Monday, June 02, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, June 2, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, May's death toll is high, Nouri claims he has the seats in Parliament to form a government, Nouri's War Crimes continue, the VA scandal continues in the US, and much more.

Nouri al-Maliki's War Crimes never end.  Since January, he's been bombing residential areas in Falluja and killing and wounding civilians.  National Iraqi News Agency reports Nouri's bombing of Falluja's resedential neighborhoods left 6 people dead and twenty injured.

That was not the only violence today.  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) counts 40 dead from violence today.

National Iraqi News Agency reports a Nasiriyah roadside bombing left six people injured, an Arsriah Village bombing killed 2 people and injured four more, a Najaf car bombing killed 13 people and left seventy injured,  a Mishahda suicide car bomber took his own life and the lives of 2 police members with five more left injured, 1 person was shot dead in Falluja (three more wounded), the Ministry of the Interior announced that bombings in Babil, Dhi Qar and Najaf left 2 people dead and 21 injured (the Najaf bombing they're counting was a roadside bombing that injured 8, not the car bombing we already noted), 1 police member was shot dead in Baghdad, the Island and the Desert Operations Command announced they killed 7 suspects in Wady Soub, Joint Operations Command announced they killed 5 suspects, a Mosul battle left 1 Iraqi soldier dead and another injured, 1 person was shot dead in al-Khalis, 1 little girl was shot dead in an attack on her al-Wajeehiya home and her father was left injured, 1 person was shot dead just outside Baquba, 1 person was shot dead in Al-Muqdadiya (another injured), a Mousl roadside bombing killed 3 police members, a battle near Ramadi left 7 rebels dead (twenty-one more injured),  a Yarmouk roadside bombing left 2 people dead, Ahmed Nabil (a member of Nineveh Governor Ethyl al-Nujaifi's protection service) was shot dead outside his al-Aarabi home,  and 1 corpse was discovered in Baghdad ("signs of strangulation and stabbing by sharpen tool").

Over the weekend, the month of May concluded and the monthly death toll was noted.  UNAMI issued the following:

Baghdad, 1 June 2014 – According to casualty figures released today by UNAMI, a total of at least 799 Iraqis were killed and another 1,409 were injured in acts of terrorism and violence in May*.

The number of civilians killed was 603 (including 144 civilian police), while the number of civilians injured was 1108 (including 218 civilian police). A further 196 members of the Iraqi Security Forces were killed, and 301 were injured (not including casualties from Anbar operation).
“I strongly deplore the sustained level of violence and terrorist acts that continues rocking the country. I urge the political leaders to work swiftly for the formation of an inclusive government within the constitutionally mandated time frame and focus on a substantive solution to the situation in Anbar”, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG), Mr. Mladenov said.
Anbar excluded, Baghdad was the worst affected Governorate with 932 civilian casualties (315 killed, 617 injured), followed by Ninewa (113 killed 248 injured), Salahuddin (94 killed 146 injured), Kirkuk (22 Killed, 60 injured), Diyala (38 killed 28 injured). 
*CAVEATS: Data do not take into account casualties of the current IA operation in Anbar, for which we report at the bottom the figures received by our sources.

Operations in Anbar
According to information obtained by UNAMI from the Health Directorate in Anbar, the total civilian casualties in Anbar up to 30 May were 195 killed and 499 injured, with 95 killed and 222 injured in Ramadi and 100 killed and 277 injured in Fallujah.

Other counts were compiled as well.  Margaret Griffis ( notes, " compiled 2,249 fatalities, of which 1,075 were civilian and security member deaths. Another 1,953 people were wounded, including 87 militants."   Iraq Body Count notes 1027 civilians killed for the month.  AFP's count is 900.

We're getting closer to the half-way mark for 2014.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweeted the following:

Today, the Economist offers, "Most Iraqis here appear to support the end of Saddam’s regime, but criticise the American government and military officials for inadequate post-war planning that has left Baghdad and much of the country in chaos. In 2013 over 7,800 civilians were killed, surpassing the total of 6,787 in 2008, during the conflict. This year is looking just as deadly, although many Iraqis hope against the odds that the recent elections will bring progress and stability."

Thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki wants a third term.  His office issued the following today:

His Excellency Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki said in an interview with Al-Iraqiya TV which will be aired at a later time we now have 175 guaranteed votes, but we want more partners who agree with us in the program and principles to be adopted in the next government , and he called on all political blocs to adopt understanding and dialogue in order to form the government as soon as possible and move towards construction and development.
With regards to the adherence of some political blocks and some politicians to what they call red lines against this or that party , Mr. Prime Minister said: I recommend that everyone read the developments well , there has been so many developments during the past four years and none can holds the neck of the political process anymore .
On the goal of the conference, which the Prime Minister called for in Anbar , his Excellency said it is intended to isolate the terrorists and strengthen national unity in Anbar and address reconstruction efforts .
On the issue of exporting oil from the Kurdistan region and its consequent effects , the Prime Minister said, that this act is in violation of the Iraq's sovereignty and Iraq's constitution , it cannot be accepted under any conditions. He stressed that there is no such thing as cutting the salaries of the Kurdistan region, but this is a banner raised for mobilization and incitement.

Nouri may or may not have the votes his office states.  He's prone to making claims that aren't true.  All Iraq News notes, "The Ahrar bloc within the Sadr Trend and the Kurdistani Democratic Party announced rejecting the nomination of the Premier, Nouri al-Maliki, for the third term of the Prime Minister Post."

The KDP is the most popular  political party in the Kurdistan Regional Government.  KRG President Massoud Barzani is the head of the KDP.  (Most popular assertion is based on the KDP coming in first in the KRG provincial elections and first in the April 30th parliamentary elections.)  On the subject of the Kurds, Hiwa Barznjy (Niqash) explores where the Kurds stand on the issue of Iraq's next prime minister:

The two most popular political parties originating in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan are the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP. The KDP appears to have 25 seats in Baghdad while the PUK has 21 – the next largest Iraqi Kurdish party, the Change movement, has nine seats.

And the PUK and KDP feel differently about working with al-Maliki for another term. The KDP are presently totally committed to getting rid of him while the PUK isn’t quite as sure about that. The PUK’s ailing leader, Jalal Talabani, who has been in hospital in Germany for over a year, is actually the President of Iraq and it is well known that the PUK has a better relationship with al-Maliki than the KDP. The question of whether the PUK would cut a separate deal with al-Maliki to become part of his coalition government has already been mooted.

The other question is whether the KDP would drop out of the united Kurdish group to support Ammar al-Hakim, who they are allegedly closer to. Al-Hakim is the leader of one of the other major Shiite Muslim parties in Baghdad, the Ahrar bloc, which represents the interests of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq in politics.

Parliamentary elections were held April 30th.  May is ending but there's no one named prime minister yet.

In 2010, Iraq set the record for the longest time between elections and the formation of a government. They've since been bested and Nouri may be hoping they can reclaim their title.  It certainly seems like a possibility based upon the remarks of MP Abbas al-Bayati.  All Iraq News reports the State of Law MP insists that "the next government" will be formed "before the end of 2014."  Way to shoot for the stars.  If the government was formed on December 30th, that would be eight months to form the government.

The April 30th elections were a farce.  Nouri and the IHEC did not allow Falluja and Ramadi to vote.  Nouri's forces showed up in Sunni dominant areas and kept the polls closed for half-a-day before allowing them to open.  It was one stunt after another guaranteed to decrease turnout.  

Reuters' Ned Parker Tweeted the day of those elections:

More than 200 journalists waiting to vote got kicked out of a polling center at 6 pm deadline by SWAT who said leave or else.

Nouri wants a third term but he's unwanted by so many political blocs and Iraqi citizens.  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) notes:

The Iraqi Kurdish are not the only ones to have made this kind of announcement. The Sadrist movement, led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and represented in Parliament by the Ahrar bloc, has also said they don’t want to see their former ally, al-Maliki, given a third term as Prime Minister.

Another of al-Maliki’s most important former allies, the Muwatin, or Citizen, coalition which represents the interests of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by another cleric Ammar al-Hakim, has expressed similar sentiments.

Both of the latter are mostly composed of Shiite Muslims, the same sect as al-Maliki. Meanwhile al-Maliki’s long time opponents – mostly Sunni Muslim blocs and parties as well as some secular blocs – have also said they won’t contemplate a third term for al-Maliki.  

Al-Maliki’s bloc has won around 94 seats and it’s highly likely this share will increase to over 100 – anything from 102 to 110, analysts suggest - as the big bloc attracts smaller parties to its ranks to try and form a coalition big enough to be allowed to form the next government.

Meanwhile all of those who oppose a third term for al-Maliki number more than enough to form a government – they have around 180 seats out of Iraq’s 328 seat Parliament. And some have suggested, perhaps rather optimistically, that these groups could form a kind of grand coalition because they all have the same focus: keeping al-Maliki out. Such a coalition could be described as grand because it would cross most of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian boundaries, uniting all those who usually jostle for political power for their own sector of Iraqi society; it would herald a true post-sectarian age for Iraqi politics. 

If the PUK has thrown in with Nouri, it will further sideline the PUK.

