Saturday, January 19, 2013

On reading . . .

First up, a few e-mails came in regarding my decision to take off work to finish reading a book.

What sort of message does this send to my children?  And four of you were worried about me with e-mails asking if I should confess that online?

For the four concerned about me, thank you.  But I'm fine.  I have been with my job forever.  First in Atlanta, now here in California.  I don't mean to imply I have 'tenure.'  There's no such thing in the world of business.  But what I do have are vacation hours (and a separate account for sick leave).  On vacation, I am at the max.  Every two weeks, I now need to take 8 hours or I lose them.   If I had been able to take the two weeks off for Christmas like I planned -- too many were taking time off -- I wouldn't be in this problem.  But this does happen to many people and, at my company, what you do is take 'personal days' to ensure you don't lose your time.

Do I have a meeting that day?  If not, I can use a personal day with no problem at all.

It's not a sick day (that's a separate account), it's from my vacation days. 

So I grab a day every two weeks to ensure I don't lose my vacation days.  I could cure that by taking a vacation.  But I wouldn't be able to go anywhere for a week or two if I left my kids.  I'd be worried about them.  When they spent 2 weeks with their grandparents in Atlanta this summer, I was worried.  It has nothing to do with trust of them or whomever is watching them. 

So that's what's going on job wise, I do appreciate the concern (that's not sarcasm).

In terms of the people asking about the example I just set for my children? 

I can't think of a better example.  I was enthralled with a great book.  My children were raised to be readers.  That means I don't read to them now, they're all too old.  But I do still need to model behavior.  And I proudly told them I wasn't going into work because I was using a personal day to finish this amazing book I was reading. 

For those concerned about the example, you'd prefer I use a personal day to nurse a hangover?  I'm not exactly seeing how reading is harmful, sorry.

The book was wonderful, Jojo Moyes' "Me Before You."  I loved Lou (main character), I loved Will (the man she goes to work for).  I loved every page of this book.  I would strongly urge you to read it if you like novels.


"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Friday, January 18, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, Nouri's forces attack Mosul protesters again, Nouri's groupies outside of Iraq will need to figure out how to stop Toby Dodge's truth-telling, and more.
 
The Iraqi people grow ever more disenchanted with the government the United States imposed upon it (Nouri was installed in 2006 by the Bush administration, in 2010 the Obama administration insisted Nouri get a second term as prime minister).  Freedom House is a think tank that studies human rights around the world.  Each year, Freedom House publishes a look at journalism around the world and they publish a look at freedom around the world.  It's time for the latter, [PDF format warning] "Freedom in the World 2013."  The report notes:
 
Iraq's political rights rating declined due to the concentration of power in the hands of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and growing pressure on the opposition, as exemplified by the arrest and death sentence in absentia of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the country's most senior Sunni Arab politician. 
 
Iraq is ranked "not free" in the report.  It has declined from last year's report (when its political rights rating was 5 to the new rating of 6).
 
Protests continued in Iraq and, the Journal of Turkish Weekly points out, they "show no sign of stopping.  For three weeks, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in prominently Sunni provinces to shout against the government led by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki."  .  Alsumaria reports thousands (check out the photo with the article) turned out today in Salah al-Din to demand that Article IV ('terrorism' law) be abolished and that an amnesty law be adopted.  A sizeable turnout showed up in Hawija as well, Alsumaria notes, and they were out in full force in solidarity with demonstrators in Nineveh, Salahuddin and Anbar. They demanded that the protesters be listened to, that prisoners and detainees be released.

The prisoners.  Over 18,000 -- and possibly over 30,000 -- prisoners in Iraq were arrested on 'terrorism' under Article IV.   Al Mada reports that Wednesday members of Parliament called for a real release and not the for-show stunt Nouri executed earlier this week (which the press lapped up like well-trained dogs).  The for-show stunt was an attempt to defuse the protests.  As turnout today is proving, that didn't work on anyone except some elements of the press.
AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets this morning:
 
Pictures from today's protests in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Ramadi, and Samarra by @AFP photographers: http://bit.ly/UVkBAQ  #Iraq
 
  1. Thousands rally in Sunni-majority areas of #Iraq, calling for Maliki to go: http://bit.ly/WddGUM  Pix: http://bit.ly/Wddrcp  @AFP
  2. .@AFP pictures of today's demonstrations in Baghdad, including a couple by yours truly: http://bit.ly/Wddrcp 


AAP notes that protesters turned out in Baghdad, Samarra and Mosul.  In Baghdad they shouted "We don't want committees, we want our rights!" and "Release the prisoners!" while in Samarra they chanted, "They have made promises before, and they made promises yesterday, but let them hear -- we will stay, protesting, until we get our rights."  Next Friday is the day to watch for the protests in Iraq.  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) observes that this was the fourth consecutive Friday of protests and that, though they were primarily on Anbar Province in the past, "on Friday, they spread to the central city of Samarra and other Sunni strongholds."
 
