Thursday, November 20, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, November 20, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the Kurdish government is too eager to please the US government, VA officials attended a Senate hearing on veteran suicides without even bothering to brush up on basic figures (figures they should already know to perform their jobs), and much more.

AFP notes, "A suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives blew himself up in the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region on Wednesday, killing at least five people in the first big attack there in more than a year."

While Baghdad, the capital of central Iraq, and surrounding areas have been plagued with violence, the same has not been true of northern Iraq and the provinces making up the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Governments and especially not true of the city of Erbil.

The attack in the KRG capital on Wednesday should have caused some soul searching on the part of the government.

The Peshmerga are an elite Kurdish fighting force that's done a strong job protecting the KRG.

The attack yesterday should make the KRG re-evaluate the decision to send the KRG here, there, everywhere outside the KRG.

The attack should have the KRG questioning the decision to send the Peshmerga to Kobani.

Not only is that not a city bordering the KRG, it's not even in Iraq.

Why is the Peshmerga being deployed to Syria, to an area bordering Turkey?

This started at the beginning of the month.

The Peshmerga should be used to protect the KRG and any areas that immediately border the KRG.

Kobani is a Syrian border town -- it borders Turkey.  It's not even remotely near a Kurdish border.

Seems the Kurdish government's a little too eager to assist the US -- so much so that it's leaving their own region in danger.

Maybe it's the hope that, yet again, if they just try a little harder, the US will be a loyal partner?

That pathetic need has never accomplished anything for the Kurds.

And this week, they've been slamming the US government for not supplying them with weapons.

Press TV reports:

Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has blamed the West for failing to meet its promises about arming Kurdish fighters with sophisticated weaponry, Press TV reports.
KRG Masoud Barzani President criticized the West and the US-led coalition fighting the Takfiri ISIL group for not providing Kurdish Peshmerga forces with heavy weapons to help them counter the ISIL.

There has been an effort from some member of the US Congress to send arms to the Kurds.  Julian Pecquet (Al-Monitor) reports:

Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., introduced temporary legislation to arm the Peshmerga forces in their fight against the Islamic State (IS). Doing so would mark a reversal of current US policy, which has sought to reinforce the central government in a bid to stop the country from splintering along ethnic and sectarian lines.
"We thought a long time ago that our appeals to Baghdad to do the right thing would be heard and [former Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki's government turned a deaf ear month after month. We've reached the point where we have allies to our cause of defeating [IS] fighting in the field, without adequate equipment, and we are determined to see that they obtain it," Royce told Al-Monitor. "We want the weapons in the hands of the Peshmerga that are on the front line, now."
The bill comes in the wake of an international public relations push by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Top Kurdish officials — including Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Department of Foreign Relations, and presidential Chief of Staff Fuad Hussein — were in Washington this week handing out a list of demands to lawmakers and administration officials, while President Massoud Barzani berated western powers for not providing his forces enough weapons during an interview on French television Nov. 19.


They've gotten no weapons from the US.  All Iraq News notes the US government did issue a statement condemning the bombing, as did the United Nations and the United Kingdom.

None of those statements will provide protection to the KRG.

And there was one more important statement issued.

India TV reports the Islamic State issued a statement claiming credit for the bombing in Erbil -- claiming credit for the bombing All Iraq News notes is the worst Erbil's seen "since September 29, 2013." Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) adds, "The city has remained largely untouched by Iraq’s violence, even after the Islamic State seized nearby Mosul in June and pushed the front lines to within about 30 miles. Kurdish security officials, however, have feared a campaign of terror, noting that hundreds of thousands of refugees have pressed into Kurdish areas from regions now dominated by the Islamic State."

The issue of arming the Kurds was raised in today's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jeff Rathke:

QUESTION: Okay. Last night, I ran into the chief of staff of the Kurdistan president’s – Barzani, he’s the chief of staff of Barzani. And he talks about perhaps 100,000 – upward of 100,000 ISIL members in Iraq and Syria. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any update on numbers that --


MR. RATHKE: We’ve spoken to numbers in the past --


MR. RATHKE: -- and the general estimates, but I don’t have an updated number to share.

