Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, July 22, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes continue, Jalal Talabani returns with zero impact, and much more.

First up, there was a hearing in the US on Robert McDonald who US President Barack Obama has nominated to be the Secretary of  Veterans Affairs.  Senator Patty Murray serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (and is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee).  Her office issued the following:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Tuesday, July 22, 2014                                                         (202) 224-2834
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee attended a committee hearing on the nomination of Robert A. McDonald to be Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. At the hearing, Murray delivered remarks and questioned McDonald on how he would improve trust and transparency at the VA, and how he would provide oversight of VA facilities in Washington state.
WATCH Murray’s Opening Remarks and Questions
Transcript of Murray questioning McDonald on VA facilities in Washington state:

MURRAY: “You know I’ve talked with prior VA leaders about concerns with some of the facilities in my home state of Washington.  The VA’s Access Audit flagged many of those facilities for some further investigation, and the most recent wait time and quality data that VA released shows shortcomings at Washington medical facilities. And I have raised in particular some concerns about what’s happening with the Spokane Medical Center, including whether staffing and budget shortfalls are hurting health care for veterans. If you’re confirmed… how are you going to provide oversight of these facilities and make sure that the resources are getting to the places where it’s needed?”
MCDONALD: “I think that’s part of the forecasting and projecting that I was talking about in conjunction with the strategic plan. What I heard from Secretary Gibson last week during his testimony was that the VA had not done a bottoms-up forecast before and that he was having some trouble getting that done. We’ve got to do a better job of that. We’ve got to be very open and transparent with all of you, and all of our constituencies as to what we’re forecasting, and then we have to put the systems in place that can make sure our veterans are getting the appropriate care. We’ve got to be able to have the doctors, the nurses, the clinicians, on the ground to be able to do that. I think digital technology will also play a role because it will help us…VA is known for a very good electronic medical record, and if we can get a scheduling system that is equally world class – and there’s no reason we can’t – I think we’ll be able to use that to better care for the veterans.”
Full text of Senator Murray’s Remarks:

“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.
“Just last week, we heard about the current state of VA health care and the Department’s efforts to address its numerous and diverse challenges.
“I’d like to take this moment to thank Acting Secretary Gibson for stepping up during this crisis and for taking immediate action to increase transparency around wait times, plan an external audit of VHA’s scheduling practices, and begin the procurement of a modern scheduling system.
“As Acting Secretary, he also identified $17.6 billion in critical funding needs to help increase veterans access to care, including10,000 more medical providers and support staff, improved IT systems, and additional clinic space for patients to receive care.
“The actions that he laid out before this Committee are important first steps.
“But even with some of these policy changes and additional funding, it will take time to see improvement and veterans will still be waiting far too long for care.
“And the Department’s ability to carry out its mission will remain hampered as long as a number of key leadership vacancies go unfilled.
“Even while we work to bring down wait times and improve accountability, there are still many other serious challenges VA must address: Twenty-two veterans still take their own lives each day. Thousands of veterans are alone, coping with their sexual assault. And while the Department has made commendable progress, it will be an uphill battle as we work to eliminate veterans homelessness and the claims backlog.
“The next Secretary will have to grapple with these, and many more issues, all on day one.
“Mr. McDonald, thank you for accepting this call to serve your fellow veterans
“You are faced with a truly monumental task.
“If confirmed, you will be responsible for the Department’s $163 billion budget, its 310,00 employees, and most importantly – the care of over 9 million veterans.
“The next Secretary must build a VA that can meet the needs of veterans today, while planning for the needs of millions of veterans in the decades to come.
“And in doing so, the next Secretary must overcome and transform a corrosive culture, unworthy of the Department’s dedicated and talented medical providers, who only want to help veterans.
“The next Secretary must also reform the poor management and communication structures that currently exist at all levels of VHA.
“Mr. McDonald, when we met in my office two weeks ago, you told me you were one of the veterans lost in the system during your transition from the military to civilian life. 
“I trust you understand what a critical moment this is for VA and why we must finally fix many of these systemic and cultural challenges.
“So I look forward to hearing your plans for addressing these, and many other, problems that will be discussed today, and how you will finally strengthen the VA for generations to come.
“Because our men and women in uniform need -- and have earned – a VA that provides high quality benefits and services, when and where they need them.”
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

I was at the hearing.  We may note it more in tomorrow's snapshot; however, there's a lot in Iraq today and Murray was the strongest in the hearing so that's enough for now.