In the provincial elections, Gorran (Change) destroyed the PUK.  Months later in the parliamentary elections, the PUK increased their turnout via Jalal Talabani.

December 2012,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17, 2012 following Jalal's argument with Iraq's prime minister and chief thug Nouri al-Maliki (see the December 18, 2012 snapshot).  Jalal was admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20, 2012, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.

A video showing Jalal -- the first since he went to Germany -- was distributed ahead of the parliamentary elections and rallied the PUK (Jalal is the head of the PUK) bumping up their turnout.

That's a one time stunt.

Video of Jalal won't do a damn thing again.

Jalal in the flesh might.

But if the PUK is partnering with Nouri, they will be sidelined in the KRG and Gorran will be the second most popular party.  Nouri has refused to implement Article 140 (which would determine Kirkuk's status) and he's refused to hand over to the KRG their slice of the 2014 federal budget.  These are two big reasons he's disliked, they are not the only ones.  With the KDP standing up, if Jalal's PUK cowers at the feet of Nouri, they will be revealed as spineless and craven.  Gorran will easily replace them.

In the KRG, the longing for a Kurdish nation-state has never gone away.  It's also become a more visible dream with KDP members and others floating that the KRG might break away from Iraq.  If the PUK can't lead the vision, the Kurdish people have no need to support the PUK.

And with Jalal on a deathbed or a never recovery, the PUK will look even more out of touch.

Still on the issue of the elections, All Iraq News reports MP Nabeel Harbo states that his alliance (Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi heads the Motahidoun Alliance) is considering suing Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission over the refusal to investigate serious allegations of voter fraud:

Speaking to All Iraq News Agency (AIN), he said "Motahidoun Alliance provided evidences to the IHEC over the breaches that accompanied the elections," noting that "We are waiting for the IHEC to deal with these evidences with justice and independence." 

On the topic of the Kurds . . .


Pope Francis received Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani on Friday.
Barzani's office issued the following:

Rome, Italy ( – Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday.
At the outset of the meeting, Pope Francis said that he was aware of the situation of Kurds and of their tragedies in the past. He commended President Barzani and the people of Kurdistan for what they have achieved, particularly in offering the Kurdistan Region as a safe haven for Syrian refugees and for Christians fleeing violence in other parts of Iraq.
The Pope also praised President Barzani for KRG’s policy of promoting tolerance and peaceful co-existence among different religious communities. He expressed his hope that the KRG would continue to enjoy peace and prosperity.
For his part, President Barzani talked about tolerance in Kurdistan as a long-standing tradition that has popular support. He said that peoples of different religions have made sacrifices together in the past and now live side by side in peace and freedom.
On the situation of refugees and Christians who have sought refuge in Kurdistan, President Barzani said that the KRG would continue to provide assistance to them as a humanitarian duty.

Rudaw notes Barzani also met with Italy's Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and that "the Kurdish flag was displayed alongside the Iraqi flag" at both meetings.  Barzani's Chief of Staff Fuad Hussein explains, "Putting the Kurdistan flag is a message for the people of Kurdistan that the outside world understands the status of the Kurdistan Region.  It's the recognition of the identity of Kurdistan's people and the legal identity of the people of Kurdistan."  

 While Barazani leads on Kurdish hopes, Jalal's still in his sickbed -- for two years now.  Or maybe he's dead like the rumors say.  Regardless, Barzani is showing real leadership while Jalal remains out of the country.  Gorran may emerge as one of the KRG's two dominant political parties less for what Gorran does and more because the PUK self-implodes.

Last week in the United States, the calls for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki intensified.  May 5th, the American Legion called for Shinseki's resignation when the latest VA scandal had emerged (two sets of lists were kept on medical appointments -- one a fantasy one presented as real showing that veterans were receiving medical appointments within 14 days, the other list, the real list, showing veterans waiting weeks and months). US Senators -- Democrats and Republicans -- began calling for Shinseki to resign.  Jewish War Veterans of America joined the American Legion's call for Shinseki to resign in a statement which included:

