Monday, March 29, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Monday, March 29, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri rages and refuses to step down, Iraq's LGBT community remains targeted, KBR steals $193 million (they didn't earn it, it's theft) from the American tax payers and the government employees evaluating KBR continue to give it high marks (despite only "average" reports in real time), and more.
The latest instalmment of Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) began airing Friday evening and Jasim al-Azawi was joined by the Royal Institute of International Affairs' Burhan al-Chalabi, Baghdad University's Professor Saad Naji Jawad and the Institute for Peace and War reporting's Hiwa Osman
Jasim al-Azawi: . . . what is your assessment how they handled the election? According to Hiwa, they contributed slightly, not much, to the understanding.
Saad Naji Jawad: Well, Jasim, I believe the question should be: Is there really an objective or some objective or an objective media in the world? We all remember how the British and the American media dealt with the question of the invasion of Iraq, how they twisted rights, how they twisted facts and how they supported an illegal, unjustified war on Iraq.  Before that how they justified the inhuman sanctions on Iraq which claimed the lives of 1,800,000 people. So I don't think this is the question and to say that -- or after saying that, I think it will be too much, too optimistic to ask the media of the Third World and Iraq to be objective and to contribute objectively when we all know how sectarian division, ethnical division, how political division is ruling the country. You also know that in Iraq now there is no independent channel whatsoever or no independent newspaper. All newspapers, all major, I should say, newspapers are all supported, financed by parties and we all heard how some people got millions to contribute to their campaign from foriegn powers. So I think in such an atmosphere it will be cynical to say that the Iraqi media was objective or that it contributed -- Every major candidate has his own TV channel and it always --  if you listen to them, you can never see or listen to an objective analysis of what is happening. The only interesting thing I found was the attitude of the major or the first newspaper in Iraq al-Sabah. It was the only mouthpiece of the government, it should be the mouthpiece of the government, I was expecting it to support the government.
Jasim al-Azawi: Burhan al-Chalabi, we -- He just mentioned something very challenging perhaps when he said it is only expected that newspapers as well as satellite channels belonging to that particular party or that particular person is to toe the line of that particular party and not to give a credit to the others. This, in such partisan and such very narrowd minded direction, how do you expect Iraqis to get to the truth? To get to the program of a specific list. or a specific party and make an educated decision?
Burhan al-Chalabi: I think we need to go much more fundamental  than this. I take the view that the media and the journalists in Iraq are divided along within the divisions of Iraq. That is you're either -- bear in two camps. The minority camps which is for the occupation and the majority camps which are against the occupation. Unfortunately for the independent and patriotic journalists and the media people, they haven't had the opprotunity in order to discharge their duties because they have been labeled "the other" by the regimes -- with allegations that make them targets to sectarian militias and to the regime itself. And it is a common fact. And it's been widely reported that more than 250 journalists have been assassinated and kidnapped and threatened. Therefore -- or the others have lost their jobs. So really, there isn't anybody now in Iraq who can, from the independent or patriotic journalists who is in a position in order to discharge their duties by explaining to the Iraqis and to the outside world, what is it like to be under the occupation. And the other media -- which represents the first camp, which is the pro-occupation maybe they have been limited use to the regime because they have filled the printed press with disinformation and propaganda and maybe they have consumed airtime on the radio and television in order  to give the impression that Iraq under the occupation is all well but we all know it isn't.