Turning to the persecuted in Iraq, Adam Chandler (The Wire via MSN) notes, "ISIS, which recently rebranded as the Islamic State, has solidified its control over Iraq's second-largest city by imposing Sharia law and expelling Christians who won't convert to Islam. The end of last month marked the first time a mass wasn't held in the city in more than 1600 years."  While Catholic Online notes:

"You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately," a member of the Syriac clergy quoted the Sunni militants as telling the monastery's residents.
The monks reportedly pleaded to save some of the monastery's relics. The fighters refused and ordered them to leave on foot with nothing but their clothes on their backs.
Christian residents from the area say the monks walked several miles along a deserted road and were eventually picked up by Kurdish peshmerga fighters who drove them to Qaraqosh.
Five monks have been expelled from Mar Behnam. Christian families in the area said there may have been up to nine people living at the monastery.

Friday, the Islamic State informed the Christians of Mosul there were two choices if they wanted to go on living in Mosul: pay a tax or convert to Islam.  If they didn't want to do either and attempted to remain in Mosul, they would be killed.  The events and threats have been decried by many leaders including the Pope.  Independent Catholic News notes, "Pope Francis has reassured the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church Ignatius Youssef III Younan that he is following news out of Iraq with concern, particularly the dramatic situation of Christians in Mosul who have been threatened with death and seizure of their homes by Islamic militants demanding they leave or convert to their form of Islamic belief. Christians have lived in Iraq’s second largest city for nearly two thousand years; there are few, if any, left now in Mosul."  Also offering promises is the governor of Erbil Province.  AP notes that he (Nawzad Hadi) is promising "to protect fleeing Christians and other minority groups.  The territory is currently home to more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced people from Iraq and Syria, according to the United Nations."  Lebanon's Daily Star adds:

The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order – a collection of former members of the Baath party said to be helping ISIS in its conquests – has disassociated itself from violence against minority groups.
“Our army is an extension of the former national Iraqi army and includes all the factions of the Iraqi people such as Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen as well as Christians, Yazdis and Sabeans who want to liberate Iraq and relieve it from subordination,” the group said in a message posted on its official website Tuesday.
“We don’t have any connection or coordination with any group ... which calls for dividing Iraq and its people on ethnic and sectarian basis.”
Of course, it's not just the city of Mosul being targeted, surrounding cities and towns have been targeted as well. Jason Motlagh (Bloomberg News) reports on the neighboring city of Qaraqosh where IS has limited the amount of water the city gets:

Outside one of the town’s 12 churches, people queue from 6 a.m. until midnight to get their daily rations from a well. Flatbed trucks are joined by children with pushcarts and riders on bicycles bearing empty jugs. “Our lives revolve around water,” says Laith, 28, a school teacher who returned with his family a day earlier from a suburb of Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, 45 miles away, to which thousands of threatened Christians have migrated. Though aid agencies have erected several water depots around town, supplies are limited, barely enough to sustain large families in the 100-degree-plus heat. Plans to dig new wells will take at least several months to fulfill.

The attacks come shortly after a major discovery.  Alexandra Di Stefano Pironti (Rudaw) points out:

While the history of civilization is being demolished by war and religious zealots in the rest of Iraq, in the Kurdistan Region archeologists are marveling at a stunning discovery: the remains of a long-lost temple from the biblical kingdom of Urartu, dating back to the 9th century BC.
Kurdish archaeologist Dlshad Marf Zamua, who has studied the columns and other artifacts at the find, told Rudaw these were unearthed piecemeal over the past four decades by villagers going about their lives, digging for cultivation or construction.  
But only recently, after the discovery of life-size human statues and the unearthed columns, Zamua realized that the villagers had stumbled upon the temple of Haldi. That was one of the most important gods of Urartu, an Iron-Age kingdom around Lake Van in the Armenian highlands.

When the Christians in Mosul were threatened, the US State Dept had nothing to say.  After-the-fact?  The State Dept's a non-stop Chatty Cathy as evidenced by spokesperson Marie Harf at today's press briefing.

QUESTION: And just to follow up on Samir’s question yesterday about ISIS in Iraq and persecuting Christians, is there any update from the podium about any special ambassador for international religious freedom that might be able to – better equipped to deal with this kind of issue?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re very well-equipped to deal with this kind of issue. We have a number of people working on it. I don’t have an update for you on that. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Would you agree that when President Obama goes to the Dutch embassy and signs a book of condolence – largely it’s a ceremonial gesture. Would a nomination – would you agree that a nomination of this position of international – ambassador of international religious freedom, it would set – it’d be better optics, given --

MS. HARF: Why is it related in any way to the President signing a ceremonial book? I don’t see the link, and obviously, we’re committed to religious freedom regardless of whether or not there’s someone in that position.

QUESTION: Because it’s a gesture that says that we care.

MS. HARF: Well, we do care. We care very deeply, and I will see if there’s an update on any sort of nominations for you.

That was it on the topic because the journalist who cooperated with the State Dept on Benghazi, who e-mailed about what questions he'd ask and shared what a waste he thought discussing the Benghazi attack was?  That journalist or 'journalist' wanted to derail the discussion of Iraq.  Who knows, maybe that was worked out in e-mails before the briefing?  Maybe not.

Listen to me, don't walk that street
There's always an end to it
Come and be free, you know who I am
We're just living people

We won't have a thing
So we got nothing to lose
We can all be free
Maybe not with words
Maybe not with a look
But with your mind

-- "Maybe Not," written by Chan Marshall (also known as Cat Power), first appears on Cat's You Are Free.

The issue came back up in the briefing.

QUESTION: Marie, could I go to the issue of the Mosul Christians?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I mean, this is – for the first time in 1,800 years, these people have been uprooted and thrown out of their home. I mean, are you just resigned to just issuing condemnations? I mean --

MS. HARF: Absolutely not, Said.

QUESTION: -- they appropriated their property --

MS. HARF: We take the humanitarian situation very seriously.

QUESTION: -- they are forcing people to convert to Islam. I mean, they have done some really horrible, brutal things.

MS. HARF: They have. And we have worked very closely with the United Nations and other NGOs about the humanitarian situation. Since June, we have announced a new $13.8 million in humanitarian assistance to international organization partners working to help displaced persons and conflict victims in Iraq. This is helping across the board – obviously, not just with Christians, but this is part of our ongoing humanitarian effort.

Also, on July 3rd, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard met with officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government to discuss – to thank them for their hosting of IDPs, to discuss ways we can help with the displaced Iraqis. So we’re constantly engaged on the topic.

Does it really sound like the US government is doing anything?


Turning to the topic of violence, Maria Caspani (Reuters) reports the findings of Maplecroft's latest Terrorism and Security Dashboard 'monitoring service' which ranks the violence in the world to determine the most violent countries in the world.  Topping the charts?  Nouri's Iraq.  "Iraq was rated the highest risk country for violence in the analysis with 3,158 attacks that resulted in 5,929 fatalities, an increase of 2,188 deaths from the previous year."

What an accomplishment for Nouri and you can't talk violence without talking thug Nouri who is responsible for so much of it.

Despite leading Iraq to the brink, thug Nouri al-Maliki thinks he deserves a third term as prime minister.

Some people think he deserves a third term.  Those people, however, are part of an ever shrinking minority.  Dow Jones Business News reports:

In recent days, high-level delegations of Iranian military officials and diplomats held a flurry of meetings in Baghdad and the Shiite religious capital Najaf, where they were told that Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, has lost the confidence of all but his most loyal inner circle, Iraqi officials with knowledge of the meetings said.
One Iraqi official briefed on the meetings said Iranian representatives signaled during their visit that Tehran has " really started to lean away from Maliki as a candidate."
Also critically, Mr. Maliki's bid to stay in office has, say prominent Shiite politicians, run into opposition from Iraq's top Shiite spiritual authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has become central to the grinding talks between political blocs to form a government.

