Thursday, September 22, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, September 22, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi Christians continue to be targeted, Nouri continues to look unhinged, a US Senate committee digs for answers but few are provided, Senator David Vitter has to remind Adm Mike Mullen that Congress is part of the political leadership, Senator Patty Murray asks the Labor Dept to help connect veterans and employers, and much more.
"We'd be having, from my perspective, circular conversations because we just do not know what's going on in Baghdad," declared the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, today. 
He and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were appearing in DC this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Mullen's comment was disturbing and if you're not getting how that is so, let's note what came immediately before it.
Senator David Vitter:  What's the minimum number in your opinion would be required for them to protect themselves?  I mean, that's where you start.
Adm Mike Mullen: But inside how much training am I going to do, who's going to do it -- again -- assuming we're going to do this -- where's it going to exist?  It depends on where it is in the country. It's different west than it is north than it is south or in Baghdad. It's just not -- it's just not -- I know people -- others, you -- would love to have me get a number out there -- I --- Honestly, it's just -- It's not determined yet. It really does depend on what we're going to do.  And where we're going to do it.  And how often we're going to do it.
Senator David Vitter: Okay. Well I guess I'm just a little frustrated, Adm, because on our side, on the US government side, we're part of the political leadership so I'm asking for that advice as we have that -- as we have that discussion.
And that's when Mullen declared, of that discussion, "We'd be having, from my perspective, circular conversations because we just do not know what's going on in Baghdad."  As Vitter noted, Congress is part of the government, Congress should be involved in these discussions.  But they're shut out of the loop.
The Bush administration did that with the Status Of Forces Agreement.  They not only refused to follow the Constitution's mandate on advise and consent on treaties, they refused to provide the Congress with a copy of the SOFA.  When Congress finally began addressing elements of the SOFA, they were doing so via a translated copy from the Iraqi side of the negotiations. The White House kept the US Congress in the dark until after the Iraq Parliament passed it, at which point the White House released the SOFA publicly on their website (Thanksgiving Day, 2008).
For those who have forgotten, this refusal was called out by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.  Among the more prominent names calling it out were Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
And yet now, as the US government and the Iraqi government are in negotations about extending the US military presence in Iraq beyond 2011, the two senators who once objected to keeping Congress out of the loop on Iraq have decided that, as President and Vice President, they don't want the US Congress having any input or even knowledge of the negotiations.
It is almost October.  December 31st all US troops (not including those shoved under the umbrella of the US Embassy in Iraq) might be out.  That's certainly what Americans expect to happen because they've been told that's what would happen.  Maybe they won't care about a broken promise?