QUESTION: Do you think these kind of figures that are staggering, I mean, would they, let’s say, influence U.S. policy in terms of having boots on the ground or having forces on the ground, at least in Iraq or in the near future?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, I’m not going to comment on that particular number. I’m just not familiar with it. And I think also, the President and the entire Administration have been quite clear about our policy with respect to troops in combat roles.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean – okay. In view of the additions that took place last week – we’re talking about maybe an additional 1,500 whatever, advisors, military advisors and so on, and perhaps a discussion, as was done with General Dempsey last week, there is an indication that these forces might be involved in combat. Is there a likelihood that these forces might be involved in combat, if not directly, in an advisory kind of capacity?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I think the President has spoken to this quite clearly in just recent days. I don’t have anything to add to his words. There’s – we do not envision U.S. forces in combat roles.

QUESTION: Now, also, there are reports that the Iraqi forces, with American advisors, are getting ready to recapture Heet. It’s a town, a township called Heet or a city that’s called Heet. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a specific comment on that particular location. I did comment at the start about the success of Iraqi forces in breaking the siege at Baiji refinery, but I don’t have operational comments on every particular location.
Anything staying – wait, staying with Iraq?


MR. RATHKE: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Chairman Royce today introduced legislation that would provide the President with authority to give arms directly to the Kurds. Do you have any comment or reaction on that?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not familiar with the legislation that you have referred to, so I don’t want to comment on that. But we have spoken on several occasions about the matter of arms for Kurdish security forces and overall to the Iraqi Security Forces. Our position on that hasn’t changed. We continue to be supporters of Iraq’s Security Forces, of the Kurdish security forces as well.
And it’s our understanding that there was some discussion yesterday, which you may recall, about whether there were delays in shipments. I’d just like to point out, to kind of close that loop from yesterday, that the Government of Iraq has cleared and inspected incoming aircraft carrying weapons deliveries, but we are not aware that it has constrained or delayed the emergency supply of weapons to the Kurdistan Regional Government. That was a point made or a question raised yesterday.
And as well, the Government of Iraq itself has delivered over 300 tons of supplies in Iraqi air force aircraft to the KRG. We are committed to helping the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish security forces. Also, many of our coalition partners have been very supportive of Iraqi Kurdish forces. So we plan to continue that kind of support going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. So I guess the question is: Are you happy with the way things are currently going, with the current state of affairs, and thus do you not see any need for a change, any need for what’s contained in this legislation as a general proposition?

MR. RATHKE: Well, it remains the U.S. Government policy that all arms transfers should be coordinated through the sovereign, central Government of Iraq. We have no plans that I’m aware of to change that.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the legislation calls for direct supplies to the Kurds without the --

MR. RATHKE: I understand that question, but again, I’m not familiar with that legislation, so I don’t want to comment on it. But I simply want to indicate that our policy remains the same. Now, are we happy with the overall situation in Iraq? Of course not. That’s why we are leading a global coalition to disrupt and defeat ISIL. But that’s – we are very supportive of Iraqi and Kurdish security forces in that effort.

So  that was -- Uh, wait.  What was that about Heet?

QUESTION: Now, also, there are reports that the Iraqi forces, with American advisors, are getting ready to recapture Heet. It’s a town, a township called Heet or a city that’s called Heet. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a specific comment on that particular location. I did comment at the start about the success of Iraqi forces in breaking the siege at Baiji refinery, but I don’t have operational comments on every particular location.
Anything staying – wait, staying with Iraq?

Earlier today Iraqi Spring MC shared this on Tweet:

: اغتنام نحو (15) عجلة نوع همر تركتها القوات الحكومية بعد هروبها من معارك منطقة الدولاب في قضاء هيت .
32 retweets20 favorites

That's the Islamic State taking over the vehicles of Iraqi forces -- after Iraqi forces fled Heet to avoid combat with the Islamic State.  They fled, leaving behind 15 Hummers.

So much for the US government's propaganda effort -- amplified by the US press -- insisting the Islamic State is on the run.