 
The Voice of Russia notes security forces kicked protesters out of the central square in Mosul. Despite this assualt, Alsumaria notes that Iraqis continued protesting elsewhere in Mosul.  Nouri's forces attacked the Mosul protesters earlier this month.  From the January 7th snapshot:
Protests continued today in Iraq and they [the protesters] were injured in Mosul.  All Iraq News reports the Iraqi military attacked the protesters today.  First they fired shots in the air and second they attacked the protesters with batons.  The army then closed the public square.  Alsumaria countsAl Sharqiya reports that soldiers using batons beat protesters.   They add that they protesters had been taking part in a sit-in when the miliatry attacked with batons and at least three people were injured (they have a photo of at least two people on stretchers).   Reuters quotes Nineveh Province Governor Atheel (Ethel) al-Nujaifi declaring, "Security forces opened fire and used batons to disperse demonstrators."  This assault was in contrast to the wishes of the Nineveh government (Mosul is in Nineveh Province).  As Alsumaria notes, the provincial government had ordered that the square be open to the protesters.  Alsumaria notes that Nineveh Council has announced they are opening an investigation as a result of the military crackdown on the protesters.  
 
 
On that attack,  Aswat al-Iraq reports today:


 
The Parliamentary committee entrusted to investigate the aggression against Mosul demonstrators expressed conviction that aggressive actions were committed against them by the security force.
Member of the committee MP Hassan Khala Alou, in a press conference, attended by Aswat al-Iraq, said that the committee met a number of demonstrators who were attacked by the security forces on 7 January instant and saw films that proved these actions.
He added that the security force entrusted for the protection of Ahrar square did not respond for the investigation under the pretext of waiting permission from Baghdad.



In related news, Kitabat notes Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistanti favors limiting the three presidencies to two terms.  The Constitution limits the President of Iraq to two terms.  The other two of the three presidencies are Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister.  The Parliament is currently discussing a proposed bill.
 
 
Why the protests now?  For narrative reasons, some want their to be a single incident that kicked them off.  That's rarely the case with any protest and it's not the case with the ones going on in Iraq.  There are mulitple reasons for the protests.  Wadah Khanfar (Guardian) captures recent events very well:
 
Iraq is much more polarised now than it was under Saddam Hussein. The bitterness and retribution of the civil war that followed the US occupation are still etched on people's minds. The regional and international rivalry for its rich oil resources is now greater than ever. Corruption is rife: today, Iraq is classified by Transparency International as being among the most corrupt countries in the world. In this oil-producing country already basic services and poor infrastructure are continuing to decline.
At a time when democratic leadership is needed to heal sectarian wounds and entrench national reconciliation, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has instead established an autocratic single-sect powerbase. By so doing, he has plunged Baghdad into a deep crisis, which has escalated in recent weeks with thousands taking to the streets in Sunni areas to protest against his Shia-led government.
In the 2010 elections, Iraqiya, a national, non-sectarian coalition, won 91 seats and gained a parliamentary majority, with two seats more than Maliki's State of Law coalition. But Iranian pressure ensured that Maliki emerged as the prime minister.
A power-sharing agreement followed but, two years on, Maliki has failed to stick to it. He now holds all the power in Baghdad: he is prime minister, defence minister, acting interior minister, acting head of intelligence, and chief of the armed forces. Moreover, his partners accuse him of using the judiciary to eliminate political rivals. That has prompted Interpol to issue a memorandum of non-co-operation with Iraq's judiciary (citing its partiality, politicisation and the use of its office to pressure political rivals).
Under Iraq's anti-terrorism law, the authorities can detain and prosecute a suspect on the basis of secret evidence. The most prominent case is that of Tariq al-Hashemi, the vice-president, who was sentenced to death by a court in absentia. Many people regard the charge of terrorism against him as fabricated. Then, last December, security forces arrested several guards and advisers of the minister of finance and leader of the Iraqi National Movement, Rafi al-Issawi. Issawi accused the police of torturing detainees to extract confessions against him. This caused anger among the Sunnis in Anbar province and was in fact the spark that lit the current protests.
 
Along with protests, this week also saw the assassination of Sahwa leader, Iraqiya member and Sunni Aifan al-Issawi  Jaber Ali (Middle East Confidential) offers, "The assassination arrived in a really critical moment since the country has been in political turmoil because of a long lasting protest mostly led by Sunnis that have been going on for weeks. In addition, Iraqiya, the country's largely Sunni bloc of lawmakers have decided to boycott Parliament sessions until the government agrees to organize proper security. Their main demand that is also backed up by senior opposition politicians is that Mr. Maliki resigns from his actual position."
 
Nouri is Little Saddam.  That point resonates throughout Toby Dodge's new book Iraq: From  War To A New Authoritarianism.   Dodge is a British political scientist and a member of the International Institute for Strategic StudiesJanuary 15th, he discussed his book at the Virginia Woolf Room at Bloomsbury House in London.  Excerpt.
 
