Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who's working?

Thursday! One day down until the weekend. Can't wait. Had sweet & sour shrimp tonight to help me along to the weekend. :D I love Chinese almost as much as I love sushi. Almost. I love sushi. Okay, politics.

This is from Carol E. Lee (Politico):

Turning to the issue of the military, this is from Mike Mount (CNN):

The number of suicides among U.S. soldiers jumped in January following the Army's worst year on record, according to new statistics.
Officials offered no explanation for why the rate of suicides continues to be high despite efforts to prevent them.
The Army suicide data shows that January saw 27 confirmed or potential suicides following 17 in December.
One of the January deaths has been confirmed as a suicide, while the other 26 cases remain under investigation, the Army said.
Of the 27 cases, 12 were among active-duty soldiers, while 15 were among the National Guard and Reserve components of the service. The one confirmed suicide was in the active-duty branch.

My big question is what does Congress do? I always thought they gave oversight but when I see all the problems the veterans face -- including problems with the VA -- I think the main thing Congress does is shuffle paper and make sure they don't have to do much.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, February 18, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Ramadi is slammed with a bombing, the UN offers 'hopes' for the upcoming elections, Chris Hill spins as well, Basra sees a increase in childhood leukemia, and more.

"After eight long years of bloodshed, and who knows how many more to come, we're still not sure why we fight, and our understanding of war is only growing more blood-dimmed and confused,"
writes Stephen Marche (Esquire). Marche's point is a solid one. Why did the US go into Iraq, the truth not the many discredited lies? Why does the US remain in Iraq? Those are questions that are never answered and really aren't even raised by the bulk of the press these days.

Today Ramadi was slammed with a bombing.
Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reports it was a suicide bombing and that the death toll has reached at least 12. Ali al-Mashhadani, Waleed Ibrahim, Mohammed Abbas, Jack Kimball and Louise Ireland (Reuters) note twenty-one are wounded, that a hospital source says 13 corpses have been received with 26 people injured, and "A restaurant worker in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, said that bodies littered the scene, close to a complex housing provincial government buildings. Blood stained the ground, and gutted police and army vehicles smouldered nearby." Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) quotes Khalaf Mahmoud who was wounded in the bombing, "I was heading to the government compound when the blast took place some 50 meters away from me. I remember I saw one of the civilian cars with two men inside approached to the checkpoint and blew up. It was a terrible blast, thanks God, I am lucky to survive." Al Jazeera adds:Mohammed Dulaimi, the owner of a restaurant that was badly damaged in the blast, said the attackers were "trying to undermine the political process and prevent us from taking part in the election"."They want us to miss the opportunity to vote, as we did before," he said, referring to a boycott of 2005 general elections by Sunni-led political parties.Yousif Bassil and CNN report that the attack took place at a security checkpoint "close to the provincial council office." In addition, Reuters notes a Mosul bombing injured "a former police officer and a tribal chief" and a Mosul car bombing left twenty-four people injured.

Turning to the elections, Swarthmore College's
War News Radio is a weekly show and the most recent program (first began airing last Friday) covered the elections. From the headlines, we'll note this for background.

Emily Hager: One day before campaigns are due to start, Iraqi judges released a list of previously banned candidates who will be allowed to run in next month's elections. But two of the most prominent Sunni candidates, both current Parliament members, still haven't been cleared to campaign. In January, Iraq's de-Ba'athifcation committee banned more than 500 candidates from competing for seats because of alleged connections to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party. The decision was appealed to an Iraqi court where judges have been considering the issue. At first, the court announced that all of the challenged candidates would be able to run and that they would be reviewed after they won seats. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pushed to have the review before the elections. Official campaigning begins this week for the March 7 vote.

Earlier today at the United Nations in New York,
Ad Melkert (the Secretary-General's Special Representative to Iraq) declared, "Generally speaking, I should say that the elections are on track in terms of their technical preparation. Still a lot needs to be done. Security remains a big challenge to all, to the Iraqis in the first place, but also to the international community." Melkert sounds a great deal like US spinner Chris Hill. He went on to add, "Elections is not only about politics but requires a lot of hard work on the ground. The UN electoral team has continued to play a key role in advising and technically support the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). As a result of a huge collective effort the infrastructure is in place in order to allow approximately 18.9 million Iraqi voters to visit 48,000 polling stations on election day." Today the Los Angeles Times offered the editorial "Baath-bashing in Iraq."

Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections should be about jobs, public services and government competence. Candidates should be focused on the country's security and on reconciliation among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Instead, the national vote once again is turning into a sectarian brawl in which Shiite parties jockeying with one another for dominance are stirring populist fears of a return of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led Baath Party. Never mind that Hussein was executed in 2006 or that the discredited Baath Party already is outlawed. The Accountability and Justice Committee, led by Ahmad Chalabi, the Shiite politician and onetime darling of the George W. Bush administration, has been purging candidates who were members of the Baath Party and, in the process, fueling minority Sunnis' suspicions that the real motive is to further reduce their power.

Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) adds, "Although a significant number of Shiites as well as Sunnis have been barred from running because of alleged Baathist ties, the move has been seen as furthering a Shiite agenda because the heads of the commission are prominent Shiite members of parliament. Adding fuel to the controversy over the ban, the top US general in Iraq, Ray Odierno, and other US officials, have accused the two men, Ahmed Chalibi, and Ali Faisel al-Lami of ties to Iran" Along with the bannings, many political parties are finding their candidates Yesterday's snapshot noted Michael Hastings (The Hastings Report, True/Slant) report on the attacks on the Ahrar political party -- Saturday, four were held for 24 hours in Sadr City where they were attempting to put up campaign visuals and Tuesday a group of worker were attacked leading up to today where an Ahrar Party candidate was attacked in Maysan Province with at least one body guard killed in the attack. The Ahrar Party has released the following statement on the attacks:

Amid increasing signs that the Maliki government has completely lost control of the security situation in Iraq, violence and sectarian intimidation have increased in spite of a non-violence pact, signed by some parties. As a non-sectarian party, Ahrar has been singled out for special treatment.
Over the past five days, Ahrar has had campaign workers shot at, captured and even killed, for the 'crime' of putting up our election posters.
In Maysan on Wednesday, an Ahrar candidate was the victim of a carefully-planned ambush, narrowly escaping capture. One of his team was murdered at gun-point.
Ahrar Party leader Ayad Jamal Aldin said: "These politicians are all talk. It is their weakness that has allowed outsiders and corrupters who are intent on dividing and destroying Iraq to take control of our country. Ahrar stands for a united and peaceful Iraq. For jobs, security and electricity for the Iraqi people."
"Now ask yourself, who would oppose this? These corrupt outsiders are scared because they know that the people of Iraq can make a change for the better. Ahrar will not be intimidated because Ahrar is the party of Iraq's people, and on March 7 it is they who have the power to end this intimidation."
For further information, contact:
Ahrar Media Bureau Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942

About Ayad Jamal Aldin:
Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) declares Iraq "once again on the brink of a civil conflict" and offers this:

Starting last spring, at the urging of top officials in Iran--including Ali Larijani, the conservative, Iraqi-born speaker of the Iranian Parliament, and Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps--a group of sectarian Shiite religious leaders patched over their differences to establish the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), linking ISCI with the forces of rogue cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of a renegade Dawa faction; and Ahmad Chalabi, the former darling of US neoconservatives, who has long maintained close ties to Iran's hardliners.
The creation of the INA was widely seen, inside and outside Iraq, as an Iranian project. Reidar Visser, a close observer of Iraqi affairs at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, says efforts to rebuild the Shiite sectarian alliance began last spring, after a visit to Baghdad by Larijani. Soon afterward, a stream of Iraqi officials made pilgrimages to Tehran, where a deal between the Hakim family (the founders of ISCI) and Sadr was brokered by Iran. "Part of the Iranian strategy has been to put politics in Iraq back on the sectarian track," says Visser. Both Iran and the new Shiite alliance pressured Maliki to join, but at that time the prime minister felt strong enough to run independently.
Then, this past January 14, Iraq's electoral overseers ratified a decision by the so-called Accountability and Justice Commission, an unelected body controlled by Chalabi and one of his cronies, Ali al-Lami, to ban more than 500 candidates for Parliament. They were barred from running, said the commission, on vague charges of ties to the deposed Baath Party. Among those banned were current members of Parliament and Iraqi officials, including Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi and Mutlaq, who'd joined forces with Allawi. The commission's action was a bomb thrown into the center of Iraqi politics and sparked talk of a boycott and even a new antigovernment insurgency.

Chris Hill is the US Ambassador to Iraq. We'll note
this exchange between him and CNN's Elise Labott from yesterday at the State Dept (link has text and video): Elise Labott: Can we go back to the idea of the Ba'athists and the election -- on the banned candidates? You spoke earlier this morning about the sensitivities about the Ba'athist issue, but more from the kind of whole Iraqi population. I was wondering if you think that there's any danger of not a resurgence of the Ba'athists, but a kind of backlash by pro-Ba'athists in terms of, you know, more violence or anything like that as a result of this. Chris Hill: Well, the country, there's no question there are Ba'athist elements in the country and there's no question that some of these Ba'athist elements are very unhappy with the current state of affairs. I will say that the -- in terms of violence, we have a government that is increasingly capable of handling violence, and we did not see any signs of insurgency of the kind that we saw back in the wake of the '05 -- Elise Labott: Right. Chris Hill: -- elections. So what we see are acts of terror that are – have already happened; in many cases, in our judgment, happened because of al-Qaida elements. But we don't see that this issue of excluding Ba'athist candidates is one that is leading to violence. Frankly, they were able to come together and work out a solution, and I think it's a solution that most people are living with. Elise Labott: But-but if I could just quickly follow up, I mean, some of these banned candidates were, if I'm correct, previous -- some of them were even in parliament previously; is that right? Chris Hill: Yeah. Elise Labot: And so, I mean, do you think that there's a danger that they feel like they used to have the political process and now they feel disenfranchised and -- Chris Hill: Well -- Elise Labott: -- and that's a kind of, you know, formula for, you know, being bored and not having a lot to do and being kind of bitter and, you know, turning back? Chris Hill: Well, being bored is not a formula for getting elected, but -- Elise Labott: Well, you know I'm being -- well, but you know what I'm saying. Chris Hill: I think it's important to understand that there are candidates who are unhappy at having been on the list, but there was a process by which they were able to appeal, there was a sequestered panel of judges from the cassation court that looked at these cases. In some cases, they ruled that the people should be able to stand for office; in others, they ruled against it. We know that some of the candidates who were disallowed or not permitted to run, they have accepted the result and they've called on their -- on people to vote. So we don't see a sign that this type of dissatisfaction is of the quality that would cause an outbreak of an insurgency. But obviously, we track these issues very closely. We're in very -- we really follow these things. We're in touch with all the politicians. And this is going to -- this is, to be sure, a rocky road, but I think we can -- we have every reason to believe that we'll get through this election process. For those paying close attention, the US has thrown in the towel re: elections. They word now is that it doesn't matter if some candidates are excluded or not, it's not big deal. And with that nonsense, the US attempts to paint a pretty picture. Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) notes that elections might take place but . . . "Another scenario is that the elections will be called off altogether, due to rising violence and Sunni resentment with Maliki's handling of the pre-election process. The controversy of disqualifying candidates, which has rocked the Iraqi scene for more than three weeks, is ongoing as 145 candidates are now officially confirmed as ineligible to run for office, due to their alleged ties to the outlawed Ba'ath Party." Mohammed A Salih (Asia Times) adds, "The ban on high-profile Sunnis who have been part of Iraqi politics after the war is considered a significant blow to Washington's efforts to bring back the moderate elements of the mostly Sunni-led Ba'ath Party into Iraq's political process and reintegrate Sunnis into the country's politics."

Chris Hill delivered a lengthy opening statement before taking questions ('or abuse' he joked). We'll not note it all. On the elections, he stated:We're here really to report on where things stand with three weeks to go. I think anyone who follows Iraq knows that there are twists and turns to any destination in Iraq. Certainly, de-Baathification was a major issue and a very tough issue, a very emotional issue, but I think we've gotten through that issue. The campaign has really started in earnest. There are campaign placards all over every surface in the country, it seems, right now. There are some 6,172 candidates. There are 18.9 million registered voters. There are 300,000 poll station workers. There are 50,000 polling stations spread over 9,000 polling centers. There will be out-of-country voters and they're prepared to handle that in 16 different countries, voting that will actually start on March 5th. We are working very closely with the UN and with the U.S. forces to help secure having 26 four-person monitoring teams. These are actually just U.S. monitoring teams to be spread out over 18 provinces, including four in Baghdad and 22 in other provinces. We'll have extra teams in some of the sensitive areas in Anbar, Basra, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninawa. There will be nine diplomatic missions who are represented in the overall monitoring, including from -- those from Turkey, UK, Denmark, Canada, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland. The European Union will have five or six journalistic embeds. We'll also have special needs voting that begins on March 9th -- March 4th, rather. And our teams will be deployed about March 1st and return March 9th. So this is a major undertaking. It is an election that in many respects will determine the future of Iraq, the future of the U.S. -- and also the future of the U.S. relationship with Iraq. For us, this is a very important election because it's an important election that will enable us to continue to develop what we see as a long-term and very important relationship, strategic relationship, with the Republic of Iraq.He wanted to talk about many things in his opening statement and oil was at the top of his list. Oil and 'progress'. Chris Hill insisted, "Iraq has made important strides in its economy in recent months. They've reached some oil lease deals with many of the major oil companies in the world. So if all of these go well in the next some 10 years, we will see a country producing some 10 million barrels of oil per day. I mean, this is a substantial amount. This will put Iraq in the category of or in the sort of orbit of a country like Saudi Arabia. It will make Iraq an oil exporter to the tune of some four times what Iran is currently exporting. So all of these developments are happening as we speak. There are more and more oil infrastructure companies coming in to get ready for this, and I think we can see that Iraq is really taking its rightful place on the world stage.""Ten years," Chris?"Ten more years"?
Geoff Kelly (Art Voice) interviews US House Rep Brian Higgins who states, "In Iraq, do you remember [President Bush] said he was going to do the surge in late 2006? The war wasn't going well. He puts Petraeus in charge and they commit 20,000 more troops. The surge was supposed to give breathing room for the political parties -- Shia, Sunni, and Kurd -- to resolve their differences. The surge succeeded militarily by tamping down the violence, but all the existential issues, all the standout issues, are still unresolved -- and will very likely be resolved violently. The sharing of oil revenues, the disputed areas in the north, Kirkuk, political reconciliation between the three major factions -- they're still not resolved."They're still not resolved, says Higgins.Important strides, crows Hill . . . before adding . . . ten more years.

Can Iraq survive the damage of ten more years?
US News and World Reports notes that in Basra the rate of childhood leukemia has doubled in the last 15 years and offers that one reason for this may be due to chemical exposures as a result of fires. The University of Washington issued a news release today noting the study and that there of their professors wrote it:

The study documents 698 cases of leukemia for children aged 0-14 during the 15-year period, with a peak of 211 cases in 2006. Younger children had higher rates than older ones.
"By using a hospital cancer registry, we were able to measure a jump in leukemia rates from 3 per 100,000 youngsters in the first part of our study period, to a rate of almost 8 and a half in the final three years," said UW Department of Global Health faculty member Amy Hagopian, the paper's lead author.
By comparison, Hagopian said, the European Union and the United States report rates of 4 and 5 per 100,000, respectively. She also noted Kuwait reports a rate of approximately 2 per 100,000 and Oman reports rates between 2 and 3, depending on the gender of the child (boys typically have higher rates, as do children from higher socio-economic classes).
"Studying childhood diseases in war situations is difficult," Hagopian noted. "Aside from the normal difficulties of controlling for referral patterns changes caused by war-time conditions, the political situation is also challenging. We were constantly worried about the political risks our medical colleagues were taking by collecting and reporting these data."

One way chemicals are exposes is the use of burn pits to burn off left overs -- medicine, trash, waste, military equipment -- and they have been used in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
David Zucchino (Los Angeles Times) tackles the issue of the burn pits:The noxious smoke plumes that wafted over the military base in Balad, Iraq, alarmed Lt. Col. Michelle Franco. The stench from a huge burn pit clung to her clothing, skin and hair. "I remember thinking: This doesn't look good, smell good or taste good," Franco said recently. "I knew it couldn't be good for anybody." She wheezed and coughed constantly. When Franco returned to the U.S., she was diagnosed with reactive airway dysfunction syndrome. She is no longer able to serve as an Air Force nurse. Other returning veterans have reported leukemia, lymphoma, congestive heart problems, neurological conditions, bronchitis, skin rashes and sleep disorders -- all of which they attribute to burn pits on dozens of U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. Burn pits are not safe. Everything is burned off in them including medicines. These toxins are released into the air and get into the soil and water supply. There are many people quoted in the article saying the military needs to step up but it's not just the military. Congress needs to. Zucchino notes that US House Rep Carol Porter-Shea has introduced legislation in the House for a federal registry (as there is with Agent Orange). That's great. But there's similar legislation in the Senate. Evan Bayh introduced it last year. Since October, when he appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, that legislation has been held up by the Committee which should have long ago released it for a floor vote.

Dennis Bartok (Variety) observes, "The year 2009 was the one that saw Iraq War-themed movies finally connect with Academy voters, as Oscar-nominated scripts The Hurt Locker [Mark Boal] and The Messenger [Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman] resonated in ways that earlier efforts didn't." It's a shame that film interest increases as the interest from the news media decreases. But at least some people are paying attention.

We noted Marc Hall in the
February 9th snapshot, Pamela E. Walck (Savannah Now) reports that Hall was in Chief Federal District Court yesterday where Judge William T. Moore Jr. refused to grant his appeal to remain in the US and he is expected to be sent to Kuwait shortly for a court-martial:
"The more I worked on this case, the more persuaded I am that we were right on the law," said David Gespass, Hall's civilian attorney. "... There is no one else to appeal to at this point. The intent of the Army is clear. They could have tried him any time between July and December, before anyone left here (for Iraq)."And the idea that all of a sudden, it's imperative they try him over there, outside of the light of day and the scrutiny of the public, shows they are so resistant to trying him here. It reinforces the idea they don't want the case to be scrutinized."Gespass said it wouldn't be fiscally possible for him to travel to Iraq for the court-martial proceedings and that his client would have to rely on the military-appointed attorney."I have confidence in his military lawyer," Gespass said. "But ... the problem with getting witnesses there is a more serious one."The civilian attorney said one witness stepped forward, but said she wouldn't travel to Iraq for a court proceeding.Why is Marc Hall facing a court-martial?
Russia Today interviewed Iraq Veterans Against the War and World Can't Wait's Matthis Chiroux about the case.Matthis Chiroux: Marc Hall has demonstrated (a) a lot of courage in-in writing this song. I mean the army suppressing soldiers is so widespread, the stop-loss policy destroys so many lives anyway. The fact that Marc Hall had the courage to-to speak up and to address that in his rap song in the first place is quite impressive. Second, I think very important, something that we need to call attention to in this case, is Marc Hall is not being jailed for writing the stop-loss song, Marc Hall is being jailed because he expressed to his command that he would not deploy to Iraq with his unit. And this happened during the time he wrote the song in July and he wasn't jailed until December. He was, in fact, undergoing counseling and serving with his unit. It wasn't until Specialist Hall told his command that he wasn't comfortable deploying to Iraq that they took these measures against him. IVAW's updates page for Marc Hall is here. Asked if the military is concerned that the song might bring attention to the stop-loss policy, Matthis responds, "Well, ma'am, I think there is already enormous attention on this policy and, in fact, this is one of the many Bush era policies that Obama has failed to make good on his promises to end. Obama said he would end stop-loss, yet it continues. Marc Hall is a victim of that. His song is an expression of-of what it's like to feel robbed by the military, what it's like to be the victim of a backdoor draft. And he put that out there and subsequently told his unit that he wasn't going to abide by those orders to deploy to Iraq and that's when they took these measures against him. There's a clear, clear history of resistance within the units in the military history spreading and we in Iraq Veterans Against the War are convinced that the command recognized this and sought to remove Marc Hall using this rap song as an excuse before others in his unit could find out that he wasn't going to deploy and could do the same thing. I mean in recent history at Fort Hood, we have Victor Augusto who refused to deploy to Afghanistan and then, after he did that, other soldiers stood up. One, in fact, flat out refused as well and also was tried by the miltiary for it. This jailing of Marc Hall is clearly the military's attempt to shut down any resistance in this unit that could come from Marc Hall's courageous stance, not just in opposing stop-loss but in opposing the war."

TV notes.
NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):

From the raucous tea party rallies to the painful sacrifices families are making behind closed doors, voter angst and anger are sweeping the country like a storm. Directly in its path: the 2010 midterm elections. On February 19 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW examines the strong impact this groundswell has already had on electoral politics, and what we can expect in November. Our investigation uncovers what motivates people who've come together under the tea party banner, and how a larger dissatisfaction among voters spells trouble for incumbents in both parties, some of whom have decided to avert the storm by leaving Congress altogether.

iraqthe los angeles times
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the asia timessami moubayedmohammed a. salihxinhuaal jazeeracnnthe new york timessteven lee myersyousif bassilart voicegeoff kelly
the christian science monitorjane arrafsavannah nowpamela e. walckrussia todayiraq veterans against the warmatthis chirouxthe world cant waitdavid zucchino
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