Saturday, June 11, 2011

The sick Chicago Tribune

This week, C.I. has worked her ass off. While others have played with their own feces (The Nation, The Progressive, etc.), she has stayed focused on news and on news that matters. Which is why she reported on two Senate hearings that she attended (one on veterans issues, the other on Leon Panetta's nomination to be Secretary of Defense) and the Commission on Wartime Contracting she attended. It's why, using Arabic media reports, she covered the building protests that erupted on Friday. It's why, using Arabic media reports and friends in European government, The Common Ills was the first US outlet to report on the rupture in the relationship between Ahmed Chalabi and Nouri al-Maliki (how many people are even aware of Chalabi's nephew or what Nouri did there?). She has covered the deaths of the 6 US soldiers this week in Iraq and, in doing so, put everyone else to shame. She has covered how the 5 Monday morning deaths were covered (CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News), minimized (The NewsHour) and ignored (ABC World News Tonight) in the Monday evening broadcasts. She has observed that regional print media is doing a much better job than are the big name, national newspapers.

That's what I wanted to comment on here.

Friday afternoon, I was on my laptop at work (during lunch -- I don't surf during a session as someone's pouring their heart out) and I bookmarked the only two articles at The Chicago Tribune on the death of a local soldier who was 26-years-old. Here and here. The first was a four paragraph (small paragraphs) article written by someone at the paper (the link no longer works). I believe her first name was Lolly (I have neither C.I.'s photographic memory nor her ability to remember bylines). The first three paragraphs were just the Defense Dept.'s press release teased out. The last paragraph indicted someone (maybe at another news outlet?) had at least driven past the home of Michael Oliveri's parents -- it informed us that there was a flag on the front door.

Again, that article is now gone. You get "page not found" now. The second link is to a five paragraph AP story. Wait, it was Lolly. The first article. Mike brought me a note C.I. wrote early this morning (she and Mike and Wally go running in the morning -- I'm usually up before she and the others have to catch their flight back to California but this morning I was dragging and barely had time to give her hug and a goodbye before she left). I had tried to journal last night but had computer problems (which C.I. fixed) and then I couldn't find the other article. This morning, C.I. must have gone looking for it because she found it and wrote down the link. Click here and you get the article plus they've added video from the local news.

How nice of the Chicago Tribune to add others work to their story.

The Chicago Tribune, in case you do not remember, helped sell the illegal war. Libertarian Steve Chapman stood along as the vocal opponent to the Iraq War. The editorials gladly embraced (and dry humped) going to war with Iraq. The columns were a mix of "GO TO WAR NOW!" and (from the 'left') well-golly-it-might-not-be-the-best-thing-in-the-world-but-I-guess-we-need-to-go-to-war. They sold the war.

Now a young man, a local man, is dead. He died Monday, one of five soldiers who died when they were attacked in Iraq. He's dead.

The paper that sold the war can't even pay the debt they owe to him.

Friday night Lolly Bowean filed this story.

A) That story should have been filed days before. B) It's really disappointing when you grasp that the other four who died have already been extensively profiled. Their principals spoken to, their computer science high school teacher spoken to, their cousins spoken to. The Chicago Tribune waits until Friday night and turns in a small piece. Which, please note, means it runs in today's paper which is the least read edition all week. Very few people read the paper on Saturday.

They should be ashamed of themselves. Considering their part in selling the war (and their refusal to tackle the local voices that hid in the shadow nationally but exposed themselves locally), they should have Michael Olivieri's photo on the front page (of the Sunday paper) with five articles about him which begin on the front page.

They were willing to "flood the zone" to get the war they wanted, they damn sure owe it to Michael Olivieri to flood the zone now.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Friday, June 10, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, protesters in Baghdad are attacked, Ahmed Chalabi and Nouri al-Maliki are engaged in a curious dance, some Sunni militia groups may be brought into the government, and more.
And it's Friday so protests took place in Iraq. This was Decision and Departure Friday and the first protest Friday since the end of the 100 Days -- a device Nouri al-Maliki utilized in an attempt to defuse and defocus the protest movement. 100 Days, Nouri promised, and the issues raised by the protesters (whom he also called "terrorists" repeatedly) would be addressed. The 100 Days ended Tuesday. The issues were not addressed. RTT explains that Nouri declared the 100 Days as protesters demanded better basic services with him promising to "implement improvements in public services. [. . .] Maliki pledged that his cabinet would meet the demands in 100 days. [. . .] The 100-day dealine passed on Tuesday, and Maliki asked for more patience to solve problems." Jason Ditz ( observes, "Maliki's strategy appears to be to insist that he achieved all of his goals, and his comments including claims of massive amounts of 'progress' made in the last 100 days. The calls for renewed protests, however, show the opposition isn't buying it."
AFP reports that at least 400 gathered in Tahrir Square in downtown Baghdad. AFP is derailed by another Chalabi sponsored pro-government 'rally' meant to distract from the rally demanding the government provide for the people. What is it with the press? They cover all of the official protests. This one was demanding suspects be executed (we've ignored the 'guilty' and will continue to do so). AFP also misses the biggest news about the difference between the two: Chalabi's protest was not hassled, Tahrir Square? They were harassed and pushed out. AFP does note: "Security forces were out in large numbers at the square, which was closed to vehicle traffic." And that protests also took place in Hilla and Basra (real protests). The Great Iraqi Revolution reports, "Government Security Forces assault a group of the Great Iraqi Revoution's Youth, beating them and cursing them with filthy language, as well as confiscating their stickers and posters at the Salihiya Checkpoint. Another checkpoint did the same thing at an entrance leading Tahrir, to another of our groups." Alsumaria TV reports, "Hundreds of Baghdad residents rallied in Al Tahrir Square on Friday calling for the dismissal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's government and urging constitutional amendments." While Chalabi's protesters weren't hasseled by security forces (naturally), they did manage to harass others (ibid). CNN reports, "Two human rights activists who were among the demonstrations told CNN that at least seven anti-government protesters were beaten with sticks by some pro-Maliki protesters." Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf adds:
janearraf jane arraf
janearraf jane arraf
Al Mada notes a banner carried in Tahrir Square which read, "Our hearts are stronger than your government" and note that thirty minutes into the Tahrir Square demonstration, a dozen of the pro-government thugs, carrying sticks, invaded the protest and began beating up four activists." Abbas al-Lami is quoted stating the thugs beat up women and the youth activists. Aswat al-Iraq adds, "The eye witness told Aswat al-Iraq that the sheikhs hit the demonstrators with sticks they were carrying, in addition to punching and kicking them." The Los Angeles Times' Ned Parker Tweets:
nedparkerlat Ned Parker
Tim Craig (Washington Post) quotes women's rights activist Wafa Sheba stating of the thugs, "They dragged me from the fence and beat me. We went to the security forces and tried to complain, but security forces said they were not going to interfere." Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times via Sacramento Bee) report the thugs carried posters with Ayad Allaiw's face on them, Allawi's face covered "with a giant red X slashed across his face" and that there are rumors they were "bused in by al-Maliki's Dawa Party" (they may have been but I'll stick with the Chalabi connection based on an overseas call this morning when I was doing the morning entries -- two members of a foreign embassy in Iraq -- not the US -- was aware that violence would take place before it did and
they made the Chalabi connection -- they were right about the violence, I'll stay with their Chalabi tie-in unless/until it is disproven). Parker and Salman report:
The violence, which echoed street attacks in the years leading to the creation of Saddam Hussein's authoritarian state, bodes ill for Iraq's emergent democracy, which President Barack Obama recently described as a success story. Attacks on peaceful protesters also raise questions on how much freedom of expression will be tolerated by the al-Maliki government after remaining U.S. forces leave Iraq by year's end.

The Post's Tim Craig quotes American journalist Daniel Smith who says, "There were lots of people with sticks. They were saying: 'We're with Maliki. You're Baathists'."
AFP's Prashant Rao notes the protest across Iraq.
prashantrao Prashant Rao
On Nasiriyah, Al Mada reports that over 1,000 activists marched through the streets demanding better basic services, and end to corruption, jobs and a reformed political system. The Youth Movement's Secretary General Muhammad Abdul Ridha states, "The protest is in solidarity with the youth of Iraq and demands the government provides basic services and respects citizens' rights and freedoms." He is among those calling for early elections. Revolution of Iraq notes, "Firing live bullets to disperse demonstrations in Mosul Friday decision and leave the lens of Staff correspondent Obeidi." A photo essay of the Mosul protest can be found here. Video of Mosul's protest can be found here. Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports, "Around 500 people gathered in front of the Hilla provincial council carrying banners that read 'The government cannot keep its promises' and 'People want reform'." Aswat al-Iraq reports that Iraqi forces prevented a dmonstration from taking place in Wassit.
Kitabat runs the text of a speech Ayad Allawi (leader of Iraqiya) gave today which includes statemens about attempts to smear Iraqiya with false charges and lies including the claims that Iraqiya was attempting to organize a military coup against Nouri. Allawi notes Nouri's denying Iraiqs the answers to the questions which prompted the 100 Days and that now Nouri wants another 100 Days, that Nouri's 'forgotten' he is still the Minister of the Defense, the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of National Security. Allawi notes that Nouri retained the post of prime minister as a result of being backed by Iran. He states, "Dear wounded people of Iraq, on the Qur'an I promise in front of God and in front of all of you that we will not let the Youth of Iraq stand alone in oppossing attempts to creat a new dictatorship in Iraq and the Youth of Iraq will find in us and throughout Iraq freedom and liberation and our complete support as they exercise their Constitutional right to speak out and emboyd the hopes, dreams and demands of the Iraqi people. You, the young men and women of Iraq, we all share the hope of putting an end to corruption, an end to injustice and an end to tyranny while we build a prospersous future for all Iraqis."
Back to Ahmed Chalabi, Al Rafidayn reports that Nouri intentionally avoided him and his followers when selecting the new head of the Justice and Accountability Commission. Ahmed's dear friend and fellow thug Ali al-Lami was assassinated last month which, in the puppet government, may be the only thing which actually counts as a resignation. Al Rafidayn states that Mohamed Shia'a has been named (the Iraqi press has been referring to him as "the Sudanese" for days now).


Chalabi and Ali al-Lami used the committee (which Parliament thought they had killed off) to launch witch hunts and drive opponents (Sunnis mainly but also Shi'ites) out of the 2010 election.

Chalabi had hoped that someone from his party (National Congress Party) would receive the post. Raman Brosk (Zawya) reported earlier this week that Chalabi was denying he had been dismissed from commission, "According to JAC secretary Muzaffar al-Battat, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the dismissal of Shalabi. He said Maliki appointed the Minister for Human Rights, Mohammad Shayya." Brosk goes on to detail two other battle of wills -- both of which Chalabi lost -- in the last week. Last weekend, Nouri stopped an Iraqi government boat that was enroute to Bahrain and whose voyage had been organized by Chalabi and the two men have also locked horns over the position of Director of the Commercial Bank because Chalabi wanted his nephew Hussein al-Azri to retain the position but Nouri replaced al-Azri (who immediately fled to Lebanon) with Hamdiya al-Jaff instead. If the rumors are true that Chalabi organized the pro-government response in Baghdad (the thugs attacking), he might have done so in order to embarrass Nouri. He's already sicked his supporters on Nouri, after all. Shatt al-Arab reported Wednesday that Chalabi's circle was whispering that there appeared to be an organized plot against Chalabi (and they used the term "physical liquidation") and his unnamed supporters insisting of his being pushed out of the Justice and Accountability Commission that this was part of a deliberate war against Chalabi which attempted to exclude and marginalize him. Chalabi has appeared to be tailoring statements for maximum damage to Nouri. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reported this week that Chalabi had announced that the US military must leave Iraq at the end of the year. That was a huge turnaround for Chalabi who spent over a decade taking money from the US government as part of the so-called Iraqi National Congress -- a group of cowardly Iraqi exiles who fled their country instead of fighting for it and spent over a decade lobbying and lying to get other countries to go into Iraq. Only after the US military was on the ground in Iraq (and advancing towards Baghdad) did Chalabi feel it was safe to return to the country.
On the issue of the US military, yesterday CIA Director Leon Panetta appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to provide testimony regarding his nomination to become Secretary of Defense. One key exchange took place near the end of the hearing.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen: I know earlier you were asked about Iraq and whether we would continue to stay in Iraq if asked. And, like others, I have been concerned about increasing violence in Iraq, about the recent casualties. We just lost someone from New Hampshire in the attack over the weekend. And so I wonder if you can talk to what we need to do in order to keep our focus on the efforts in Iraq and, um, assuming that we are not asked to stay, how we will deal with drawing down the remaining troops that are there.
CIA Director Leon Panetta: Well we are at the present time on track to withdrawing our forces at the end of 2011 but I think that, uh, it's clear to me that Iraq is -- is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of presence to remain there. And-and-and it really is dependent on uh the prime minister and on the government of Iraq to present to us, uh, what, uh, you know what is it that they need and over what period of time in order to make sure that the gains we've made in Iraq are sustained. I-I have every confidence that, uh, that, uh, you know, that a request like that, you know, is something that I think will be forthcoming at some point.
We covered the hearing in yesterdy's snapshot and Wally offered "Claire McCaskill" (at Rebecca's site), Ava offered "Brown and Collins ask Panetta" (at Trina's site) and Kat offered "Senate Armed Service Committee Boneheads." Today Justin Raimondo ( offers his thoughts on Panetta's hearing:
When oh when are American progressives going to recover their moxie – the fighting spirit of their predecessors, like Bob La Follete – and stand up against the warmongering and the assault on civil liberties that characterizes the Obama administration? I keep asking myself that question, even as the apparent answer becomes all too clear.
The evidence that the long silence of the progressives will be extended throughout the already-started presidential campaign season was on display in Washington this week, as the confirmation hearings for Leon Panetta as the new Defense Secretary commenced.
[. . .]
Imagine an alternate history in which the Vietnam war continued for another decade or so – and was extended throughout Southeast Asia. Imagine, too, that a Democratic president – say, oh, Hubert Humphrey, since we're in an alternative universe – not only continued LBJ's war policies, but escalated the war, and nominated war-supporter and US Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-Boeing) to head up the Department of Defense. Envision Jackson stating in his confirmation hearing that he and his predecessor "pretty much walk hand in hand on these issues" – and then imagine what Senator William Fulbright would make of this pledge of continuity.
Unfortunately, today, there are no Fulbrights to speak truth to power. Instead, we have fake-"progressives" like Barbara Boxer, who, instead of grilling Panetta, chirped:
"'Good luck, and I hope the committee does this quickly,' Ms. Boxer said after describing Mr. Panetta as her mentor and 'very smart, but he also gets it.'"
It's Boxer who doesn't "get it": she
masquerades, for the benefit of her California progressive constituency, as an opponent of the Afghan war, calling for a drawdown and rapid withdrawal, and yet she gives a free pass to Panetta, who wants to "stay the course." Fulbright's ghost is railing from the netherworld – but, alas, today's progressives are deaf to his pleas.
Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes the corpse of 1 cab driver was discovered in Mosul, 2 Baghdad roadside bombings claimed the lives of 4 people with twenty more left injured, another Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing claimed 1 life and left four people injured, another Baghdad roadside bombing which left two people injured and, dropping back to last night, 8 rockets hit the Green Zone.
Meanwhile Mu Zuequan (Xinhua) reports, "Iraq on Thursday held a national reconciliation conference with the attendance of representatives of Sunni Arab insurgent groups who are willing to lay down their arms and join the political process." The groups Hamas al-Iraq, Jaish al-Islami, Jaish al-Mujahdeen, Naqshabandiyah, Jaish al-Fateheen and Jaish al-Murabteen are listed as having particpated. If successful, it would not be the first time a Sunni group of resistance was brought into the government. The Sahwa, Awakenings, "Sons Of Iraq" were a group of Sunni militants. The US government brought them in by paying them a monthly salary. The plan was for the Sahwa to be absorded into the process with Nouri finding jobs for many as police officers or military positions.
On the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show, Iraq was addressed with panelists Courtney Kube (NBC News), Richard McGregor (Financial Times of London) and David E. Sanger (New York Times).
Diane Rehm: Now, let's talk first about Iraq because it was really a deadly week for US troops there, Courtney.
Courtney Kube: That's right. On Monday, the US military suffers its worst attack there in about two years. This morning [a] Shi'ite militia claimed responsibility for launching six rockets into a small US - Iraqi outposts in southern Baghdad, killed five soldiers. There was another soldier killed later this week. Six soldiers -- US soldiers -- killed in Iraq in one week is much higher than we've seen recently.
Diane Rehm: And 20 Iraqis killed killed as well in a series of explosions across the country [on Monday]. David Sanger, do Monday's death raise questions about troop withdrawal plans?
David E. Sanger: Well Pentagon has known, Diane, from the beginning that the withdraw is a very vulnerable period because the troops are not in the position of being out to find these kind of sites. They're relying on the Iraqis to go do that and the whole idea has been that the movement of troops back to these bases would pretty well insulate the US against most casualties and, until now, that's worked out. But as the -- As withdraw accelerates and basically all US troops are supposed to be out by the end of the year -- unless there's an agreement with the Iraqis to the contrary -- I'm afraid you could see more of this. It's also got a bigger issue that's lurking behind which is that the same questions will pervade the slow withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan where there are a lot more American troops now. And, of course, that process is supposed to begin next month -- probably very slowly.
Diane Rehm: And, Richard McGregor, the incoming Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, underwent his confirmation hearings yesterday. He says that Iraq will ask the US to stay beyond the end of 2011.
Richard McGregor: Well this is -- has been -- a fascinating process because the US has almost been asking Iraq to make a formal request. But it seems there's a lot of internal opposition in Iraq -- or inability of some leaders to step forward and put that request forward. I think Adm [Mike] Mullen talked about this at least six months ago. Secretary [Robert] Gates talked about it before so the withdrawal time that David was talking about, timetable, is obviously flexible from the US. But so far, I don't think they've received the formal request to stay.
Diane Rehm: And do you agree with David that that could affect the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as well?
Richard McGregor: Well, I think anything when the -- anytime when the U.S. withdraws after a major conflict, the aftermath is very important. If they leave with honor, to use a phrase, with certain -- not terrific echoes, then I think that's fine. But if they leave in, which looks like a retreat and without their aims met and without a friendly Iraq behind them. After all the aim was to build a model, Middle Eastern democracy and quite apart from the hit on the U.S. bases this week, I think a week or two ago in Iraq the 17 bombs went off in a coordinated attack. So, you know, I think the withdrawal process is very important.
Diane Rehm: Courtney?
Courtney Kube: Yes, I traveled to Iraq with Secretary Gates on his last trip there, about two months ago and he -- I wouldn't say that there is necessarily an appetite for a continuing presence -- for the U.S. to have a continuing presence but there's an understanding, there's an acceptance that that's the need that's going to come up.
Though not yet over, the week is winding down and it's a week in which 6 US soldiers have died in Iraq. 5 died on Monday, 1 died Wednesday. OzarksFirst (link has text and video) reports that Pfc Matthew J. England was the soldier who died Wednesday "when an IED exploded near the military vehicle he was driving" and is survivors included mother Pamela Hengen and father Daniel England. The Ozark County Times runs a photo of Matthew England.

The five who died on Monday were finally identified by the Defense Dept yesterday:

The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of five soldiers who were supporting Operation New Dawn. They died June 6 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with indirect fire. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Field artillery Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.
Killed were:
Spc. Emilio J. Campo Jr., 20, of Madelia, Minn.;
Spc. Michael B. Cook Jr., 27, of Middletown, Ohio;
Spc. Christopher B. Fishbeck, 24, of Victoville, Calif.;
Spc. Robert P. Hartwick, 20, of Rockbridge, Ohio; and
Pfc. Michael C. Olivieri, 26, Chicago, Ill.
For more information, the media may contact the 1st Infantry Division public affairs office at 785-240-6359 or 785-307-0641.

Jim Woods and Randy Ludlow (Columbus Dispatch)report on 20-year-old Robert Hartwick whose survivors include Linda Hartwick (mother) and Robert A. Hartwick (father) and two sisters. He was on his first tour of duty in Iraq. His mother remembers him as someone who loved to fix things starting with a go cart when he was 5-years-old and who didn't "hunt because he could 'never hurt any animal'." The Chillicothe Gazette adds that he "was a combat medic and had joined the Army in June 2009."

And making it back to the United States alive does not necessarily mean making it to safety. Pat Doyle (Star Tribune) reports on Lt Comd Jim Pierce:

Pierce tended to Iraqis in the Iraq war with the same care he gave wounded Americans. But those who knew him well say he never recovered from the experience -- especially the sight of severely injured children -- and returned stateside traumatized, depressed and suicidal.
"He was blown up psychologically," said a sister, Amy Bursch of Foley, Minn.
Pierce, 52, a retired officer, died May 23 at his home in Goodview, Va. Authorities have not ruled on a cause of death; a medical examiner said it is under investigation.
Memorial services will be held Saturday at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Bird Island.

Jim Pierce was a member of the Navy and may or may not have taken his own life but for those who are struggling with that issue, the Army notes these resources:

WLOX reports on Iraq War veteran Gene Dufree who, as part of the Mississippi National Guard's 1556h Charlie Company, deployed to Iraq in 2005. Five soldiers he served with died in Iraq. He remembers, "These were great guys. Husbands, brothers, great outstanding people. It leaves an emptiness in you that you will never overcome. [. . .] Knowing what I had been through, I prayed to God that those guys did not have to endure what we had to go through."

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


And there's the rub. In Iraq, as in Afghanistan (where despite Karzai's hostile rhetoric, a long-term "strategic partnership" agreement is being negotiated), the prospect of a continuing presence of quasi-permanent US military bases in both countries, lasting far beyond the nominal exit dates, is a very real one. Behind all the talk of withdrawals lies this dirty little secret: the Yanks aren't going home.

That's from Simon Tisdall's piece for the Guardian. Tonight we have a question: Why are the British more concerned about a withdrawal than is the American press/

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Wednesday, June 8, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, another US soldier dies in Iraq, four activists are released in Iraq, released after Nouri's attempt to frame them fails, Friday appears likely to be a big day for protests in Iraq, Senator Patty Murrray advocates for veterans and explains her Murray's Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, and more.
US House Rep Ron Paul is running for the GOP presidential nomination. Scott Horton spoke with him earlier this month for Antiwar Radio. Excerpt:
US House Rep Ron Paul: Yeah and I don't have much faith in that [promise of an Afghanistan drawdown]. It's sort of like, you know, it's all over in Iraq and you're just about to come home and all the sudden you hear more people are being killed and what's happening to the Christians and why it's a haven now for al Qaeda when it wasn't under Saddam Husein. And they wouldn't build those embassies and those bases if they actually wanted to go home or planned to go home. They're planning to stay, there's just no doubt about it. They might try to fool the people for awhile. But in this age of communication that we have, even from over there, that the information gets out and they won't be able to get away with it.
Scott Horton: Well and they've actually been pretty public about trying to get Nouri al-Maliki to socalled invite us to stay too.
US House Rep Scott Horton: Yeah.
Scott Horton: They haven't made much of a secret about it. 'Please, please invite us.'
US House Rep Scott Horton: And if you don't, we'll take all of your money away from you.
Tom Engelhardt (Middle Easton Online) observes, "Iraq? Where's that? Most Americans no longer seem to know and evidently could care less, but don't tell that to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, various key military figures and Washington officials, or some of the neocons, warrior-pundits, and liberal war-fighters circling them. They continue to relentlessly promote Iraq as a mission-never-accomplished-but-never-to-be-ended experience. Somehow, two decades after our Iraq wars began, they still can't get enough of them. Learning curve? Don't even think about it. It's as if they're trapped in that old Thomas Wolfe novel, You Can't Go Home Again."
"Where's that?" Engelhardt asks. It wasn't on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. Monday saw the worst assault on US soldiers in Iraq -- judging by the death toll -- in two years. David Zurawik (Baltimore Sun) observes of Scott Pelley's debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News Monday that they didn't launch immediately into the texting story, "But they waited almost 12 minutes before getting to those stories, because they wanted to first explore the news of five soldiers dying in Iraq. Good for Pelley and CBS News and their sense of what's important." As we noted, The NewsHour (PBS) reduced that to a very tiny headline, just three brief sentences, not even the main headline (click here for Stan's take on The NewsHour's 'coverage') while World News with Diane Sawyer completely ignored the five deaths (NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams was ranked second by me with their coverage and CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley first. Both Williams and Pelley noted the deaths and brought on an analyst to provide context). Equally distrubing what was Ruth wrote about last night: Free Speech Radio News -- a 30 minute, commercial free broadcast with headlines and news segments -- completely ignored the 5 deaths.
Speaking to the parents of two soldiers deployed to Iraq, WTKR (link is text and video) reports on the parents' reactions to the news of the 5 deaths and notes, a solider from the same brigade as the one attacked posted to the station's Facebook page, "My unit just lost another 5 soldiers, and over 15 soldiers are wounded.This is all from one incident. We have 3 months until we come home and we have lost 8 soldiers so far."

Were "over 15" injured in the attack? I have no idea. As of this evening, DoD still hasn't released the names of the five who died. There were reports that at least five more were injured in the attack. The Pentagon and the White House have been very lucky that reporters aren't really interested in Iraq. Otherwise, it would be pointed out that on Monday an attack took place and on Wednesday there was still no information. Ignoring DoD, the Union-Leader turns up some information, discovering the name of one of the fallen:

On Tuesday, the Air Force listed PFC. Michael B. Cook Jr. as one of several soldiers whose bodies was to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Michael B. Cook lived in Salem and was stationed in Iraq, according to the March obituary of his grandfather, Benjamin Cook. His wife, Samantha, is in Ft. Riley, Kansas; they have two children, Hailee and Michael B. Cook III.

WMUR (link has text and video) notes of Michael Cook, "Monday would have been his 27th birthday." (If that's not clear, he died on his birthday. It was this week, not next Monday.) They also note that his high school, Salem High, has a flag in the gym honoring those who have died in the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War with a plaque listing their names next to the flag: "Cook is now the fifth member of the school and third member of his class of 2003 to die in those wars. Principal Maura Palmer said the plan is to remember Cook's sacrifice in November." She states, "At our Veteran's Day program in the fall, we would also add his name to the plaque. We would also honor him and have his family here, as well." Jose Luis Magana (AP) has a photo of the dignified transfer of Michael B. Cook's remains to Dover Air Force Base today. US Senator Jeanne Shaheen's office issued the following today:
(Washington, D.C.) -- U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen released the following statement in response to reports of the death of Pfc. Michael Cook, formerly of Salem, N.H.:
"My deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Pfc. Michael Cook. Like many brave sons and daughters of New Hampshire, he sought to serve his country and protect his fellow Americans, and he did so with honor and courage.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Michael's family at this difficult time."
The Eagle Tribune speaks to the superintendent of Salem's school system, Michael Delahanty who was principal of Salem High School when Michael Cook attended.and he tells the paper, "There are some kids who stand out and Michael was one of those kids."
Meanwhile CNN notes another US soldier was killed in Iraq today ("southern Iraq"). Gulf Times includes the military's one-sentence statement on the incident, "A US service member was killed Wednesday while conducting operations in southern Iraq." DoD's count of the US military deaths in Iraq currently stands at 4457; however, that does not include today's deaht or the 5 from Monday. They are not included in the DoD count until after DoD releases a statement on their deaths. (DoD does not make death announcements -- USF in Iraq is supposed to do that to the press. After loved ones have been notified, DoD issues a statement identifying the fallen by name. After it does that, it adds the fallen to their count.) .

Turning to the other reported violence of today, Reuters notes a Falluja sticky bombing which claimed 1 life and left another person wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left four people injured, 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul, the corpse of 1 Yazidi was discovered in Mosul (he had been kidnapped earlier), a Baghdad second roadside bombing left four people injured, a Rashad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa member and an assassination attempt on the general manager of the health department in Diayala Province, Ali Hussein, resulted in four by-standers being injured but no reported injuries to Ali Hussein.
A marker has come and gone and Nouri's 100 Days ended Tuesday. 100 Days was Nouri's desperate attempt to distract citizens from the problems they face and to buy time. Al Sabaah notes that Nouri is now asking for patience and claiming that "the concept of partnership is a beautiful one," however, it might not be practical. Fakhri Karim (Al Mada) dubs "100 Days of humiliation" and notes Nouri wanted the "reset" and now refuses to admit any failure. Reset? Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki said he is set to implement a new plan during the next 100 day deadline in order to improve the government's performance and endorse the previous deadline, a source told Alsumaria." If true, Nouri seems to think he can just declare "100 More Days!" at any time.
Iraqi Revolution compares Nouri and his 100 Days to Scheherazade and her One Thousand and One Nights. It's both a humorous comparison and an accurate one. Scheherazade launched into her one thousand and one nights of story telling in order to save her life and the 100 Days were all about Nouri trying to save his political career and remain as prime minister. Scheherazade, I'm oversimplifying the story, lived in a Persian Empire which King Shahryar ruled. Due to infedility in a previous marriage, the king had decided to marry only virgins and that, after one night with them, they would be killed. Scheherazade outsmarted him by arranging her sister to visit on the wedding night and, as they said their farewells (for Scheherazade was to die), her sister would ask her to tell a story. Scheherazde launched into a captivating story and then noted that the morning dawn was breaking so she had to stop her story. The king was caught up in the story and had to know what happened next. So her life was spared and this pattern repeated with her finishing the story from the night before and starting a new one that she would finish the next night. She knew exactly 1001 stories. When she had run out of stories, but by that time they had children and he'd fallen in love with her so her life was no longer in jeopardy. Nouri may be hoping something similar will happen with him; however, he should remember that he became prime minister in 2006 and yet, in all the years leading up to the March 2010 elections, the Iraqi people didn't fall in love with him enough to make his political slate the winner in those elections.
Alsumaria also reports, "Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi noted that the failure of national partnership in Iraq requires holding early elections. Holding early elections is well accepted by Iraqis, Allawi said." At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Marina Ottaway and Danial Anas Kaysi examine the current political tensions:

It does not appear at this point that any party or faction has actually reached a firm decision that it wants the government to fail -- thus reopening a painful negotiation process that took nine months to complete, or even leading to early elections. But it is abundantly clear that all are playing a game of brinkmanship, trying to push their advantage to the utmost and testing the limits of what they can achieve. A misjudgment by one of the major players could easily create a crisis with unforeseeable consequences.
There are three major levels of tensions threatening the survival of the government and the stability of Iraq more broadly: rising divisions among the governing coalition's parties, tension between the parliament and the executive branch, and competition between the central and regional governments.

They then immediately go to the Erbil Agreement. That was the agreement that the Kurds, Iraqiya, the National Alliance, State of Law and the US hammered out which allowed Nouri to stay on as prime minister and was supposed to guarantee Iraqiya (which won the March 2010 election, garnering more seats in the Parliament than any other slate) certain items. Nouri got what he wanted and quickly trashed the agreement. That's when tensions especially simmer.
Meanwhile, The Great Iraqi Revolution informs, "SWAT troops under Maliki's direct command at a checkpoint in Baghdad I(Al Mansour, Dawoodi) armed with M4 rifles fitted with silencers, bearing in mind that a few days ago officials stated that silence rs were being manufactgured locally and that there are no imported silencers whatsoever! So belive it when it is said that policemen and thieves wore similar clothing!"

The Great Iraqi Revolution notes, "Help us encourage people for next Friday's Demonstration by sending at least 10 SMS messages per person saying the following: "YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR PEOPLE NEED YOU. PARTICIPATE IN OUR REVOLUTION IN TAHRIR SQUARE NEXT FRIDAY." They are gearing up for protests this Friday -- protests which will take place despite Nouri's attempt to stop the Baghdad protests. The Great Iraqi Revolution offers a poem by Issra Abd which includes:

Why are you silent for this is our Iraq and these are our sons and those are our mothers and those are our children and our brothers ..... and you are remaining silent, Why?
Don't you see, Don't you hear, or have your eyes become blind and your ears deaf
Look at them
Youth who have been detained and women who have been widowed, children orphaned and mothers traumatized by the death of their sons and houses destroyed and
You are still silent; Why all this awful silence from those you fear.... what are you frightened of....
Are you frightened of speaking Speak Up and Don't be Silent
As God Is Your Witness What are you doing Come Along Speak Up And Don't Be Silent It is time you spoke up Come on Rise Up
Altogether with a loud voice
No to Corruption.... No to Occupation..... No to the Plunder of the People...... No to Tyrany ..... No to Dictatorship

In preparation for the end of 100 Days, Nouri upped the crackdown on protesters. This included, on May 27th, arresting four activists on trumped up charges. The Great Iraqi Revolution noted the four arrested: "THE 4 YOUNG ACTIVISTS WHO WERE ARRESTED TODAY BY QASSIM ATTA AND TAKEN TO A PLACE UNKNOWN - 27.5.2011 - THEIR NAMES ARE: JIHAD JALEEL, ALI ABDUL KHALIQ, MOUAYED AL TAYEB AND AHMED AL BAGHDADI. We pray God to have them released very soon."

New Sabah reports the 4 were finally released yesterday. Nouri's officials had claimed the 4 were arrested for false IDs. New Sabah reports that when the four appeared before the judge, the government supplied four fake IDs as evidence.

The IDs were indeed of the four men. The photos clearly showed their faces. It was the four men. And it was even easier to tell it was them by their clothes. They were wearing prison uniforms issued by the government.

In case you're waking up slowly this morning, the government presented FAKE evidence. The fake IDs were clearly made after the four men were arrested and Nouri and his goons weren't even smart enough to pull off a frame up.

David Ali (Al Mada) reminds the four were abudcted while taking part in a participation. He reports how he repeatedly attempted to interview the four after the arrest but the government denied him access. A spokesperson for the four states they were tortured. They also state they were repeatedly told ("told" is probably too mild a word) to sign a document claiming they had been treated fairly but that they refused to sign it. Their torture while imprisoned is said to have included beatings, electrical shocks and more. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) quotes Mouyed Faisal stating, "When I left al-Tahrir Square [Friday, May 27th], a group of Iraqi security forces surrounded me. Meanwhile an ambulance parked next to me and I was being carried into it after they beat me." Tawfeeq notes the four plan to continue their protests and quotes Ahmed al-Baghdadi stating, "We are not afraid and we will continue to protest in Tahrir Square every Friday."
In other Iraq news, Al Rafidayn is reporting that 34 people were arrested yesterday in Baghdad on charges of terrorism ("including 22 girls and a child"). The charges include trading in human organs and drugs. Al Sabaah adds that Iraqi officials are stating that the 'terrorist gang' is comprised of "the most dangerous terrorists in Iraq" -- apparently including the 18-year-old women who were hired to watch over the young children. New Sabah reports that Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, has been in Jordan attempting to negotiate the release of 15 Iraqis imprisoned in Jordan.

"Today," declared Senator Patty Murray this morning as she brought the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to order, "we have a very ambitious agenda which really reflects the hard work of members on both sides of the aisle. We have numerous challenges to meet for our nation's veterans and I am pleased that this Committee has worked -- and will continue to work -- to develop legislation that substantially improves the lives -- their lives and the lives of their families, especially during this time of war."
This was a hearing on proposed legislation. Ranking Member Richard Burr will be covered, as usual, by Kat at her site tonight. The Committee was joined by Senator Olympia Snowe, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who do not serve on the Committee but had bills they wanted to discuss. Snowe, for example, has a bill regarding the military funerals, specifically the protests by one church group that makes homophobic remarks and other remarks on signs and in shouting and chanting. Senator Snowe stated her bill did not attempt to curtail speech, did not impose any rules on what can be stated, but that it would increase the area of protection for the mourners -- instead of protesters needing to remain at least 100 feet away, her bill would change that to 300 feet. (I am not endorsing or opposing this bill. I'm just noting it. Many would argue -- and they have a point -- that if speech is outside an area where it can be heard, it's really not free speech.) The Committee also heard from two panels. The first was government officials: VA's John McWilliam and VA's Robert Jesse. The second was VFW's Raymond Kelley, the American Legion's Jeff Steele, the AFL-CIO's J. David Cox and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante.
Before we go further Rob Hotakainen has an article that is or will be appearing in all the McClatchy Newspapers (link goes to Kansas City Star) where he looks at Iraq War veteran Eric Smith, 26-years-old, repeatedly searching for work -- full time, but willing to take part-time in an attempt to make ends meet (and, no, part-time's never going to make it work). How bad has the employment scene been for him? He even took part in a medical drug trial study to earn $1,200. Hotakainen notes, "In late March, he and 27 other veterans participated in IAVA's 'Storm the Hill' lobbying campaign. They went to 117 offices on Capitol Hill and met with 57 members of Congress, asking them to commission a study on military vocational skills and certifications. Smith and other veterans complain that the skills they learn in the military aren't enough to get them civilian certifications in their fields when they return home." Eric Smith supports the bill Chair Muarry is proposing (and he took part in the press conference for the bill last month).
Committee Chair Patty Murray: There is much on the agenda that is important but I want to speak briefly about one item -- the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011. Ensuring that our veterans can find employment when they come home is an area where we must do more. For too long, we have been investing billions of dollars training our young men and women to protect our nation, only to ignore them when they come home. For too long, we have patted them on the back and pushed them into the civilian job market with no support. This is simply unacceptable and does not meet the promise we made to our men and women in uniform. Our hands-off approach has left us with an unemployment rate in February of over 27 percent among young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That is over one in four of our nation's heroes who can't find a job to support their family. Over one in four of our service men and women lack the stability that is so critical to their transition home. That's why last month I introduced the bipartisan Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 which now has 19 co-sponsors. This legislation will help us rething the way we support our service members as they return home and search for living-wage jobs. I introduced this critical legislation because I've heard first-hand from the veterans for whom we've failed to provide better job support. I've had veterans tell me that they no longer write that they're a veteran on their resume because they fear the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war. I've heard from medics who return home from treating battlefield wounds who can't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance. These stories are as heartbreaking as they are frustratng. But more than anything, they're a reminder that we have to act now. The Hiring Heroes Act would allow our men and women in uniform to capitalize on their services while also ensuring that the American people capitalize on the investment we have made in them. For the first time, it would require every service member transitioning from active duty to partipate in the Transition Assistance Program [TAP]. This program supports our veterans by providing them with broad job skills training before they separate from service. This bill would also allow service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation. It would also require the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable to the civilian sector. This is a much needed step toward making it simpler for veterans to obtain much needed licenses and certifications. And, finally, my legislation would allow for innovative partnerships between VA, DoD and organizations that provide mentorship and training programs designed to lead to job placements for veterans. All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work and they come at a pivotal time for our economic recovery and our service members.
At Third Estate Sunday Review, we endorsed Committee Chair Patty Murray's Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 including the mandatory aspect but: "There are a lot of programs the military offers. There's a real problem getting the word out. In some instances, such as PTSD, it's hard to draw any conclusion either than the military wants to keep the numbers down. Making the program mandatory means it falls back on superiors if veterans aren't getting access to these programs." We stand by that but there's a development since then. Earlier this month, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. We'll again note this exchange.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: I do have a couple of questions for both of you. You mentioned the figure of 45% of service members attend TAP. Is that for all branches? Am I wrong in that the Marines do require, it is mandatory for their service members to attend TAP before they are discharged? And do we know if their percentages are any higher than the other branches?
Christina Roof: When I spoke with Marine Corps officials last week, I was told it is mandatory that their Marines complete the TAP program. I was also told there were some exceptions, of course, you know, like critical injuries involved and so on. But I was told last week that it is mandatory that all their Marines complete TAP before their service discharge.
Subcommittee Chair: Marlin Stutzman: So that's with no exceptions? Every Marine coming out does -- has completed TAP or . . .
Christina Roof: Again, I can only go on what they told me which was, it is mandatory which I think is a great idea that should be across the board. I can't speak, again, to each individual case but it seems like they are enforcing it.
Subcommittee Chair Marlin Stutzman: So would the 45% number have Marines in that percentage? Or do we not know more of -- the demographics or --
Christina Roof: I'll let my colleague, I think that was his number.
Marco Reininger: Sir, if I may, I'm not 100% sure whether or not this number includes the Marine Corps but I believe that making it mandatory DoD wide would be the right solution here. That same survey indicated that many veterans didn't attend the TAP program where TAP courses were offered because it had a reputation of being redundant, not really useful for making a successful transition. And, in some cases even, commanding officers wouldn't let them go. This is what they say, again, this is what the survey indicated. So mandating it DoD wide for all service branches would be the right answer here, sir. And, of course, along with that comes having to overhaul the program so that it actually works and makes sense for people to actually attend.
[. . .]
Ranking Member Bruce Braley: Let me ask you this basic question. Isn't it true that the Department of Defense could make these programs mandatory, across the board right now without any further action by Congress if they wanted to? [They nod their heads.] That was a "yes" from both of you.
Marco Reininger: Yes, sir, absolutely, the executive branch could order this to be mandatory and that would most likely be the end of it as far as I understand the process.
So Committee Chair Murray's bill would not impose something new with regards to TAP, it would bring the other branches up to the same standard that the Marines already are compelled to meet. That's all the more reason to support it because to address problems that are spread out across the various branches, there needs to be standardization among the branches in terms of requirements.
In terms of certifications and licenses, what Chair Murray is speaking of hearing from veterans is something most members of Congress have heard. In a hearing of the full House Veterans Affairs Committee this month, US House Rep Bob Filner also addressed this issue.
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I thank you all for your testimony and your efforts. This is obviously a Congressional hearing and we have oversight of the VA. I haven't heard any suggestions on what we ought to be doing or what the VA ought to be doing. Looks like the only guy who's doing anything in government is Mr. Jefferson over here -- I mean, from the testimony -- I know you're false modest. But what are we all doing here? I mean this ought to be a top priority for everybody. And I can imagine -- you guys are the experts -- but if I just thought about it for a few seconds I could think of what the VA could be doing. I mean, why isn't every regional office, for example, putting out a list of veterans and their specialties and what they're seeking jobs as? You guys all said we have trouble linking up with who the veterans are. Well the VA knows every veteran. Let's just put out a list of everybody who's looking for a job. I mean, it just doesn't seem difficult. We hear about the transition of skills in the military being hard to translate. We could deem anybody who's in electronics or a medic or a truck driver -- I mean, we can give them a certificate that says "For the purposes of hiring, this serves as" you know "what ever entry level." And people can be trained further. But they have incredible skills. We've been working on this civilian certification for, I don't know, decades. Nobody can seem to solve it. We've got guys truck driving all over Iraq or Afghanistan, they come home and they find out they have to take a six month course to get a commercial driving license. They say, "Hey, what do I need that for?" And they get discouraged. They're truck drivers. They know how to do it and they do it under the most difficult conditions you can imagine. Let them have a certificate that starts with a job. Or electronics people or medics. I mean, I've watched these medics. They have incredible -- they do things that no civilian would ever think of doing and yet they've got to go through some other certification, masters and go to this college and that college. Come on. They have the training. And we could just do it. I'd like you to give us some suggestions in either law, regulation, just executive order that we can help you do the kind of things you're doing every day. You are out there. We ought to be helping you in every way we can and the VA's job is to do that.
mohammed tawfeeq
al rafidayn
al sabaah
the union-leader