Monday, May 20, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Monday, May 20, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the US government continues The War on the First Amendment, a Fox News reporter is the latest revealed target, Iraq is slammed by bombings, Parliament plans an emergency session to address the issue tomorrow, Nouri tells people to boycott the session, photos of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani surface over the weekend, US President Barack Obama extends Bully Boy Bush's "National Emergency with Respect to the Stabilization of Iraq" Executive Order (no one in the US press covers this or asks about it), Jay Carney tries to sneak an 'update' (revision) past White House reporters today on the IRS scandal, it goes so badly he talks Iraq, and more.

In the US, The War on the First Amendment continues.  Last Monday brought the shocking news that the US Justice Dept had secretly seized two months of phone records from the historic, 167-year-old news organization the Associated Press.  This was over a 'leak' supposedly.  But the Justice Dept knew of the 2012 report over a week before it was published.  The Justice Dept also felt that they would ignore laws requiring them to at first work with the AP and resort to secret seizure only after that.  Instead, they moved to secret seziure and when the records were seized no one still knows.  (It could have been 45 days prior to them notifying the AP.  But it could have been as much as 90 days.)  No one knows.  This is not a free society, this is not an open society.  This is an offense and it's outrageous.

Yesterday, another attack in The War on the First Amendment is revealed.   Ann E. Marimow (Washington Post) breaks the news of the Justice Dept targeting Fox News' James Rosen over press reports he filed on North Korea.  They not only seized his phone records, they also sezied his personal e-mails and "used security badge access records to track the reporter's comings and goings from the State Department." First Amendment attorney Charles Tobin tells the Post, "Search warrants like these have a severe chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public. That's a very dangerous road to go down."  CNN explains, "The case centered on the leak of intelligence about North Korea in 2009, in which analysts predicted the possibility of a nuclear test if the U.S. enacted further sanctions on the regime. Fox News reported on that analysis on June 11, 2009."  Free Speech Radio News reports it this way:

Dorian Merina:  More information has surfaced on the Department of Justice's surveillance of journalists. The Washington Post reports that the DOJ spied on Fox News DC correspondent James Rosen after he wrote an article in 2009 about North Korea's nuclear program. Not only did investigators review his phone records, they also tracked his security badge to find out when he visited the State Department and they got a search warrant allowing them to read his personal Gmail correspondence. The warrant identifies Rosen as a reporter, but also alleges that as a recipient of leaked information he is a co-conspirator, subject to charges that are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. So far, no formal charges against Rosen have been filed.

  Ned Resnikoff (NBC News) adds:

The revelation that the DOJ would classify a journalist as an un-indicted co-conspirator under the 1917 Espionage Act is “even a bigger deal” than the department’s seizure of Associated Press  phone records, said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
"A line has been crossed that has always been a very critical bulwark,” he said. “That’s the line between government leakers and media publishers." No journalist has ever been prosecuted under the Espionage Act, what has traditionally "only been used against those who gave or sold secrets to the enemy."

The Project on Government Secrecy's Steven Aftergood tells Ann E. Marimow, "Asking for information has never been deemed a crime.  It's a line that has not been crossed up until now."
Fox News Vice President of News Michael Clemente issued a statement today noting, "We are outraged to learn today that James Rosen was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter.  In fact, it is downright chilling.  We will unequivocally defend his right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press."  US Senator Marco Rubio's office sent out the following today:

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement after a report was released claiming that the Obama Administration targeted a FOX News reporter during a leak investigation:
"I am very concerned by reports the Obama Administration targeted a FOX News reporter for possible criminal prosecution for doing what appears to be normal news-gathering protected by the First Amendment. The sort of reporting by James Rosen detailed in the report is the same sort of reporting that helped Mr. Rosen aggressively pursue questions about the Administration’s handling of Benghazi. National security leaks are criminal and put American lives on the line, and federal prosecutors should, of course, vigorously investigate.  But we expect that they do so within the bounds of the law, and that the investigations focus on the leakers within the government – not on media organizations that have First Amendment protections and serve a vital function in our democracy. We must insist that federal agents not use legitimate investigations as an excuse to harass journalists they deem unfriendly to the President or the Administration.  We shouldn’t even have to ask if our government would do such a thing, but unfortunately as the unfolding IRS scandal shows, this White House has created a culture where we do have to explicitly make these kinds of requests."

