Thursday, May 30, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, May 30, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, 872 violent deaths so far this month, Moqtada al-Sadr calls for Iraq to get a new president, rumors about President Jalal Talabani's health move from Arab social media to the Arab press, the United Nations warns of "systemic violence" and "mayhem" in Iraq, Iraq's oil production drops for the month of May, CNN closes shop in Baghdad, US Senator Patty Murray gears up for a press event to raise awareness of rape and assault in the military, the IRS scandal continues to bubble with 76% of Americans wanting a special prosecutor to be appointed, and more.

Thursday, May 30th, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
 (202) 224-2834

TOMORROW: MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT: SEATTLE: Murray to Meet with Survivors of Military Sexual Assault, Discuss Her Bill to Protect Victims

Of the estimated 26,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2012, only 3,374 were reported
Murray bill would provide greater victim resources while improving current prevention programs

(Washington, D.C.) – Tomorrow, Friday, May 31st, 2013, U.S. Senator Patty Murray will meet with survivors of military sexual assault and advocates in Seattle.  Last month, Senator Murray introduced the Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013, which would reduce sexual assaults within the military and address a number of gaps within current law and policy. One provision in Senator Murray’s bill would provide victims with a dedicated counsel to guide them through the difficult process of reporting sexual assault. According to DoD estimates, there were about 19,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2010 alone. Of these, 3,192 were reported, leaving thousands of victims to face the aftermath alone as their assailants escape justice. That number rose to 26,000 cases in 2012 with less than 3,400 of those cases being reported. Murray will use the stories she hears Friday to continue fighting for victims of military sexual assault in Washington, D.C.  More about Senator Murray’s bill HERE.


WHO:          U.S. Senator Patty Murray
         Survivors of military sexual assault
         Charles Swift, former Navy JAG, MSA advocate
         Dr. Joyce Wipf, Professor of Medicine and Director of VA Puget Sound’s Women's Program
         Bridget Cantrell, PTSD & MSA expert
         Jackie McLean, Director, King County Department of Community & Human Services

WHAT:        Senator Murray will meet with survivors of military sexual assault, discuss ways her legislation will protect victims

WHEN:        TOMORROW: Friday, May 31st, 2013
          10:00 AM PT

WHERE:    UW Medicine at South Lake Union
         850 Republican Street, Conference Room C359
                     Seattle, WA 98109

Kathryn Robertson
Deputy Press Secretary 
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office

Last night, filling in for Ann, I noted 30-year-old Anthony K. Mastrogiovanni had "pleaded guilty today to the sexual exploitation of minors to produce child pornography" as a Justice Dept press release noted and it also noted:

According to filed court documents and proceedings, between 2006 and 2012, Mastrogiovanni was a U.S. Navy reservist who sexually exploited more than 30 male juveniles, ranging from 9 to 16 years of age, in Maryland and Louisiana to produce child pornography.  During that time period, Mastrogiovanni met and befriended his victims through his involvement in civic organizations or his military affiliation.  Mastrogiovanni captured sexually explicit video of the victims on cameras hidden in his residences in Louisiana and Maryland.

These crimes are not about sex, they're about power, they're about harm and they're not being addressed.  That's why Senators Murray and Kelly Ayotte have proposed their bill,  "Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013."  This is only one bill trying to address the issue.  Karisa King and Gary Martin (San Antonio Express-News) reported yesterday on five other bills:

* Senators Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand have a bill (Military Justice Improvement Act) to prevent military commanders from overturning verdicts (to allow those convicted or rape and/or assault to be stuck with those convictions the way they would in the civilian world)

* US House Rep Jackie Speier has a bill (reintroduced) to create an independent oversight office to handle investigations and prosecutions of assault and rape.

* Senator Amy Klobuchar has a bill to keep convicted sex offenders from entering the military

* Senator Klobuchar and Senator Claire McCaskill have a bill to establish standards for those over the assault prevention programs.

* US House Rep Niki Tsongas and US House Rep Mike Turner have a bill where if you're convicted of rape or assault you end up kicked out of the service.

These bills are needed because despite all the talk from the Defense Dept over the last ten years, they've failed to create policies that addressed the issues the bills cover.  I'm really hoping the Murray event gets coverage because the range and scope of her bill and the five above go just how much work needs to be done to combat assault and rape within the military.

Today the United Nations News Centre notes that Martin Kobler declared, "Systemic violence is ready to explode at any moment if all Iraqi leaders do not engage immediately to pull the country out of this mayhem."  Kobler is United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Envoy to Iraq and heads the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 839 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month -- two days left in the month, today and tomorrow.  Today National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left six people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left three people injured, 2 Iraqi border guards in Anbar Province were killed by men "wearing police uniforms," a Mosul suicide car bombing claimed the lives of 3 police officers and left eight more injured, a Baghdad car bombing (Karrada district) claimed 1 life and left nine people injured2 Baghdad car bombings (Binooq neighborhood and one "near the Mission Complex") left 6 people dead and nineteen injured, and a Ramadi bombing assassination attempt on Anbar Province Governor Qassim Mohammed al-Fahdawi left the governor unscathed but injured four of his bodyguards. Al Rafidayn notes that motorcycles and vehicles have been banned in Baghdad today and tomorrow.  Adam Schreck, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin (AP) count 33 dead in today's violence.  Mohammed Tawfeeq and Jason Hanna (CNN) note that "since Monday alone, at least 120 people have been killed."  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Iraq Body Count, 161 people were killed in violence.  If you add AP's 33 death toll for today to that you 194 violent deaths since Monday morning.

UNAMI issued the following on Wednesday:

Baghdad, 30 May 2013 – On 29 May, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Mr. Martin Kobler, briefed the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (AFET) on the current developments in Iraq.

In his exchange of views with the parliamentarians, Mr. Kobler expressed serious concerns over the heightened level of violence in Iraq and the danger that the country falls back into sectarian strife, if decisive action is not taken by its political leaders. “The country stands at a crossroads,” the UN Envoy said, calling for a stronger EU role in dealing with the developments unfolding in the country, and for increased interaction with the Iraqi Council of Representatives. 
Mr. Kobler also briefed AFET on UNAMI’s efforts to resettle the former residents of Camp Ashraf to third countries. He deplored the lack of cooperation of the residents and of their leadership with the UNHCR and UN monitors, and urged them to accept concrete resettlement offers. Stressing that “resettlement to safe countries is the only durable option”, he called again on European Union member states to accept former Camp Ashraf residents into their countries.

 On violence in Iraq, let's move to the US.  First, of all the times to leave -- from a journalistic stand point, now is when you leave Iraq?

To be the last to leave, the last to be gone,
stolen from the ones who hung on to it.

To be the last in line, the ones that live on,
silhouette of a dream, treasured by the ones 
. . . who hung on to it.
-- "Fireflies," written by Stevie Nicks, first appears on Fleetwood Mac's Fleetwood Mac Live.

Erik Hayden (Hollywood Reporter) reports today that the last US TV network with a news bureau in Baghdad, CNN, has announced they are closing it.  They quote a spokesperson for CNN (nameless because this is so embarrassing would you want your name attached?) stating, "While CNN is departing its current brick-and-mortar location in Baghdad, the network continues to maintain an editorial presence in Iraq through a dedicated team of CNN stringers and correspondent assignments as news warrants."   This is when CNN pulls out?  And no one thought how this would hurt their news image just when they're rebuilding and gaining viewers by supposedly focusing on news?  Hayden explains,  "Fox News confirmed to THR that, after the recent closure of their own bureau this year, they rely on stringers and correspondents based in Iraq for their coverage. ABC News and NBC News have one full-time producer based in the capital city."

The violence is at a five year high as CNN closes its bureau?  It might be interesting here to note Noam Chomsky's remarks about what happened to the world press when the violence increased in East Timor.   CNBC's Pozner and Donahue had Chomsky as a guest for the full hour on the April 20, 1993 and April 22, 1993 episodes.  Excerpt.

Noam Chomsky:  It's as if history set up a controlled experiment.  There were two major atrocities at the same time, same part of the world, roughly comparable in scale.  One of them was an Indonesian invasion and annexation, East Timor.  The other was Pol Pot atrocities internal to Cambodia.  The coverage -- The coverage was dramatically different.  The coverage of East Timor declined sharply as the atrocities continued.  The coverage of East Timor was pretty high before the Indonesian invasion.  It then declined and hit zero in both the United States and Canada -- and most of the western world -- in 1978 when the atrocities really reached genocidal proportions.  In Cambodia, on the other hand, there was huge publicity. Within a few weeks of the Khmer Rouge takeover, the New York Times was already denouncing genocide and probably a few hundred or thousand people had been killed.  Well what was the difference?   The difference was in one case the United States was directly behind it.  It was providing 90% of the arms.  It was providing crucial diplomatic support.

Phil Donahue:  East Timor.  The Indonesian invasion of  East Timor.

Noam Chomsky:  The US provided critical diplomatic support.  Daniel Moynihan took pride in the fact that he prevented the United Nations from doing any action -- he writes about it with great pride.  The US gave them new offers of arms.  As the attack peaked, Carter sent more arms.  And Cambodia was an enemy.  You can be very moral about the atrocities committed by an enemy.

And it's safer, career wise, to 'cover' Syria (call for war on Syria) than it is to cover Iraq.  The US is arming Nouri, they've sent more US troops back in.  No one wants to tell the truth.  Dropping back to the April 30th snapshot:

December 6, 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department Defense of the United States of America was signed.  We covered it in the December 10th and December 11th snapshots -- lots of luck finding coverage elsewhere including in media outlets -- apparently there was some unstated agreement that everyone would look the other way.  It was similar to the silence that greeted Tim Arango's September 25th New York Times report which noted, "Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions.  At the request of the Iraqi government, according to [US] General [Robert L.] Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence."

No other media outlet amplified Tim Arango's NYT report.  No media outlet covered the Memorandum of Understanding.  The White House backs Nouri al-Maliki and so you get no honesty and now you get even less coverage.  But war on Syria is wanted so Deborah Amos and others with NPR end up in that country.  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen as an 'enemy' by the US government so McClatchy has someone covering it and the New York Times has a whole squadron -- in fact their star reporter would probably be alive today if he'd stuck to covering Iraq but Syria was 'fresh meat' for the cannons of war and off he rushed.  Turn on the evening news on commercial US broadcast networks (CBS, ABC and NBC) and you'll find reports from Syria.  You won't find Iraq.

The US State Dept today issued "Country Reports on Terrorism 2012."  The annual report focuses on terrorism or 'terrorism' around the world.  The Iraq section includes these claims:

Iraqi security forces made progress combating al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and other Sunni insurgent organizations in 2012. While there has been clear and measurable success against AQI over the years, the group still remains a dangerous threat to the Iraqi people. In 2012, there were no significant attacks on U.S. interests or U.S. fatalities. The Iraqi government succeeded in securing multiple large public religious gatherings and government events – most notably the Arab League Summit in late March and P5+1 talks in May in Baghdad – but terrorist bombings and other attacks continued to occur.
The Government of Iraq concentrated its counterterrorism efforts against AQI and other Sunni-affiliated terrorist organizations. AQI remained capable of large-scale coordinated attacks and conducted numerous high-profile suicide and car bombings on government and civilian targets, aiming to increase tensions among Iraqi sectarian groups and ethnic minorities, and undercut public perceptions of the government’s capacity to provide security. Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandiyah (JRTN), a Sunni nationalist insurgent group with links to the former Baath Party, also continued attacks during the year. JRTN largely targeted Iraqi and U.S. interests in northern Iraq. Shia militant groups Kata’ib Hizballah, Asa’ib Ahl Haqq, and the Sadrist Promised Day Brigades adhered to the cease-fire they declared in the latter half of 2011 and early 2012. Some former Shia militant leaders began engaging in the political process and competing for political influence.
Terrorist tactics and weapons remained largely unchanged from 2011, as AQI and other terrorists relied predominantly on suicide bombings and car and roadside bombs and to a lesser extent on gunmen using assault rifles or silenced weapons to assassinate government and security officials.
Iraq-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation remained strong, particularly in training, advisory, and intelligence-sharing programs.
The Iraqi Security Forces proved capable of working together to find, arrest, and charge terrorism suspects. In November, the Iraqi Police, Federal Police, and Iraqi Army – at times working together – arrested over 350 people on terrorism charges and seized several weapon and rocket caches, as part of a major counterterrorism operation. Iraq’s Counterterrorism Services (CTS) also conducted approximately 1,600 terrorism related arrests in 2012.