Toby Dodge:  And I've identified three drivers of the violence that killed so many innocent Iraqis.  The first is undoubtedly the sectarian politics and those Iraqis among us will remember -- fondly or otherwise -- the huge debates that Iraqis had and Iraqi analysts had about the role of sectarian politics.  I'd certainly identify what we could call a series of ethinic entrapenuers, formerly exiled politicans who came back to Iraq after 2003 and specifically and overtly used religious and sectarian identity, religious ethnic identity to mobilize the population -- especially in those two elections in 2005.  Now the second driver of Iraq's descent into civil war was the collapse of the Iraqi state in the aftermath of the invasion  Now this isn't only the infamous disbanding of the Iraqi army and its intelligence services, this isn't only the driving out of the senior ranks of the if tge Ba'ath Party members, the dismembering of the state, 18 of the central government buildings were stripped when I was there in 2003 in Baghdad.  So much scrap metal was stolen from government buildings that the scrap metal price in Turkey Iraq and Iran, it's neighbors dropped as a result of the ill-gotten gain of the looters  was shipped out of the country.  But thirdly, the big issue that drove Iraq into civil war was the political system set up after 2003.  I've gone into that in quite a lot of detail and I've labeled it -- much to the horror of my editor -- an exclusive elite pact -- which basically meant that those former Iraqi exiles empowered by the United States then set up a political system that  deliberately excluded a great deal of the indigeanous politicians -- but anyone associated, thought to be associated with the previous regime, in a kind of blanket attempt to remake Iraqi politics.  Now the conclusions of the book are broadly sobering and pessimistic.  That certainly the elite pact has not been reformed in spite of Iraqiya's electoral victory in the 2010 elections, that sectarian politics and sectarian rhetoric that mobilized Iraqi politics from 2003 to 2010 has come back into fashion with the prime minister himself using coded sectarian language to seek to solidify his electoral base among Iraqis.  And basically the only thing that has been rebuilt since 2003 are Iraq's military and they now employ 933,000 people which is equal to 8% of the country's entire workforce or 12% of the population of adutl males.  However, running parallel to that, the civilian capacity of the Iraqi state is still woefully inadequate.  In 2011, the United Nations estimated that there only 16% of the population were covered by the public sewers network, that leaves 83% of the country's waste water untreated, 25% of the population has no access to clean, running water and the Iraqi Knowledge Network in 2011 estimated that an average Iraqi household only gets 7 and a half hours of electricity a day. Now in the middle of the winter, that might not seem like a big issue.  But in the burning hot heat of Basra in the summer  or, indeed, in Baghdad, Iraq has suffered  a series of heatwaves over the last few years.  Not getting enough elecriticy to make your fan or air conditioning work means that you're in a living hell.   This is in spite of the fact that the Iraqi and US governments have collectively spent $200 billion seeking to rebuild the Iraqi state. So I think the conclusions of the Adelphi are rather pessimistic.  The Iraqi state, it's coercive arm, has been rebuilt but precious little beside that has.  But what I want to do is look, this afternoon, is look at the ramifications of that rather slude rebuilding -- a large powerful army and a weak civil institutions of the state.  And I thought I might exemplify this by examining a single signficant event that occurred on the afternoon of Thursday the 20th of December 2012.  That afternoon, government security forces raided the house of Iraq's Minister of Finance, Dr. Rafaa al-Issawi.  Issawi is a leading member of the Iraqiya coalition that in 2010 won a slim majority of seats in the Iraqi Parliament -- 91 to [State of Law's] 89 on a 62% turnout.  Now the ramifications of attempting to arrest Issawi and indeed arresting a number of his bodyguards and prosecuting his chief bodyguard for alleged terrorist offenses cannot be overstated.  In the aftermath of the elections, there were a series of tortured, fractured, very bad tempered negotiations which finally resulted in the creation of another government of national unity and, much more importantly, let Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister since 2006, to retain the office of the prime ministership.  Issawi as MInister of Finance is probably the most important, most powerful Iraqiya politician to gain office in the country.  He won plaudits in his professional handling of the Ministry of Finance and attempted to push himself above the political fray not to engage in the rather aggressive, knockabout political rhetoric that has come to identify Iraqi politics.  So in arresting or seeking the arrest of Issawi and charging him with offenses of terrorism, clearly what Prime Minister al-Maliki is doing is throwing down a gauntlet, attempting to seize further power and bring it into the office of the prime minister.  Issawi, when his house was raided, rang the prime minister to ask him who had authorized it -- a call the prime minister refused to take.  He [Issawi] then fled seeking sanctuary in the house of the Speaker of Parliament, a fellow Iraqiya politician, Osama al-Nujaifi.  He then held a press conference where he said -- and this is a politician not prone to wild rhetoric, not prone to political populism -- he said, "Maliki now wants to just get rid of his partners, to build a dictatorship.  He wants to consolidate power more and more."  Now if this wasn't so disturbing, the attack on Issawi's house triggers memories of a very similar event almost 12 months before, on the same day that the final American troops left Iraq in December 2011, Iraqi security forces led by the prime minister's son laid seige to Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's house.  Hashemi was subsequently allowed to leave to the Kurdish Regional Government's capital of Erbil but a number of his bodyguards were arrested, two of them were tortured to death and the rest of them were paraded on television where they 'confessed' to activities of terrorism.  So basically now let me turn to explain what the raid on Issawi's house in December 2012 is representative of -- what I've called in the book, the rise of the new authoritarianism.  And this authoritarianism has been driven forward by Nouri al-Maliki  who was first appointed prime minister in the early months of 2006.  Now quite fascinatingly why Nouri al-Maliki was appointed was at the time he was seen as a grey politician.  He was the second in command of the Islamic Dawa Party -- a party that was seeking to maximize the vote of Iraq's Shia popluation but a party that had no internal militia, that had no military force of its own.  So it was seen by the competing, fractured ruling elite of Iraq as not posing a threat.  Now upon  taking office in April 2006, Maliki was confronted by the very issue that had given rise to his appointment, his inability to govern.  Under the Iraqi system in 2006, the office of the prime minister was seen as a consensus vehicle.  Maliki was sought to negotiate between the US Ambassador, the American head of the Multi National Coalition and other Iraqi politicians.  He wasn't seen as a first among equals.  What Maliki has done since 2006,  is successfully consolidate power in his own hands.  He first seized control of the Islamic Dawa Party, his own party, and then he built up a small and cohesive group of functionaries, known in Iraq as the Malikiyoun  -- a group of people, friends, followers, but also his family, his son, his nephew and his son-in-law and he's placed them in key points across the Iraqi state, seeking to circumvent the Cabinet -- the official vestibule of power in the Iraqi state -- and seize control of Iraq's institutions.
 