 Digging around the story, Garance Franke-Ruta (The Atlantic) notes Rosen but also wonders who else in the press has the government gone after?  She writes, "In an August 2010 report on the indictment of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim on charges of 'disclosing national defense information in June 2009 to a national news organization, believed to be Fox News,' several other reporters were mentioned in relation to the DoJ leak investigations, in addition to Rosen."  She notes Siobhan Gorman (Wall St. Journal) and Richard Silverstein (Tikun Olam) were two others mentioned.  Philip Klein (Washington Examiner) wonders if it goes beyond this case and AP:

Last year, Bloomberg reported that Attorney General Eric Holder “has prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all his predecessors combined, including law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft.” The administration has also received a failing grade for its ignoring of Freedom of Information Act requests.
Taken together, all such actions have a toll. They mean that federal officials are less likely to blow the whistle on government wrongdoing and that journalists are less likely to obtain damning information that they can pass along to the public. The suggestion by the DOJ that Rosen broke the law, if followed to its logical conclusion, would mean the end of investigative journalism in America.

Mother Jones' David Corn Tweeted:

If a reporter asks a source who handles classified material for info, does DOJ see that as a crime? The Rosen case may be more imp. than AP.

For that observation, he got blowback and had to try and provide a Twitter tutorial on Freedom of the Press:

  1. Should DOJ have characterized Woodward as criminal co-conspirator for getting info from Felt or NYT reporters for accepting Pentagon Papers?
  2. A reminder to Fox/Rosen haters: Bush-Cheney national security abuses uncovered by nat. sec. reporters who could now be at risk.
  3. To Fox-hating tweeps, one doesn't have to defend Fox/Rosen to note DOJ is moving into a troubling area-criminalizing reporter-source contact
  4. An Inside Look at How DOJ Goes After Reporters, Not Just Leakers

Why did Corn have to perform a tutorial?  Because of the nonsense pushback of "Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby."  Writing about the scandal of targeting the AP, Craig Aaron (The Progressive) noted last week:

The probe appears to be unprecedented in its scale and scope. But as Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation notes: “In five years, the Obama administration has prosecuted more leakers under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined, and virtually all these prosecutions have engulfed journalists one way or another.”
The initial reaction of the Obama administration was evasion from Attorney General Eric Holder and squirming by White House Spokesman Jay Carney -- who became flustered when the briefing-room lapdogs started to snarl.
Pro-Obama messengers were instructed to act concerned the reporters might have tipped off the terrorists and -- if that didn’t work -- to shout “Valerie Plame” a lot. But that mostly served as a reminder of how much the most transparent administration ever™ was outdoing another famous Dick: Dick Cheney.

As many have noted, you can see the pushback nonsense at CJR again today.  But who takes CJR seriously anymore?  Rhonda Roland Shearer's expose "CJR Reporter Lying, Exploiting a Source? What's happening at Columbia Journalism Review?" revealed CJR doesn't check their facts, they humiliate a private citizen and won't apologize or correct their errors, they allow a 'reporter' to do a stunt to make a documentary and they treat it as news, they defend their 'reporter' lying to newspaper reporters . . . The list never ends.

In the world of real journalism, there is concern.  Connie Schultz (Orlando Sentinel) notes:

Meanwhile, journalists around the country are asking, "What the heck is going on?"
It should be the question on every concerned citizen's mind. It breaks my heart that we need this reminder: A thriving — and free — press is often the only check on representative government. Already, potential government whistle-blowers have lost their nerve and never will pick up that phone.

It's a point New York Times investigative reporter Mark Mazzetti makes to Greg Sargent (Washington Post) today, "There’s no question that this has a chilling effect.  People who have talked in the past are less willing to talk now. Everyone is worried about communication and how to communicate, and [asking if there] is there any method of communication that is not being monitored. It’s got people on both sides -- the reporter and source side -- pretty concerned."  Jordy Yager and Mike Lillis (The Hill) point out, "Obama himself has made no apologies for the Justice’s sweep of AP phone records."

He issued no apologies for that.  But late Friday, he did issue the following:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Notice -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to the Stabilization of Iraq

- - - - - - -
On May 22, 2003, by Executive Order 13303, the President declared a national emergency pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706) to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by obstacles to the continued reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq.

The obstacles to the continued reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. For this reason, the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303, as modified in scope and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13315 of August 28, 2003, Executive Order 13350 of July 29, 2004, Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004, and Executive Order 13438 of July 17, 2007, must continue in effect beyond May 22, 2013. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to the stabilization of Iraq declared in Executive Order 13303.
This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.


     May 17, 2013.

Why is a US president issuing declarations -- national emergency ones -- about the supposed 'free' Iraq?  Oh, that's right.  It's not really free of the US.

 Violence slams Iraq today.  Brisband Times notes (in a video report),  "Washing the blood off the streets, the clear up begins after another deadly day of violence in Iraq."  Fiji Broadcasting Corporation observes, "Baghdad was the worst hit."  This morning,  Al Jazeera noted, "Eight car bombs in mainly Shia districts of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, killed 20 people on Monday."   By the end of the day, AP reported the bombing toll was up to 10 and the death toll to 48 (with over 150 injured).  On this AP video report, a Baghdad man states, "We have become accustom to such explosions.  We have seen blasts every day. These attacks will never frighten us, God willing."  As Baghdad is slammed with bombings, it's worth dropping back to the May 10th snapshot:

Alsumaria reports that cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr declared his sympathy for the Iraqis who've lost family members as a result of the purchase and use by Nouri's government of 'magic' wands -- which have been known not to work since 2009.  Moqtada urged the families who lost loved ones and those who were injured as a result to sue the person who purchased the items. (That would be Nouri.)  April 23rd (see the  April 24, 2013 snapshot), James McCormick, the man who made and sold the wands, who was on trial for those wands, was pronounced guilty on three counts of fraud.  And still Nouri has allowed -- no, insisted that the wands be used.   May 2nd, McCormick was sentenced to a maxium of 10 years.  Jake Ryan (Sun) quoted Judge Richard Hone stating, "The device was useless, the profit outrageous and your culpability as a fraudster has to be placed in the highest category.  Your profits were obscene.  You have neither insight, shame or any sense of remorse." And yet last Friday, Ammar Karim (AFP) reported that the 'magic'  wands to 'detect' bombs (and drugs and, no doubt, spirits from the other world) are still being used in Iraq.  He spoke with a police officer in Baghdad who admits that everyone knows that they don't work but that the police are under orders to use the wands.

Last Saturday,   NINA reported,  "Leader of the Sadrist Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, demanded Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to apologize and stand before Parliament to answer about the deal of the explosives detection instruments."  Moqtada suspects some Iraqis were bribed in this deal and wants names he also demands that the 'magic' wands stop being used immediately stating that they are "an insult to the Iraqis' intelligence."  Moqtada and Iraqiya have called for Nouri to appear before Parliament and explain why the wands were purchased, who profited from them and the various details of the deal that was made for them.

Al Mada reports that the Ministry of the Interior claimed today that they would recover all the money spent on the magic wands.  Ministry of the Interior Inspector General Aqeel Turaihi states that they have known and acknowledged since October 2010 that the magic wands do not work.

Regardless of whether money is recovered for the purchase, as Moqtada al-Sadr points out, lives have been lost and people have been injured.

