Saturday, June 25, 2016

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, June 25, 2016.  Chaos and violence continue, the persecution of journalists in Iraq, continue, the persecution of Sunnis continue, Barack Obama's VA continues to be inept, there is still no seamless, electronic record for US service members, and much more.

US President Barack Obama backed Haider al-Abadi to become the new prime minister of Iraq.

How's that working out?

Not to well.

In the latest setback, Iraqi journalist Abdul Aziz has been arrested

. . . for reporting

. . . the truth.

After reporting Shia militias looting and burning houses in Fallujah, Iraqi journalist is arrested by gov.

Iraqi journalist arrested by ISF after reporting militias' crimes in Fallujah.

Abdul Aziz is only the latest journalist to be attacked in Iraq for reporting the truth.

Adnan Abu Zeed (AL-MONITOR) notes some previous attacks:

Alhadath daily newspaper reported April 5 that Baghdad-based journalist Diyaa Hussein was beaten by an unknown armed group after he exposed corruption involving the Iraqi Police Sports Club.
On Feb. 4, journalist Hadi al-Anbak accused businessman Salem Abdel Ayman Zaher of threatening to kill him because the reporter exposed alleged corruption in agricultural land investment projects in which Zaher is involved.
On May 20, 2015, Egypt Today reported that Kirkuk-based journalist Mohammad Mowaffaq told authorities he had received death threats, and unknown armed men had stopped him in his car and threatened to cut out his tongue if he didn't quit journalism. The threats followed his investigative report on illegal arms trade.
On April 15, 2015, the Iraq Journalists Syndicate (IJS) reported TV journalist Ahmad al-Jassem was threatened, assaulted and detained for hours by some members of security forces in Babil province, south of Baghdad. He had recently reported on the lack of services in the country.
On April 11, 2015, Reuters reported its bureau chief in Baghdad was threatened on Facebook and was also criticized by an Iraqi TV channel because of his April 4 report on unlawful executions and looting in Tikrit by the Popular Mobilization Units fighting alongside the Iraqi army against the Islamic State. The reporter left the country because of the threats.

The REUTERS bureau chief in Baghdad was Ned Parker.

Not only did Haider not protect Ned, he thought the whole thing was a joke and tried to turn it into a laughing matter when he visited the US last year.  From the April 16, 2015 snapshot:

Barbara Slavin: And also, one of our colleagues, Ned Parker, recently has left because of threats against Reuters for reporting what happened in Tikrit.  Will you issue a statement in Arabic protecting journalists for reporting what goes on in Iraq.  Thank you.

Haider al-Abadi: As with Mr. Parker, Ned Parker, I've known him for many years.  I heard this story while he was still in Baghdad.  My natural fact, a spokesman for my office has given me a message and he told me Ned Parker feels threatened and asked what sort of threats he had received? We want more information so that I can take action about these people who have threatened him.  I haven't received anything on that, to be honest with you. I asked for protection of his office -- to increase protection of his office -- and we did.  But all of the sudden, I'd heard he left. I know he sent a message he wants to meet me in Washington but unfortunately my program is, uh -- I didn't even have time to talk to my wife yesterday. [Begins chuckling.]  So I don't think I would talk to Ned instead of my wife.

As for that statement in Arabic?

"I-I think my office issued a statement. In English?  Okay, we translate."

As we noted then:

What followed was an embarrassing and shameful round of laughter.

This isn't a laughing matter.

When the guffaws finally died down, the next question returned to the topic but with less 'jolly' and 'funnin'.'

Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory: [. . .] But piggy backing on the last question about Ned Parker, I was just wondering if you could briefly comment as to your take on the current state of press freedom within Iraq?  And also, in terms of going and taking action in response to Parker's being chased out of the country, what steps are you planning -- or are there any steps planned to institute protections for international press covering your country?  During your address, you said, and I quote, "A free society needs a free press."  And so I was just wondering if that would extend to foreign press as well?

