Monday, June 09, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, June 9, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri expands his assault on Sunnis to Nineveh Province,  the Moqtada al-Sadr movement does not want a third term for Nouri, in the US the VA releases the results of an audit, and much more.

The Feminist Majority Foundation released the following today:

June 9, 2014
Contact: Megan Perry,, 703-522-2214

Women’s Rights Groups Demand that U.S. Stop Negotiating TPP with Brunei Until the Sultan Revokes New Taliban-Like Laws 

WASHINGTON – A coalition of women’s rights groups have joined the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in calling for the Obama Administration to initiate the process of removing Brunei from negotiations on a prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with the United States – or to suspend TPP talks – until Brunei revokes its new Taliban-like penal code.
“Women’s rights and human rights cannot take a backseat to profit and trade,” said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. “As a global leader, the United States should not negotiate a free trade agreement with a country that has enacted laws hostile to basic human rights and dignity.”
Twelve women’s rights organizations – including FMF, American Association of University Women, the Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues, the Institute for Science and Human Values, Jewish Women International, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization for Women, the Women’s Global Program of the Communications Consortium Media Center, Women’s Online Media and Education Network, and the U.S. National Committee for UN Women – delivered a letter to the White House expressing outrage over Brunei’s new penal code and asking the Administration stop negotiating the TPP with Brunei.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed regional free trade agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The TPP addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental rules, among other topics. TPP negotiations have been ongoing since 2010, with very little information about the negotiated documents released to Congress or to the public.
“The U.S. must insist that Brunei address human rights concerns by revoking its penal code before the U.S. continues negotiations with Brunei on the TPP,” continued Smeal. “There is simply no place in a civilized society for kill-a-gay and flog-a-woman penal codes. Our foreign policy should make that clear, especially in the execution of our trade agreements.”
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has expressed deep concern about Brunei’s new penal code and stated that its draconian punishments would violate international law. The new penal code, which went into effect on May 1, is set to be implemented in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for such “crimes” as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. The second phase includes corporal punishment, such as amputations and flogging of women who have abortions. The third phase includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and those convicted of adultery.
FMF has launched a petition drive and social media campaign #StopTheSultan calling on the Sultan of Brunei to revoke the new penal code, and together with Mavis and Jay Leno, held a rally in Los Angeles, California on May 5 across from the Beverly Hills Hotel – part of the Dorchester Collection of properties, owned by the Sultan – to protest the law.  


Moving to the issue of veterans, Erik Wemple (Washington Post) reports:

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a Washington-based nonprofit that pushes for “good government reforms,” will fight a May 30 subpoena from the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) seeking the results of its research into mismanagement at the department. “We never have” complied with such a subpoena, says POGO communications director Joe Newman, who says the group has now dealt with seven demands from federal agencies for records since the early 1990s. “And we have no plans to do that.”

CJ Ciaramella (Washington Free Beacon) adds, "POGO, along with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, launched a website on May 15 where whistleblowers within the VA could confidentially report problems. According to POGO, roughly 700 people have submitted tips using the site."  Joe Newman, Director of Communications for the Project On Government Oversight, writes a response to the IG subpoena which includes:

POGO, which has a 33-year history of working with whistleblowers to expose government fraud, waste and abuse, wrote the IG today and refused to provide the records, most of which have come from confidential tips submitted through
POGO and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) launched on May 15 to offer potential whistleblowers a safe channel to confidentially report abuses in the VA healthcare system, which have been the focus of intense media scrutiny and congressional hearings in recent weeks.
Since the website went live, about 700 people have submitted tips or aired grievances. About 25 percent of those tips have come from current or former VA staffers. POGO is reviewing the information it has received and is looking into many of the claims.
In a letter sent to the IG this morning, POGO said the IG’s subpoena infringes on POGO’s constitutional “freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of association rights as they relate to all whistleblowers and sources.”
Some VA employees who contacted POGO and requested confidentiality said they feared retaliation if their names were divulged. Any of them could have reported their concerns to the VA inspector general. In fact, some of the employees told POGO that they had filed reports with the IG. Some people expressed a lack of confidence in the Office of the Inspector General.
“The Inspector General’s demand stands opposed to POGO’s mission and to good government reform—both of which serve the public interest,” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said. “Our focus is squarely on investigating the problems in the VA healthcare system and trying to find some solutions.
“Our mission as a public interest watchdog would be severely damaged if we violated the trust of our sources. We have faced these kinds of threats before and have never wavered. We will not violate the trust whistleblowers have placed in us by revealing their identities to anyone.”
POGO’s letter to the VA IG.

The IG’s subpoena.

Staying with the topic of veterans, it started as rumors and became much more with whistle-blowers coming forward and CNN reporting.  Yes, we're talking about the VA scandal where veterans were kept waiting for weeks and months despite the claims that all veterans were receiving medical appointments within 14 days of requesting them.  Today the Veterans Affairs Department released the Nationwide Access Aduit results. Among the findings?  "Meeting a 14-day wait-time performance target for new appointments was simply not attainable given the ongoing challenge of finding sufficient provider slots to accommodate a growing demand for services.  Imposing this expectation on the field before ascertaining the resources required and its ensuing broad promulgation represent an organizational leadership failure."

"Represent an organizational leadership failure."

Eric Shinseki resigned as Secretary of the VA two weeks ago.  Even then, some rushed to defend him.  The audit found "an organizational leadership failure."  The would be Shinseki's failure, he headed the Department..

We'll note this from the report and italicized emphasis is from the authors of the report, not me:

Findings indicate that in some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times (based on desired date, and the waiting lists), appear more favorable.  Such practices are sufficiently pervasive to require VA re-examine its entire performance management system and, in particular, whether current measures and targets for access are realistic or sufficient.

How many sites were cooking the books?

The report notes:

Respondents at 90 clinic sites provided responses indicating they had altered desired dates that had been entered.  In virtually all cases, they indicated they were instructed by supervisors, but many believed the policy of altering dates was coming from facility leadership.  In at least 2 clinics, respondents believed someone else (not a scheduler) was routinely accessing records and changing desired dates in order to improve performance measures. 

In response to the report, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson announced the following steps to be taken:

  • Establishing New Patient Satisfaction Measurement Program- Acting Secretary Gibson has directed VHA to immediately begin developing a new patient satisfaction measurement program to provide real-time, robust, location-by-location information on patient satisfaction, to include satisfaction data of those Veterans attempting to access VA healthcare for the first time. This program will be developed with input from Veterans Service Organizations, outside health care organizations, and other entities. This will ensure VA collects an additional set of data – directly from the Veteran’s perspective – to understand how VA is doing throughout the system.
  • Holding Senior Leaders Accountable- Where audited sites identify concerns within the parent facility or its affiliated clinics, VA will trigger administrative procedures to ascertain the appropriate follow-on personnel actions for specific individuals.
  • Ordering an Immediate VHA Central Office and VISN Office Hiring Freeze- Acting Secretary Gibson has ordered an immediate hiring freeze at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) central office in Washington D.C. and the 21 VHA Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) regional offices, except for critical positions to be approved by the Secretary on a case-by-case basis. This action will begin to remove bureaucratic obstacles and establish responsive, forward leaning leadership.
  • Removing 14-Day Scheduling Goal VA is eliminating the 14-day scheduling goal from employee performance contracts- This action will eliminate incentives to engage in inappropriate scheduling practices or behaviors.
  • Increasing Transparency by Posting Data Twice-Monthly- At the direction of the Acting Secretary, VHA will post regular updates to the access data released today at the middle and end of each month at Twice-monthly data updates will enhance transparency and provide the most immediate information to Veterans and the public on Veterans access to quality healthcare.
  • Initiating an Independent, External Audit of Scheduling Practices- Acting Secretary Gibson has also directed that an independent, external audit of system-wide VHA scheduling practices be performed.
  • Sending Additional Frontline Team to Address Phoenix- Following his trip to Phoenix VA Medical Center last week, Acting Secretary Gibson directed a VHA frontline team to travel to Phoenix to immediately address scheduling, access, and resource requirements needed to provide Veterans the timely, quality healthcare they deserve.
  • Utilizing High Performing Facilities to Help Those That Need Improvement- VA will formalize a process in which high performing facilities provide direct assistance and share best practices with facilities that require improvement on particular medical center quality and efficiency, also known as SAIL, performance measures.
  • Applying Immediate Access Reforms Announced in Phoenix to Most Challenged VA Facilities- Last week, Acting Secretary Gibson announced a series of measures to address healthcare access problems in Phoenix. Today, Acting Secretary Gibson announced he’ll apply the same reforms to facilities with the most access problems from the results of the audit, including:
  • Hiring Additional Clinical and Patient Support Staff- VA will deploy teams of dedicated human resource employees to accelerate the hiring of additional, needed staff.
  • Employing New Staffing Measures- VA’s first goal is to get Veterans off wait lists and into clinics. VA is using temporary staffing measures, along with clinical and administrative support, to ensure these Veterans receive the care they have earned through their service.
  • Deploying Mobile Medical Units- VA will send mobile medical units to facilities to immediately provide services to patients and Veterans awaiting care.
  • Providing More Care by Modifying Local Contract Operations- VA will modify local contract operations to be able to offer more community-based care to Veterans waiting to be seen by a doctor.
  • Removing Senior Leadership- Where appropriate, VA will initiate the process of removing senior leaders. Acting Secretary Gibson is committed to using all authority at VA’s disposal to enforce accountability among senior leaders.
  • Suspending Performance Awards- VA has suspended all VHA senior executive performance awards for FY2014.
  • Future Travel Over the course of the next several weeks- Acting Secretary Gibson will travel to a series of VA facilities across the country. He will hear directly from Veterans and employees about obstacles to providing timely, quality care and how VA can immediately address them.

In response to the report, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following today:

CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or
57,000 Vets Waiting For Appointments, New Vets Infuriated
Audit details how vets across the country wait almost three months for appointments at VA Hospitals
Washington DC (June 9, 2014) – According to a new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) audit released today, more than 57,000 patients across the country have been waiting almost three months for appointments at VA hospitals and clinics. The audit was released ahead of IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff’s meeting with other leading veterans groups and Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson at the VA.
“This audit is absolutely infuriating, and underscores the depth of this scandal,” said Rieckhoff. “Our vets demand action and answers. IAVA again calls on the President to be out-front in reforming the VA and we also encourage members of Congress and the Administration to implement IAVA’s eight-step plan. We would welcome a meeting with the President – the veteran community must hear more from him and be assured that he cares. I look forward to hearing answers from Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson this afternoon.”
The audit found that: 
Practices of manipulating wait times were so pervasive, the audit recommended a complete overhaul of VHA's performance management system. 
13 percent of schedulers - and 76 percent of facilities - reported some improper scheduling practices. 
8 percent of schedulers - and 70 percent of facilities - used an alternative to the appropriate waiting lists. 
Last Monday Rieckhoff, joined by IAVA veterans from across the country, unveiled eight steps the Obama Administration and Congress can take now to restore confidence in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Among the steps are recommendations from IAVA’s 2014 Policy Agenda. IAVA urged Congress and the President to enact all of the recommendations from the plan.
NOTE TO THE MEDIA: IAVA leadership is available for interview. Press can email or call 212-982-9699.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, 
America's largest charity evaluator. 
# # #

The World Food Program's Jane Pearce Tweets "Mosul on the move" today:

Why are people leaving Mosul?

Saturday, Nouri  expanded his assaults on Sunnis to Mosul.  NINA reported Saturday that he'd begun bombing Mosul neighborhoods.