If you're not frightened for the Iraqi people, you're not paying attention.  If you're an American, you're being strongly encouraged not to pay attention by the US government that screwed up and destroyed the country of Iraq and by a guilty US press that sold the illegal war, has blood on its hands and doesn't have any desire to get honest about the realities in Iraq today.
 
 

Turning to the US where Bradley Manning has spent his 970th day behind bars, still waiting for a trial.   Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea and has neither affirmed that he is the leaker nor denied it. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. 
 
 
 
HARI SREENIVASAN:  And joining me now to talk about it is Arun Rath of PBS' "Frontline" and PRI's "The World."  He has been covering the Manning case from the beginning. 
So, Arun, this is sort of what sets the ground rules for what will happen in the trial, right?

ARUN RATH, "Frontline":  Yes.
Basically, in these hearings, these pretrial hearings, they're basically arguing about the kind of arguments they can make in court, the parameters of the sort of arguments that Bradley Manning and his defense can make in terms of defending themselves against these charges. 
What's a little bit unusual about the hearings that we have been seeing so far is that they have turned into more of a bit of a dress rehearsal for the trial itself and for what might be his sentencing, actually, because his attorneys have already essentially admitted in their court -- in their pleadings so far that Bradley Manning is responsible for the leaks. 
So it's changed from a situation of the trial being did he really do it to, yes, he did, but here are the reasons why we think it doesn't rise to the level of being a crime.  
 
[. . .]
 
HARI SREENIVASAN:  OK.  You have been in court.  You have had the chance to see Bradley Manning a few weeks ago.  What does he look like?  And what impresses you about him?

ARUN RATH:  I have say, of all the people that have been called to the stand, Bradley Manning came across as the most appealing witness. 
He was, I wouldn't say charming -- it's not sort of a traditional charisma, but there's something about the fact that he's a young, kind of geeky kid.  He's a little bit awkward.  And he comes across as a sympathetic character.  He was talking about the ways in which he was held in Quantico in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. 
And he talked about this peculiar kind of a classic catch-22 situation, where he would do these things during the day to keep himself scene, like talking to himself in a mirror or dancing in his cell, as a way to break the tedium to keep himself sane, and at the same time these things were used as evidence against him as evidence that he was actually mentally unstable.
  
 
Finally, let's switch over to England where certain sections of the Socialist Workers Party is in the midst of a major panic as they attempt to deny violence against women. (Elaine wrote of this earlier this week and did a great job.)  What has happened in England has happened a lot and to happen at all is too much.  For example, I will not be promoting any damn thing Eve Ensler and her talking vagina does.  Friends keep asking.  Not interested.  She stayed silent as one woman after another was attacked.  Now the woman wants to use 'girl power' again to promote herself.  You want to stop rape?  Stop the attacks on women who come forward to report rape.  Eve Ensler couldn't go against her radical buddies and speak out so she's of no use to anyone.  In England, Laurie Penny's taking on a very important issue.  From her ZNet piece:
 
The British Socialist Worker's Party is hardly atypical among political parties, among left-wing groups, among organisations of committed people or, indeed, among groups of friends and colleagues in having structures in place that might allow sexual abuse and misogyny by men in positions of power to continue unchecked. One could point, in the past 12 months alone, to the BBC's handling of the Jimmy Savile case, or to those Wikileaks supporters who believe that Julian Assange should not be compelled to answer allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden.
I could point, personally, to at least two instances involving respected men that have sundered painfully and forever friendship groups which lacked the courage to acknowledge the incidents. The only difference is that the SWP actually talk openly about the unspoken rules by which this sort of intimidation usually goes on. Other groups are not so brazen as to say that their moral struggles are simply more important than piffling issues of feminism, even if that's what they really mean, nor to claim that as right-thinking people they and their leaders are above the law. The SWP's leadership seem to have written it into their rules.
To say that the left has a problem with handling sexual violence is not to imply that everyone else doesn't. There is, however, a stubborn refusal to accept and deal with rape culture that is unique to the left and to progressives more broadly. It is precisely to do with the idea that, by virtue of being progressive, by virtue of fighting for equality and social justice, by virtue of, well, virtue, we are somehow above being held personally accountable when it comes to issues of race, gender and sexual violence.
That unwillingness to analyse our own behaviour can quickly become dogma. The image is one of petty, nitpicking women attempting to derail the good work of decent men on the left by insisting in their whiny little women's way that progressive spaces should also be spaces where we don't expect to get raped and assaulted and slut-shamed and victimised for speaking out, and the emotions are rage and resentment: why should our pure and perfect struggle for class war, for transparency, for freedom from censorship be polluted by - it's pronounced with a curl of the upper lip over the teeth, as if the very word is distasteful - 'identity politics'? Why should we be held more accountable than common-or-garden bigots? Why should we be held to higher standards?
Because if we're not, then we have no business calling ourselves progressive. Because if we don't acknowledge issues of assault, abuse and gender hierarchy within our own institutions we have no business speaking of justice, much less fighting for it.
 