Today the Los Angeles Times editorial board argued that withdrawal is more a state of mind than an actual action so 5,000 or less US troops remaining in Iraq is a-okay with them.  And one minute they're decrying the deaths of nearly 5,000 US troops in the Iraq War in one sentence but in the very next sentence they declare that continued war is a-okay provided "the force were kept small -- 5,000 or so". So 5,000 is a big number except . . . when it's not? Clearly logic is not a prerequisite for serving on the paper's editorial board.  And the editorial is saying that a pledge during a campaign, a promise to the public and even bad reporting from almost every outlet (and that includes the Los Angeles Times) telling Americans since the end of November 2008 that the SOFA meant US troops had to leave by the end of 2011 doesn't matter.  Accountability apparently is no longer a concern of the press.
As noted, Committee Chair is Carl Levin.  Senator John McCain is Ranking Member.  Both attempted to garner answers and specifics were never forthcoming.
Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Arms Committee.  He attempted to get some idea of how many troops might or might not be staying.
Chair Carl Levin: But putting that aside, in terms of a mission in Iraq, would you agree that we must be careful to avoid keeping a large number of troops in Iraq as being, number one, inconsistent with the agreement that President Bush has entered into [the SOFA] and, number two, that it could unleash some street demonstrations which possibly could result in instability but that whatever we are negotiating should be at the request of the Iraqis and we should be very careful in terms of the numbers that we might negotiate?
Adm Mike Mullen: I think -- I think we have to be very careful about the numbers. I -- For me, at a very high level, the most critical part of this is to get the strategic partnership right as the Secretary [of Defense Leon Panetta] testified and that we really are in the middle of negotiations right now with respect to what do the Iraqis want? And what, quite frankly, can the Iraqi political leadership deliver? And, as the Secretary said, there has been no determination and no decision at this point.
Chair Carl Levin: And the issue is not what the Iraqis want, the issue is what we believe is going to be appropriate, if any, after they make a request --
Adm Mike Mullen: Well actually.
Chair Carl Levin: It's our decision, is that correct?
Adm Mike Mullen: I - I think it will be, certainly, but that's part of the negotiations.
Chair Carl Levin: Of course.  Secretary Panetta, do you want to add anything to that in terms of continuing training mission in Iraq?
Secretary Leon Panetta: I - I - I think it's important that - that the whole purpose of these negotiations is to listen to what - what is it that they need, uh, in order to ensure that they can provide security, in order to ensure that they can deal with the threat of terrorism, in order to ensure that they can take the steps necessary to be able to deal with security threats within their country.  We've gotta' -- We've gotta' take the -- Listen to their needs, take them into consideration, indicate what can be provided in order to meet those concerns and then, obviously, through a process of negotiations, arrive at, you know, what - what is that going to look like?  And that's the process that's going on nonw.  And clearly it's not going to reflect the numbers that we've had there in the past but, uh, it - it -it does have to meet their needs.  That's what's being negotiated by Gen [Lloyd] Austin as we speak.
Chair Carl Levin: Senator McCain?

Ranking Member John McCain: Well, Secretary Panetta, I don't want to waste the time of the Committee and my questioning but the fact is that one of the reasons why this has been delayed as much as it has is because the Iraqis wanted to know what our assessment was as to how many troops should be there and that has not been forthcoming.  And it's very difficult for them to make a decision without us making input into what those needs are.  And if we are basing it all on Iraqis' needs, that, to me, is an incomplete picture because we need to know what America's national security needs are as paramount reason for leaving American troops in harms way.  Adm Mullen, do you believe that US forces should remain in the disputed territories of northern Iraq as part of a post-2011 mission?
Adm Mike Mullen: Again, Senator, I think certainly that is a very, very contentious area and it's --
Ranking Member John McCain: Do you believe or not believe that we should have --
Adm Mike Mullen: I think -- I think the security posture in that area has to be such that that doesn't, in any way shape or form, blow up.  It is a very tough area and the exact composition of how that should happen, uh, is a product of these negotitations.
Ranking Member John McCain: So --
Adm Mike Mullen: And quite frankly, I've --
Ranking Member John McCain: So you'll not give your opinion --
Adm Mike Mullen: Sir, sir --
Ranking Member John McCain: -- as to whether we need to have a residual peace keeping force in northern Iraq in post 2011?
Adm Mike Mullen: There have -- There -- There -- Quite frankly -- and very recently -- there is still a very contentious debate about that issue.
Ranking Member John McCain: I understand there is a debate.  I was asking you for your opinion.
Adm Mike Mullen:  That's an issue that a security force is going to have to be there to resolve, yeah.  It's composition, uh, is, I think, to be determined.
Ranking Member John McCain:  Well every number that I've heard and been briefed on is at least 5,000 troops would be needed in that area, US troops, to prevent what has already been a very volatile are and if we weren't there would have already been conflict.
[. . .  McCain takes the conversation to Afghanistan for a series of questions.]
Ranking Member John McCain: Finally, again back to Iraq, Mr. Secretary, it's not a training mission in the disputed areas.  It's a peace keeping mission.  So if you're confining it all only to training mission than you have got the complete picture of the security risks in Iraq that I have. 
While visiting troops in Iraq in July (see July 11th snapshot), Leon Panetta made a serious of comments that were seen as gaffes.  One wasn't a gaffe and that's become ever more clear.  Panetta falsely linked 9-11 and Iraq.  Panetta was widely called out in the press for this.  His statements before the Committee today were often just as false and reactionary.  His big theme, he pimped it three different times during the hearing, is that the Iraq War cannot just wind down because strides need to be made in Iraq and not to achieve those would be an insult to the dead. 
He declared that the worst thing about it would be leaving the impression "that somehow all of this was in vain."
It was in vain in terms of its stated goals.  In terms of creating a new market for corporations it's been a success.  In terms of stealing Iraqi oil, it may yet be a success.  But Leon Panetta has entered major reactionary territory taking him far from his center-left roots.
And, he better accept this, the American people have already determined that the Iraq War was not worth the cost.
The idea that approximately 4,480 Americans have died in the Iraq War so the US must remain in it is nonsense and it's insulting.  Those lives lost are lost.  That's very sad, it's very troubling.  It does not excuse forcing other Americans to continue to die.  To pretend that we cannot learn from mistakes is a rejection of the human experience and Leon Panetta was insulting, rude and crass.  How dare he use the dead to shore up his weak argument.  It was shameful and calls into question not only where he stands today but also whether or not he's fit to serve as Secretary of Defense.
Allegedly, Barack Obama as president meant change.  But there's been no change with regards to war (except Barack embraces a little tighter).  Today was one of the most embarrassing and shameful days for the administration.  Barack may be able to take comfort in the fact that none of it resulted from a comment or comments he made, but that doesn't change the embarrassment or the shame.
If Leon Panetta feels that leaving Iraq will mean dead Americans (John McCain was the only one who ever noted the pain and struggle of Iraqis as more than a fleeting aside -- wait, Lindsey Graham did as well, he praised the Iraqis who had fought with Americans and noted that many had died during this war) died in vain, maybe he should tender his resignation, contact DynaCorp, grab a gun and head on over to Iraq as a mercenary?
But to insist that, because 20 or 30 people died walking into a fire that they were told would be a beautiful meadow, we must therefore keep sending people into that fire or the 20 or 30 dead was in vain, is an illogical argument devoid of any recognition of our greatest ability: The ability to learn from our mistakes.
