Thursday, January 31, 2013

Applause for Senator Blumenthal

I have offered praise for Senator Richard Blumenthal and stated that I felt he was doing his job and would be voting for him last November.  Today at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he once again proved that a vote for him was not a wasted vote.

The hearing was on President Barack Obama's nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense, replacing Secretary Leon Panetta who is stepping down.  John Kerry just left the Senate to become Secretary of State and his confirmation hearing was before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  That is because that is the Senate Committee over those issues.  The Secretary of Defense is over the military so Mr. Hagel's confirmation hearing would take place before the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Democratic Senator Carl Levin is the Committee Chair and Senator Johnny is the Ranking Member.  Mr. Hagel faced a full Committee (members arrived and left throughout the hearing) and I was expecting that because C.I. gave me a breakdown over the weekend -- explaining this was one of the 'star' positions so the press would be covering it in large numbers which meant the senators would all show up for this hearing and all want to ask questions and make statements. 

It started this morning and it finished this afternoon.  It was a very long hearing. 

Senator Blumenthal is a newer senator and, on the Democratic side, your rank is based on seniority so he went late in the questioning.  I would say about an hour and a half into the hearing but I was not watching the time so that is just a guess-timate. 

Senator Richard Blumenthal:  And I would like the same kind of commitment that you've expressed very persuasively on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the issue of sexual assaults.  This issue bedevils the military.  I don't know whether you've seen an excellent documentary entitled The Invisible War?

Chuck Hagel:  Yes.

Senator Richard Blumenthal:  And I know you're familiar with this issue.  I commend you for what you've said to me privately.  And I would ask that your commitment not only to the prosecution and holding accountable people who are involved in this criminal conduct but also to the victims so that they receive the kind of services that in the civilian world, many of them do through victims' advocates in the courts and similar kinds of roles played.  So both to prosecution -- vigorous, zealous -- but also to protection of the victims, can you commit to that?

Chuck Hagel:  Absolutely, I'll commit to that.

Good for Senator Blumenthal.  He tackled an important issue, got a promise, and did our state proud.

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

Thursday, January 31, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq confirms they are holding a Le Monde journalist, flooding throughout Iraq, a dam breaks, people are evacuated, former US Senator Chuck Hagel (Barack's nominee to be US Secretary of Defense) appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and more.

In the moment that probably best captured 'support' for Chuck Hagel and his 'team skills' in today's Senate Armed Services Committee, 85-year-old John Warner was pulled out of mouthballs to drone on about Hagel ("of how he will serve the president") this afternoon.  Warner left the Senate four years ago.  And, if you know Warner (I do), you know if he's talking his time in the Senate, he can't shut up about his attendance record.  Some might point out with that voting record, attendance is better focused on.  But that's what Hagel had to offer for his defense, a retired US Senator, someone who only got into the Senate to begin with because of Elizabeth Taylor, someone who thought small and played the country mouse in the big bad Senate.  That was what Hagel was reduced to: A geriatric with no notable achievements singing his praises.  The hair deserves remarking on as well. Hagel probably thought he was wearing a longer Caesar cut but with it bushing out on the sides it looked more like a modified Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls era but with a tad more length in the back, it could have been a Maude.  But it seemed more Golden Girl, especially as he stumbled throughout the hearing, often taking long pauses to complete his thought in the midst of a sentence.  Is Hagel mentally up to the challenge of being Secretary of Defense? 

We've noted before the position needs someone with passion and energy and, for that reason, stated that former US House Rep and Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy should be considered and US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice should be considered for the post.  Those aren't the only two.  But watching today as Hagel looked like Bea Arthur and testified like Deputy Dawg, the issue of energy level needs to be raised.

In the questioning, Committee Chair Carl Levin was most concerned with the issue of the relationships between the governments of Iran and the US and whether Hagel could reconcile his various positions over the years on sanctions.  Hagel stated he was for sanctions -- when they were multi-lateral.  But he admitted he had opposed unilateral sanctions in the past.

Senator Chuck Hagel:  As to my records on votes in the Senate regarding unilateral sanctions, I have differed on some of those.  I have voted for some as well.  Uh, it was always on a case-by-case basis when I, uh, voted against some of those unilateral sanctions on Iran.  It was a different time.  For example, I believe one was in, uh, 2001, 2002.  We were in a different place with Iran during that time.  Matter of fact, uh, I recall the Bush administration did not want a renewal -- a five-year renewal of ILSA [the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996] during that time because, uh, they weren't sure of the effectiveness on sanctions.  That, uh, wasn't the only reason I voted against it.  It was because I thought that there might be other ways to, uh, employ-employ our, uh, vast ability to harness power and allies.  It was never a question of did I disagree with the objective.  The objective is, I think, very clear uh-uh to both of us.  Uhm, I recall for example in, uh, 2008, Secretary of State [Condi] Rice sending a letter to the Finance Committee, Senator [Max] Baucus requesting that, uh, a sanction resolution, unilateral, in the Finance Committee, not come out of the, uh, Finance Committee because the Bush administration at the time was working with the, uh, Russians specifically but with the Security-Council of the United Nations to try to get international sanctions which, I think, that effort in 2008 led to the, uh, 2010 international sanctions

Committee Chair Carl Levin: Can you give us your view on the size of the US force which might be necessary, or would be necessary, after 2014?  The so-called 'residual force,' if you have an opinion on the size.  You indicated in your opening statements, two missions for that residual force.  Can you also give us your opinion of the size of the Afghan National Security force after 2014 and whether you agree with me and Senator Lindsay Graham on this Committee and others that we ought to reconsider the position that the Afghan National Security Force should be reduced by a third starting in 2014 -- to about 230,000 from what it's current goal is which is about 350,000.

Chuck Hagel:   Uh, as you all, uh, know now, General Allen has presented his options to the president for the president's consideration.  As far as I know, as of this morning, the president had not made a decision, uhm, uh, on what a residual force -- numbers-wise -- would look like?  I have not been included inn those discussions, so I-I don't know other than knowing that he's got a range of options as you do.  But I would say that from what the president has told me, what Secretary Panetta has told me,  that that decision will be made to assure resourcing the mission and the capability of that mission.  As to, uh, what kind of a force structure should, uh, eventually be in place by the Afghans, I don't know enough about the specifics to give you, uh, a good answer other than that I think that has to be uh-uh a decision that is, uh, made certainly with the president of Afghanistan, uh, what we can do to continue to support and train and, uh, protect our interests within the scope of our  ability to do that.  Obviously, the immunity for our troops is an issue which was an issue in Iraq.  All of those consider -- considerations will be -- will be important and will be made if I'm confirmed and in the position to give the President advice on that.  I will, with consultations of our commanders on the ground and our chiefs, give him, the best, uh, options that we can provide.

Hagel was willing to say anything.  Fortunately for him, the senators were, with few exceptions, willing to play along and nod.  Far too much time was spent on Israel -- that includes some very annoying testimony from Senators Jack Reed and Kay Hagen who seemed to be in a competition over who would win Most Loyal To Israel (Hagan won by a hair, if only because she could boast of the most recent visit).  Senators -- and those were just two of them -- felt the need to discuss Israel and what Hagel had told them privately and how they were so glad to know that it would be an act of war for Palestine to declare the area their own, that Hagel favored a two-state solution and all the other sop that's always tossed out.

I find Hagel's remark referring to the "Jewish lobby" objectionable.  I've stated that before.  Hagel addressed that (more than once) in his testimony.  He said, on the record, that he mispoke and that it was one time.  For me, that one time on the record (answering on the record) was more than enough.  I found him to be believable on that issue because he spoke in what I took to be an honest manner. Also true, he proved himself to be a very poor speaker throughout his testimony.  When Senator Bill Nelson (I know Bill and like Bill) wasted everyone's time giving Hagel a make up test (after he failed to answer Senator John McCain's basic question), Hagel insisted his opposition to the 'surge' in Iraq, "We lost almost 1200 dead Americans in the surge."  The 'surge' was an escalation, an increase, in the number of US troops on the ground in Iraq following the 2006 elections.  The 'surge' was a failure.  We'll talk about that in a moment but "We lost almost 1200 dead Americans in the surge"?  We lost those dead Americans?  And we're not searching for them still?  "We lost almost 1200 Americans in the surge" is how you word what he was attempting to say.

Let's go back to the surge.  It allowed Iraq to be noted for a few seconds by a body that did nothing to stop the Iraq War.  Hagel did nothing to stop it and that's on him. 

Senator John McCain:  Senator Hagel, members of this Committee will raise questions reflecting concerns with your policy positions.  They're not reasonable people disagreeing, they're fundamental disagreements.  Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your world view on critical areas of national security including security in the Middle East.  With that in mind, let me begin with your opposition to the surge in Iraq.  2006, we lost -- Republicans lost -- the election and we began the surge and you wrote a piece in the Washington Post called "Leaving Iraq Honorably."  In 2007, you said it's not in the national interest to deepen its involvement.  In January, 2007, in a rather bizarre exchange with Secretary Rice, in the Foreign Relations Committee, after some nonsense about Syria and crossing the border into Iran and Syria because of the surge and a reference to Cambodia in 1970, you said, "When you set in motion the kind of policy the president's talking about here, it's very, very dangerous.  Matter of fact, I have to say, Madam Secretary, I think the speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.  If it's carried out, I will resist it." And then, of course, you continued on and on for months afterwards talking about what a disaster the surge would be, even to the point where it was clear the surge was succeeding.  In March 2008, you said, "Here the term quagmire could apply.  Some reject that term, but if that's not a quagmire, then what is?"  Even as late as August 29, 2011, in an interview -- 2011 -- in an interview with the Financial Times, you said, "I disagreed with the president -- Obama --  his decision to surge in Iraq, because I disagreed with President Bush on the surge in Iraq."  Do you -- do you stand by that -- those -- those comments, Senator Hagel?

Senator Chuck Hagel:  Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them and --

Senator John McCain: -- stand by --  Were you right? 

Chuck Hagel:  Well --

Senator John McCain:  Were you correct in your assessment?

Chuck Hagel:  Well I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out.  But I'll --

Senator John McCain: I think -- this  Committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge.

Chuck Hagel: I'll explain why I made those comments and I believe I had but --

Senator John McCain: I want to know if you were right or wrong?  That's a direct question, I expect a direct answer.

Chuck Hagel:  The surge assisted in the objective.  But-but if we review the record a little bit --

Senator John McCain: Will you please answer the question?  Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam?  Were you correct or incorrect?

Chuck Hagel:  My --

Senator John McCain: Yes or no?

Chuck Hagel:  My reference to the surge being  --

Senator John McCain: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel?  The question is: Were you right or wrong?  That's a pretty straighforward question.

Chuck Hagel: Well --

Senator John McCain: I would  -- I would like to answer whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.

Chuck Hagel:  Well I'm not going to give you a "yes" or "no" answer on a lot of things today.

Senator John McCain:   Well let the the record show that you refused to answer that question.  Now please go ahead.

Chuck Hagel:  Well, if you would like me to explain why --

Senator John McCain: No, I actually would like an answer.  Yes or no?

Chuck Hagel: Well I'm not going to give you a yes or no. I think it's --

Senator John McCain: Okay.

Chuck Hagel:  -- far more complicated than that.  As I've already said, my answer is I'll defer that judgment to history.  As to the comment I made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam?  Was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into Iraq.  That particular decision that was made on the surge -- but more to the point, our war in Iraq -- I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam.  Aside, uh, from the costs that occurred in this country, uh, in blood and treasure, aside from what that did to, uh, take our focus off of Afghanistan -- which in fact, uh,  was-was the original and real focus of a national threat to this country -- uh, Iraq wa-wa-was not -- I always, uh,  tried to frame all the different issues before I made a decision on anything.  Now just as you said, Senator, we can have differences of opinion, uh,  --

Senator John McCain: But --

Chuck Hagel: -- that's essentially why I took the position I did.

Senator John McCain: It's a fundamental difference of opinion, Senator Hagel.  And Senator Graham and I and Senator [Joe] Lieberman -- when there were 59 votes in the United States Senate --  spent our time trying to prevent that 60th.  Thank God for Senator Lieberman.  I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it.  And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not.  I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans.

Chuck Hagel: Well, Senator, there was --there was more to it than just flooding a zone.

Senator John McCain: I'm asking about the surge, Senator Hagel.

Chuck Hagel: I know you are and I'm trying to explain my position.  The beginning of the surge also factored in what General Allen had put into place in Anbar Province -- the Sunni Awakening.  We put over, as you know, a hundred thousand young --

Senator John McCain: Senator Hagel, I'm very aware of the history of the surge and the Anbar Awakening and I also am aware that any casual observer will know that the surge was the fundamental factor, led by two great leaders, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.
Chuck Hagel:  Well I don't know if-if that would have been required and cost us over a thousand American lives and thousands of  wounded.

Senator John McCain: So you don't know if the surge would have been required?  Okay, Senator Hagel, let me go back -- to to Syria now.  More than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria.  Do you believe --

The surge was a failure.  That Hagel can't answer the question -- regardless of where he stands -- is disturbing.  If you can't answer that basic of a question, what questions will you be able to answer before the Congress?  We are aware that if Hagel's confirmed, he'll be appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to provide testimony many times in the future, right? 

I say the surge was a failure.  The US military did what was asked of them.  And the military was supposed to provide stability and security.  They did that.  Ethnic cleansing -- popularly called "a civil war" -- had taken place (2006 through 2007) and violence went down.  Some will argue that it went down because the ethnic cleansing was over.  No.  As we've seen since, it has not been over.  The ethnic cleansing that takes place also creates a 'surge' in refugees -- Iraq becomes the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East during this period.  Over 4 million external refugees, many displaced internally within the country as well.  Others try to tie in the Sahwa ("Awakening") and point that the purchasing of loyalty (resistance fighters paid to stop attacking US equipment and US troops) and that can be a factor as well.  But the US military was given a task and they performed it and they achieved their goal.

So why is the surge a failure?  Bully Boy Bush did not just send more troops over to Iraq.  He also gave 12 benchmarks to measure 'success' and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to those benchmarks.  The surge had two parts, the military would provide security and stability and, during this calmer period, US diplomatic staff would work with Iraqi politicians so that the needed political actions could take place.  What was needed?  That was defined in the benchmarks.  (No surprise, the US government was most interested in an oil and gas law.)

The US military did what was asked of them and they were successful in that task.  But the space they successfully created was not utilized.  Bully Boy Bush was not speaking publicly about the ethnic cleansing.  He was concerned -- by his own remarks -- with creating the space that he just knew would allow Iraq to move forward.  That did not happen.

Is that what Hagel believes?  We don't know because he wouldn't answer.  He wouldn't answer what McCain rightly pointed out was a very basic question.  That's really bothersome.  If you can't defend your statements, how are you going to defend a department?  If you can't answer a basic question the Congress asks, how are you going to answer tough questions from the Congress if confirmed?  If you care so little about being upfront with the American people (and members of Congress are the representatives of the American people) during your nomination period, are we supposed to believe that you'll suddenly be more interested in being upfront after a confirmation vote?

Hagel's confirmation hearing put to rest (for me) the issue of the "Jewish lobby."  It also provided a number of senators with the time to compete for the title of Israel's BFF.  But it also provided Hagel and Hagel -- his low energy level, his inability to answer basic questions -- actually raised more issues and questions than a confirmation hearing is expected to.

Senator Claire McCaskill moved quickly through her questioning and was probably one of the three strongest in the hearing of any senator.  (The weakest?  Senator Joe Manchin who couldn't stop whining or whimpering about wishing he could have served in the Senate with Hagel -- at one point his voice quivered on this topic and you had to wonder if Manchin has Daddy issues.)  We'll jump in near the end of McCaskill's exchange for a question that will determine his tenure if he's confirmed and for an important issue that will be a huge issue in the next four years.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  . . . and some people on the Committee are going, "Oh, here she goes on contracting," but auditability of the Defense Dept.  I know that you've stated in some of the advanced policy questions that you want to hold people accountable on auditability.  I don't think most Americans realize that as we face shrinking budgets and as we want to secure  the pre-eminance of our military and not hollow out the spending  at the Defense Dept, that auditability is a crucial ingredient to us being able to figure out whether all the money being spent there is being spent like Americans would want it to be spent.  Can you reassure me that auditability -- as prescribed by law, coming through this Committee -- that it needs to happen no later than 2017 -- can you make a commitment to me today on the record, that that will be a priority of yours, making sure that, as Secretary Panetta did and Secretary Gates before him, that auditability will be an essential priority in your time at defense?