As that propaganda effort falls apart, Johnlee Varghese (IBT) reports:

The US-led coalition against the ISIS seems to be crumbling as there have been reports on social media that several "Saudi pilots" have allegedly refused to fly missions to bomb ISIS targets.
The report, which was confirmed by an Iraqi journalist and political analyst, is bound to have severe repercussions not only on the coalition, but it may also spread the seeds of rebellion among other branches of the Saudi armed forces.

Violence continued throughout Iraq today.  Margaret Griffis ( reports, "At least 142 people were killed across Iraq, and another six were wounded. Almost all the casualties belonged to militants; however, there is a report that several children died from exposure after being forced to flee their homes in Anbar province."

Let's move over to the US Congress.  David Swanson Tweets:

  • In other news, Katherine Skiba (Chicago Tribune) reports US House Rep Tammy Duckworth gave birth this week to a baby girl Abigail O'kalani Bowlsbey.  Duckworth was in the news last week and this week because House Democrats voted on various leadership positions this week and Tammy had requested to vote by proxy because she was unable to fly to DC per doctor's orders.

    That didn't matter for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who led the "no" against Tammy's request.  Tammy Duckworth is also an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs while serving in Iraq.  That didn't matter to Nancy either.

    Craven liar and plastic surgery victim Nancy Pelosi went on to Tweet this crap:

    No, the picture doesn't reflect the nation's diversity.

    Our nation has many returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- where are they in the photo?

    They're not there.

    And this week, the liar Nancy used weasel nonsense to weasel out of supporting veterans.

    US House Rep Tim Walz was running to be Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

    He had the support of veterans groups and he himself had over 20 years in the Army National Guard.

    He was clearly qualified.

    Nancy Pelosi's pet US House Rep Corrine Brown is clearly not qualified.

    To ensure that the deeply ignorant Brown get the post, Nancy and her cronies insisted Tim Walz did not serve on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.


    Well, he had a waiver.  You can only serve on two Committees.  Tim served on the House Veterans Affairs Committee under a waiver.

    Because he served under a waiver, Nance and her goons argued, Tim didn't serve.

    No, that's not how it's supposed to work.

    But that is how whorish and crooked and unethical Nancy Pelosi is.

    She Tweeted the following earlier this month:

    As she proved by spitting on Tammy Duckwork and Tim Walz and on the publicly expressed wishes of veterans groups, her so-called claims to "salute" those who served are nothing but more lies from Nancy's mouth.

    She's an embarrassment to the country and she's lethal to the Democratic Party.

    Her disrespect of veterans will not be forgotten but will be her legacy, what the elderly woman will be remembered for.

    The House Veterans Affairs Committee needs real leadership.

    The VA has had one scandal after another in the last six years.

    When Corrine Brown managed to haul herself to a HVAC hearing, she didn't serve veterans.  She made excuses for the VA, she offered non-stop praise for the VA, she went out of her way to blame the VA's problems and scandals on veterans.

    And now this idiot -- thanks to Nancy Pelosi -- is a vote away from being the Democratic leader on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

    If you don't get what liars the VA officials are, let's drop back to yesterday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

    The first panel was the VA's Dr. Harold Kudler (Chief Consultant for Mental Health Service), Dr. Caitlin Thompson (Deputy Director, Suicide Prevention) and Dr. Dean Krahn (Deputy Director in the Office of Mental Health Operations).

    The topic was veterans suicides.

    This topic wasn't a surprise.

    This wasn't the Senate's attempt to spring a pop quiz on the VA.

    The topic was announced.

    The witnesses knew what it was.

    They offered written statements ahead of the hearing.

