Friday, October 30, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Friday, October 30, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces more deaths, no movement on an election law, a new attack on press freedoms in Iraq, nepotisim is an ugly thing, and more.
Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A Multi-National Division-Baghdad Soldier died, Oct. 30, of non-combat related injuries sustained in a vehicle accident. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of the service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Website [. . .] The announcements are made on the Website no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation."  And they announced: "CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE, Iraq -- A Soldier assigned to Multi-National Division - South died of non-combat related injury October 30. [. . .] The incident is under investigation." The announcements bring the total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4355.
On the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show, Iraq was addressed by guest host Frank Senso, NPR's Tom Gjelten, CNN's Elise Labott and McClatchy Newspapers' Jonathan Landay.
Frank Senso: To Iraq now, and in a few minutes, to our phone calls, to bring our audience into this and any other conversation that they may want to have with respect to what's going on in the world. But in Iraq discussions amidst ongoing, violence, intensifying violence in some cases, about trying to fix the national election law because that is what is looming large. Jonathan Landay, what's the landscape look like right now?
Jonathan S. Landay: Well they've tried for a third time to pass an election law in time for the January elections and they've failed again.  The issue -- there are a number of issues, but the main issue has to do with the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq and uh a city that sits atop billions of gallons of untapped oil. Uh, the issue has to do with the -- what census is going to be used to register voters there. Now this is a city that the Kurds -- now this is right now a predominately Kurdish city. It was, the Kurds say, a predominately Kurdish city before the reign of Saddam Hussein who ethically [ethnically] cleansed Kurds out of the city and brought in Arabs. The issue is, do you -- since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds have been restoring their majority in that city and, indeed, other ethnic groups claim over uh restoring their majority, bringing in more Kurds than there had been before. The Kurds want voter registration to be based on the most recent census, I think it was in fact, done this year. The Sunni Arabs and other ethnic groups there -- the Turkomen for instance -- want the voter registration based on the 2004 census and they have not been able to come to an agreement on this and this has hung up the passage of this law and what it really -- and what it really comes down to it appears is contol over that massive amount of untapped petroleum.
Frank Senso: And yet this-this-this dispute, this stand off over the election law comes just after this Sunday terrible bombing in Baghdad, the worst in two years killing more than 150, wounding hundreds more, severely damaging three major government buildings now  there's been an arrest of some 50 odd security and there was some suggestion that this intensifying violence might drive the politicians to nail down this election law and drive those to some kind of political, if not resolution, progress.  Tom?
Tom Gjelten: Well it seems, Frank, that the Iranians, I mean the Iraqis, have become so inured to this kind of violence that just sort of everything proceeds normally and that's true I think in both a good sense and a bad sense. In a good sense, there has been this move towards stability and peace in Iraq and Iraq's been filling more confident about their future and they seem amazingly enough to have taken this bombing in stride in a sense. I mean there have been other bombings --
Frank Sesno: It's almost unimaginable, isn't it?
Tom Gjelten: It's almost unaimaginable. But they have -- this is six years that they've been through this and they seem to be able to cope with these great tragedies.  On the other hand, the negative side is that, as you say, you know, you would -- you would hope that this would jolt them into sort of some reality but, again, they become so used to this that they just proceed with the same stalemate.

Frank Sesno: What's behind the uptick in violence, Elise?
Elise Labott: Well, we saw -- first we saw an uptick in violence in August and there were also some massive bombings at the Foreign Ministry, at the Finance Ministry and this seemed to be kind of a way to sew sectarian tensions once again and they thought that maybe this would lead Iraq down the path it was in 2006, 2007 with major sectarian tensions.  Now what officials says is they think that these foreign fighters are [or?] the real hard core al Qaeda in Iraq are trying just at anything, they tried at religious targets, now they're just trying at softer targets to kill a lot of people. They think maybe it can effect the election in January. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been running as the security candidate.  He's the one that's bringing stability to Iraq, he's the one that got US forces out of the city. The question is now is this going to effect his standing as the security candidate.
Jonathan S. Landay: There may be also something else going on here. The more instability, I think perhaps the insurgen -- whoever is behind these bombings create, in their mind, it delays perhaps the departure of American forces and what do you get from that? Well you get a delay or perhaps problems coming up with additional American forces to send to Afghanistan and there may very well be that thinking going on on the part of those who are responsible for these massive bombings.
On the above.  Jonathan S. Landay used the term census.  That is incorrect.  There has been no census.  The issue, which McClatchy's Sarah Issa and Hannah Allem and which the New York Times' Timothy Williams have outlines, is where the voting rolls for 2009 or the voting rolls for 2004 will be used.  There has been no census.  "Census" is a concrete term.  And, in fact, a census in Kirkuk is mandated -- as is a referendum -- by Iraq's 2005 Constitution.  No census has been conducted.  This is not a minor issue and it goes to the dispute over Kirkuk.  "Census" was the wrong term to use.  There is NO census thus far. 
That's (A).  (B) Tom Gjelten.  What the ___ was that?  I'm reminded of when Goodtime Gals Linda Robinson and Gwen Ifill decided to discuss Blackwater's September 17, 2007 slaughter (see the October 8, 2007 snapshot) -- a discussion noteable for its appalling ignorance and gross lack of concern for human life.  Gjelten can argue that some of his remarks were intended to be about officials.  But he can only argue that about some of his remarks.  And what exactly does he want Iraqis to do?  They're shell shocked and just because he hasn't reported on the multitude of studies, THE MULTITUDE OF STUDIES, on the effects this illegal war has had on Iraqi children doesn't mean the damage isn't real and doesn't exist.  So his happy talk bulls**t was embarrassing.  That was really a shameful moment for NPR.  The 'good' and the 'bad' of the bombings?  How appalling.  What made it worse for NPR was that it wasn't a guest from, for example, NBC News.  It was an NPR reporter.  That's shameful.  The good and the bad of bombings?  Pay attention, Tommy.
Our children are surrounded by violnce. Most of them are traumatized. I call them the silent victims. Our Iraqi childeren are the silent vctims.
From January to March of last year, the World Health Organization worked with Iraqi psychiatrists on a series of studies on the mental health of children in the cities of Baghdad, Mosul and Dohuk. (Watch the effects of war on children Video)
One of the studies on primary-school-age children in Baghdad found that nearly half of the 600 children surveyed had experienced a major traumatic event since the war began. Just over one in every 10 suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, the study found.
Another of the studies found that older children in Mosul suffered even worse. Thirty percent of the 1,090 children surveyed showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Nearly all of those with PTSD symptoms, 92 percent, had not received any treatment, according to the study.
In fact, the doctors aren't immune to the dangers of the conflict. Fifty percent of Iraq's psychiatrists have fled the country or been killed since the war began, said Dr. Naeema Al-Gasseer, the WHO's representative for Iraq.
A month after CNN filed that report, NPR's Linda Wertheimer spoke with Dr. Mohammed al-Aboudi about the mental stress Iraqi children were under. Now we can go through various reports and studies.  We can enlarge and look at other segments of the country's population.  But the above alone demonstrates how offensive Tom's statements are.  The population is shell shocked and the illegal war has caused that trauma.  The bombings that he thinks have good and bad are the same violence responsible for creating the world's largest refugee crisis.  And the UN has already advised that Sunday's bombings will most likely results in Syria and Jordan receiving some additional Iraqi refugees.  I'm not seeing any "good and bad" to the bombings.  And Tom's statements were inarticulate and offensive.  Frank Senso did a fine job this week filling in for Diane but had Diane been present, she probably would have said something.  She generally does when gas baggery replaces discussion -- when human beings are removed from the issue, she generally brings them back into the picture even if it means she has to disagree with a guest.  (She did that most recently with a guest gas bagging -- and glorifying -- the drone strikes in Pakistan when she made a point to note the civilian deaths the man was dismissing.)  Tom's statements were offensive and it's only more so because he works for NPR.  He declared that "you would hope that this would jolt them into sort of some reality" -- Tom, we'd hope the reality of the violence in Iraq and the fact that it is an inhabited country would jolt you into some sort of reality but there's no evidence, as yet, that it has.
Let's break that up for a moment to note this:
What are the lessons of Iraq that I carry with me? The cultures are as different as mountains and desert, and for outsiders, there is a familiar struggle to see the place as it truly is, not as we might wish it would be. Back in 2003, the Americans wanted to believe that an age of brotherhood and integration, loosed by American military might, had come to Iraq. Many Iraqis wanted to believe it, too. Thinking too much about the depth of distrust, long latent between sects and ethnicities, would mean acknowledging that a frenzy of violence waited in the wings. They swept into the desert sands the centuries-long struggle of Sunnis and Shiites for dominance in the fertile river basin between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It was as if officials thought that perhaps by saying they were brothers, they would become them.
Back to NPR, (C) Jonathan S. Landay and Elise Labott's speculation -- presented as such with Labott making clear she was referring to what officials were stating.  It's a shame that more time wasn't spent on that.  No one knows why the bombings are taking place (other than due to the ongoing, illegal war).  Could they be to influence the elections?  Possibly.  Could they be to harm Nouri al-Maliki?  Possibly.  But it's equally true that the message can be sent throughout Iraq.  The August 9th bombing just outside Mosul, for example, was deadly (at least 35 dead) and it received huge attention within Iraq and outside of it.  Why target only Baghdad if the issue is just the elections?  It's not as if only residents of Baghdad will be voting.  Equally true is that there are other areas that should be easier to attack than the region targeted on Sunday. So why those targets?
We noted the arrests Nouri ordered in yesterday's snapshot.  Heyetnet reports:

Puppet government police forces arrested three people claimed to be wanted in al Hadbaa area of eastern Mosul.                     

In al Furat area of Baghdad, continous arrest and raid campaigns perpetrated by government army forces led indiscriminate arrests of dozens. Eyewitnesses said that aforementioned forces used sectarian and irritating slogans beating civilians. During the arrest campaigns the area was monitored by American occupation forces.           

On the other hand, government police and army forces arrested eight civilians in various areas of Diyala Province.                    

In Basra, government police forces arrested 20 people in raid and search campaign alleged to be wanted.                 

In Tuzkharmotu of Saladin Province, government police forces arrested three civilians who were beaten, insulted and irritated.                  

In Latifiya of southern Baghdad, sectarian government army forces arrested seven civilians in raid and search attacks.           

Today Deng Shasha (Xinhua) reports that Iraq's Sunni vice president (Iraq has two vice presidents -- one Sunni, one Shia) Tariq al-Hashimi has "called on an evaluation of running the security dossier after Sunday's bloody suicide bombings that claimed the lives of 155 Iraqis." Meanwhile Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that today saw many clerics using the sermons to call out "Iraqi authorities" and quotes Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai stating, "With insurgents having repeated the same bombings, with the same style and in the same secure area, we have to review the security plan that has been implemented in Baghdad" while Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani declared, "I demand immediate and urgent checks for the reasons that led to teh bombings."  Nouri's government rsponse has been to attack Syria (naturally) and to attack the press (ibid).  On the latter, Azzaman reports he has "banned movement by press vehicles with equipment to broadcast live. [. . . ] The order has been issued by the military command of Baghdad operations which specificially denies television broadcasters the right of live coverage."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which left four people injured and a Mosul sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer.
Reuters drops back to Thursday and notes that 3 police officers were shot dead and another injured at a Mosul police checkpoint.
Reuters notes 1 corpse discovered in Mosul while 1 police officer -- who may or may not have been part of the investigation into Sunday's bombings -- was discovered dead (from a shooting) in his Baghdad office.
Violence was kind-of, sort-of an issue yesterday in the US House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.  The hearing was about IEDs and the money spent on studying them.  The Pentagon's James Schear and Lt Gen Thomas Metz as well as the GAO's William Solis were the witnesses, Vic Snyder is the Subcomittee Chair.
Subcommittee Chair Vic Snyder:  IEDs remain the number one cause of casulities to coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although IEDs are not a new threat, they have been used with unprecedented frequency in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the decrease in successful attacks in Iraq is encouraging, that success has not been replicated in Afghanistan which has seen an increase in success in fatality attacks with our increase in forces there. Since former CENTCOM commander General [John] Abizaid called for a Manhattan Project like effort 5 years ago to defeat IEDs, Congress has provided nearly $17 billion to DoD's efforts. This effort has grown from a twelve-man army task force to the Jointed IED Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, which currently employs a staff of about 3600 dedicated government, military and contract personnel.
Lt Gen Thomas F. Metz declared, "What's really different in the two theaters is that over time in Iraq, as we were experiencing 1500, 2500 IEDs a month -- and finding and clearing half of them, we were gaining an enormous amount of forensics and biometrics information. We use that in the COIC [Counter-IED Operations Integration Center] to our advantage It is our asymetric advantage."
US House Rep Duncan Hunter noted a lack of mobilization. He referred to NPR's report on IEDs this week and how, despite all the money being spent, it was human beings noting, for example, "that corpse wasn't there yesterday" and guessing that it appeared to hide an IED.  He noted that Marines in Afghanistan report they have only rarely seen predator drones and that instead they rely on "hand held mine sweepers -- a version of which people use on the beach to find coins."  He also showed a child's innocence or foolilshness as he lived in a world where only the 'guilty' were killed.
US House Rep Duncan Hunter: This doesn't make me feel comfortable that we are truly doing everything that we can right now. Once-once more, if Secretary Gates said, "No more IEDs to be buried" -- I understand that there are tons in Afghanistan and they can be turned on like that at any point in time. But we could do that. We could stop IEDs from being buried if we mobilize to do it.  And -- and if we want to politically about this war too -- it would fall off the map if nobody was dying. Iraq's not in the paper anymore because nobody's dying. One reason is we've knocked off IEDs, huge in 2007 and 2008, with [Gen William] Odum by killing over 3,000 IED placers. Project Odom with IEDS killed more people than every single other person in Iraq put together -- with all the offensive operations, Odom killed more and they were all bad guys -- not one single civilian, they were all inputting IEDs.
"Not one single civilian." Just "bad guys."  Because a drone is judge and jury.  So if a drone says it's "bad guys" that's all the proof Duncan Hunter needs. (And, to clarify, this is Duncan Hunter the younger, the 32-year-old elected to his father's seat.  Still wet behind the ears and with a child's wide-eyes, he needs correcting, not the blanket approval Snyder gave him when Snyder followed Hunter.   And someone might have bothered to inform Hunter that, despite his claims that "nobody's dying" in Iraq, Iraq saw at least 155 people die on Sunday alone.  "Nobody's dying"?  That didn't require a correction?  Did he mean no US service members?  If so, even that's wrong because there are 8 announced dead in Iraq so far this month -- granted 2 of them were announced today so, at the time of the hearing, only 6 had been announced.  And it's a good thing to Duncan Hunter that the news media walked away from Iraq? Really? (Hunter is a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, FYI.)  Congress had time for that nonsense yesterday.  Not for anything important, but they had time for that.
Related, Iraq Veterans Against the War's Martin Smith looks into the educational benefits scandal and reports (US Socialist Worker) on various people who have suffered and are suffering:
Politicians always clamor that we have to "support our troops" and take care of our veterans first. The White House Web site quotes Obama's proclamation that "we...owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned."                
But the VA's latest failure to deliver on educational benefits--coming just a few years after the scandal of VA health care negligence at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.--leaves these lofty assertions sounding like just another example of the politicians' empty rhetoric.                 
And given Obama's increasingly clear record of impressive speeches followed by little action, some veterans are calling his administration "the audacity of nope."
While the veterans at the VA office in Chicago expressed relief at finally receiving their first check, the bitterness persists. Bureaucratic red tape and mismanagement always holds up money and benefits for veterans, but there always seems to be an abundant supply of cash for bank bailouts, the "cash for clunkers" program to help U.S. automakers, a failed Olympic bid for the city of Chicago, or a bloated Pentagon budget.           
How is that related? One damn hearing.  That's all the Congress is going to hold on that scandal?  Really?  One damn hearing.  They fawned over VA Secretary Eric Shinseki October 14th -- even when he admitted that the VA knew before he became the Secretary (and that he found out as soon as he became the Secretary) that they wouldn't be able to implement the benefit checks in a timely manner.  They acted like smiling zombies.  October 15th, when he was present, they were suddenly concerned for their one and only hearing thus far into the scandal.  That's disgusting.  That effected so many veterans and it got so little attention from Congress.  Most importantly, it's still not 'fixed.'  Read Martin Smith's report.  But Congress has other things to do and, point of fact, the Senate held no hearings on the issue.  Want to explain how that happened?
Staying on the topic of veterans issues and dropping back to the October 21st snapshot:

Meanwhile Lauren DeFranco (WABC -- link has text and video) reports Christal Wagenhauser gave birth to a two month premature daughter and she and the family want Cpl [Keith] Wagenhouser -- currently stationed in Iraq -- home to see the baby: "If the baby's condition deteriorates, it would take Wagenhauser a week to get home. At that point, it would be too late."

Jennifer Logan (CBS) reports that Keith Wagenhauser was finally given time to visit his family and arrived in New York yesterday and explains: "In an incubator adorned with her father's military photo, Madison, born by life-saving caesarean section, weighing just 2-pounds 11-ounces is being treated in the neonatal intensive care unit of Stony Brook University Medical Center. Initially, marine brass explained that emergency leave is granted only in cases of imminent or actual death in their immediate family and that Madison's condition was not sufficiently life threatening enough to grant an exception." So while the military brass did the right thing, what's the hold up with the US Congress when it comes to the latest (known) threat to deport the spouse of a veteran?
Iraq War veteran Jack Barrios would probably love some downtime with his family but the government keeps creating problems as LA's KABC reports (link has text and video):

Subha Ravindhran: [. . .] Frances Barrios considers herself an American. She grew up and went to high school here in Van Nuys but for the past 17 years, she's been living in this country illegally. Now she and her husband, an Iraq War veteran, must deal with the consequences. 26-year-old Army Specialist Jack Barrios can barely talk about the time he served in Iraq.                       

Jack Barrios: I'll skip that.           

Subha Ravindhran: You don't want to talk about that.                 

Jack Barrios: Yeah.                      

Subha Ravindhran: But what he can speak about is the battle his family is going through now. His wife, 23-year-old Frances, is facing deporation back to Guatemala -- a country she left when she was just six-years-old.            

Jack Barrios: I'm pretty sad and angry that we will get separated.               

Subha Ravindhran: Not only will three-year-old Matthew and one-year-old Allanna be separated from their mother, but Jack will also lose his main caretaker. Since he returned from Iraq in 2007, he's been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.                         

Frances Barrios: He was an outgoing person, you could say. He used to like being outside with his friends and just, you know, having a good time. When he came back, like I said, he shut down. It wasn't him.                  

Subha Ravindhran: Their attorney Jessica Dominguez says the chances of keeping Frances here are slim.                      

Jessica Dominguez: It's just mind boggling to try to understand that in a situation like this, Mr. Barrios cannot be assured that his family is going to stay together because immigration laws do not protect the sanctity of his family at this point.  
The US government wants to deport her. (She's from Guatemala originally, entered the US with her mother when she was just six-years-old.) As offensive as that is -- and it's really offensive -- it's also economically stupid because Jack suffers from PTSD. The US government is going to provide him a caretaker who will do all that Frances currently does? Really? Teresa Watanabe (Los Angeles Times) reported earlier this week:

But as he undergoes counseling and swallows anti-depressants, the soldier is fighting an even bigger battle: to keep his family from collapsing as his wife, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, faces deportation.      
His wife, 23-year-old Frances, was illegally brought to the United States by her mother at age 6, learned of her status in high school and discovered just last year that removal proceedings have been started. Her possible deportation has left Barrios in panic as he contemplates life without her.               
The Army reservist says his wife is the family's anchor, caring for their year-old daughter and 3-year-old son and helping him battle his post-traumatic stress.
"She's my everything," Barrios said as he sat glumly in the family's sparsely furnished but tidy Van Nuys apartment. "Without her, I can't function. It would be like taking away a part of my soul."                   
Hundreds of U.S. soldiers are facing the same trouble as they fight to legalize their spouses' status, a difficult process that has affected their military readiness, according to Margaret Stock, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and an immigration attorney specializing in military cases.                   
Turning to the issue of contracting, Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports on the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction's latest report which finds that Aecom Government Services which "supplied vehicle parts for the Iraqi army sought reimbursements from the U.S. military far in excess of the costs of the items". Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor -- link has text and audio) reports that the report finds that KBR is not recycling in their catering facilities despite the contract stating they would.
Dropping back to the October 21st snapshot, "In the US yesterday, a twenty-year-old Iraqi woman was run over along with her 43-year-old friend.  James King (Phoenix News) reports that police are looking for the twenty-year-old's father, Faleh Hassan Almaleki, whom they supsect of running the two women down and that the alleged motive is that the daughter was 'becoming too westernized.'  Katie Fisher (ABC 15 -- link has text and video) reports the 20-year-old woman is Noor Faleh Almaleki and her 43-year-old friend is Amal Edan Khalaf and the friend is also the mother of the twenty-year-old's boyfriend." CNN reports he was arrested yesterday in Atlanta -- after he had gone to Mexico, flown to London where  British officials refuse him admittance in England, and returned to the US.  CNN states his daughter is still in the hospital and "unresponsive" to treatment thus far. Sarah Netter (ABC News -- link has text and video) reports on the apparent attempted honor killing and notes that Noor's status as "life-threatening condition".
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (check local listings for times and for other dates if it doesn't air on your PBS station tonight):

Home to a worldwide summit on climate change in early December, Denmark is setting a global example in creating clean power, storing it, and using it responsibly. Their reliance on wind power to produce electricity without contributing to global warming is well known, but now they're looking to drive the point home with electric cars. To do this, they've partnered with social entrepreneur Shai Agassi and his company Better Place.
This week, NOW investigates how the Danish government and Better Place are working together to put electric cars into the hands of as many Danish families as possible. The idea is still having trouble getting out of the garage here in America, but Denmark could be an inspiration.
Will so much green enthusiasm bring about a "Copenhagen Protocol"?

Washington Week also begins airing tonight on many PBS stations and sitting around the table with Gwen this week are Ceci Connolly (Washington Post), John Dickerson (Slate and CBS News), Marilyn Serafini (National Journal) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers).  Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Karen Czarnecki, Melinda Henneberger, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Genevieve Wood to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

H1N1 Vaccine
Scott Pelley reports on the manufacture, distribution and safety of the H1N1 flu vaccine. | Watch Video

How does a foreigner jump the line in America for a life-saving liver transplant? It might be because he is a high-ranking member of Japan's mafia, known as the Yakuza, whose criminal influence is worldwide. Lara Logan reports.

The Movie Pirates
They are the bane of Hollywood: criminals who copy films - sometimes before the movies even reach the theater - and distribute them illegally on the Internet, costing Hollywood billions in lost revenue. Lesley Stahl reports.

60 Minutes, this Sunday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.