Thursday, January 24, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, January 24, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, 2 demonstrators are assaulted by Nouri's police in Mosul, calls for listening to the protesters intensify, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announces an important change and many offer their reactions, we go back over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's very bad appearance before a Senate Committee yesterday, and more.

Starting in the United States, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Hillary's performance in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday should have resulted in her being condemned -- both for how she presented herself and for what she said.  We called her out in yesterday's snapshot.   In addition,  Wally covered it in "Facts matter, Hillary (Wally),"   Ava covered it in "20 are still at risk says Hillary in an aside (Ava)," Ruth covered it in "Like watching Richard Nixon come back to life" and Kat covered it in "Can she not answer even one damn question?"  Kat admits that she was so surprised and disgusted by Hillary's performance that she didn't attend the afternoon hearing with us because she couldn't take seeing Hillary like that again.  Ava points out that Hillary acted out in every negative stereotypical was possible.  Ruth compares her to Nixon when it comes to answering questions.  They went into the hearing expecting Hillary to sail through it in a professional and adult manner.  I did have doubts and by the time Hillary was screaming and waving her hands -- above the shoulders -- like a lunatic, I'm sorry.  I supported her in 2008.  I don't see supporting a presidential run again. 

I have never seen lunatic behavior like that in a hearing and I was present a few years back when a Ranking Member stormed out in the middle of a witness' remarks, loudly and intentionally slamming a door behind him.  Everyone stopped -- the witness stopped testifying -- and we all appeared to wonder, "What the hell is wrong with Steve Buyer?"  I disagreed with Buyer on many things (he was very right, however, on the burial grounds for military members who were buried in this country and overseas -- he was a champion on that issue and deserves praise for it) but I had never seen anything so rude.  I sat through Condi Rice testifying as a hostile witness or at least to a hostile Congress, I sat through Condi testifying as a woman with red paint (representing blood) on her hands invaded Condi's space.  Condi didn't scream and yell.  In fact, I said to Kat, "I'm sort of impressed with how calm Condi remained and with the fact that she didn't try to sick security guards on the woman" (Diane Wilson).  (I think John Kerry responded very well to an outburst in the midst of his opening remarks at today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.)

Some 'press' -- like the Drama Queen at the Washington Post -- are distorting the hearing, especially a key exchange (the one Wally covered accurately last night).  They're rushing to praise Hillary and calling Senator Ron Johnson a "tea partier."  I have no idea what he is (other than Republican), yesterday was the first time I ever laid eyes on him.  But I don't need to know his backstory to know what happened in the hearing. 

Senator Ron Johnson:  Mr. Chairman and Madam Secretary, I'd like to join my colleagues in thanking your for service sincerely and also I appreciate the fact that you're here testifying and glad that you're looking in good health.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Thank you.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Did you, were you fully aware of -- again, I realize how big your job is, you know everything's erupting in the Middle East this time.  Were you fully aware of these 20 incidents reported in the ARP in real time?  I mean --

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  I-I was aware of the ones that were brought to my attention.  They were part of, uh, our ongoing discussion about the um-um deteriorating threat environment in uh eastern Libya uh, we certainly were, uh, very conscience of them was assured by our security professionals that, uh, repairs were underway additional security upgrades in place.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Okay.  Thank you.  Did you see personally the cable on -- I believe it was August 12th -- specifically asking for basically reinforcements for the-the security detail that was going to be evacuating -- or leaving -- in August?  Did you see that personally?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:   No, sir.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Okay.  Uhm, when you read the ARB, it strikes me, uh, how certain the people were that the attacks started 9:40 pm Benghazi time. When was the first time you spoke to, or have you ever spoken to, the returnees, the evacuees?  Did you personally speak to those folks?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  I've spoken to, uh, one of them but I waited until after the ARP had done its investigation because I did not want there to be [laughing] any issue that I had spoken to anyone before the ARP conducted its investigation.

Senator Ron Johnson:  How many people were evacuated from Libya?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Uhm.  Well, you, uh, the numbers are a little bit hard to pin down because of our other friends --

Senator Ron Johnson:  Approximately?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Approximately 25 to 30.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Uh, did anybody in the State Dept talk to those folks shortly afterwards?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Uh, there was discussion going on uh-uh afterwards.  But once the investigation started, the FBI spoke to them before we spoke to them and so other than our people in Tripoli which -- I think you're talking about Washington, right?

Senator Ron Johnson:  Yeah.  Yeah.  The point I'm making is a very simple phone call to these individuals I think would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest prior to this.  I mean this attack started at 9:40 p.m. Benghazi time.  It was an assault and I appreciate the fact that you called it an assault.  But I mean, I'm going back to then, Ambassador Rice five days later going to the Sunday shows and what I would say purposefully misleading the American public.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Well, Senator --

Senator Ron Johnson:  Why-why-why wasn't that known?  And, again, I appreciate the fact that the transparency of this hearing but why weren't we transparent at that point and time?

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Well, first of all, Senator, I would say that once the assault happened and once we got our people rescued out, our most immediate concern was, number one, taking care of their injuries because, as I said, I still have a DSA agent still at Walter Reed seriously injured, getting them into Frankfurt-Ramstein to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to talk to them, we did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews.  And we did not -- I think this is accurate, sir -- I certainly did not know of any reports that contradicted the IC talking points at the time that Ambassador Rice went on the TV shows.  And, you know, I just want to say that, uhm, you know, people have, uh,  accused Ambassador Rice and the administration of, uh, misleading the Americans, I can say trying to be in the middle of this and understanding what was going on, nothing could be further from the truth.  Was information developing?  Was the situation fluid?  Would we reach conclusions later that weren't reached initially and I appreciate --

Senator Ron Johnson:  But, Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn't have ascertained what happened immediately that there was no protest?  I mean that was -- that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained. 

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But Senator, again --

Senator Ron Johnson:  -- within hours, if not days.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Senator, I, you know, when you're in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going --

Senator Ron Johnson:  I understand, I realize ---

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Number two --

Senator Ron Johnson:  -- that's a good excuse.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  No, it's a fact.  Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised.  Now, we have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people, but what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing --

Senator Ron Johnson:  No, no, no.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  -- is still -- is still --

Senator Ron Johnson:  Again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something sprang out of that -- an assault sprang out of that -- and that was easily --

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But-but --

Senator Ron Johnson: -- ascertained that that was not the fact.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But-but --

Senator Ron Johnson:  -- and the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans!  [This is where Hillary's crazy hands, like the volume of her voice, begin going all over the map.]

Senator Ron Johnson:  I understand.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans!  What difference at this point does it make!
It is our job to figure out what happened and to do everything we can to prevent it from every happening again, Senator!  Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this but the fact is people were trying in real time to get to the best information.  The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out but, you know, to be clear, it is from my perspective less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it then to find them and then maybe we'll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Okay, thank you Madam Secretary.

If you applaud that performance by Hillary I don't know who you are or what you believe in.  You don't believe in the Constitution -- not enough to support it -- nor do you believe in an informed society.  You do believe in all the b.s. Bully Boy Bush put the United States through after 9-11.

As Wally points out in his piece, there are things called "facts" that actually are facts but facts are not Hillary Clinton's personal opinions no matter how loud  she gets in hearing. 

Second, the issue of Susan Rice came up repeatedly.  During other questioning on the topic, Hillary testified she wasn't present so she can't speak to that process or what happened or anything. But with Johnson, she wants to assure him what happened -- what happened when she wasn't present.  She knows those aren't facts, she knows they're at best "hearsay."

Third, she's being asked a basic question.  I'd be a real hypocrite if I disagreed with Johnson because the issue of talking to someone who was present during the attack before going on TV to pontificate?  I raised that in the November 15th snapshot.  And Johnson was right yesterday.  You do have an obligation to speak to someone.

I've never been more disappointed in Hillary or more ashamed.  We're not going to debate the Susan Rice nonsense, it's been covered.  We're going to address Hillary's nonsense and we have to because the press doesn't want to do their damn job -- as usual.

Hillary said she took accountability.  If you burn my house down and show up the next day as I'm going through the charred remains and you say, "I take accountability," I may believe you . . . up until you start yelling and screaming.  If you take accountability, then you damn well learned something from the experience.  Hillary learned nothing.  It's a cheap line ("I take accountability") intended to silence people.  You either take accountability or you don't.

She's taken no accountability.  She's done nothing to indicate she has.  She's done nothing to improve her knowledge of the attack.  She's done nothing to secure the diplomatic staff around the world.  On the last one, as Ava so aptly pointed out in her report, as an aside, Hillary tosses out in the hearing that at least 20 US diplomatic outposts are currently at risk.  I'm missing the moment where Hillary or one of her staffers rushed before Congress in the last months to demand funding for these 20 at risk posts.

Don't lie to the country and claim you took accountability when you so obviously didn't.

Gore Vidal used to praise Hillary for her manners and grace.  Neither was visible yesterday.  If you didn't get it from the exchange, she was being flattered by Johnson, she was being praised.  She flew off the handle and started screaming and acting like a crazy person while she was being treated with kid gloves.  I was offended by her behavior.  She is not just a former First Lady, she's also a former US Senator and she fully  knows how to conduct herself in the Senate.  There was no excuse for her behavior.  Senator John McCain was probably the most severe critic she faced yesterday.  John McCain did not yell at her, he did not fly off the handle.  Let's move over to what she said while she was acting so crazy.

Senator Ron Johnson:  Again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and then something sprang out of that -- an assault sprang out of that -- and that was easily --

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But-but --

Senator Ron Johnson: -- ascertained that that was not the fact.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  But-but --

Senator Ron Johnson:  -- and the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans!  [This is where Hillary's crazy hands, like the volume of her voice, begin going all over the map.]

There were four dead Americans and they died because of failures within the administration.  You can claim to take accountability all you damn well want.  But Ranking Member Bob Corker put one question to Hillary over and over (three times) and she ignored it.  'You claim you didn't see any of the various requests for more security.'  Corker wanted to know how that wouldn't happen to you again or the next person in your position?  Hillary couldn't answer him.  That's a failure.  She refused to answer him.  There are four dead Americans, Secretary Clinton, and you've done nothing to ensure that when people in the field ask for additional security, these requests and their outcomes are made known to the Secretary of State. 

Let's drop back to earlier:

[. . .]   once we got our people rescued out, our most immediate concern was, number one, taking care of their injuries because, as I said, I still have a DSA agent still at Walter Reed seriously injured, getting them into Frankfurt-Ramstein to get taken care of, the FBI going over immediately to talk to them, we did not think it was appropriate for us to talk to them before the FBI conducted their interviews. 

No, Hillary's not a scrub nurse or an ER technician or Chief of Staff.  Her first concern was not getting treatment for US citizens who had been medically transported to a US military base.  This was not Terms of Endearment and she is not Shirley MacLaine screaming, "Give my daughter the shot!"  There's a thing -- and we've gone over this repeatedly in the snapshots since the Benghazi attack -- known as standard operating procedure.  It wasn't followed repeatedly.  And if Hillary had to scream and throw a fit to get American doctors and nurses on a US military base to treat wounded Americans, then the whole process is screwed up.  Instead of lying to Congress, Hillary should have been thanking those doctors and nurses who were the first medical team to treat the injured Americans.  Instead like a cut-throat politician, she wanted to throw them to the wolves to protect herself.  Shame, shame, shame.

Though she never seemed to get that Johnson's point was Susan Rice -- or anyone being dispatched by the administration -- should have spoken to at least one person present during the assault before presenting a case to the American people, Hillary wanted you to know that she didn't speak to anyone.  She joked and laughed about that.  (She was mocking the days of Travel Gate, when she was First Lady and accused of tampering with files.  I've never seen her act so stupid in my life.  She was full of hubris.)

She also damned herself yet again.  Bill knows when to keep his mouth shut.  Hillary apparently never learned. 

This was the logic -- go to the excerpt for the quotes:  'I didn't speak to any of the 25 to 30 US citizens present during the assault because an investigation was going on.  I'm accountable.  I'm the one responsible.  Now that the investigation is over -- and I'm about to leave office -- I've spoken to 1 person.'

Did she not get how that damned her?

I don't buy the lie that she couldn't speak to people because of an investigation.  You are the Secretary of State, one of the outposts you oversee was attacked, you have every right to speak to the people present and you have an obligation to as well because you need to ensure that whatever happened does not happen at another diplomatic outpost.

But forget the lie.  'I'm accountable' didn't manage, now that the investigation is over, to speak to all the people.  That's the first thing she should have done.  That is her role.  We damn well expected Donald Rumsfeld to visit the wounded at Walter Reed when he was Secretary of Defense but Hillary thinks she gets a pass, that she doesn't have to check in with her staff?

Now let's go back to her emotional outburst, where she was screaming, ranting and waving her hands like a crazed bag lady on Southeast 1st Street and not a public servant testifying before the Senate.

Secretary Hillary Clinton:  Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans!  What difference at this point does it make!
It is our job to figure out what happened and to do everything we can to prevent it from every happening again, Senator!  Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this but the fact is people were trying in real time to get to the best information.  The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out but, you know, to be clear, it is from my perspective less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it then to find them and then maybe we'll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

What difference does it make at this point?  None to you?  You haven't even spoken to all serving under you who were present at the attack, all these months later you haven't.  You didn't visit the wounded in Walter Reed.  You didn't do a damn thing.  But if your "job" is to make sure it doesn't happen again, then it damn well matters what happened and why.

And Hillary knows that.  The why always matters if you have a legal degree.  The motive, the intent.  That is drilled into the head. 

And her not caring about the why is so typical of Bully Boy Bush and the rabid mind-set after 9-11 where we were never to question why the attacks happened, our only focus was supposed to be on lashing out.  If you want to prevent other attacks, you damn well better figure out why the first ones happened.  It was an ahistorical attack on learning and academia.  She should be ashamed of herself.

In kinder words, I made many of these points yesterday and hoped that it came through and planned for us to move on to another topic.  But what happened was appalling and instead of addressing that we have a press that wants to applaud her.  She's is not a celebrity.  She is a public servant and she is answerable to the people. I would still like to address Senator Bob Casey at a later date -- I felt he had an important point -- but that's more than enough Hillary and I'll consider us done with the topic here unless something forces us to relive it again.  (Such as an attack on one of the 20 facilities she testified were not sufficiently protected at present.)  I didn't seek out this topic, I didn't want to write it but we didn't whore, we talked about what went down and that is what went down.

Let's go to a better and more important topic.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following:

Thursday, January 24, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

Sen. Murray's First Bill in the New Congress Helps Catastrophically Wounded Veterans Start a Family

Murray calls for quick action on bill to end the VA's ban on In Vitro Fertilization which has prevented thousands of veterans with serious wounds to reproductive organs from accessing fertility care

Last Congress Murray's bill passed the Senate unanimously only to be stalled in the House of Representatives

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray reintroduced legislation that ends the ban on in vitro fertilization (IVA) services at VA in order to help severely wounded veterans start families.  Murray's bill, the Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act of 2013 also builds upon previous law to improve VA services for women veterans and veterans with families.  Late last year, Senator Murray was able to pass the bill through the U.S. Senate after delivering an impassioned speech on the Senate floor that described the challenges veterans and their families face in accessing IVF.  Unfortunately, the bill failed to move in the House of Representatives in time to make its way to the President's desk after Republican leaders there expressed opposition.

"There is absolutely no reason that this bill should not move quickly to the President's desk," said Senator Murray.  "It was passed unanimously in the Senate and the House has a responsibility to our most seriously wounded veterans and their spouses to act.  These are veterans who have sustained serious and deeply impactful wounds and who are simply asking for help to begin a family.  We owe them nothing less."

Department of Defense (DOD) data show that between 2003 and 2012 nearly 2000 servicemembers have suffered reproductive and urinary tract trauma.  The reliance on foot patrols in Afghanistan and the prevalence of improvised explosive devices has left servicemembers far more susceptible to these injuries.  In fact, these data show a clear increase in injuries of this nature in recent years.

Veterans who have severe reproductive and urinary tract injuries and spinal cord injuries (SCI) often need highly specialized treatments and procedures like IVF to conceive.  However, under current law, IVF is expressly excluded from fertility services that are provided by the VA to veterans or their spouses.  This is a significant barrier for veterans with SCI and genital and urinary tract injuries and as a result they have to seek care outside of the VA.  DOD currently provides access to IVF services under the Tricare program and coverage for IVF and other fertility treatments at no charge to severely combat wounded servicemembers.  Senator Murray's bill would provide veterans with the same access.

Murray's bill also will give VA permanent authority to offer child care programs at hospitals and Vet Centers for veterans seeking care, and improve outreach to women veterans.

Senator Murray's bill is paid for by allowing the VA Secretary to charge a small fee to large corporations contracting with VA, and using those funds only for providing the treatment authorized by the bill.


Megan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray

The above is highly important and hopefully the House will quickly address the bill.  Senator Murray was present at hearings when the first wave of female veterans of today's wars began offering their testimonies to Congress.  Back then, she wasn't the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  And she could take the attitude of, "I've got a lot on my plate and am just going to focus on what's right before me."  There's certainly enough to do that she could get away with that.  But in 2005 and 2006, as one woman veteran with a child went before the House and Senate over and over to offer testimony about their VA experience, the issue of how you get an appointment and then the next series of juggling comes up.  Taking a weekend appointment, if one's available, for example, may mean you don't miss work if you work outside the home, but it still means, if you're a parent, you're going to have to juggle child care issues.  Women who work within the home and who have children also spoke of the struggles to get an appointment and then to make the appointment.   Providing onsite child care is smart because it allows women and men with children to keep needed health care appointments.  It's also smart in another way.  Among the horror stories the first wave of women veterans from today's wars told Congress was that they were treated like meat by some other male veterans, that they were catcalled and harassed.  Never should have happened.  It's outrageous that they're trying to get their medical needs met and they've got deal with that.  Becoming child-friendly could also help send the message that VA hospitals are medical facilities, they are not strip clubs, they are not gentlemen's social clubs.

Today at the US Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, held a press conference to formally announce that women's role in the US military had been expanded as the Pentagon began down the road of ending the exclusion rule which refused to allow women to (officially) serve in direct combat roles. 

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: One of my priorities as Secretary of Defense has been to remove as many barriers as possible for talented and qualified people to be able to serve this country in uniform.  Our nation was built on the premise of the citizen soldier.  In our democracy, I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen to protect the nation and every citizen who can meet the qualifications of service should have that opportunity.  To that end, I've been working closely with General Dempsey and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  We've been working for well over a year to examine how can we expand the opportunities for women in the armed services?  It's clear to all of us that women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military's mission of defending the nation.  Women represent 15 percent of the force, over 200,000.  They're serving in a growing number of critical roles -- on and off the battlefield.  The fact is that they have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission.  Over more than a decade of war, they have demonstrated courage and skill and patriotism. 153 women in uniform died serving this nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Female service members have faced the reality of combat, proven their willingness to fight and, yes, to die to defend their fellow Americans.

Iraq War veteran Jessica Lynch released the following statement:

The announcement by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to allow women to enter combat roles is good news for our military. For years, women have been integral to our successes in the fight for freedom throughout the world. We as Americans must continue to not only support our men and women in the military but also become their advocates,  pushing our leaders to ensure those individuals have proper training and equipment.  The total support of our military - those in combat and those here at home -protects every American.

I want to make it very clear I am sick to hell of people bashing Jessica Lynch.  We have covered this repeatedly.  Jessica Lynch didn't lie to anyone.  She said she wasn't a hero, she poked holes in the Bush administration's story.  She did so at a time when he was riding high in the polls and she was attacked for it.  I find it disgusting that today I've already seen two women attack Jessica in columns.  She did not lie.  She has repeatedly stated that her friend Lori Piestewa was the hero and she has done every thing she can to honor her friend.  I believe Jessica's wrong, she is a hero.  Maybe not in Iraq, but when she came back to the US, she could have lied.  It would have been so easy.  Just go along with the White House's official story.  Instead she stood up to a popular White House and said, "This story is not true."  That took real bravery and character.  It's a real shame that anyone would feel the need to attack her.  And let me add to one of the attackers that maybe these sort of ill-advised attacks, for example, are why you lost your radio show.  And why no one listeners mounted an effort to save your show.

Kristen Moulton (Salt Lake Tribune) spoke to women veterans in Utah such as Iraq War veteran Tara Eal who states, "We went through the front lines and I was in combat.  I didn't have to knock down any doors and, thankfully, I didn't have to shoot anybody.  But I was shot at and my truck was shot at."  Dennis Hoey and Kevin Miller (Press Herald) speak with Iraq War veteran Angela Baker who states, "There are no front lines anymore.  When I was over there, every single one of us, man or woman, got shot at multiple times.  We saw combat because we were in a combat zone."  Bill Briggs (NBC News) speaks with a number of veterans including Afghanistan and Iraq War veteran Julie Weckerlein who states, "There is definitely a sense of 'it's about time.'  This decision means the military is finally removing that useless 'attached, but not assigned' verbiage that meant absolutely nothing on the field, with the boots on the ground."  Jake Tapper and Jessica Metzger (CNN) report on Afghanistan War veteran Candace Fisher and her reaction, "It's a formalization of what we've been experimenting with the last ten to twelve years in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I think that those two conflicts have probably given the Army a pretty good idea of whether or not an actual policy change was warranted."  US House Rep and Iraq War veteran Tulsi Gabbard spoke with News Nation (MSNBC -- link is video) today.

US House Rep Tulsi Gabbard:  . . . it is a moment of great significance.  It's very personal for me, obviously, not just for myself, but for all of my sisters who I've had the honor of serving with, for all the women who've ever worn the uniform, this change, this policy change from the DoD really gives an official recognition to jobs, sacrifices and service that women in uniform have been making for generations.  [Responding to comments that women aren't suited for the job] I have to smile a little bit when I hear you say those things that the critics are talking about.  I've heard people cite studies talking about how women are not well-equipped to serve in these different capacities and what goes through my mind as you're saying that are the incredible women that I've had the honor of serving with and those who I've heard great stories about.  Women like Sgt Leigh Ann Hester who was the first woman since WWII to earn a Silver Star.  She was a Military Police Sgt serving in Iraq in 2005 and she led her squad of MPs against a very, very hot insurgent attack, flanked the enemy, assaulted two trench lines and, at the end, saved American lives.  And it's stories like Sgt Leigh Ann Hester's and countless women who throw out every argument that the critics have said because it's real, these are patriots who are putting their lives on the line for our country selflessly and, guess what, they happen to be women.

Staff Sgt Kimberly Fahnestock Voelz died while serving in Iraq, killed December 14, 2003 in a bombing just outside Falluja.  Matt Miller (Pennsylvania's Patriot News) speaks with her mother Carol Fahnestock who states, "If they're up to it and they can do the work, why not?  I know that at the time few women were doing what Kimmy was doing.  She excelled at it.  She loved it." 

The Feminist Majority Foundation issued a statement today:

For Immediate Release:
January 24, 2013
Miranda Petersen

Statement of Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation On the Decision to Remove Combat Restrictions on Women Serving in the Armed Services

The Feminist Majority Foundation applauds the long awaited decision to remove the combat restriction on women in the military. This is a historic milestone in the fight for women's equality. The combat restriction has been a sham. Women have been and are currently serving in combat positions, but have received neither the recognition nor the chance for promotion that men have enjoyed. We urge in its implementation that all barriers based simply on the gender of members of the armed services be removed, and that they be judged simply upon their capabilities.
For years women in the military have been discriminated against because of a cultural war that has finally ended on the position of women in the military. The reality on the ground has finally become the reality of public policy.
In 1980, when I was the President of the National Organization for Women, I released the following statement: "Discrimination against women...produces in the armed services exactly what it produces in the society as a whole-wasted skills, talents and potential..." At that time, we also addressed the false position that women do not serve in combat roles, saying "The first myth to be dispelled is that women have not been in combat...Women have served and will continue to serve in combat environments under the same conditions, suffering the same risks and injuries as men." Finally, our nation is recognizing this basic fact and correcting this outrageous injustice that has denied women just benefits and recognition for far too long.
In the fight for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment it was frequently argued by opponents that women cannot have equal rights without sharing equal responsibility. We have had more than our share of responsibility. Now, because of the courageous service of women in the armed services, women in the military are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Cindy Sheehan takes another side.  She rejects the inclusion arguing that it's going the wrong way.  Instead of opening roles to women, they should be restricting men out of combat as well (thereby ending military adventures and wars).  She writes:

As a woman and mother, I dismay on a daily basis that I didn’t better protect my son from the gore-soaked claws of the US Army; and more importantly, as a woman and mother (and now grandmother), I could NEVER, EVER in a million years kill another woman or her child (or, innocent man, for that matter--and all of the oppressed/occupied peoples are innocent).
The US military has long been a malevolent force in the world and war jackals like Leon Panetta sit safely ensconced in their ivory towers ordering the poor and disadvantaged children of others to go and do their filthy work. In my experienced opinion, adding more combat-able demographics is nothing to celebrate in a sane world.
In Bizarro-USA (the opposite of the USA we have currently), access to education; fulfilling employment with a decent wage; healthcare; a clean environment and sustainable energy (with foods free of GMO’s and other toxins) should be our basic human rights—not the one where the establishment confers the dishonorable right to murder, or be murdered for the Evil Empire.

To be really clear, Cindy's position is a feminist position.  It's "a" not "the."  My own position is just one position as well.  For myself, I've done dozens of things that probably many women wouldn't want to do (and that's just in bed! drum roll please) and other women do things I have no interest in.  I would never serve in combat, it's not something that interests me.  I do feel if it's something that interests another woman, she should have every shot at achieving that.  That doesn't make Cindy wrong and it certainly doesn't make me right.  Cindy raises serious issues and I'm glad she does that. I'm also glad that she's willing and able to present another feminist take.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 302 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets AFP's count:

218 dead, 650 wounded from violence so far this month in Iraq - tally:

Remember AFP has done a really great thing under Rao, they've put their count online.  The link goes to their count and you can check that out and pull it up.  They're being more open than anyone would expect so good for AFP and for Prashant Rao.

Today's violence includes the discovery of a woman's corpse in Dhi Qar.  News Network Nasiriyah report that she was 34-years-old and stabbed to death -- she is the third corpse discovered in three days to have been stabbed to death (a 20-something woman was discovered earlier this week and a 30-year-old woman). All Iraq News notes a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and injured three people, and a southwest Baghdad roadside bombing left two people injured. Xinhua reports a Balad sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left five people injured, an Ishaqi bombing claimed 1 life (a man) and left "his mother wounded," 1 male corpse was discovered in Edheim (Diyalal Province) and two Diyala Province bombings left six people injured.  Alsumaria reports an armed Baghdad attack has left 3 police officers dead and that the assailants then set fire to the police car.

Today's violence also saw Nouri al-Maliki's thugs -- a thug's thugs -- fire on the peaceful demonstrators in Mosul -- fired yet again.  January 7th, Nouri's forces assaulted four protesters in Mosul.  Today All Iraq News reports that they sent two protesters to the hospital.  Alsumaria notes that journalist Sama Mosul Waddah Badrani was injured as he covered the protest and he, like the two protesters has been taken to the hospital. 

This will only fuel tomorrow's protests and it also makes Nouri look even more like a thug.  The provincial council, even governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, have made clear that the protesters have their support.  Nouri needs to bring his forces back to Baghdad.  They're not helping him or the crisis.

Kurdistan Regional Government Massoud Barzani went to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Conference.  Alsumaria reports that Barzani spoke with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu about Iraq's political crisis and how it is only getting worse.  Meanwhile Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and former prime minister and National Alliance leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari have also met to discuss the current crisis.  Alsumaria reports the two are in agreement that the laws passed need to serve the Iraqi people and there is talk of having the protesters elect repreentatives to convey their demands to provincial councils.  As Wael Grace (Al Mada) notes Iraqiya is currently boycotting Cabinet meetings.  Iraqiya is the political slate headed by Ayad Allawi which came in first in the 2010 parliamentary elections (Nouri's State of Law came in second).  Iraqiya is boycotting the meetings to protest Nouri's government ignoring the demands of the protesters.

Dar Addustour columnist As Sheikh notes that the protests have been taking place for about a month and that they are especially welcomed in the south of Iraq where service is especially poor and corruption rampant.   Sheikh observes that the failure to deal with the serious demands of the protesters has aided support and that support has been growing with each successive protest.
Nasiriyah reports the farmers in Dhi Qar are talking about organizing and joining the peaceful protests to demand their legitimate rights.

Nouri's been prime minister since May 2006 (he was named prime-minister designate in April 2006).  What does Iraq have to show for it?  Nouri's a very rich man today.  He's amassed a great deal of wealth -- as his children's spending demonstrates.  He employs one son who is best described as "dense" and one son-in-law who it is said couldn't get work if Nouri wasn't his father-in-law.  The Maliki family's done very well.  It's a shame the same can't be said for the Iraqi people Nouri is supposed to be serving.

Moqtada al-Sadr is a cleric and movement leader in Iraq.  He's a Shi'ite who's been surprisingly vocal about an Iraqi identity encompassing all.  Iraqiya's Ayad Allawi is a Shi'ite and he heads a slate that's rejected sects to call for a national identity.  With provincial elections scheduled for April, Nouri appears to be utilizing sectarian divisions as an election tactic yet again.  That's done a great deal of damage to Iraqi society but that's apparently of little concern to him.

Kitabat reports that the Sadr bloc withdrew from the Committee of Seven Ministers yesterday in protest of the government's refusal to listen to the demands of the protesters.  This Committee was formed by Nouri's Cabinet and Nouri had Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani head it.  While the western press has lavished al-Shahristani with sloppy wet kisses for over seven days, the Iraqi press has noted the many complaints against his actions -- that he's not listening to the protesters, for example.  The departure of the Sadr bloc is a huge blow to the Committee and to al-Shahristani.  In recent days, the Sadr bloc has loudly called out the conditions in prison, noted that al-Shahristani's (for-show) releases of prisoners confirm that many innocents are languishing in Iraqi prisons and detention centers and  much more.  A member of Moqtada's bloc tells All Iraq News that al-Sharistani's committee can't fix the problems because they are the problem.

The Iraq Times notes that 2011 saw $100 billion in oil dollars and an estimated 94 billion last year (these figures are in US dollars, not Iraqi dinar).  The paper notes that while Nouri's government boasts of all these riches (without shame), the Iraqi people do without basic services and the security situation deteriorates daily.  Some day, Iraqis asking "where did all the money go?" won't be denied an answer.  First place people need to look is Nouri's pockets.

At the Council of Foreign Relations, Emma Sky and Harith al-Qarawee explore the topic of Iraq and offer:

Since 2008, when Maliki led a harsh crackdown on the Mahdi Army, a Shia militia, the prime minister has tried to present himself as a nationalist leader seeking to unify his country and evenly enforce the rule of law. The rise of Maliki and the popularity he gained with Shia, however, reveal the flaws of Iraq's new political system, which made state institutions fiefdoms of patronage for sectarian political parties rather than channels for delivering public services. Maliki tried to earn legitimacy beyond just the Shia community, in particular seeking the support of Sunni voters. His confrontation with Massoud Barzani, the president of the semi-independent Iraqi Kurdistan region, over security issues along the disputed border was primarily a move to win the support of the Sunni population there, which is resentful of Kurdish encroachment.
But Maliki has squandered his ability to appeal to the country's other sects and communities because of his paranoia and ideological bias as a leader of Dawa, the Shia Islamist party. He blames external interference for the current tensions, exploiting images of divisive symbols such as flags of the Saddam era, the Free Syrian Army, and Kurdistan, as well as photos of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And Maliki's record -- his targeting of Sunni politicians, his selective use of law, his influence over the judiciary to ensure rulings in his favor, and his close ties with Iran -- confirms that he is prepared to use all means necessary to consolidate power.

All Iraq News reports another last-ditch effort to save the $4 billion arms deal with Russia.  Maybe that will work out for Nouri?  It won't help Iraq but if he could ever close the deal he made months ago, he might be able to convince others that his name on a contract means something (months and months of struggle and doubt -- apparently).  All Iraq News also notes that there are now six outbreaks of avian flu (bird flu).  Sadly, the blame for this outbreak is being put on foreign workers in Iraq.  That's sad but not surprising when the country has huge unemployment and the government keeps providing jobs to non-Iraqis.

prashant rao