The broadcast is worth catching.  We generally offer more transcription wise but one guest (not quoted above) couldn't wait his turn.  Repeatedly.  He cross-talks non-stop.  At one point, he goes on speaking for approximately three minutes while another person, asked a question by host Jasim, is speaking.  He also refuses to yield to Jasim.  It did not improve the image of the Institute for Peace and War Reporting.  But little could and possibly next time someone from that outfit wants to be a whiny baby, they should grasp that most people do not seem them as a real or independent organization.
We're moving on to the topic of Iraq elections.
Commission Clark Kent Ervin: You reference the political uncertainty now, given the outcome of the election, the fact that former prime minister Allawi appears to be in the ahead, et cetra, there's increasing violence in Iraq, there's the possibility at least that the Iraqi government would ask us to stay beyond the time that we've committed to stay per the terms of the agreement. What plans does AMC [Army Material Command] have to continue contractor support beyond the drop-dead dealine
Lt Gen James Pillsbury: Sir, right now we are planning like I said earlier, August 10 and December 11, your question is fair, we do not have plans because of the uncertainty; however, we feel because of the contracts that we have are flexible enough to be able to provide uninterrupted support if necessary.
That's from today's Commission on Wartime Contracting hearing and we'll come back to it later in the snapshot but (a) it does note the elections and (b) it will be ignored by all outlets.  Ervin's been in government service forever and a day (and he's a national security analyst for CNN).  He's asking questions for a reason.  It's not a minor point.  If it were, he wouldn't be bringing it up.  The answer he sought is, "Yes, contractors can remain in Iraq after the draw-down and withdrawal dates should the Iraqi government ask that US forces stay longer."
As Ervin pointed out, Allawi's slate won the most seats in the March 7th election (this was announced Friday). If you thought things would go smoothly over the weekend, you don't know Nouri.  Marie Colvin (Times of London) reported, "A power struggle between Iyad Allawi, the secular strongman who narrowly won Iraq's general election, and Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister, has threatened to dash hopes of a stable new government." Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported Saturday,  "On Thursday, a day before the results were announced, he quietly persuaded the Iraqi supreme court to issue a ruling that potentially allows him to choose the new government instead of awarding the right to the winner of the election, the former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi."  Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) interviewed Allawi who stated, "I'm worried" because Nouri is "not acting responsibly. We need to have a peaceful transition to power . . . not have a leader who clings to power forever."  Jason Ditz ( observed, "Yet the Maliki government is being even more brazen than this, it would seem, as reports have emerged out of Diyala Province that four Sunni MP-elects from Allawi's bloc are being targeted by security forces. One has already been captured and is being held incommunicado by the Maliki government, two others have gone into hiding, and the fourth is nowhere to be found."
While that and more took place (we'll get to more in a moment), Chris Hill, US Ambassador and Flake to Iraq, continued to wander around in his Mister Magoo like stupor.  Mohammed Jamjoom (CNN) reports that Hill has declared the election results indicate that "there is democracy in this country." Hannah Allem and Mohammed al-Dulaimey (McClatchy Newspapers) report: on the 4 candidates who won seats from Allawi's slate and how Nouri's now targeting them with one "being held incommunicado in a Baghdad jail, two other winners are on the run and the whereabouts of the fourth, a woman, are unknown."  Martin Chuolv (Guardian) reports:

Maliki still wants the top job, despite his loss. He plans to mount a rearguard campaign that positions him as the only viable option for prime minister, because Allawi's support came largely from Sunni provinces and not the Shia majority heartland that held the reins of power for the past four years. But Najafi said: "Anyone who says we do not have a claim to the prime minister's office is behaving in a clearly sectarian way. It is in the constitution that the victor has the right to form a government. Iran fears that their role will be weaker now and that is very clear. But that will not stop us talking with anyone, even Maliki, to form a government."

Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) interviewed professional 'date' with Tehran Ahmed Chalabi who said that "allowing him [Allawi] to form a new government would be dangerous for Iraq because of what he claims are active elements of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party within Mr. Allawi's Sunni-heavy alliance."  Allawi is all crying "Ba'athists."  So often that many are beginning to suspect it's his safe word.  Alice Fordham (Times of London) reports, "The Justice and Accountability Commission, which recommended that hundreds of candidates be barred before the polls, did not specify yesterday how many elected candidates it would now try to dismiss. Ayad Allawi, leader of the winning bloc, warned over the weekend that it might seek to disqualify more candidates from his Iraqia grouping."  In addition, Sunday saw an attack on a member of Ayad Allawi's slate which left the politician Ghanim Radh dead. Leila Fadel and Uthman Mukhtar (Washington Post) report, "The attacks, which wounded 26 people, exacerbated fears that the outcome of Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections will continue to trigger unrest as Iraqi politicians begin to assemble a new government. Allawi and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are vying to get a majority of parliamentarians on their side in order to be appointed prime minister for the next four years."
Meanwhile violence continues in Iraq. 
Kerbala was slammed by twin car bombings. Reuters reports the death tolls stands at 5 thus far with at least sixty-four injured. Katarina Kratovac (AP) adds that the second bombing followed the first blast by "minutes." Reuters also notes a Baghdad sticky bombing wounded two people, a second Baghdad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 employee of the Ministry of Finance and, dropping back to Sunday, two Baquba roadside bombings left six people injured.
Reuters notes a Sunday armed clash in Kirkuk in which one police officer was left injured.
Reuters notes 1 corpse discovered in Kirkuk.
While the 'winner' of the elections may now be in question, one 'winner' is not in question and Queerty announces that 'winner' is . . . : "We're sure the Jamaicans might have something to say about it, but Iraq has won the prestigious award of being dubbed "the most dangerous place on Earth for gays." For stuff like this. Congratulations!" As noted Saturday, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reposts Paul Canning's "Iraq is the most dangerous place on Earth for gays:"

It often shocks people to hear this but talk to Iraqi gays who've made it out and they'll tell you -- Life was better under Saddam. Baghdad played the role that Beirut does now as a sanctuary for Middle Eastern gay life with clubs which men from the Gulf and Saudi Arabia flocked to. In sharp contrast, for the past six years Iraq has been the worst place in the entire world to be gay. Far, far worse than Uganda or even Iran. Hundreds of gays, lesbians and transgender people have been hunted down and killed in the most vile ways imaginable -- and imagination is the right word. Doctors have confirmed reports of men have had their anuses glued shut by militia forces and others have accused the government of being involved. No one has been prosecuted and the Iraqi government has failed to do anything to stop it. So Iraqi gays have helped themselves. They have created safe houses, although many have been discovered and become a new killing field. Many have fled but they have faced a cold wall of indifference and they have needed friends and luck to actually make it to sanctuary. Our government, the British government, has turned its back on those who have arrived here. All have initially been refused asylum. The system instead has told them that Iraq is safe and they should go home.

Ali Hili is an Iraqi attempting to be granted asylum in England, he is also the head of Iraqi LGBT. It is past time for Congress to hold a hearing on the issue of the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community. Among those who have spoken out publicly against the targeting are US House Reps Jared Polis, Tammy Baldwin and Alcee Hastings and US Senator Kirsten Gilibrand. Gilibran and Baldwin led on an effort last month. From the Gilibrand press release, we'll note the letter she and other members of Congress sent to the US Secretary of State:
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton        
Secretary of State of the United States of America                   
2201 C Street NW           
Washington, DC 20520-0099                

Dear Madam Secretary,       

We are writing to share our concerns about the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in countries where these individuals' health and lives are threatened and governments provide inadequate protection. Our concern was sparked most recently by accounts of LGBT individuals from Iraq and Iran who have had to flee after being severely beaten or worse, or because they face a significant risk of such persecution. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Iraq and Iran. LGBT individuals in a number of other countries are also under threat. Moreover, we are troubled by the fact that a number of countries criminalize or are taking steps to increase penalties against the LGBT community.             

We know you share our concern. We appreciate the attention that the United States Government has paid to the special circumstances of people fleeing countries where they face persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly Iraq and Iran. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, for example, has raised the unsolved attacks on gay men with the Ministry of Interior and the Human Rights Ministry. While we value these steps, we remain concerned about people's safety in both these and other countries with reports of persecution of LGBT individuals and/or groups. We are likewise very troubled that LGBT refugees from Iraq and Iran and possibly other countries face risks in first asylum countries where refugees often remain for years, and which are often nearly as hostile to the LGBT community as their home countries.                  

Therefore we respectfully request you to consider several ways in which your leadership and guidance would improve protection for LGBT individuals in both the countries where they are targeted and the first asylum countries where their safety is in question.              

1. United States Ambassadors in countries of concern should strongly and consistently raise the fact that laws targeting homosexual activity and a lack of protection for LGBT individuals or groups violate international human rights law.

2. United Nations and its appropriate agencies, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, should increase their promotion of the human rights of LGBT individuals and ensure that appropriate programs are focused on support of such individuals and groups.            

3. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should increase the training of all of its employees, contractors and implementing partners following its Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. UNHCR should maximize its implementation of this important guidance so that LGBT refugees are not disadvantaged by inappropriate conduct or inadequate processing by UNHCR employees or implementing partners. It appears that additional LGBT refugee protection tools would need to be developed. As the largest donor, the U.S. could help foster an appropriate focus on this issue.      

4. Ffor LGBT individuals, such as those from Iran and Iraq, who face risks in the countries of first asylum, as well as inside their home countries, resettlement processing should be expedited. This can be done in a number of ways, including:

a. Those LGBT refugees who can articulate a serious protection concern because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the country of first asylum can be designated "refugees of special humanitarian concern" so they are eligible for Priority 2, or direct processing to the U.S. refugee admissions program. The United States already designated several groups of at-risk U.S.-affiliated Iraqis as P2-eligible in 2007 and 2008, and has used the designation for refugees from other countries in the past. We appreciate that this category of direct-access eligibility is reserved for some of the most at-risk groups and must be carefully crafted to identify a discrete group.    

b. Processing of LGBT refugee applications can be expedited by UNHCR or the Department of State entering into agreements with qualified non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to identify or screen refugees who need to be taken immediately out of harm's way. Those LGBT refugees with serious protection concerns who are so identified by NGOs -- or who are otherwise known to UNHCR or the U.S. Government -- should be "fast tracked" by UNHCR or the State Department, as appropriate.   

c. In appropriate cases, individuals might be moved by UNHCR to its emergency transit centers (ETCs) in order to ensure their safety during refugee processing. Our understanding is that such transit centers are currently used to house populations whose safety cannot be guaranteed while they are in refugee processing. If such centers are used to temporarily house LGBT refugees, UNHCR would need to take steps to ensure that the centers are sensitive to the protection needs of LGBT individuals. In cases where evacuation to an ETC is not practicable, we urge you to work with the Secretary of Homeland Security to expeditiously parole or conditionally admit particularly vulnerable refugees to the United States for processing, as the United States did with applicants evacuated from northern Iraq in 1996 and Macedonia in 1999.                            

d. Finally, the U.S. agencies involved in the security clearance procedures required as part of the refugee resettlement process should continue to improve coordination in order to enable these procedures to be completed in a timely manner.                  

Again, thank you for your attention to this matter. We would be very pleased to work with you and support you in any way we can.    


Kirsten E. Gillibrand                
United States Senator          

Patrick J. Leahy    
United States Senator

Daniel K. Akaka
United States Senator

Jeff Bingaman
United States Senator

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

Robert P. Casey Jr.
United States Senator

Russell D. Feingold
United States Senator

Frank R. Lautenberg
United States Senator

Joseph L. Lieberman
United States Senator

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Ron Wyden
United States Senator

Tammy Baldwin
United States Representative

Jared Polis
United States Representative

Barney Frank
United States Representative

Jan Schakowsky
United States Representative

Jerrold Nadler
United States Representative

Michael M. Honda
United States Representative

Lois Capps
United States Representative

James P. Moran
United States Representative

Zoe Lofgren
United States Representative

David Wu
United States Representative

Edolphus Towns
United States Representative

Carolyn Maloney
United States Representative

Alcee Hastings
United States Representative

John Conyers
United States Representative

Luis Gutierrez
United States Representative

Bill Delahunt
United States Representative

Eliot Engel
United States Representative

Raúl M. Grijalva
United States Representative

Chellie Pingree
United States Representative

Joseph Crowley
United States Representative

Gary Ackerman
United States Representative

Anthony Weiner
United States Representative

Maurice Hinchey
United States Representative

Steven Rothman
United States Representative

James P. McGovern
United States Representative

Lynn Woolsey
United States Representative

Paul Tonko
United States Representative

Mike Quigley
United States Representative

Steve Israel
United States Representative

Howard Berman
United States Representative

Henry Waxman
United States Representative

Brad Sherman
United States Representative

Congress -- especially the DPC -- has had hearings into waste and fraud. It's past time that hearings took place about human rights. Paul Canning believes one of the most helpful things that can be done presently for Ali Hili and Iraq's LGBT community is for the US Congress to invite him to testify before them. To contact Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis and Kirsten Gillibrand visit their websites. To contact the DPC (Democratic Policy Committee), click here.  To request that the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs take up the issue, click here.
"We are here today" Christopher Shays declared in DC this morning, "to talk about transitions in Iraq. March 20 was the seventh anniversary of the US, British and other allies invasion of Iraq. American combat operations there have lasted almost twice as long as the American Civil War or US involvement in WWII." 
Shays was reading the opening remarks of the commissioners of the Commission on Wartime Conracting in Iraq and Afghanistan as they held another of there oh-so-rare hearings.  Shays explained the Commission was concerned that contractors -- such as KBR "whose employees account for half of all contractors in the country" -- were keeping accurate numbers of their employees -- and didn't have "unnecessary staff hanging around" -- since each one can cost the US tax payer approximately $1,000 a month.  In addition, "We also want to explore what appears to be alarming data revealed in audits by the Defense Contract Audit Agency and the Inspector General of the Department of Defense." 
Adam Weinstein (Mother Jones) reported earlier this month, "It was just a single contract for a single job on a single base in Iraq. The Deparmtne of Defense agreed to pay the megacontractor KBR $5 million a year to repair tactical vehicles, from Humvees to big rigs, at Joint Base Balad, a large airfield and supply center north of Baghdad. Yet according to a new Pentagon report [PDF], what the military got was as many as 144 civilian mechanics, each doing as little as 43 minutes of work a month, with virtually no oversight. The report, issued March 3 by the DoD's Inspector General, found that between late 2008 and mid-2009, KBR performed less than 7 percent of the work it was expected to do, but still got paid in full."
The Commission heard from two panels.  The first was governmental -- Lt Gen James Pillsbury, DCAA's Patrick J. Fitzgerald and RICC's James Loehr.   The second was KBR execs Doug Horn and Guy H.A. Laboa.  All the witnesses were sworn in -- and sworn in at the start of the hearing.  Shays is one of the co-chairs of the Commission, Michael Thibault is another.  Thibault declared in the first round of questioning that he was "on a tear about efficiency and economy." He noted Loehr's report which found KBR was repeatedly late with providing cost updating, that they were overstaffed and that they were mismanaged.
Commissioner Michael Thibault: So my question, Mr. Loehr, is, please, what's going on here?
James Loehrl: Okay, um.  What that PEB [Performance Evaluation Board] is is that's a monthly assessment that the Defense Contract Management Agency's ACO's perform with KBR in theater on a monthly basis to give the contractor feedback. And as you said, all of that leads -- flows into the bi-annual award fee process. Uh, some of what is in there very clearly, if what the ACL is reporting there was correct and KBR is not implementing ACL changes and getting those ACL changes incorporated into the base line, then that is an issue and the proper way to be addressing them is at that PEB form so the KBR understands that that is then going to flow into their award fee evaluation and effect their profitability. And so that is what that process is going on.  I believe that particular PEB was one on the core logistics, then calls into the same thing Mr. Fitzgerald brought up with that DCAA report regarding that staffing of that logistic's mission. So I think two of those --