 We're not going to spend a lot of time on the above because, first of all, it's almost June 2013.  Iraq's far too fluid for a look at 2012 violence to offer a great deal of insight.  Second of all, it's a dishonest report.  When you're praising the ability to 'secure' the Arab League Summit and you're not noting that Baghdad shut down the week before the Summit? You're not being honest.  If you can shut down Baghdad for the week before and the week of a Summit, it's not a surprise that there's no violence in Baghdad.  Was it worth it to the Iraqi people?  Was it worth it to them for all that money for security (and painting and prettying Baghdad) and for the inconvenience of the city shutting down for two weeks?  Probably not.  But that's not even considered in the report which fails to note any of the details of the Arab League Summit -- which was a huge failure and avoided by the leaders of all the major countries in the region.  So we'll note the ridiculous claims but we're not going to focus on them.  And the 'international' meet-ups in Baghdad continue to be a laugh.

May 7th, Aswat al-Iraq reported, "Ministry of Higher Education will hold tomorrow its International Conference on Sustainable Development in Iraq with the participation of Arab and foreign universities."  Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research issued a statement trying to play it as a big success.  Then they issued this statement which buries reality in the final paragraph:

While inaugurating the International Conference to achieve sustainable development in Iraq which was organized by the Ministry, His Excellency Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Mr. Ali Al-Adeeb, called on researchers and faculty members in the educational institutions to follow  new methods to liberate man from the extremist ideology which became one of obstacles to the development in Iraq.

Mr. Al-Adeeb said that the sustainable development in Iraq needs basic steps represented by the liberation of man from extremist behaviors and providing security, justice and equality, adding that the universities can prepare studies that contribute to the integration of Iraq with the countries of the developed world.

Al-Adeeb added that the Iraqi universities should take their vital and prominent role in establishing a knowledge base that contributes in building a contemporary educational system, able to adapt the revolution of knowledge witnessed by the world, indicating that human freedom is an important issue, allows everyone to think away from the exploitation, launching the energies and capabilities to create life and guiding community to its correct identity.

Mr. Al-Adeeb pointed out that we cannot benefit from the science in an environment that lacks security and stability, and the variety in the community represents an important factor that leads to the integration in achieving development, adding that the universities and the educational institutions are the first and the effective factors in speeding up the development of society in all fields.

It is worthy mentioning that the conference was attended by researchers from Bahrain, Sudan, Yemen and Libya.

The 'international conference' was supposed to have participation from Arab universities.  See any major players there?  Bahrain, Sudan, Yemen and Libya?  Nope.  Bahrain's government is hated by two-thirds of the Iraqi population (and protested regularly in Basra and Baghdad by Moqtada al-Sadr's Shi'ite supporters).  And that's the most prominent of the four.  The best excuse is that violence scared the major players from attending.

In this current climate of violence in Iraq, fears are swirling.  Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) reports:

[T]he death squads were the most ambiguous aspect of the war. They carried out kidnappings and killings by wearing Iraqi police uniforms, and traveling in official and military vehicles in 2006-2007 — while an evening curfew was in place (from midnight to 6 a.m.) — to hunt for their victims.
This term goes back to before the civil war, when The Washington Post used it on Dec. 4, 2005, while criticizing the way the Iraqi police forces were formed and infiltrated by militias. 
Remarkably, the term has re-emerged after eight years. As news reports in Baghdad talked about the return of militants and killings carried out by armed militias in broad daylight, the Sunni Mutahidoun bloc held the Iraqi authorities responsible for this matter and accused them of bringing back the civil war.

These Shi'ite militias have alarmed many including cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr.  AFP notes, " Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr criticized the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, accusing the Premier of waging a sectarian war and urging him to end the oppression of minorities. [. . .]  The government must hold accountable and sack those who are manipulating the intelligence and security services, Sadr said in a statement. He also urged the authorities to work hard in order to defuse sectarian tension ravaging Iraq."

Dillon Clancy (New Europe) observes, "Tension has erupted over the perception that prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is actively working to marginalise Sunnis and concentrate power in his own hands. Over the past year the Maliki government has arrested or exiled a number of high level Sunni officials, most notably vice president Tareq al-Hashemi and finance minister Rafi al-Issawi, provoking widespread protests CNN has reported."    The violence has been increasing for some time.  A smart move would have been to have filled the security ministries with people to head them.  That was supposed to happen in 2010.  All these years later, it still hasn't.   All Iraq News notes MP Yousif al-Taai, with Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc, "stressed the necessity of nominating the security ministers rather than running the security ministries by acting ministers."  Back in 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."

As the turmoil swirls, where is Iraq's president?  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.  At the start of the month, there were new rumors swirling about his health and, this past week,  Nouri al-Maliki attempted to have Jalal stripped of his post this month.  (Parliament rejected the notion.) Following that,  Al Mada ran a photo of Jalal Talabani seated outdoors with his medical team and noted the team states the Iraqi President's health has continued to improve and he will return to Iraq shortly. 

Arabic social media has been referring to the photos and the video as having a Weekend At Bernie's type feel to it.  (In Weekend At Bernie's, two young men prop up the corpse of dead Bernie to trick people into believing he's alive.)  The fact that Jalal's only seen in the photos from his right side have people speculating about what the left side shows -- the after-effects of a stroke? Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram) notes:

Rumours have been abundant about Talabani’s health condition as his convalescence coincides with one of Iraq’s most serious political crises and its deadliest period of ethno-sectarian strife since the United States pullout in 2011.
Some reports have suggested that Talabani is clinically dead in the Berlin hospital where he is treated, others said the enfeebled president has handed his will to one of the leaders of his party.
Regardless of the furious speculations among Iraqis about Talabani’s health conditions, his prolonged absence has sparked a debate about whether he will be physically able to resume official duties.
According to various medical studies, persons who had strokes mostly develop serious physical and emotional problems occurring after recovery and they will need prolonged treatment.

Abdel Hamid Zerbari (Al-Monitor) adds:

Some political observers are skeptical of the photographs, in which Talabani appears seated in only one position. They stress that the photos were released after the prosecutor general of the Iraqi Council of Representatives issued a statement, on May 13, calling on the head of the council to take legal action pursuant to the provisions of Article 72.II.c of the Iraqi constitution in the event of a vacancy in the office of the president. The request is also based on provisions of Article 1 of amended Public Prosecution Law no. 159 of 1979.
Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr supported this request and said in a statement, "It is necessary to take the necessary steps to appoint a new president of the republic to replace President Jalal Talabani." Sadr also thanked the public prosecutor and asked him to "be independent."
But the Legal Committee in parliament responded via Kurdish MP Khaled Shawani, deeming this request illegal and saying "Article 72 of the constitution talks about the vacancy in the post of president of the republic, not an absence. Vice President [Khodair al-Khozaei] has assumed the responsibilities of the presidency." He continued, "Parliament is not obliged to implement this request."

A popular rumor in Arabic social media for the last two weeks has been that Nouri al-Maliki has asked Hero Ibrahim Ahmed to become Iraq's new president.  She is the wife of Jalal Talabani.

Omar al-Shaher (Al-Monitor) reports:

Concerns about the possibility of Iraq sliding toward the abyss of sectarian war once again have strongly affected commercial activities in Baghdad. Wholesalers in many provinces shifted to the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, which enjoys security and stability, to obtain goods. Also, real-estate prices in the capital dropped significantly due to a considerable rise in supply.
Traders of food products and construction materials in the predominantly Sunni city of Ramadi, in the west of Iraq, told Al-Monitor that they decided to shift to the wholesale markets in the city of Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, out of fear of going to the Iraqi capital following news that Shiite militias set up checkpoints in the western entrances to Baghdad in search of Sunni men arriving at the capital.
Although the Iraqi security institution denied the news, the transit station for those traveling to Baghdad in Ramadi and Tikrit, in the predominantly Sunni Salahuddin province, has been almost empty in the past few days.

So regionally, violence is effecting Iraq's commerce at a time when everyone -- from NGOs to the IMF -- have warned Nouri al-Maliki's government that Iraq needs to diversify its economy.  But it struggles to do that because of Nouri.  His failure to keep agreements -- even signed contracts like The Erbil Agreement -- that he makes within Iraq with political blocs helps prevent the international business community from actively working with Iraq.  They don't trust him.  He lies and he lies publicly.  Whether it's promising to power share, promising to meet the demands of Iraqi protesters (in 2011, not the ongoing protests right now), promising not to seek a third term, over and over there are lies.  That's on him, he's harming business.  For example, October 9th, with much fanfare, and wall-to-wall press coverage, Nouri signed a $4.2 billion dollar weapons deal with Russia.  He strutted and preened and was so proud of himself.  He made a spectacle of himself which might have been okay if the deal had gone forward.  Instead, it immediately fell apart.  Every other week there's news that the deal is back on . . . then it's not.  It doesn't matter if tomorrow, over seven months later, the deal is implemented.  The fact of the matter is Nouri drew attention to himself over a huge deal that made him look like a minor player on the world's stage and then the deal immediately fell apart.

The lesson for businesses?  Nouri's word is dirt, he can't get along with other Iraqis and even a signed contract doesn't matter.  The new "Iraq Defence & Security Report Q3 2013" from Business Monitor International finds, "Internally, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has worsened sectarian tensions by failing to deliver on a promise to implement a power-sharing agreement designed to safeguard the rights of the country's different ethnic and religious groups."

There's also ExxonMobil?  Dropping back to the November 11, 2011 snapshot:

In Iraq, things are heating up over an oil deal. Hassan Hafidh and James Herron (Wall St. Journal) report, "ExxonMobil Corp. could lose its current contract to develop the West Qurna oil field in Iraq if it proceeds with an agreement to explore for oil in the Kurdistan region of the country, an Iraqi official said. The spat highlights the political challenges for foreign companies operating in Iraq" as Nouri's Baghdad-based 'national' government attempts to rewrite the oil law over the objection of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Tom Bergin and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) offer, "Exxon declined to comment, and experts speculated the move could indicate Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders are nearing agreement on new rules for oil companies seeking to tap into Iraq's vast oil reserves." UPI declares, "The breakaway move into Kurdistan, the first by any of the oil majors operating in Iraq under 20-year production contract signed in 2009, could cost Exxon Mobil its stake in the giant West Qurna Phase One mega-oil field in southern Iraq." Salam Faraj (AFP) speaks with Abdelmahdi al-Amidi (in Iraq's Ministry of Oil) declares that the Exxon contract means that Exxon would lose a contract it had previously signed with Baghdad for the West Qurna-1 field.  Faraj sketches out the deal with the KRG beginning last month with Exxon being notified that they had "48 hours to make a decision on investing in an oil field in the region."  Exxon was interested but sought an okay from the Baghdad government only to be denied.

The shortest version of this ongoing soap opera is that in the two-years-plus since that day, Nouri and his flunkies have threatened ExxonMobil, have stated the White House was going to stop the deal (a State Dept press briefing cleared that up), have said they would ban ExxonMobil, they would punish it, they would . . .  ExxonMobil and the KRG are doing nothing illegal.  There's no national oil and gas law.  That's on Nouri.  In 2007, the White House wrote "benchmarks" for success in Iraq.  These were to keep Congress from defunding the illegal war.  Iraq would meet these benchmarks and that was how it would be demonstrated that there was progress.  On his end, Nouri signed off on the benchmarks.  These goals were really supposed to be for a year, but when Iraq couldn't meet them, the Bully Boy Bush White House re-set the clock and started saying that progress on these benchmarks (just talking about them counted as progress, in the new 'understanding') was progress.  One of the benchmarks was to pass an oil and gas law.  That never happened.  Six years after Nouri signed off on those benchmarks to keep US dollars flowing into Iraq, it still hasn't happened.  If there was a law, there's a chance the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government could be violating it.  But there's no law and that's Nouri's fault.  Just last year (June 2012),  April Yee (The National) was pointing out, "A hydrocarbon law remains a mirage in Baghdad and the reality is dawning that Iraq's plans to become one of the world's top-five oil producers are jeopardised by the legal deadlock." But that didn't wake Nouri up and nothing ever does.

In March, Reuters reported that although ExxonMobil has been willing to sell off "its stake in the southern Iraq West Qurna-1 oil field" and just focus on the Kurdistan Regional Government's opportunities, "now Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is working to keep the U.S. oil giant on side, industry sources say, offering much sweeter terms at West Qurna-1 – a $50-billion (U.S.) investment project and a greater potential prize than the Kurdish blocks if Baghdad structures the contract closer to the more lucrative Kurdish model." 