Haider al-Abadi: Well I think if you look at the Iraqi press first, I think they're free to criticize.  I think that number one   institution which is being criticized in Iraq is the government.  We don't even reply to them.  We don't do anything. I drop charges against all-all media.  But I ask the media to have their own self-discipline.  That's important.  The media shouldn't be free to accuse others falsely.  They should respect freedom of others.  Freedom of speech is there but -- We need facts. But I refuse so far -- and I hope I continue on that -- you never know what office does.  Office usually corrupts people, right?  But I hope it doesn't corrupt me.  We keep on respecting the freedom of the press, we keep on protecting it.  As to the foreign press, as far as I know, there's no limitation on them, no restrictions.  They're free even to go to our --within our military unit.  I think we went to that extent to allow free reporting from the fronts.  I remember when the US army was there in 2003 [that's when Haider returned to Iraq after decades of exile in England], they had embedded journalists and they were restricted to what they were reporting.  I very much respect that.  I hope I can have that power to do that but unfortunately I cannot do it now.  It's so free, the situation in Iraq.  Now I'm not sure if Mr. Parker, why he has left.  To be honest with you, I didn't have the story from him.  He wrote something to me.  I cannot see why he left.  Was he really threatened?  Or he felt he was threatened?  I know some -- some Facebook thing and social media has mentioned him in a bad way but the-the thing I've seen -- in actual fact, they were condemning the government in the first place, not him.  They were condemning me as the prime minister to do something about it -- rather than him.  I know some of these, they want to use these things to just criticize the government in the same way when they accuse the coalition of dropping help to Da'ash or accuse the coalition of killing Iraqis falsely.  In actual fact, what they're trying to do -- trying to criticize the government for its policies. They don't want the government to seek the help of the coalition -- international coalition or to work with the US.  But to -- I think me, as prime minister, the safety of the Iraqi people, the interests of the Iraqi people is number one [. . .]

And now another journalist is targeted in Iraq for reporting the truth.

Will the White House ignore this again?

At what point do they demand that the puppet regimes they back up recognize basic human rights?


Obviously, the answer is never.

But the White House can bomb Iraq daily -- can and does.

Today, the US Defense Dept announced:

Strikes in Iraq
Attack, bomber, fighter, remotely piloted aircraft and rocket artillery conducted 20 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of Iraq’s government:

-- Near Baghdadi, two strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL weapons cache.

-- Near Huwayjah, a strike destroyed three ISIL vehicle bomb factories, an ISIL vehicle bomb, an ISIL weapons cache and an ISIL bunker and denied ISIL access to terrain.

-- Near Beiji, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position, three ISIL vehicles, an ISIL rocket rail and an ISIL front-end loader.

-- Near Fallujah, two strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed two ISIL fighting positions, an ISIL boat and two ISIL light machine guns.

-- Near Kisik, a strike destroyed an ISIL weapons cache and an ISIL mortar system.

-- Near Mosul, six strikes struck four separate ISIL tactical units and an ISIL vehicle bomb factory and destroyed four ISIL vehicles and an ISIL mortar system.

-- Near Qayyarah, four strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit; destroyed an ISIL boat and four ISIL assembly areas; suppressed two separate ISIL tactical units and three separate ISIL mortar positions; and denied ISIL access to terrain.

-- Near Ramadi, two strikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed 10 ISIL boats, an ISIL staging area and an ISIL weapons cache.

-- Near Sinjar, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL mortar system.

Task force officials define a strike as one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative, effect. Therefore, officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against buildings, vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making those targets harder or impossible for ISIL to use. Accordingly, officials said, they do not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target. Ground-based artillery fired in counterfire or in fire support to maneuver roles is not classified as a strike.

The White House can also support War Crimes -- can and does.


The US has been leaning heavily on militias in its fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and while these forces have proved very effective on the ground, some have been accused of committing atrocities akin to their enemies.

A new Human Rights Watch report details allegations of torture and abuse at the hands of Shia militias in Iraq, which have been instrumental in aiding Iraqi Security Forces in seizing territory back from ISIS [. . .]

"We continue to ask what happened to the money and where are the results?"