The Committee was clearly (and rightly) bothered by the refusal of the administration to keep them informed on the negotiations or to bring them into the negotiations.  We'll note this section of the hearing.
Senator Lindsey Graham:  You're not going to tell me the number, I understand why you're not going to tell me the number.  But we're going to talk about Iraq in terms of our strategic interest. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it that Iraq end well in terms of our national security interests?
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: It's -- it's certainly an 8 and above.
Senator Lindsey Graham:  Okay. So let's look at it in terms of 8 and above.  The resourcing for an 8 and above situation should be robust but reasonable.  And Gen Ray Odierno says that we don't want a too large a force, I agree.  The Iraqis want to take over but they need our help. If you looked at the Kurdish-Arab dispute as a potential failure point in the future of Iraq, where fighting could break out, Adm Mullen, how would you rate that as a risk?
Adm: Mike Mullen:  High.
Senator Lindsey Graham:  Okay, if you look at the construct you have of peshmerga, Afghan [Iraqi] security force and American soldier forming a new brigade or company, that construct is paying dividends, isn't it?
Adm Mike Mullen: Yes, sir, it has.
Senator Lindsey Graham: They call it the Lion's Brigade. So what I would ask you to do the next time you sit down and look at the number of troops to make sure the fault line does not crack because we've got a plan to integrate the peshmerga, the Iraqi security forces. And we're the referee. Over time, we're going to build a transition force that will be more stable.  You said something, capacity and capability is as important as numbers. And I agree with that but there's a time in military engagement where numbers do matter. We're at the point now where capability matters.  So my point about 3,000 -- and I know that's not the number -- intelligence gathering.  What ability do the Iraqis have to gather intelligence on their own?  Compared to us?
Adm Mike Mullen: I-I would describe that as one of the gap areas that they clearly need to work on.  It's not none but it's an area that they certainly have --
Senator Lindsey Graham:  But they dont have close to what we have and, if you want to keep Iran at bay, the more we know about  what Iran's doing better off the Iraqis are, is that correct?
Adm Mike Mullen: But, Senator Graham, I don't think we should make them us either.  Yes, they need to improve but --.                                                                                                   
Senator Lindsey Graham:  But we have a national security interest field in Iraq, right? So it's in our national security interest to know what's going on in that country. So when you look at the fault line of the Kurd-ish Arab dispute, you look at the fault line, you're looking at capabilities they don't have, when you look at their air force, training their army and having a force protection plan for our diplomats, the numbers begin to add up.  And all I'm saying is, would you feel comfortable with a member of your family serving in a force of 3,000?
Adm Mike Mullen: I would -- I have confidence that whatever -- If -- assuming there is a number --  That force protection will be -- will be, uh, that our force protection will meet of whomever might be there --
Senator Lindsey Graham:  One last question --
Adm Mike Mullen: So in that regard, yes.
The White House keeps the Congress out of the negotiation process.  Their puppet Nouri al-Maliki mirrors their behavior.  The Associated Press reports that Osama al-Nujaifi, Speaker of Parliament, held a press conference today in which he announced that Nouri al-Maliki has provided no information to Parliament about US troops remaining in Iraq or even about the capabilities of Iraqi forces.  Nouri was designated as the sole negotiator in discussions with the US government to keep US forces in Iraq beyond 2011. As the commander of the Iraqi military, it is incumbent upon Nouri to deliver a report on readiness to Parliament.
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports on Moqtada al-Sadr's criticism of Nouri al-Maliki swearing out an arrest warrant for Sabah al-Saadi claiming that criticizing Nouri is a threat to national security (see yesterday's snapshot). al-Sadr has called out the move and compared it to a new dictatorship and issued a call for the government to work on inclusion and not exclusion. Another Al Mada report notes Sadr declaring that Nouri needs to drop this issue and focus on the needed political work. It's noted that the Sadr bloc waited until Moqtada issued a statement to weigh in and that the Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barazni declared that the Kurdish bloc would not support a vote to strip al-Saadi of his immunity. As a member of Parliament, Sabah al-Saadi should be immune to Nouri's arrest warrant for the 'crime' of speech. Currently, the warrant exists but cannot be executed due to the immunity members of Parliament have. So in addition to filing charges against al-Saadi, Nouri and State of Law (his political slate) are also attempting to strip a member of Parliament of his immunity.

But that's not all. Nouri has a back up plan. Should the Parliament not agree to strip al-Saadi of his immunity, the warrant will stand through 2014 when al-Saadi's term expires (al-Saadi's decided not to run again or Nouri's made that decision and intends to utilize the Justice and Accountability Commission to keep him from running?) at which point all-Saadi would be a citizen (without immunity) and then the warrant can and will be executed. In addition, Al Mada notes the claim that immunity can be stripped of a member of Parliament if half-plus-one of those in attendance vote in favor of the motion.
For those wondering how an insult, any insult, rises to the level of criminal, this AFP report (in French) explains that Nouri's complaint utilizes a law from the reign of General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Article 226 of the 1969 Criminal Code which made it a crime for anyone to insult a member of Parliament, the government, the courts, armed forces, etc.

Dar Addustour reports that al-Saadi could face as much as five years in prison if convicted of the charges. Dar Addustour also notes the open speculation that Judge Medhat al-Mahmoud, President of the Supreme Judicial Council, caved and issued the warrant in the first place because he's been threated by Nouri. al-Mahmou has ties to the regime of Saddam Hussein and Nouri's made it clear, the rumors go, that charges can be brought against the judge as a result. AFP quotes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi declaring, "The issue of removing immunity from any MP must be studied carefully, to be sure that it is not malicious or political targeting. There is a committee that will study this request, and after the [Parliamnent's] presidency committee [al-Nujaifi and his two deputies] will decide whether or not to remove the immunity."
janearraf Cafe next to #Baghdad womens' radio station burned after tribute show for slain radio host Hadi Mehdi. Other activists report death threats.
Iraqi poets are featured in Malpais Review's Fall 2011 issue. One of those poets is Dunya Mikhail whom guest editor Lauren Camp interviews at her own site (Which Silk Shirt) --  click here for part one and here for part two. Dunya Mikhail states, "It's hard to see Iraq as a whole because part of it has been buried under the ruins. I mean what's on the surface to see is just half of the truth. You can see that half through the eyes of regular people and through the works of artists and writers, and onlly sometimes through the words and pictures of journalists. What the politicians let you see is zero% of that truth."
At the end of last October, an attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, the latest in a never-ending wave of attacks on Iraq's religious minorities, forced many Iraqi Christians to flee. Some left the country, some left Baghdad for the Kurdistan Region which is seen as more welcoming to all religions. Reuters reports that, 11 months later, some of those who fled to the region struggle to find employment and while Menas Saad Youssef states she is safer and "can go out at night," she also can't find employment. Along with the issue of unemployment throughout Iraq, there's also the fact that the KRG requires you to have residency permit (which you must renew annually) to work in the region. Iraq currently has 18 provinces.  There is a push on the part of some to create a province just for Iraqi Christians.  Alsumaria TV notes that some are pushing for it to be formed in some part of Nineveh Province.  This call comes as Alsumaria TV reports 3 Iraqi Christians were kidnapped while on "a hunting trip [in] southern Kirkuk" and that the kidnappers "killed their hunting dogs".  (In contrast to Alsumaria's report, Reuters implies that the dogs are alive.)
In other violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left two Iraqi soldiers and one bystander injured, a Mussayab roadside bombing left two people injured, a Haswa suicide bomber took his/her own life and the lives of 4 other people with seventeen more injured, 2 corpses were discovered in Tikrit and 1 corpse was discovered in Kirkuk.
Aseel Kami (Reuters) reports on the water issue in Iraq and how, within two decades, the country may see the demise of clean water. Kami notes, "Iraq, already struggling with water shortages, says hydroelectric dams and irrigation in Turkey, Iran and Syria have reduced the water flow in its main rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris." We've noted the salty water making its way into Iraq via Iran (and the Iranian government's claims to be addressing the issue) but there's another issue not noted in the article: Oil and gas pollution. And don't forget GE is going into northern Iraq -- the same GE who 'helped' the Hudson River become what it is today.
Turning to the United States, yesterday's snapshot covered the joint hearing by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee and  Ava's "Post office closing raised in hearing" went up at Trina's site last night which also covered the hearing.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and we'll note this from her office:
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray sent a letter to Secretary Hilda Solis at the Department of Labor urging the Department to reach out to employers who want to hire separating servicemembers. The letter asks the Department to outline the ways it partners with prospective employers committed to hiring veterans and shares such information with veterans. Senator Murray is the sponsor of the comprehensive veterans' employment legislation, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, which would require that separating service members attend the Transition Assistance Program. The bill would also create new direct federal hiring authority so that more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military.
"Every step that can be taken should be taken to fully capitalize on employers' interest in, and commitment to, hiring America's veterans," said Senator Murray in the letter.   "This is especially true given President Obama's recent challenge to the private sector to hire 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013.   To this end, it is critical that such employers are connected to the right resources, and that veterans have the information they need to be competitive for these employment opportunities."

The full text of Chairman Murray's letter is below:


September 22, 2011


The Honorable Hilda L. Solis

Secretary of Labor

Frances Perkins Building

200 Constitution Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20210


Dear Secretary Solis:


With the unemployment rate for young veterans reaching unprecedented levels in recent months, ensuring that America's veterans can access living-wage jobs is of paramount concern.  I know that the Administration shares my concern -- as evidenced by the unveiling of the American Jobs Act.


One area where we have an opportunity to make a real and meaningful difference in addressing the high veteran unemployment rate is outreach to -- and partnership with -- employers who want to hire veterans.


Recently, my office was contacted by an employer regarding a hiring initiative for veterans within his industry.  According to the employer, despite the initiative's potential to create thousands of job opportunities for veterans, the employer found it difficult to connect with the right people at the Department regarding his efforts to hire veterans. And every day my staff or I talk with companies that are desperate to find employees to fill good jobs.


Every step that can be taken should be taken to fully capitalize on employers' interest in, and commitment to, hiring America's veterans.  This is especially true given President Obama's recent challenge to the private sector to hire 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013.   To this end, it is critical that such employers are connected to the right resources, and that veterans have the information they need to be competitive for these employment opportunities.


Therefore, please detail for me the current process by which the Department partners with prospective employers committed to hiring veterans and shares such information with veterans: 


§  How does the Department cultivate and foster partnerships with prospective employers? 


§  Does the Department coordinate such efforts with the VETS web portal, and if so, how? If not, what portal (if any) does the Department use to engage with prospective employers?


§  Has the Department developed a best practice as to the manner by which it connects separating servicemembers and recently separated veterans with employers who are hiring?  If so, please share a description of that practice with my office.


§  Does the Department attempt to match veterans and employers by targeting veterans whose military occupational specialties are aligned with the unique needs of the employer? 


§  How does the Department disseminate information to veterans about employers who are currently hiring?  Is such information included in the Transition Assistance Program?  If not, why?


§  How does the Department communicate information about employers who are currently hiring to the Department's One-Stop Career Centers and coordinate with Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program specialists and relevant Local Veterans' Employment Representatives?


§  How does the Department coordinate efforts to engage employers with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense?  What other departments and agencies are also involved with your efforts?


§  Finally, does the Department possess all the necessary legal authority to partner with prospective employers and connect separating servicemembers and veterans with such employers?  If not, what specific authority is lacking. 


Secretary Solis, thank you for your leadership and work on behalf of America's veterans, and for your response to these questions.  I am confident that the Department, in partnership with private industry, can continue to make real progress against the high rate of veteran unemployment that has persisted for far too long.


I look forward to working with you in the weeks and months ahead to help get our veterans back to work.




                                                              Patty Murray

And finally, we'll note  this from Sherwood Ross' "OBAMA'S RE-ELECTION CHANCES MAY BE FADING, AND SO WHAT?" (Veterans Today):

Unless President Obama breathes life into a massive New Deal-type jobs and reconstruction effort, now, and not in some vague Tomorrow, his chances for re-election, will shrivel. (Not that I care: I plan to vote Green.) That's because this presidential campaign early on gives every appearance of one that will be fought out largely on domestic issues as the candidates appeal to voter self-interest. In all the Republican debates and Democratic oratory until now, it's been rare to catch a word about USA's engulfing the Middle East and Africa in wars to steal their energy resources.
Thus, the campaign talk is all-about rebuilding American infrastructure---not about restoring Iraq's infrastructure that we destroyed in an illegal war. The talk is about finding jobs for long-term unemployed Americans----not about the Depression-level unemployment we created in Iraq. Americans seem indifferent to the fate of those we are destroying overseas with our brilliant killing machines. And maybe that's not surprising as the six wars we are waging get so little media play. We think we can commit crimes against humanity and walk away from them---and so we do.
Last night's commentators on MSNBC television waxed eloquent about Mr. Obama's "tough talk" on creating jobs. It is as though they forgot this is the same man who talked like a liberal during his initial run for the White House but largely acted like any reactionary once elected. His pledge to get out of Iraq is visibly undercut by U.S. construction of a gigantic embassy-fortress in Baghdad. The U.S. has subjugated Iraq and intends to rule it until the last drop of oil has been squeezed from its soil.
It must be remembered that President Obama is a creature of the Central Intelligence Agency, the foremost international criminal organization in the world today; that his college loans were paid for by the CIA and that he got his first job after college from the CIA. And the CIA has long aligned itself closely with grasping oil firms out solely to plunder and profit---and who are reaping sensational war-time profits at this hour---the world's motorists and homeowners be damned. It needs to be understood those 900 bases the Pentagon has built are not for defense, but for offense, to control every region of the planet, as the latest deals with Colombia and Australia reveal.