UPI reports that Genel Energy (United Kingdom and Turkey) has "confirmed the presence of a commercial oil discovery" in the KRG.  The KRG has oil and is has a history that predates the 2003 invasion.  That history includes keeping its word with businesses.  That's among the reasons businesses flock to the KRG.  Yes, it's also safer but the Green Zone in Baghdad remains one of the safest places in Iraq and business hasn't boomed there.

While Nouri stomps his feet and obsesses over the KRG and its deals, he can't even manage Iraq's only moneymaker at present: Oil.  There have been very few attacks on oil factories or pipelines this month.  Instead, the violence focused on people.  Upstream (The International Oil and Gas Newspaper) reports:

Opec crude output has fallen in May due to lower exports from Iraq and disruptions in some African producers, as improving compliance with an Opec output ceiling is expected to be maintained at a meeting this week, a report said. 
[. . .]
 Iraq has shipped about 200,000 bpd less from its southern and northern ports, according to shipping data. Exports of Kirkuk crude remain restrained by a dispute between the central government and the Kurdistan region over payments.

Amena Bakr and Reem Shamseddine (Reuters) report that in Vienna today, ahead of OPEC's planned meet-up tomorrow,  Iraq's Minister of Oil Abdel-Kareem Luaibi told the press, "We are looking to increase our exports and we aim to make our crude more competitive in the market."  These fumbled steps, by the way, are coming as Iraq's trying to win the post of Secretary-General of OPEC and these fumbles don't help with that.  April Yee (The National) explains, "Other decisions, such as selecting a new secretary general - a position held by Libya's Abdalla El Badri - that Saudi, Iranian and Iraqi candidates are vying for are so contentious they are likely to be left alone."  Just ahead of Friday's meet-up, All Iraq News reports that Minster of Oil Abudl Karim Luaibi also declared today, "Baghdad decreased rates of the production planned at the basic oil fields in the south of Iraq in line with more realistic target level which is nine million barrel per day instead of 12 million barrel daily that was planned to be achieved by 2017."

Turning to The Drone War, from yesterday's Free Speech Radio News:

Shannon Young: A drone strike in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan killed at least four people today. The number two leader of Pakistan's Taliban, Wali ur-Rehman, is reportedly among the dead, although the group's official spokesperson has not confirmed the death. The drone strike comes less than a week after President Barack Obama pledged in a major counterrorism speech to limit the use of weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles. The CIA drone program is a sensitive issue in Pakistan. A politician who has criticized the use of drones there will take office as prime minister next Wednesday.

Last Thursday, at Fort McNair, US President Barack Obama attempted to defend his ongoing Drone War with remarks such as, "From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation -- and world -- that we leave to our children."  And The Drone War is something people should be proud of and want to pass on?   The Bureau of Investigative Journalism notes Barack has ordered 317 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, resulting in the deaths of at least 197 children.   In a speech of nearly 6,500 words (I count 6,494),  he never noted what Alice K. Ross (Bureau of Investigative Journalism) reported earlier this month, that a Pakistan Peshawar High Court had ruled that these Drone Strikes were "criminal offences," a "war crime," a "blatant violation of basic human rights" and that the judge called for the United Nations Security Council to step in.   John Knefel (Rolling Stone) points out:
One week after President Obama's much-touted speech on national security, many experts are more confused than ever about what rules govern the U.S. government's overseas killing program and where those rules apply. While the speech left many viewers with the impression that Obama planned to reform or even end this program, his administration's practices tell a different story. On Wednesday, anonymous Pakistan security officials said that a CIA drone strike had killed the Pakistani Taliban's deputy leader, Wali ur-Rehman, in North Waziristan. A pair of additional reported strikes in Yemen – both officially unconfirmed by the U.S. – raise even more questions about how and why the American government kills people in other countries.

Of yesterday's strike in Pakistan, Jason Ditz ( observes:

 White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted that the promise of transparency had been fulfilled by delivering the speech in which the promise was made itself, and then went on insist that they would not comment on specific anti-terrorism operations.
The only comment that even hinted at a pretext for the attack was Carney reiterating President Obama’s comment that the US was obliged to continue operations in and around Afghanistan during the NATO occupation.