    Remember that as we go through this exchange.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  I want to pursue the line of questioning that Senator Johans began because I think it is absolutely critical. I've held meetings around my state with veterans. Some of them have occurred at what are called oasis which are basically college and school based centers. They're not medical, they're just meeting rooms.  They are literally a room where veterans can come together and call that place their own.  And they put up their posters, they have a coffee machine, they have doughnuts and they just come together "without medication" -- in quotes.  I met with a group just a week or so ago and they talked to me about -- in very graphic, moving terms -- about what it meant just to be with each other.  So I know that peer support specialists are part of this program.  With all due respect to the peer support specialist, I would respectfully suggest that this kind of resource may not always require a trained specialist but may just require a veteran -- and I have in mind the kind of veteran who got involved in part because I reached out to him at the suggestion of another veteran -- just made a call to him out of the blue.  And he came to one of these meetings.  So I don't think it involves necessarily a doctor, a nurse, a medical person but just a veteran who is empowered and enabled to perform this function.  So I don't want to use too much of my time with a statement about the importance of this topic but I would like to know -- and maybe you could provide this in writing -- specifically what the current peer support program embodies and how it could be expanded to fund meeting rooms on state campuses -- state schools which already which already should be a part of this program, private colleges and universities.  But then beyond the college or school setting, in communities, how that outreach function could be expanded and I -- I know this is a topic you are thinking about so I would appreciate your expanding on the testimony that you've given already.  I do want to ask you about your testimony because I do think that there are some very important questions about the age group that you don't cover.  We're talking about middle aged veterans which, as I understand it, are the 35 to 64-year-old group?  And in that group, rates of suicide have come down by 16% for those adults who use VHS services.  In the population as a whole, the rates have remained stable.  Correct?

    Dr. Dean Krahn:  [witness off mike]

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  Well they've gone up for the -- Exactly, they've gone up from 35.5 to 37.5 percent. Right?  So the rates are coming down for middle aged adults who use VA services.  Rates have gone up a little bit for the overall group.  But they seem fairly stable -- 35 to 37%

    Dr. Dean Krahn:  Uh -- authenticate the time with numbers -- uh, yeah, go ahead.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:   Well here's where I'm going, what that says to me is that among other age groups, suicide rates have risen dramatically for veterans who use your services. 

    Dr. Dean Krahn:  Yes.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  Not just women but men.

    Dr. Dean Krahn:  Yes.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  Can you tell me how much they've risen, for example, for -- and this is, so far as I can see, no where in your testimony for the age group 18 to 25 for 20 to 29, for the younger population of veterans because after all most of the veterans who are leaving the service right now are in that younger age group, right?  So what's the rate there 

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  Yeah, we are -- we are extremely concerned about this population --

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  Yes, I know you're concerned but --

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  I don't have the actual -- I believe it's up to 70 -- uh -- and this is, uh, over time.  The rates -- uh . . . I'd have to find the exact number.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  I think that is a -- I think that is the elephant in the room.

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:   Is . . what's . . .

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  The elephant in this room.   That younger group.  You're giving us middle aged veterans 

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  No --

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  -- who use your services .

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  We do -- I mean, we certainly do acknowledge that that rate is increasing and so what-what are we doing about this?  We need to provide and we are providing very, very specific outreach to those youngest veterans that --

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  Well we're talking about more than just outreach with all due respect.  We're talking about -- and this is the really critical point here -- we're talking about a group here that uses your services.

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  Absolutely.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  We've reached out to them.

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  Yep.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  They're in your doors, they're using your services -- 

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson: Yep.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  And they're committing suicide at a higher rate.

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  Yes.  So we're -- Yes.  We're trying to understand why is this?  We are -- We are at a loss as much -- as much as a lot of people are.  We --

    Senator Richard Blumenthal: This is -- with all of the publicity surrounding wait time, people dying -- are they dying because of the wait time, are they not?  People are dying at a higher rate --

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  Yes.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  -- who use your services.

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  Yes.  Yes, in this youngest age group.  Aboslutely.  We are very, very focused on this.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  I don't know what more to say because my time has expired.  I apologize Mr. Chairman --

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  We hear you.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal:  -- but,--  okay, thank you. 

    They came to talk about suicides but they didn't have the basic figures?

    I don't believe "we hear you" from the VA.

    Not when the officials can't -- or more likely won't -- provide answers to basic questions like the suicide rate for young veterans.

    This was such a basic detail that if the VA officials really didn't have that figure handy at the hearing, that may be an even more damning example of how unprepared the VA is and how little thought and effort they put into addressing issues.

    Her job, Caitlin Thompson's job, is to know that figure.

    Forget that she should have prepared for the hearing by having that and other figures handy.

    Doing her day-to-day job requires her to know that figure.  Her failure to do so goes to her failure at the job.

    Senator Blumenthal questioned the VA.

    Corrine Brown only compliments and sees her role as to excuse its actions and blame VA problems on veterans.