Mosul is in Nineveh Province -- so now he's targeting both Anbar and Nineveh.  What do they have in common?  Unlike the Shi'ite Nouri al-Maliki, the people in those two provinces are predominantly Sunni.

The Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweets:

  • Aymenn J. Al-Tamimi doesn't feel that Iraq is witnessing a civil war and argues:

    Whatever is taking place, Iraq Body Count notes that violence has claimed 465 lives in the first eight days alone.

    Reuters notes Tuz Khurmato witnessed "a bomb attack on the Kurdish PUK party offices."  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) notes it was "a double bombing" and 29 people are dead.

    The PUK is the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan which is headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.  The PUK's standing in the Kurdistan Region is iffy.  For years, the PUK and KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) were the two dominant political parties.  Then, last fall, provincial elections resulted in a major upset -- Gorran beat out the PUK.

    In the April 30th elections, the PUK managed to do better.  This was in part due to a video of Jalal Talabani released at the time of the election.

    December 2012,  Jalal suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17, 2012 following Jalal's argument with Iraq's prime minister and chief thug Nouri al-Maliki (see the December 18, 2012 snapshot).  Jalal was admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20, 2012, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.

    The video had impact because, although photos of Jalal from his right side had been published, there had been no video of him since he was taken to Germany.

    In other violence, National Iraqi News Agency reports a Kanaan suicide car bomber took his own life and 2 other lives (a soldier and a civilian) leaving five more people injured, 2 Abe Sida bombings left four Iraqi soldiers injured, Joint Operations Command announced they killed 37 suspects in Mosul, a Ramadi battle left 3 police members dead and three more injuredfive people were kidnapped in Tikrit,   two eastern Baghdad bombings left 2 people dead and fourteen injured, a third Baghdad bombing left 1 person dead and eight more injured, a fourth killed 1 person and injured seven more, two corpses were discovered in al-Zufaraniya (gunshot wounds)the corpse of a truck driver was dumped in the streets of Kirkuk shortly after he was kidnapped earlier today, and a headless corpse was discovered dumped in Zafaraniyah.

    Saturday, the editorial board of the Observer noted, "Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's tough-guy prime minister, continues to dominate post-occupation politics in Baghdad. He is seeking a third term despite electoral setbacks last month and his failure to curb sectarian violence."

    No accomplishments and increased violence mark Nouri's second term, yet he thinks he deserves a third. Daily Sabah reported yesterday:

    The parliamentary bloc of Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr said Sunday that it would join the opposition if Nouri al-Maliki assumed a third term as prime minister of Iraq.
    "Al-Maliki's two previous terms tell us that he will not succeed in a third," Diaa al-Asadi, the secretary-general of al-Sadr's Ahrar bloc, told Anadolu Agency.
    He said al-Sadr's bloc does not have a personal problem with al-Maliki but with his monopoly over independent agencies affiliated to the Iraqi parliament.

    NINA adds:

    Leader of the National Coalition Ayad Allawi said on Monday that if al-Maliki gained the power, we are heading to the opposition front to stand up to the political process peacefully.
    Allawi who won 22 seats in the last elections warned, in a press statement "of great risk to the political process, its maximum will be the fragmentation of Iraq, and the least of which is the continuation of violence and confusion and chaos in the case of al-Maliki got third term.
    He continued that their line is clear, in the event of the arrival of al-Maliki to power again, they are heading to the opposition front to stand up to the political process peacefully, and they consider that this political process has fallen and a new political process should emerge.

    Nouri's State of Law did not secure enough seats for the majority government Nouri announced he was seeking ahead of the elections (that was one of the big setbacks for Nouri in the April 30th elections). He must now count on the White House to again save him from failure by securing another term for him as prime minister or he must make nice with other political blocs to cobble together enough support to form a government.  But cobbling may prove difficult since he's alienated so many.   We'll close with this Tweet:

  • Barzani: if Maliki or anyone else in won't accept as real partners in Iraq then they will go to a referendum on Independence.

  • the washington post
    liz sly