Chuck Hagel:  As I told you, Senator, I will.  Uh, I make that commitment to this Committee.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  And then turning to contracting, I have yet to have, uhm, provided to me other than raw numbers that we spent any data that would indicate that major infrastructure rebuilding as part of a counter-insurgency strategy works.  There are many things that work in a counter-insurgency strategy and one of them, as it was originally posed to me, back some six years ago on this Committee by General Petraeus was that the CERP Funds -- the Commander Emergency Response Program -- that walking around money to fix plate glass windows and neighborhoods, that that was an essential part of the COIN strategy.  That morphed into our military building major infrastructure projects without really any data ever to indicate that the billions of dollars that we were spending was in fact advancing our mission -- our military mission.  In addition to that, it is clear if you want to look at Iraq and the failures that Iraq represents in some ways, one of the failures is the crumbling investments that this country made in Iraq -- the health centers that never opened, the water parks that sit crumbling, the power facilities that were blown up before they even had an opportunity to operate.  I can go down billions of dollars of waste because we didn't do the analysis on sustainability after we have left.  I am convinced that we have made the same mistakes in Afghanistan and I would like your response to this issue of major infrastructure building while we are in a conflict being conducted by our military -- not by AID, not by our State Dept -- and whether or not you would make a commitment to come back to this Committee with a report analyzing whether or not there is data to support that aspect of the COIN strategy?

Chuck Hagel:  Well I will make that commitment and, uh, it is part of the larger, uh, series of questions and, uh, factors always involved, uh, when, uh, a nation gets uh-uh clearly committed as we were -- still are -- in Afghanistan and were in Iraq for years.  When you are at war, the highest first priority is to take care of your people and uh, and, uh-uh, as a result of that, uh, all the rest of the-the normal latitude and guidance, uhm, theory and policy, uh, is secondary.  And so I think in both of those wars, uhm, because we got ourselves in so deep with so many people and, uh, the welfare of our men and women was, uh, paramount, we tried a lot of things.  We had never been this way before.  We had never seen anything like these two situations.  And, uh, as a result, and you know, our Special Inspector Generals have come up with billions and billions of dollars that are unaccounted for, uhm, corruption, fraud, waste, abuse.  Uh, it really is quite astounding. 

And we'll stop him there.  He's committed to a report of some form -- if confirmed -- about the infrastructure building's impact on the invaded land and the issue of open accountability with regards to spending.  If he is confirmed, those are two of the metrics by which he should be measured while he holds the post of Secretary of Defense.

While Joe Manchin (dubbed "Joe Manchild" by one friend in the press who covered today's hearing) whimpered about the lost or stolen time he could have spent with Hagel, he ignored the most pressing issues.  Hagel should have been asked over and over -- the way he was about Israel -- about something that actually has to do with the job: the crises in DoD.  That's the suicide crisis and that's the rape and assault crisis. 

The only one to spend any time on either of these issues was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand but even she had to waste  everyone's time.  Israel, Afghanistan and personnel issues, she ranked as the three topics -- in that order -- she wanted to ask about.  But she quickly launched into Iran.  Iran and Israel were covered at length in the long hearing before Gillibrand ever spoke.  But maybe she just had to insist she had "been one of the strongest advocates" for Israel?  You know what the military needs, they need a strong advocate for the victims of assault and rape.

And though Gillibrand is getting applause for her glancing comments on the issue of assault and rape, she was not their strong advocate in the hearing today unless you just do the "by comparison" verdict.  From Iran and Israel, she went to Egypt, and "okay, for my last minute, with regard to Afghanistan, we've heard . . ." 

Easy, cheesy applause greeted Gillibrand's nonsense.  Bridgette P. LaVictoire (Lez Get Real) can't quote Gillibrand so I'll assume she's working from the same press release we were sent.  But unlike LaVictoire, I attended the hearing and I know what Gillibrand said.  The Service Women's Network rushed to applaud Gillibrand who really only succeeded in reminding most of us that Carolyn Maloney would have made a better US Senator.   Here's what they're applauding:

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: My last question that I'll submit for the record but you and I have talked about it obviously the personnel in our military is our most important asset.  And when we hear reports that there are upwards of 19,000 sexual assaults in the military against women, it's unacceptable.  Uhm, we also have finally repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell but it's difficult for a military spouse to even go to a commissary and be on base or be notified if a spouse is killed in action. I would need a strong commitment from you that you will treat our military families and look after them in the way that you would look after your own.  I want you to be concerned about every man and woman in the military, that their well being is being looked after and seeing real advocacy and leadership, not status quo, not implementing whatever we put forward but actually fighting for them every single day. 

Chuck Hagel:  Well you have my complete commitment on that.

For eight minutes, she went on about everything else before getting to her so-called "last question."  19 words.  She got applauded for 19 words. She spent more than that vouching for sleep overs and pillow fights with Israel.  Come on, let's get serious.  19 words deserves a press release?  She wasted her time and everyone else's.

If assaults matter -- and I believe they do -- you spend something more than 19 words on them in a hearing.  Again, Iran and Israel were covered at length over and over.

Maybe I'm supposed to dance for joy because Gillibrand did mention it?  If she'd given it serious time, maybe so.  But she really made a mockery out of the whole thing, if you ask me.

If every website in the world is covering what Hagel thinks of Israel (and today I'm sure many were), then the last thing that's needed is one more doing the same.  Equally true, if senator after senator is asking the same questions, you need to spend your time asking something different.  Gillibrand deserves no praise for her performance in the hearing.  You will not read reports about her 'question' or her 'statements' due to some press conspiracy to cover up rape and assault.  The reason you won't read about it or hear about it is because she didn't take it seriously.  19 words?  That's embarrassing.

They should have applauded Senator Richard Blumenthal who took more time on this topic.  Blumenthal is Ruth's Senator and she'll be covering it at her site tonight.

Turning to Iraq, this morning Alsumaria reported  that Reporters Without Borders and Iraq's JFO (Journalistic Freedoms Observatory) are demanding the release of French journalist Nadir Dendoune.  From Monday's snapshot:

As we noted this morning, Nadir  Dendoune, who holds dual Algerian and Australian citizenship was covering Iraq for the fabled French newspaper Le Monde's monthly magazine.  His assignment was to document Iraq 10 years after the start of the Iraq War.   Alsumaria explains the journalist was grabbed by authorities in Baghdad last week for the 'crime' of taking pictures.  (Nouri has imposed a required permit, issued by his government, to 'report' in Iraq.)  All Iraq News adds the journalist has been imprisoned for over a week now without charges.

Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and Reporters Without Borders issued a joint-statement noting Nadir Dendoune holds Algerian, Australian and French nationalities and that while they do not know the date of his arrest, they know he made a January 28th phone call from custody to a friend to pass on that he'd been arrested.   They call for his release and urge that the government be forthcoming about the details of his arrest and imprisonment. Yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists finally issued a statement on the matter:

"The arbitrary jailing of a journalist is a vestige of the Saddam Hussein regime that is completely out of place in Iraq's democracy today," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Nadir Dendoune should be released immediately."
The Iraqi Syndicate for Journalists condemned Dendoune's detention, calling it a violation of Iraqi law and the constitution and saying that it distorted the country's image in front of the international community.

  • For more data and analysis on Iraq, visit CPJ's Iraq page here.

This morning, AP reported that Ministry of the Interior spokesperson Saad Maan Ibrahim confirms that they are holding Nadir Dendoune.  Reporters Without Borders issued the following:

Reporters Without Borders and the newly-formed Nadir Dendoune Support Committee call for the immediate release of Nadir Dendoune, a visiting reporter with French, Algerian and Australian triple nationality who has been held in a Baghdad prison for the past eight days.
Dendoune arrived in Iraq on 16 January to do a series of reports for the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique and the magazine Le Courrier de l’Atlas. According to the French foreign ministry, he was arrested on 23 January while photographing a water installation in the southwest Baghdad neighbourhood of Dora.
He has been held ever since without being charged. Officially, he is alleged to have been taking photos of sensitive locations without permission. He has not yet been allowed to receive a visit from French consular officials based in Baghdad although a request has been made by the French embassy. He managed to call a friend in France yesterday to report that he had been jailed.
Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization in Iraq, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, wrote yesterday to Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki requesting more information about the circumstances of Dendoune’s arrest and the charges against him.
The letter was handed in directly to the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad. The two organizations asked the prime minister to do everything in his power to ensure that Dendoune is released as soon as possible.
The NGO Human Rights Watch has released "Iraq: A Broken Justice System" today and become the first in English to seriously address the treatment of women and girls in Iraqi prisons and detention centers has been the motivating factor for outrage in Iraq for months now and one of the main underpinnings of the protests:

Most recently, in November, federal police invaded 11 homes in the town of al-Tajji, north of Baghdad, and detained 41 people, including 29 children, overnight in their homes. Sources close to the detainees, who requested anonymity, said police took 12 women and girls ages 11 to 60 to 6th Brigade headquarters and held them there for four days without charge. The sources said the police beat the women and tortured them with electric shocks and plastic bags placed over their heads until they began to suffocate.
Despite widespread outcry over abuse and rape of women in pre-trial detention, the government has not investigated or held the abusers accountable. In response to mass protests over the treatment of female detainees, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a pardon for 11 detainees. However, hundreds more women remain in detention, many of whom allege they have been tortured and have not had access to a proper defense.

They also note:

Iraq’s leadership used draconian measures against opposition politicians, detainees, demonstrators, and journalists, effectively squeezing the space for independent civil society and political freedoms in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2013.
The number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq increased in 2012, for the first time since 2009. Thousands of civilians and police were killed in spates of violence, including targeted assassinations, amid a political crisis that has dragged on since December 2011. Alongside the uptick in violence, Iraqi security forces arbitrarily conducted mass arrests and tortured detainees to extract confessions with little or no evidence of wrongdoing.
“As insurgent groups targeted innocent Iraqis in a multitude of coordinated attacks throughout the year, Iraq’s security forces targeted innocent civilians in mass campaigns of arbitrary arrests and abusive interrogations,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “After decades of dictatorship, occupation, and terrorism, the Iraqi people today face a government that is slipping further into authoritarianism and doing little to make them safer.”

Al Mada reports preparations are beginning already for tomorrow's protests and that organizers are speaking of solidarity with the Falluja martyrs. (Last Friday saw the Falluja Massacre -- seven people dead and sixty injured when the military opened fire on the protesters.)  All Iraq News reports that the Falluja Criminal Court has announced arrest warrants for military personnel involved in the shootings.

From yesterday's snapshot:

Meanwhile in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki is stripping political rivals of their protection according to charges made to Alsumaria.  Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, a leader in the Sahwa forces, told the network that he had lost his bodyguards and when he asked why he was told it was on the orders of Nouri al-Maliki.  What seems to be happening is this:  government forces providing protection to various politicians throughout Iraq are being ordered by Nouri to return to Baghdad out of some fear -- real or imagined -- on the part of Nouri that he's about to be overthrown.

The Iraq Times sees the removal of the bodyguards as Nouri attempting to punish Abu Risha for his backing of the protests.  Abu Rhisa tells Kitabat that the protests will continue until the legitimate demands are met.  In violence this morning, Alsumaria reports a Mosul bombing has left two federal police officers injured and a Diyala explosion killed 1 shepherd.

Lastly, the rains continue in Iraq.  Alsumaria reports that rain's expected in Baghdad today and for the next three.  This is not a minor issue.  Not only have Baghdad streets been flooded, there have been dangers of electrical shocks, street lights have been out, outside of Baghdad there have been homes collapsing and much worse.  All Iraq News notes that 1500 families in Baiji (Salahuddin Province) have been evacuated from their homes due to flooding and they are currently in tents and receiving food and aid from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.  All Iraq News notes a dam collapsed in Salahuddin Province (a village near Tikrit) and the provincial government is evacuating residents in Samarra.  If you click here, you can watch an Alsumuria video of the flooding in Baghdad.  In most places, the water comes up to the knees. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The New Adventures of Old Christine

Tonight, we're doing TV theme posts. 

For me, the show that mattered the most in the last ten years was The New Adventures of Old Christine.  I do not think there was a funnier show on TV during its run.

And Barb and Christine were like the new Ethyl and Lucy.

I loved everything about the show.  Including the meanie moms and Christine's brother.  Everything was perfect including Christine's fondness for wine.

I still cannot get over the fact that a show that was bringing in viewers got the axe.

Let alone a show that was still funny and getting better every season, every episode.

Sometimes, I will go over to Lifetime online, to the show page for The New Adventures of Old Christine and stream at random. Those episodes still hold up and are laugh out loud funny.

The way that wonderful show was treated made it very difficult for me to get too vested in another show and I will not watch CBS at all.  When it screwed over that show, it lost me forever.

Right now they are playing "Sweet Charity."  That was a great episode.  I still remember it.  Christine and Barb finally have a profit (small) on the gym.  Barb's going to donate her money.  Christine wants a Dior dress.  But ends up donating.  Then asks for the money back.

She was hilarious.  And Barb ends up getting a pop corn machine instead of donating money.

And when Christine buys the Dior dress and puts it on, she ends up ripping the dress.

"Each of us is getting $2,000." 

Barb just said that.  That is the amount of money they made off the gym in the fourth quarter.

"Ernest and Julio Gallo are going to be jumping up and down in their office too!" Barb says when Christine announces she knows how she is spending her $2,000.

This was such a great show.  I really miss it.

And I miss everyone, new Christine, Richie, Old Christine's brother, her ex-husband Richard and most of all Barb. 
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, ExxonMobil continues to be the focus of a tug-of-war between Erbil and Baghdad, rumors of a deal between the PKK and the Turkey, does the Iraqi Constitution already limit Nouri to two terms, and more.

Starting in England where two sides continue pleading their case before two judges -- one side insisting allegations of abuse of Iraqis can be handled internally, the other side insisting a public hearing is necessary.  Laurence Lee (Al Jazeera -- link is video) reports:

Laurence Lee:  The tenth anniversary of the Iraq War is fast approaching.  It seems this may be the place and time when the most serious allegations against the British army may come out.  It had already been officially recognized by the establishment here that sections of the army operating around Basra in southern Iraq were engaged in abuse in practices banned under international law.  That all came to a head in the inquiry a couple of years ago into the death of Baha Mousa -- an innocent young hotel worker wrongly suspected by British troops of collusion with insurgents.  They beat him to death.  The Ministry of Defense, accused of a corporate failure to ensure standards of conduct.   They're about to be accused of a lot more because lawyers now have testimonies from 180 Iraqis who say they were abused as well.  The Ministry of Defense here has always insisted that abuse that did take place by British soldiers was disgraceful but that it was isolated, it wasn't systemic.  Lawyers for the Iraqis have always said that they didn't believe that.  Now they say, they've got the evidence to prove it.  The Baha Mousa Inquiry found that soldiers were using the so-called five techniques: hooding, sleep deprivation, use of noise, wall standing and food deprivation.  They'd all been banned by the British government in 1972 but somehow the soldiers knew all about them. Now lawyers acting for the Iraqi civilians want an open, public inquiry into a much wider allegations of abuse issues  and the extent to which soldiers were trained in torture.  A particular focus will be the treatment of long-term prisoners   Claims for example of forced nudity and sexual and religious humiliation, of inmates being routinely assaulted. 

Kevin Laue (human rights activist): After all this country is often critical of abuses committed abroad, rightly so.  But it's hypocritical if the UK doesn't itself uphold these standards. 


Laurence Lee:  The establishment here portrays the armed forces as a self-less group of people prepared to commit the ultimate sacrifice in the name of protecting the weak.  The Ministry of the Defense continues to insist it would rather investigate itself than have these embarrassing allegations exposed to public scrutiny.  Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera, London.

Omar Karmi (The National Newspaper) adds, "According to Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, the firm representing the Iraqis, another 871 Iraqis are waiting to come forward and there are 'tens of thousands of allegations.'  They range from accusations of unlawful killing, sexual abuse, food, water and sleep deprivation to mock executions, religious abuse and abuse by dogs."  Press Trust of India quotes Shiner discussing how a grandmother "is led away alive . . . Seen by her husband and her son alive, then found a few hours later in a British body bag very much dead, with signs of torture.  I could go on and on."  RT notes, "MOD lawyers have assured the High Court that comprehensive steps are being taken to ensure that lessons are learned from the mistakes made in Iraq.  However, the MOD seems intent on glossing over its past failings: in December, the ministry paid over $22 million (£14 million) in compensation to hundreds of Iraqi citizens who claimed to have been illegally detained and abused by British forces posted in the country. "

Meanwhile in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki is stripping political rivals of their protection according to charges made to Alsumaria.  Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, a leader in the Sahwa forces, told the network that he had lost his bodyguards and when he asked why he was told it was on the orders of Nouri al-Maliki.  What seems to be happening is this:  government forces providing protection to various politicians throughout Iraq are being ordered by Nouri to return to Baghdad out of some fear -- real or imagined -- on the part of Nouri that he's about to be overthrown.

If you're thinking, "This seems familiar," it's because it has happened before.  Like a bad meal, Nouri always repeats.   In March of last year, Toby Dodge explained at Open Democracy:

In order to secure his position, al-Maliki focused his energies on gaining complete control of the security services.  He set about subverting the formal chain of command, tying senior army commanders, paramilitary units and the intelligence services to him personally.  In doing so he ‘coup proofed’ the security forces but also politicised and personalised its chain of command. He created the Office of the Commander in Chief in 2007 and used this platform to appoint and promote senior officers who were personally loyal.  As responsibility for security in each province was handed from the United States military to Iraqi control, the Prime Minister set up a number of operational commands to bring both the army and the police force together under one regional organisation.  These operational commands were run by a single commanding officer who managed all the security services operating in his province.  These officers are appointed and managed from a central office in Baghdad under the control of al-Maliki.  The appointment of these powerful generals reflected the Prime Minister’s personal preferences.   Through the use of these joint operational commands al-Maliki bypassed his security Ministers and their senior commanders and parliamentary oversight, locating control of Iraq’s armed forces in his private office. 
Furthermore, in April 2007, as control of Iraq’s Special Forces was handed from the US to the Iraqi government, a Counter-Terrorism Bureau was set up to manage them at ministerial level.   This effectively removed control of Iraqi Special Forces, with 6,000 men in its ranks, from the Ministries of Defence and Interior and placed them under the direct control of the Prime Minister, well away from legislative control or parliamentary oversight.  This force is considered to be the best trained in the Middle East.  It operates its own detention centres, intelligence gathering and has surveillance cells in every governorate across central and southern Iraq. It now forms al-Maliki’s Praetorian Guard. Since the force was removed from the formal chain of command and from legal oversight, it has become known as the Fedayeen al-Maliki, a reference to their reputation as the Prime Minster’s tool for covert action against his rivals as well as an ironic reference to Saddam’s own highly unpopular militia.[5] 
Finally, al-Maliki moved to bring Iraq’s intelligence services under his direct control. This became apparent when Mohammed al-Shahwani, the head of the National Intelligence Service, came into an increasingly public conflict with Sherwan al-Waeli, appointed by al-Mailki in 2006 to be the Minister of State for National Security Affairs. The National Intelligence Service was established by America’s Central Intelligence Agency and al-Shahwani enjoyed a long and close working relationship with Washington over many years.  Al-Waeli, conversely, was considered to be al-Maliki’s man.[6]  Things came to a head in August 2009 after a series of major bombs in the centre of Baghdad.  Al-Shahwani argued in the Iraqi press that there was clear evidence linking the attacks to Iran.  In the subsequent fallout surrounding the incident al-Shahwani was forced to resign and delivered Iraq’s security services into al-Maliki’s grasp. 

The use of Iraq’s security services to personally protect Nuri al-Maliki reached its peak at the end of March 2008.  Al-Maliki believed at that time he faced a coordinated plot to unseat him.  An upsurge in militia violence in the southern port city of Basra would be used as a pretext to push a vote of no confidence through the parliament in Baghdad and unseat al-Maliki as Prime Minister.  To outflank this plot al-Maliki sent four divisions of the Iraqi army into Basra to seize control of the city back from the militias that were threatening his rule.  The resulting military campaign almost ended in disaster and defeat.  This was only avoided by the extended intervention of US troops and air support.  However, al-Maliki used this eventual victory to stamp his authority on the Iraqi government and the armed forces and to reshape his political image country-wide as an Iraqi nationalist and the saviour of the country. 

Toby Doge's new book is  Iraq: From  War To A New Authoritarianism  which was released two weeks ago.  From the security forces Nouri controls to the prisons and detention centers, Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports that an MP sitting on Parliament's Security and Defense Committee is charging that Nouri is operating secret prisons including one in the Green Zone.  The Green Zone prison is said to be part of the intelligence Kitabt notes that MP Hamid Mutlaalak states that the secret prisons are under Nouri's command, that they are unconstitutional and that Iraqis are being intimidated and tortured in these secret prisons and detention centers. 

Today CNN's  Tweeted:

Note to all media colleagues working in need permission to shoot garbage dumps...

Dropping back to yesterday's snapshot:

As we noted this morning, Nadir  Dendoune, who holds dual Algerian and Australian citizenship was covering Iraq for the fabled French newspaper Le Monde's monthly magazine.  His assignment was to document Iraq 10 years after the start of the Iraq War.   Alsumaria explains the journalist was grabbed by authorities in Baghdad last week for the 'crime' of taking pictures.  (Nouri has imposed a required permit, issued by his government, to 'report' in Iraq.)  All Iraq News adds the journalist has been imprisoned for over a week now without charges.

This afternoon, the Committee to Protect Journalists finally issued a statement on the matter:

"The arbitrary jailing of a journalist is a vestige of the Saddam Hussein regime that is completely out of place in Iraq's democracy today," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Nadir Dendoune should be released immediately."
The Iraqi Syndicate for Journalists condemned Dendoune's detention, calling it a violation of Iraqi law and the constitution and saying that it distorted the country's image in front of the international community.

  • For more data and analysis on Iraq, visit CPJ's Iraq page here.

Protests continue in Iraq.  And a new one emerges as college students make their voices heard at Diyala University.  Alsumaria explains students are threatening an ongoing sit-in over what they are calling the abuse of religious symbols by a professor.  Iraqiya is calling on the Ministry of Education to step in and mediate the dispute.  Iraqiya is a political slate made up of various sects.  Ayad Allawi heads the slate and they came in first in the March 2010 parliamentary elections.  Those were the most recent elections and provincial elections are supposed to take place in April.   Alsumaria notes the president of the university has identified the professor in question as a law professor and states the teacher has been stopped from teaching classes while the university investigates the situation.  If you click here, you can see a photo of the protesters.

Saturday the Parliament voted to limit the three presidencies (President, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister) to two terms.  Wael Grace (Al Mada) reported that 170 of the 242 MPs present voted in favor of the law.  Ahmed Rasheed, Patrick Markey and Andrew Roche (Reuters) add, "Lawmakers from Sunni, Kurdish and Shi'ite parties voted for the law, but the legislation still needs the president's approval and will face challenges in federal court after Maliki's supporters rejected it as illegal."  Yesterday Al Mada reports that the Federal Supreme Court is set to rule and is expected to rule that the law is Constitutional but that it cannot be retroactive.  Meaning the law will stand but it will be said to start a policy beginning when it was passed, therefore Nouri will be able to run for a third term if he wants to.

Today the Iraq Times offers a legal article that argues an interesting point which would require a legal ruling.  The argument they put forward revolves around Article 68 which is understood to state that the President of Iraq is limited to two terms. That's the interpretation of it, I've made that interpretation myself.  But that's the literal, word-for-word interpretation.  The Iraq Times argues that Article 68 is applied to all three of the presidencies.  The three presidencies are the prime minister, the president and the Speaker of Parliament.   They are interpreting Article 68 to mean the three presidencies.  That's an interesting interpretation.  To be applied, it would require a legal ruling.

If you look at the Constitution itself, you actually can build on -- and back up -- the argument the Iraq Times is putting forward.  For example, look at Article 77's First Clause, "The conditions for assuming the post of the Prime Minister shall be the same as those for the President of the Republic, provided that he has a college degree or its equivalent and is over thirty-five years of age."  If Article 77 isn't applying the conditions -- specifically Article 72's two term limitations -- then where is the prime minister's term specified?  It's not.  If Article 72 isn't being applied to the prime minister as well, not only is the prime minister not limited to two terms but where is the term for the prime minister defined?

I thought it was an interesting argument as I read over (and over) the Iraqi Times article but if you take the time to actually go through the Constitution applying this argument, it does get stronger and stronger.   A friend who's a professor at Georgetown called about the above which was up this morning and he wanted to know why applying this "would require a legal ruling"?  I said it would require a legal ruling because Nouri's State of Law would say "That's wrong!" and Iraqiya would argue differently so you'd need a legal ruling to solve the issue.

"Why?"  my friend persisted.  He's correct, it took me a moment to get what he was pointing out: If Nouri doesn't agree with the ruling, Nouri doesn't follow it.  A court ruling wouldn't necessarily solve anything and it's equally true that the Parliament taking a stand on this could also force Nouri's hand.  You can interpret the Constitution as the Iraq Times argues.  How you get around that -- if both sides are deadlocked -- I don't know.  Nouri's State of Law is already attacking the United Nations because UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, has been meeting with protesters in an attempt to start a national dialogue.

Staying with the power struggle but turning to the topic of oil and Iraq, last week reported, "In a sign of a possible end to its dispute with America's largest oil company, Iraq's prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki met with the head of Exxon Mobil yesterday to discuss the oil giant's plans in the country."  AP added, "The statement says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Exxon Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson discussed the company's activities and working conditions in Iraq."  Then the Kurdistan Regional Government noted a meeting in Davos, Switzerland yesterday where KRG President Massoud Barzani and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Pilarson addressed oil exploration in the KRG.  (Before Barzani arrived in Switzerland, he stopped in Germany where he visited the hospital where Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is being treated and he states Jalal's status has greatly improved.)  Barzani was in Switzerland for the World Economic Conference. 

What's going on?

For background and context, we'll drop back to the November 11, 2011 snapshot:

In Iraq, things are heating up over an oil deal. Hassan Hafidh and James Herron (Wall St. Journal) report, "ExxonMobil Corp. could lose its current contract to develop the West Qurna oil field in Iraq if it proceeds with an agreement to explore for oil in the Kurdistan region of the country, an Iraqi official said. The spat highlights the political challenges for foreign companies operating in Iraq" as Nouri's Baghdad-based 'national' government attempts to rewrite the oil law over the objection of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Tom Bergin and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) offer, "Exxon declined to comment, and experts speculated the move could indicate Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders are nearing agreement on new rules for oil companies seeking to tap into Iraq's vast oil reserves." UPI declares, "The breakaway move into Kurdistan, the first by any of the oil majors operating in Iraq under 20-year production contract signed in 2009, could cost Exxon Mobil its stake in the giant West Qurna Phase One mega-oil field in southern Iraq." Salam Faraj (AFP) speaks with Abdelmahdi al-Amidi (in Iraq's Ministry of Oil) declares that the Exxon contract means that Exxon would lose a contract it had previously signed with Baghdad for the West Qurna-1 field.  Faraj sketches out the deal with the KRG beginning last month with Exxon being notified that they had "48 hours to make a decision on investing in an oil field in the region."  Exxon was interested but sought an okay from the Baghdad government only to be denied.

For background, context and to establish that nothing ever changes in Nouri's Iraq.

If it's me that's driving you to this madness
Then there's one thing that I'd like to say
Take a look at your life and your lovers
Nothing ever changes

-- "Nothing Ever Changes," written by Stevie Nicks and Sandy Stewart, first appears on Stevie's Wild Heart album

So last week saw Nouri bellicose and belligerent making many threats.   Al Rafidayn reports that European oil companies continue to buy large amounts of oil from the KRG and all the cries of "it's illegal" from Nouri haven't stopped that from happening.   Jen Alic (Christian Scientist Monitor) observes, "Reuters seems to interpret this as possible move by Exxon to drop its Kurdish holdings in return for a better deal in southern Iraq. We haven’t heard from Exxon yet, though, and Baghdad has had plenty of chances to adopt a more favorable contractual model, like the Kurds, and has not done so. It would be a major coup for Baghdad it managed to convince Exxon to quit Northern Iraq."  Reuters seems to think that will happen and that it will be big for Nouri.  But what makes anyone think that ExxonMobil would do something to make Nouri happy?  The Iraq leases are dingo dogs with fleas.  There's nothing to be gained there for ExxonMobil in dropping the valuable KRG contract to abide by the poor terms of Baghdad's contract.  So if it's not in the financial interests of ExxonMobil and if all Nouri's doing is the same thing he's always done, why would this change the way ExxonMobil looks at the two deals to determine which one is more attractive?  Can ExxonMobil afford to walk away from the KRG?  Today,  Reuters notes, "The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is negotiating with two or three major international companies to operate oilfields and expects to announce the outcome in about a month, said officials, in a move likely to further heighten tensions with Baghdad."  So with the KRG continuing to be an attractive resource on the international stage, how would it benefit ExxonMobil to walk away from that?  Reuters has been unable to explain that. 

The tensions between Baghdad and Erbil continue.  Alsumaria reports that meetings continue between the Iraq Ministry of Defense and the KRG's Peshmerga over the military stand off in the disputed areas.  Kurdish MP Chuan Mohamed Taha notes the two have failed to agree on who stations troops where.

This has to do with disputed areas -- which probably means it has to do with oil -- and it has to do with the Constitution.  In 2005, many -- including Nouri -- participated in drawing up Iraq's Constitution.  Article 140 details how Iraq will resolve disputed regions: hold a census and a referendum.  Nouri became prime minister the next year.  And Article 140 was supposed to be implemented on oil-rich Kirkuk by the end of 2007.

Yet Nouri never got around to it for some reason.  What's a broken oath to a Constitution, after all?

It's now 2013.  And oil-rich Kirkuk still hasn't been resolved.  But last year, a little past the half-way mark, Nouri created a new military force:  Operation Command Tigris.  He selected the commander all by himself -- despite needing Parliament to sign off on any nominee.

And he then dispatched Operation Command Tigris into Iraq.  But not just any part of Iraq, mind you.  No, he sent them into the disputed areas.

A new military force under Nouri's command and they're being sent into the disputed areas?  To the Kurds, this looked like Nouri was attempting to 'resolve' the disputes by force.   As the tensions piled on, the disputed areas were left with a military stand-off between Operation Command Tigris and  the Peshmerga (the elite Kurdish force).  And the continued tensions here make the KRG even more determined to hold on to Exxon Mobil. 

Moving further north to the conflict between the PKK and Turkey, AFP reports today, "Turkey's Kurdish rebels will declare a ceasefire and withdraw to their bases in northern Iraq in the spring as part of a deal brokered between their jailed leader and the country's intelligence againcy, media reported on Tuesday."  Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk."   Deng Shasha (Xinhua) reports that Turkey's Parliament has calculated the ongoing war with the PKK has resulted in the deaths of 35,566 people in the last three decades.

In other violence, Alsumaria reports that last night three religious scholars were shot dead in Kirkuk last night.   All Iraq News notes 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead today in Mosul.  Alsumaria also notes a grenade attack on a police checkpoint outside of Tikrit which left 2 police officers injured and 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul.

Turning to the United States.  Monday it was announced that Iraq War veteran Brendan Marrocco, a quadruple amputee, had received a double-arm transplant.  Yesterday, he held a press conference at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Last night on The NewsHour (PBS -- link is text, audio and video), Gwen Ifill reported on the press conference.

GWEN IFILL: Sergeant Marrocco said he is already seeing signs of progress.

BRENDAN MARROCCO: I don't really have feeling or movement in the hands yet, but we will get there. I can move my elbow. This was my elbow, the one I had before. I can rotate a little bit. This arm is pretty much not much movement at all.

GWEN IFILL: His doctors cautioned it will be slow going, maybe a year or longer, before Marrocco can fully use and feel his new arms.
In the meantime, the patient played down any talk of going for a double leg transplant.

BRENDAN MARROCCO: Arms is certainly enough for me. I hated not having arms. I was all right with not having legs. Not having arms takes so much away from you out of even your personality. You know, you talk with your hands. You do everything with your hands, basically. And when you don't have that, you're kind of lost for a while.

GWEN IFILL: Marrocco said, ultimately, he hopes to swim and compete in a marathon using a hand cycle.

Gwen also spoke with a member of Brendan Marrocco's surgical team, Dr. Jamie Shores.  Excerpt:

GWEN IFILL: I'm sorry to interrupt. You're talking nerves and bone and tendons and muscles and skin and another donor arm, limb. This sounds extremely complicated.

JAIMIE SHORES: Well, it's -- it is a bit complicated. But that's why we do so much in-depth planning and so much rehearsing. We want to take all the guesswork out of it to make it as safe as possible.

GWEN IFILL: Now, he said that -- today that he couldn't feel anything yet. It's been about a month since the surgery. But how long does it take for things to begin to regenerate, for feeling to be restored, for mobility to be restored?

JAIMIE SHORES: Yes, so, the mobility will probably start earlier for him because the muscles that move his elbows are his own muscles on both arms. The right arm, we're not allowing him to move very much right now because we want the -- where we put the muscles that flex the elbow and extend the elbow into the tendons that anchor into the bones of the arm that we have reattached there to heal.
But his left arm, the elbow flexors and straighteners are all his own. And so they work well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chris Cuomo follows Jake Tapper's lead

First Jake Tapper, now Chris Cuomo.  The Chicago Sun Times reports Chris Cuomo is leaving ABC for, like Mr. Tapper before him, CNN.  The plan, the report states, is to move Erin Burnett to the morning for a new show that she and Mr. Cuomo will anchor. 

Good because CNN's a little soft in the morning.  I do not just mean that it does a morning show with all the nonsense that entails.  I do not care for their morning programming.  I can usually turn on around noon.  And have no problem with the evening content at all except for Piers Morgan who should have gone down in the British scandal involving Rupert Murdoch.

Mr. Cuomo has done pieces for ABC's magazine shows including Nightline where he has often been the only one filing a news report.  I would enjoy seeing him and Ms. Burnett in the morning.  (Although I do enjoy her on her own CNN show currently.)

I cannot take Soledad O'Brien.  If you are going to do opinion after opinion, take it somewhere else.  And if you are going to yell, take it to Fox or MSNBC. 

I had to give up on her because she is clearly a grown woman but she has obviously never learned the difference between opinion and fact, insisting her own opinions are facts even when she cannot back them up.

And, one more time, if you are going to yell, take it to Fox or MSNBC. I do not watch TV in the morning to have someone yelling.  I have better things to do. 

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

January 29, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue, Nouri and State of Law smear Anbar Province, Nouri imprisons a Le Monde journalist,  CNN is stopped from reporting by Iraqi police, Nouri tosses out a few dollars more at Sahwa, and more.

We're going to have to deal with something first.  Women in America are under enough assault.  If you have a problem with a woman, call her out. If you're making blanket statements attacking women -- large swaths of unnamed women -- you need to stop calling yourself a feminist.  You're not a feminist.  You're a pain in the ass -- I'm referring to Zillah Eisenstein, you're a Marxist, you're a woman who needs to learn how to use brush on that ratty hair (or is grooming not important at Ithaca College), but you're not a feminist.

Cindy Sheehan shared her opinion on the change regarding combat and allowing US women into combat and did so without insulting women.  For Cindy, instead of including women in combat, she felt the world would be better served by having men banned from combat as well and ending wars.  That is a feminist view.  We were happy to include it.

But not everyone has Cindy heart and the result is that a lot of women are getting pissed off because they're being insulted.  I understand the feeling and you can include me on that list.  This topic is currently the number one issue today in the e-mails to this site according to Martha and Shirley who informed me last night that it was also the number one topic yesterday.   You may or may not choose to join the military.  If you do, you may or may not choose to go for combat.  These are choices.  And women can be make any choice they want.

Zillah Eisenstein's assault at Al Jazeera is only the latest thing angering women.  She feels the need to refer to Iraq War veteran Jessica Lynch as "the now famous blond."  Excuse me?  What the hell does Jessica Lynch's hair color have to do with one damn thing?  Oh, yeah, we get the coded language you're trying to speak in Zillah.  (And your hatred for the pretty girl, yeah, we get that too.)  She makes other insane comments. "The pay" is not "about equal between Wal-Mart and the military" and that's an offensive statement.  Wal-Mart has a pledge to hire vets.  I've been asked why we're not applauding that.  Wal-Mart screws over people regularly, they underpay and they also have a real problem of requiring people to work off the clock.  A job at Wal-Mart is better than a job no where but I'm not going to praise it. Equally true, if you join the military, you've got health care.  If you're married to a member of the opposite sex (and hopefully this will shortly be true if you're married to a member of the same sex), they have health care coverage.  If you honorably discharge or retire from the service, you've got the VA for health care.  Do not pretend that Wal-Mart and the military are "about equal" in terms of pay.  That's disgusting.  And you would think a Marxist would go out of her way to avoid making such an idiotic statement.

Zillah wants you not to "confuse the presence of females, especially in combat, with gender 'equality'."  No problem, Zillah.  I see Al Jazeera offering token American women as columnists.  I never mistake these women for feminists. Including Zillah. 

Throughout time and history, women have shown various sides and carried out various roles.  But Zillah wants you to be 'dainty.'  If you want combat, there's something wrong with you and you're not a woman or you're a woman who loves drones or whatever else garbage Zillah's tossing out in her badly written article that goes to how academic 'feminists' really need to learn to write for the masses when they're writing columns for the people. Amazons are a part of Greek mythology.  That's Hippolyta and her sister Penthesilea.  So in 7th century BC, women fighters could be envisioned but it's somehow unknown to Zillah?

Women can be whatever they want to be and should be.  We don't question a man's identity because he wants to go into combat, nor should we question a woman's identity.

Right now, women veterans and women service members are watching as various men attack them and insist that they couldn't handle combat.  At the same time, do we really need Zillah and her kindred also attacking women and suggesting there's something wrong with them if they want to take part in combat?

I don't think so.  Equally true, we're talking about different genders, not different species.  This nonsense has to stop.

You want to call out women?  There are plenty worth calling out.  Choose a name and have at it.  But don't insult a group of women and think you're a feminist because you're not.  Don't degrade their dreams and desires because your own are different.  That's not feminism.  What Zillah practicies does have a name: Know-it-all-ism. 

By contrast, Laura Browder (Time magazine) listens to women:
As I talked to more than 50 women who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan—or both—I was struck by how determined many of these women were to serve their country on the battlefield. Army Staff Sergeant Jamie Rogers told me, “As a soldier, it’s something that you always want to do. For myself, I felt it was my obligation and that’s what I had been training for all these years, to do my job in combat. And I was very honored. I got to lead soldiers in combat, and I proved to myself that all this training was worthwhile.”
Rogers, who was in the military police, was out on patrol 12 hours of every 24. As she said of the experience, “It’s very life-changing.” While civilians may still see women in the military as being marginal, no female soldier I ever talked to saw herself as anything less than a military professional on par with her male comrades in arms.
As one West Point graduate explained to me, it felt as though she had been reading technical manuals on how to ride a bicycle—but to really be a soldier, she had to get on the bike itself. I heard variations of this sentiment from many women. And of course, many of the women I talked to did serve as explosives-sniffing dog handlers, military police whose jobs involved busting down doors and conducting house-to-house searches, and convoy gunners like Bumgarner.

Still on the military, he wants to shake hands with Blake Shelton and he's looking forward to the day he can drive again.  Those were two of the answers Iraq War veteran Brendan Marrocco gave today at a Johns Hopkins Hospital news conference in Baltimore Maryland today.  An April 12, 2009 bombing left him a quadruple amputee.  Yesterday, came news that last month Brendan received a double-arm transplant.  Today he participated in a news conference wearing a "Keep Calm and Chive On" t-shirt.

Brendan Marrocco:  I hated not having arms.  I was alright with not having legs. Not having arms takes so much away from you, even your personality. You know, you talk with your hands, you do everything with your hands basically, and when you don't have that, you're kind of lost for awhile.

About his donor, Brendan Marrocco declared,  "I don't know too much about the donor, but I would like to thank them.  I'm humbled.  They've changed my life."  Christina Lopez and Matthew Larotonda (ABC News) report on the news conference here. CBS News covers the news conference here and Linda Carroll (NBC News) covers it here.  (Quote and answers are from the conference.  A friend was supposed to have help covering the news conference.  He did not.  So while he got images, he left the phone line open and I took notes for him.  I heard the conference, I was not present.)

Brendan Marrocco:  You know I never really gave up on too much that really mattered to me.  If I didn't care, I gave up in a second but if I truly cared about it in my heart, uh, if it really meant something to me, I would go through hell to do it so that's basically what I'm doing now.

Today Wladimir van Wilgenburg (Rudaw) observes, "The British government remains reluctant to recognize the 1988 gassing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam Hussein as genocide, saying it is waiting for an international judicial body to make sure a declaration first."  That's not the only thing the British government is struggling to deal with.  Sky News explains,  "Scores of lawyers representing Iraqis are going to the High Court seeking an 'independent' public inquiry into allegations that British interrogators were guilty of the systemic abuse of civilians in Iraq."  ITV notes that Public Interest Lawyers' Phil Shiner is representing 192 Iraqis.  So what was taking place at the High Court today?  Al Bawaba explains that arguments were being delivered as to "whether a previous inquiry run by the British Ministry of Defence was robust enough and sufficiently independent, as well as if mistreatment was systematic. The case is expected to last three days."