Where does The Drone War lead?  To Killer Robots apparently.  Australia's ABC explains:

The technology is being developed in the United States, Britain and Israel, although none have actually used it yet.
During a debate at the UN Human Rights Council, special rapporteur Professor Christof Heyns said machines lacking morality should not have life-and-death powers over humans.

Ed Pilkington (Guardian) adds:

"Killer robots" that could attack targets autonomously without a human pulling the trigger pose a threat to international stability and should be banned before they come into existence, the United Nations will be told by its human rights investigator this week.
Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, will address the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday and call for a worldwide moratorium on what he calls "lethal autonomous robotics" – weapons systems that, once activated, can lock on and kill targets without further involvement of human handlers.

The Guardian uses an illustration that is what everyone will immediately think of: a machine from the Terminator film series.  Nick Miller (Sydney Morning Herald) notes:

During the debate Pakistan's council delegate Mariam Aftab – speaking on behalf of 56 Islamic states – said the international community should consider a complete ban, not just national moratoria. 
Lethal autonomous robots would fundamentally change the nature of war, she said.
Pakistan has been the focus for anti-terrorism drone strikes. "The experience with drones shows that once such weapons are in use, it is impossible to stop them," said Ms Aftab.
Most of the delegates said they found the report interesting and worthy of further debate, though several said it would be better negotiated outside of a human rights forum.

Finally, the issue of the IRS.  The US agency responsible for collecting federal taxes within the United States was caught targeting political groups.  The activity was known to the IRS and known to be wrong as early as May 2010.  One official, Lois Lerner, got a friend to ask her a question (planted a question with a friend) earlier this month so she could (finally) bring up the scandal.  She only did so to get ahead of the news that the Treasury Dept's Inspector General over the IRS had a damaging report about to be released.  Conservative groups were largely targeted.  They were not the only ones.  Yes, "Tea Party" and "Patriot" were 'flag words' as the IRS illegally entered into political speech, but left groups critical of the administration were also targeted.  This fact has come out in the hearings but has largely been ignored by the press.  Today Elizabeth Flock (US News and World Reports) notes that a third of the groups were not conservative groups.

If you're late to the story, community coverage has included this "Iraq snapshot," Ava's "Sir, I gave you the wrong information (Ava)," Wally's "Time for a special prosecutor (Wally)," Kat's "It was like Steel Magnolias at one point during the hearing," Dona's "Report on Congress" and Cedric's "Future employment opportunities for Lois Lerner" and  Wally's "THIS JUST IN! A WHOLE NEW WORLD FOR LOIS LERNER!,"; and this "Iraq snapshot," "IRS: 'Not corrupt, just incompetent'," Ava's "Guacamole and the IRS (Ava)," Wally's "Big lie revealed at House Ways and Means hearing," Kat's "The other Steve Miller appears before Congress, Marcia's "No accountability for the IRS scandal," and Dona's "Report on Congress."
We've noted that churches and right-to-life groups were also among the targeted -- that the IRS even inquired about prayers.  Today David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall (McClatchy Newspapers) report:

While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.
The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.

Read more here:

Jill Jackson and Stephanie Haven (CBS News) report that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee plan to question Cincinnati workers "in the next two weeks."  Were they responsible?  The Committees haven't gotten clear answers from IRS officials such as Lois Lerner, Acting Commissioner Steve Miller (he is now out of that job, he was in it when appearing before Congress in the last weeks), former Commissioner Douglas Shulman.  Local media in Cincinnati has been reporting for several weeks now that workers at that office were following orders and were not rogue employees.  Reuters notes, "The names of low-level officials who carried out the practice have been closely guarded by IRS higher-ups and agency's inspector general. No criminal charges have been filed."  They then offer a cautionary note that the low-levels may not be responsible.  Agreed.  That's why we haven't taken that position here.  The people blaming them?  That's been Lerner (who took the Fifth while sitting before Congress last week and refused to testify), Shulman and Miller.  And Miller revealed that one of the two 'local' people punished (the one who got an oral warning) might not have even been involved.  That's the kind of detail you determine before you hand out an oral warning.

As Cedric's "Bring on the Special Prosecutor" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! TIME FOR A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR!" pointed out this morning:

the associated press