Washington, DC – In response to the damaging and verified accusations of mismanagement at VA hospitals, and the failure of VA leadership to properly respond to these claims, the Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV) calls for the immediate resignation of VA Secretary General Eric Shinseki.
“These systemic breaches of basic medical and ethical conduct on the part of the various administrators of many VA hospitals are beyond the pale. A new broom must come in and sweep the trash out, clean house from top to bottom,” said JWV National Commander Dr. Robert Pickard, COL (USA Retired). “I met with Shinseki in Feb. 2014 and voiced veterans' concerns regarding the bonuses being distributed to various VA administrators in light of these horrible allegations. He corrected me and said that they were not "bonuses" but rather they were ‘performance awards.’ A stink weed by any other name would smell as bad! We respect and honor Shinseki's past experience and leadership in the military, and we honor his service to our country, but now it is past time to move on and get the job done by a new leader.”
“It is time, in fact, it is past time, to restructure the leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is also time, in fact, it is past time, for a criminal investigation at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many veterans are now concerned about going to the VA. Trust is gone.” said Bob Zweiman, JWV Coordinating Committee Chairman. “It is important that new leadership take over and straighten out, swiftly and decisively, the many, many failings at the VA. From huge furniture purchases, to conferences being held at excessive costs, to performance awards that were not justified, and worst of all, to the patient delays at a steadily increasing number of VA hospitals.”
As the scope of the allegations widens, it has become clear that the current leadership at the VA is not equipped to handle these challenges and investigate these matters.

Removing Shinseki from office is one of the significant ways to demonstrate that our government is not only willing, but actually doing, the right thing for our veterans.  

Friday, Shinseki resigned.  Sunday, the editorial board of the Modesto Bee weighed in, noting, "Still, this is a stain on Obama’s presidency. He has promoted his interest in veterans and again declared this week that he is the president who ends wars. Part of doing so responsibly is making sure that those who fought are taken care of when they return home. His administration has not done that. Shinseki’s ouster should not end the attention the White House, Congress or the public pays to the needs of veterans. That truly would be a national disgrace."  Susan Page (USA Today) reports:

Americans' confidence in the medical care provided for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has plummeted to new lows in the wake of the VA scandal, a USA TODAY Poll finds. Most people see the problem as widespread and systemic.
Just one in five rate the job the government does in providing veterans with medical care as excellent or good, about half the percentage who said that in a Pew Research Center survey in 2011. Then, half rated the care as "only fair" or poor; now seven in 10 do.

Lastly, Senator Bernie Sanders is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  His office issued the following yesterday:

BURLINGTON, Vt., June 1 – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today outlined a comprehensive legislative package to address “reprehensible” behavior by VA officials and to correct underlying problems in access to medical care.

“There must be a culture of honesty and accountability within the VA and people who have lied or manipulated data must be punished. But we also have to get to the root causes of the problems that have been exposed. The simple truth is that with 2 million more veterans coming into the system in recent years there are many facilities within the VA that do not have the doctors, nurses and other personnel that they need to provide quality care in a timely way.”

Sanders said a Thursday hearing of the veterans committee will consider the Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act of 2014. The measure then could be put on a fast track for consideration by the full Senate. It would give the VA authority to immediately remove senior executives based on poor job performance while preventing wholesale political firings. It would provide veterans who can’t get timely appointments with VA doctors the option of going to community health centers, military hospitals or private doctors. It would authorize VA to lease 27 new health facilities in 18 states. It would authorize emergency funding to hire new doctors, nurses and other providers in order to address system-wide health care provider shortages and to take other steps necessary to ensure timely access to care.  To address primary care doctor shortage for the long-term, the bill would authorize the National Health Service Corps to award scholarships to medical school students and to forgive college loans for doctors and nurses who go to work at the VA.

Altogether, the bill would provide education, retirement security and other benefits for millions of veterans and their families. Virtually all of the provisions already have been approved by the Senate committee, many of them by unanimous votes, during previous legislative markup sessions.

Sanders said the need for congressional action was underscored last Wednesday when the VA’s independent Office of Inspector General found that officials had lied about wait times for appointments at the Phoenix VA and other medical facilities. A separate audit delivered to President Barack Obama on Friday disclosed attempts by VA employees at two-thirds of VA hospitals and clinics to cover up delays in providing patient care. 

Other provisions in Sanders’ legislative package would:

• Upgrade VA’s antiquated scheduling systems.

• Require President Obama to establish a commission on VA health care access and recommend, within 90 days, actions to bolster capacity. 

• Extend comprehensive services and benefits to the most severely injured pre-9/11 veterans; standardize the process for sending patients to community health centers, military hospitals or other health care providers; and extend from five to 10 years access to VA health care for all recently-separated veterans.

• Provide help for veterans who suffered significant spinal cord, reproductive and urinary tract injuries and who now want to have children.

• Bolster the VA’s ongoing effort to eliminate shrinking but still unacceptable backlogs in processing claims for disability benefits.

• Make certain that all veterans get in-state tuition rates for college costs covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

• Improve the delivery of care and benefits to veterans who experienced sexual trauma while in the military.

• Remove the VA from annual budget battles by adopting so-called “advance appropriations” to protect veterans in case of a government shutdown.

• Restore a 1 percent cut in retirement cost-of-living adjustments that Congress enacted for current military service members. 

To read a summary of the complete bill, click here.