So in 2010, it was known that the magic wands were not working?  No.  It was known before that.  May 11th,  Alsumaria reported  that new documents from the Ministry of Interior (reproduced with the article) demonstrate that a Ministry committee said the wands were not working and, in 2009, recommended that they not be purchased anymore.  There were calls for Nouri to appear before Parliament to answer questions.  He needs to.  But he has refused all calls so far -- despite the Constitution on this issue.  He continues to violate and ignore the Constitution.   Kitabat  also coverd the revelations about the 2009 recommendation at length here.  May 12th,   Alsumaria reported Parliament's Integrity Committee held a hearing to determine the details surrounding the purchase of these wands and Committee Chair Bahaa al-Araji states that the Integrity Commission appeared before the Committee and offered names of "top officials" involved.  Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reported that even after Nouri was personally warned by a British commander "Colonel Powell" that the devices did not work, an order was still place and Al Mada reproduced that order -- it came from Nouri's office. Last Thursday, National Iraqi News Agency reports that Iraqiya MP Nada al-Jubouri is calling for an emergency session of Parliament to address yesterday's bombings, "These repeated security breaches came as a result of the lack of a way to detect car bombs, which claim the lives of people, in addition to the weakness of the intelligence information."  May 3rd, Ammar Karim (AFP) reported that despite the wands being found not to work, despite the conviction and sentencing of their seller and maker in a British court, the wands were still being used in Baghdad.  May 2nd, the seller and maker was sentenced:

The Belfast Telegraph notes that [James] McCormick "showed no reaction as he was told his 'callous confidence trick' was the worst fraud imaginable."  Jake Ryan (Sun) quotes Judge Richard Hone stating, "The device was useless, the profit outrageous and your culpability as a fraudster has to be placed in the highest category.  Your profits were obscene.  You have neither insight, shame or any sense of remorse."

The use of these 'magic' wands in Iraq still is criminal.

We're done with Baghdad violence but Iraq is more than just Baghdad.  National Iraqi News Agency reports a Mosul roadside bombing injured a police officer and civilian, 2 Basra car bombings claimed 13 lives and left fifty injured, a Samara car bombing claimed 13 lives and left nine people injured, a Mosul mortar attack claimed 1 life and left another person injured,  and an Anbar attack left 8 police officers deadXinhua adds, "Twelve kidnapped policemen were killed and four were wounded in overnight clashes between the abductors and the Iraqi security forces in Anbar province, a provincial police source said on Monday. The Iraqi army and police forces carried out a joint operation on Sunday night in the desert area between Baghdad and Jordan to free kidnapped policemen, and the troops clashed with their kidnappers, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity."  And Alsumaria reports a Tikrit car bombing has claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers and left fifteen more injured.  Sinan Salaheddin (AP) counts 95 violent deaths across the country today.

Through Saturday, Iraq Body Count counts 412 violent deaths so far this month.  That means IBC has 13 more days this month to count deaths.  The violence is increasing in Iraq.  Tomorrow Parliament is supposed to hold an emergency session to explore the security problems.   Le Monde notes the violence comes as Nouri al-Maliki is accused of refusing to share power.

All Iraq News reports State of Law has announced, via MP Ibrahim al-Rikabi, that they will not be attending the emergency session.  State of Law is Nouri al-Maliki's political coalition.  It came in second to Iraqiya in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Last July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support." Nouri's failure to fill those positions goes a long way towards explaining how violence has increased.  Press TV reminds, "The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said on May 2 that April was the deadliest month in Iraq since 2008 as terrorist acts killed over 700 people and injured more than 1,600 across the country."  Ali al-Timimi is an MP with Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc.  He tells All Iraq News that he doubts State of Law will attend since Nouri has refused calls to appear before Parliament to discuss the security issue before.  He stated that they should "attend the session to stop shedding the Iraqi blood."  Aziz Alwan and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report Nouri's going further than just boycotting the session:

 In the aftermath of Monday's bombings, Maliki warned lawmakers to stay away from a parliamentary session scheduled for Tuesday by his rivals to discuss the spiraling violence. He accused politicians he refused to name of being behind the unrest, and he threatened to send their names to the courts for arrest if they were not already wanted, saying some instigators of violence were trying to hide behind parliamentary immunity.

While evading Parliament (and the Constitution), Sky News reports Nouri plans to discuss security with his Cabinet tomorrow.   Last July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support." Those positions should have been filled at the end of 2010.  It is now 2013 and they remain empty.  They remain empty as violence grips Iraq.  This is not unrelated.  This goes to the violence and it goes to the incompetence of Nouri al-Maliki.  He refused to nominate people for Parliament to approve because he wanted to seize control of the three positions. The security situation falls on Nouri.

In other news, Saturday Al Mada rans a photo of Jalal Talabani seated outdoors with his medical team and notes the team states the Iraqi President's health has continued to improve and he will return to Iraq shortly. Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.  Two weeks ago, there were new rumors swirling about his health and, this past week,  Nouri al-Maliki attempted to have Jalal stripped of his post.  (Parliament rejected the notion.)

 Jalal is also the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), his political party.  They ran several photos and noted Jalal and his medical team were photographed in the German hospital's garden.  If you use the link, you can also see Kurdish reaction to the news about Jalal's improved health (those pictured are overjoyed).  At the website of the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG President Massoud Barzani congratulates Jalal Talabani on his improved health and wishes for his return in "health and wellness at the nearest time possible." Nouri's warm wishes must have gotten lost in the mail.

Today, at the US State Dept, Secretary of State John Kerry announced (link is text and video) the release of a new report.

Secretary of State John Kerry:   Well, thanks for being here today for the release of the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report. I am pleased to be here with our Ambassador-at-Large, Suzan Johnson Cook, and I want to thank her and her entire cohort here for their terrific work in helping to put this together. She is doing – they are doing a superb job of advancing religious freedom abroad. 
I also want to acknowledge the hard work of a whole bunch of State Department employees both here in Washington and at a lot of posts around the world, because all of them collect the information and do a lot of work throughout the year in order to be able to put this report together. This is not a one- or two-week affair. It’s a long one-year process, ongoing.
Fifteen years ago, I was very proud to join my colleagues in the United States Congress in passing the International Religious Freedom Act, the law that mandates the preparation of this State Department report. This report, as many of you know, shines light on the challenges that people face as they seek nothing more than the basic religious freedom, the right to worship as they wish. And its release here today is a demonstration of the abiding commitment of the American people and the entire U.S. Government to the advancement of freedom of religion worldwide.

The report covers the globe.  We'll note this from the Iraq section:

There were reports of government abuses of religious freedom, including arrests and detentions, as well as reports of restrictions and discrimination based on religion by both the central government and the KRG. Sectarian misuse of official authority continued to be a concern. However, the government and the KRG continued to respect the religious freedom of the vast majority of citizens.
Many Sunni Muslims alleged an ongoing campaign of revenge by the Shia majority in retribution for the Sunnis’ favored status and abuses of Shia under the former regime. They reported that government security forces targeted them for harassment, illegal searches, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture and abuse. In March government security forces reportedly made mass arrests in predominantly Sunni areas of Baghdad before the Arab League Summit. Government officials denied the arrests were preemptive or targeted Sunni Muslims. Upon release, detainees and witnesses reported to NGOs they were not shown arrest warrants and some detainees reported that they were tortured in custody.
Shabak and some Yezidi political leaders allege that Kurdish Peshmerga and Asayish forces regularly harassed and committed abuses against their communities in the portion of Ninewa Province controlled by the KRG or contested between the government and the KRG. Other Yezidi leaders alleged that the Iraqi Security Forces harassed and committed abuses against their community in portions of Ninewa Province under the central government’s authority and in disputed areas.
In September security forces raided dozens of minority-owned businesses, including restaurants, bars, social clubs, and nightclubs in Baghdad. Eyewitnesses reported security forces destroyed property and beat staff and patrons with the butts of their guns and batons; several people were hospitalized for their injuries. Local authorities claimed the raids were court-ordered and targeted business owners selling alcohol without a license, but a court judicial spokesperson denied there was a court order.
Official investigations of abuses by government, illegal armed groups, and terrorist organizations were infrequent, and the outcomes of investigations were often unpublished, unknown, or incomplete.
The KRG compensated Chaldean, Syriac, and Yezidi victims of the December 2011 Dahuk riots in the IKR. On December 2, 2011, 300 to 1,000 rioters attacked Christian and Yezidi businesses in Dahuk Province, burning and destroying 26 liquor stores, a massage parlor, four hotels, and a casino. The riot followed midday prayers at the Rasheed Mosque in Zakho where a Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) party-affiliated imam allegedly incited the attacks against members of minority religious groups by denouncing their businesses as anti-Islamic. IKR President Masoud Barzani promised to compensate the victims and formed a committee to investigate the attacks. The committee concluded that KIU followers “emboldened the violence” against Christian and Yezidi businesses, Kurdistan Democratic Party leaders “failed to control their members from attacking KIU organization centers” in retaliatory counterattacks, and Dahuk Province security and administrative officials were “negligent” in their control of the situation.
There were allegations that both the central government and the KRG discriminated against members of minority religious groups. Many Christians reported that the central government and KRG unreasonably delayed the return of church land and land confiscated from members of their community under the former regime. Additionally, some university professors reported that the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) dismissed qualified, experienced personnel based on religious affiliation and that positions were sold to the highest bidders.
To receive assistance from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, religious groups are required to register with them. Some Christian pastors not registered with the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs reported pressure to desist from proselytizing and to provide information about their congregations to the KRG, under the perceived threat of imprisonment and threats to their congregants and family. In July 2011 KRG security forces arrested a pastor and charged him under the KRG’s 2006 Anti-Terrorism Law; family and supporters alleged he was detained and prosecuted because of proselytizing. The pastor had access to legal representation and his family during the trial proceedings, which UN officials monitored. On December 17, the court convicted him of espionage, a lesser charge than terrorism, and sentenced him to five years and one month in prison.
Evangelical churches continued to report they were unable to obtain official registration from the government and that registration requirements were too onerous, including that they have at least 500 members in their congregations.
The KRG denied allegations it discriminated against Christians and other minorities. Despite such allegations, many non-Muslims chose to reside in the IKR because of its reputation of offering greater security and tolerance.
Members of minority religious groups were underrepresented in government appointments, public sector jobs, and elected positions outside of the Council of Representatives. Although members of minority religious groups held senior positions in the national parliament and central government, as well as in the KRG, they were proportionally underrepresented in the unelected government workforce, particularly at the provincial and local levels. This underrepresentation limited their access to government-provided security and economic development. Non-Muslims, particularly Christians and Yezidis, complained of being politically isolated by the Muslim majority because of their religious differences, although to a lesser extent in the IKR.
The government and the KRG continued to provide political representation and support to members of minority religious groups during the year. The Iraqi Council of Ministers (COM) has one Christian member (environment), as does the KRG’s COM (communication and transportation). The previous KRG COM included a Yezidi member (agriculture and water) until his tenure ended in April.
On April 30, the Baghdad-Rusafa Federal Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that an 18-year-old could change his religion from Islam to Christianity. The plaintiff’s father converted from Christianity to Islam in 2002 when the plaintiff was under 18, thereby changing the plaintiff’s religion to Islam by operation of law. The plaintiff subsequently petitioned to change his religion back to Christianity on his national identity card when he turned 18. The court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor based on a provision in the Civil Affairs Law (Law 65 of 1972), which allows children who come of age to independently choose their religion.
Although Easter and Christmas were not national holidays, government policy recognizes Christians’ right to observe them, and Christian groups reported they were able to observe Christmas and Easter without interference. The government also provided increased protection to Christian churches during these holidays.

Today at the State Dept press briefing, Iraq wasn't even a topic.  However, it did come up at the White House press briefing leading spokesperson Jay Carney to make the lengthiest remark on Iraq he's made in a long, long time.