Thibault cut him off and noted the problems outlined before stating, "Multi-billion dollar and my sensitivity is if you don't have the kind of score keeping, sir, that you need, in order to do your job, how are we going to get it?"  His time was up but he noted Shays had indicated he wanted to pursue the line of questioning when his turn rolled around. Pointing to one report regarding staffing, Commission Robert Henke noted over $190 million in waste of the tax payer dollar by KBR and he wanted to know if "the Army or the Army Material Command has responded to this report? If someone would write me a report that said, 'You can save $193 million,' I'd write 'em back and say I agree or disagree.  Sir, has the Army responded?"  Lt Gen James Pillsbury reponded, "I will take that for the record. I don't know if we have responded exactly to-to it. I know that we are taking actions to drawdown" contractors.  Henke then asked Fitzgerald if the Army had "responded formally to the report?"
Patrick Fitzgerald: Sir, if you mean formally in writing --
Commissioner Robert Henke: Yeah.
Patrick Fitzgerald: No. [. . .]
Commissioner Robert Henke: General, since the Army hasn't responded to the audit, could you do that here?
Lt Gen James Pillsbury: Uhm.  Again, sir, the-the-the drawdown in Iraq is-is on pace.  Uhm, given the DCAA audit and the fact that General [Ray] Odierno [top US commander in Iraq] has said that we would draw down by 5%, the actions of -- that I believe are ongoing -- are prudent.  Now, I am not an auditor. I am an operational logistician and requirements in a flowing battlefield, in a flowing theater, especially when its drawing down, are very difficult to put your arms around. So I will say to you, sir, I will take this for the record and get back to you with a written response from AMC with what are actions are for the audit but-but I will tell you sir, the situtations on the ground are somewhat fluid as you well know.
Commissioner Robert Henke: I-I-I appreciate that entirely but you're telling me that AMC has a comprehensive plan to drawdown contracts and contractos and the single biggest contractor in theater is KBR with 15,000 direct hires and 30,000 other peopl. I would think if an auditor would tell you, "There's a chance to save $193 million" that someone in the system would feel compelled to respond. I'm disappointed that the Army has not. We had the LOGCAP program manager up here before the Commission in December, asked him his response -- the report was just out -- so this is not new material. In fact, the point of the audit is that the savings are going, going gone. If the army had acted the savings could have been achieved but since the Army or the DoD hasn't responded, the savings are effectively gone. So my question to you, sir, is who is responsible for cost efficiency, for cost awarenss of expensive contracts in theater.
Lt Gen James Pillsbury: The Army Material Command leadership is as you well know.  The contract oversight, we depend on our partners at DCMA and DCAA. [. . . . ]
Commissioner Katherine Schinasi returned to the PEB and wanted to know what the government did in terms of consequences for those who failed? She noted that the government has written to KBR: "You're not being pro-active enough, you're not taking the initative." So after they've been given instructive criticism, "what is the consequence if they don't do that?" James Loehr fell back on that this was part of their award fee criteria.
Commissioner Katherine Schinasi:  And have you withheld award fee for that purpose? Because they have not done that?
James Loehr: Uhm.  Yes. I think if you go back and look at the award fee evaluation, you'll find that K -- KBR, I don't think, has ever -- very rarely -- gets 100% in that category.
Commissioner Katherine Schinasi: Close to 100%?
James Loehr: Uhm. I think -- I'd have to get back to you for that specifically but they are generally in that-that high-very good, though, excellent range that category.
In other words, KBR suffers no real penalty. And they keep getting contracts.  And Inspector General reports keep coming out calling out KBR.  But it's calling out not just KBR but these people who are supposed to be watching this in real time, doing these PEBs in real time.  But KBR gets to skate.  It's already stolen $193 million from the US tax payers on one deal alone and James Loehr and others work real hard to ensure it's high rated -- despite only average reports -- so that it gets the bulk of its award fee.  Kat intends to cover some aspects of the hearing at her site tonight.
Returning to the election results by way of media criticism. Iraq War veteran Nick Miano (Technican) explores the media's walk-away from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars:

This leads to questions about what the media's purpose is in covering these wars. Is it to help the public form an informed opinion? Is it to generate some kind emotional response? Or is it merely to report statistical information and indulge the public with pictures of violence, albeit heavily censored violence? These wars, much like Vietnam, have been heavily televised (until recently). The difference however, is that the endless stream of violent imagery coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan has only desensitized a public with little or no vested interest in the conflicts; while the nightly televising of the Vietnam War influenced a public who had a direct interest in the events of the war.
Unless someone has such a direct interest in the subject, how can we expect that the information being given to him or her will carry any real meaning? The daily reporting of the number of war dead, whether they are civilians, soldiers or insurgents, is merely an abstraction of the real suffering that occurs. As an abstraction, this information is ultimately meaningless for anyone who digests it unless he or she is directly involved in the conflicts. For the larger public, war coverage is just an endless stream of noise that the mind eventually tunes out. The concept of war itself is an abstraction to those who have no emotional investment in it. This is not an altogether negative idea; I would love to eventually live in a society in which the word "war" is completely eradicated from the lexicon. However, in the meantime this lack of real interest in the subject only leads to a sense of ambivalence about the circumstances that our soldiers, Iraqi and Afghani civilians, and "enemy" combatants find themselves in.

Does the media not cover Iraq? That's sarcasm. We noted NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams in Friday's snapshot because Williams and Richard Engel covered Iraq.

Brian Williams: Richard, you were saying earlier in the newsroom today, people rooting for the US-side of the equation would be dancing in the streets of Baghdad at this result. What did you mean by that?

Richard Engel: This was an incredibly significant day, perhaps the most important one in the last several years in Iraq. Ayad Allawi won these elections. Now he is a Shi'ite, he's secular and he's pro-American and he's very anti-Iran. The current government in Iraq right now is a religious state that leans toward Iran. So if Ayad Allawi can hold on to this position, that he gained today, he still has to form a government and face off challenges by the current prime minister, then we could see a major change in direction in Iraq.

Brian Williams: Dancing in the street with those cement blast walls in the background, kind of a reminder that it's still a dangerous state.

The link in Friday's snapshot was mixed up.  We're fixing it here.  And Engel and Williams' segment continued beyond the excerpt.  But what did the other networks do?

ABC World News with Diane Sawyer? Sawyer was off. David Muir and his beautician filled in. The hair looked wonderful but the news suffered. Half-way into the program, Muir and that head of hair finally got around to Iraq and . . . stayed on it for 15 seconds. You get the idea Muir spends more time than that each hour dragging a brush through those shimmering highlights. Harry Smith will never have Muir's hair problems and possibly that's why he was able to offer his bit much earlier in the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric when he filled in for Katie on Friday. Along with getting to the story sooner, he also offered a few second more -- fourteen seconds more. CBS gave it 29 seconds.

Brian Williams was the only anchor not on vacation Friday and Nightly News was the only commercial network evening news show that treated Iraq as significant. No surprise, PBS' NewsHour devoted much more time to the issue click here for video, audio and transcript options for the Iraq segments by Jeffrey Brown -- first segment is one minute and forty-five seconds, second segment (discussion with Ryan Crocker -- former US Ambassador to Iraq -- and Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group) is nearly nine minutes. From the second segment, we'll note this:

JEFFREY BROWN: But -- but, staying with you, how hard will this process be? And what becomes the role of key other players, like Muqtada al-Sadr, in helping to either join or not join one of these groups and therefore forming a coalition, forming a government?                                                

RYAN CROCKER: It -- it is going to be difficult. There is no combination of coalitions right now that I would rule out. And there's also no assurance that the coalitions that came together for the elections will stay together for the process of government formation. We may see the Sadrists, for example, split with the rest of the Iraqi National Alliance, as they seek advantage in the -- in these politics of government formation. So, just about everything and everybody is on the table. The small parties may hold the critical weight in determining who gets to be prime minister. And, again, it's helpful to remember what happened in 2006, when the man who emerged at the end of the day was on no one's lips as the process started. That man, of course, was Nouri al-Maliki.          

JEFFREY BROWN: But, Joost Hiltermann, is -- is renewed sectarian violence on the table or a possibility here?                  

JOOST HILTERMANN: Well, I don't think it's safe to rule it out, but I hope not. And it doesn't look like it right now. But, if Prime Minister Maliki rejects the results, and decides to act on it, we could get in a dangerous situation. Likewise, if -- if Prime Minister Allawi -- not Prime Minister -- former Prime Minister Allawi seeks to form a government, and fails to bring together a ruling coalition, and has to give over that -- that role to someone else, say Mr. Maliki, and he doesn't accept those results, you could see a reversion to violence. But, so far, the pressure on all the actors has been considerable from both the United Nations and the United States, and, in fact, from political opponents on both, especially on Maliki right now, to play by the rules of the game.