 
 
afp

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.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Me Before You

Please read Ann's "Jane Fonda needs to rethink Django" from last night if you haven't already. 

Ann said all that needed to be said.  And she wrote beautifully and from the heart.
 
Do you know Jojo Moyes?

I didn't until Me Before You.  That's her new book.  I really am loving this book.  I'm exactly at the half-way mark and trying to figure out if I should stay up and keep reading (like I want to) or go on to bed. :(

This is a great book.  It's about a woman Louisa leaving what is safe for her and going to work for a man who's part asshole and part Auntie Mame.  (His name is Will Traynor.)

It's really a lively book and I really do not want to -- Okay, I'm calling off tomorrow.  I'm staying up tonight and finishing the book and I'll just call in and say I'm using a personal day tomorrow.  I have not enjoyed a book of fiction this much in years.

Please make a point to pick it up if you haven't seen the book yet.


"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Wednesday, January 16, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, a contract Nouri signed worth billions gets cancelled, protests continue, Ibrahim al-Jaafari is said to be angling to be Iraq's next prime minister, Nouri's playing the odds himself, and more.
 
The failures just continue to pile up for Nouri al-Maliki.  Security issues, protests, failed deals you name it. 
 
The middle of the week finds Iraq slammed with violence.  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 55 dead and 288 injured.  KUNA reports "two booby-trapped cars in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmato" leaving ten dead and over one hundred injured.  The Voice of Russia notes that the Kirkuk bombing was a suicide car bombing "outside the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party" -- the KDP is the political party of KRG President Massoud Barzani.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports that police sources state 27 people have died in the Kirkuk bombing with another one hundred injured but health officials are saying the death toll is 50.  Mustafa Mahmoud (Reuters) quotes Police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir stating, "A suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives detonated the vehicles outside the KDP headquarters. It's a crowded area, dozens were killed and wounded."   BBC News offers this perspective:

The BBC's Rami Ruhayem in Baghdad says Wednesday's attack seems to send a political message.
Kirkuk is rich not just in oil, but in symbolic importance, and seen by Kurdish nationalists as a crucial part of any future Kurdish state, he says.
As always, the identity of the perpetrators remains unknown, and so too will any political aims behind the attack, leaving the doors wide open to speculation, our correspondent adds

In southern Kirkuk (Zab), Alsumaria notes, 1 police officer died attempting to defuse a bomb placed on the side of the road. On the Tuk Khourmatu bombing, The Voice of Russia notes a bombing "outside the branch of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan" -- the PUK is the political party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.  Fars News Agency counts 2 dead and twenty injured in the Tuz Khurmato bombing.  Alsumaria states it targeted the Peshmerga and that 2 are dead and thirty more injured according to a source who was present when ambulances began arriving but before the police cordoned off the area. EFE adds that "three policemen died and their vehice was set ablaze in an attack by armed men in the Shaab neighborhood of Northeast Baghdad."  Dar Addustour reports a so-called 'honor' killing in Iraq.  A pregnant woman and her husband were murdered by two of the young women's brothers because the family did not agree ot the marriage.  According to what the brothers told police, the husband would not have been killed if he had 'stayed out of it,' that their plan was just to kill their sister.
 
AFP offers this possibility on today's violence, "No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants often launch waves of violence in a bid to destabilise the government and push Iraq back towards the sectarian violence that blighted it from 2005 to 2008."  By contrat, Prensa Latina offers, "So far it is unclear whether the attacks are linked to the PKK's decision to open negotiations with the Turkish government, announced by the leader of that organization, Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned in Turkey."
 