That'll be much shorter than the days spent behind bars in Iraq for a  Le Monde journalist.  As we noted this morning, Nadir  Dendoune, who holds dual Algerian and Australian citizenship was covering Iraq for the fabled French newspaper Le Monde's monthly magazine.  His assignment was to document Iraq 10 years after the start of the Iraq War.   Alsumaria explains the journalist was grabbed by authorities in Baghdad last week for the 'crime' of taking pictures.  (Nouri has imposed a required permit, issued by his government, to 'report' in Iraq.)  All Iraq News adds the journalist has been imprisoned for over a week now without charges.

The 'crime' of taking pictures?  You may remember Nouri immediately launched a war on the press in the summer of 2006.  Let's drop back to the October 2, 2006 snapshot:

Operation Happy Talkers are on the move and telling you that Nouri al-Maliki offers a 'four-point' peace plan.  You may have trouble reading of the 'four-point' plan because the third point isn't about "peace" or "democracy" so reports tend to ignore it. The first step has already been (rightly) dismissed by Andrew North (BBC) of the "local security committees": "In fact, most neighourhoods of Baghdad set up their own local security bodies some time ago to protect themselves -- because they do not trust the authorities to look after them."  AP reports that the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of the 'peace' plan (reality title: "continued carnage plan").  Step three?  Let's drop back to the September 7th snapshot:
Switching to the issue of broadcasting, were they showing episodes of Barney Miller or NYPD Blue? Who knows but police pulled the plug on the satellite network al-Arabiya in Baghdad. CNN was told by a company official (Najib Ben Cherif) that the offices "is being shut for a month." AP is iffy on who gave the order but notes that Nouri al-Malike started making warnings/threats to television stations back in July. CNN reports: "A news alert on Iraqi State TV said the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered the office closed for a month."
Ah, yes, the puppet's war with the press.  The so-called peace plan is more of the same.  The third 'plank' is about the media. Which is why the "brave" US media repeatedly cites the first two and stays silent while a free media (something a democracy is dependent upon) walks the plank.
It's disgusting and shameful, the third 'plank.'  The whole 'plan' is a joke.  Reuters is one of the few to go beyond the first two 'steps' but even it does a really poor job and those over coverage of Iraq in the mainstream (producers to suits) are very concerned about this.  (So why don't they report it?)  The "plan" isn't a plan for peace, it's a plan for the puppet to attempt to save his own ass for a few more months. Lee Keath (AP) is only one of many ignoring the third step (possibly AP thinks readers are unable to count to four?) but does note that al-Maliki took office last May with a 24-point plan that, to this day, "has done little to stem the daily killings."  Nor will this so-called 'peace plan.'  The US military and the American "ambassador" have announced  that Nouri al-Maliki better show some results ('after all we've paid' going unspoken). 

To praise his plan back then, reporters had to ignore the third plank.  Fortunately for Nouri, western reporters have always been more than willing to cover for him despite -- or maybe because of -- his attacks on the press.  It's why they continue.  Mohammed Tawfeeq does real reporting for CNN out of Iraq.  Today he Tweets:

And, of course, there's  Aziz Ghazal Abbas, the Alsumaria journalist that the Iraqi military fired on in Falluja Friday.  That's when the Iraqi military opened fire on protesters killing 7 people and injuring at least sixty (including the Alsumaria journalist).  Today Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya is demanding Nouri al-Malik (prime minister and head of the Minister of Defense due to his failure to ever nominate someone to that post) and his puppet 'acting' Minister of Defense Saadoun al-Dulaimi hand over the military members who opened fire.  Iraqiya also rejects efforts to conflate the death of 2 soldiers with the protest.  The massacre took place first.  This dispersed some of the crowd.  A tiny portion remained and others joined it over a two hour period.  Only after that took place were two soldiers harmed -- harmed five kilometers (roughly 3 miles) from where the protest earlier that day was held.  Nouri and company have repeatedly attempted to rewrite events and pretend that 2 soldiers were killed and then the military opened fire.  That is not what happened.  In related smears, All Iraq News notes State of Law MPs are insisting that Anbar Province is under control of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. 

Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports all killed during the protest were civilians and that Iraqiya is fighting back against the baseless charges (predominately spread by Nouri's puppet Hussein al-Shahristani) that the seven dead includes 2 members of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and 2 Ba'athists. 

All Iraq News notes that Martin Kolber, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, visited Mosul today to speak with the protesters.  Alsumaria adds that he also met with the Nineveh Provincial Council and Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, tribal leaders and clerics.  The meeting was closed door.   Dar Addustour explains that the Parliament Sunday read an initial report from the Parliamentary Committee formed to investigate what took place in Falluja.  Initial recommendations include keeping the military and federal police (Nouri controls both) away from protesters and allowing local forces to provide any protection needed.

Saturday the Parliament voted to limit the three presidencies (President, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister) to two terms.  Wael Grace (Al Mada) reported that 170 of the 242 MPs present voted in favor of the law.  Ahmed Rasheed, Patrick Markey and Andrew Roche (Reuters) add, "Lawmakers from Sunni, Kurdish and Shi'ite parties voted for the law, but the legislation still needs the president's approval and will face challenges in federal court after Maliki's supporters rejected it as illegal."  Today Al Mada reports that the Federal Supreme Court is set to rule and is expected to rule that the law is Constitutional but that it cannot be retroactive.  Meaning the law will stand but it will be said to start a policy beginning when it was passed, therefore Nouri will be able to run for a third term if he wants to.  The editorial board of the Saudi Gazette provides this overview:

Iraqi premier Nouri Al-Maliki appears to have painted himself into a political corner.  Since instigating the trial in absentia of deputy vice-president Tareq Al-Hashimi, which sentenced the leading Sunni politician to death for his supposed involvement in Sunni death squads, Maliki has been losing the support of the Sunni community. 
Some might argue that he has also lost virtually all ability to influence Iraq’s Kurdish minority which is busy building ever greater autonomy in the north of the country to the extent that the regional government in Arbil has been awarding exploration licenses to international oil companies, without any reference to Baghdad where the final authority ought to rest. It has been Iraq’s president, the veteran Kurdish politician Jalal Talabani, who underpinned the notion that Iraq remained united. But the 79-year-old Talabani is abroad recovering from a serious stroke and there are many who believe that he will never be fit enough to return to his presidential duties.
Now it seems that many of Maliki’s fellow Shias are also becoming fed up with his leadership.  On Saturday, the parliament voted by a majority of 68 to limit Iraqi prime ministers to two terms in office.  Maliki’s supporters have protested that no such provision was imposed on the presidency or the speakership of parliament. They have vowed to challenge the vote in the courts.

AFP reports Nouri's intent to buy off the protesters,  "Iraqi officials said Tuesday they would raise the salaries of Sunni militiamen who fought Al-Qaeda during the country’s brutal sectarian war, the latest bid to appease mostly Sunni anti-government rallies. The immediate two-thirds increase in wages for the Sahwa, otherwise known as the Sons of Iraq or the Awakening, comes as officials have trumpeted a substantial prisoner release in the face of more than a month of demonstrations in the country’s north and west."  And on the release of a small number of prisoners -- or alleged release -- Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf Tweets.

tribal leaders say says he will push for amnesty for all female prisoners 'without exception' but did he actually say it?
  1. 's office confirms amnesty for female prisoners in as well as men but says it excludes those facing terrorism charges...

Through Monday, Iraq Body Count counts 333 violent deaths in Iraq this month.  The month ends on Thursday.  For reference, we'll note 272 was the number of violent deaths Iraq Body Count tabulated for December.   Today  All Iraq News reports a police captain was shot dead while driving his car in Baghdad.  Alsumaria notes the bombing of the home of a Sahwa in Kirkuk and a Kirkuk bombing which left four security forces injured, an armed attack in Mosul which claimed the life of 1 police officer and police shot dead 1 suspect and arrested another in Mosul.

Iraq is also a victim of the weather -- mainly due to Nouri's years of refusing to put any of the billions and billions of oil dollars into repairing the public infrastructure.  When it rains, the lack of adequate drainage and functioning sewers means the rain quickly floods the streets of Baghdad. Dar Addustour notes that yesterday saw steady rainfall in Baghdad (check out the photo). The rains continue today and streets are flooded and electricity is out in many areas.  Nouri's Iraq, how proud he must be.  All Iraq News also notes a home in Karbala has collapsed due to the rains.  AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets:

Pictures from of Baghdad's flooded streets:

Turning to the US,  Iraq Veterans Against the War notes a campaign planning session at the start of March: