of the Parliament. [. . .] Maliki intervened in the duties of the parliament which is an independent authority and the source for legitimacy."  Alsumaria adds that al-Nujaifi called Nouri's lobbying people not to attend a session of Parliament "a dangerous precedent."  Kitabat notes Osama al-Nujaifi pointed out Nouri took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Iraq.

Dropping back to yesterday's snapshot:

NINA reports MP Sadiq Labban (with Nouri's State of Law) insists that State of Law will continue to refuse to attend sessions of Parliament.  While Nouri's State of Law boycotts Parliament, NINA notes that Nouri has stated Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi is "disrupting the work of the Council" of Ministers.
Nouri's gone after many Sunnis and Iraqiya members -- usually they're both.  Iraqiya was the slate that beat Nouri in the 2010 parliamentary elections.  He's held a kangaroo court against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, for example.  He's often trashed Nineveh Province Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, brother of the Speaker of Parliament.
But he's largely stayed clear of Osama al-Nujaifi.
Now he's going after him.
And he's not just accusing al-Nujaifi of harming his pretty little Council.  NINA notes Nouri's also blaming the failure of the 2014 budget on Osama.   And All Iraq News reports:

The Premier, Nouri al-Maliki, accused the parliament Speaker, Osama al-Nijaifi, of hindering the nomination of the security ministers.
In his weekly speech on Wednesday, Maliki said "Nijaifi and those who target the political process always state that the security ministers are not nominated, but they refuse to ratify the names of the nominees for the Interior and Defense Ministers posts." 

How crazy is Nouri?
He was supposed to make those nominations no later than December 2010.  He never did.  And now, as his second term draws to an end, now he wants to pretend it's Osama's fault?

As Kirkuk Now observes, "For three weeks, Mr. Almaliki has been assaulting the Iraqi parliament and its speaker in his weekly speeches."

Alsumaria notes the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq leader Ammar al-Hakim and the KRG President Massoud Barzani also see Nouri's action as an attack on the Parliament and its powers as well as an assault on democracy.

As this and other problems Nouri's created continue to brew, National Iraqi News Agency reports President Barazni is announcing that measures may be taken (what measures are not clear) and he declares, "The Kurds have been subjected to genocide and buried in mass graves, as they sought for freedom and rejection of injustice.  The Kurds will not return back and will not give up their freedom."  Al Mada notes Barzani was warning Tuesday that the Baghdad government was at the crossroads of collapse.

Among the serious issues for the Kurds is the national budget.  There is no 2014 budget.  There still is no 2014 budget.  Yes, this reality escapes a lot of 'reporters' for Western 'news' outlets.  Nouri has a proposal, it just can't get the votes.

It won't pass Parliament as is.  When that happens, a leader has to find votes by what's called "horse trading" or a leader has to be willing to compromise.  Much has been made of the fact that Nouri's actions have left many working in the Kurdistan government without salaries.  But, as Al Mada reports today, Nouri's actions also mean that hundreds of his federal police have not been paid and they're getting increasingly vocal about his failure to pay them.

NINA notes Nouri's announcement that he'll just push through monies without the approval of Parliament and how Speaker al-Nujaifi states that dispensing public monies without the approval of Parliament "is an embezzlement of public money."  It's also a violation of the Constitution.  NINA reports:

The independent MP, Mahmoud Othman described Maliki's decision "to launch the money without approving the budget in the House of Representatives is unconstitutional or illegal, pointing out that Maliki's comments yesterday came as election campaign . "He told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / "The Constitution says the budget has to be approved by the House of Representatives then the money should be under the government to carry out its duties .
He added, "We do not know what is meant by al-Maliki to submit a complaint to the Federal Court against the House of Representatives," pointing out that" the Supreme Court cannot get out of the Constitution," adding that " Maliki's comments comes as early election campaign and it is political more than procedural and executive . "

Kitabat explains al-Nujaifi declared that this is not only an illegitimate action but yet another attempt on the part of Nouri to ignite a new crisis to distract from his already existing failures.

Nouri can't continue his assault on Anbar without his federal police.

Which is probably why thug Nouri is stating he alone can declare a budget and he can bypass Parliament to do so.

Nouri can't stop abusing the Constitution.

Under the guise of fighting 'terrorism,' Nouri continues to kill Iraqis.  National Iraqi News Agency reports Nouri's military shelled  al-Jughaifi, al-Shuhada and al-Asakari neighborhoods in Falluja leaving 4 civilians dead and twelve more injured (three of the injured were children).  Another round of shelling left 1 civilian dead and twelve more injured.

Has his attack on Anbar reduced violence?

Not at all.  In fact, through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 170 violent deaths for the month so far -- that's 170 deaths in five days.

And today?

National Iraqi News Agency reports 1 Mosul bombings left 1 person dead and another injured, a Kirkuk sticky bombing left one person injured, 2 Hilla car bombs (near al-Faiha hospital) left 2 people dead and six more injured, a Hilla car bomb near a casino left 1 woman dead and five more injured (there's a fourth Hilla bombing but it's unknown if anyone was wounded or killed),  a car bombing at a car show in al-Nahda left three people injured, a Shirqat sticky bombing left 1 police officer dead, 1 police officer was shot dead in Khalidiyah,  a Sadr City roadside bombing left 4 people dead and twelve injured, a Baghdad car bombing (Karada Mariam) left 2 people dead and eleven more injured, and a Baghdad car bombing (al-Amel district) left 4 people dead and sixteen injured.    Amjad Salah (Alsumaria) reports an assassination attempt on Supreme Council leader Mohammad Taqi al-Mawla via roadside bombing targeting the motorcade south of Mosul and while al-Mawla was not harmed one of his bodyguards was injured.


National Iraqi News Agency reports  2 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in al-Qarma, 1 police member was shot dead in Mosul, and  1 person was shot dead in Yusifiyah.   All Iraq News notes Salih Diri ("former mayor Abla") was shot dead in Basra today. Amjad Salah (Alsumaria) reports an assassination attempt on Supreme Council leader Mohammad Taqi al-Mawla via roadside bombing targeting the motorcade south of Mosul and while al-Mawla was not harmed one of his bodyguards was injured.


National Iraqi News Agency reports  the corpses of 2 women were discovered dumped east of Baghdad.  All Iraq News notes Salih Diri ("former mayor Abla") was shot dead in Basra today.

On top of all that, he can't explain why a flight didn't land in Baghdad.  What an idiot.  The basics, as explained by Kitabat, a plane took off in Lebanon headed for Baghdad.  Twenty minutes after take off, the decision was made by someone in Baghdad that the plane would not be allowed to land.  This was then conveyed to Beirut and the plane with the plane then turning around and heading back to Beirut.  Why?  Ghassan Hamid (Alsumaria), citing Nouri's spokesperson, reveals Nouri is claiming no one knows who gave the order.

Nouri's government has created an international incident -- demonstrating yet again what a joke his leadership is.  Dana Khraiche (Daily Star) reports:

MEA’s Public Relations Officer Rima Makkawi said the carrier was investigating why the plane was forced to return to Beirut, saying the earlier statement quoted rumors “and not the company’s reasoning.”
“We want to investigate what happened,” Makkawi told The Daily Star.

Right now, the best guess on what happened?  The plane waited six minutes after scheduled departure for Mahdi al-Amiri and a friend to be found and board.  They didn't.  The plane took off.  al-Amari's father threw a hissy fit -- yet another reason Nouri shouldn't appoint his friends and lackeys to positions of powe.  See Mahdi al-Amiri's father is Hadi al-Amiri is the Transportation Minister.  His son didn't make the flight.  The easiest explanation is that his father refused to allow it to land so it would turn around, go back to Beruit, where it would pick up little prince Mahdi.

Leave out the motive and who gave the order and this is what Oliver Holmes and Jamal Said (Reuters) report happened, "A passenger plane flying from Lebanon to Iraq on Thursday turned back after the Iraqi transport minister's son missed the flight and phoned Baghdad to stop the aircraft from landing, Middle East Airlines (MEA) said."  It also fits with the original statement issued by Middle East Airlines -- one they only retracted when Nouri began blustering and declaring he was going to launch an investigation immediately.  And it's certainly more believable than the statement made by Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Kareem al-Nuri who denied that was even supposed to be on the plane and that the reason for the refusal was that they "were cleaning operations in the airport and specific measures were taken.  We asked all flights not to land in Baghdad airport after 9 am (0600 GMT) but this flight arrived after this time, so we asked it to turn back."

This is part of the reason the protests in Iraq have been protesting continuously since December 21, 2012 -- the corruption.  While Iraqis are in need of jobs, in need of dependable public services, in need of security, the 'blessed' living in the Green Zone live it up on the public money and are corrupt and do whatever they want.  In this case, it appears Nouri's friend -- and, yes, Hadi al-Mari and Nouri go way back -- was able to use his job to send a plane back to Lebanon in order to pick up his son and then fly back.  Iraq Times calls it just that, an example of the ongoing corruption in Nouri's government.   Corruption is all over Iraq -- one issue is detailed here.

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