Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, November 25, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, on the day to eliminate violence against women the Islamic State elects to execute two female politicians, the refugee crisis continues in Iraq, IAVA notes Chuck Hagel's impending departure, and much more.

Let's start in the United States.  Senator Patty Murray serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and is the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.  Her office issued the following today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Tuesday, November 25th, 2014                                                                   (202) 224-2834

Murray Joins Group of 40 Senators in Backing DOD Plan to Better Protect Military Families from Abusive Financial Practices  

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) joined a group of 40 Senate colleagues in supporting the Department of Defense’s (DOD) plan to update the Military Lending Act (MLA) and close existing loopholes in order to better protect soldiers and their families from abusive financial practices.  The letter, sent to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, expresses strong support for the proposed new rule to help prevent lenders from charging excessive fees and taking advantage of military families.

Following a 2006 Pentagon report that found that “predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all-volunteer fighting force,” Congress passed the MLA.  This law capped the annual interest rates for consumer credit to service members and their dependents at 36% while giving DOD the authority to define what loans should be covered.  The DOD’s 2007 implementing regulations narrowly included only three types of loans: (1) payday loans: closed-end loans with terms of 91 days or fewer, for $2,000 or less; (2) auto title loans: closed-end loans with terms of 181 days or fewer; and (3) refund anticipation loans: closed-end credit.

In the proposed changes to the rules implementing the MLA, first announced in September, DOD sought to close existing loopholes in the current MLA rule.  Today’s letter voices strong support for the proposed rule, arguing that the changes strike a better balance between protecting service members and their families while maintaining access to good credit. 

As our service members are asked to take on even more tasks in defense of our nation, we should take every opportunity to protect them and their families here at home, especially from unscrupulous lenders,” the Senators wrote.  “We strongly support the proposed MLA rule and urge that the final MLA rule be similarly robust in enhancing protections for service members and their families, producing significant cost savings for DOD, and improving military readiness.”

Murray was joined by Senators Reed and Durbin, Mark Udall (D-CO), Levin (D-MI), Brown (D-OH), Hirono (D-HI), Manchin (D-WV), Warner (D-VA), Franken (D-MN), Baldwin (D-WI), Nelson (D-FL), Murphy (D-CT), Blumenthal (D-CT), Merkley (D-OR), Heinrich (D-NM), Warren (D-MA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Whitehouse (D-RI), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kaine (D-VA), McCaskill (D-MO), Shaheen (D-NH), Schatz (D-HI), Markey (D-MA), Bennet (D-CO), Coons (D-DE), Donnelly (D-IN), Feinstein (D-CA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Wyden (D-OR), Heitkamp (D-ND), Tester (D-MT), Boxer (D-CA), Hagan (D-NC), Harkin (D-IA), and Schumer (D-NY) in signing onto the letter.  The signatories include every Democratic member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The comment period for the proposed rule, which was recently extended, ends on December 26, 2014.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing in response to the Department of Defense (DOD) proposal to update the implementing rules for the Military Lending Act (MLA).

By enacting the MLA as part of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, Congress sent a clear bipartisan message that protecting service members and their families from predatory and high cost lending was of paramount importance to their financial security and military readiness.

This concern was reiterated in the Conference Report for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which stated that “the conferees are concerned that the Department must remain vigilant to eliminate continuing, evolving predatory lending practices targeting service members and their families, and believe the Department should review its regulations implementing section 987, to address changes in the industry and the evolution of lending products offered since 2007, continuing use of predatory marketing practices, and other abuses identified by consumer protection advocates, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs.”

As a result of this required review of the current MLA rule, DOD in its proposal now recommends closing existing MLA loopholes.  We believe this strikes a significantly better balance than the current MLA rule between protecting service members and their families on the one hand and maintaining access to non-predatory credit on the other.  As such, this proposal also does a much better job of reflecting Congressional intent. 

Specifically, we support the proposal to expand the MLA’s “definition of ‘consumer credit’ to cover a broader range of closed-end and open-end credit products.”  In so doing, the rule proposes that these products be treated in a manner generally consistent with the decades-old requirements of the Truth in Lending Act. 

This comprehensive approach is essential to preventing future evasions.  As DOD notes in its proposed rule, “the extremely narrow definition of ‘consumer credit’ permits creditors to structure credit products in order to reduce or avoid altogether the obligations of the MLA.”  For example, MLA protections currently can be avoided by simply adding a day to the term of a payday loan or by lending just one additional cent so that the payday loan no longer qualifies as “consumer credit” subject to the MLA protections.   

Contrary to Congressional intent, these evasions threaten military readiness.  According to DOD, “each separation of a service member is estimated to cost the Department $57,333, and the Department estimates that each year approximately 4,703 to 7,957 service members are involuntarily separated due to financial distress.”  In addition to the estimated cost savings DOD has identified, we give great weight and deference to DOD’s statement that the proposed MLA rule “would reduce non-quantifiable costs associated with financial strains on service members. High-cost debt can detract from mission focus, reduce productivity, and require the attention of supervisors and commanders.”  As a result, we strongly agree with DOD’s view that the proposed MLA rule not only has the potential to produce substantial cost savings, but also enhance military readiness.

In August of last year, a number of us wrote, “service members and their families deserve the strongest possible protections and swift action to ensure that all forms of credit offered to members of our armed forces are safe and sound.”  Indeed, as our service members are asked to take on even more tasks in defense of our nation, we should take every opportunity to protect them and their families here at home, especially from unscrupulous lenders. 

For all these reasons, we strongly support the proposed MLA rule and urge that the final MLA rule be similarly robust in enhancing protections for service members and their families, producing significant cost savings for DOD, and improving military readiness.
Kathryn Robertson
Deputy Press Secretary 
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510


A friend at a VSO wanted to point out that Senator Murray never loses sight of veterans issues while, in the House, Corrine "Brown can't even find them."  That's a very good point and one that I have missed.

At Third on Sunday, we wrote "Editorial: Corrine Brown must not be named Ranking Member" which noted how US House Rep Tim Walz was qualified to be the Ranking Member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Brown is not. We noted the nonsense Nancy Pelosi and her cronies pulled as they insisted that Walz couldn't run for Ranking Member because he wasn't a member of the Committee and only took part via a waiver.  The editorial included this:

If he had to obtain a waiver to serve on the Committee?

That meant he served on the Committee.

That's what the waiver did, it made him a Committee member.

And Tim Walz asked questions in hearings, voted on the Comittee, etc.

He was a member and he participated.

Gov.track isn't confused:

Committee Membership

Timothy Walz sits on the following committees:

And he didn't just serve on the Committee and show up for hearings, he sponsored bills dealing with veterans issues:

H.R. 5680: Veterans’ Toxic Wounds Research Act of 2014

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Sep 19, 2014
Referred to Committee: Sep 19, 2014
H.R. 5059: Clay Hunt SAV Act

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Jul 10, 2014
Referred to Committee: Jul 10, 2014
H.R. 4191: Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Mar 11, 2014
Referred to Committee: Mar 11, 2014
H.R. 3569: Protecting the Freedoms and Benefits for All Veterans Act

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Nov 20, 2013
Referred to Committee: Nov 20, 2013
H.R. 2785: Military Reserve Jobs Act

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Jul 22, 2013
Referred to Committee: Jul 22, 2013

H.R. 1980: Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: May 14, 2013
Referred to Committee: May 14, 2013
H.R. 975: Servicemember Mental Health Review Act

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Mar 5, 2013
Referred to Committee: Mar 5, 2013
H.R. 679: Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Feb 13, 2013
H.R. 6574 (112th): Servicemember Mental Health Review Act

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Oct 12, 2012
Referred to Committee: Oct 12, 2012
H.R. 1855 (112th): Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitative Services’ Improvements Act of 2011

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: May 11, 2011
Referred to Committee: May 11, 2011
H.R. 1566 (112th): Protecting Servicemembers from Mortgage Abuses Act of 2011

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Apr 14, 2011
Referred to Committee: Apr 14, 2011
H.R. 865 (112th): Veteran Employment Transition Act of 2011

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Mar 1, 2011
Referred to Committee: Mar 1, 2011
H.R. 6188 (111th): Veterans’ Homelessness Prevention and Early Warning Act of 2010

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Sep 22, 2010
Referred to Committee: Sep 22, 2010
H.R. 6123 (111th): Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitative Services’ Improvements Act of 2010

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Sep 14, 2010
Referred to Committee: Sep 14, 2010
H.R. 5928 (111th): Veterans’ Disability Claims Efficiency Act of 2010

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: Jul 29, 2010
Referred to Committee: Jul 29, 2010
H.R. 5400 (111th): Veteran Employment Transition Act of 2010

Sponsor: Rep. Timothy Walz [D-MN1]
Introduced: May 25, 2010
Referred to Committee: May 25, 2010

In fairness to Corrine Brown, we should note that during the same period above (2008 and to the present), she also sponsored some bills. 

Well . . . 


Because there was only one.

From 2008 to the present -- six years -- she only sponsored one bill having to do with veterans.  

But she thinks she's earned the right to serve as Ranking Member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee?

In fairness to Corrine, we should note she had other things to focus on.  In the same period, she introduced two bills on Haiti.  Maybe that makes her an expert on veterans?  And she sponsored four bills on National Train Day.

Of course, she also had to put in a lot of time going through those mail order catalogs to buy all her hideous wigs.

Is Corrine Ranking Member?


She's issued two statements already announcing she is but until January, when the new Congress starts, she's not.

And if the Democrats in the House are stupid enough to go along with Nancy, to oppose veterans groups on this issue, they better be prepared for the voter fallout in 2016, they better be prepared for the ignorant statements out of Corrine's mouth that the Democratic presidential candidate will have to respond to.  This is insanity.  The woman is a moron and who cannot speak.  Every time she opens her mouth she either embarrasses herself or attacks veterans -- or both!  

The whole party's going to suffer as a result of Nancy Pelosi's decision and that needs to be brought home to Nancy, loudly and clearly -- not the three person meet-up that took place this weekend where an attempt was made to reason with Nancy.

This issue isn't over yet, the decision can be overturned.

But if it's not, it needs to be remembered than Nancy Pelosi is responsible for Democratic losses in 2016 as Corrine Brown becomes the face of the party when it comes to veterans issues.

I don't dislike Andrew J. Bacevich but his latest piece -- which In These Times idiotically reprinted -- goes a long way towards explaining why Bacevich stumbles anytime he tries to move forward instead of just reflecting on the past.

See if you can see the problem right at the start of his piece:

“Iraq no longer exists.” My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It’s been years since we’ve last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: “Iraq just doesn’t exist.”

His is an opinion grounded in experience. As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus “surge.” After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies. Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research. Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening. As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or I.S., has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.

Iraq is no more?

And that revelation will come from an American who visited the country as a member of the US military.

That's who's going to decide?

The ruling on Iraq will not come from the Iraqi people but from a foreigner who enter the country armed?

I don't think so.

That is the height of xenophobia.

The column reeks of it.

It does nothing but offer, "This is how Iraq is and you can trust the opinion because it comes from an American."

I don't understand why In These Times printed it.

(Well actually I do.  The article's actually not about Iraq -- it's railing against the government of Israel and a checklist of other hatreds.)

Rudaw reports two women, who had run in the parliamentary elections last April, were assassinated today in Mosul  by the Islamic State and quoted Mosul's highest ranking Kurdish Democratic Party official Saad Mamuzin stating, "ISIS gunmen executed two former female candidates in Mosul after the Sharia Court issued death sentence on them. One of the candidates was Ibtisam Ali Jarjis on the Watanya list, and the second one was Miran Ghazi a candidate for Arab List."

The murder of the two women took place on the United Nation's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  Alsumaria reports that women took to the streets in Kirkuk today to protest against the ongoing violence against women where, protesters state, there are 84 recorded cases of violence against women with little to no follow up from the government.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office released the following statement:

25 November 2014 - Sexual and gender-based violence is the most extreme form of the global and systemic inequality experienced by women and girls.
It knows no geographic, socio-economic or cultural boundaries. Worldwide, one in three women will suffer physical or sexual violence at some point in her life, from rape and domestic violence to harassment at work and bullying on the internet.
This year alone, more than 200 girls have been kidnapped in Nigeria; we have seen graphic testimony from Iraqi women of rape and sexual slavery during conflict; two Indian schoolgirls were raped, killed and hung from a tree; and in the United States, there have been high-profile cases of sexual violence on sports teams and university campuses.
Women and girls experience violence in all countries and neighbourhoods but these crimes often remain unreported and hidden. We must end the silence. That is why this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is centred on a grassroots effort to raise awareness called Orange Your Neighbourhood. Around the United Nations in New York, the Secretariat building and the Empire State Building will be lit orange, and many other events are planned across the world and on social media.
Everyone has a responsibility to prevent and end violence against women and girls, starting by challenging the culture of discrimination that allows it to continue. We must shatter negative gender stereotypes and attitudes, introduce and implement laws to prevent and end discrimination and exploitation, and stand up to abusive behavior whenever we see it. We have to condemn all acts of violence, establish equality in our work and home lives, and change the everyday experience of women and girls.
Women’s rights were once thought of as women’s business only, but more and more men and boys are becoming true partners in the battle for women’s empowerment. Two months ago, I launched the HeForShe campaign; a global solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other, for the benefit of all.
We all have a role to play, and I urge you to play yours. If we stand together in homes, communities, countries and internationally, we can challenge discrimination and impunity and put a stop to the mindsets and customs that encourage, ignore or tolerate the global disgrace of violence against women and girls.

Also issuing a statement was US Secretary of State John Kerry:

Today, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the start of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Over the next two weeks, U.S. embassies and missions around the world will all be working to raise awareness of the irreparable harm caused by gender-based violence.
This issue is seared into me. As a young prosecutor, I saw women and young girls whose lives and families were ripped apart by violence. I will never forget seeing women in dark glasses and long-sleeved shirts worn to cover up the black eyes and bruises of abuse. I couldn’t help but think about them as my two daughters went out into the world. As a Senator, working with Joe Biden and Cathy Russell, long before any of us were in the Administration, I helped pass the Violence Against Women Act.
In recent years, I’ve seen firsthand how much work remains to be done all across the globe, not just here at home. I saw it as a Senator, and I’ve seen it even more as Secretary. On my latest visit to Africa, while in Kinshasa, I toured a fistula clinic at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I spoke with doctors and activists alike who have devoted their life’s work to healing the scars left by sexual violence. And I listened to young women tell heartbreaking stories of their pain and ongoing recovery from the physical and emotional wounds left by their brutal assaults. These women were brave; they were extraordinarily strong. I came away inspired by their determination to make sure that no woman goes through the same ordeal as they did ever again.
Simply put, we must all do more to end violence against women in all its forms, wherever and whenever it occurs, and it starts by acknowledging it. There can be no conspiracy of silence.
The sad truth is that one in three women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. This violence knows no class, religious, or racial boundaries. And it comes at a terrible cost – not only for the woman or girl, but for families, communities, and entire countries. Preventing it is the only way to achieve a future of peace, stability, and prosperity.
Over the past year, the United States has worked to up our game battling gender-based violence across the globe. Through our Gender-based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative, we help meet the immediate security needs of survivors. The Safe from the Start initiative is sending experts into the field to prevent gender-based violence in conflict zones and regions devastated by natural disasters. We are also working to address the scourge of early and forced marriage, most recently launching a program in Benin. And this past summer, I was proud to launch our partnership with Together for Girls to collect data on the consequences of sexual violence against children and provide a foundation to mobilize responses to new outbreaks of violence.
We will not turn away in the face of evil and brutality. We stand up, and we reaffirm that sexual violence will be not be tolerated. Not now, not ever.

So what is the State Dept doing to help women's lives in Iraq?

I know what they were planning to do under Hillary Clinton.  The start of 2012 was supposed to bring a focus on women -- it was supposed to include special training for security forces.  Iraq refused it, I know that.  I remember it very well.  And remember that Nouri was responsible for that refusal.

Former prime minister of Iraq and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki was (illegally) over the Ministry of the Interior.  And he didn't care for the program.

But Nouri's no longer prime minister.

So what's the State Dept doing today?

Outrage when a US citizen or British citizens is beheaded by the Islamic State; however, on  a day calling out violence against women, calling for an end to it, two female politicians are executed in Mosul and the State Dept has nothing to say?

It sort of makes John Kerry's statement look like little more than bulls**t.

The never-ending Iraq War has destroyed many lives but among the communities and people targeted most frequently are religious minorities and all women in Iraq -- regardless of religion or sect.

Iraqi Christians have been repeatedly targeted throughout the Iraq War.  Dropping back to the November 18th snapshot:

Some people have a hard time giving up control -- even those who consider themselves servants of a God or god.  John Bingham (Telegraph of London) presents the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby explaining that, "I think there is an answer that says we need to do more where there is really no choice but we also need to be deeply committed to enabling solutions to be found enabling communities that have been there for 2,000 years to remain there."
If Welby's so worried that Christians may vanish, he can always pack a suitcase and go live there.
The notion that Christian refugees should not be granted asylum outside the region?
I'm sorry, would you also go back in time and argue that Jews in Germany and surrounding areas not be granted asylum to safety because Jews might vanish from the region?
Because it sounds sort of like you would.
Too much time by 'caring' people has already been wasted with faux concerns about how refugees are vanishing from the region when the reality is that refugees want to leave and find safety.  I don't know how this is confusing and I don't believe that this or that religious leader is honestly puzzled.
I think people are actively looking to look the other way just as they did during the Holocaust.
The Yazidis swooped in on the wave of outrage the targeting of Christians had created.  I am not accusing the Yazidis of anything.  I am saying that outrage was building and certain members of Congress were calling out the treatment of the Chaldeans which the US press was ignoring and then the religious minority (Yazidis) were trapped on Mount Sinjar and the press glommed on it.
It was an important story.  (The fact that Yazidis remain trapped on Mount Sinjar is an important story -- even if the US press can't find it.)  But somewhere along the way, the press -- the US press -- completely missed what was happening to Iraq's Christian community in the last months.

This week, some common sense enters the room.  Patrick Cockburn (CounterPunch) reports:

Father Yako laboured among the Syriac Catholics, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, who had seen the number of Christians in Iraq decline from over one million at the time of the American invasion in 2003 to about 250,000 today. He sought to convince people in Qaraqosh, an overwhelmingly Syriac Catholic town, that they had a future in Iraq and should not emigrate to the US, Australia or anywhere else that would accept them. His task was not easy, because Iraqi Christians have been frequent victims of murder, kidnapping and robbery.
But in the past six months Father Yako has changed his mind, and he now believes that, after 2,000 years of history, Christians must leave Iraq. Speaking at the entrance of a half-built mall in the Kurdish capital Irbil where 1,650 people from Qaraqosh have taken refuge, he said that “everything has changed since the coming of Daesh (the Arabic acronym for Islamic State). We should flee. There is nothing for us here.” When Islamic State (Isis) fighters captured Qaraqosh on 7 August, all the town’s 50,000 or so Syriac Catholics had to run for their lives and lost all their possessions.
Many now huddle in dark little prefabricated rooms provided by the UN High Commission for Refugees amid the raw concrete of the mall, crammed together without heat or electricity. They sound as if what happened to them is a nightmare from which they might awaken at any moment and speak about how, only three-and-a-half months ago, they owned houses, farms and shops, had well-paying jobs, and drove their own cars and tractors. They hope against hope to go back, but they have heard reports that everything in Qaraqosh has been destroyed or stolen by Isis.

Rudaw reports, "The Islamic State (IS) militants blew up the St. George's Church and a nunnery in the city of Mosul on Monday, local sources said."

No one in Iraq dreams of being a refugee.  The decision to flee for safety is not made easily.  When it is made, it needs to be supported.

UNICEF speaks with Bashir, a child of Iraq who, with his immediate family, has sought asylum in Australia and he states, "I worry because my family is in Iraq -- my uncle, my grandpa and my aunties. Iraq it's not safe for them, it's so dangerous. And I am worried for my future, what will happen for me in the future. I have many things to do and I feel scared."

Bashir and his immediate family are labeled external refugees because they left Iraq.  Those who have been displaced within Iraq are called internal refugees.  Earlier this month, the United Nations noted:

As the humanitarian situation in Iraq deteriorates, the health needs of the 1.8 million internally displaced persons in the country are rising, particularly in the Kurdistan Region and Anbar. Mass population movement within the country and from the neighboring Syria poses a risk of potential disease outbreaks such as polio and measles among the displaced people.

“Although, we achieved high coverage in the mass vaccination campaigns conducted in September 2014, there is a need for sustained efforts in vaccinating all children 0-5 years and 6 months – 5 years against polio and measles respectively to halt transmission of these disease in the country,” said Dr Jaffar Hussain, WHO Representative in Iraq.  With the large numbers of people entering Iraq from the neighboring countries, coupled with overcrowding in the camps, this will create conditions ripe for disease outbreaks,” he added. 
To prevent further outbreaks of polio and measles, WHO and UNICEF have supported the Federal Government of Iraq to convene a review meeting for the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) attended by national and province managers, national immunization advisory committee members, representatives from the central vaccine supply store, and health promotion officers. The meeting was convened to discuss ways of improving knowledge and technical skills of EPI managers to swiftly stop the current measles and polio outbreaks and effectively improve Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) surveillance as well as improve the quality and reach of Routine Immunization.

The International Committee of the Red Cross released the following video.

Patrick Youssef: Since the start of 2014, the situation has been going worse and worse.  In today's Iraq, over two million displaced were first to leave their homes to leave all their possessions and seek refuge in other governorates.  During my last field trip to Duhok, to the Domiz Refugee Camp  where there was more than 30,000 families there.  I managed to discuss with some family members who told me, for example, how it was so difficult them to reach the camp.  Some of them went up to Mount Sinjar, then had to travel for at least 72 hours to reach a camp in such a difficult situation and in need of everything basically.  That's what pushes the teams of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations to respond to those needs.  So as the winter season started in Iraq and the rainy season as well, the displaced will be living in harsher conditions.  The ICRC in the field have already began measuring their distributions for families effected by this winter season by distributing stoves, blankets, winter clothing, other humanitarian activities that are equally important, that touch lives and dignities of many effected by previous wars or ongoing violence.  We continued our visits to places of detention.  We also considered our support and training for physical rehabilitation centers across Iraq but also other important projects such as the support to the medical legal directorate, its training and capacity building as well as our continuous engagement and serious commitment to continue our working on the missing file -- on the missing from the Iraq-Iran War but also from the Gulf War.  But also looked, for example, at the needs of farmers effected by this violence, by the armed conflict, by distributing simple things, seeds, for example, to sustain their livelihood and benefit their own families but also people who have been hosted by these farmers.  One of the main challenges that we face is basically being able to access all the places that are scenes of ongoing violence or conflict -- is that access has not been ideal for the teams of the Red Cross managed to get quite close to those effected by the violence and conflict.  International Red Cross has also sought to remind all parties -- all those carrying weapons and have a say or control over communities or civilian population -- to respect basic principles of humanitarian law, to protect civilians and to protect basically all those providing basic humanitarian assistance or providing health services -- ambulances but also health structures from the effects of this violence.

Among today's violence?  All Iraq News reports 4 corpses were dumped in the "Tigris River of northeastern Tikrit."  Alsumaria notes a Gaza City home invasion left 3 women and 1 man dead, and a mortar attack on two Tikrit schools left many students injured. Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 229 people killed today in violence with fifty more left injured. 

Yesterday, Chuck Hagel was forced out as Secretary of Defense (he's stated he'll remain in the post until the Senate can confirm his successor).  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued a statement on Hagel's impending departure:

Washington D.C. (November 24, 2014) – Today, President Obama announced Department of Defense (DoD) Secretary Chuck Hagel has resigned. Hagel was sworn in as Secretary in early 2013. IAVA released the following statement:
“IAVA members appreciate Secretary Hagel’s exceptional dedication to the veteran community,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “As the first Vietnam veteran and former enlisted soldier to lead the Department of Defense, Secretary Hagel was a tremendous advocate for us inside the Pentagon and the Administration. Secretary Hagel was a leader on issues of military mental health, suicide prevention and military sexual trauma, he was always open and receptive to our ideas for reform. He was someone we could always count on to have the backs of our veterans. IAVA members worldwide thank him for his leadership and wish him all the best in whatever he chooses to do next.”
Rieckhoff continued: “The veterans community has had no stronger advocate in Washington than Secretary Hagel. On fighting suicide especially, he’s always had our back. But as Secretary Hagel exits, we look to the President to finally solve a problem that has eluded all previous secretaries: the establishment of a truly seamless health record system between the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs. This is a critical need for servicemembers and veterans transitioning out of the military and seeking access to mental health care. We look forward to working with the White House and Congress to find a replacement to lead at the Pentagon and strongly support our community in the critical years to come.”

Note to media: Email press@iava.org or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or IAVA leadership.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has nearly 300,000 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.