Saturday, July 07, 2012

Roberta Flack sets San Diego on fire again tonight

roberta flack

First off, Roberta Flack performs live tonight at Embarcadero Marina Park South.  That's in downtown San Diego.  Where Bob Filner is running for mayor.  He is in the House of Representatives and I had no idea he was running for mayor until I drove into San Diego and saw his signs (and others -- but I attend the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing and know Filner works his butt off so I have no problem tossing out a plug to his campaign website).

Driving into San Diego.  I don't know that I-5 would have been easier but the whole way in, I was thinking, "Why didn't I listen to Sumner and Toni?"  When they get here later, I'll ask them how long it took them.  It probably took me 7 and a half hours.  (I'm estimating because I had to stop and get something to eat along the way.)

They're coming with Maggie for tonight's show.  It's a two night performance and Dak-Ho and I wanted to see both nights so we came in yesterday.  All I knew, all I needed to know, was Roberta live.  So it was a pleasant surprise to find out she was performing with the San Diego Symphony.

If you're a Roberta fan, you need to be at tonight's show.  Last night, she was on fire.  It was the concert of the year, in my opinion.  This is the ideal setting for Roberta.        

How much are tickets?  The face value on our tickets are $76 but I bought them from a scalper.  I know there are some seats as low as $18 -- or were yesterday -- because Dak Ho checked.  But we wanted to be way up front.  And so we paid for good tickets for both shows.

But I doubt there's going to be a bad spot.  The symphony and Roberta's voice are so clear, every seat should be a great seat.

If you're in the area or can get there, this is the show to see.  And that's it.  I've got to stop because we're supposed to meet Sumner, Toni and Maggie in the middle of San Diego for lunch at two and it's getting closer to that.  (Also I don't know downtown San Diego so we may need to look around a bit to find where we're meeting up at.)

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, July 6, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a major speech on Iraqi television, Osama al-Nujaifi calls out the slander State of Law's tossed at him, and more.
Starting with peace.  In the US, the Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project is planning a dinner to honor Iraqi-American Sami Rasouli who has done much work for and in Iraq.  As the director of Muslim Peacemaker Teams, he has worked in Iraq with Iraqi refugees.  The dinner in his honor is planned for July 17th at the Crescent Moon banquest hall in Minneapolis.  And you can click here for a January 2010 interview with Sami Rasouli that Matthew Rothschild did for Progressive Radio.
Still on peace, Joe Carter (Christianity Today) reviews Logan Mehl-Laituri's new book Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience which explains how, in the military, he has a spiritual awakening against all forms of war, "applies to be a noncombatant conscientious objector, leaves the Army after his request is granted, and travels to Israel with a group of Christian peace activists." Mark Johnson (Fellowship of Reconciliation) shares:
Logan Mehl-Laituri spoke to us on March 16, 2007 from the front of the National Cathedral where some 3000 of us had gathered to hear testimony before walking through the snow to the White House to protest the Iraq War, in its 5th year. He describes the evening toward the end of his testimonial tracing his crystallization of conscience and journey as a Conscientious Objector, released today, July 4th 2012, because of a confirming epiphany he had in the Cathedral that evening, before the fresco of Jesus's Resurrection. Wandering the Church prior to the ceremony, at which he was asked to read the words of another recognized conscientious objector, Joshua Casteel, he had stumbled upon and fresco and recognized with full and final force the call to forgive one's enemies and serve God. As with much of the book, the scene is painted vividly with characters in the fresco coming to life and being transformed into Iraqi soldiers and families. We can feel Logan's body quake and see the tears streaming down his face.
The just released book is available at InterVarsity Press ($12 in soft cover currently). Retired Army colonel and retired State Department diplomat Ann Wright says of the book, "Following your conscience while in the military can put you at odds with its own 'institutional conscience' and with specific missions and wars overseen by civilian politicians. Logan Mehl-Laituri's journey from combat soldier to conscientious objector to seminary student is a powerful story of recognizing one's conscience and then following it to the remarkable places of witness in our world."  Camile Jackson (Duke University's Duke Today) noted Tuesday:
This morning he shared his views in an interview with the Armed Services Radio Network, which broadcasts to military service members and civilians overseas.
He was a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War and helped organize, After the Yellow Ribbon project with Milites Christi, an emerging Divinity School student group that helps churches and military groups "heal the unseen wounds of war."
In an interview posted at Patheos, Logan Mehl-Laituri states, "The need I am addressing is the lack of firsthand hope-filled tales of contemporary combat that deal seriously with the cruel reality of evil in war. Churches have no lexicon through which to narrate war for those in their congregations who have suffered therein as perpetrators of collective violence. The acts soldiers commit are not their own, but they are tragically forced to interpret and internalize them without much meaningful guidance from religious leaders. There is a moral dyslexia about war that multiplies the suffering our military members endure."  Click here for Logan's profile at Iraq Veterans Against the War and click here to read blog posts and articles by him at Sojourners.
Turning to Karbala. As noted in yesterday's snapshot:
Jaber Ali (Middle East Confidential) explains, "There are fears that the trend will continue, especially on Friday. Analysts believe that the Shiite pilgrims will be the principal targets of bombings and security is being beefed up around Karbala." Press TV reports that 40,000 security forces will provide security within Karbala and that security forces are also deployed "around the central city."
AFP reports Shi'ite pilgrims "gathered in the central shrine of Karbala to commemorate Imam Mehdi's birth, with children lighting 1,179 candles, representing the number of years since the birth of Shiite Islam's so-called 12th imam." Sammer N. Yacoub (AP) notes the skies of the city of Karbala were filled with 14 police helicopters and all non-security vehicles were banned.  Hassoun al-Haffar (AKnews) estimated 4 million pilgrims had visited this week by Thursday alone and explain, "Twelver Shi'a believe that al-Madhi was born in 869 and did not die but rather was hidden by God in 941 and will later emerge with Jesus Christ in order to fulfill their mission of bringing peace and justice to the world."
There has been violence targeting the pilgrims throughout the week with the worst taking place Tuesday:
AFP observes, "The blast came just hours after near-simultaneous car bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims on the outskirts of the central shrine city of Karbala killed four people." Alsumaria notes of the Karbala bombing that it hit at the popular market where fruits and vegetables are sold, it left 11 dead and forty-five injured (according to police sources) and that millions of Shi'ites are expected to travel through Karbala this week to celebrate the birth of the 12th or Hidden Imam (9th century). Jamal Hashim and Mustafa Sabah (Xinhua) report, "Karbala's twin bombings came as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims have started to march to the holy city to commemorate the birth of Imam Mahdi, the last of the twelve most revered Shiite's Imams. Authorities in Karbala expect that the number of pilgrims from Iraqi Shiite cities and outside the country, who started to arrive to observe the ritual ahead of its climax date on Thursday and Friday morning in Karbala will exceed five millions."
Reuters notes a Ramadi car bombing claimed 7 lives and left twenty people injured and quotes an unnamed police officer stating, "Bodies were scattered everywhere and some houses were destroyed."   Alsumaria reports 1 person was shot dead outside his Baquba home by an unknown assailant using a machine gun and police shot dead a supect on a highway leading into Baghdad from the south.  Anwar Msarbat (AK News) reports a Hit car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left six people injured. All Iraqi News reports on the Hit bombing but insists it was a roadside bombing.  In addition, AK News reports that Shahla Omar Aziz set herself on fire Thursday night, buring 70% of her body, after learning her husband had sold their home to pay of a debt.
The political crisis continues in Iraq.  As a result, Moqtada al-Sadr gave a major address today at 8:00 pm Baghdad time and it was carried by satellite TV.  al-Sadr is a Shi'ite cleric whose followers include 40 MPs in Parliament. He has has had a long and difficult relationship with both the Bush White House and the Barack White House.   
All Iraqi News reports he declared that three presidencies should be limited to two terms.and that this is needed to ensure that Iraq does not experience another dictatorship.   The three presidencies are the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament.  Such a limit would mean Jalal Talabani, current Iraqi President, would be done as would Nouri al-Maliki.  Only Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi would be elegible for another term.  When the Arab Spring swept through the MidEast in early 2011, Nouri al-Maliki swore that he wouldn't seek a third term.  A day later, his spokesperson modified that statement to insist he wouldn't seek a third term if he had not achieved in his second term.  Then, almost a year later, his attorney declared there is nothing preventing Nouri from seeking a third term.  Moqtada stressed that the Iraqi people need security and that means there needs to be a Minister of Defense, Minister of National Security and Minister of Interior (the article actually says Intelligence but it is Interior and this second article makes that point clear).    Nouri was supposed to nominate people to be heads of the security ministries and have them confirmed by the end of December 2010.  Instead, Nouri has failed to do so and with violence continuing to rise, that's a serious failure.  Moqtada also discussed how Iraqis need electricity they can count on and water they can drink and jobs, they need jobs.   Those are three demands Iraqis made when they protested in the streets in February 2011.  For those who have forgotten, this is not just when Nouri announced he wouldn't seek a third term but also when he announced that, if Iraqis would give him 100 days, then he would address these issues.  Moqtada asked his followers to give Nouri the 100 days.  After 100 days, Nouri failed to deliver and pretended as though he'd never made the promises.
In addition, Moqtada spoke about Iraq needing to get along with neighboring countries.  Nouri has alienated Turkey -- in fact, Nouri's constant verbal attacks and constant lies about Turkey have resulted in the Turkish government becoming much closer to the Kurdish Regional Government and more and more distant from the Baghdad-based government.  He's alienated the Arab neighbors and this was on display during the Arab League Summit.  Dropping back to the March 30th snapshot:
There are 22 countries in the Arab League.  Hamza Hendawi and Lara Jakes (AP) put the number of Arab League leaders who attended at 10 and they pointed out that Qatar, Saudi Arabi, Morocco and Jordan were among those who sent lower-level officials to the summit. Patrick Martin (Globe & Mail) explains that Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani (Prime Minister of Qatar) declared on television that Qatar's "low level of representation" was meant to send "a 'message' to Iraq' majority Shiites to stop what he called the marginalization of its minority Sunnis." Yussef Hamza (The National) offers, "Iraq has looked to the summit, the first it has hosted in a generation, to signal its emergence from years of turmoil, American occupation and isolation. It wanted the summit to herald its return to the Arab fold. But the large number of absentees told a different story."  That's reality.
 And let's deal with reality such as when people talk about things that they don't know s**t about.  Social Media Queen Jane Arraf Tweeted with her male followers about the speech:

#Iraq- Muqtada #Sadr giving statesman-like speech, calls for joint operations center to improve security, job creation, focus on electricity

#Iraq's Muqtada #Sadr in wide-ranging speech calls for two-term limit for prime minister, parliamentary committee to fight corruption.

 That second one?  If you click "expand" you'll find a man (of course, Twitter's nothing but online dating apparently who ridicules Moqtada's idea about a corruption.
He has to ridicule it because, see, he wrote an 'analysis' that was published today and it turned to s**t the minute Moqtada started speaking.  Again, these so-called 'experts' really aren't experts.  They don't what they're talking about, I have no idea how our world got so screwed up that these people get to speak.
But did Moqtada say what Jane says he did?
Jane, you should embarrassed and ashamed of yourself. 
The fact that you have X number of characters in Twitter is no excuse.
What Moqtada stated about corruption was that it needed to be addressed with a full government assault -- including executive orders, including judicial committees, including Parliament and new bodies that are not about partisanship, ethnicity or ideology. 
I'm sorry that someone offered masturbation in text form and it was published today and that their hypothesis about Moqtada -- not "theory," theories can be tested with certain expected results -- turned out to be trash.  And if you'd own that, I wouldn't even be mentioning it. I saw that piece of garbage this morning and chose to ignore it. But if you're going to make little jokes implying that Moqtada doesn't know what he's talking about, you're begging for someone to say you're full of s**t.
And Jane Arraf did an awful job in 'reporting.'  This was a major speech.  We'll be returning to it on Monday.  Two Tweets?  That's embarrassing.  That the second one leaves the wrong impression, distorts what he said, that's bad journalism.
In other political news, Karwan Yusuf (AK News) reports that rumors of Saleh al-Mutlaq replacing Ayad Allawi as the leader of Iraqya have been called "baseless" in a statement Iraqiya sent out which notes that the false rumors are meant to weaken Iraqiya.  The rumors never should have had traction.  Allawi is Shi'ite.  al-Mutlaq is Sunni.  Iraqiya is a mixed slate but with the crisis in Iraq having a Shi'ite as a leader gave them a credibility with other blocs that al-Mutlaq wouldn't have.  In addition, al-Mutlaq was not allowed to run in 2010 because Nouri's Justice and Accountability Commission was calling him a Ba'athist.  (His name was only cleared at the end of 2010.) Saleh al-Mutlaq as a leader could easily be dimissed as he unfairly was in 2010.  As we've noted many times before, Nouri's State of Law excells at rumors.  Little else.
They use rumors to attack and distract.  From yesterday's snapshot:
We haven't covered this but, as usual, State of Law tries to distract.  So they've got a 'movement' to question Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi who they have spread rumors about (specifically he allegedly has millions -- over 20 million dollars -- and they want to know where it came from).  That they want to distract with.  And they may succeed.  Nouri has a lot of enablers in the press and certainly in the United States.  But you really don't expect to see the always screaming-their-heads-off-about-what-Nouri-just-did-to-them Communist Party rush to prop up Nouri.  This is truly a very sad moment but it does explain why the Communist Party is and has been meaningless in Iraqi politics.  'They opposed Saddam Hussein!'  Yes, they did.  With the same sort of weak-spined opposition they've offered Nouri.  They apparently exist solely to mislead the Iraqi people into believing there is a token of opposition in the country.
First off, it's twenty billion, not twenty million, I was wrong.  This evening All Iraqi News reported that Osama al-Nujaifi's office has issued a statement calling out the slander and distortions about him and that he may resort to the court to stop malicious slander.  All Iraqi News notes he did not identify what the slander was.  He may be referring to the twenty billion rumor.  He may be referring to something else.  State of Law has a made a point to spread one rumor after another about their political rivals.
The last weeks have seen some achievements for Iraq on the world stage.  Zakaria Muhammed (Kurdish Globe) reports Ahmed Maeed, whose professional name is Ahmed Rambo, now holds the post of president of the World Amateur Body Building Association branch of Iraq.  Muhammed explains:
Majeed, 37, began lifting weights in 1988.  He didn't tell his parents who had taken a dim view of the sport, regarding it as alien to Kurdish culture and tradition.  Within two years, Majeed had won gold in the Iraqi Bodybuilding Championships in the 75 kilo category.
By this time, he had earned his nickname for resembling Sylvester Stallone and wearing bandanas on his head like the American actor's Rambo character.
Majeed left Iraqi Kurdistan in 1995 to escape the bitter Kurdish civil war, but continued to compete successfully in Germany.  He returned in 2004, and led a group of Kurdish bodybuilders to the 2009 Asian Bodybuilding Championships in Thailand.
That's one.  The second is Shene Ako.  Rudaw notes, "Last week, Shene Ako, 19, was crowned Miss Kurdistan 2012 at Erbil's Rotana Hotel.  Chosen from 12 contestants."  Rudaw has the first interview with Shene Ako.
Rudaw: What do you want to tell Ranya and its women?
Shene: To all women in Kurdistan, not only those in Ranya, I want to say that we are very pretty and smart women. Don't hide that. Step forward. Care about your beauty but also care about your inner self. If you are beautiful inside, then you will look beautiful on the outside as well. Everybody is beautiful.
Rudaw: Do you feel that Kurdish women cannot advance because of tradition? What do you tell parents who do not allow their girls to step forward?
Shene: I want to say I am very proud of my parents because they allow me to do many things. I want to open the road for Kurdish girls because I know that, if the road is opened for them, they will feel proud about their parents and advance.
Rudaw: Have you had any plastic surgery?
Shene: No. There was a plastic surgeon at the contest (judge panel). But I have not had any plastic surgery, and I believe if I'd had even a small amount of surgery, I wouldn't have won.
Al Bawaba observes, "Beauty pageants have been absent from Iraq for decades.  During the time of the monarchy, which was overthrown in 1958, they were held in social clubs, especially in the southern port city of Basra."
Going back to the United States, Saturday, Austin, Texas will see a parade.  Tara Merrigan (Austin American-Statesman) reports, "The parade, which will start at 9 a.m. at the Congress Avenue Bridge and end at the Capitol, will include the 36th Division Infantry Band from Camp Mabry, a Reserve Officers' Training Corps color guard from Westwood High School, motorcycle clubs, muscle car clubs and a roller derby club. The event will feature veterans from the Iraq War and previous wars."  This will be followed by a veterans jobs fair.  The following day it's Portsmouth, New Hampshire's turn.  Laurenne Ramsdell (Foster's Daily Democrat) notes, "The Welcome Home Parade will proceed from Junkins Avenue onto Pleasant Street, then onto State Street, Wright Avenue, Daniels Street and then through Market Square. The parade will continue onto Congress Street and Fleet Street before it loops back toward Junkins Avenue."  This Sunday parade will also be followed by a jobs fair, held in "the lower parking lot at City Hall."  These are among the many parades that have been taking place across the country.  If you know of one in your area, feel free to note in an e-mail and it will be included here.  A parade in Alabama did not go so well recently and it's thought that one of the reasons was lack of awareness that it was taking place. 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Oh, Katy

little dicky loves bad boys

Isaiah's hilarious The World Today Just Nuts "Little Dicky Loves Bad Boys" went up yesterday.  I love it.  Also my "Kat's Korner: Demos, live and what the fans want" went up Wednesday as well.

I've shared my thoughts on the awful Katy Perry.  For reasons no one knows, Paramount has decided to release a film about her.  Rich Juzwiak (Gawker) has the low down on the awful film:

The 90-minute, needlessly 3D documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me is a fantastic document of how guarded our superstars come in 2012. There's more revealed about Madonna in a single snort or eye roll in 1991's Truth or Dare than there is Katy Perry in the entirety of Part of Me. We learn that being a famous singer is Perry's childhood dream come true, that her goal is to make people smile, that she's not yet ready for kids. The biggest revelation is that she looks fantastic out of makeup, and if the words in her Proactive commercial are true, even that shouldn't come as a surprise. No warts at all.
Perry is the blandest of pop's current heavyweights, a mediocre, Alanis Morissette-influenced singer and decent hook crafter who peddles individuality via the day-glo wigs that everyone else is wearing and whose 2011 tour (profiled in Part of Me) gathers its influence from The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Candyland. "How can you be too cartoony?" she asks as she's trying out costumes for the show. It serves as an inadvertent statement on her unidimensionality.

It's so artificial that it comes off that way even in the trailer.  I bet before her divorce and several months ago, it would have done better.  As a summer film, who's going to see it?  The young girls want some guy to look at.  Young lesbian girls want some attractive girl to look at.  And no boy -- straight or gay -- will be caught dead buying a ticket.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Tuesday, July 5, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue, already July has seen 88 violent deaths, Nouri continues his Diyala Province crackdown, the Iraqi Communist Party leadership rushes to demonstrate why they've been ineffective for so many years, a mother wants the UK government to answer to the circumstances of her son's death, and more.
Today is only the fifth day of the new month yet Iraq Body Count tabulates 88 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month -- and that's just July 1st through the 4th.  And the violence continued today.  Alsumaria reports a suicide bomber went into a Mosul shopping mall and blew himself up also killing 4 other people and leaving twelve more injured.  As ambulances rushed the injured to the hospital, security forces closed down the area. In addition, Trend News Agency reports a car bombing in Baghdad which left four people injured. Bushra Juhi (AP) reports that local government official Ali Abdul-Amir's Baghdad home has bombed resulting in the deaths of his wife and their two daughters while he and two sons were left injured.  Alsumaria notes a Diayala Province bombing (near Baquba) which claimed 1 life, also in Diyala (Tahrir) 1 Sawha was killed and three of other Sahwa were injured by a bombing, and a Tirkit suicide car bomber took their own life and left three people injured.  Wednesday saw violence as well.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) noted 3 "Iraqi officials" were shot dead today and a Taji roadside bombing left six people injured while a Zubaidiya car bombing claimed 8 lives and left twenty-five people injured.  AFP added the 3 shot dead in Baghdad: "policewoman Ibtisam Ibrahim[, . . .] police First Lt Ahmed Swadi [and] employee at Iraq's parliament, Farhan Kadhim Mussa."  Alsumaria noted a Baquba roadside bombing injured three people.   Margaret Griffis ( counted 63 dead and 152 injured on Tuesday.  This week has seen attacks on Shi'ites making a holy pilgrimage.  Jaber Ali (Middle East Confidential) explains, "There are fears that the trend will continue, especially on Friday. Analysts believe that the Shiite pilgrims will be the principal targets of bombings and security is being beefed up around Karbala." Press TV reports that 40,000 security forces will provide security within Karbala and that security forces are also deployed "around the central city."
Yesterday, Alsumaria reported that Nouri has ordered raids and arrests in Diyala Province.  Baquba is the capital and it borders Iran in the north.  It is predominately Sunni with a signficiant number of Shi'ites Kurds and Turkmen.  "Home to every major sect and ethnicity of Iraq," the Institute for the Study of War has noted.  The organization also noted:

Shia and Kurdish power blocs saw the organization of the Sunnis into legitimized security forces in Diyala as a threat to their strategic interests within a critical province. In response to the IIPs growing power, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki created the Diyala Support Council (DSC) in mid-2007 in an attempt to influence Diyala from Baghdad. Further, Maliki employed the ISF to reduce the strength of Sunni power bloc in Diyala by arresting hundreds of Sunni fighters and ejecting Popular Committee leaders from their offices. Lastly, in February of 2008, Prime Minister Maliki won the approval of the Government of Iraq to form Tribal Support Councils (TSC) throughout Iraq. The Diyala TSCs allowed Maliki to check growing Sunni influence within the province and play one Sunni group off another, effectively preventing the Sunnis from creating a single, consolidated political bloc.
With at least 13 arrested in Diyala Wednesday and security sources telling Alsumaria that 20 more have been arrested in Diyala already this month, chances are the arrests will be seen as part of Nouri al-Maliki's continued attack on Iraq's Sunni population.  Today, Bryar Mohammed (AK News) reports Iraqiya's Suhad al-Hayali is stating that police are stating, "You are Sunnis and are behind the terrorist attacks. The Security forces coming from Baghdad to Baquba attack people in violation of the human rights and speak sectarian slogans and remarks."
In addition, Iraq's Journalists Freedom Observatory noted yesterday that when journalists attempted to cover Minister of Electricity Abdul Karim Aftan's appearance at the opening of a new power plant in Baghdad July 2nd (Monday) they witnessed the minister's security guards begin beating people -- including journalists -- to clear a route for the minister's departure. 
As the violence continues, Kay Johnson and Lara Jakes (AP) observe, "Part of the problem is the dysfunctional Iraqi government that, so far this year, has failed to protect its public or settle internal power squabbles."  Michael Knights (Foreign Policy) weighed in today on the violence and shifting landscape:
But just as Iraqi politics heats up, the United States is rapidly losing its ability to decipher events in the country. "Half of our situational awareness is gone," an unnamed U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal in June. "More than half," a serving U.S. military officer told me when I asked about the accuracy of that statement.
To Iraq experts, these statements ring true: At the height of the "surge," the United States collected fine-grain data from the 166,000 U.S. troops and 700 CIA personnel in Iraq, as well as a network of 31 Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Now, U.S. embassy staff enjoy very limited freedom of movement -- hemmed in by a suspicious government in Baghdad and a still-dangerous security situation. According to the Journal, the CIA station in Iraq may be reduced to 40 percent of its peak levels because the Iraqi government is extremely sensitive about its intelligence work with the Iraqi security forces.
The concerns come at a time when the US government continues to spend massive amounts of taxpayer money in Iraq despite the decreased US oversight.  Joshua Altman (The Hill -- link has text and video) reports US House Rep Jason Chaffetz was on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzter Tuesday and declared, "The degree in which our assets are being treated in very troublesome.  There's some 50 billion dollars worth of projects that the American taxpayers have footed ... yet when we try to go through checkpoints and try to travel through the country and do other types of things we're having a very difficult time."

Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations held a hearing on Iraq.  Committee Chair Chaffetz heard many disturbing reports from the various governmental IG (inspector generals) about what was taking place in Iraq.

Chair Jason Chaffetz: The State Dept has greatly expanded its footprint in Iraq. 
 There are approximately 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors -- roughly a seven-to-one ratio.  This includes 7,000 private security contractors to guard our facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq.  Leading up to the withdrawal, the State Dept's mission seemed clear.  Ambassador Patrick Kennedy testified that the diplomatic mission was "designed to maximize influence in key locations."  And later said, "State will continue the police development programs moving beyond basic policing skills to provide police forces with the capabilities to uphold the rule of law.  
The Office of Security Cooperation will help close gaps in Iraq's security forces 
capabilities through security assistance and cooperation."  This is an unprecedented mission for the State Dept. Nonetheless, our diplomatic corps has functioned without  the protections of  a typical host nation.  It's also carried on without troop support that  many believed it would have. As a result, the Embassy spends roughly 93% of its budget  on security alone.  Without a doubt, this is an enormously complex and difficult mission.  Six months into the transition, the Congress must assess whether the administration 
is accomplishing its mission?  While the State Dept has made progress, it appears to be facing difficult challenges in a number of areas. The Oversight Committee has offered some criticism based on their testimony today.  Including the Government Accountability Office noting that the State and Defense Dept's security capabilities are not finalized.  
The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction states that, "Thousands of projects completed by the United States and transferred to the government of Iraq will not be sustained and thus will fail to meet their intended purposes."  The Defense Dept's Inspector General's Office explains that the lack of Status of Forces Agreement has impacted land use agreements, force protection, passport visa requirements, air and ground movement and our foreign military sales program.  And the US AID Inspector General's office testifies, "According to US AID mission, the security situation has hampered its ability to monitor programs. Mission personnel are only occassionally able to travel to the field for site visits."  Embassy personnel have also told Committee staff that the United States government has difficulty registering its vehicles with the
 Iraqi government and Iraqis have stood up checkpoints along supply lines.  According to one embassy official, the team must dispatch a liason to "have tea and figure out how we're going to get our trucks through."  These are just some of the challenges the State Dept is facing in Iraq today.  Perhaps as a result of these conditions, Mission Iraq appears to be evolving.  In an effort to be more efficient, the State Dept is evaluating its footprint, reducing personnel and identifying possible reductions.  This rapid change in strategy, however, raises a number of questions. Are we on the right track?  Are we redefining the mission?  What should we expect in the coming months?  And, in hindsight,  was this a well managed withdrawal?

The Subcommittee heard about it being impossible for Americans to check on the various costly projects the US taxpayers continue paying for (so there is no direct US supervision) and that there was a failure to get lease agreements so that most of the facilities could be lost.  (Only 5 of 14 have land lease agreements, as the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Courts testified.)) This matters because?  It matters because of the money the US government is spending -- taxpayer money -- in Iraq. US House Rep Blake Farenthold conveyed his displeasure to the State Dept's Patrick Kennedy over the fact that the Police College Annex in Baghdad was a US facility that cost US taxpayers "more than $100 million in improvements to the site" only to "be turned over to Iraq for free" as a result of the US not securing a land lease.  And don't forget that last week, Walter Pincus (Washington Post via Stars and  Stripes) reported, "The State Department is planning to spend as much as $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month.  Remember, it has been 3 1/2 years since American diplomats moved into the 104-acre, $700 million facility and only four months after State Department officials in February talked about trying to cut back the U.S. presence there."
US officials had no trouble visiting the KRG today.  All Iraqi News reports they met with KRG President Massoud Barzani and discussed the ongoing political crisis as well as the US relationship with the KRG.  The article notes that Barzani also attended the July 4th celebration held by the US Consulate in Erbil and spoke there with remarks which included a reminder to the "US leadership" of the obligations they have to the Kurds as a result of promises and he noted the Kurds aren't a threat to unity, that the Kurds support unity and freedom and that they do not and will not support a dictatorship. The article gets the titles wrong of the two US officials.  One is Alex Laskaris is the Counsul General for the Erbil consulate and he is expected to leave shortly (US President Barack Obama has nominated Laskaris to be the US Ambassador to Guinea).   The other official is Robert Stephen Beecroft who is the Charge d'affaires and running the US mission in Iraq since the US Ambassador James Jeffrey stepped down from his post last month.  If you click here (KRG official government website), you can see a photo of President Massoud Barzani receiving the US officials. At a time when the US government has less and less eyes in Iraq, it's worth nothing that among the 'missing' eyes is a US Ambassador to Iraq.  Laura Rozen scooped everyone (by weeks) with the news that Brett McGurk would be Barack Obama's third nominee for the post.  Unlike the other two (Jeffrey and, before him, Chris Hill), McGurk did not make it through the confirmation process.  Last week at Al-Monitor, Laura Rozen shared:
In the wake of Obama's nominee for Iraq ambassador withdrawing his name from consideration last week after an unusually bruising ordeal, it's a fair bet the Obama administration is inclined to go with a safe, more easily confirm-able pick for its next nominee for the post.
Washington Iraq experts say they expect the new nominee to be announced in the next couple weeks, and have offered a somewhat lengthy list of diplomats they have heard are in the mix for the post overseeing the largest US embassy in the world.
She goes on to note the names she's hearing for the post including Robert Stephen Beecroft, Stuart Jones (US Ambassador to Jordan) and Robert Ford (former US Ambassador to Syria).  As with Barack's previous three nominees for US Ambassador to Iraq -- and all the ones under Bush -- they're all male.
Speaking to various participants, Hevidear Ahmed (Rudaw) attempts to figure out where the political crisis in Iraq now stands:

"If the issue is collecting signatures, we can now collect enough. But when it comes to voting, I don't know who will vote in favor of the case or not. Therefore, until the actual voting takes place, we won't have a clear view on the issue," Hussein added.
Abdul Sattar Bayati, a senior official from Sadr's faction in Iraqi Parliament, confirms their stance on the issue, saying they have not given up on the attempt to unseat Maliki.
"Maliki must be removed from office. Whenever 124 votes in favor of withdrawing confidence are collected, we will add the other 40 votes needed. His Excellency Muqtada Sadr has already said this." Bayati said.
The campaign to oust current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from his job by having a majority in Parliament vote him out seems to have failed. But the campaign against al-Maliki continues.
Currently the alliance of political parties ranged against him - the Iraqiya Bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Ayed Allawi, the Kurdish politicians and the Sadrist bloc - are working on a second plan and that is to bring al-Maliki before Parliament for questioning about legal and constitutional violations. If they succeed Parliament could then dismiss their Prime Minister. According to local analysts though, this process could take months.
And it seems that al-Maliki is now responding to attempts to oust him with some serious moves of his own. He has threatened early elections and now says he will also work on some political reforms.
"Those calling for a withdrawal of confidence have retreated," MP Ali al-Shalalah, who belongs to al-Maliki's State of Law bloc, says. "Recently there have more calls to start a dialogue with al-Maliki instead. This option is seen as more relevant."
Especially because al-Maliki announced that his political alliance was creating a committee to reform the political process in Iraq. This week senior politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced that a special committee had been formed to review differences between the political blocs in Iraq and look at problems related to legislative, executive and judicial authorities.

Dar Addustour reports that he's declaring all these grand accomplishments that the Reform Commission will be responsible for including the appointment of a Minister of Defense and a Minister of Interior.  Maybe that will happen, maybe it won't.  Probably not a good idea to be promising it will or to declare that the Reform Commission is a replacement to the no-confidence vote on Nouri.  al-Jaafari was never part of that movement and can't speak for it with any degree of accuracy.
But some people appear to be buying it.  (The opinion on Moqtada al-Sadr currently in diplomatic circles -- US and France -- is that he's taking a leadership role that will assist him in two years.  He is portraying himself -- and this may be genuine but it is the image he's trying to convey -- as someone more interested in Iraq than in any individuals or parties.  Should a vote of no-confidence take place in the Parliament, the expected outcome is that Moqtada would slide his forty seats over if they would allow for the no-confidence outcome.) 
Remember when Judy Collins sang "Of the sons of the ass licking dying regime" ("Marat/Sade")?   Is there a better description of the Iraqi Communist Party?  Despite one alrm sounded after another over and over about how Nouri's doing this to them or that to their headquarters, they can't stop slobbering over Nouri. Today they announced their love for the Reform Commission and met with Nouri.  No wonder they never got anywhere in Iraq.  And they won't get anywhere until their leaders stop rushing to side with power at the expense of the people.  "Sons of the ass licking dying regime," indeed.
First off, Nouri al-Maliki is not bound to any of the decisions (or, more aptly worded, "recommendations") the Reform Commission makes.  Second, concessions were already promised even if the Iraqi Communist Party chooses to be willfully ignorant of that fact.
In March 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Nouri's State of Law came in second.  Iraqiya came in first.  Per the Constitution, Iraqiya should have had first crack at forming a government.  Nouri refused to let that happen.  For eight months he refused.  He got away with it because he had Barack Obama's backing.  Then the US further subverted democracy and the will of the people by approaching the leaders of the political blocs and insisting that the only way to end the Political Stalemate was for them to agree to let Nouri have a second term as prime minister and that, in exchange, Nouri would make concessions.  Nouri's word was dirt as a result of his first term.  What made what the US government was proposing believable was the fact that US officials swore this would be a legal, binding contract and that the US would back it and ensure it was carried out.
In November 2010, the political blocs signed on to the Erbil Agreement.  Nouri used it to get his second term as prime minister.
And then?
He tossed the contract.  And the US played dumb by first insisting that Nouri would get around to it, give him a month or two; then they'd play like they never heard of the contract that they, in fact, drew up.  (Some say "wrote.")
Those concessions were not honored.  Nouri stabbed everyone in the back.  Now maybe this time he won't do it.  But there's no indication that he's going to honor his word this time and at least you'd expect alleged independent radicals like the Communist Party to stop slobbering in public and provide a little reality.
Such as the many violations of the Constitution resulting from Nouri currently.  We're not just talking about his refusal to follow the Constitution and implement Article 140 (he was supposed to do so in his first term but refused then too). We're also talking about his refusing to appear before Parliament for questioning.  That's not really an option he has, per the Constitution. 
We haven't covered this but, as usual, State of Law tries to distract.  So they've got a 'movement' to question Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi who they have spread rumors about (specifically he allegedly has millions -- over 20 million dollars -- and they want to know where it came from).  That they want to distract with.  And they may succeed.  Nouri has a lot of enablers in the press and certainly in the United States.  But you really don't expect to see the always screaming-their-heads-off-about-what-Nouri-just-did-to-them Communist Party rush to prop up Nouri.  This is truly a very sad moment but it does explain why the Communist Party is and has been meaningless in Iraqi politics.  'They opposed Saddam Hussein!'  Yes, they did.  With the same sort of weak-spined opposition they've offered Nouri.  They apparently exist solely to mislead the Iraqi people into believing there is a token of opposition in the country.
 They're about as real as the CIA-created and backed Gorran Party ("Change") in the KRG.  Press TV reports, "The general coordiantor of the Kurdistan Region's Movement for Change opposition party met with Iranian officials this week to discuss the ongoing political disputes between Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. For the first time, Nawshirwan Mustafa met with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, parliament speaker Ali Larijani and Saeed Jalili, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council." If they weren't gathering data, the CIA sure wasted a lot of taxpayer money funding and 'developing' them.
 Meanwhile in England there are developments in a 2003 Iraq attack.  The mother of  Copral Paul Long has filed a lawsuit.  In June 2003, 24-year-old Paul Long was killed while serving in Iraq.  The UK Ministry of Defence issued the following statement and photo:
It is with very deep regret that the Ministry of Defence has to confirm that Corporal Paul Graham Long was killed in action in southern Iraq on 24 June 2003 whilst serving with 156 Provost Company, Royal Military Police.

Aged 24, he came from Colchester in Essex.
Born in Portsmouth, Paul Long attended Blackmoor CofE Primary School and All Hallows RC Comprehensive in Aldershot, before moving to South Shields where he attended Hebburn College. He joined the Regular Army in April 1999, having served two years with the Territorial Army, and was posted to 156 Provost Company in March 2000. A member of the Parachute Provost Platoon, he was a qualified radio operator. This was his first operational deployment. Paul was a dedicated soldier who loved his work.
His mother Patricia Long, supported by her other two children and other family members, said that, "the Army was his life."
A requiem was held at a Roman Catholic church in South Shields on 4 July, after which his brother and sister, Byron and Maria, paid the following tribute:
"Our brother, Paul Graham Long, known affectionately by all his family, friends and Army colleagues as Paul, joined the Royal Military Police in 1999. He wanted only to help others less fortunate than himself.
"Paul leaves behind a loving wife Gemma and a baby son of 11 months, Benjamin David, and our devoted mother Patricia.
"We would really appreciate it if there were no further visits from the press and other media, so that we can be left to mourn Paul in peace. Paul, who was loved dearly and will be sadly missed, died doing what he did best: helping others.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and friends of all the Royal Military Police killed in Iraq."
The media are asked to respect the family's privacy at this very difficult time.
The Jarrow & Hebburn Gazette reports Pat Long, Paul Long's mother, is petitioning the court "for a fresh independent inquiry into her son's death "by a mob of Iraqis at a police station in Majar-al-Kabir."  The British troops had "little ammunition" and an out of date radio/walkie talkie that "was completely useless in a built-up area and could only be used in open fileds."  ITV explains the Secretary of Defence Philip Hammond has thus far refused to grant a fresh inquest and so Pat Long has taken the issue to the High Court. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Roberta in concert!!!

Thank you to C.I. for filling in last night.  I had a last minute date. And I had a million reasons not to go but it boiled down to, "I won't be able to blog." To which C.I. yelled, "No problem! I got it! You're going!"  :D

As she told you last night, I have an album review for tomorrow.  It's actually three albums.  One came out earlier this year.  The other two are from 2006 and 2008.  And if you're thinking, "Yeah, right!" It's already done so nah-nah-nah.


I didn't have anything to wear.  For my date last night.  And C.I. hauled me into her huge closet.  She sat there -- yes, she has chairs in her closet and said, "Look through that section."  I found many clothes I loved.  They are a little tighter on me than on C.I. because she's so thin. But while I was trying on various things and checking them out in the mirror, C.I. was in the chair with a pad and paper writing down various thoughts I had about the albums.  She then clipped them and pasted them on individual pages and today I wrote the thing.  So nah nah nah all of you who thought my legendary ability to procrastinate would mean I wouldn't have a piece for tomorrow.

Now, yes, I do have to type it up!  But I will.  I know I will.

What are you doing this weekend?  I'll be in San Diego seeing Roberta Flack!!!!

The one and only Roberta Flack is giving a concert Friday night and Saturday night.  George Varga (U-T San Diego) reports:

“Let It Be: Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles” may not be the first musical homage made by a multi-Grammy-Award-winning pop star whose own career started in the same decade as the perpetually Fab Four.
But it’s difficult to recall another album that takes as many artistic liberties — some overt, some subtle — in order to salute and transform classic songs that several generations know (or thought they knew) inside and out. And no other pop star, besides Flack, was the next-door neighbor of former Beatle John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, in New York from 1975 to 1980 (when Lennon was assassinated).
“I just loved the (Beatles’) music,” said Flack, who is still Ono’s neighbor in the famed Dakota apartment building, overlooking Central Park.

As many of you know, Roberta Flack is one of my all time favorites and I love her latest album.

I bet you do too.  If you're in the San Diego area or will drive in like I will, you should really plan on checking out Roberta's show.  She's a legend and a national treasure.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Tuesday, July 3, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  the US White House still has no nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq, the State Dept is asked if Barack even plans to name a nominee, Iraq is slammed with bombings, Joe Biden's phone call to Nouri on behalf of ExxonMobil continues to get attention in Iraq (while the US press continues to ignore it), and more.
Conservative Thomas J. Basile (Washington Times) argues of Iraq, "The situation is a tragic reminder of just how fragile the country was when Mr. Obama opted to end any significant involvement in its future.  It also may give Mitt Romney and the Republicans an opportunity to open an effective foreign policy front against the administration for leaving Iraq in the lurch and providing an opportunity for Iran to extend its influence in the region."
Related, who is Peter W. Bodde?  Diplopundit noted in March that he is "a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is currently the Assistant Chief of Mission for Assistance Transition in Iraq and Coordinator for Minority Issues at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." He was in the news over the weekend.  Saturday, the Himalayn News Service reported Peter W. Bodde had been named the new US Ambassador to Nepal.  He's set to to go to Nepal "in late August"  and he'll replace Scott H. DeLisi

James Jeffrey is no longer the US Ambassador in Iraq.  He stepped down.  The laughable Brett McGurk had been the new nominee but he withdrew his nomination.  At a time when Iraq is seeing so much violence, the White House still has yet to name a new nominee to be US Ambassador to Iraq and they're also transferring out people like Bodde who have experience?  Bodde is not going from Iraq to Nepal.  Nor should he be expected to.  He has every right to downtime.  And the point isn't that Bodde shouldn't be Ambassador to Nepal.  The point is that the White House is dropping the ball repeatedly.
Dropping the ball includes the fact that they're now scrambling to name the third US Ambassador to Iraq since Barack has been sworn in.  Bully Boy Bush nominee Ryan Crocker agreed to stay on while Barack found a nominee.  That was Chris Hill who was confirmed and didn't make four years, did he?  So then Barack nominated James Jeffrey who, like Hill, didn't even make two years in the post.  Clearly, the White House has done an awful job vetting people to be US Ambassador to Iraq.  This is the most costly diplomatic or 'diplomatic' US mission in the world.  There should not be this kind of turnover rate in the post.  There should have been a steady hand.  Instead, this White House has turned US Ambassador to Iraq into a revolving door post with each nominee having about the same longevity of one Larry King's wives.
Where is the leadership?
And that the Republican leadership in the Senate has failed to point this out is rather surprising.  They objected to Chris Hill but confirmed him.  When Jeffrey came before them, I really expected to see the Ranking Member talk about how 'regretabble' it was that less than two years after Hill was confirmed, they're again having to weigh a nomination for US Ambassador to Iraq.  Maybe if the Ranking Member were John McCain and not Richard Lugar, something would have been said. 
Since there's no one running the mission currently, maybe the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- regardless of political party -- will start asking the White House some tough questions?  Today at the US State Dept press briefing, spokesperson Victoria Nuland faced some:
MS. NULAND: On Iraq? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Iraq has seen a great deal of violence in the last few weeks. It always – the summer, it goes up. My question to you is: Are U.S. activities or the State Department or the Embassy's activities in Baghdad have been curtailed as a result of this spike of violence?
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, not. But I'm going to refer you to Embassy Baghdad.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Could you also – could you update us on the status of the new ambassador to Baghdad?
MS. NULAND: You mean whether the White House will nominate a new candidate, is that what you're asking?
MS. NULAND: That is definitely a question for the White House, Said.
QUESTION: But surely you can say that they will.
MS. NULAND: Over to the White House for that one.
QUESTION: Well, are you suggesting the White House is not going to name – nominate someone to be the new ambassador to the White House – I mean, to Iraq?
MS. NULAND: I'm suggesting that consideration on all ambassadorial appointments are the White House prerogative.
QUESTION: Well, are you aware that the Administration is not going to nominate someone to take that position?
MS. NULAND: I'm not aware one way or the other.
QUESTION: Okay. Could you comment on some reports that the relationship between Maliki and the United States is really quite tense these days?
MS. NULAND: We continue to have the same kind of dialogue that we've had all along. We maintain an open channel not only with the prime minister but with all of the major political figures in Iraq. And we use those channels to encourage them, among other things, to work well together and to settle their political differences through constitutional processes.
QUESTION: And who is leading that channel in Baghdad from the U.S. side?
MS. NULAND: The mission, at the moment, is led by our charge d'affaires who was the previous deputy.
Victoria Nuland loves/lives to be evasive.  The name she wouldn't provide is Robert Stephen Beecroft.  And, Nuland tells us, he was formerly the deputy!  Oh so he must have experience with Iraq, right?  No.  He's not even been assigned to Iraq for a year yet.  He began his first Iraq assignment July 14, 2011.  He's been Charge d'affaires since June 1st. 
And what position does he hold currently?  The number two US official in Iraq.  Since James Jeffrey has abandoned his post -- and that is the term for it, when Barack  Obama was sworn in as US President, Ryan Crocker agreed to stay on until Barack could find a successor -- and since this is obviously a very delicate time for Iraq, is it really wise to take the number two US official out of Iraq at a time when not only is there no number one US official (that would be a US Ambassador to Iraq) but the White House hasn't even named a nominee for the post.
If the White House thinks they can get away without naming one in the lead up to the US elections, they are mistaken.  The GOP will jump all over that to remind voters of Barack's indeciveness that characterized his state legislature career and his Senate career and they will draw lines between that and his mis-steps and failures once becoming president.
While Barack dithers, Iraq is again slammed with bombings today. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) notes "a series of attacks" in Karbala, Baghdad and Taji.  BBC News focuses on a truck bombing in Diwaniya where the death toll has reached "at least 25" with another forty injured.  AP notes the truck used in the bombing was a vegetable truck. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "In that attack, some 99 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad, a suicide bomber parked a truck packed with explosives concealed by watermelons and began calling shoppers to the truck."  Alsumaria reports that the center of city has been closed to all traffic.   Yang Lina (Xinhua) reports 75 injured in that bombing.  Before morning was over in the US today,  RT was reporting the death toll in the Diwaniya bombing has risen to 40.  
AFP observes, "The blast came just hours after near-simultaneous car bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims on the outskirts of the central shrine city of Karbala killed four people." Alsumaria notes of the Karbala bombing that it hit at the popular market where fruits and vegetables are sold, it left 11 dead and forty-five injured (according to police sources) and that millions of Shi'ites are expected to travel through Karbala this week to celebrate the birth of the 12th or Hidden Imam (9th century).  Jamal Hashim and Mustafa Sabah (Xinhua) report, "Karbala's twin bombings came as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims have started to march to the holy city to commemorate the birth of Imam Mahdi, the last of the twelve most revered Shiite's Imams. Authorities in Karbala expect that the number of pilgrims from Iraqi Shiite cities and outside the country, who started to arrive to observe the ritual ahead of its climax date on Thursday and Friday morning in Karbala will exceed five millions."
Those weren't the only bombings today.  Reuters adds, "Earlier in the day, two roadside bombs targeting Shi'ite pilgrims killed four people and wounded 21 near the central Iraqi city of Kerbala, hospital and police sources said" while AP notes, "In Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded next to a police patrol in the Sunni-dominated Ghazaliya neighborhood, injuring three policemen and two civilians, a police officer and a health official said." In addition, the Telegraph of London reports, "Another bomb attack in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, north of Baghdad, killed a policeman and wounded another, an officer and a local doctor said."
RTT counts at least 50 dead in today's violence.  Deutsche Welle points out,  "The bombings were just the latest in a series of such attacks in Iraq in recent weeks, which have raised fears that the county could be slipping back into a wider pattern of violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims."  Sky News notes, "Security forces appear unable to stop the conflict since US troops left Iraq last December, after nearly nine years of war." 
Tim Arango (New York Times) has a more than solid report on the violence and the survivors but we're going to note this observation he makes:
Antony J. Blinken, the national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., wrote in Foreign Affairs recently that since President Obama took office, "violence in Iraq has declined and remains at historic lows -- a trend that has continued since the last U.S. troops departed late last year."
In fact, though, more Iraqis -- civilians and security force members alike -- have died from attacks in the first six months of 2012 [2,101] than in the comparable period of 2011 [1,832], according to United Nations statistics. 
2,101 deaths -- UN figures -- in just the first six months of the year.  Where is the security?
Dropping back to the December 21, 2010 snapshot:
Shashank Bengali and Mohammed al-Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report point out the Cabinet is missing "the key ministries responsible for security and military affairs for now, because lawmakers haven't agreed on who should fill them. There's still no deal, either, on creating a yet-to-be named strategic council -- a U.S.-backed initiative aimed at curbing al-Maliki's powers -- which lawmarkers said could be weeks away." Liz Sly and Aaron Davis (Washington Post) explain, "Maliki appointed himself acting minister of interior, defense and national security and said the three powerful positions would be filled with permanent appointees once suitable candidates have been agreed on."
And that's still true today.  There are no heads to the security ministries.  Nouri's never nominated people for the posts.  He likes to say ___ is "acting" ____.  But there's no such thing as "acting" in the Constitution.  If they are vacant, he controls the ministries.  (By contrast, if he nominates someone and Parliament confirms them, only a vote in Parliament can remove them.  We saw this when Nouri spent months attempting to get Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq removed from office.  (He failed at that removal.)  A real minister doesn't have to do what Nouri says because Nouri can't fire them.  A real minister can run the ministry in a way that he or she feels best benefits the Iraqi people.  By controlling the security ministries, Nouri consoldiates his own power which is why Iraqiya (rightly) called this a power-grab back in 2010.
The 2010 elections were held in March of that year.  The process to form a government was supposed to last a few weeks.  Instead it lasted over eight months.  Why?  Nouri and his State of Law came in second in the elections which meant he wasn't supposed to get first crack at forming a Cabinet.  That should have gone to first place Iraqiya.  But the White House chose to back Nouri.  The Barack Obama White House chose to back a man already repeatedly caught running secret prisons where people were tortured, a man who attacked the press from his first days in office in 2006, a man who had a track record of no results (his entire first term, where he failed to meet the White House established benchmarks for progress that he had agreed to).  They backed this nightmare and that's why Bush starting the illegal war really doesn't matter at this point.
The Iraqi people bravely went to the polls and expressed their will.  It wasn't to give Nouri a second term.  When the White House chose to ignore democracy, the will of the people and the votes to back Nouri, Barack bought into the fate of Iraq.  Sherwood Ross (OpEdNews) notes:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's "harassment and persecution of anyone deemed a threat to himself or his party has dramatically reduced freedom throughout Iraq," a noted journalist reports.
What's more, al-Maliki is presiding over a system "rife with corruption and brutality, in which political leaders use security forces and militias to repress enemies and intimidate the general population."
So writes former Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent Ned Parker in the March/April issue of "Foreign Affairs" magazine. His is a rather grim assessment of life in "The Iraq We Left Behind" or "Welcome to the World's Next Failed State."
Now Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Parker writes that al-Maliki, America's favorite, "will keep striving for absolute power, using fear, intimidation, and cronyism." And he adds that by turning a blind eye to Maliki's encroaching authoritarianism, "U.S. officials allowed Iraq's political culture to disintegrate."
Whereas some Iraqi officials wonder if the next elections will be free and fair, Parker writes, "several former U.S. military officers wonder if the elections will happen at all."
That's who Barack backed.  That's who he trashed the election, the votes and any hopes of democracy in Iraq for. 
Iraqis get to vote in two sets of elections -- or are supposed to get to vote in two sets of elections: Provincial elections and parliamentary elections.  The provincial elections determine the governance of the provinces.  The parliamentary elections determine who sits in Parliament and are supposed to determine who gets first crack at being prime minister-designate.  Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports that the Electoral Commission is stating provincial elections will be postponed until April 2013 and that this is due to both an amendment to a law being needed and also due to budget concerns.  Elections were supposed to be held January 31, 2013.  Budget concerns?  Iraq brought in over six billion in oil revenues last month alone -- and last month was the worst month for oil revenues in Iraq since February 2011. All Iraqi News reported yesterday on the lack of an election law and quoted the Independent High Electoral Commission's Chair Faraj al-Haidari stating that the elections would not be held on time. Today All Iraqi News reports that Arshad al-Salehi,  Chair of the Turkman Front, met with the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler and stressed that all segments of the Iraqi people need to be represented in the elections.

This does not effect the Kurdistan Regional Government which holds their own provincial election.  They are currently working on a law regarding the Christian minority because, as the law reads currently, Christians must vote for other Christians.   Three provinces currently make up the KRG -- Duhok, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.  If Article 140 of the Constitution is ever implemented (Nouri was supposed to implement it by the end of 2007, per the Constitution), Kirkuk might also become part of the KRG.

Someone wants to visist the KRG.  Al Mada reports the National Alliance wants to send a delegation -- with Ibrahim al-Jaafari mentioned as the possible head -- to the KRG.  This would be an effort to smooth things over for Nouri.  Not a smart effort considering the long standing issues between the Kurds and al-Jaafari. Haitham Jubouri, attorney for State of Law, states that the withdrawal of confidence in Nouri is no longer possible.

A lot of people seem to believe Moqtada al-Sadr has changed his position.  There's nothing he's said that's changed his position.  He appears to be taken the issue of questioning very seriously.  And would appear to be presenting himself as impartial and reluctant.  That's been his position all along.  Is Nouri going to appear before Parliament for questioning?  If he follows the Constitution, yes.  There's not X number needed for questioning.  He has been asked to appear.

Whether he does or not, per the Constitution, he has to.  If he does, per Moqtada's statements, an opinion will be formed based on Nouri's answers.  If the answers are not satisifactory, Moqtada -- with a heavy heart and great reluctantce -- would have his bloc vote for no-confidence if the others got their required votes.  As Al Mada reports today, the vote is currently postponed because, among other reasons, Jalal Talabani remains out of the country (that reason comes from the Sadr bloc).

Nouri may not appear before Parliament.  Alsumaria has Moqtada al-Sadr already attempting to set guidelines for the Reform Commission.  Yesterday al-Jaafari announced that the Reform Commission had held two hearings so far. All Iraqi News reports the third meeting was held at al-Jaafari's home last night.  There will be a meeting Saturday in Baghdad.

What's the Reform Commission?  Nouri's attempt to avoid a national conference. 
The national conference.  To give Nouri his second term as prime minister and to end Political Stalemate I (the over eight month period of gridlock after the elections), the US said, "Hey, Iraqiya, Kurds, everybody, let's all be adults and end this gridlock.  Let's figure out what you want and we know Nouri wants a second term as prime minister, so let's draw up a contract outlining what your blocs get in exchange for that.  And don't worry, this is a binding contract and we are backing you and the contract."
That was the Erbil Agreement.  It allowed Nouri to be named prime minister-designate in November 2010 and prime minister in December of 2010.
But that wasn't a gift to Nouri.  That was in exchange for his concessions on certain items.  Instead, Nouri trashed the Erbil Agreement, the US government turned its back on the Kurds (to the point that relations with the Kurds right now are at an all time low) and on the new Iraqiya and everyone else.
Part of the reason that the US has been unable to fix anything, to mediate successfully, is due to the fact that Barack's White House has ensured that the US government is not to be trusted by Iraqi politicians.
The Kurds were told in January of 2011, told by US officials, "Be patient.  Nouri will return to the Erbil Agreement."  He didn't.  And by the summer of 2011, with no support coming from DC, the Kurds demanded Nouri return to the Erbil Agreement.  Iraqiya and Moqtada al-Sadr quickly joined the Kurds in that demand.  This is Political Stalemate II.  December 21, 2011, Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani began calling for a national conference.  Nouri said no.  Then he stone walled.  Then he finally went along with Jalal's call for an April 5th start date.  But then he called it off less than 24 hours before the conference.
April 28, 2012, efforts began for a no-confidence vote on Nouri.  We could go through all of that but suffice is to say, Jalal met with US officials after the petition got the needed number of signatures for a vote of no-confidence (that number was only needed for a floor vote -- there is no number requirement for Parliament to call for a vote of no-confidence).  US officials pressured the forever-buckle Jalal and he refused to pass on the petition.  Then he fled Iraq for an 'emergency procedure' in Germany (knee surgery).
Let's hope the US got something out of it because they may have leaned on Jalal for the last time.  Not because Jalal will suddenly find a spine but because Jalal's actions have seriously hurt his standing in the KRG.
 Now we're going back to today's US State Dept press breifing.
QUESTION: Okay. Could you comment on some reports that the relationship between Maliki and the United States is really quite tense these days?
MS. NULAND: We continue to have the same kind of dialogue that we've had all along. We maintain an open channel not only with the prime minister but with all of the major political figures in Iraq. And we use those channels to encourage them, among other things, to work well together and to settle their political differences through constitutional processes.
QUESTION: And who is leading that channel in Baghdad from the U.S. side?
MS. NULAND: The mission, at the moment, is led by our charge d'affaires who was the previous deputy.
What's so tense these days?  ExxonMobil and the KRG signed a contract last fall.  Nouri has repeatedly attempted to kill that contract.  As June drew to an end, he sent a formal letter to the White House demanding that Barack kill the ExxonMobil contract.  Forget that it's the immensely powerful oil industry and pretend for a moment it was Betty Crocker and they were planning to send millions of dry cake mixes to Baghdad.  Barack is the President of the United States.  There's a lot of power with that position.  But the president of the United States -- regardless of whom he or she is -- does not control US business, cannot give orders to US businesses.  The United States has no king or queen.
Now let's return to the fact that it is ExxonMobil, that it is the oil industry.  Many have accused the illegal war of being all about oil to begin with.  Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan briefly admitted to that before rushing to deny what he wrote when there was pushback.  (What he had written in his book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World  was, "Whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction,' American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in an area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy. I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.")   From SourceWatch:
  • The public interest group Judicial Watch, in July 2003, "after a protracted court battle with the White House," obtained documents utilized by the controversial Cheney Energy Task Force. It was discovered that the task force "led by Vice President Dick Cheney was examining maps of Iraq's oil assets in March 2001, two years before the United States led an invasion to oust Saddam Hussein."
The task force had maps which showed "Iraq's oil fields, its major refineries and pipelines," a list of "companies from countries that were interested in doing business with Saddam's regime, ranging from Algeria to Vietnam," details of "oil and gas projects in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and [which included] information on the cost and status of projects in those countries." [4]
  • "Bush's Cabinet agreed in April 2001 that 'Iraq remains a destabilising influence to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East' and because this is an unacceptable risk to the US 'military intervention' is necessary." [5]
A US president will tell the oil industry what to do? 
That would be novel.
More often the oil industry tells the White House what it will do.  From yesterday's snapshot:
Meanwhile remember when Little Saddam (Nouri al-Maliki) forgot he was a puppet and thought he could demand that the White House get ExxonMobil to drop their deal with the Kurds?  Silly puppet.  Administrations dance for oil corporations.  Dar Addustour reports that US Vice Presidetn Joe Biden phoned Nouri on Thursday to express the US government's belief that Nouri needs to stop trying to halt that deal and that Nouri was informed that the F-16s Iraq 'needs' will not be supplied if Nouri doesn't stop trying to halt he ExxonMobil deal.  It's amazing.  Torture cells didn't bother the White House.  Killing gay men and men suspected of being gay didn't bother the White House.  Attacking Iraqi youths didn't bother the White House.  But when a billion dollar ExxonMobil deal was threatened, suddenly the White House is ready to pull the F-16s.
Today Dar Addustour columnist As Sheikh explores the issue and finds Nouri in an embarrassing situation having made a demand and been not only denied his request but informed that if he keeps attacking ExxonMobil's deal with the KRG, he won't get the F-16s he's been insisting he needs. The Thursday night call between Biden and Nouri is noted and As Sheikh says Joe also threatened to deny a number of visas to Iraqi officials.  As Sheikh feels that Iraqis can't grasp the power of ExxonMobil in the US and how it can sway an administration.  He may be right.
Turning to the US and political prisoner Lynne Stewart.  This week's Black Agenda Radio, hosted by Glen Ford and Nellie Bailey (first airs each Monday at 4:00 pm EST on the Progressive Radio Network) featured an update on Lynne from her husband.
Glen Ford:  Lynne Stewart, the New York-based human rights attorney sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges related to her defense of a terrorism sdefendant has lost an appeal in federal court.  She's confined at a medical prison near Fort Worth, Texas.  We spoke with Lynne Stewart's husband and fellow activist Ralphy Poynter.
Ralph Poynter: When I read the papers, and I read them again, one of the things that struck me is that they're referring to Lynne as having disrespect for the law.  My reaction to that is, anybody who studied the history of American law knows it's based in genocide, slavery and the double standard.  And so the only things that we can look to in America that are positive are those people who disobeyed the law and those people who fought to right the wrongs, who followed justice rather than law.  I like that better.  I am proud of her.  I am not saddended -- the things they said about her give me great pride.  We don't have to look far to see where she was afoul of the law [. . .] supporting immigrant rights, immigrant children, supporting the Black Movement,  And all of these things oppose the law.  So they and those who seek justice are coming at opposite ends.  So I applaud Lynne.  She has just had her operation that she should have had 36 months ago and she was scheduled to have her operation when the Second Circuit said she must go to jail immediately because 'she's traveling around the country to law schools and universities corruption our youth.'  So she's just had her operation. She went to a hospital. She said she had good treatment at the hospital.  But they said it was time to go back.  Not according to medical necessity but according to prison necessity. She was concerned about going back to a prison that is not hospital clean.  But Antoinette Martinez, an inmate from the Bronx, made sure that the section she went back to in the prison was as clean as a hospital.  And this really gives me -- Lynne says when she looked and saw it, she came to tears, that the inmates know who she is and are protecting her.  They cleaned. So here we are.  Lynne is fighting for the rights of the people int here and some of the people inside understand who she is and they're fighting for her rights the best way they can.
Last night, I filled in for Elaine and wrote about Lynne so you can refer to that for more but we'll note Peter Daniels (WSWS) article:

One of Stewart's lawyers, Herald Price Fahringer, said that an appeal to the full appeals court would be made, and that attorneys might eventually ask for a Supreme Court review. The opinion is a "terrible deterrent for people speaking out in public," Fahringer said.
Another attorney for Stewart, Jill R. Shellow, said, "Our intent is to pursue all of the legal remedies available to Lynne to redress her unreasonable sentence… Lynne was not and is not a terrorist. She was a fine and dedicated lawyer. She is almost 73, and under the best of circumstances will not be released from prison until 2018. That's a lifetime, her lifetime."
The vindictiveness of the appellate judges compares with the inability and unwillingness of any court up to the Supreme Court to put a halt to the genuinely criminal activities that continue to be carried out at the Guantanamo Bay prison, not to mention the drone attacks and other violations of international law by the Obama administration that provoked the condemnation of former US president Jimmy Carter this past week.

sherwood ross