Jay Carney:  Well let me say that we strongly condemn the attacks in Iraq perpetrated over the last several days.  And we are deeply concerned by the frequency and the nature of recent attacks including bombings today, attacks on Iraqi security forces in Anbar over the weekend and a series of attacks on both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods and mosques.  The targeting of innocent people in an effort to sew instability and division is reprehensible.  Our condolances go out to the victims of these attacks and their families.  Over the weekend, US officials in Baghdad and Washington were in contact with a wide range of senior Iraqi leaders to urge calm and help resolves ongoing political and sectarian tensions.  These talks have focused on specific steps to avoid further violence and resolve key issues peacefully through dialogue and the political process. The US remains committed to supporting Iraq's democratic system and urges Iraq's leaders to continue working towards a peaceful resolution of tensions through dialogue.

His desire to speak to Iraq today may have been motivated by his desire to run out the clock after a difficult series of questions and responses.   Today's press conference by Jay Carney was about, 'Forget what I told you about the IRS scandal on Friday, this is what I'm telling you today.'  Many more people knew about it than Carney revealed last Friday and his excuse today?  None offered.  His attitude was, 'Well, you're being told today.'  Michael O'Brien (NBC News) explains:

White House press secretary Jay Carney, in a bid to further the administration's public response to revelations that the IRS had singled out conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for additional scrutiny, disclosed at his daily press briefing that White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler was informed of the report on April 24. She, in turn, told senior White House staff -- including chief of staff Denis McDonough -- of the then-incomplete report, though Carney said those details were never conveyed to Obama.

On the "new timeline provided by Carney to reporters," Jessica Yellin and Tom Cohen (CNN) explain, "General Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler learned on April 24 of a pending Treasury inspector general's report on how IRS staff used criteria targeting conservative groups in assessing eligibility for tax-exempt status.  According to Carney, Ruemmler told McDonough as well as other Treasury officials about the pending report. It was the first time the White House acknowledged that McDonough was aware of the report before it became public in early May."

Julianna Goldman and Roger Runningen (Bloomberg News) point out, "Carney's comments today are at odds with what he told reporters last week, when he said the White House counsel 'only found out about the review being conducted and coming to conclusion by the inspector general'."

It was a long weekend for Jay Carney and apparently drinking may have been involved.   Anita Kumar and Kevin G. Hall (McClatchy Newspapers) report that when asked today, Carney couldn't explain the differences between Friday's remarks and today's, "I can't remember specifically.  I'm not sure that I knew it at that time."  (That was in response to National Journal's Alexis Simendinger attempting to get Carney to walk her through the process.)

"The president wants those who are responsible for this to be held accountable," insisted Jay Carney.  "He has zero tolerance for this. He believes that it's very important that the IRS carry out and implement our tax laws in a neutral and fair way and that Americans need to be confident that that's happening."  If that's the case, you fire the IRS Commissioner.  You don't stand before the American people on Wednesday announcing that a resignation of the IRS Commissioner has been asked for and received only for them to find out on Friday that nothing has been done despite the 558 words by Barack Obama on the matter.  We covered the House Ways and Means hearing that Action IRS Commissioner Steve Miller testified at in Friday's "Iraq snapshot" and "IRS: 'Not corrupt, just incompetent'," while Ava reported on it in "Guacamole and the IRS (Ava)," Wally in "Big lie revealed at House Ways and Means hearing," Kat in "The other Steve Miller appears before Congress," and Marcia in "No accountability for the IRS scandal,"  and we roundtabled on it with Dona for "Report on Congress."  From that hearing:

US House Rep Tom Reed:  As you sit here today, you were not fired from your job.  And I can tell you, in my private experience, you would have been fired on the spot.  And all you were allowed to do is resign and retire?  And now you come here and try to say I did the honorable thing by falling on my sword' when nothing bad is going to happen to you.  You're going to get your full benefits.  You're going to get everything that's associated with your retirement as an IRS employee.

Steve Miller: [Laughing] Nohting bad is happening to me, Congressman?

US House Rep Tom Reed:  Financially.  You're allowed to retire.  That's the level of accountability in Washington, DC now. You're still acting [Commissioner].  You came here on the taxpayer dollar today. You're getting a paycheck for being here today.  Correct?  Correct?

Steve Miller:  [Pause]  Correct.

Asked about Miller today, Carney hemmed and hawed and insisted that since he was testifying, he needed to be on the job.  (The press immediately rejected that lie.  Fox News' Ed Henry noted that Miller being a private citizen can continue to testify before Congress.)  Carney insisted, "He's resigned from that post.  The fact is he's resigned entirely from the IRS."  He is still on the job.  That's not a resignation.  And it certainly isn't accountability.

Accountability isn't also lying and misleading Congress and refusing not to own up to it.  From Friday's hearing:

US House Rep Kenny Marchant:  On July 25th, we had another Oversight Committee hearing  in which Commissioner Miller and I had an extended conversation about this very subject.  And that conversation is in this transcript, anyone can get it on the internet and read the questions but the questions were very specifically about Tea Party groups and their difficulties in getting their tax exempt status, the lengthy conversations that they were having, the questionnaires that they were having to answer.  And, again, Mr. Miller in that exchange that you and I had, I came away with that, I felt, with the assurances by you and your office that there were no extraordinary circumstances taking place and that this was just a backlog and there was nothing going on.  Mr. Miller, was that your impression of the hearing that day?

Acting Commissioner Steve Miller:  Uhm, no sir.  What I said there and what I understood your question to be was -- again, we divide this world in two, there's a question of this selection process and there was a question of what was going on at the time of your question.  At the time of your question, what was out in the public domain and what I thought we were discussing was the letter.  As you called them, the questionnaire.  Those were the over broad letters that had been referred to continuously here. Uhm, again, I stand by my answer there. Uh, there was not, uh-h-h-h-h-h, I-I-I-I did talk about the fact that we had centralized -- I believe, I'd have to take a look at it. But I was talking about the fact that we had fixed that problem.

US House Rep Kenny Marchant:  But-but at that time, you knew, by that time, that there were lists being made, there were delineations, there was discrimination going on and that there were steps being taken to try to correct it.  But you knew that it was going on at that time.

Acting Commissioner Steve Miller:  We had corrected it.  TIGTA was taking a look.  At that time, my assumption is TIGTA was going to be done with their report that summer. I was not going to go there because I did not have full possessions of all the facts, sir.

We noted Friday:

Any member of Congress who finds that 'answer' acceptable is an embarrassment.  A government official appeared before Congress to testify at a hearing and was asked about potential abuses.  He knew about abuses that the Congress didn't with regard to this subject and did not reveal them.  His lousy excuse about a report coming out? No.  He said (see above) that he had addressed it.  But report or no report, you don't conceal from Congress.  He played words games and he was dishonest.  As USA Today's Susan Page observed on the first hour of The Diane Rehm Show today, "Well, we have to go back and look at that, but he certainly left a misimpression among everyone who heard his answers. People heard him as denying it. Now, maybe it will turn out to be some turn of phrase that gives him an exit hatch. But I think it is hard for him to argue that he did not mislead."

Two US Senators are already refusing to accept Miller's 'logic.'  Christi Parsons and Lisa Mascaro (Los Angeles Times) report today:

The leaders of the Senate Finance Committee sent a bipartisan letter to the IRS on Monday calling on the acting commissioner to disclose a raft of information on the matter, including any signs of communications between the IRS and the White House.
“Targeting applicants for tax-exempt status using political labels threatens to undermine the public’s trust in the IRS,” Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) wrote in a letter co-signed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the committee’s ranking Republican. “Lack of candor in advising the Senate of this practice is equally troubling.”
Senators have been hearing complaints from nonprofit civic organizations for two years, Baucus wrote.



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