Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, February 14, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's accusations are noted by those he accused, Iraqiya calls for those imprisoned who have not been convicted to be released, US Senator Patty Murray talks with veterans in a new format, and more.
Wally: Who determines what diseae's or ailment's is agent orange. I have several health issues and when i get a agent orange exam they tell me it is not on the list, yet I know there are other vets witht he same problems. I know the doctor I see at the exam does not record the symtoms. Why can't we see someone who monitors the health issue to verify it might be agent orange related.  I was told the way health issues make the list is when the population of all viet nam vets have a higher number of health issues than the regular population. I know I was sprayed with agent orange why should my health issues be diluted with vets that were not exposed?
Senator Patty Murray: We worked hard last year to defeat an amendment in the Senate that would have changed the VA standard for determining presumptions for Agent Orange because some wanted to just "save money" I knew that was wrong and we beat that amendment.  We will have to remain vigilant this year as well.  Research is going on as we speak and hopefully we will be able to better help you and many more in the future.
That was Senator Patty Murray conversing with veterans last week and we'll come back to that in just a moment.  First, if you need to know how ugly the Agent Orange issue got on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, you can refer to the September 23, 2010 snapshot reporting on that day's hearing when Senator Jim Webb had his little hissy, when Senator Roland Burris insisted that "budget shortfalls" do not mean you cut needed health benefits for veterans and, as Senator Burris said that, Senator Jon Testor, with an angry look on his face, rose and stormed out of the hearing.  Earlier Testor had been backing up Webb who was furious that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was attempting to see to it that the victims of Agent Orange got the help they needed.
And we're going to drop back to the June 15, 2010 snapshot:
 WAVY reports (link has text and video) that victims of Agent Orange (specifically Vietnam era veterans) could recieve addition beneifts for B-Cell Leukemia, Parkinson's disease and coronary heart disease.  Could?  A US Senator is objecting to the proposed changes by VA.  Jim Webb has written VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that ". . . this single executive decision is estimated to cost a minimum of $42.2 billion over the next ten years. A regulatory action of this magnitude requires proper Congressional review and oversight."  Besides, Webb wrote, "Heart disease is a common phenomenon regardless of potential exposure to Agent Orange." That is really embarrasing and especially embarrassing for the Democratic Party (Webb is a Democrat today, having converted from a Reagan Republican).  It also goes a long way towards explaining Webb's refusal to get on board with Senator Evan Bayh's bill to create a national registry that would allow those Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans to be able to receive treatment for their exposures without having to jump through hoops repeatedly.
Veteran Jim Webb did everything he could to prevent victims of Agent Orange and Burn Pits from receiving the medical treatment they needed.  That's why he can't run for re-election.  Veterans in Virginia pulled their support in 2010 over the Agent Orange issue.  His decision not to seek re-election has to do with the fact that he doesn't have the votes to win.  And he shouldn't after what he did.  There's an important lesson there: A veteran isn't necessarily the one to elect to Congress if you're concerned about veterans issues.
Back to Senator Patty Murray's remarks.  She made them last Thursday at a Town Hall.  It was the first of its kind for veterans, being able to speak with the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and from their home or work or library.  It was a Virtual Town Hall which Disabled American Veterans sponsored. A full transcript of the exchange can be found here.  Face to face contact is always best, yes.  And that's why Murray takes part in Town Halls frequently.  But the Virtual Town Hall allowed her and veterans from around the country to meet up online and that was especially helpful to veterans who may have issues with mobility.  Many issues were raised, from VA charging for services that they are supposed to provide for free, the need for better transitioning of Wounded Warriors, the long wait time for medical appointments for mental treatment.  One question dealt with an issue on many veterans minds.
Jeremy K.: We have about 2 million combat veterans who are going to be coming back, or are already back, from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Too many of them are sick and injured and will need VA.  Given the government's debt, is VA going to have the money and people to meet those needs while continuing to serve 5-6 million older veterans?
Senator Patty Murray: There is no doubt that we as a nation must address the issue of our national debt.  However we send our men and women into combat and should never allow our budgets to be an excuse for not providing them with the care that has been promised.  We will be getting the Presidents budget next week, and I will be looking at it very carefully to make sure we are meeting the needs of our nation's veterans.
Veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan have health needs. Martin C. Evans (Newsday) is apparently the only reporter at a major daily newspaper to cover yesterday's Burn Pits Symposium at Stony Brook College. Evans reports that the Army sent Veronique Hauschild from their "Public Health Command" to speak and she insisted that the military needs to do its own studies and added, "I don't want to say there's not a problem because I believe there is." But that "I" is herself and not the official position of the Army.  Her presence is encouraging, however. It attests to the reality that the Pentagon can no longer outright dismiss the very real damage of burn pits. If the government study (a bunch of subsidized scientists refusing to disclose their government funding as they posed as independent) from last fall had been a success, the Pentagon would not have felt the need to send someone to the conference. But the pushback on that non-scientific nonsense and the increased public awareness of the damage from burn pits was so great that the paper is pretty much dead and rebuked.
Evans notes a study Dr. Anthony Szema did "published in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, area soldiers who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan were found to be about seven times more likely to display signs of damaged lungs than enlistees who never served there."  Last week,  Kelley B. Vlahos (Antiwar.com) explained:

We've been following the issue of toxic environmental exposure of U.S. servicemen and women here at Antiwar.com since 2009. Mounting evidence strongly suggests that the unregulated open-air burn pits used to incinerate everything from medical waste to batteries and rubber tires, has contributed to the fine particulate matter found carried in the dust, including metals and bacteria, and has something to do with the dramatically changed health of returning veterans.

"What makes healthy individuals who have never had asthma end up in wheelchairs on oxygen, or a 34-year-old non-smoker who has near-normal [physical fitness tests] but is short of breath and has lungs that are totally destroyed? These are the problems we are trying to solve," exclaimed Dr. Anthony Szema, Stony Brook University Medical Center Assist Professor of Surgery, in a recent interview for the Army Times.

Szema recently wrote about a soldier serving both in Iraq and Kuwait who has lung tissue riddled with fine particles of titanium, iron and copper. He published his findings recently in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It is part of his ongoing study of soldiers suffering from unexplained illnesses.

This particular soldier, according to the report, is suffering from nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis, a rare and dangerous type of pneumonia that afflicts people for no known reason, cannot be treated and is 60 percent fatal within the first six months of diagnosis, according to Wikipedia. What we know about the soldier is where he was stationed, and that he came into contact with "the laundry facility, improvised explosive device blasts, sandstorms, burn pits and the occasional cigar."



In Iraq violence continues,  AP notes a Baghdad bombing has claimed 1 life and left six other people injured. In addition, Reuters notes 1 Asaish was shot dead in Kirkuk and, dropping back to Monday, the corpse of 1 woman was discovered in Baquba (strangled),  2 corpses were discovered elsewhere in Baquba (the two are thought to have been killed in 2006).  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports military General Aziz Hamzah was shot dead in Baghdad, a second Baghdad bombing left two peple injured and a Mosul bombing claimed 3 lives and left nineteen people injured.
Violence includes the targeting of various groups in Iraq with threats of violence or with actual violence.  The Secretary of the South Asia Council for Minorities Navaid Hamid (Two Circles) notes the targeting of Iraqi Chrisitans:
After a month of the withdrawal of the Allied forces from Iraq and its becoming a sovereign state, one of the serving US Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio admitted in an interview to CNA in Rome, "Yes, you can say in a certain sense that the invasion of Iraq did provoke this tremendous diminution of the Christian population in that country. And what the future holds, that still remains to be seen," Archbishop Timothy believes that the collapse of Iraq's Christian population is among the legacies of America's invasion in 2003 and he is perfectly correct.
[. . .]
While announcing the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, President Obama had confidently thundered on 15th December 2011, "they were leaving behind a "sovereign, stable and self-reliant," country and just 10 days after his pronouncement the Christian community in Iraq was under such tremendous pressure that fear of an attack forced Christians during Chrism to cancel the Chaldean Catholics' midnight Christmas celebrations. Services were moved to the daytime, and Christians were warned by community leaders not to display decorations outside their homes.
I wonders whom to blame for the decimation of the patriotic Iraqi Christians from Iraq, invading Allied forces under US command or Al Qaida?
Last week, Aswat al-Iraq noted "that Italy granted Iraq a loan of half a billion Euros (approximately $660,000 in US dollars) to support Iraqi infrastructures and human development" with the provision that 10% of the loan "be allocated to support the Iraqi Chrisitans."  Also last week, the Vactian Ambassador to Baghdad, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, met with Yousif al-Shukri, the Minister of Planning in Iraq, to discuss the Iraqi Christians "and the difficulties theya re facing" and to note that, in 1977, Christians made up 5% of the population in Iraq; however, that number has fallen to "less than 1 percent." While al-Shukri noted that all segments of Iraq are under attack, the Archbiship noted that Iraqi Christians are fleeing due to violence.
We'll note three reports on Iraqi Christians who left Iraq and relocated.  Farid Farid (The Conversion) observes that Iraqi Christians make up over "40% of forced migrants and refugees" and he notes the Iraqi Christians who have migrated to Australie:

It is important to understand that the pain, indiginity and humiliation of war still resides deep within Iraqi hearts, minds and bodies.
As Aghnar Niazi, an award winning visual artist residing in Sydney, has said, "if you look at my paintings you will see the internal expressions what we as Iraqi have been going through -- sadness, joy and exhuastion . . . we are an open book  for the world to see." 
Her words and her paintings are a testament to a new chapter in Iraq's future which hopefully will be less bloody.
Nicole E. Smith (Rock Hill Herald) reports on Mazen Asaqa whose father expressed that he "couldn't have asked for a better son" the day before the father was kidnapped in Mosul for being a Christian.  The father's corpse turned up within the week. In 2009, Mazen Asaqa was able to join "his mother, Awitif, and sisters Maha, 28, and Rand, 27" in Detroit.  With the Presbyterian Peacemaking progam, he has been speaking in South Carolina about his and other Iraqis experiences including the phone call his father got in 2006, ordering him to pay $20,000 and shut down the church, "He told me, 'I've been therre 40 years, and I'm not closing it now. I could not go to sleep thinking how the money went to weapons, explosives and killing more innocent people'."  Steve Schmidt (San Diego Union-Tribune) reports on a group of Iraqi Christians who have resettled in El Cajon, California and are hoping to continue their card games throughout they year in spite of a new ordinance banning them.  The vice president of the Chaldean American Association, Noori Bakra states, "People drink tea and they play and they play. It has nothing to do with gambling. For you, a card is for gambling. For us, a card is for fun. I wouldn't put myself in a gambling place."  El Cajon is home to at least 30,000 Chaldeans.
Some believe that when things calm down, Iraqi Christians will return to Iraq.  That might happen if the violence were reduced.  It might not.  In Detroit or El Cajon, for example, where large populations have established homes and lives, asking them ten years down the road to uproot themselves and return to Iraq might be expecting too much.  They will have made lives here.  They will have met friends here.  That will include Chaldeans who, back in Iraq, might live several towns over.  They will raise children here.  All these issues complicate the simplistic view that some day the Iraqi Christians who were threatened and forced to flee their homes go skipping back into Iraq.
Though it's still not safe, Iraq did open an oil sea port, you may remember.  It was the site for a big photo op on Sunday.  See yesterday's snapshot, this was going to be Nouri's prestige lifter.  It's not lifting all that well currently.  Al Forat News reports that "dozens" of residents took to the streets of Basra to protest againt Royal Dutch Shell.  They are calling for the oil corporation to provide jobs in the area.
Turning to the political crisis caused by Nouri's refusal to honor the Erbil Agreement that allowed him to (circumvent the Constitution and) remain prime minister.  Things remain tense and  Al Mada reports there is still disagreements over exactly what's being proposed for the national conference with State of Law insisting that the issues around Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi would not be addressed and the Kurdistan Alliance insisting that Iraqiya is not asking for those issues to be addressed. Alsumaria TV notes that al-Hashemi declared Friday, "Human Rights status is deteriorating to sad levels in Iraq which requires the International Community's interference on a large scale. We totally understand fears behind Human Rights Watch's report and conclusions it reached aout Iraqi tribunals that accept testimonies, evidence and confressions acquired by force."
Al Mada reports  that Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoun al-Damlouji referenced Nouri's remarks Saturday on the anniversary of the Dawa Party and how his remarks were "provocative" (they were insulting and threatening). She states that they escalate the situation in Iraq, not help it.
The remarks by Nouri were made Saturday.  The same Nouri who insists that no one must accuse him of anything and laments that various political actors air problems in the press.  That Nouri al-Maliki insisted Saturday that his political rivals in Iraqiya were following orders from "other countries.  Al Mada reported that he made this charge -- one that he'd sue over if it were aimed at him -- while 'celebrating' Dawa in his hometown of Touirij.  (Dawa is Nouri's political party, State of Law is his political slate.  Iraqiya bested State of Law in the March 2010 elections.)
As Sheikh (Dar Addustour) observes that "the differences are over the details." Alsumaria TV notes that the Turkmen will provide their written proposals today and are calling for the studying of political blocs among other things.  Alsumaria TV speaks with former MP Mithal al-Alusi who declares the political  process to be a failure and who insists Iraq will emerge from Nouri al-Maliki's control.  He also states that US President Barack Obama sold out Iraq to Iran.

Fiscal year 2012 started October 1, 2011. And Iraq still has no 2012 budget. Muhammad Abdul-Jabbar (Al Sabaah) writes that this terrifies him and he is not pleased by the words of Parliament's Financial Committee about there not being a specific target date to pass one still. He states that the citizens are kept in the dark. Repeating, Fiscal Year 2012 started October 1, 2011. It's now February 14, 2012. Iraq still hasn't passed their 2012 budget.

In other budgetary news, remember last year, the February 25th protest in Baghdad's Tahrir Square and how it had Nouri promising that (a) he would reduce his (unknown) salary in half (didn't happen), (b) address corruption in 100 days (didn't happen), (c) eliminate positions in his cabinet (he didn't unless you consider his refusal to name a Minister of National Security, Minister of Interior and a Minister of Defense as eliminating). But now Al Mada reports an unnamed source "close to" Nouri declares that he will be announcing the expansion of support staff for members of his Cabinet. Let's remember this sort of thing is why Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi resigned last summer, in protest of this sort of nonsense. He considered the government a failure and also felt the government needed to save money (his salary was supposed to be at least US $100,000 annually.)

Al Mada notes the judiciary's insistence that it is independent. Al Sabaah notes MPs in Parliament state that and independent judiciary is one of the strongest indicators of a democratic state. Alsumaria TV notes Kurdish Alliance MP Mahmoud Othman states that the Parliament is forming a committee to study the disturbing requests by the judiciary to lift immunity on certain MPs and deputies. Iraqiya has called these requests politically motivated. Alsumaria also speaks with Iraqiya's spokesperson Haider Mulla that this is an attempt to "muzzle" discussion and opponents, an attempt to gag the Parliament and prevent them from conducting their oversight role.  In related news, Al Forat News reports that Iraqiya is calling for an end to "random arrest" and for the many prisoners arrested on policital grounds.  Iraqiya notes all the blather of a coup and how that was used to arrest political rivals. Aswat al-Iraq notes that this is taking in place in Basra as well where "a number of MPs from Basra's al-Iraqiya Bloc today demanded the release of detained Basra citizens who had not been convicted."
Jane Arraf covers Iraq for Al Jazeera and the Christan Science Monitor.  She Tweets:
janearraf #Iraq getting serious re curbs on Western security contractors - checking badges at green zone checkpoint to look for several banned firms.
This crackdown follows verbal statements which anticipated it.  The US Embassy in Baghdad notes the State Dept's Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides declaring that "we'll continue to look at how we can hire like we do in many countries around the world, that we hire Iraqis to help us with the programs that we're executing [. . .] my hope is, is that . . . we can consolidate some of the locations and space, and that will allow us to rely more upon local Iraqi contractors."
Yesterday Nides and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah (link has text and video) gave a joint-press briefing on their agencies' proposed budgets for 2013.  Iraq was breifly noted.  We'll note that section in full.
Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides: Twenty-three percent of the budget is spent on the frontline states -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Twenty-eight percent of our budget goes to preventing conflicts, supporting our allies and partners through direct assistance and multilateral contributions, among other things. Another 28 percent is also spent on human and economic security. And the remaining 20 percent -- or 21 percent supports our people, embassies, and global presence.
Now, the specific numbers. First, the 23 percent or one -- or $11.9 billion of requests goes in defending our now security interests in the frontline states of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Our Civilian Overseas Contingency Operations budget, better known for OCO, funds the temporary extraordinary cost associated with these missions. Using the same methodology from the last year's request, we've asked for $8.2 billion in OCO, and $3.7 billion in our base budget for a total of $11.9 billion for the frontline states. And let me now just break it down to you specifically.
In Iraq, we're requesting $4.8 billion for next year, which is about 10 percent less than last year. The transition is already saving American taxpayers a great deal of money. With now -- with State in the lead, and with the troops no longer on the ground, the government is spending $40 billion less this year than last. And as discussed during last week's press briefing, we're continuing to be thoughtful about the rightsizing of our presence in Iraq, hiring more local staff, procuring more goods locally, which should further reduce our spending.
In Afghanistan, we're requesting $4.6 billion. Civilians are vital to our efforts and they are securing our gains against the Taliban. They're helping us take Afghans lead responsibility for their own security and they're laying the groundwork for what comes next: sustainable economic growth, national reconciliation, and the long-term civilian partnership, all of which helps us ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes the safe haven for terrorists.
Consul Thomas Yazdgerdi presided over a ceremony at the Kirkuk Library on Februay 6, 2012, where he presented the library with 41 books sent by American school children from Hilo, Hawaii. 
In 2009, the Kaumana Elementary School in Hilo, Hawaii, a K-6 elementary school of 250 students read The Librarian of Basra by Jeannette Winters as a Book of the Month. [David Kay adapts it for Brooklyn Blowback TV in this YouTube video.]  This non-fiction picture book tells the tale of the librarian who attempted to save Basra Library's entire collection in anticipation of the bombing of Basra.  The students learned how deeply literacy is valued in the Middle East and were inspired to run a "penny drive" to collect money to buy books for that library.  When the school contacted the American Library Association about the project, they were told about the newly renovated library in Kirkuk and decided to send the books to Kirkuk.
The children raised about $740.00, and with guidance from former PRT Kirkuk members, they selected a few dozen children's picture books, and adult picture and reference books about Hawaii from a local bookseller.  When the Kirkuk PRT mission ended, the Consulate Public Affairs Officer corresponded with the schoo, arranged shipment, and organized the presentation ceremony. 
The Kirkuk Library just underwent a $450 million renovation funded by the U.S. military.  The book donation reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the Strategic Framework Agreement in the area of Cultural Cooperation.  During the ceremony, Consul Yazdgerdi stated, "connections as we have here today between Americans and Kirkukis will continue to forge strong, long lasting bonds of friendship and mutal respect."
kelley b. vlahos