In addition, Press TV reports, "Elsewhere, a series of bomb attacks in the cities of Baiji and Tikrit, north of the capital, left two people killed and six others injured.Alsumaria notes a Mosul roadside bombing left two Iraqi soldiers injured.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "A mother and daughter were fatally shot when gunmen stormed their house in a Shiite neighborhood."   All Iraq News adds that a Baghdad bombing left five police officers injured.  The outlet also notes a Falluja roadside bombing targeted the funeral of Aifan al-Issawi left one person injured.  Al Jazeera explains, "Essawi's coffin, covered in an Iraqi flag, was transported atop a 4WD vehicle that was part of a massive convoy of dozens of vehicles." Adam Schreck (AP) reports, "A bomb went off as mourners gathered to mark al-Issawi's death, wounding three of them, authorities said."  From yesterday's snapshot:

Alsumaria also reports that Iraqiya MP Aifan al-Issawi was killed by a suicide bomber in Falluja.
A year ago, Aifan al-Issawi was describing the situation in Iraq to Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal, January 16, 2012) as, "We are preoccupied with how we can finish each other off."  Today he is dead.  Along with being an MP for Iraqiya, al-Issawi was also a tribal chief and one of the founding members of the Sahwa.  The Sahwa are Iraqis (largely Sunni -- but not just Sunni according to then-Gen David Petraeus' testimony to Congress in April 2008) who were paid to stop attacking the US military and their equipment.  April 8, 2008, Senator Barbara Boxer noted they were being paid $182 million a year by US tax payersAll Iraq News notes the attack took place today on 40th Street in central Falluja. Kamal Maama (Independent Online) adds, "Posing as a worker, the attacker hugged Efan al-Esawi before detonating an explosive vest to kill the politician, who once campaigned against al Qaeda after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, police and local officials said."  

Today Sam Dagher and Ali A. Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) report:

Mr. Issawi and other tribal leaders in Anbar rallied their followers starting in 2006 to join the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda that later became known as the Sahwa, or Awakening. Mr. Issawi's Albu-Issa clan had been among the Sunni tribes that welcomed and sheltered foreign jihadists who flocked to Iraq starting in 2003 to fight what was largely seen by Sunnis as an occupation by infidel Americans.
Sentiments shifted when many of the Iraqi tribesmen saw the fighters' brutal tactics firsthand. In interviews, Mr. Issawi had said his mother and several members of his extended family were killed in March 2007 when al Qaeda insurgents detonated a dump truck packed with explosives and chlorine gas canisters.
Men including Mr. Issawi received arms and cash from the U.S. military to join the battle against al Qaeda in Iraq. He forged ties with the Americans, eventually hosting U.S. military commanders and diplomats for poolside barbecues at his farm house near Fallujah. In one living room at the house, Mr. Issawi—who U.S. troops nicknamed "Dark" for his skin tone—exhibited accolades from the U.S. military and photographs showing him with U.S. officials, including a photo taken with then-President George W. Bush during his 2007 visit to Anbar.

The US Embassy in Baghdad issued the following statement:
 
The United States Embassy strongly condemns the murder of Iraqi parliamentarian Ifan Saadoun Al-Issawi and members of his security detail and the wounding of other Iraqis.  We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families and communities of the victims and wish a full and speedy recovery to those injured.
 
All Iraq News notes the Embassy faxed the statement to news outlets today. They also note that the Turkish Foreign Ministry faxed their statement today in which they condemn the attack.  And they note that the office of the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government issued a statement in which Massoud Barzani condemned the attack and and sees the attack as an attempt to sew distrust and sedition in Iraq.  Alsumaira adds that Sahwa leader Abu Risha is accusing Iran of beig behind the attack and states that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard carries out many acts of violence in Iraq already.

In other violence, AFP notes that Turkish war planes bombed over "50 PKK targets in northern Iraq" late Tuesday.  All Iraq News notes at least seven homes were destroyed in Tuesday's bombings.  Xinhua adds that Turkish war planes also bombed northern Iraq's Qandil mountains on Monday.  Bombings have continued today with AFP reporting, "Turkish jets have pounded Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq in the fiercest aerial campaign in years, military sources said Wednesday, the same day the bodies of three female Kurdish activists who were killed in Paris were due home."  The three women killed were Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez.   Last Friday, the deaths were discussed on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) by Diane's guest NBC News' Courtney Kube.  Excerpt.
 
 
Diane Rhem: Courtney, tell us about these Kurdish activists who were slain in Paris on Thursday.
 
Courtney Kube: Yeah, it wasn't -- at first -- a well publicized story and then it really started to break yesterday in the international media.  There were these three Kurdish exiles that were working in Paris.  They went --
 
Diane Rehm: Female.
 
Courtney Kube: Female.  All young women.  I was astonished, one of them was born in 1988.  I thought, "Wow, how young."  But they went missing the other night.  Their friends broke into their offices and they were found to have been executed.  In fact, the French Interior Minister showed up within hours and he said that they were summarily executed on the site.  So the problem with this is, you know, as in situations like this, there's all differenst sides and people blaming -- one side blaming the other.  The PKK is saying that they believe the Turkish government -- Turkish nationalist -- who were angry at recent talks between Turkey and the PKK who don't want the Kurds to have any additional power, autonomy or rights -- that they did this as a show to break down the talks.  The PKK is -- Or, I'm sorry, the Turkish government is saying that there's infighting between the PKK, that these people, they are the ones who are very militant who don't want talks.  I mean, whatever side ends up being correct, if one of the two, what is clear out of this is that the talks that have just began recently -- Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan just acknowledged them, that they've been speaking to this PKK leader who's been jailed in solitary confiencement for the last decade, that the Intelligence Ministry has been speaking to him to try and broker some sort of an end to the violence.  And those talks are in serious jeopardy over this incident.  

 
As the violence demonstrates, Nouri's not provided security.  Six years is an awful long time to fail at providing security.    In a big blow to Nouri's image, Dar Addustour reports that the Russian arms deal has been officially cancelled by the Russian government.


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.  Yet shortly after taking his bows on the world stage and with Parliament and others raising objections, Nouri quickly announced the deal was off.  The scandal, however, refuses to go away. The Iraq Times stated Nouri was offering up his former spokesperson  Ali al-Dabbagh and others to protect the truly corrupt -- the truly corrupt -- according to members of Parliament -- including Nouri's son who got a nice little slice off the deal.  These charges came from Shi'ite MPs as well as Sunnis and Kurds.  Even the Shi'ite National Alliance has spoken out.  All Iraq News noted National Alliance member and one-time MP Wael Abdul Latif is calling for Nouri to quickly bring charges against those involved in the corruption.  (The arms deal is now treated by the Iraqi press as corrupt and not allegedly corrupt, FYI.)   Latif remains a major player in the National Alliance and the National Alliance has backed Nouri during his second term.  With his current hold on power reportedly tenous and having already lost the support of Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri really can't afford to tick off the National Alliance as well.  Kitabat reported MP Maha al-Douri, of Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc in Parliament, is saying Nouri's on a list of officials bribed by Russia for the deal. As it became obvious that Nouri could sign a contract but not honor it (that is his pattern -- see especially the Erbil Agreement), the government of Russia apparently tired of being jerked around.


Protests continue in Iraq.  Ali Abel Sadah (Al-Monitor) examines the movement:
 
Protests among Iraq's Sunnis entered into their third week and have only increased in size. They also reached two important Sunni Mosques in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad for the first time. In response, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried to mobilize his supporters to take to the streets, but these attempts were in vain.
[. . .]
In Baghdad, Sunnis were able to rally demonstrations in the neighborhoods of Adhamiya and Ghazaliya, which is where the two most important Sunni mosques, Abu Hanifa and Umm al-Qura, are located.
The Iraqi security forces erected checkpoints in the vicinity of the two neighborhoods trying to prevent more supporters of the demonstration from entering.
On the other hand, supporters of the Maliki-led Dawa Party came out to Liberation Square in central Baghdad, under the protection of private security forces, protesting "against the sectarianism being pushed by the Sunni opposition movements in the country." However the demonstration, which Al-Monitor correspondents attended, amounted to only a few dozen Maliki supporters.

 
 
Guillaume Decamme (AFP) reports on the ongoing protest in Samarra where thousands occupy the city square, "They sleep in tents surrounding a large platform from where speeches are delivered.  During the day, children wander around the square as Iraqi flags, including at least one flown during Saddam's rule, flutter in the wind."  The tribal bonds that the US government ignored in the invasion and occupation remain and Decamme reports that the tribes in the area are represented in the protests.  Decamme repeats the claim that "335 detainees" have recently been released while apparently forgetting that only 4 of that alleged number were women.  Iraqi media doesn't forget that.  Iraqi media is where that number surfaced.  Iraqi media also doesn't write of 'prisoners' and forget to include the allegations of rape and torture -- allegations supported by the Parliament -- of girls and women in Iraqi prisons and detention centers.   It's always interesting to watch a Western outlet for what they will include and what they will ignore. 

In October, allegations of torture and rape of women held in Iraqi prisons and detention centers began to make the rounds.  In November, the allegations became a bit more and a fistfight broke out in Parliament with an angry State of Law storming out.  By December, Members of Parliament on certain security committees were speaking publicly about the abuses.  Then Nouri declared that anyone talking about this topic was breaking the law. He continued on this tangent for weeks claiming this past week that he would strip MPs of their immunity.  (The Constitution doesn't allow for that.)  As 2012 ended, it was learned that at least four females were raped in a Baghdad prison.  Rami Ruhayem (BBC News) covers the prisons in Iraq:
 

Khairiya Abbas said her sons were held for three years without going to court. After "three years of electric shocks," she said, "one of them confessed to killing people who turned out to be alive".
Such stories have become common. Abu Muhammad is the father of two prisoners who have been held for more than a year. He said one of them confessed after being severely tortured with electric shocks and made to hang by his wrists with his hands tied behind his back.
"He signed his name on a blank paper. The crimes were taken off a computer, where they store information about unsolved crimes."


Also ignored by Decamme is that the released -- regardless of number -- were already set to be released: they'd either served their complete sentences or were never charged.  A press that calls that a 'concession' to the protesters isn't much of a press, in fact, they're pretty pathetic.  So is ignoring who gets arrested in Iraq.  Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports on that noting Parliament is considering passing a law barring the police from arresting family members of suspects.  That's one of the many reasons why Iraqi prisons and detention centers are so crowded -- though don't go looking for the Western press to ever cover this -- if Mohammed Saleh is the suspect and the police want him for questioning about a crime but can't find him, they will arrest, for example his wife and his mother and hold (torture) them in an attempt to find information about where he is.  Article IV, the law the protesters specifically cite over and over as bad for Iraq?  It's the law that currently allows for the arrest of people just for being related to someone -- not for committing a crime, just for being related.

Wael Grace quotes the Badr bloc's head MP Qassim al-Araji stating that the National Alliance favors cancelling Clause II of Article IV which would eliminate the right to arrest the father, son, mother and/or wife of a suspect. al-Araji also sits on Parliaments Defense and Security Committee.

The Western press has also done a horrible job reporting on the call for an amnesty law, the years Nouri has promised an amnesty law was coming and the fact that there's still no amnesty law.  There's an amnesty bill.  It's been read and discussed by Parliament for months now.  Until there's an amnesty law, there won't be any shot at fairness.

This is one of the issues Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) explores  in his essay on the Iraqi 'justice' system:
 
Returning to the root of the term justice, Iraqi law was somewhat confused with how to deal with the legal definition which could solve this conceptual crisis. Even at present, Iraqis do not know whether using weapons against U.S. forces between 2003 and 2012 was a criminal offense or not. The American administration did not invest much effort in this matter because of the volatile nature and general lack of law and order which accompanied this troubled occupation.
As a result of such a legal negligence, it became easy to try those accused of violence against U.S. forces and treat them as criminals, and acquit other defendants facing the same charges and treat them as heroes.
It is no coincidence that Sunni leaders residing in Turkey and sentenced to death in absentia on charges of murder, such as Hashemi, have prompted the Iraqi government to declare Ankara's provision of sanctuary an international crime, whereas other persons with ties to the sectarian war, such as Abu Deraa, have resided in Tehran for years without causing any diplomatic strife with Iran.
Exploring this argument will not lead to a clear conclusion, for it was never intended to distinguish those who took part in the civil war from those who abstained. If this were the case, it would be difficult to find one Iraqi politician who had not participated in one form or another. Moreover, this categorization overlooks the victims of the civil war and of the violence in Iraq from different denominational backgrounds.


Nouri's State of Law has been the biggest obstacle preventing an amnesty law.  This falls on him.  Yet another failure in a career that's nothing but a string of failures.
 
Nouri's claimed a title, he claims the salary, he just isn't able to do the job.  But still he plots.  Ali Abedl Sadah (Al-Monitor) explains:
 
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been bending over backward to dissolve the Council of Representatives and hold early elections within 30 days, based on his vision for a solution to the current crisis gripping the country.
Apparently, Maliki will succeed in his quest, unless MPs renege on their decision to interrogate him. Yet, should Maliki be questioned, confidence could be withdrawn from his government. This is not to mention that the religious authority of Najaf opposes the decision to dissolve parliament.
It must be noted that according to Iraq's constitution, the prime minister is entitled to dissolve parliament with the approval of the president.
Iraqi Vice President Khudair Khuzaie, a prominent Shiite leader of the Dawa Party that defected from Maliki's party, will replace Jalal Talabani, who is in Germany for medical treatment, as per the constitution.
He's not the only one working behnd the scenes.  The Majalla reports on Ibrahim al-Jaafari's efforts:
 
 
According to a statement issued by his office, Al-Jaafari met with Shaways yesterday; they discussed the current political situation in Iraq. During the meeting, Al-Jaafari stressed the need for national unity and the need to address the outstanding issues between various political parties in the country. Media sources reported that Al-Jaafari proposed the idea of holding a national meeting, at his home and under his auspices, in order to bring together the Iraqi parties and attempt to find satisfactory solutions to the country's current political crisis. However, a number of key blocs, most notably the Iraqiya bloc and some Shi'ite parties, boycotted the meeting. This ultimately prevented Al-Jaafari from achieving all his aims, one of which allegedly is to put himself forward as an alternative to Al-Maliki, as some Iraqi political and media circles claim. However, a Kurdish leader stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that "Al-Jaafari will not be an acceptable alternative to Al-Maliki, because they are of the same mold."
The Kurdish source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat that Al-Jaafari "hopes to persuade the Kurdish leadership to accept him as an alternative to Al-Maliki, but these leaders previously experienced his rule during the years 2005–2006. They witnessed his negative stances towards the Kurds first and foremost, and likewise towards the Sunnis, and sectarian discord was prevalent during his reign. Thus it would be hard to accept him as an alternative to Al-Maliki."
 
Following the December 2005 parliamentary elections, al-Jaafari almost became prime miniter again.  The Parliament wanted it.  But the US government refused.  That's how puppet Nouri got to be prime minister in the first place. 
 
 
For months and months and years and years, the US governmen has refused to help the service members and contractors stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan who were exposed to burn pits.  Hugh Lessig (Daily Press) reports on the issue:
 
Hundreds of personnel say they have been sickened by toxic fumes and debris from these pits, and [Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran Jeff] Lamprecht is pretty sure he's one of them.
"There was particulate matter," he said. "There was invisible dust falling from the sky, and it was in our skin and in our water, and we're bathing in it. And then it's in our food. We brushed our teeth with it. We washed our hair with it. I mean, we lived in that filth."
 
The Veterans Administration notes:
 
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.
 
 
This took a ot of work and lot of leadership in the Senate and the House.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and she supported the measure which easily passed the Senate.  US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and he had issues with the measure and was considering blocking it and picking it up in the next Congress (which is sworn in next week).  That could be an iffy process, starting all over yet again.  With both Chairs showing leadership, veterans now benefit.  
 
Senator Mark Udall deserves special praise and his office issued the following:
 
 

"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.
 
 
 
afp