Thursday, March 14, 2013

A discovery

There is some major science news today.  Lucy Madison (CBS Evening News -- video and text) reports:

Physicists announced Thursday they believe they have discovered the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago, which will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape.
The elusive particle, called a Higgs boson, was predicted in 1964 to help fill in our understanding of the creation of the universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang. The particle was named for Peter Higgs, one of the physicists who proposed its existence, but it later became popularly known as the "God particle.
Is that not huge?

It makes me think of the code or DNA that the kidnapped girl on Touch is kept for.  I watch that show with my grandkids who love it. 

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Thursday, March 14, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad was slammed with bombings today, Nouri continues to try to trick the protesters, turns out the US Dept of Veterans Affairs doesn't care if a veteran's contemplating suicide, and more.

Chair Mike Coffman: Dr. Coughlin, on October 23rd, this Subcommittee asked VA how many veterans have self-identified as suicidal and later committed suicide in the follow up study of the national cohort of Gulf War and Gulf Era veterans? On February 19th, VA responded stating, "VA has no evidence to date that any veteran in the study has committed suicide."  Are these the same results you saw in your study?

Dr. Steven Coughlin: Yes, fortunately we did not lose any of the research participants.  As I mentioned in my testimony, my efforts to identify mental health professionals, get involved with the study as co-investigators, place these call backs to vulnerable research participants were initially blocked by my supervisors and that's why I contacted the IRB in writing and also the VA Office of Inspector General.  After a delay of two or three months, we were able to start the call back process and a team of mental health professionals at the Washington DC VA Medical Center did a fantastic job of reaching out to the veteran.  We had vets who had been told by their local VA clinic or hospital that they were not eligible for free health care but, when they called the toll free number and reached somebody in VBA or the VA central office, they were told the opposite.  So the social workers, they were able to sort this out and get them into health care.  These were vulnerable veterans, men and women who major depression or other medical and psychiatric conditions and they needed assistance to get into health care to save their lives.

Yesterday afternoon, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on Gulf War Illness and other issues.  US House Rep Mike Coffman is the Subcommittee Chair,  US House Rep Ann Kirkipatrick is the Ranking Member.  Dr. Steve Coughlin is a whistle blower.  His statements are beyond our scope or space -- in his opening statements, he was interrupted at one point by Coffman who noted he was now over ten minutes with his opening remarks (the limit is five minutes).  But strong coverage of Coughlin's remarks can be found in reports by Steve Vogel (Washington Post), Rebecca Ruiz (Forbes), Patricia Kime (Navy Times), Bryant Jordan ( and Kevin Freking (AP).

Some background on whistle blower Steven Coughlin.  Dr. Coughlin left the VA in December.  Prior to that, he was a senior epidemiologist with over 25 years of experience whose past also included a stint at the Center for Disease Control.  He resigned in December "because of serious ethical concerns."  His work was with the VA's Office of Public Health which conducts studies on veterans and what he found was "if the studies produce results that do not support the Office of Public Health's unwritten policy, they don't release them.  This applies to data regarding adverse health consequences of environmental exposures such as burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and toxic exposures in the Gulf War.  On the rare occasions when embarrassing study results are released, data are manipulated to make them unintelligible."

In other words, you shouldn't trust VA's past studies on burn pits.

Under the leadership of Senator Byron Dorgan, the  Democratic Policy Committee did important work via a series of public hearings on the burn pits that helped the country and the government understand what burn pits were and what they did to veterans.  Senator Evan Bayh was among those serving on that Committee and he was the first to introduce a bill for a national burn pit registry.  It did not make it through while Bayh and Dorgan were still in the Senate.  If was picked back up and with the help of many and leadership from Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray and Ranking Member Richard Burr and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller and Ranking Member Mike Michaud, it made it through in the final days of 2012.

At a November 12, 2010 DPC hearing, Chair Byron Dorgan went over the burn pit basics.

Chair Byron Dorgan:  Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only in short-term emergency situations -- regulations that have now been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal, Kellogg Brown & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke.

None of the DoD regulations were followed.

Burn pits is one of the issues we follow.  Another is suicide.

Dr. Steven Coughlin:  I wish to close with a subject of particular importance to me.  Almost 2,000 research participants from a National Health Study of a New Generation of US Veterans self-reported that they had thoughts in the previous two weeks that they would be better off dead.  However, only a small percentage of those veterans, roughly 5%, ever received a callback from a studied clinician.  Some of those veterans are now homeless or deceased.  I was unsuccessful in getting senior Office of Public Health officials to address this problem in the New Generation study.  I was successful in incorporating these callbacks in the Gulf War survey and they have saved lives. but only after my supervisors threatened to remove me from the study and attempted disciplinary action against me when I appealed the refusal for callbacks to a higher authority.

The VA has many issues and many problems.  It's biggest crisis is the number of suicides.  VA hasn't wanted to track that.  Senator Patty Murray led the effort to get them to do so.  The VA, please understand what the doctor testified too, conducted a survey of veterans of today's wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and one of the questions clearly was about suicide.  In response to that question -- either by checking off a provided choice or via their own words in an open response -- 5% of the study group stated "that they would be better off dead."  This wasn't a, "Have you ever in your life felt you'd be better off dead?"  Instead, the time frame of the last two weeks was inserted. 

When military and veterans suicides are at a crisis level, the idea that the VA would get these responses but refuse to follow up by calling the 5% back is not just appalling, it's negligence.  And, in fact, this is a medical survey and its overseen by doctors.  That makes it even worse, that makes it medical malpractice.  In order to help the veterans, a callback should always be done.

But if help is just too 'noble' a reason for you, the VA better damn well grasp that any veteran participating in such a survey who did not receive a callback has a group of loved ones who can sue and would most likely win in a court of law.  The law is on their side.  Even more importantly, public opinion would be on their side. 

While it is the right thing, the needed thing to do, a callback is also a cover-your-ass move to prevent a lawsuit.  Who's in charge at the VA?  Is anyone in management doing their job?

"We must recognize and be prepared to address the consequences of that service and bring to bear our best efforts to ensure that they are thoroughly prepared to serve and when they return home we commit to making them whole again."  I'd love to say that was a statement from the VA officials attending the hearing.  However, that's more common sense than all the officials combined had.  Those are the words of Ranking Member Ann Kirkpatrick and the VA needs to take those words to heart.

The first panel was Dr. Lea Steele (Baylor University), Dr. Coughlin, Gulf War veteran Anthony Hardie, and the Chair of the Board of Directors of Huntington Hospital Dr. Bernard Rosof.  The second panel was VA officials: Dr. Victoria Davey, Dr. Maureen McCarthy, Dr. Stephen Hunt, Dr. Gavin West and Tom Murphy.

Chair Mike Coffman:  Dr. Coughlan, your written testimony stated that "On the rare occasions when embarrassing study results are released, data are manipulated to make them unintelligible."  Please explain and cite an example.

Dr. Steven Coughlin:  [. . .  microphone not on] examples can be cited.  The best example that comes to mind is we set out to analyze data from the National Health Study for a new generation of veterans looking at self-reported exposure to burn pits, oil well fire smoke, other inhalation hazards in relation to physician diagnosed asthma and bronchitis.  The initial exposure analyses which were produced by the writing group and statistician showed that a sizable percentage of the deployed veterans had been exposed to burn pit smoke and burn pit fumes were associated with asthma and chronic bronchitis.  Then in a later iteration of the tabulated results, those results were set aside or discarded and the focus was instead on deployment -- deployment status in relation to asthma and bronchitis.  Well those 30,000 deployed vets and those 30,000 non-deployed vets included veterans who served on ships in the Indian Ocean or Philippines or in Germany in hospitals.  In other words, people who were deployed OAF and OIF and served in the war on terror but were never in Iraq or Afghanistan on the ground and had no potential exposure to burn pits.  So the way that the refined results were tabulated, it obscured rather than highlighted the associations of interest.  And I could elaborate if you would like.

Chair Mike Coffman: Okay,   Mr. Hardie, can you explain in your opinion why the research advisory committee believes that -- why the research advisory committee in their latest Institute of Medicine report is flawed?

Anthony Hardie: Yes, thank you for that question.  First, I want to recognize that I believe the researchers -- distinguished researchers like the gentleman sitting next to me were well intentioned.  However, VA staff issued a scope of work and committee charts that radically diverged from the law that effectively prevented -- and also effectively prevented what the committee could consider.  I believe that these helped to prevent the IOM Committee from meeting the expectations of the law.  VA staff directed the panel to do a literature review rather than, as the law directed, focusing on physicians experienced in treating Gulf War Illness.  VA staff knew little such literature exists because of VA's two decades of failures to develop treatments have helped to ensure that fact.  Additionally, most of the presenters to the panel focused on psychosomatic issues, stress as cause and things like relaxation therapies as treatments.  Ill Gulf War veterans who called in to listen to that meeting were naturally outraged.  VA staff were among the presenters to that committee including at least one sitting here today.  VA staff muddied the waters by instructing IOM to include not 91 Gulf War veterans as the law directs but many others.  And, finally, all of this involvement by VA staff is a far cry from the previous claims that these panels operate independent of bias and influence from the contracting agency.

Chair Mike Coffman:  Thank you, Mr. Hardie.  Dr. Rosof, the law requires that VA's agreement with the Institute of Medicine was to "Convene a group of medical professionals who are experienced in treating individuals who served.  in the southwest Asia theater of operations of the Persian Gulf War during 1990 or 1991 and who have been diagnosed with Chronic Multiple System illness or another health condition related to service."  Of the members of your committee, how many have experience in medically treating Gulf War veterans?

Dr. Bernard Rosof: [. . . mike not on] members of my committee who had experience but all of the members of the committee had experience in dealing with Chronic Multiple System illness -- some directly with the veterans who served in those theaters of war.  In addition there are members of the Committee including myself that have been on other IOM committees that have dealt with the issues of Gulf War chronic multi-system illness or illnesses of that sort.  So there were -- There was considerable expertise sitting around the table in addition to methodological expertise to evaluate the literature on best treatments.

We're not interested in the second panel.  The lies weren't even believable.  Five speakers at one VA conference on Gulf War Illness and they all say that it's a psychiatric disorder, even though for the last eleven years the VA has (in writing) recognized that Gulf War Illness is a physical condition?  And Stephen Hunt thinks he can spin and eat up the time pretending a slide shown at that conference stating that Gulf War Illness was all in the head was somehow to provide people with a sense of how things have changed?  I don't like liars.  The VA has played cheaply with people's lives and that's offensive.  Let's stay with burn pits.  Over the weekend, Jeff Glor (CBS Evening News -- link is video and text) reported on burn pits.  Excerpt.

Jeff Glor:  LeRoy Torres was a Texas state trooper and a captain in the Army Reserves when he deployed for a year-long combat tour to Iraq in 2007.

Rosie Lopez-Torres:  The minute he got back, he was hospitalized.  Right when he got back, it was like, "Okay, it's the Iraqi crud."  That's what he kept hearing.  After a few weeks, he started having these breathing attacks and it was the scariest moment ever for us.

Jeff Glor:  LeRoy's wife Rosie says her husband's health issues resulted from exposure to open-air burn pits which the US military used in Iraq and Afghanistan to torch everything from batteries to body parts.  The Dept of Veterans Affairs acknowledged Balad, where Torres was based, disposed of "several hundred tons per day" 

LeRoy Torres: It was very close to the burn pits -- where I was housed at.  But we didn't think nothing of it.

Jeff Glor:  Today, at age 40, LeRoy is barely able to leave bed most days.  His doctors have diagnosed him with a lung disease, constrictive bronchiolitis.  He has a lesion on his brain and cysts in his spleen and groin.

LeRoy Torres:  Sometimes the headaches will last three hours. Sometimes I've had  it where I've had a headache for eight days -- eight days straight.  It's unexplainable. 

Rosie Lopez-Torres:  I remember one night thinking, "Who am I holding?  Like what happened to the man that I married?"  It was at that moment that I thought, "This is it.  I'm going to have to be his advocate."

Jeff Glor:  Rosie launched a website where those exposed to burn pits can register.  She also lobbied Congress to take action.  In January, President Obama signed a law giving the Secretary of Veterans Affairs one year to create a national registry to track potential burn pit victims.

Jeff Glor:  If it wasn't for Rosie Torres, would this law be in existence?

Dr. Anthony Szema: I don't think so?

Rosie Lopez-Torres has shared her family's story many times in an attempt to get the word out and raise awareness.  In January of last year, she wrote about the experience:

For thousands of reservists the story goes like this, the soldier returns from war and immediately the effects of toxic exposure surface like the invisible wounds that they are. The soldier begins seeking treatment at various healthcare facilities only to discover that neither DOD nor VA is acknowledging toxic exposure from particulate matter or burn pits. The only option left if you happen to be blessed with the luxury of private insurance is to seek specialized healthcare in the private sector. Desperately seeking answers to the question of why this once active and healthy soldier can no longer function at the capacity that he/she once did. Why the once healthy father/mother, husband, wife, daughter, son can no longer breathe, why the diagnosis of cancer, why the white matter and the lesions in the brain, the fertility issues, the fatigue, the parasitic infections, the list goes on and on. The family spends their life savings traveling to access specialized healthcare from the physicians they call their heroes. The only healthcare providers brave enough to stand behind the truth of how toxic chemicals affect the body.

The family exhausts all of their finances to gain answers, the soldier can no longer work due to multiple diagnosis and symptoms immediately forcing the once successful career person to give up their life-long dreams. The reservists files an LOD which can take up to two years, the veteran files a claim with the VA which will never grant a rating compensation because there is no category for toxic exposures. All of this forces the family into an abyss of darkness, mental stress, financial stress, and denial of acceptance to their new way of life. The once productive, healthy, and functioning military family is suddenly falling apart at the seams. The gap between VA and DOD for the reservist component of the military service members wounded must be bridged by identifying the needs of those affected immediately. Too many people are losing their homes, their life savings, and their hope, hope in a system that once promised to care for them once they returned.

A friend covered a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing that took place yesterday and was full of praise for Allison Hickey.  I don't like liars.  Hickey's damn lucky that people are so uninformed (that includes my friend) and that I wasn't present so I can't cover it.  If I were, I'd go into her little lie to the Committee that Agent Orange has caused backlogs.  I'd point out her lie to the committee in the previous Congress that the VA had no Agent Orange backlog.  Hickey can be very impressive . . . if you're new to her.  If you've seen her lie once though . . .  I wasn't at that hearing, yesterday morning I was at the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel and we covered the first two panels in yesterday's snapshotKat covered the third panel in last night's "Senate hearing on assault and rape"

Today Baghdad was slammed with a series of bombings today.  Reuters counts at least 25 dead and at least fifty injured. Alsumaria counts 26 dead and fifty-six injured.  Al Arabiya says at least one was a car bomb and that "blasts went off near the foreign ministry, culture ministry and an office of the communications ministry in the Allawi neighbourhood in the centre of the capital."  Adam Schreck, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) add that in addition to a car bomb, it is thought that a suicide bombing also took place.  BBC News reveals, "Reports say least three explosions, including two car bombs and a suicide blast, went off near a building currently housing the justice ministry. A police officer, who was among the security forces sent to clear the building, said about six gunmen wearing police uniforms were still inside the building."  RT elaborates, "Reports said a group of militants wearing police uniforms attempted to storm the Justice ministry building after a series of explosions, including at least two car bombs and a suicide bombing, rocked the area surrounding the ministry."  Norman Hermant (Australia's ABC) notes, "An official in Baghdad's security command centre said three fighters were killed inside the justice ministry building, but ministry spokesman Haidar al-Saadi said the clashes had occurred outside.  An interior ministry official, however, said two fighters were killed in clashes while two others were suicide bombers who blew themselves up, one of whom did so near the justice minister's office."  Employees inside the Ministry of Justice during the attack tell All Iraq News that assailants entered the ground floor and began firing at workers and that "The ground floor of the ministry building is almost completely destroyed and there is blood on the floor."

Yan Yi (Xinhua) counts "at least three explosions."  Yang Yi elaborates with two car bombs and a suicide bomber  and that 1 bomb "was close to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and another near the Ministry of Justice in the nearby a- Salhiyah area, while the third detonated near the building of the communications institute in Alawi area, the [Ministry of Interior] source added.Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) counts four bombings and notes, "Black smoke filled the sky as fires raged for nearly two hours and frantic Iraqis shouted out for their loved ones. One woman screamed, 'My son!'"  Reuters has a photo by Saad Shalash of an Iraqi Red Crescent ambulance carrying victims of the blast.

Alsumaria quotes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi stating that today's attack on the Ministry of Justice demonstrates the lack of planning and the weakness of the security services.  The US Embassy in Baghdad issued the following statement:

Office of the Spokesman

The U.S. Mission in Iraq Condemns the March 14 Terrorist Attacks on the Ministry of Justice in Baghdad
The U.S. Mission in Iraq condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks today on the Iraqi Ministry of Justice in Baghdad. Our condolences go out to the families of the victims of these attacks, and we hope for the speedy recovery of those injured. The United States will continue to work with the Government of Iraq to combat those who would perpetrate such atrocious and senseless crimes.

Other violence today?  The National Iraqi News Agency notes that a sticky bomb was used to target Hassan al-Daraji (former Governor of Salahuddin Province and a candidate in the local elections which are supposed to take place next month) resulting in the death of his driver and of three people who were in the car with him, 2 people were shot dead in the center of Falluja, a Ramadi roadside bombing left five people injured (three are police officers), and, in Baghdad, assailants shot up the car of a brigadier with the Ministry of the Interior leaving one bodyguard and the driver injured All Iraq News adds a Mosul bombing has injured a member of the federal police and that "the mayor of Muqdadiya District and the Head of the Orphan Charity Foundation, Mohamed Saed al-Kahim, have survived an assassination attempt when an (RBG) rocket targeted their vehicle to the north of Baquba city."

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued the following today:

Baghdad, 14 March 2013 – The United Nations marked the International Women’s Day through a series of activities across Iraq under the theme of ‘Time for Peace, Stop Violence against Women’.
In Baghdad, the State Minister for Women's Affairs, Ms. Ibtihal al-Zaidi, and former and current women members of parliament involved in the ‘Women for Lasting Peace Initiative’ met with UN officials and leaders from the whole political spectrum – including Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, chairman of the National Alliance Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister's Office Hamed Khalif Ahmed – for a roundtable discussion at the UN headquarters on 11 March.
“In the current political climate, it is a strong statement to see women of different political convictions overcoming their differences to speak with one voice to promote a peaceful solution to respond to the protracted political crisis,” remarked the Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. Gyorgy Busztin, after the event, which also included live music and an exhibition of paintings by young artists.
Mr. Busztin commended the Government of Iraq for endorsing the National Strategy to Eliminate Violence against Women. He also welcomed the launch, on 12 March, of a Violence against Women Data Gathering and Monitoring System, which marked the successful conclusion of a joint effort by different ministries and non-governmental organizations, with the technical support of the United Nations, to establish a system to provide data to promote evidence-based planning to eradicate violence against women.
“Measurement will help us show the range of problems that women face in Iraq,” said Ms. Frances Guy, UN Women Representative for Iraq. “As government services meet the identified needs, we will be able to measure progress.”

Nice words but the reality is women continue to suffer in Iraq.  They weren't even a member of Nouri's Cabinet until massive uproar in January 2011.  The suffering really can't be prettied up.  Sami Ramadani shares his thought on the pain of the last ten years at the Guardian:

We haven't even counted the dead yet, let alone the injured, displaced and traumatised. Countless thousands are still missing. Of the more than 4 million refugees, at least a million are yet to go back to their homeland, and there still about a million internal refugees. On an almost daily basis, explosions and shootings continue to kill the innocent.

The US and UK still refuse to accept the harmful consequences of radioactive depleted uranium munitions, and the US denies that it used chemical weapons in Falluja – but Iraqis see the evidence: the poisoned environment, the cancer and deformities. Lack of electricity, clean water and other essential services continues to hit millions of impoverished and unemployed people, in one of the richest countries on the planet. Women and children pay the highest price. Women's rights, and human rights in general, are daily suppressed.
And what of democracy, supposedly the point of it all? The US-led occupying authorities nurtured a "political process" and a constitution designed to sow sectarian and ethnic discord. Having failed to crush the resistance to direct occupation, they resorted to divide-and-rule to keep their foothold in Iraq. Using torture, sectarian death squads and billions of dollars, the occupation has succeeded in weakening the social fabric and elevating a corrupt ruling class that gets richer by the day, salivating at the prospect of acquiring a bigger share of Iraq's natural resources, which are mostly mortgaged to foreign oil companies and construction firms.

Surveying the tragedy, Jonathan Schell (The Nation) observes of the illegal war:

Is there any benefit to be found in this record? Only if, it seems, by drawing lessons from the disaster, we can avoid future misadventures of a like kind. One lesson that may be on its way to acceptance is that in our postcolonial era, “COIN” (counterinsurgency) warfare is a fool’s game. A related lesson is that neither the United States nor any other country can “build” other peoples’ nations. Those peoples have to do that by themselves, or fail by themselves. But these lessons are hardly new; they were taught at terrible cost a half-century ago by the Vietnam War. They were then unlearned in preparation for the “regime change” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is no democracy in Iraq.   Reuters notes, "Iraq's power-sharing government has been all but paralyzed since U.S. troops left more than a year ago and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, is facing protests in the country's Sunni heartland, which shares a porous border with Syria."   Alsumaria reports that Nouri al-Maliki, chief thug and prime minister or Iraq, declared yesterday his desire to meet the demands of the protesters.  Really?  Because the protests have been going on since December and Nouri and his State of Law have refused to meet the demands thus far.  In fact, March 1st, at the Ramadi protest,  Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi resigned.  al-Issawi told Kitabat that he resigned because there had been over 70 days of protest and the government had still not responded to the protesters.  He noted that a government is supposed to be responsive to the people, not ignore them.  He told Alsumaria that Article IV -- which has been used to punish so many Sunnis -- is no longer going to work and that the government refused to listen to the protesters or to take accountability for the eleven shot dead in Falluja by Nouri's forces January 25th.   He feels the solution to the crises facing Iraq can be found in the sit-ins taking place.

Some fools and suck-ups will point to Nouri's for-show release of prisoners -- ignoring the fact that a list of those released has not been produced and that, most importantly, you're not meeting the demands of the protests if every day you're ordering mass arrests.   38 arrested in Wasit Province alone today.  You're not addressing the issue of the imprisoned with a few token releases as every day you continue your mass -- and ridiculous -- arrests.  Iraq needs to be publicly rebuked globally for arresting the wives, spouses, children of suspects.  You don't arrest people for who they're related to.  That's ridiculous and it's offensive. Article IV  of the Constitution is a problem as well because it adds to innocents arrested by allowing you to be arrested merely for being related to a suspect -- you can be the mother of someone suspected of a crime and be arrested because you're the mother (or father, brother, sister, child, grandparent, etc). And one of the demands of the protesters is for Article IV to be dropped.  That's not a new demand, it's been a demand for months now.  And the protesters are more than aware that the mass arrests continue.  This morning, Iraqi Spring MC has even Tweeted about 71 Diyala prisoners being transferred to a Baghdad prison.

Nouri's done nothing to meet the demands of the protesters.  He's pulling his usual stall, stall, try to exhaust your opponent m.o. that he always utilizes.  Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) observes:

Iraq’s Sunnis have gotten the short end of the stick from Maliki, who is theoretically the head of a "power-sharing" government designed to address sectarian grievances, but in practice has been running the country by fiat since the US departure from Iraq at the end of 2011. A growing protest movement among the Sunni population, particularly in Anbar, where the fiercest engagements of the US war in Iraq were fought, has been volatile.  In January, government troops killed five protesters in Fallujah, the town that US infantry and Marines tried to “pacify,” twice.

National Iraqi News Agency quotes a police source stating, "Unidentified gunmen kidnapped on Thursday 14, March, the tribal Sheikh Qais al-Janabi and his son, who is a candidate for the next local elections, Abdul Karim Qais and five of their relatives.  The gunmen forced the seven people, at gunpoint, to get out of their car in the Siniah area of Baiji, north of Tikrit, and were taken to an unknown destination."

The tribal leader is linked to the ongoing protests.  As this Facebook post makes clear, the protesters believe this was done by a government militia and is part of Nouri's continued crackdown and targeting of the protesters.   Why might they think that?  Well there's Nouri's history of targeting the protesters.  There's the fact that, remember the photo from Iraqi Spring Media Center, his federal forces have been videotaping the protesters and following them to their homes in an attempt to intimidate them.   There's also the fact, as Yang Yi (Xinhua) reports, that the kidnappers have a demand,  "Later in the day, the kidnappers phoned Qais family and told them to write a statement calling for the people not to participate in the invalid elections and publish it on local television."

Al Mada reports that a spokesperson for the demonstrators has called out Nouri's puppet Saadoun al-Dulaimi, stating al-Dulaimi is using the military against the protesters.  Saadoun al-Dulaimi is the 'acting' Minister of Defense.  There's no such position in the Iraqi Constitution.  The Constitution mandates that the Prime Minister-Designate name a full Cabinet and do so within thirty days or another Prime Minister-Designate is named and he or she has 30 days to name a full Cabinet.  Nouri's second term has nothing to do with the Constitution.  Having lost the popular vote, he had no claim on a second term.  But Barack Obama wanted the US-installed puppet to remain in charge so the US brokered The Erbil Agreement which circumvented the Constitution and gave Nouri a second term as prime minister.

The National Iraqi News Agency reports that KRG President Massoud Barzani declared today that the Kurds will either be partners in Iraq or they will take the measures they see necessary.  Barzani's referring to Nouri's refusal to honor agreements, "He stressed that the cause of the political crises that took place is not to abide by the constitution, noting that the solution to this crisis is the implementation of the Arbil Agreement 2010, which he described as 'a road map to end the crisis'."

For those who forgot or never knew, after Nouri's State of Law came in second place to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya in the March 2010 elections, Nouri refused to allow the Constitutional process to begin.  The minute it began, he wasn't prime minister.  So he refused to step down, he refused to abdicate.  He held the country hostage.  He was only able to get away with that because both the White House and the Iranian government were backing him.  For eight months, he held the country hostage.  The press tended to play down the significance of the political stalemate.  They tried to act it was normal.  Or argue that it was only a few votes more.  You only one more vote than the other candidate to win an election.  A win is a win.

After 8 months when Parliament couldn't meet, when the government had been at a standstill, the US approached the various leaders of the political blocs and told them (a) Nouri could hold out for another 8 months so (b) be mature and put Iraq's interests ahead of everything else and (c) agree to give Nouri a second term and (d) in exchange, it will be put in writing and you can get promises from Nouri in writing about things you want.  For the KRG, that included the implementation of Article 140.

Right there you see the problem with Nouri as a leader.  The Kurds were bargaining with him in November 2010 to implement Article 140.

They shouldn't have.

Nouri took an oath to uphold the Constitution.  He became prime minister in 2006.  The Constitution declares that Article 140 has to be implemented.  It even had a timeline, by the end of 2007.  Nouri refused to do it.

There never should have been a negotiation with Nouri to get him to follow the Constitution.  If he can't follow it, he can't be prime minister.

So everyone threw in a demand or two.  It was all written up, the US government assured the political leaders that this was a binding contract and that, most important, the US government would stand behind this contract.  The leaders signed off.

Nouri used it to get his second term.  The Parliament finally held their first meeting.  Iraqiya demanded Nouri name Ayad Allawi to head an independent national security council -- one of the legal clauses in the contract.  Nouri said he couldn't.  Not yet.  It was too soon.  The bulk of Iraqiya walked out of Parliament.  The US cajoled them and got them back inside.  Nouri's going to follow the contract, just give it time.  It's the first day.

He never followed the contract.  To this day.

And all those promises from the White House?  Never followed up on.  It's why the US' image is so poor in Iraq today.  The changing from Bush to Barack gave the US image a lift in Iraq.  There was hope among Iraqis that President Barack Obama would be different.  But all he's done is disappoint.   Barzani was speaking at the Kurdish Genocide International Conference in Erbil.  All Iraq News notes, "The Confence was held on the 25th Anniversary of bombing Halabcha city by the chemical weapons in the 1980s by the former regime."  Al Jazeera, the Christian Science Monitor and PRI's Jane Arraf Tweets of the conference:

  1. 's PM sends ground-breaking message to conference on genocide, condemning massacres of Anfal campaign.
  2. Barzani to Erbil conference - facing serious crisis throughout country, tired of Baghdad's broken promises.


leroy torres
rosie torres
burn pits

the associated press
qassim abdul-zahra
sameer n. yacoub