Friday, January 18, 2013

A book

Geena Davis is going to have a new show on TNT.  Good for her.

I finished Me Before You. I may write about it tomorrow night.  It was a great book and if you're looking for something to read, I strongly recommend this novel.  It was a real treat to read.

But tonight I've got to call my mother who also read the book.  We're going to discuss it.

Get ready for the weekend!



"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Thursday, January 17, 2013. Chaos and violence continue,  protests continue, UNAMI condems violence for the third day in a row,  Nouri's focused on the Kurds, Turkey worries what Iraq's sliding into, burn pits, and more.
In yesterday's snapshot, we noted the development regarding burn pits.  The Veterans Administration explains:
On Jan. 10, 2013, President Obama signed a new law (218 KB, PDF) requiring VA to establish a burn pits registry for Veterans who may have been exposed to burn pits in Iraq or Afghanistan.
VA will announce how to sign up once the registry is available.
The new registry will enhance VA's ability to monitor the effects of exposure and keep Veterans informed about studies and treatments.
Additionally, VA is conducting studies on possible health effects.
Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York is gearing up to host a symposium on the issue.  This will be their second one, their 2nd Annual Scientific Symposium on Lung Health after Deployment to Iraq & Afghanistan.  The symposium will take place March 4th which isn't that far away.  If you'd like to register to attend, you can click here for the registration info if you're doing it by mail or by fax as well as a registration link if you'd like to register online.
Rosie Lopez-Torres is the executive director of BurnPits 360. Her husband is Iraq War veteran Captain Leroy Torres who left the US in strong health and had it destroyed by burn pits in Iraq.  Burn Pit 360 (and the Torres family) have worked very hard on lobbying for a National Registry.  In fact, it's their first listed goal.
To maintain a National Registry that will allow the individuals affected to self report their data online.  To identify the need for a longitudinal study, to prove a medical, scientific, and legal correlation between the toxic chemicals detected and the individuals exposed. 
To Establish an alliance of veteran service organizations, health care providers, legislators, and government organizations to allow for the strategic development of a quality specialized health care model specific to toxic environmental exposures that will provide a lifetime continuum of care.
 
To Facilitate resources to thousands of Reservists, Service Members, Veterans, and their Families through outreach initiatives encompassed around linking the services requested on the registry to services available within their community.
Burn Pit 360 is among the groups that can look with satisfaction at the Burn Pit Registry becoming a reality because they worked very hard to help matke that happen.
Yesterday's snapshot also applauded Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and had a press release from his office.  I AM AN IDIOT.  That was Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.  (The Senators Udall are cousins -- that does not excuse my mistake, but is offered in case anyone's wondering about two senators with the same last name.)   My apologies for my very stupid error and we'll repost the press release from Senator Tom Udall's office:
WASHINGTON - U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced that today President Obama signed their bill to establish a registry of service members and veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan into law.

"Today we celebrate the conclusion of our bipartisan effort to improve the health and well-being of our veterans," Udall said, "This is a victory for our men and women in uniform across the globe, and I am proud to say it was made possible by the strong advocacy of Master Sergeant Jessey and Maria Baca of New Mexico," Udall said. "Just as our veterans have answered the call of duty for our country, we have answered their call for better information and today brings us closer to insuring this special population receives the care and treatment they deserve."

Udall and Corker's Burn Pits Registry Act was included as part of a larger veterans package, S. 3202, the "Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012," which passed the Senate and House in late December 2012.

The bill will create a registry similar to the Agent Orange and Gulf War registries to help patients, doctors and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determine to what extent air pollution caused by open air burn pits has led to medical diseases among service members.

In 2011, Udall and Corker introduced S, 1798, the Burn Pits Registry Act, with cosponsors Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

All five members of New Mexico's congressional delegation also supported the measure in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Udall began work on this legislation after meeting MSgt Jessey Baca and his wife Maria of Albuquerque, who detailed Jessey's battle with cancer, chronic bronchiolitis, chemical induced asthma, brain lesions, TBI, PTSD and numerous other ailments believed to have been caused by exposure to burn pits in Iraq.

Earlier this year, Udall testified before a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the legislation and mentioned the work of the Bacas, who had traveled from New Mexico to attend the hearing. Video of the Senator Udall testifying before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is available
here and a photo of Udall with the Bacas here.

As early as 2002, U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq began to rely on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials. The U.S. Department of Defense and numerous contractors made frequent use of burn pits at a number of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force and the American Lung Association have confirmed the dangers posed by burn pits, and veterans and their families have reached out to Congress for action.

Creating a burn pits registry was supported by numerous groups, including Burn Pits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Retired Enlisted Association, the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees and the National Military Family Association.
Summary of the Open Burn Pits Registry:
  • Establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for those individuals who may have been exposed during their military service;
  • Include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines applicable to possible health effects of this exposure;
  • Develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the registry; and
  • Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.
Timeline of the Open Burn Pits Registry:
  • November 3, 2011: Udall, Corker & six co-sponsors introduce S. 1798, the Open Burn Pits Registry Act.
  • June 13, 2012: Udall testifies before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in support of the Act.
  • September 12, 2012: The Act is included in a larger veterans package, S. 3340, the Mental Health Access to Continued Care and Enhancement of Support Services bill, which the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee passes unanimously.
  • December 19, 2012: The Act is included in an alternative veterans package, S. 3202, the "Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, which passes the full Senate unanimously.
  • December 30, 2012: The U.S. House of Representatives passes S. 3202 unanimously.
  • January 10, 2013: President Obama signs S. 3202, which includes the Open Burn Pits Registry Act language.
Again, Senator Tom Udall.  That was my huge mistake.  My apologies.

Iraq is yet again slammed with violence today in what has already been a very violent month.  Iraq Body Count counts 165 people dead from violence in Iraq this month through Wednesday.  165 killed in 16 days which is a little over 10 deaths every day.  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) counts at least 26 dead while Press TV points out, "The latest wave of violence comes only a day after 40 people were killed and over 200 others wounded in a spate of terrorist attacks across the country."  The Washington Post's Liz Sly offered this pespective in a Tweet.
BBC News notes 4 dead in a Hilla bombing. Alsumaria adds that seven were injured and they note the bombing as Babel.  (It's the same area and dependent upon whether you're using the Babylon reference.) Following the bombing, Alsumaria reports, protesters gathered outside the police station and demanded the resignation of the police director.  Ahlul Bayt News Agency notes a Karbala car bombing that claimed the lives of 4 Shi'ite pilgrims with another twelve injured. Lu Hui (Xinhua) reports that7 people are dead and over 25 injured as a result of 2 car bombings in al-Dujail (Salahuddin Province) with the first bomb allegedly being used to attract a crowd in the immediate aftermath and the second bomb going off after the crowd was present attempting to provide aid.  AP notes that the death toll from those two car bombings has already risen to 11 and that the injured now stands at sixty.  The UK Express reports a Qassim car bombing which claimed 5 lives and left twenty injured and a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left two people injured.
In addition, Alsumaria reports that a Baghdad truck driver was targeted with a sticky bombing attached to his truck which left him injured, that a Baquba car bombing has left more than one person injured, and Sahwa continues to be targeted with three homes sustaining damage in Kirkuk today (villages of Arafa Hawija, Alamadhorih and Akolh) from bombingsAll Iraq News notes Col Khaled al-Hamdani, former Director General of Nineveh Province, has disclosed he survived an assassination attempt today when a bombing targeted his convoy as it went through Mosul.  All Iraq News also reports a Mousl car bombing which left four people wounded.
Tuesday, Wednesday and today all found the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issuing statements condemening the mass violence.   UPI notes today the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler stated, "I am particularly alarmed that attacks in disputed internal areas further aggravate the tensions there."  And he's not the only one expressing alarm.  Kitabat reports that Kurdistan Regional Government's President Massoud Barzani has declared he fears that Iraq is edging ever closer to a civil war.  In addition, the KRG website notes that he met with KRG opposition party leaders in Erbil today to discuss the various crises and how to maintain untiy as a nation.  The KRG is a semi-autonomous region of Iraq.  Hurriyet Daily News notes Turkey is also concerned with the violence and quotes the Turkish Foreign Ministry stating, "We fiercely condemn terror attacks on different targets, including the bureaus of the KDP and KYB."
Mohammed Tawfeeq and Mark Morgenstein (CNN) explain, "The uptick in violence has coincided with three weeks of demonstrations in Sunni provinces, including Anbar and Mosul, with protesters demanding that the Shiite-led government stop what they call second-class treatment of Iraq's Sunni community."  Ross Caputi (Guardian) offers one of the best analysis of the protests to date:
For a century, there has not been a single generation of Iraqis unfamiliar with struggle. Yet, this last decade has undoubtedly been the worst Iraq has ever experienced. No one in Iraq has not suffered loss. The widows, orphans, and survivors carry on through grief and trauma. During these bleak days, it would be understandable if Iraqis chose to give up, accept the inadequate government that has been imposed on them, and focus on getting through the day. It would be understandable of any people who have suffered as they have.
Instead, Iraqis have chosen to fight for better days. This choice, to commit such energy, day after day, for 21 days, to put their bodies on the line in protest against injustices, after they have experienced so much loss, grief, and trauma is, well, inspiring.
There have been sporadic protests throughout Iraq ever since the Arab spring began in 2010. But Iraqi government forces, trained and armed by the US, have violently suppressed them, sometimes firing into unarmed crowds. Thus, large-scale protests, like those we saw in Egypt and Tunisia, never got off the ground in Iraq.
These recent protests, however, are unique in their size and character. They focus on the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, accusing him of corruption, brutal repression, and sectarianism. Maliki's regime has military support from the US, and thus the protesters consider it the "second face" of the occupation.
Alsumaria notes that MP Jawad Alshahyla (with Moqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc) states that he believes they are getting close to voting on limiting the three presidencies to two terms. The three presidencies are the President of Iraq, the Prime Minister of Iraq and the Speaker of the Parliament. The Constitution already limits the President of Iraq to two terms. The concern here is Nouri al-Maliki who swore in February 2011 that he would not seek a third term but quickly pulled that promise. Iraq may not survive two full terms of Nouri. A third is very frightening.  He is Little Saddam.  The editorial board of Lebanon's Daily Star points out:
While Iraq's security situation deteriorates, it is being led by an administration that has a mini-Saddam Hussein in the making, a state of affairs which is so far dangerously unchecked.
Yet this regime is little more than a puppet for its bigger neighbor, Iran. And if Iran is sanctioning the current path Maliki is set on, then it is shooting itself in the foot.
Iran is already involved in events in Syria, while suffering from sanctions and the consequences of being the region's black sheep. It is also confronting its own internal challenges to power. It is therefore within its own interests to rein in Maliki.
Iraqi people of all sects have had enough. This is a country with colossal potential wealth that should be spent on the welfare of its people.
If Maliki and his leadership insist on continuing in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein, it will be down to the political forces of both sides who actually believe in the future of a unified Iraq to insist the government change its approach and address national issues.


And as this disaster builds, the US government continues to arm Nouri -- despite years of outcry and warning from KRG President Massoud Barzani.   The World Tribune notes that Iraq just received their "sixth delivery of the Bell0497s [combat helicopters] since 2010" and that "The U.S. Army has overseen the delivery of the Bell-407 helicopter for the Iraqi Air Force."
The Bell 407 integrates reliability, speed, performance, and maneuverability with a cabin configurable for an array of missions and payloads. Its Rolls Royce 250-C47B turbine FADEC engine delivers exceptional hot & high performance with the ability to cruise at 140 knots (259 km/hr). The 407's spacious cabin seats up to five passengers in wide-open club-passenger seating and can be reconfigured to accommodate any number of tasks and payloads.
For added passenger comfort, the Bell 407 also provides a very quiet and smooth ride in virtually all weather conditions. In addition to offering outstanding product features, the 407 is backed by Bell's renowned in-service support, voted #1 by our customers for seventeen years running. The Bell 407 is proof that you don't have to sacrifice comfort for performance.
And the helicopters have these features:
Superb hot & high performance delivered by an 813 shp FADEC-controlled Rolls-Royce 250-C47B turbine engine

All-Composite four bladed main rotor system with "soft-in-plane" hub for excellent ride quality

Safety features include a rupture resistant fuel system, engine exceedence monitoring and a collective mounted throttle that keeps power at the pilot's fingertips

Seating capacity 1 + 6 (single pilot)

Supported by Bell Helicopter's #1 ranked Customer Support and Services
Those sound like interesting features but the military hardware?  As    Kenneth Kesner (Huntsville Times) explained in November 2009, the US military is in charge of adding that ("electronics, sensors, guns, rockets, armor and more") to the helicopters, "It will be the first time the Army has created and designed an aircraft, integrating existing components to produce a unique final product, said retired Brig. Gen. E.J. Sinclair, chief operating officer of SES in Huntsville."
Again, Barzani has called this out and asked the US government to stop providing arms at present because they could be used on the Iraqi people by Little Saddam in order for him to continue to hold on to power.
KRG President Massoud Barzani:  Iraq is facing a serious crisis today. Yesterday, we have discussed that very frankly with the President, the Vice President and it's going to one-man rule. It's going towards control of all the establishments of state. So we have got a situation or we ended up having a situation in Baghdad where one individual is the Prime Minister and at the same time he's the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he's the Minister of Defense, he's the Minister of the Interior and the Chief of the Intelligence and lately he has sent a correspondence to the president of the Central Bank in Iraq that that establishment would also come under the Prime Minister.  Where in the world would you find such an example?
He could have made those remarks today.  However, he made them April 4, 2012 while speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (see the April 5th and April 6th snapshots).   In addition to the protests in Iraq, the Yemen Post reports that "hundreds" of Iraqis participated in a demonstration and sit-in outside the Iraqi Embassy calling for the immediate resignation of Nouri al-Maliki. 
As violence slams Iraq repeatedly this week, All Iraq News notes today that it is now one month since Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had his stroke and that cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement wishing Talabani a speedy and full recovery.  Late on the evening of December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot), President Jalal Talibani had a stroke and was admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany's Charite University Hospital.  He remains in Germany currently.  Al Mada reported last week that Fuad Masum of the Kurdistan Alliance states he visited with Jalal yesterday and that he is "steadily improving" that Jalal was able to shake hands, that he listened and spoke -- and spoke to those in the room in Kurdish, Arabic and English.  Rightly or wrongly, there is a feeling that were Jalal in Iraq and at full health, some of Nouri's stunts this month would not be taking place.



Al Mada reports that the religious authority in Najaf is calling for a change in the governing of Iraq and is stating that if Nouri can change, great, if not, he needs to be replaced.  An unnamed source states that the religious authoirty is calling for Nouri to agree not to seek a third term, for him to implement the Erbil Agreement in full and for him to stop manipulating the judiciary.   The Erbil Agreement was a US brokered contract.  Eight months after his State of Law came in second in the Parliamentary elections, Nouri refused to step aside creating what was dubbed Political Stalemate.  The Erbil Agreement -- which the US government pushed and swore was a legally binding contract that they would stand behind -- ended the stalemate by granting Nouri a second term in exchange for certain trade offs.  But Nouri used the contract to get his second term and then trashed it, refusing to honor the promises he'd made.  Again, April 5, 2012, KRG President Masoud Barzani spoke of this issue.
President Massoud Barzani: As far as the second part of your question, the Erbil Agreement.  In fact, the agreement was not only for the sake of forming the government and forming the three presidencies -- the presidency, the Speakership of Parliament and premier.  In fact, it was a package -- a package that included a number of essential items.  First, to put in place a general partnership in the country.  Second, commitment to the Constitution and its implementation, the issue of fedarlism, the return of balance of power and especially in all the state institutions,the establishment in [. . .] mainly in the armed forces and the security forces, the hydrocarbons law, the Article 140 of the Constitution, the status of the pesh merga.  These were all part of the package that had been there.  Had this Erbil Agreement been implemented, we would not have faced the situation that we are in today.  Therefore, if we do not implement the Erbil Agreement then there would certainly be problems in Iraq.
Nouri still hasn't held up his part of the bargain and now, Reuters reports, he's looking to cause even more tensions between Baghdad and the KRG:
Iraq plans tough measures against the country's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) region and foreign oil companies working there , including Turkey-based Genel Energy, to stop "illegal" crude exports in an escalation of its standoff with the autonomous enclave, the oil minister said in an interview on Jan.16.
Oil exports and contracts are at the heart of a wider dispute over territory, oilfields and political autonomy between the central govrenment in Baghdad and te autonomous KRG in the north.
Kitabat reports that Iraqi Minister of Oil Abdul Karim was bragging that he was about to take strong measures against the KRG over their oil exports and other oil issues.
The oil issue.  As we've pointed out before, Nouri signed a promise (with the White House) to pass an oil and gas law back in 2007.  It's never happened.  That's not the Kurds fault.  Unless and until a new law comes into place that overrides the current one, they are well within their rights to operate under existing law.  That is what they are doing.  We'll note a healthy portion of a press release on this topic that the KRG issued today but we don't have space for the full press release.  To read in full, it, click here.  Here's the press release (not in bold print because that's going to throw off our margins here at this site):
The Kurdistan Regional Government is proud of the achievements of its oil and gas industry since the fall of the former regime in 2003.
It expects the federal government of Iraq to be proud of them, too.
Since oil exports from the Region started in 2009, billions of dollars have flowed into Iraq's treasury from fields in Kurdistan that have been explored, discovered and developed under the KRG's modern, progressive and investor-friendly petroleum regime.
All this has been achieved by attracting world-class companies to the Region with minimal financial risk to the Iraqi state.
One would think that federal officials in Baghdad would embrace the progress made in the Kurdistan Region and value the contribution to the nation's wealth.
One would think that federal officials would recognize the use of the Regions' natural gas to provide electricity to its people and those of hard-pressed neighbouring provinces.
One would think that federal authorities would applaud the KRGs plans to create a northern energy corridor for Iraq, whereby up to 3 million barrels a day could soon be flowing through the north of Iraq to Turkey and international markets beyond, and the revenues are shared by all Iraqis.
It is disappointing, therefore, to learn that the federal oil minister in Baghdad has taken it upon himself to air to an international news agency a number of hostile political opinions about the KRG and its prudent and constitutionally sound management of the natural resources that lie within the territory it administers.
In a series of ill-judged remarks to Reuters, the federal minister of oil:
  • threatens to cut the KRG's share of the federal budget;
  • threatens companies active in Kurdistan for pursuing their legal right under the PSCs to market the oil and gas that they have discovered;
  • threatens other companies for exercising their legal right to explore for oil and gas;
  • appears to incite violence in the disputed territories;
  • accuses the KRG of oil "smuggling" and "trafficking".

In addition, he reveals details of an illegal and unconstitutional plan to allegedly allow BP to enhance the recovery of some of the depleted fields in Kirkuk (a disputed territory under Article 140) without consulting and obtaining approval of the other parties to the dispute.

COOPERATION NOT CONFRONTATION

Iraq's citizens are simply tired of this sort of language of threat and intimidation, which in the cynical pursuit of narrow political agendas serves only to create division and strife.
The minister does not even speak for the whole federal government. Such remarks reflect a lack of respect for the Constitution of Iraq and also for the people of Kurdistan. They represent a degree of panic and desperation. It would appear the overriding philosophy is that if your own policies have failed, lash out and blame others.
Good governance and the delivery of essential services are what should matter to the state's senior officials, not the accumulation of power for powers' sake.
Citizens of Iraq know all too well the dangers of allowing the country's abundant oil and gas resources, and its revenues, to fall under the control of a handful of misguided people in Baghdad.
The country will only thrive on a diet of cooperation and coordination, not on confrontation. That is what the basic law of the land, the Constitution, demands.

LEGAL ISSUES

In terms of oil and gas management, the KRG firmly believes in, and abides by, the letter and spirit of Iraq's permanent, federal Constitution, which was ratified by the majority of Iraqi people in a nationwide referendum in 2005.
The federal Constitution gives primacy to regional law except in areas listed under the exclusive powers of the federal authorities. Oil and gas are not listed under the exclusive powers of the federal government.
All oil contracts in the Region fall within the KRG oil and gas law, debated and passed by the Kurdistan parliament in 2007 and fully in line with the relevant provisions of the permanent Constitution.
The Constitution not only outlines the current and future roles for federal and regional powers in the management of Iraq's oil and gas, it endorses past authorities as well.
There were oil and gas contracts with the KRG entered into before the coming into force of the Constitution and providing for future exploration, appraisal, and potentially, production.
Under Article 141, all such contracts entered into by Kurdistan since 1992 are considered valid in accordance with their terms.
Under the Constitution, all non-producing fields (at the time of its writing) fall under the sole power of the regions and governorates and therefore contracts were signed between the KRG and the IOCs.
Neither the federal government nor the federal oil minister is a party to these contracts, so the Minister has no jurisdiction to take any legal action against PSC holders.
The Production Sharing Contracts in the Kurdistan Region have been a great success for Iraq. They have meant that an estimated 45 billion barrels of oil and 3-6 tcm of gas can be added to Iraq's total reserve figures.

KIRKUK LICENSES

The alleged agreement with BP on a plan to reverse the decline of oilfields of Kirkuk is another unconstitutional and illegal move announced by the minister. According to Article 112 of the Constitution:
The federal government, with the producing governorates and regional governments, shall undertake the management of oil and gas extracted from present fields, provided that it distributes its revenues in a fair manner… and this shall be regulated by a law.
The term "present fields" refers to fields already under production at the date of the Constitution (October 2005). Kirkuk is one such field.
The management of the Kirkuk field therefore must be undertaken by the federal authorities, the governorate, and because it is part of the process outlined under Article 140, the KRG. 
Because none of this has happened, the federal oil minister cannot act unilaterally, and no wise company would make itself a party to such a dispute.
The federal oil minister makes threatening noises about violence in the disputed territories.