Saturday, December 10, 2011

As Congress asked, 'Why is the administration still spending $500 million a year to provide this program?'

Al Mada reports that the Ministry of the Interior has declared today that they don't need trainers and that Iraq can monitor its borders and skies without any help from foreigners. Those comments came from Adnan al-Assadi, Deputy Minister of the Interior. Why is the deputy speaking and not the minister?

Oh, that's right. Despite the fact that Nouri was supposed to name a Minister of the Interior back in December 2010, he never did. The US government is about to fork over $500,000 million of US tax payer dollars for a program that has no head. (Nouri has also refused to name a Minister of National Security and a Minister of Defense.)

al-Assadi's name comes up frequently in Congress these days. Such as in Wednesday's the House Oversight and Government Reform's National Security Subcommittee hearing:

US House Rep Raul Labrador: Mr. Bowen, right now the police development program is the administration's largest foreign aid project for Iraq going forward. And there's some evidence that the Iraqis don't even want this program. So have you or your staff asked the Iraqi police forces if they need the $500 million a year program that the Obama administration is planning to spend on the police development program?

SIGIR Stuart Bowen: Yes, Mr. Labrador, we have and we reported on that in our last quarterly report noting that the senior official at the Ministry of the Interior, Senior Deputy Minister al-Assadi said "he didn't see any real benefit from the police development program." I addressed that with him when I was in Iraq a couple of weeks ago and I asked him, "Did you mean what you said?" And his response was, "Well we welcome any support that the American government will provide us; however, my statements as quoted in your recent quarterly are still posted on my website."

US House Rep Raul Labrador: So why is the administration still spending $500 million a year to provide this program?

SIGIR Stuart Bowen: There's a beliff that security continues to be a challenge in Iraq, a well founded belief, I might add, given the events of this week. Killings of pilgrims again, on the way to Najaf, on the eve of Ashura. The focus though on trying to address those problems has been a widely scattered, high level training program involving about 150 police trainers who, as we've seen again this week, are going to have a very difficult time moving about the country.

Meanwhile the bombing targeting Parliament this month continues to be in the news. Al Mada reports that there are claims of eivdence that will be presented shortly which will demonstrate that Nouri's spokesperson Qasim Atta gave false information when briefing the public and that the person driving the car is known inside the Green Zone (member of Parliament? staffer of an MP?, someone working for Nouri?). Whatever the information, it's frightened Adnan al-Assadi somewhat.

Last week, he was insisting Nouri was the target and that there was evidence to that effect and a hundred other assertions he couldn't back up. Asked to comment on the new revelations, al-Assadi suddenly declares it might have been an attack on Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and that, whether the attack was aimed at al-Nujaifi or Nouri, it was intended to be an attack on government.

Al Mada reports that Nouri al-Maliki has stated he will heed Ayad Allawi's call for reconciliation and that he states he has no personal problem with anyone. As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) points out that the two do not represent just themselves, they represent the two biggest political blocs -- Allawi represent Iraqiya which came in first in the March 2010 elections and Nouri represents State of Law which came in second. His bloc didn't come in third or even fourth, but Moqtada al-Sadr is a political player as well (both due to his militia and due to the press fascination with him). Al Rafidayn reports that he's calling for all political parties to enter into a national code of honor.

Reuters notes a Baghdad attack on a Sahwa and police checkpoint in which 1 Sahwa was killed and one police officer injured, 1 taxi driver was shot dead in Mosul, a Mosul roadside bombing injured two police officers, an Iskandariya rocket attack injured three people, a Hilla home invasion left one man and his son injured, a Kirkuk sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 "employee at state-run North Oil Company," a Kirkuk sticky bombing injured an Iraqi military officer and, dropping back to last night, four government employees were kidnapped in Dhuluiya. In addition, AFP notes, "Taha Yasin was killed by gunmen in Abu Garma village, east of Diyala capital Baquba, while Internet cafe owner Hussein Tamimi was killed by shooters using silenced weapons in Baladruz, southeast of Baquba, according to the official."

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Deep thoughts won't be found in a shallow pool

John Yemma wonders, "After Iraq: What will history say?" (Christian Science Monitor). Judging by Yemma's writing, nothing of value.

Is the status of Vietnam today to be determined by what international hotels they have? I don't think so. Nor was that tragedy sold on, "Let's make southeast Asia safe for Holiday Inns!" You can refer to Jay Austin and Carl E. Brunch's The Environmental Consequences of War: Legal, Economic, and Scientific Perspectives (Cambridge University Press) for a realistic look at the effects of the war on Vietnam.

You can't look to Yemma's own work when in search of realism on Vietnam. Long after the myth of 'spitting' was rendered false, the Christian Science Monitor printed it as fact -- August 2010, we're the ones who called them out, not FAIR or any of the supposed watchdogs. Yes, they did do a correction but it never should have made it into an article to begin with. And drop back to lies about Vietnam which should have never made it into a 1999 Jeff Jacoby Boston Globe column. What do the two have in common?

John Yemma.

He now wants to sell the Vietnam conflict as 'worth it' because some international hotels are in Vietnam. I think that would offend even the pro-Vietnam War hawks.

If Yemma's any indication, nothing of value will be said forty years from now about the Iraq War. Nothing of value to justify it and nothing of value to oppose it. It will be treated as an accessory.

There are people who aren't capable of contemplation or exploration. Yemma is one of them and it's a sad commentary about the state of the Christian Science Monitor that he's in charge of it.

Compare the drivel he writes with Bill Keller's writing. As we've noted before, Keller finds something to opine about and does so in such a way that it sparks loud debates all over the internet. Yemma just sparks a sadness, a regret over the state of one of the country's original independent paper, once capable of great journalism, now churning out what interns did at CJR Daily in 2004.

Before Yemma next attempts to strike a glancing blow for mediocrity, he might consider that Iraqis died, foreign forces died, the country was turned into a land of orphans and widows, environmental destruction will continue for years and years. Or he might consider the legal aspect.

But if he's just trying to kill five minutes worth of time, next time he should work on his grocery shopping list and not an editorial.

Suggested reading for Yemma would also include Matthew J. Nasuti's "U.S. Abandons Toxic Burn Pits as it Withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan" (Kabul Press):

U.S. service members and their Iraqi and Afghan allies have a common enemy. It is not Iran, the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but the Pentagon which operated hundreds of toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the U.S. completes its withdrawal from Iraq and begins to draw down in Afghanistan, the American military, pursuant to its “pollute and run” policy, is abandoning millions of kilograms of toxic and potentially radioactive waste. Everything is being buried and covered over, just as it did in Vietnam and in the Philippines when the U.S. withdrew from Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay naval installation. The Pentagon seems to hope that all the health problems of U.S. troops can likewise be buried and covered over.

Meanwhile Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that Iran's military commander, Brig Gen Massoud Jazayeri, is questioning the official numbers provided by the US Defense Dept on the number of service members injured and killed in Iraq stating that the official numbers of less than 5,000 dead and 11,000 wounded are incorrect. On the same story, Press TV reports:

Despite US efforts to impose an information blackout on its war casualties, the number of US troops killed and wounded in Iraq has surpassed 50,000, a senior Iranian commander says.
"Based on the existing figures and data, the American forces killed and injured in Iraq are estimated to be 50,000. However, it seems that the real statistics are much higher than this," said Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri, the deputy head of Iran's Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Friday.
"Of course the figure 50,000 killed and wounded Americans, is notwithstanding the mercenaries of other nationalities who are in the US Army fighting against the people of Iraq," the Iranian commander added.

The Islamic Republic News Agency quotes Jazayeri stating, "Today with over 15 trillion dollars of debts, the US government has the greatest debt of a government in the world, and is therefore a bankrupt government, on the verge of collapse. But of course the psychological propagation media of the US administration and the super-capitalism camp’s media levers prevent the possibility of revealing such realities for the US public, but sooner or later the truth would be unveiled and then the world nations would be taken aback by the sudden downfall of the US Empire.”

The following community sites -- plus Adam Kokesh -- updated last night and today:

And Kat's "Late night TV" which isn't showing up above. And we'll note this from the National Lawyers Guild (which they published Wednesday):

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced today that it will not seek another death sentence for National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Vice President Mumia Abu-Jamal. Under Pennsylvania law, Mr. Abu-Jamal will now be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

“While there is overwhelming doubt about what the state claims to be the facts in this case, even those allegations never supported a capital charge,” said Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild. “That it has taken three decades to remove death from the table is astonishing.”

The National Lawyers Guild has long maintained that Mr. Abu-Jamal is entitled to a new and fair trial. Procedural irregularities plagued his case from the outset, including blatant constitutional violations, from the judge allowing the prosecution to admit evidence of his affiliation with the Black Panther Party, in violation of the Supreme Court case Dawson v. Delaware, to the use of a faulty sentencing form that misled jurors during the penalty phase, in violation of the Supreme Court case Mills v. Maryland.

A great deal of relevant evidence has never been reviewed by any court, much less presented to a jury. This evidence includes several photographs of the crime scene which impeach the testimony of a police officer who was a key eyewitness and proof that another individual was present, and fled, the scene of the shooting.

Mr. Abu-Jamal was charged at a time when, it was later revealed, there was extensive corruption within the Philadelphia Police Department. In 1995, then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham promised the city that she would dismiss any case in which there was evidence of police perjury or purposeful misreporting of facts. Given the history of police misconduct in Philadelphia when Abu-Jamal was arrested, and the specific instances of police perjury in his case, the National Lawyers Guild urges current District Attorney Seth Williams to act on his predecessor’s unfulfilled pledge.

Mr. Abu-Jamal will be formally resentenced to life without parole in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. The final sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has members in every state.


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Friday, December 09, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Friday, December 9, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the Camp Ashraf plan Martin Kobler presented to the UN Security Council Tuesday continues to gain support, the Defense Department attempts to again short-change National Guard service members, 28 firefighters bring a class-action lawsuit over contracting, and more.
Despite the Islamic Republic News Agency insisting today that the European Union endorses Nouri al-Maliki's decision to expell the MKO, the EU doesn't endorse that.  Today the European Union's High Representative Catherine Ashton released the following statement:
Yesterday I met with Martin Kobler, the Sepcial Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  As I did earlier this week in my meeting with the UN SG Ban Ki-moon, I expressed my full support for the efforts both UNAMI and UNHCR are making to solve the problem of Camp Ashraf. I stressed that the safety of the people in the camp must be our primary concern.  The initiative by United Nations High Commissioner Antonio Guterres and the work of Mr. Kobler are essential to facilitate an orderly solution to the problem which fully respects human rights and international humanitarian law. I have stressed to all the parties involved, including the Iraqi Foriegn Minister who I met this week and the EU Foreign Ministers, that the UNAMI and UNHCR-led process must be fully supported as the best and only way forward.  I have asked my Special Adviser Jean De Ruyt to continue liasing with the United Nations on my behalf, inclduing on practical ways of working together.  I want to praise the work of Martin Kobler and reiterate my call on all parties to show flexibility and cooperate fully to find a satisfactory solution.
What is the UNAMI and UNHCR-led process? Martin Kobler outlined it to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday:
SRSG Martin Kobler: The Secretary-General has spoken personally to Mr. Maliki to appeal for flexibility and for full support for the UN's efforts to faciliate this peaceful solution the government has assured that it seeks.  He has asked me to attach the highest priority to this case. In trying to facilitate a solution, we are emphasizing a number of important points.  First, that lives are at stake and must be protected. The government has a responsibility to ensure the safety, security and welfare of the residents.  Any forced action that results in bloodshed or loss of lives would be both ill-advised and unacceptable.  Second, we believe that any workable solution must be acceptable to both the government of Iraq and to the residents of Camp Ashraf. The solution must respect Iraqi soveriegnty on the one hand and applicable international humanitarian human rights and refugee law on the other hand. Third, a solution must also respect the principle of nonrefoulement. No resident of Camp Ashraf should be returned to his or her home country without consent.  While some progess has been made in our latest discussions in Baghdad, many obstacles remain to arriving at a plan that would meet the concerns and requirements of all concerned. Subject to all conditions being met, UNHCR is ready to begin verification and interviews for the purpose of refugee status determination; however, the process will take time to complete and clearly the situation cannot be fully resolved before December 31st.  I, therefore, appeal to the government of Iraq to extend this deadline in order to permit adequate time and space for a solution to be found.  I also appeal to the leadership and residents of Camp Ashraf to engage constructively and with an open mind to this process.  They should give serious consideration to the proposals under discussion.  There should be no provocation or violence from their side nor a challenge to Iraqi sovereignty.  Finally I appeal to the international community to do more to help.  A lasting solution cannot be found and as governments step forward and offer to accept Camp Ashraf residents to resettle in their countries.
Today the Staten Island Advance reports,"About 220 people from First United Christian Church in Tompkinsville will travel on Monday to Washington, D.C., to protest what they believe is an impending massacre of Iranian dissidents. Nationwide, about 960 humanitarian and faith-based organizations numbering 50,000 to 60,000 people are expected to converge on the White House at 10 a.m. to protest the situation at Camp Ashraf in Iraq."
Background,  Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."

In response to a column Nouri al-Maliki penned for the Washington Post, MEK attorneys Allan Gerson and Steven M. Schneebaum point out, "Only the United States and Canada --  and, of course, Iran -- continue to maintain the MEK on their respective lists of terrorist organizations. More than two years ago, an appellate court in Britain threw out that designation as baseless, and the European Union soon followed suit. "  ""
Wednesday, US House Reps Dana Rohrabacher and Gary Ackerman oversaw a hearing on Camp Ashraf by the House Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. Ashish Kumar Sen (Washington Times) described the hearing an an effort "to seek an explanation from State Department officials about a court-ordered review of the terrorist label and an update on developments at Camp Ashraf."  Sen reminds that the court ordered the review back in July 2010.  Erik Slavin (Stars and Stripes) adds, "The State Department is re-examining MEK's status as a terrorist organization, said Ambassador Daniel Fried, who was appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to oversee the MEK's situation."
In his prepared remarks, Fried declared, "The Secretary has tasked me to report to her, using experience I have as a career foreign service officer of 34 years, to ensure that the US government is taking every responsible action possible, working with the government of Iraq, the United Nations, and our allies and partners, and in contact with the residents of Camp Ashraf and those who speak for them, to assure that any relocation of residents from Camp Ashraf is done humanely, with our principal concern being the safety and well-being of the residents.  We are working urgently."  Repeating, the court-ordered review came down in July of 2010.
Meanwhile weeks after ExxonMobile's deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government, it continues to dominate the news.  Patrick Cockburn (Independent) reports, "The bombshell exploded last month when Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, defied the instructions of the Baghdad government and signed a deal with the Iraqi Kurds to search for oil in the northern area of Iraq they control. To make matters worse, three of the areas Exxon has signed up to explore are on territory the two authorities dispute. The government must now decide if it will retaliate by kicking Exxon out of a giant oilfield it is developing in the south of Iraq."  Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) reports that Nouri al-Maliki has announced the contract won't be cancelled.
Tensions around what's going on in Syria weren't cancelled either.  Liz Sly (Washington Post) offers an an analysis of the impact on Iraq including, "As the Syrian conflict takes on increasingly sectarian dimensions, the crisscrossing rivalries that had been held somewhat in check in recent years among Iraq's Shiite majority and its Kurdish and Sunni minorities also risk being inflamed. Syria's sectarian makeup is almost a reverse image of Iraq's, with a minority, Shiite-affiliated Alawite regime confronting a protest movement drawn largely from the country's Sunni majority. "  Brian Katulis (American Progress) argues that Nouri's trip to DC next week should include discussions of Syria, "Iraq and the United States currently have different positions on what to do about Syria. The United States maintains that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad must step down and has carved out a strategy to stop the violence and support a political transition through economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and support for the opposition. Iraq has rejected calls for Assad to step down. In the fall Maliki echoed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Syria, saying that Syria needed to implement a series of political reforms to overcome the current crisis."
I don't understand that all.  Syria will surely come up in passing but is the Center for American Progress now advocating for telling Iraq what to do?  I believe, in regards to Syria, Nouri has already stated Iraq is not a follower.  I also believe Nouri's expressed his belief that civil war could easily break out in Syria.  He's also staked out a position of friendly input.  Why is it Nouri's job to do the US job?
I know Nouri's a puppet.  I'm just surprised that the Center for American Progress is now openly advocating for puppets and for them to dance for the US.  CATO's Doug Bandow (at The Huffington Post) offers a clear-eyed assessment of Nouri:
However, what kind of democracy has resulted after eight years of U.S. occupation? Once seen as weak, Prime Minister Maliki has concentrated power in his hands. He turned a minority parliamentary position into the premiership and refused to honor a power-sharing agreement his chief opponent.
The International Crisis Group pointed to Maliki's expansion of government control over supposedly independent agencies tasked with overseeing the government. Worse, reported Yochi Dreazen: "Maliki has refused to appoint either a permanent defense minister or an interior minister, keeping Iraq's U.S.-trained armed forces and intelligence services under his sole control. He has also taken direct command of the ostensibly neutral 150,000 Iraqi troops stationed in Baghdad, using them to arrest rival politicians, human-rights activists, and journalists."
Maliki brutally suppressed anti-government demonstrations coinciding with the Arab Spring, targeted human rights activists, and cracked down on the media, having critics of his regime arrested and tortured. A number of journalists have been murdered, with government agents the chief suspects. Ghada al-Amely of the al-Mada newspaper told National Journal: "We feel just as scared as we did during Saddam's time." Maliki recently used improbable rumors of a Baathist coup to arrest more than 600 former members of the Baath party, including academics.
Washington has said little. Indeed, Wikileaks captured America's ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, observing that "It is in the interests of the U.S. to see that process of strengthened central authority continue." So much for democracy.
 Crucially, the mission in Iraq has come to change -- and indeed militarize - the way in which the State Department operates.
First the expense. The State Department budget for FY2012 in Iraq is $6.2 billion. While that number may not shock in the context of the torrent of dollars that flowed during the war itself, it is nonetheless a major outlay, significantly larger than this year's budget for, to take an important example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, the Department of Defense will also continue to spend money to redeploy thousands of troops from Iraq to U.S. military bases in Kuwait and elsewhere nearby.
Then the risk. Violence continues as daily fare in Iraq, including continued resistance to U.S. presence. To deal with this fact, fully one third of the 16,000 civilians to be posted in Iraq will wield guns: a phalanx of security contractors -- 5,500 strong -- will operate in the country. This is definitely not State Department business as usual, even in the more dangerous areas in which it operates. The Iraq total is three times the number of people the State Department has employed to protect all of its other diplomatic missions in the world combined
Breaking it down, the State Department's 5,500 security personnel join 4,500 "general life support" contractors who will be working to provide food, health care, and aviation services to those employed in Iraq, and approximately 6,000 US federal employees from State and other agencies.  After Jan. 1, there will also be 157 U.S. military personnel and about 700 civilian contractors in Iraq who will train local forces in how to use the more than $8 billion in military equipment U.S. military corporations have sold to Iraq.  
Also at Foreign Policy, Peter Feaver outlines some risks in the latest stage of the Iraq War. 
Moving from risks to violence, Reuters notes a Muqdadiya roadside bombing injured one "tribal leader," a Muqdadiya sticky bombing claimed 2 lives and 1 Sahwa shot dead in Baquba -- all events were from Thursday.
Turning to the Defense Dept scandal over the Air Force dumping the remains of the fallen into a landfill, Charley Keyes and Barbara Starr (CNN) report:

Backtracking on initial information about how it handled the remains of American service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force now says the cremated body parts of hundreds of the fallen were burned and dumped in the landfill.
Earlier, the Air Force said only a small number of body parts had been buried in a commercial landfill and claimed it would be impossible to make a final determination of how many remains were disposed of in that manner.

Yesterday Craig Whitlock and Mary Pat Flaherty (Washington Post) reported that the number of troops whose remains have been dumped is much greater than the Defense Dept has acknowledged, that the "partial remains of at least 274 American troops" have been dumped "in a Virginia landfill."

Jill Laster and Markeshia Ricks (Marine Corps News) report, "Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said he believes the service has found and fixed problems at Doer Port Mortuary and that a Defense Department panel will back up that belief." If that belief is backed up, that's disgusting. As Keyes and Starr report the Air Force's position is that they will apologize to any family . . . who objects. They are not contacting families and informing them of what happened. The families have to contact the Air Force. Who does the Air Force work for? Having already disrespected the fallen, they now can't even offer an apology. This is not accountability, this is not a sign of a government that works for the people. This is about bureaucrats who feels they shouldn't be bothered and that their mistakes are justifiable because they don't have to answer to anyone.

Mike Bowersock (Ohio's NBC 4i -- link has text and video) speaks with Iraq War veteran Daniel Hutchison who states, "I served in Iraq in 2006 and four of my really good friends were killed and it makes my blood boil to think they may be in a landfill right now. The argument can be made that it is difficult to try to identify all the pieces to bring it back home, but it's difficult to fight in a war."
The Defense Department is hardly a one scandal department.  The Pentagon is coming under intense and deserved criticism for its refusal to initiate "a mental health program for National Guard soldiers."  USA Today's Gregg Zororya reports on this latest government effort to save a penny by spitting on the National Guard.  Zoroya quotes Senator Patty Murray who is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, "I was really surprised that the Departemtn of Defense decided to oppose this.  It's just a no-brainer to make sure that this is out there for every Guard and Reserve member wherever they live."  The Pentagon's own tracking demonstrates more National Guard service members have died from suicide in the last five years than have been died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan for any reason (other than suicide). At a time when the Pentagon has already used the National Guard in ways most didn't ever see happening, are they going to again refuse to give the Guards its due?
We don't have the time or space to go into all the times in the last years the Guard has been used to carry out military missions while being offered second-rate treatment in return, but we will note two things.  First, this is from an NBC report former-US House Rep Martin Frost posted at his website:
When they came home from Iraq, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed longer than any other ground combat unit. The tour lasted 22 months and had been extended as part of President Bush's surge.
1st Lt. Jon Anderson said he never expected to come home to this: A government refusing to pay education benefits he says he should have earned under the GI bill.
"It's pretty much a slap in the face," Anderson said. "I think it was a scheme to save money, personally. I think it was a leadership failure by the senior Washington leadership... once again failing the soldiers."
Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.
Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school.

So you've got what appears to be the Pentagon actively attempting to cheat Guard members.  (Appears to be? I'm trying to be kind.)  You've also got the Pentagon screwing them over when it comes to paying them. From Lisa Myers and NBC Nightly News' November 12, 2010 report:
Soldiers with the National Guard are already under the gun in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now a new government report claims that while the troops are fighting far from home, red tape is preventing many of them from being paid.
While National Guard soldiers fulfill their duty, risking their lives around the world, the Pentagon apparently is not living up to its obligation to pay them the right amount or on time. That's according to a new congressional report obtained by NBC News, which finds the Pentagon's pay process is such a mess it's having "a profound financial impact on individual soldiers and their families."
"This is well beyond anything I could ever imagine," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., "I would like to think if we send people off to war that we're not going to have them worry about whether their home is going to be taken because they can't pay their mortgage."
Those are just two examples.  They both have to do with the Pentagon's problems paying the Guard for the work they're being asked to do. At a time when the Pentagon keeps insisting it's addressing the suicide issue, it's appalling that yet again they're trying to save a few pennies by short changing National Guard service members.

In other news of cheapness and crooked behavior,  Ryan Abbott (Courthouse News Service) reports 28 firefighters are part of a class action lawsuit against "Wackenhut, KBR and Halliburton [who they allege] forced them to work around the clock in Afghanistan and Iraq but paid them for only half their time." Zoe Tillman (The BLT) quotes one of the attorneys representing the firefighters, Scott Bloch, stating, "This case is about very big government contractors making billions off of the back of firefighters and other people who work over there in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're going to make billions if they pay for work performed, but somehow that's not enough for them."
Lastly, the US Justice Dept notes a 20-month sentence for a US Army Corps of Engineers employee for bribery:
Friday, December 9, 2011
Former Army Corps of Engineers Employee Sentenced to 20 Months in Prison for Accepting Bribes from Iraqi Contractors

WASHINGTON - A former employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed in Baghdad, Iraq, was sentenced today in the Eastern District of Virginia to 20 months in prison for conspiring to receive bribes from Iraqi contractors involved in the U.S.-funded reconstruction efforts, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride for the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge James W. McJunkin of the FBI's Washington Field Office.  


Thomas Aram Manok, 51, of Chantilly, Va., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga.   In addition to his prison term, Manok was sentenced to three years of supervised release.   Judge Trenga ordered a forfeiture hearing to be held on Jan. 13, 2012.   Manok pleaded guilty on Sept. 19, 2011.  


Manok admitted to using his official position to conspire with Iraqi contractors to accept cash bribes in exchange for recommending that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approve contracts and other requests for payment submitted by the contractors to the U.S. government.   According to court documents, in March and April 2010, Manok agreed to receive a $10,000 payment from one such contractor who had been involved in constructing a kindergarten and girls' school in the Abu Ghraib neighborhood of Baghdad and had sought Manok's influence in having requests for payment approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.   According to court documents, Manok was to receive an additional bribe payment from the contractor once the contractor's claim had been approved.   Manok also admitted that he intended to conceal the payments from authorities by transferring them, via associates, from Iraq to Armenia.  


This case was investigated by the FBI's Washington Field Office, the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General, the Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, as participants in the International Contract Corruption Task Force.   The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Nathanson of the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Mary Ann McCarthy of the Criminal Division's Fraud Section.


This prosecution is part of efforts underway by President Barack Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.  The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.  For more information about the task force visit:

the wall st. journal
sam dagher

The continued wounds

When you lie 'for a cause,' you cheapen not only yourself but also your cause. That's basic, it's remedial, in fact. Yet so many are so focused on short-term gains that they convince themselves they can get away with their lies. Take the Islamic Republic News Agency. Today, they insist, "EU endorses Baghdad decision for MKO expulsion." In fact, the United Nations has called this week for the deadline Nouri al-Maliki has set (December 31st) to be pushed back. The European Union has not yet officially weighed in on that, however, it is doubtful they would disagree with the UN's call. There's been no change in the EU position but the UN's call for the deadline to be pushed back has upset many outlets in Iran -- and they've in turn often refused to inform their news consumers what's actually going on at present.

In fairness to Iranian outlets, it's not just them getting it wrong. You really didn't read about Martin Kobler's testimony to the UN on Monday in US papers. Al Mada notes that the Secretary-General's special envoy to Iraq testified that approximately ten people die in Iraq each day as violence continues and that the human rights situation in Iraq remains precarious. Al Mada also explains that the report Kobler submitted stated that little progress had been made by Iraq and Kuwait's governments in normalizing relations between the two countries.

In the Los Angeles Times, David Zucchino reports on the self-mutilation that's part of the 'celebration' of Ashura: "The men, and some young boys, had sliced their heads or flayed themselves with cahins to open wounds and draw blood." But not all wounds are self-inflicted. CBS News' Richard Bonin's Arrows of the Night: Ahmad Chalabi's Long Journey to Triumph in Iraq discusses the chicken little exile Ahmed Chalabi who became the CIA's asset and helped start an illegal war -- with the only condition being he didn't have to take up arms himself because cowards let others do the fighting. Bonin spoke about the book and Chalabi on yesterday's Loenard Lopate Show (WNYC).

Still on wounds, the country's scarred, damaged and polluted. Birth defects are on the rise and that's especially true in Falluja which was exposed to various banned chemicals during the US assault in November 2004. Reuters reports:

Amir Hussain and Awfa Abdullah got married in Falluja in 2004 but their lives were turned upside by the birth of their two babies.
Their first child, a baby boy born in 2006, had brain damage and died last year.
The second, a baby girl who was born in 2007, suffers from severe skin rashes and has one leg longer than the other.
"We've decided to stop having babies. We don't want any more, because it means new suffering and a new battle against new diseases," Hussain said.

And as the US tore up and destroyed Falluja, so the Turkish military does to northern Iraq, always under the pretext of attempting to stop the PKK -- a group they've been unable to stop since 1984. Viola Gienger (Bloomberg News) reports, "Turkey expects the U.S. will approve its request for drones it can use on its own in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK, according to Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan."

We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT WILL DESTROY BILL OF RIGHTS" (OpEd News):

The grim face of totalitarianism is emerging in the National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA) now before Congress.
This bill is the last mile post on America’s sad, well-traveled road to the butcher shop of dictatorship. We have been headed that way for some time and, with a little help from Congress, we’ll arrive there shortly, putting an ugly end to the American experiment. The Senate December 1st passed the bill by a vote of 93-7.
In the name of “defense,” NDAA underwrites $662-billion for continued U.S. aggression in our many foreign wars while, on the domestic front, it incinerates the last surviving shreds of the Bill of Rights. According to the American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU), it authorizes presidents “to order the military to pick up and imprison people, including U.S. citizens, without charging them or putting them on trial.” (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) So much for Amendment VI to our Constitution that “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.”
Just destroying your protection against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment means the bill’s authors Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona don’t have to bother with junking anything else. Once you’re imprisoned you won’t need any other “stinkin’ rights.”
The ACLU charges the provisions of NDAA “were negotiated by a small group of members of Congress, in secret, and without proper congressional review (and), are inconsistent with fundamental American values embodied in the Constitution....(our) fundamental freedoms are on the line.”

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The continuing Air Force scandal

Starting with the Defense Dept scandal over the Air Force dumping the remains of the fallen into a landfill, Charley Keyes and Barbara Starr (CNN) report:

Backtracking on initial information about how it handled the remains of American service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force now says the cremated body parts of hundreds of the fallen were burned and dumped in the landfill.
Earlier, the Air Force said only a small number of body parts had been buried in a commercial landfill and claimed it would be impossible to make a final determination of how many remains were disposed of in that manner.

Yesterday Craig Whitlock and Mary Pat Flaherty (Washington Post) reported that the number of troops whose remains have been dumped is much greater than the Defense Dept has acknowledged, that the "partial remains of at least 274 American troops" have been dumped "in a Virginia landfill."

Jill Laster and Markeshia Ricks (Marine Corps News) report, "Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said he believes the service has found and fixed problems at Doer Port Mortuary and that a Defense Department panel will back up that belief." If that belief is backed up, that's disgusting. As Keyes and Starr report the Air Force's position is that they will apologize to any family . . . who objects. They are not contacting families and informing them of what happened. The families have to contact the Air Force. Who does the Air Force work for? Having already disrespected the fallen, they now can't even offer an apology. This is not accountability, this is not a sign of a government that works for the people. This is about bureaucrats who feels they shouldn't be bothered and that their mistakes are justifiable because they don't have to answer to anyone.

Mike Bowersock (Ohio's NBC 4i -- link has text and video) speaks with Iraq War veteran Daniel Hutchison who states, "I served in Iraq in 2006 and four of my really good friends were killed and it makes my blood boil to think they may be in a landfill right now. The argument can be made that it is difficult to try to identify all the pieces to bring it back home, but it's difficult to fight in a war."

In other news, Ryan Abbott (Courthouse News Service) reports 28 firefighters are part of a class action lawsuit against "Wackenhut, KBR and Halliburton [who they allege] forced them to work around the clock in Afghanistan and Iraq but paid them for only half their time." Zoe Tillman (The BLT) quotes one of the attorneys representing the firefighters, Scott Bloch, stating, "This case is about very big government contractors making billions off of the back of firefighters and other people who work over there in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're going to make billions if they pay for work performed, but somehow that's not enough for them."

The following community sites -- plus -- updated last night and this morning:

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. We'll close with this from Bacon's "Just Cause and Occupy Oakland Fight Fannie Mae and Banks" (Longshore & Shipping News):

Activists from Causa Justa:Just Cause and Occupy Oakland protested foreclosures, and demanded that banks stop foreclosures and allow families to move into foreclosed and vacant homes in Oakland. The action was one of over two dozen carried out by Occupy activists and supporters across the country to protest foreclosures and the refusal of banks to renegotiate loans.
After a march, people occupied a home owned by Fannie Mae, and announced they would make it a community center, as part of an effort to force Fannie Mae to allow people to live in the many vacant homes it owns as a result of foreclosures. In front of the occupied home, poets recited, activists made speeches, and neighbors poured through the gates.
Causa Justa announced it was holding the occupied house to demand that Fannie Mae turn it into low-income housing, and in support of the Ramirez family, whose home was improperly foreclosed on by Fannie Mae. Bank of America sold the Ramirez home while suppossedly renegotiating the loan, and the family now rents the home they once owned. Fannie Mae took $169 billion in bailout money, while its six top executives received $35 million in income, including bonuses.
A statement by Causa Justa asked, "If we can ensure that big banks don't go under, why can't we ensure that American families stay in their homes? ... To stop the displacement of long-term residents from Oakland and amplify the fight to keep families in their homes, we are OCCUPYING our homes in solidarity with 27 cities across the nation! We are the 99%!"

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, December 8, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, gridlock continues in Iraq, more remains of the fallen have been dumped in a landfill, and more.
Laura Meckler (Wall St. Journal) reports the White House has scheduled a speech Wednesday at Fort Bragg for US President Barack Obama. Because surely what America needs from Barack now is yet another speech?  Because at Fort Bragg there's little chance of his being put on the spot about the continued high unemployment?  Margaret Talev and Viola Gienger (Bloomberg News) explain the speech will take place two days after Barack meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House and, "President Barack Obamais focusing on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by year's end, even as his administration continues talks behind the scenes about the future American role there."
If he's attempting to spin it, not only has he already given that speech two months back, but he'll also be going up against what Lt Gen Frank Helmick declared yesterday as reported by Luis Martinez (ABC News) and Courtney Kube (NBC News):
"We really don't know what's going to happen. But we do know this: We do know that we have done everything we can in the time that we -- that we have been here for the Iraqi security forces to make sure that they have a credible security forces to provide for the security, the internal security of their country."
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports that Aziz Ugaili, National Alliance MP, is noting that over 26 security companies will remain in Iraq after December 31st and questioning the claim of US withdrawal while also expressing his fear that, in DC later this month, Nouri al-Maliki will sign an agreement with the US involving 'trainers.' Meanwhile Al Mada also reports that the Sadrist movement is declaring that the US remnants after December 31st will be fair targets and that the US is not planning to keep a small number of staff for the embassy the way other countries do. In addition, Al Mada reports that the UAE has offered their services in training Iraqi forces.
Iraq has a prominent visitor today.  Bi Mingxin (Xinhua) reports, "Arab League (AL) chief Nabil al- Arabi arrived in Baghdad on an official visit to hold talks with Iraqi leaders over sanctions against Syria, an official at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said Thursday." He's already met with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. While the media is placing the emphasis of the meeting on a potential March Arab summit, that's a smokescreen. Regardless of whether the summit takes place in March (it was repeatedly postponed in 2010), the reality is that al-Arabi is visiting due to concern over Iraq's position regarding Syria. Dar Addustour noted al-Arabi is also scheduled to meet with President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi today while in Iraq. In addition, Al Sabaah adds that he's supposed to meet with unnamed Iraqi officials.

Sabrina M. Peterson (International Affairs Review) explores the decision of the Iraqi government to stand with the Syrian government:

Today, while other Arab states have condemned Syria and called for the regime to step down, Iraq has demonstrated its support. Iraq has not called for Assad to relinquish power, but instead has advocated gradual reform. The Maliki government has made moves to strengthen its economic ties with Syria since before the violence broke out this year and has been strengthening those ties since. This past summer, Iraq hosted a tour of Syria's top government and business leaders, a visit that led to a new pact to increase bilateral trade. Iraq is now Syria's biggest trading partner.

The Iraqi government also supports Syria because it fears that if the Assad regime collapses, violence could spill over into Iraq and cause further instability. Sectarianism is another important reason: Maliki is a Shia Muslim who spent years in exile in Syria before returning to post-Saddam Iraq. Quite probably Maliki feels a sectarian affinity for Assad, a member of the Alawite sect of Shia Islam. Maliki and the Assad family both share a common fear of Sunni-led insurgencies.

Al-Masry Al-Youm reports, "Dozens of Syrian citizens in Cairo staged a protest outside the Iraqi Embassy on Thursday to condemn what they labeled Iraq's pro-Assad stance. The protesters chanted against the Iraqi authorities after Iraq refused to approve economic sanctions imposed by the Arab League against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime."   For ABC News, Barbara Walters interviewed President Bashar al-Assadi (link is video and text):
Walters: But you have people who are against you who are protesting every day. It started with people marching with olive branches and with their children asking for more freedom, for freedom of press, for freedom of expression, and much of the country now, sir, is not supporting you, that's what these, that's what your crisis is about.
Assad: Yeah. That's why we had the reform started quickly, after the very beginning that you described as simple, so we didn't take the role, we didn't play the role of stubborn government, they say they need more freedom. We right away had new party laws, new media law, new election law, new local administration law, and we are revising our constitution now.  Showing your opinion, whether you like somebody or doesn't like government or president or whoever, should be through the election, the ballot box, this is the only way.
Walters: If you have elections, will they be elections for president?
Assad: No, no, we are going to have first of all the local administration election this month...
Walters: Local administration, but what about the president?
Assad: Yeah, after that, we are going to have the parliamentarian election, which is the most important. Talking about presidential election, it's going to be in 2014, this is the...
Walters: People don't want to wait that long, till 2014.
Assad: Which people?
Walters: The people who are protesting.
Assad: How, how, how much, how many, are they majority or not, that's why you need, you need to wait first of all for the parliamentarian election, these election will tell you are you going to have majority or minority, then when you can think about presidential election, but not before, before that you don't have any indication, any clear indication.
Walters: In 2014, when there are presidential elections, will you allow opposition parties?
Assad: That's why we are changing the constitution.
Walters: OK. And if somebody else wins, will you step down in 2014?
Assad: If he wins he's going to be in my position, I don't have to step down, he's going to be president. So you don't step down. He will win the election, he will be president. So step down means you leave, while if you win the election, he's going normally, he's going to be in that position instead of me.
Speaking with Bill Weir on Nightline last night, Barbara Walters declared that there appears to be a disconnect and that Assad has trouble reconciling what's taking place in parts of Syria. Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports, "Iraq said Thursday it would initiate contacts with the Syrian government in an effort to persuade it to accept an Arab League plan to end months of violence in the country."  Ammar Karim (AFP) quotes Nabil al-Arabi stating, "Our conversation (with Iraq) . . . was to explore whether the Iraqi government is willing to exert its influence with Syria. The Iraqi government told us that it will carry out contacts with the Syrian government to resolve this issue."   Al Arabiya notes the Arab League has called for international monitors; however, "in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters on Wednesday the embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said he will not allow Arab League observers unfettered access to monitor the crackdown."
Conflicts continue between the Baghdad-based central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over issues of oil especially with regards to the KRG's deal with ExxonMobil. UPI notes, 'Nouri al-Maliki is stepping up the pressure on ExxonMobil to back off ab reakaway oil exploration deal with the Kurds' semi-autonomous enclave and the betting is the world's largest oil company will fold."  CNN quotes KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih stating, "There is no way that we will be dissuaded from our constitutional right to developing our resources and allow ourselves to ever again become hostages to the whims of some bureaucrats in Baghdad. We've been there before. Oil was used to strangle our people, to commit genoicde." J. Jay Park (Financial Times of London) attempts to make sense of the legal issues but keeps coming back to a 2007 draft or a more recent draft or -- Those are bills. They aren't laws.  Though many drafts have been written, the oil and gas issue was never resolved by law.
A lot of things remain unresolved in Iraq.  In fact, "unresolved" would be the government's Facebook status.  Political Stalemate I was a period in Iraq following the March 7, 2010 elections. It ended in November of 2010 only as a result of a meet-up in Erbil and the political parties signing off on an agreement in which all but State of Law made political concessions. The results of the March 7th elections, even after Nouri al-Maliki bitterly contested them and stamped his feet until a few post-election votes were tossed his way, were that Iraqiya came in first and Nouri's political slate State of Law came in second. Iraqis do not elect their prime minister, the Parliament does. Per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, should have had first crack at forming a government. First crack? You become prime minister-designate and then have thirty days to name a Cabinet (nominate people for positions and have Parliament vote in favor of them). If you can't accomplish that in 30 days, per the Constitution, a new prime minister-designate is supposed to be named.

Nouri al-Maliki refused to surrender the post of prime minister. So the March 7th elections were followed by over 8 months of gridlock, Political Stalemate I. The Erbil Agreement found all but State of Law making major concessions so that the country could pull together. (During that eight month period, Parliament had one session which was little more than roll call.) Iraqiya, the winner in the elections, was supposed to see their leader (Allawi) head an independent security commission, the KRG was promised Article 140 would finally be followed (Article 140 of the Constitution addresses disputed territories such as Kirkuk -- it calls for a census and referendum to be held in Kirkuk by the end of 2007. Nouri was prime minister then and refused to implement Article 140.) Many promises were made but the only one that concerned Nouri was that he would remain prime minister.

With all sides signing off on the Erbil Agreement, it appeared that Iraq would be moving forward on a national level. Nouri was named prime minister-designate (unofficially named, Jalal Talabani would wait two weeks before making it official to give Nouri 30 days plus two weeks to form a Cabinet). Before November drew to a close, Nouri would announce the planned census to take place in December was off. He would claim that the national security commission had to be put on hold but would be created earlier. By the time he was illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister, Iraq was in Political Stalemate II. And that's where it has remained. Illegally moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister? The Constitution says 30 days to name Cabinet. That's not 'partial' cabinet, that's the full Cabinet. Nouri did not name a full Cabinet. Most importantly he said he would 'temporarily' fill the security ministries -- Defense, National Security and Interior.  Salam Saadi (Rudaw) offers this today on the Erbil Agreement:

After the 2010 elections in Iraq, the Kurdistani bloc set 18 conditions before agreeing to join the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet. Among those conditions was the full implementation of Article 140, which was designed to solve the issue of the disputed territories.
In Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region, Maliki agreed to all the conditions set forth by the Kurdish leaders.  Two years on, however, the Kurds complain that the Iraqi prime minister hasn't met any of the pledges he made in what is known the Erbil agreement.
The Erbil agreement reads.  "The Iraqi coalition government will be considered void if the Kurdish alliance withdraws from it, if the Iraqi government fails to meet the agreed upon articles of the Iraqi constitution.
Meanwhile Nouri's announcement in February of this year that he would not seek a third term was a means to appease an angry public. More recently, his legal advisor has been telling the press that no law prevents Nouri from seeking a third term. Dar Addustour reports that MP Aziz Ugaili (National Alliance) is not proposing just such a law. If passed, it would forbid anyone from holding a third term, limit all prime ministers to two terms and the two terms would not have to be consecutive. Would it be retroactive for Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ayad Allawi? (Both have served one term as prime minister since the US invasion of Iraq.) It would have to be retroactive or it wouldn't limit Nouri to two terms. If it wasn't retroactive, that would mean Nouri could claim, "Okay, under this law, I will only serve two terms -- from the minute it passes." Thereby allowing himself four terms as prime minister.

On the issue of broken promises, Nouri promised a reduction in pay for various officials back in February 2012. Iraq just passed their 2012 budget. Dar Addustour notes that the Sadr bloc in Parliament is stating that 40% of that budget goes to the three presidencies.

Nouri's chief rival is Ayad Allawi who bested Nouri in the March 2010 elections and should be prime minister had the Constitution been followed. Rumors have been swirling that Allawi would have an announcement this week and many assumed it would be a creation of a shadow government that would be poised to take over. He has made an announcement but that wasn't it. Alsumaria TV reports:

Head of Iraqiya List Iyad Allawi announced, on Tuesday, that he is ready to reconcile with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki if he is willing to renounce his opposing stands. This is the perfect time for real reconciliation, Allawi said warning against endless tensions.
"I have no problem in shaking hands with Maliki if he renounces his opposing stands against us and others. I am not embarrassed by any cause that serves Iraqis and the region," Allawi told Alsumaria TV on Tuesday in a special interview with Jadal Iraqi talk show. "This is the perfect time for a real, honorable, realistic and healthy reconciliation," he added.

Aswat al-Iraq adds, "Al-Iraqiya Bloc called on Premier Nouri al-Maliki to respond to Dr. Iyad Allawi's reconcilliation plan for the sake of Iraq, and to lay down a road map for the future of the country."

Turning to veterans issues, Barbara Leader (News Star) reports that 24-year-old  Iraq War veteran Spc Marcus Delon White "jumped to his death from the U.S. 165 bridge in Columbia" on Tuesday despite please from his fiancee and attempts by others to prevent him from jumping. Meanwhile AP notes that Iraq War veteran Martin Poynter apparently killed Deputy Richard Rhyne who was attempting to arrest him "for not paying child support" and that Poynter apparently then took his own life.
The inability of the VA to treat the mental needs of veterans from the current wars is a scandal.  The VA has lots of scandals these days.  Last month, David Martin (CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley -- link has text and video) reported on the Air Force's landfill scandal. Here's a transcript of the first minute of the report.

Scott Pelley: Just when you thought the scandal over mishandled remains of fallen American troops at Dover Air Force Base couldn't get any worse. It did today. David Martin has been reporting on the investigation that led to a career ending letter of reprimand for the commander of the mortuary and tonight David is at the Pentagon with new developments.

David Martin: A landfill is no one's idea of a fitting resting place for a soldier fallen in battle.

Gari-Lynn Smith: No service member, no human being at all, should be placed into a landfill -- no matter if it's a finger nail, a foot or an entire body

David Martin: Yet that is what happened to Gari-Lynn Smith's husband, Sgt 1st Class Scott Smith, who was blown apart by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. Without her knowing part of his body was incinerated and disposed of as medical waste in this Virginia landfill. She found out two years after his funeral.

Gari-Lynn Smith: I have honestly no idea what we buried of him because they forbid me to see him in the casket.
Today Craig Whitlock and Mary Pat Flaherty (Washington Post) report that the number of troops whose remains have been dumped is much greater than the Defense Dept has acknowledged, that the "partial remains of at least 274 American troops" have been dumped "in a Virginia landfill." Whitlock spoke with Steve Inskeep about the report on today's Morning Edition (NPR -- link is text and audio):
INSKEEP: Well, what is the Air Force saying about it now?
WHITLOCK: They're saying they still don't know how far back this went. Their first records of it occurring were in 2004, but we also have emails and other correspondence from mortuary officials that indicate this was the practice going back to the '90s. At the same time, there are committees in Congress that are conducting investigations into this practice, as well as other problems at Dover. And Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has appointed a commission of independent public health experts to take a look at operations at Dover. And this is something he has said he wants them to look at as well.
INSKEEP: So 274 may not be the final number.
WHITLOCK: I don't think so, Steve.
This issue was raised on the Senate Armed Services Committee during a November 10th hearing in which the Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen Norton Schwartz appeared.
Senator Kelly Ayotte: General Schwartz, on a different topic and I just feel the need to ask -- ask about this.  Uhm, I'm deeply troubled by the reports about what happened at the mortuary at the Dover Air Force Base. And I'm sure you would agree with me this is outrageous that remains of our soldiers would be put in a landfill and not treated with the appropriate dignity and honor which they deserve. Can you tell me, uh, where we are with this? And how we're going to ensure that this never happens again?  And, most importantly, that those who have participated in this outrage are going to be held accountable?
Gen Norton Schwartz: Senator Ayotte, first of all, let me clarify the allegation about putting remains in a landfill.  These were portions, prior to 2008, which were sent away from the Dover mortuary to a funeral home for cremation -- which is an authorized method of dealing with remains, particularly those that are separated from the larger portions of remains returned to the family.  After that, the results of the cremation came back to the mortuary were sent to a  medical support company for incineration.  So you had cremation, then incineration and it was at that point that this medical support organizations placed the residuals from that effort to a landfill.  In 19 -- In 2008, the Air Force came to the conclusion that that was not the best way to deal with those remains and so it is now done in a traditional fashion of burial at sea.  It has been that way since 2008. It will continue to be that way in the future and let me just conclude by saying the Secretary of the Air Force, Mike Donley [Secretary of the US Air Force] and I take personal responsibility for this. Our obligation is to treat our fallen with reverence and dignity and respect and to provide the best possible support and care for their families. That is our mission. The people who did not fulfill our expectations were disciplined and there's no doubt what our expectations are today.
Senator Kelly Ayotte: Well I -- General Schwartz, I appreciate your updating on that and, uh, when I think about the fact that we have Veterans Day tomorrow, this is so important, obviously, that we treat the remains of our fallen with dignity and respect and I know that you share that concern as well.  And please know that members of this Committee will be there to support you in any way to make sure that the families know that we certainly won't allow this to happen again.
Senator Claire McCaskill: I want to specifically, for a minute, General Schwartz, go to the situation at Dover and I don't want to dwell on how hard this has to be for you and the leadership at the Air Force. No one needs to convince me that you want to get this right at Dover. I'll tell you what I do want to bring to your attention and I've did so with a letter today and that is with the finding of the Office of Special Counsel.  And so people understand what the Office of Special Counsel is. It's an investigatory and prosecution oriented agency whose primary responsibility under our law is to be independent of all of the agencies and protect whistle blowers. And what I am concerned about is their investigation into what the Air Force did in response to the whistle blowers. And specifically the fact that the IG of the Air Force, they failed to admit wrong doing in their report. And while I understand people have been moved around as a result of the problems that have occured because of mishandling of the sacred remains of the fallen, I'm not sure that they have been held as accountable as what we saw happen at Arlington in connection with that heart breaking incompetence.  And what I want to make sure is that there is an independent investigation as to whether or not the IG shaded it a little bit [Chair Carl Levin began nodding his head in vigrous agreement with what McCaskill was saying] because everyone was feeling a little bit protective of the institution for all the right reasons. The vast majority of the people who serve at Dover and who do this work, I'm sure, do it with a heavy heart but with a passion for getting it right. But when we have a circumstance like this arise, I want to make sure the Inspector Generals are not so busy looking after the institution that they fail to point out wrong doing -- which was not ever acknowledged -- and that there is accountability for the people involved.  And so, I want you to address the Special Counsel's report as it relates to the Air Force investigation.
Gen Norton Schwartz:  Senator McCaskill, there was -- There were -- Clearly were unacceptable mistakes made.  Whether they constitute wrong doing is another matter entirely. And when you look at a situation like this, you look at the facts of a case, as an attorney might say.  You look at the context in which the event or the mistakes occurred.  And you also consider the demands that are -- are placed on individuals and-and organizations.  With respect to accountability, we also had an obligation to ensure that the statutory requirements for Due Process were followed. We did that precisely.  I can only speak for the case of the uniformed officer. But the uniformed officer received a letter of reprimand.  We established an unfavorable information file. We removed him from the command list and his anticipated job as a group commander at Shaw Air Force Base was red-lined. This is not a trivial sanction.
Senator Claire McCaskill:  Well I - I understand that's not a trivial sanction but I-I-I'm worried that there was a conclusion that there was not an obligation to notify the families in these instances and obviously this deals with more than uniform personnel and obviously the Secretary of the Air Force is also copied on the letter that I sent today calling for this independent investigation. What happened at Arlington, nobody was intentionally mismarking graves.  They were mistakes too. And I just want to make sure that we have really clear eyes while we have full hearts about the right aggressive need for investigations by Inspector Generals in circumstances like this. And thank you very much and thank all of you for being here today.
The issue is still not being addressed, not when the Air Force is announcing today that they don't plan to notify the families of the fallen involved.  Still on veterans issues, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is holding two field hearings next week.  What's a Senate field hearing? It's a hearing outside of DC. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will be holding two this month, both on December 12th, in Quincy, Massachusetts and in Columbus, Ohio. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:

Committee on Veterans' Affairs

United States Senate

112th Congress, First Session

Hearing Schedule

Updated: December 6, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011 9:15am Quincy, MA

Field Hearing will address concerns over delays in veterans' services related to the claims backlog and the Department of Veterans Affairs' plans to reduce the backlog. The location of the hearing is Quincy City Hall 1305 Hancock Street, Quincy, Massachusetts.


Monday, December 12, 2011 9:30am Columbus, OH

Field Hearing will focus on employment challenges facing veterans. The location of the hearing is the Center For Workforce Development 315 Cleveland Ave, Columbus, OH.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011 10:00 a.m. SR-418

POSTPONED to a date yet to be determined. Hearing on the nomination of Margaret Bartley to be Judge of United States Court of Veterans Appeals for Veterans Claims, Coral Wong Pietsch to be Judge of United States Court of Veterans Appeals for Veterans Claims, and Gloria Wilson to be Judge of United States Court of Veterans Appeals for Veterans Claims.


Matthew T. Lawrence

Chief Clerk / System Administrator

Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs