Saturday, January 19, 2013

Laurie Penny

In the snapshot today, C.I. quotes Laurie Penny and she's a new name to me.  I spent two hours online today reading some of her columns.  She's really a wonderful writer.  My favorite was "The Problem With Naomi Wolf's Vagina" (New Statesman) and here's a sample:

The new book by Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, seems positioned to provoke endless genital wordplay, so it's best to get all of that out the way before we move on. Vagina, as has been observed across the mainstream reviewing press this week, is a very silly book. It is, not incidentally, a very silly book whose author is currently engaged in a one-woman campaign to deny anonymity to rape victims and persuade the world that the charges of rape and sexual assault of two women currently facing Julian Assange are contemptible. The fact that Wolf's highly publicised new work claims to offer a thrilling new feminist take on - among other serious issues - rape, means that we cannot help but address the two together.
Naomi Wolf has done great damage by using her platform as one of the world’s most famous feminists to dismiss these women’s allegations. In one throat-closing 2010 article, Wolf placed her name, picture and reputation behind a title dismissing the serious charges against the Wikileaks founder as mere persecution by 'the world's dating police'. In an excruciating performance last week on Newsnight, the author managed to shoehorn a plug for her book into a discussion of whether or not “no always means no”. The fact that that question is seriously being raised on Britain's pre-eminent current affairs show, by no less a media presence than Jeremy Paxman, should be a signal that this is no time for fannying about, much less for having spectacular breakdowns all over the limited space the mainstream press affords so-called women’s issues.
Vagina has already received a drubbing from a spectrum of feminist voices. The best so far have been delivered by Zoe Heller at the New York Review of Books, the wickedly acidic Suzanne Moore at the Guardian, Jenny Turner, also at the Guardian, and the New Statesman's own Helen Lewis. Almost all have mentioned, because how could you not, the scene with the pudenda-shaped handmade pasta - the 'cuntini' served to the the author at an upscale dinner party in New York that end up sending her into a nervous fit which leaves her unable to write for six months. She tells us that this is because of the wondrous, not-at-all-basic-highschool-science 'brain-vagina' connection, which is for some reason more mystical than, say, the brain-elbow or brain-big toe connection. It's all a bit wacky races.

In this country you could starve if you held off eating until Women's Media Center or others would call out Nome-Nomi Wolf.  Fortunately, not all women are cowards.  Real feminists can and do call out Naomi.  Ava and C.I. started calling the liar out in 2008.  They have a whole body of work on Wolf and exposing how she -- as admitted in her own book -- hushed up a rape at her then-boyfriend's fraternity because she didn't want to be called a lesbian.

I've bookmarked Laurie Penny's page at The New Statesman and I'll try to check it out regularly.  Brave voices are too few in the world we live in today.  Along with truth telling, you may have noticed, she also writes with a lot of humor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Look who's reteaming!

The Scarface team of director Brian De Palma and Al Pacino are re-teaming for Happy Valley, the working title of a film that will tell the story of Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno. Paterno’s legend was undone by revelations he and others in the football program were aware that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was molesting children, and did little to stop it, supposedly fearing bad publicity for the powerhouse gridiron program they presided over. Wall Street producer Edward R. Pressman has optioned the bestselling book Paterno by Joe Posnanski. Dave McKenna (American History X and Blow) is making a deal to write the script. The Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation is backing the project.

That's from Mike Fleming Jr (Deadline).  Is that not great news?

De Palma really gets Pacino.  Some Pacino films, you watch and wonder, "Why did they even cast him?"  But with De Palma (Carlito's Way and Scarface), he really knows how to best highlight Pacino. No one gives the foundation for the soaring Pacino can do the way De Palma does.

I can't wait for them to film this.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2013. Chaos and violence continue,  protests continue, UNAMI condems violence for the third day in a row,  Nouri's focused on the Kurds, Turkey worries what Iraq's sliding into, burn pits, and more.
In yesterday's snapshot, we noted the development regarding burn pits.  The Veterans Administration explains:
On Jan. 10, 2013, President Obama signed a new law (218 KB, PDF) requiring VA to establish a burn pits registry for Veterans who may have been exposed to burn pits in Iraq or Afghanistan.
VA will announce how to sign up once the registry is available.
The new registry will enhance VA's ability to monitor the effects of exposure and keep Veterans informed about studies and treatments.
Additionally, VA is conducting studies on possible health effects.
Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York is gearing up to host a symposium on the issue.  This will be their second one, their 2nd Annual Scientific Symposium on Lung Health after Deployment to Iraq & Afghanistan.  The symposium will take place March 4th which isn't that far away.  If you'd like to register to attend, you can click here for the registration info if you're doing it by mail or by fax as well as a registration link if you'd like to register online.
Rosie Lopez-Torres is the executive director of BurnPits 360. Her husband is Iraq War veteran Captain Leroy Torres who left the US in strong health and had it destroyed by burn pits in Iraq.  Burn Pit 360 (and the Torres family) have worked very hard on lobbying for a National Registry.  In fact, it's their first listed goal.
To maintain a National Registry that will allow the individuals affected to self report their data online.  To identify the need for a longitudinal study, to prove a medical, scientific, and legal correlation between the toxic chemicals detected and the individuals exposed. 
To Establish an alliance of veteran service organizations, health care providers, legislators, and government organizations to allow for the strategic development of a quality specialized health care model specific to toxic environmental exposures that will provide a lifetime continuum of care.
To Facilitate resources to thousands of Reservists, Service Members, Veterans, and their Families through outreach initiatives encompassed around linking the services requested on the registry to services available within their community.
Burn Pit 360 is among the groups that can look with satisfaction at the Burn Pit Registry becoming a reality because they worked very hard to help matke that happen.
Yesterday's snapshot also applauded Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and had a press release from his office.  I AM AN IDIOT.  That was Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.  (The Senators Udall are cousins -- that does not excuse my mistake, but is offered in case anyone's wondering about two senators with the same last name.)   My apologies for my very stupid error and we'll repost the press release from Senator Tom Udall's office:
WASHINGTON - U.S. Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced that today President Obama signed their bill to establish a registry of service members and veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan into law.

"Today we celebrate the conclusion of our bipartisan effort to improve the health and well-being of our veterans," Udall said, "This is a victory for our men and women in uniform across the globe, and I am proud to say it was made possible by the strong advocacy of Master Sergeant Jessey and Maria Baca of New Mexico," Udall said. "Just as our veterans have answered the call of duty for our country, we have answered their call for better information and today brings us closer to insuring this special population receives the care and treatment they deserve."

Udall and Corker's Burn Pits Registry Act was included as part of a larger veterans package, S. 3202, the "Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012," which passed the Senate and House in late December 2012.

The bill will create a registry similar to the Agent Orange and Gulf War registries to help patients, doctors and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determine to what extent air pollution caused by open air burn pits has led to medical diseases among service members.

In 2011, Udall and Corker introduced S, 1798, the Burn Pits Registry Act, with cosponsors Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

All five members of New Mexico's congressional delegation also supported the measure in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Udall began work on this legislation after meeting MSgt Jessey Baca and his wife Maria of Albuquerque, who detailed Jessey's battle with cancer, chronic bronchiolitis, chemical induced asthma, brain lesions, TBI, PTSD and numerous other ailments believed to have been caused by exposure to burn pits in Iraq.

Earlier this year, Udall testified before a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the legislation and mentioned the work of the Bacas, who had traveled from New Mexico to attend the hearing. Video of the Senator Udall testifying before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is available
here and a photo of Udall with the Bacas here.

As early as 2002, U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq began to rely on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials. The U.S. Department of Defense and numerous contractors made frequent use of burn pits at a number of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force and the American Lung Association have confirmed the dangers posed by burn pits, and veterans and their families have reached out to Congress for action.

Creating a burn pits registry was supported by numerous groups, including Burn Pits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Retired Enlisted Association, the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees and the National Military Family Association.
Summary of the Open Burn Pits Registry:
  • Establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for those individuals who may have been exposed during their military service;
  • Include information in this registry that the Secretary of the VA determines applicable to possible health effects of this exposure;
  • Develop a public information campaign to inform individuals about the registry; and
  • Periodically notify members of the registry of significant developments associated with burn pit exposure.
Timeline of the Open Burn Pits Registry:
  • November 3, 2011: Udall, Corker & six co-sponsors introduce S. 1798, the Open Burn Pits Registry Act.
  • June 13, 2012: Udall testifies before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee in support of the Act.
  • September 12, 2012: The Act is included in a larger veterans package, S. 3340, the Mental Health Access to Continued Care and Enhancement of Support Services bill, which the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee passes unanimously.
  • December 19, 2012: The Act is included in an alternative veterans package, S. 3202, the "Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, which passes the full Senate unanimously.
  • December 30, 2012: The U.S. House of Representatives passes S. 3202 unanimously.
  • January 10, 2013: President Obama signs S. 3202, which includes the Open Burn Pits Registry Act language.
Again, Senator Tom Udall.  That was my huge mistake.  My apologies.

Iraq is yet again slammed with violence today in what has already been a very violent month.  Iraq Body Count counts 165 people dead from violence in Iraq this month through Wednesday.  165 killed in 16 days which is a little over 10 deaths every day.  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) counts at least 26 dead while Press TV points out, "The latest wave of violence comes only a day after 40 people were killed and over 200 others wounded in a spate of terrorist attacks across the country."  The Washington Post's Liz Sly offered this pespective in a Tweet.
BBC News notes 4 dead in a Hilla bombing. Alsumaria adds that seven were injured and they note the bombing as Babel.  (It's the same area and dependent upon whether you're using the Babylon reference.) Following the bombing, Alsumaria reports, protesters gathered outside the police station and demanded the resignation of the police director.  Ahlul Bayt News Agency notes a Karbala car bombing that claimed the lives of 4 Shi'ite pilgrims with another twelve injured. Lu Hui (Xinhua) reports that7 people are dead and over 25 injured as a result of 2 car bombings in al-Dujail (Salahuddin Province) with the first bomb allegedly being used to attract a crowd in the immediate aftermath and the second bomb going off after the crowd was present attempting to provide aid.  AP notes that the death toll from those two car bombings has already risen to 11 and that the injured now stands at sixty.  The UK Express reports a Qassim car bombing which claimed 5 lives and left twenty injured and a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left two people injured.
In addition, Alsumaria reports that a Baghdad truck driver was targeted with a sticky bombing attached to his truck which left him injured, that a Baquba car bombing has left more than one person injured, and Sahwa continues to be targeted with three homes sustaining damage in Kirkuk today (villages of Arafa Hawija, Alamadhorih and Akolh) from bombingsAll Iraq News notes Col Khaled al-Hamdani, former Director General of Nineveh Province, has disclosed he survived an assassination attempt today when a bombing targeted his convoy as it went through Mosul.  All Iraq News also reports a Mousl car bombing which left four people wounded.
Tuesday, Wednesday and today all found the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issuing statements condemening the mass violence.   UPI notes today the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler stated, "I am particularly alarmed that attacks in disputed internal areas further aggravate the tensions there."  And he's not the only one expressing alarm.  Kitabat reports that Kurdistan Regional Government's President Massoud Barzani has declared he fears that Iraq is edging ever closer to a civil war.  In addition, the KRG website notes that he met with KRG opposition party leaders in Erbil today to discuss the various crises and how to maintain untiy as a nation.  The KRG is a semi-autonomous region of Iraq.  Hurriyet Daily News notes Turkey is also concerned with the violence and quotes the Turkish Foreign Ministry stating, "We fiercely condemn terror attacks on different targets, including the bureaus of the KDP and KYB."
Mohammed Tawfeeq and Mark Morgenstein (CNN) explain, "The uptick in violence has coincided with three weeks of demonstrations in Sunni provinces, including Anbar and Mosul, with protesters demanding that the Shiite-led government stop what they call second-class treatment of Iraq's Sunni community."  Ross Caputi (Guardian) offers one of the best analysis of the protests to date:
For a century, there has not been a single generation of Iraqis unfamiliar with struggle. Yet, this last decade has undoubtedly been the worst Iraq has ever experienced. No one in Iraq has not suffered loss. The widows, orphans, and survivors carry on through grief and trauma. During these bleak days, it would be understandable if Iraqis chose to give up, accept the inadequate government that has been imposed on them, and focus on getting through the day. It would be understandable of any people who have suffered as they have.
Instead, Iraqis have chosen to fight for better days. This choice, to commit such energy, day after day, for 21 days, to put their bodies on the line in protest against injustices, after they have experienced so much loss, grief, and trauma is, well, inspiring.
There have been sporadic protests throughout Iraq ever since the Arab spring began in 2010. But Iraqi government forces, trained and armed by the US, have violently suppressed them, sometimes firing into unarmed crowds. Thus, large-scale protests, like those we saw in Egypt and Tunisia, never got off the ground in Iraq.
These recent protests, however, are unique in their size and character. They focus on the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, accusing him of corruption, brutal repression, and sectarianism. Maliki's regime has military support from the US, and thus the protesters consider it the "second face" of the occupation.
Alsumaria notes that MP Jawad Alshahyla (with Moqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc) states that he believes they are getting close to voting on limiting the three presidencies to two terms. The three presidencies are the President of Iraq, the Prime Minister of Iraq and the Speaker of the Parliament. The Constitution already limits the President of Iraq to two terms. The concern here is Nouri al-Maliki who swore in February 2011 that he would not seek a third term but quickly pulled that promise. Iraq may not survive two full terms of Nouri. A third is very frightening.  He is Little Saddam.  The editorial board of Lebanon's Daily Star points out:
While Iraq's security situation deteriorates, it is being led by an administration that has a mini-Saddam Hussein in the making, a state of affairs which is so far dangerously unchecked.
Yet this regime is little more than a puppet for its bigger neighbor, Iran. And if Iran is sanctioning the current path Maliki is set on, then it is shooting itself in the foot.
Iran is already involved in events in Syria, while suffering from sanctions and the consequences of being the region's black sheep. It is also confronting its own internal challenges to power. It is therefore within its own interests to rein in Maliki.
Iraqi people of all sects have had enough. This is a country with colossal potential wealth that should be spent on the welfare of its people.
If Maliki and his leadership insist on continuing in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein, it will be down to the political forces of both sides who actually believe in the future of a unified Iraq to insist the government change its approach and address national issues.

And as this disaster builds, the US government continues to arm Nouri -- despite years of outcry and warning from KRG President Massoud Barzani.   The World Tribune notes that Iraq just received their "sixth delivery of the Bell0497s [combat helicopters] since 2010" and that "The U.S. Army has overseen the delivery of the Bell-407 helicopter for the Iraqi Air Force."
The Bell 407 integrates reliability, speed, performance, and maneuverability with a cabin configurable for an array of missions and payloads. Its Rolls Royce 250-C47B turbine FADEC engine delivers exceptional hot & high performance with the ability to cruise at 140 knots (259 km/hr). The 407's spacious cabin seats up to five passengers in wide-open club-passenger seating and can be reconfigured to accommodate any number of tasks and payloads.
For added passenger comfort, the Bell 407 also provides a very quiet and smooth ride in virtually all weather conditions. In addition to offering outstanding product features, the 407 is backed by Bell's renowned in-service support, voted #1 by our customers for seventeen years running. The Bell 407 is proof that you don't have to sacrifice comfort for performance.
And the helicopters have these features:
Superb hot & high performance delivered by an 813 shp FADEC-controlled Rolls-Royce 250-C47B turbine engine

All-Composite four bladed main rotor system with "soft-in-plane" hub for excellent ride quality

Safety features include a rupture resistant fuel system, engine exceedence monitoring and a collective mounted throttle that keeps power at the pilot's fingertips

Seating capacity 1 + 6 (single pilot)

Supported by Bell Helicopter's #1 ranked Customer Support and Services
Those sound like interesting features but the military hardware?  As    Kenneth Kesner (Huntsville Times) explained in November 2009, the US military is in charge of adding that ("electronics, sensors, guns, rockets, armor and more") to the helicopters, "It will be the first time the Army has created and designed an aircraft, integrating existing components to produce a unique final product, said retired Brig. Gen. E.J. Sinclair, chief operating officer of SES in Huntsville."
Again, Barzani has called this out and asked the US government to stop providing arms at present because they could be used on the Iraqi people by Little Saddam in order for him to continue to hold on to power.
KRG President Massoud Barzani:  Iraq is facing a serious crisis today. Yesterday, we have discussed that very frankly with the President, the Vice President and it's going to one-man rule. It's going towards control of all the establishments of state. So we have got a situation or we ended up having a situation in Baghdad where one individual is the Prime Minister and at the same time he's the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he's the Minister of Defense, he's the Minister of the Interior and the Chief of the Intelligence and lately he has sent a correspondence to the president of the Central Bank in Iraq that that establishment would also come under the Prime Minister.  Where in the world would you find such an example?
He could have made those remarks today.  However, he made them April 4, 2012 while speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (see the April 5th and April 6th snapshots).   In addition to the protests in Iraq, the Yemen Post reports that "hundreds" of Iraqis participated in a demonstration and sit-in outside the Iraqi Embassy calling for the immediate resignation of Nouri al-Maliki. 
As violence slams Iraq repeatedly this week, All Iraq News notes today that it is now one month since Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had his stroke and that cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement wishing Talabani a speedy and full recovery.  Late on the evening of December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot), President Jalal Talibani had a stroke and was admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany's Charite University Hospital.  He remains in Germany currently.  Al Mada reported last week that Fuad Masum of the Kurdistan Alliance states he visited with Jalal yesterday and that he is "steadily improving" that Jalal was able to shake hands, that he listened and spoke -- and spoke to those in the room in Kurdish, Arabic and English.  Rightly or wrongly, there is a feeling that were Jalal in Iraq and at full health, some of Nouri's stunts this month would not be taking place.

Al Mada reports that the religious authority in Najaf is calling for a change in the governing of Iraq and is stating that if Nouri can change, great, if not, he needs to be replaced.  An unnamed source states that the religious authoirty is calling for Nouri to agree not to seek a third term, for him to implement the Erbil Agreement in full and for him to stop manipulating the judiciary.   The Erbil Agreement was a US brokered contract.  Eight months after his State of Law came in second in the Parliamentary elections, Nouri refused to step aside creating what was dubbed Political Stalemate.  The Erbil Agreement -- which the US government pushed and swore was a legally binding contract that they would stand behind -- ended the stalemate by granting Nouri a second term in exchange for certain trade offs.  But Nouri used the contract to get his second term and then trashed it, refusing to honor the promises he'd made.  Again, April 5, 2012, KRG President Masoud Barzani spoke of this issue.
President Massoud Barzani: As far as the second part of your question, the Erbil Agreement.  In fact, the agreement was not only for the sake of forming the government and forming the three presidencies -- the presidency, the Speakership of Parliament and premier.  In fact, it was a package -- a package that included a number of essential items.  First, to put in place a general partnership in the country.  Second, commitment to the Constitution and its implementation, the issue of fedarlism, the return of balance of power and especially in all the state institutions,the establishment in [. . .] mainly in the armed forces and the security forces, the hydrocarbons law, the Article 140 of the Constitution, the status of the pesh merga.  These were all part of the package that had been there.  Had this Erbil Agreement been implemented, we would not have faced the situation that we are in today.  Therefore, if we do not implement the Erbil Agreement then there would certainly be problems in Iraq.
Nouri still hasn't held up his part of the bargain and now, Reuters reports, he's looking to cause even more tensions between Baghdad and the KRG:
Iraq plans tough measures against the country's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) region and foreign oil companies working there , including Turkey-based Genel Energy, to stop "illegal" crude exports in an escalation of its standoff with the autonomous enclave, the oil minister said in an interview on Jan.16.
Oil exports and contracts are at the heart of a wider dispute over territory, oilfields and political autonomy between the central govrenment in Baghdad and te autonomous KRG in the north.
Kitabat reports that Iraqi Minister of Oil Abdul Karim was bragging that he was about to take strong measures against the KRG over their oil exports and other oil issues.
The oil issue.  As we've pointed out before, Nouri signed a promise (with the White House) to pass an oil and gas law back in 2007.  It's never happened.  That's not the Kurds fault.  Unless and until a new law comes into place that overrides the current one, they are well within their rights to operate under existing law.  That is what they are doing.  We'll note a healthy portion of a press release on this topic that the KRG issued today but we don't have space for the full press release.  To read in full, it, click here.  Here's the press release (not in bold print because that's going to throw off our margins here at this site):

The Kurdistan Regional Government is proud of the achievements of its oil and gas industry since the fall of the former regime in 2003.
It expects the federal government of Iraq to be proud of them, too.
Since oil exports from the Region started in 2009, billions of dollars have flowed into Iraq's treasury from fields in Kurdistan that have been explored, discovered and developed under the KRG's modern, progressive and investor-friendly petroleum regime.
All this has been achieved by attracting world-class companies to the Region with minimal financial risk to the Iraqi state.
One would think that federal officials in Baghdad would embrace the progress made in the Kurdistan Region and value the contribution to the nation's wealth.
One would think that federal officials would recognize the use of the Regions' natural gas to provide electricity to its people and those of hard-pressed neighbouring provinces.
One would think that federal authorities would applaud the KRGs plans to create a northern energy corridor for Iraq, whereby up to 3 million barrels a day could soon be flowing through the north of Iraq to Turkey and international markets beyond, and the revenues are shared by all Iraqis.
It is disappointing, therefore, to learn that the federal oil minister in Baghdad has taken it upon himself to air to an international news agency a number of hostile political opinions about the KRG and its prudent and constitutionally sound management of the natural resources that lie within the territory it administers.
In a series of ill-judged remarks to Reuters, the federal minister of oil:
  • threatens to cut the KRG's share of the federal budget;
  • threatens companies active in Kurdistan for pursuing their legal right under the PSCs to market the oil and gas that they have discovered;
  • threatens other companies for exercising their legal right to explore for oil and gas;
  • appears to incite violence in the disputed territories;
  • accuses the KRG of oil "smuggling" and "trafficking".

In addition, he reveals details of an illegal and unconstitutional plan to allegedly allow BP to enhance the recovery of some of the depleted fields in Kirkuk (a disputed territory under Article 140) without consulting and obtaining approval of the other parties to the dispute.


Iraq's citizens are simply tired of this sort of language of threat and intimidation, which in the cynical pursuit of narrow political agendas serves only to create division and strife.
The minister does not even speak for the whole federal government. Such remarks reflect a lack of respect for the Constitution of Iraq and also for the people of Kurdistan. They represent a degree of panic and desperation. It would appear the overriding philosophy is that if your own policies have failed, lash out and blame others.
Good governance and the delivery of essential services are what should matter to the state's senior officials, not the accumulation of power for powers' sake.
Citizens of Iraq know all too well the dangers of allowing the country's abundant oil and gas resources, and its revenues, to fall under the control of a handful of misguided people in Baghdad.
The country will only thrive on a diet of cooperation and coordination, not on confrontation. That is what the basic law of the land, the Constitution, demands.


In terms of oil and gas management, the KRG firmly believes in, and abides by, the letter and spirit of Iraq's permanent, federal Constitution, which was ratified by the majority of Iraqi people in a nationwide referendum in 2005.
The federal Constitution gives primacy to regional law except in areas listed under the exclusive powers of the federal authorities. Oil and gas are not listed under the exclusive powers of the federal government.
All oil contracts in the Region fall within the KRG oil and gas law, debated and passed by the Kurdistan parliament in 2007 and fully in line with the relevant provisions of the permanent Constitution.
The Constitution not only outlines the current and future roles for federal and regional powers in the management of Iraq's oil and gas, it endorses past authorities as well.
There were oil and gas contracts with the KRG entered into before the coming into force of the Constitution and providing for future exploration, appraisal, and potentially, production.
Under Article 141, all such contracts entered into by Kurdistan since 1992 are considered valid in accordance with their terms.
Under the Constitution, all non-producing fields (at the time of its writing) fall under the sole power of the regions and governorates and therefore contracts were signed between the KRG and the IOCs.
Neither the federal government nor the federal oil minister is a party to these contracts, so the Minister has no jurisdiction to take any legal action against PSC holders.
The Production Sharing Contracts in the Kurdistan Region have been a great success for Iraq. They have meant that an estimated 45 billion barrels of oil and 3-6 tcm of gas can be added to Iraq's total reserve figures.


The alleged agreement with BP on a plan to reverse the decline of oilfields of Kirkuk is another unconstitutional and illegal move announced by the minister. According to Article 112 of the Constitution:
The federal government, with the producing governorates and regional governments, shall undertake the management of oil and gas extracted from present fields, provided that it distributes its revenues in a fair manner… and this shall be regulated by a law.
The term "present fields" refers to fields already under production at the date of the Constitution (October 2005). Kirkuk is one such field.
The management of the Kirkuk field therefore must be undertaken by the federal authorities, the governorate, and because it is part of the process outlined under Article 140, the KRG. 
Because none of this has happened, the federal oil minister cannot act unilaterally, and no wise company would make itself a party to such a dispute.
The federal oil minister makes threatening noises about violence in the disputed territories.