Saturday, November 22, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, November 22, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Haider al-Abadi's 'leadership' continues to be questionable, the Veterans Affairs Dept continues to do an awful job -- in public -- as they demonstrated before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and much more.

Iraq has a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi -- or rather their prime minister has a new name.  Otherwise, things are pretty much the same in Iraq.

  • Human Rights Watch issued an alert Friday which includes:

    An attack on November 19, 2014, targeting Erbil’s governorate building killed at least 10 civilians and wounded dozens more. Attacks the same day in Baghdad killed or wounded 18 civilians. In early October, at the beginning of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar and especially holy for Shia worshippers, five car bomb attacks in Karbala killed at least 15 people and injured another 48. Since then, other bombings have killed dozens more in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and elsewhere.
    “Bombings across Iraq are killing and maiming civilians in attacks so frequent they barely make the local news,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “But a government response that too often includes arbitrary arrests and summary executions will only fuel the cycle of abuses.”
    Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should redouble efforts to protect all civilians – Sunni and Shia, Arab and Kurd, and other minorities – in their fight against the militant group Islamic State (also known as ISIS), which has claimed responsibility for many of the attacks. Iraqi authorities have frequently responded to ISIS attacks with human rights abuses against Sunni civilians, including arbitrary arrests and detentions. In July, Human Rights Watch documented government-backed militias’ summary execution of dozens of Sunni civilians in areas where they are battling ISIS.

    Does that sound like a new Iraq?

    No.  And Robert A. Manning (National Interest) observes:

    The strategy, as announced, had a coherent logic to it. But it required some large leaps of faith. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee last week, “One of our assumptions is that the government of Iraq will be inclusive. One of the assumptions is that the Iraqi security forces will be will to take back al-Anbar province…If those assumptions are rendered invalid, I will have to adjust my recommendations.”
    The strategy assumed that once Maliki was removed as Iraqi prime minister, a new leader would form a more inclusive government, one that Sunnis would not reject. Bombing would buy time until Iraqis could be trained to fight ISIS—boots on the ground that would complement our air war.

    But so far, Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, has done little to change Sunnis’ perceptions of Baghdad. Appointing the head of the Badr Shia militia to the powerful post of minister of the interior hasn’t helped. Will Baghdad fully allow the fostering of Sunni national guard forces? A recent shake-up in Iraq’s defense ministry and senior military leadership may be a step in that direction. But it will be at least six to eight months before it is possible to judge whether Sunnis have any confidence in the new government.

    In fairness, Haider al-Abadi can point to one bit of success.  AFP reports, "The Iraqi government transferred $500 million to the autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday as part of a deal aimed at ending long-running oil and budget disputes, the finance minister said."  Press TV explains:

    Hoshyar Zebari said in Baghdad on Wednesday that his ministry transferred the sum to the account of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) earlier in the day under the deal which requires Iraq to resume funding Kurdish civil servant salaries in return for a share of Kurdish oil exports.
    He said the KRG began supplying 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day to State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) storage tanks in the Turkish port city of Ceyhan on Tuesday.

    "This mutual implementation means that the two sides are ready to resolve all the other issues and all the issues are up for discussion," Zebari stated.

    That isn't minor.  For over a year now, the Kurds have been denied their part of the federal budget.  Nouri al-Maliki, the former prime minister and forever thug, attempted to use the federal budget to blackmail the Kurds.

    So resolving this isn't minor.

    But it's also true that the only resolution Haider al-Abadi can claim thus far also involves oil.  Stick a pin in that, we'll come back to it.

    I would argue you could even give him credit for a meet-up/photo-op this week.  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports that  Haider met in Baghdad with Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the two held a joint-press conference at which Haider declared, "There is an agreement on information exchange and security cooperation (with Turkey), and moreover, the Turkish prime minister has offered military cooperation in fighting against the terror of Daash (IS' Arabic acronym), which is not only a threat against Iraq but also against Turkey and the whole region,,"

    That's news.

    And not because Xuequan reports, "Turkey will train Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq, local Hurriyet Daily News reported on Friday.  Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government have been in cooperation for a training program in northern Iraq for a month, according to the daily report."  That's an arrangement between the Turkish government and the Kurdish government and the two have been getting along amazingly well for several years now.

    The same cannot be said of the Turkish government and the central government out of Baghdad.

    And the only person to blame for that is Nouri al-Maliki.