That's Senator Mazie Hirono offering a to the point observation.

She could have been speaking about Iraq but was instead speaking of another disaster -- VA management.

Thursday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing.  It was not good news.

This despite the fact that VA witnesses David Shulkin, LaVerne Council, Laura Eskenazi and Ron Burke tried to spin happy and even enlist the GAO's Valerie Melvin in their spin (Melvin refused to play along).

The Committee Chair is Johnny Isakson and the Ranking Member is Richard Blumenthal.

We'll note this exchange:

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  I'd like to ask about the impact of lack of cooperation between Department of Defense and VA.  As I mentioned in my opening statement, we've been reassured repeatedly that both agencies are cooperating with each other -- which somehow defies credibility because, if that's so, there would have been interoperability or the issues would have been solved long ago. So let me ask you, Ms. Melvin, who bears the responsibility here?  And what's happening?

Valerie Melvin: Actually, I place the responsibility on both departments and primarily on the leadership of those departments in terms of being able to really, uh, establish upfront what it is that the departments want to achieve in the way of interoperability.  A long standing concern that we've had with interoperability is in terms with is interoperability supposed to be.  Uh, we have not  been able, really, over the years, to get from either agency what they mean in terms of full interoperability, what that end state is supposed to be in the way of the technology that exists and how that technology is used.  So, uh, as we -- as we've looked at this over the years, we've had a lot of discussions with both VA and with the DoD, we've had a lot of assurances along the way that that was being taken care of but what we consistently see is a lack of -- really a lack of the clear planning and the definition of what it is and then how they plan to implement measures and goals to get there.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  What can -- what would you recommend that we do on this Committee and the United States Senate generally to make sure that there is interoperability?

Valerie Melvin:  I think in the immediate -- right now, I would say that there are a lot of -- we've made a lot of recommendations to both VA and DoD.  We're still following up to see where they are in the process of addressing those. But we also know that they're in the midst of a number of changes to the approach that they are taking.  We've had a lot of concerns and questions relative to the fact that both departments are essentially going down separate tracks with their modernization efforts on this step for the Dept of Veteran Affairs and the alter system within DoD.  We know that the intent to have interoperability.  I think from the standpoint of-of your role in this process is continued oversight, continued pressing for answers and explicit discussions and details relative to what the plans are, how interoperability is to be defined at its fullest and how the agencies intend to progress and measure their progress towards getting there.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  Ms. Council, my information is -- well actually, it is the VA's monthly information, Security Report for April 2016, about 2556 veterans were effected by incidents of data breach.  That number is about six times the number reported by the VA a year before that in March 2015.  What accounts for the increase?

LaVerne Council: I'd have to look at the data you have.  What I do know is that about 24% of any of the mishandlings that we have mismailings -- which is letters, data that has gone out in the wrong envelope to a-a person who shouldn't have received those and 41% of those are mishandling or mismailing.  The other part of the situation is things that we look at like privacy violations, policy violations, unencrypted devices, those are where we really, really take a very diligent look and ensure that we are tidying up any kind of access to the veterans information.  So, to date, for FY16, that's what we're basically seeing which is actually about 20% lower than it was the year before.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  What is 20% lower?

LaVerne Council:  The-the number mismailings and misappropriation, mishandling of veterans --

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  Well, we're not really talking about mismailings, we're talking about data breaches --

LaVerne Council:  The actually --

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  And I understand that a mismailing can cause a data breach --

LaVerne Council: It's considered a data breach, yes, sir.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal (Con't): If something is sent to the wrong address.  How can that happen?  Don't you -- how can you send a letter to the wrong address.

LaVerne Council: That is actually a process within the business.  It's not an IT process.  But because I am the CIO I'm responsible for all data and any data that is misused or mismanaged or moved to the wrong place -- and also have a responsibility for privacy.  It falls with us but I am not --

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  I understand that.  Here is my question: You've got records --

LaVerne Council:  Mm-hmm.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  You do mailings, communications to veterans over a period of years.  It's not like somebody sits down for that letter and [acts out physically hand writing] scribbles out something.  It comes from a system that has been mailing consistently.  How does it all of the sudden get the address wrong?

LaVerne Council:  Generally the system is not doing the mailing, there is a manual interface with human error --

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  So you are saying that somebody is sitting there and actually typing out an address on an envelope?

LaVerne Council: I am saying that envelopes come together and the paper is put into an envelope by a human being.  And sent away.   Yes.  It is not mechanized --

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  This sounds like a very low tech --

LaVerne Council: Very low tech.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  Eminently addressable and correctable.

LaVerne Council:  Yes, sir.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  What's being done?

LaVerne Council: One of the things we're looking at with the VBS team -- and working with them, and I'll refer to Mr. [VBA Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations Ron] Burke on this change in their process because right now when it occurs it's not something that IT itself created it but we feel we're responsible to correct it.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  Well these kind of data breaches -- and if they're rising six-fold over a fiscal year -- have to be addressed right away.  And we're not talking here about some sophisticated hacking operation.

LaVerne Council:  Mmm-uhh.  No.

Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal:  But it's equally dangerous and damaging to privacy.

There has been no significant progress at the VA under Barack Obama's two terms as US President thus far.

Doubt it?

The above should have reminded you of one thing.

And, thankfully, there was one senator on the Committee not afraid to speak of the elephant in the room.

Senator Jon Tester:  So let me ask, and I hesitate to ask this question, you probably know the answer and I don't, is the DoD and the VA -- is their medical records streamlined?  And can they go back and forth without any problems?
Dr. David Shulkin:  I wouldn't go that far.

He then spoke of a joint-viewer.

The seamless transition.

That record that was going to be electronic and move right over to VA from DoD when a service member transitioned to veteran.

Remember it?

The issue was highlighted before Barack became president in January of 2009.

It was something he was going to take care of -- in his first term.

It still hasn't been taken care of.

April 11, 2013, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the budget and took testimony from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, among others.  For coverage, see that day's snapshotAva 's "Shinseki tries to present 134% increase as a gift for women,"  Wally's "How the VA and DoD waste your tax dollars (Wally)"  and Kat's "DAV calls for Congress to reject 'chained CPI'."

US House Rep Phil Roe:  Another question I have is the integration between DoD and VA on the eletronic health records and the benefits. Should we have a joint meeting between VA and DoD -- and I realize that Senator -- that Defense Secretary Hagel has a lot on his plate with North Korea and the Middle East right now. 

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Yep.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  But this is one of my concerns when we changed was the fact that this would get a backburner again.  And are we going to be sitting here -- and you and I have spoken about this and that was a private conversation and it will remain that way but are we going to be sitting here a year from now or two years or three years because it's not a resources -- putting of money -- to be able to integrate these systems.  I mean, it's really become very frustrating to me to sit here year after year and, unless the voters have a different idea, I plan to be here in 2015 and see if we complete these things we say we're going to do.  Is it there.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Again, Congressman, Secretary Hagel and I have discussed this on at least two and maybe three occassions.  He is, again, putting into place, his system to assure the way ahead for him to make this decision and be the partner that we need here.  Uhm, he is committed to a, uh, integrated electronic health record between the two departments.  We are -- VA has made its decision on what the core  and we're prepared to move forward.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  Somebody has to blink. Obviously, we can't integrate them, so it's going to have to be one system or the other.  And I think what I heard you say was you've decided the VA is going to stay with the system it has.  That means that he's going to have to blink.

Secretary Eric Shinseki:  Uh, I would say the VA system is government owned, government operated.  We have put VISTA into the  open architecture trade space so that anyone who wants to use it can use it. It's used in other countries.  I believe it is, uh, a powerful system and, uh, I'm just awaiting, uh, a discussion with Secretary Hagel. 

The VA keeps coming before Congress and offering excuses for not doing their job.


The seamless electronic record was supposed to have been place years ago.

Despite all the money thrown at the problem, it is not in place.

A functioning president would be demanding that VA and DoD get this problem working out in a matter of weeks.

Instead, it has been allowed to drag on.