With Iraq close to the breaking point, AFP notes that Nouri decided to again lash out at Jordan.

Nouri loves to lash out.  His lashing out and attacking may have resulted in Iraq being without a president for nearly two years.

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 remained in Germany until last weekend. 

He returned Saturday.  Asharq Al-Awsat reports:

Amid continuing political deadlock in Iraq, the selection of the country’s next president remains mired in confusion despite the return of incumbent president Jalal Talabani from medical treatment abroad on Saturday.
Reports say that Iraq’s Kurdish parties were unable to agree on the nomination of a single candidate for the presidency over the weekend, despite expectations that a parliamentary session to confirm the choice will take place on Wednesday.
The Iraqi presidency, a largely ceremonial post, is reserved for a member of the country’s Kurdish minority under an informal agreement that emerged during attempts to form a new government in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.

UNAMI issued the following today:

Baghdad, 22 July 2014 – The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, yesterday sent a letter to President Jalal Talabani, welcoming his return to his homeland Iraq and wishing him a full and speedy recovery.

“Your homecoming could not be timelier given the unprecedented challenges facing Iraq at this critical juncture”, Mr. Mladenov wrote. 
“Today, more than ever, Iraq needs your successor to take up the challenge of bridging the differences between communities with the same vigour and enthusiasm that you have shown throughout so many years”, Mr. Mladenov also stressed.  
The SRSG seizes the opportunity to urge the political blocs in the Council of Representatives to proceed without delay with the election of President Talabani’s successor during its scheduled session of Wednesday, 23 July.
“At a time when parts of the country are under the control of terrorist groups, over one million Iraqis have been displaced and minorities are being uprooted from their homes, Iraq needs to see its political leaders come together and compromise in the interest of all components of Iraq’s society”, Mr. Mladenov said.

  • If reaction to Jalal's return seems muted, so is he publicly.  The big return happens and does so without Jalal addressing a crowd.  The health?  Jalal's still not even up to 50% on his recovery.

    Staying with violence and Nouri,  National Iraqi News Agency reports Nouri bombed Mosul today resulting in 7 deaths -- suspects, Nouri's government insists -- and Nouri bombed Falluja resulting in the deaths of 14 suspects.  Kamal Namaa (Reuters) adds, "Ahmad al-Shami, spokesman for the Fallujah health office – the local arm of the national Health Ministry – said the 19 dead included women and children and that Fallujah hospital had also received 38 wounded people since Monday evening.

    BBC News notes a Baghdad suicide bombing left 21 people dead. IANS notes the death toll rose to 22 and that forty-five more were left injured.  Citing an Interior Ministry source, Xinhua also notes the same number of dead and wounded.

    NINA notes a Baquba roadside bombing left two people injured, a battle east of Ramadi left 7 rebels dead, and an Anna car bombing left one person injured.   All Iraq News adds that Imam Abdul Rahman al-Jobouri was shot dead in Baquba, the Islamic State executed five civilians in Jalawla, a Beiji mortar attack left 1 man dead and his wife injured, and the corpses of 6 taxi drivers were discovered dumped in Kirkuk.

    For those who feel Barack has been AWOL on Iraq, they may find confirmation in the latest from AP which reports Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated he and Barack no longer speak directly; however, he does discuss events in Iraq with US Vice President Joe Biden.

    Lastly,  Trina's "Victoria Grayson," Mike's "Jack Porter," Rebecca's "character i would be on abc's revenge," Elaine's "Faux-manda,"  Betty's "Ashley Davenport," Stan's "Conrad Grayson," Kat's "I choose Lydia," Ann's "Victoria," Marcia's "Mason" and Ruth's "Nolan Ross" were part of a theme post about the TV show Revenge.


    al arabiya news