    He repeatedly called the government of Turkey (which shares a border with Iraq) terrorists.  He insulted them non-stop and did so in a public fashion.  Nouri also attacked the governments of Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia -- pretty much every government in the region except for the government of Iran.

    So Haider can get some credit for that as well.

    But what else can he get credit for?

    The UN News Centre reports:

    In an interview with UN Radio, Nickolay Mladenov, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), said that there is “general agreement,” not just in the UN but in Iraq as well, that the security element of dealing with ISIL is one part of the solution, but is not the comprehensive solution to the problems facing the country.
    “What also needs to happen is a political process, and a political process that allows for the various communities of Iraq to come back together,” Mr. Mladenov stressed.
    “The last decade has seen a lot of violence that has been driven by divisive politics, that [in turn] has been driven by the communities looking more inwardly rather than working together, and it is time now to address that,” he added.

    The political solution.

    Remember when Barack used to note that.

    Before he got sucked into military fantasies?

    It was only months ago that Barack was insisting a political solution was the only answer.

    But he and his administration pour all their time into military issues -- building a bombing coalition, finding a country or countries stupid enough to put 'boots on the ground,' etc.

    Whatever happened to the political solution?

    Back in August, Mike Whitney (CounterPunch) felt Barack was lying when he spoke of a political solution:

    So how does Obama’s bombing of ISIS jihadis outside of Ebril (N Iraq) fit with his earlier comments that he wouldn’t help defend Iraq unless their was movement on the political front? (In other words, until Maliki was removed from office.)
    He sure changed his tune fast, didn’t he? But, why?
    Oil, that’s why.   Let’s put it this way: There are 10 reasons why Obama bombed ISIS positions outside of Ebril. They are:
    1–Exxon Mobil
    3–Aspect Energy
    4–Marathon Oil Corporation
    5–Hillwood International Energy
    6–Hunt Oil
    7–Prime Oil
    8–Murphy Oil
    9–Hess Corporation
    10–HKN Energy
    So what’s the message here? What is Obama telegraphing to ISIS about US policy?

    It’s simple. “You can kill as many Arabs and Christians as you want, but if you lay a finger on even one oil well, we’ll nuke you into oblivion.”

    More and more, it appears Mike Whitney made the correct call.

    And remember that the Kurdish oil issue -- noted earlier -- is an oil issue.

    Earlier this week, David Ignatius (Washington Post) observed, "U.S. officials believe that Sunni support has been galvanized by the removal of polarizing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite. That’s true, but fighting the jihadists will be a long uphill road."

    Regardless of whether or not that would work -- at this point or months ago, the fact remains that this 'plan' has been on the table for months and nothing's happening on it.

    Al-Monitor and other outlets can -- and have -- reported on that failure.

    It's only in the US that news consumers are 'sheltered' from the truth.

    Well alright
    You gave it all up for a dream
    Fate proved unkind
    To lock the door and leave no key
    -- "Shelter," written by Maria McKee and Steven Van Zandt, first appears on Lone Justice's Shelter

    The US government won't help on a political solution but they'll gladly keep bombing.  US CENTCOM bragged yesterday:

    U.S. and partner nation military forces conducted 23 airstrikes in Iraq using fighter, attack, bomber and remotely-piloted aircraft against ISIL terrorists.
    Six airstrikes near Bayji destroyed three ISIL buildings, a bunker, two ISIL transport vehicles, five ISIL tactical units, an ISIL checkpoint and damaged another ISIL building. Near Sinjar, four airstrikes destroyed two ISIL barracks, an ISIL bunker and storage facility, an ISIL guard post, at least eight ISIL armored vehicles and a truck in a vehicle storage yard, as well as two tactical ISIL units. West of Kirkuk, three airstrikes destroyed five bunkers, two ISIL vehicles and an ISIL tactical unit. Near al Asad, four airstrikes destroyed four ISIL vehicles, an ISIL building, and struck three ISIL tactical units. Near Mosul, three airstrikes destroyed an ISIL guard post, an ISIL vehicle and two ISIL tactical units. Near Ramadi, two airstrikes destroyed an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL tactical unit, while also damaging an ISIL armored vehicle and an ISIL-occupied building. Finally, in Tal Afar, an airstrike damaged an ISIL-occupied airfield.
    All aircraft returned to base safely. Airstrike assessments are based on initial reports.

     The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group's ability to project power and conduct operations.


    The last thing Iraq needs more of is bombings.

    Since the start of this year, the Iraqi government has illegally bombed the residential areas of Falluja.  Bombing civilians as a form of retribution is known as "collective punishment" and is legally recognized -- both by the US government and the international community -- as a War Crime.

    On September 13th, Iraq's new prime minister Haider al-Abadi called out these actions and promised the bombing would now cease.

    It didn't even cease for twenty-four hours.  The Iraqi military continues to bomb the residential neighborhoods of Falluja.

    Iraqi Spring MC issued the following early Friday:

    : اطفال تتراوح اعمارهم بين 6 الى 12 سنة هم ضحايا قصف الجيش الحكومي للفلوجة.
    6 retweets2 favorites

    The video features the dead children of Falluja and a soundtrack of wailing family members mourning the deaths.

    And the news never ends on how the children of Iraq are repeatedly attacked.


    And this was

                               Retweeted 414 times

    Shia Gangs support by goverment burend yeastrday innocent civilians from sunnis
    414 retweets 1 favorite

    Yes, gangs supported by Haider al-Bahdi's government terrorize the children of Iraq.

    And kidnap and kill them.  We'll note this Tweet.

  • That's the side Barack Obama's chosen and his refusal to have his administration work towards a political solution ensures that's the only side that gets heard.

    The Veterans Affairs Department keeps getting heard.

    Maybe it shouldn't?

    If you don't know what you're doing, maybe you should just say, "I'm sorry, I'm wasting taxpayer dollars because I'm too stupid to do the job I was hired to do."

    Wednesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on veterans suicide and VA officials appeared.  Let's stress this was not a pop quiz, the senators did not invite the VA and then spring a different topic on them.  But has the VA ever been more unprepared for a hearing?

    Senator Bernie Sanders is  the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member.   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).

    Wednesday we noted an exchange that's we're including again.

    Senator Patty Murray: I wanted to ask you, we are seeing the suicide rate of middle-aged veterans who use the VA decrease -- you mentioned that.  But [the suicide rate for] female veterans who use the VA has increased by 31%.  What is happening?

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson: Yeah, thank you so much for asking that, Senator. We are as concerned as you are and trying to better understand that, why that is.  Why the rates of -- rates of suicide among women are increasing as well as that youngest male population.  One thing that I just also want to say is that we also know that veterans use firearms more than non-veterans during -- when they are feeling suicidal.  And we know that women veterans are using firearms at an increased rate than non -- than non-women veterans.  And we know that, uhm, firearms in fact -- If you use a firearm when you're suicidal, there's a 90% chance that you will die.  If you use prescriptions, medications, which is what most women non-veterans tend to use, there's a 3 to 4% chance that you will die because there's that opportunity to reach them before they die --

    Senator Patty Murray:  I --

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson (Con't): -- and so -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

    Senator Patty Murray:  I appreciate that response but I think we also have to look at if the VA is meeting women's specific needs --

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson: Absolutely.

    Senator Patty Murray (Con't):  -- and why are they increasing dramatically?  Are the programs not effective? Are they not feeling that they should ask about it?  Is it something else?  This is really concerning to me and it's something I'll be following very closely as well. 

    When did the VA official answer Senator Murray's question?


    And I want to focus on Thompson for a moment.

    You're on the taxpayer dollar, in public, act accordingly.  Thompson needed chewing gum to complete her performance, chewing gum she could smack as she declared "Yeah" and "Yep" throughout the hearing.  You're an official with the VA testifying before Congress, you learn to say "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes, sir."

    I never cease to be appalled by government officials who show such disrespect to the people's representatives.

    But a basic question about the increased rate of suicide among women veterans led to a lot of babbles from Thompson but no answer and not even a babble that could provide a statistic.

    Thursday's snapshot noted the lengthy exchange Senator Richard Blumenthal had with the officials.  Did he get an answer?


    We don't have space for the full exchange (see Thursday's snapshot for that) but notice how the VA can't provide any answers at all but can and will try to steer the conversation away from the real issues.

    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.

    Yep. Yeah. Yep.

    Again, you're being paid to do a job by the taxpayers.  When you're public, you conduct yourself with some dignity.  "Yep" and "Yeah" aren't appropriate responses to members of Congress when you're a government official.  (Non-government officials, We The People, can speak however they want.  They're individual citizens, not people paid by the taxpayers.  The Congress is supposed to be working for We The People.)

    With the above in mind, let's now go to Senator Boozman from the hearing.

    Senator John Boozman:  Thank you and following up on Senator Blumenthal, what is the average age of the veteran that decides to take their life?

    Long pause. VA officials shuffle through paper.

    Senator John Boozman:  In the VA?  What's the average age of veterans who are taking their lives?

    Dr.  Caitlin Thompson: Who die by suicide?  Uh, well we -- I don't know the average age.  But we do know that 70% of veterans who die by suicide are 50-years-old and older.

    VA officials all begin shaking their heads in the affirmative.

    Senator John Boozman:  Older?  Good.

    Dr. Caitlin Thompson:  Yeah.

    Senator John Boozman:  So --

    Dr Dean Krahn:  And that's by far the largest group of veterans.  That's why we focused on it.

    No, it's not.

    No one is as stupid as Krahn wants them to be.

    The VA officials focus on that figure because the more damning figure -- the elephant in the room, Senator Blumenthal called it -- is that young veterans using the VA services are committing suicides at higher numbers.

    The message, which the VA would rather bury, is that things are so bad at the VA that young veterans -- trying to readjust to civilian life -- reaching out to the VA for a lifeline are more at risk of suicide than young veterans who avoid the VA.

    Nothing says failure more than that.

    This is a national disgrace and it needs to be addressed immediately, not swept under the rug.

    It won't be addressed in the House if Corrine Brown becomes Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  She'll find a way to blame veterans, no doubt, as she always does.

    Let's finish out by dropping back into the hearing and we'll focus gain on Senator Boozman.

    Senator John Boozman:  I'm a little concerned or a little confused about the wait times.  You know, you said that it's mandated that it's a day.  If a family practitioner sees a patient and in the course of that examination he's concerned that perhaps this individual is having problems and he writes down on the chart, you know, "Needs a consult," how long does that take?

    Dr. Harold Kudler: Actually, at over 90% of facilities and at over 90% of CBOCs, there will be a co-located collaborative mental health person in the -- in the building and they should be able to walk that person over to the office and see him and --

    Senator John Boozman:  Well they should be able to.  Where does the 30 days come in?  What's that?

    Dr. Harold Kudler:  That is a prospective, that's like if you make an appointment by phone -- say calling by phone, say, "When's the next appointment?" It's that' far out.  But if you come in --

    Senator John Boozman:  They walk the person over, they see you and they say, "Well you need to come back," then it's 30 days?

    Dr. Dean Krahn:  And-and that's a very important point, Senator, because what often happens is --

    Senator John Boozman:  That's, you know, it's checking a box.  But it's really not seeing a patient.

    Dr. Dean Krahn:  We -- Our-our standard is that they will beseen that day but that doesn't get shown, that's not reflected in that longer wait time, that's to get the next official appointment.  Quite frankly, they'll often be seen in other ways or in other clinics earlier.  They will be seen that day by a mental health professional.  If they need that help.  And anyone can refer them.  And they can self-refer there.

    Senator John Boozman:  But if they need follow up appointments, it's probably 33 days?

    Dr. Dean Krahn:  Yes.  I think that's right.

    Senator John Boozman:  So it's -- they're actually not starting treatment for an extended period of time.

    Dr. Dean Krahn:  They don't get an official mental health appointment but they may be seen in other ways.  And unfortunately our system doesn't yet capture all the ways we do it.  For instance, we might have them come back to the emergency room and that will not be recorded as a mental health appointment, none the less, they may have that mental health appointment -- or a phone call which may not be registered as a mental health appointment, but yet.

    Did you see the song and dance?

    Did you catch the repeated attempts to distract and defocus?

    Boozman didn't let them slide off the hook.

    That's what veterans need right now from the Congress.  They need the Patty Murrays, the Richard Blumenthals, the John Boozmans, etc.  They need members of Congress willing to hold the VA accountable.

    Corrine Brown proved she could . . . when Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House.  Since Barack moved in, Brown's refused to hold the VA accountable, felt the need to praise them -- even when the topic of a hearing was the latest VA scandal, gone out of her way to blame veterans for VA problems and much worse.

    She's not fit to serve as Ranking Member.  Veterans groups have rejected her for a reason.

    The current Congress is failing veterans.  You wouldn't think they could fail them even more but you wouldn't think an incompetent like Corrine Brown would be on the verge of becoming Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee either.

    the washington post
    david ignatius