Friday, February 01, 2013

The government finds a new way to screw up our kids

Am I the only one who strongly dislikes Senator Tom Harkin?

He's kind of a weasel, you may have noticed.  But I usually ignore that.  I'm not in the mood to tonight.

I have never taken kindly to anyone else telling me what I could eat.  I have a child with Mike (we adopted).  I have at least one child prior to Mike (any children prior to my relationship with Mike would be adults now).  I did not like it when someone tried to interfere with what my child had for lunch.

So busy-body Tom Harken's law that was passed in 2010 does not please me.  At 73, I also think Harken needs out of the Congress.  I am not joking.  I think we need to have a mandatory retirement age for the Senate.  I'm less concerned about the House of Representatives because they are up for re-election every two years. 

So Harken's basically pulling all candy and snacks over 200 calories out of the vending machines.  Diet sodas will be available . . . for high schools.

What kind of a dumb ass is Harken?

In my field, I have worked with young people with eating disorders.  As I read over the calorie-calorie-calorie plans being put in place, I can't help but think of how this approach actually could lead to more eating disorders.  Do we really want to hit our children with calories-calories-calories starting in elementary?  Wouldn't it be smarter to increase phys ed and (for younger kids) recess?

In fact, studies show that someone who learns to be active early in life tends to be active later on.  So why aren't we coming up with a plan that encourages behaviors instead of acting as if Weight Watchers is our holy temple and the way to cure weight issues?

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):

Friday, February 1, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests take place across Iraq, flooding continues, more families are being displaced as a result of the flooding, and more.

Protests took place throughout Iraq today with Al Mada reporting the numbers participating significantly rose from last week.  Hurriyet also observes, "The turnout appeared to be among the largest since the protests began in December."   Sofia News Agency reports, "In Adhamiyah, a mostly Sunni neighbourhood of north Baghdad, several hundred demonstrators resumed their weekly protest under heavy security measures at the Abu Hanifa mosque, calling for the release of prisoners they say are being wrongfully held."  Alsumaria reports Falluja saw tens of thousands turn out today and they took to the international highway (that connects Baghdad to Jordan) as The Voice of Russia notes. Today Reuters notes the protesters in Falluja chanted "NO" to Nouri al-Maliki.  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) explains,  "The main rallies Friday took place in Fallujah and Ramadi, cities that straddle the highway running through Anbar province."  For a photo of thousands and thousands of occupying the highway in Falluja -- and the areas around the highway -- click on this Alsumaria pageClick here for a photo of the Falluja protest taken byThaier al-Sudani (Reuters).   And AFP's Prashant Rao provides links to more photos.

Pictures of Iraq's anti-government protests in Baghdad, Fallujah and Kirkuk by photographers:

Pictures of anti-government demos today in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Fallujah by photographers:

A spokesperson for the Falluja protesters, Khaled Hamoud, tells Al-Shorfa, "Today's demonstrations are no different from previous demonstrations in terms of the demands and rights we are seeking.  We hope that the government will meet them and we are determined to continue our peaceful demonstrations."  Morning Star quotes from Cleric Abdul-Hameed Jadoua who addressed the Falluja protesters telling them "the blood of martyrs was shed so that the dignity of our Iraq and our tribes will be restored. [. . .]  From this place, we tell the government that we do not want to see a soldier from now on, not only in Fallujah, but in all its suburbs and villages."   The Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera correspondent Jane Arraf Tweeted the following on the Falluja protest today.

Pick-up trucks full of young guys with flags heading for in what's expected to be huge protest after Friday prayers.

Prayers in - thousands still coming in ant-government protest - leaders appeal for non-violence.
View photo
-huge gathering for prayers on highway, calls to remember the martyrs, anti-Maliki chants and then all went home for lunch

Kitabat notes today's protests are a tribute to the Falluja martyrs who were killed last week.

Friday, January 25th, Nouri al-Maliki's armed thugs in Falluja fired on protesters killing at least seven (Alsumaria reported Saturday that another of the victims has died from wounds raising the death toll from six to seven)  and sixty more were left injured. Today Kitabat reports four more victims of last Friday's violence have died bringing the death toll to 11.  Protesters in Falluja were marching and taking part in a sit-in when the military opened fire on them.  Anbar Province has sworn out arrest warrants for the soldiers.  Rami G. Khouri (Daily Star) sees similarities between Egypt and Iraq:

The same applies to the tens of thousands of demonstrators in Iraq, who, like their Egyptian counterparts, are protesting the killing of demonstrators by the security services as well as a wider sense that the central government is not addressing the socio-economic and political rights of all citizens with diligence or fairness. In both cases, many ordinary citizens feel that one group is trying to monopolize power and seize control of the state. The Iraqi and Egyptian leaders have both acted with an authoritarianism that remind us of their predecessors’ policies in many ways., which Arabs now wish to leave behind them for good.

 Dar Addustour notes that Nouri met for six hours mid-week with armed forces commanders to discuss/anticipate today's protests.  Kitabat explains that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis took part in protests today throughout Anbar Province, Kirkuk Province, Nineveh Province, Diyala Province and Salahuddin following morning prayers. Dar Addustour quotes from Sheikh Abdul Hamid Jadou's sermon where he said that the prime minister needed to hear the protesters.  The Sheikh declared that positions don't last, the world does not last but God watches and Nouri needs to do the right thing.  Alsumaria notes that protesters in Kirkuk marched calling for government to implement their demands and calling for loyalty to the Falluja martyrs and that the heads of the tribal clans in Anbar, Salahuddin and Nineveh Province are declaring Nouri needs to listen to the protesters.    Al Jazeera reports:

Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Fallujah, said many had walked for hours to attend Friday's protest and had turned the highway into a mosque for the weekly prayers.
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under increasing pressure to listen to their demands," she said, adding that a lot of the protesters, mostly young men, were unemployed and that a lot of them have been in jail.
"They feel they've been neglected by the Shia government," she said.

World Bulletin observes, "The protests are evolving in the most serious test yet for Maliki and his fragile government that splits posts among Shi'ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurds, who were already deadlocked over how to share power for more than a year."  In a report for the Christian Science Monitor, Jane Arraf explains:

The Anbar demonstrations began in December, with protesters demanding an end to perceived targeting of Sunni Muslims after the arrest of the Sunni finance minister’s bodyguards on terrorism charges. But it is the arrests of dozens of Iraqi women that have infuriated many in this fiercely tribal area. That anger has spread to Sunni areas in Baghdad and to provinces farther north, and both Al Qaeda in Iraq and mainstream political figures have been quick to join the fray.

Human Rights Watch's "Iraq: A Broken Justice System" was released yesterday and noted:

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

On the topic of the call to release prisoners, this call has been a constant of the recent wave of protests and was also a part of the 2011 protests.  Iraqis disappear into the 'legal system' and their families can't find them.   Article IV allows the security forces to arrest relatives of suspects.  Relatives who are not charged with anything languish in detention centers and prisons.  The Sunni population feels they are especially targeted by Nouri -- both with regards to arrests and with regards to being put to death.

Dropping back to the November 12th snapshot:
Staying with violence, as noted in the October 15th snapshot, Iraq had already executed 119 people in 2012.  Time to add more to that total.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reported last night that 10 more people were executed on Sunday ("nine Iraqis and one Egyptian").  Tawfeeq notes the Ministry of Justice's statement on the executions includes, "The Iraqi Justice Ministry carried out the executions by hanging 10 inmates after it was approved by the presidential council."  And, not noted in the report, that number's only going to climb.  A number of Saudi prisoners have been moved into Baghdad over the last weeks in anticipation of the prisoners being executed.  Hou Qiang (Xinhua) observes, "Increasing executions in Iraq sparked calls by the UN mission in the country, the European Union and human rights groups on Baghdad to abolish the capital punishment, criticizing the lack of transparency in the proceedings of the country's courts."

AFP reported yesterday that already this year Iraq has executed 91 people -- yes, we're still at the start of 2013 -- 88 men and 3 women.  The United Nations Secretary-General has personally called on Iraq to put in place a moratorium on executions but Nouri al-Maliki has rejected that.  Iraq's recent prison breaks have often been tied to executions.  Most press outlets (non-Iraqi) simply report that some death row prisoners escaped. But often, the escape follows the news that prisoners will be moved to Baghdad (to be executed). 

Today, All Iraq News adds that Nouri al-Maliki gave an interview where he insisted that all legitimate demands of the protesters will be listened to if they show patience.  Patience?  Like when he asked them to be patient in 2011 and give him 100 days to fix corruption and other problems.  100 day are finally over and he hasn't done a damn thing but lie and use his lies to get people off the street. 

It's gonna rain
It's gonna rain
It's gonna rain down tears
Of heartaches and fears
It's gonna rain
It's gonna rain
I know for sure
'Cause you don't reach for me no more

-- "Clouds," written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, first appears on Chaka Khan's Naughty album

Just like Nouri's going to solve the problems of the protesters, he's also heading a committee to solve the problems of the rainfall.

So much rain in , green zone cut off from rest of city by lake-size moat. Whatever will we do without them?
Earlier week, Aswat al-Iraq reported people in the capitol were saying that "Baghdad was drowned in a lake of mud and dirty water."
All Iraq News notes that the highest rainfall in recent days has been in Tuz Khurmato.  That's in Salahuddin Province and that's the province, All Iraq News notes, where three villages are sinking.  2,000 homes have also sunk in Tikrit in what's being called "The Tikrit Disaster.All Iraq News notes that a village in Salahuddin Province was threatened yesterday when a dam collapsed and that 1500 families have been relocated by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society due to the flooding.  Alsumaria speaks with Salahuddin Province Governor Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri who explains that in the entire province, 6000 families have been evacuated from their homes -- six-thousand families.  The flooding is due to the rain, yes, but it's also due to the fact that Nouri refuses to spend money to improve the sewers and other infrastructure.  So when heavy rains fall, the water pools.  It's not diverted anywhere, it doesn't drain.  When heavy rains fall for several days in a row -- as has happened this week -- you end up with serious problems.  For example, the Tigris River is flooding.  Alsumaria reports that Salah Abdul Razzuq, Governor of Baghdad, has called for citizens residing on and near the banks of the Tigris to evacuate their homes because the last two days alone has seen the river's water levels rise approximately 75%. 

Again, this is about Iraq's crumbling infrastructure.  Iraq is not a poor country.  What other country with less than 30 million people can claim a federal government budget of 100 billion in US dollars?  The money is there to fix the infrastructure and do other needed things.  It's just not being spent as it needs to be.  It just seems to go quickly into the bank accounts of various Iraqi figures.  100 billion dollars for 2012 in a country of less than 30 million? The government could have just given every citizen 3 million in US dollars and still had sizable pocket change. Instead, Kitabat reports that you can find everyone scavenging in Baghdad through the waste -- the standing waste.  Children dig through it hoping to find toys and adults dig through it looking for anything they might sell to bring in some needed income for their family.  This standing waste, in the country's capital, is an embarrassment and it's health menace.  For public health reasons alone, it should have been dealt with years ago.

Meanwhile Alsumaria notes an armed attack in a Mosul home that's left 1 Iraqi soldier dead.  On the topic of violence, it is the end of the month and Prashant Rao (AFP) Tweets:

Iraq death toll spikes in January - data: The grim spreadsheet:

Iraq Body Count tabulates 341 violent deaths in Iraq for the month of January.

We go back to Twitter for news of Iraqi Christians:

  1. Vatican: Abp. Louis Sako elected Patriarch of the Chaledean Church... -

Online at the official site, The Vatican's posted:

(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has granted ecclesiastical communion, in accordance with Canon 76 § 2 of the code of canons of the Eastern Churches to His Beatitude Raphael I Louis Sako, canonically elected Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans in the Synod of Bishops of the Church, held in Rome January 28, 2013.
The Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Church, convoked by the Holy Father under the presidency of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, canonically elected the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans on January 28th. The new patriarch succeeds Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, and has chosen the name of Louis Raphael Sako I".
Born in Zakho (Iraq) July 4, 1948, Patriarch Sako completed his primary studies in Mosul, before attending the local seminary of St. John, run by the Dominican Fathers.
Ordained a priest on June 1, 1974, he undertook the pastoral service at the Cathedral of Mosul until 1979. Sent to Rome, he attended the Pontifical Oriental Institute, receiving his doctorate in Eastern Patristics. He later received his doctorate in history from the Sorbonne in Paris. On returning to Mosul in 1986, he was appointed parish priest of the Parish of Perpetual Help.
From 1997 to 2002 he held the office of Rector of the Patriarchal Seminary in Baghdad. He then returned to Mosul took over pastoral care of the Parish of Perpetual Help until the election as Archbishop of Kirkuk September 27, 2003. He received episcopal ordination on 14 November.
He has published several books on the Fathers of the Church and several articles.
Apart from Arabic and Chaldean, the Patriarch speaks German, French, English and Italian.
More to follow...

Alsumaria covers the news and adds that Archbishop Sako is the author of over 200 articles and 20 books on religion and theology.   AFP covers the news here.  In 2000, the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services prepared a fact sheet entitled "Iraq: Chaldean Christians" which included the following:

Chaldean and Assyrian Christians have the same ethnic and linguistic background, though as Eastern Rite Catholics, Chaldeans recognize the primacy of the Roman Catholic Pope while Assyrian Christians, who are not Catholic, do not (Journalist 17 May 2000; Minority Rights Group International 1997, 346). The Assyrians and Chaldeans are non-Arab, though the Iraqi government defines them as Arab, purportedly to increase identification of Iraqi Christians with the largely Sunni-Arab regime in Baghdad. The Kurdish government in northern Iraq refers, at least to Assyrians, as Kurdish Christians (USDOS 9 Sept. 1999).
[. . .]
1994 figures state that 220,945 of Iraq's Christians are Chaldean, though this number may now be down to 200,000 (UK Immigration & Nationality Directorate Sept. 1999). News sources state that there are anywhere from 500,000 to two million Christians in Iraq, of which Chaldeans reportedly predominate (Associated Press 26 Dec. 1998; The Economist Intelligence Unit 10 Feb. 2000; Knight-Ridder Tribune News 18 Feb. 1998). The US Department of State cites "conservative estimates" which place over 95 percent of Iraq's population, estimated at 17,903,000 in 1991, as Muslim, while the remaining less than 5 percent is broken down among Christians, Yazidis, and Jews (9 Sept. 1999).

Turning to the United States where Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Today her office issued the following:

Friday, February 1, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834

Senator Murray's Statement on New VA Study on Veterans Suicides

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray released the following statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a study that provides more accurate information on veterans suicides.  The two-year study incorporates information from 42 states and includes data on the suicide deaths of veterans who were not previously recorded because they had not sought care or benefits from VA.  This is an important advancement that will help VA better understand veterans mental health needs and do more to combat the epidemic of veteran suicides.  In August 2011 Senator Murray wrote to the National Governors Association urging Governors across the country to provide information to the VA to help them track the scope of veterans suicides.

"This data provides a fuller, more accurate, and sadly, an even more alarming picture of veteran suicide rates.  And while I am encouraged that VA has worked to collect the information needed to better understand the problem we face, this must lead to action.

"I encourage VA and DoD to quickly implement the Mental Health ACCESS act that I recently pushed through Congress and that was signed into law this month.  That law will help streamline and improve suicide prevention programs while offering veterans and their family's new avenues to mental health care.

"VA also needs to do mroe to quickly bring on additional mental health professionals to deal with the shortage veterans face, particularly in rural areas.  We cannot accept as unavoidable that VA facilities have month-long wait times for appointments or that at-risk veterans feel that they have nowhere to turn.

"We also need to do more to reach out to the families of veterans so that they recognize warning signs, know where to go for help, and have a support network of other veterans and their families to lean on.

"This must not only be a top priority for the VA, it has to be a top priority for the nation as a whole if we are going to begin to make progress in reversing this deeply troubling trend."

Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct

Yesterday we covered the Senate Armed Service Hearing on US President Barack Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.  Last night, Wally reported on the hearing in "Hagel's all mushy (Wally)," Kat covered it with "Lindsay Graham" and Ava covered it with "Congress was as bad as the press today."  Yesterday, we noted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was getting praised for a 19 word sentence and she didn't deserve praise.  Ruth's "Applause for Senator Blumenthal" report on Senator Richard Blumenthal and she included this exchange on assault:

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

Chuck Hagel:  Yes.

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

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

And now back to Iraq.  Various outlets today turned out the notion that al Qaeda in Iraq wanted to back the protesters and were calling for the protesters to take up arms.  Kitabat notes that the protesters rejected the notion.  MWC adds, "Protest organisers in Ramadi, Fallujah and elsewhere, however, said that they had no links to the group, and that they aimed to hold only peaceful demonstrations."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Next Tuesday, NBC's Smash returns with a two-hour season kick-off.

Gail Pennington (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) observes:

NBC still expresses confidence that the musical dramedy, which launched to rave reviews but stumbled badly mid-run, will be just fine in Season 2. Officially, the network doesn't even acknowledge that a comeback is necessary.
"We're very excited," NBC Entertainment boss Bob Greenblatt told TV critics last month in Los Angeles. "The show, for us, was an unqualified success in its first season, and all I want to do is continue that into the second season."
The "Smash" that returns looks superficially much like the one that debuted last February,  following the creation of "Bombshell," a musical about Marilyn Monroe. Barely had the idea come up when Tom (Christian Borle) wrote some music and lyrics and his best friend and partner, Julia (Debra Messing), dashed off a story.  The project caught the fancy of many, including producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and starlets Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty), and soon it was rocketing toward Broadway.
But "Smash," in the hands of playwright Teresa Rebeck, didn't quite rocket through 13 episodes.
"Smash" wasn't content to be a backstage (and sometimes front stage) saga. It also wanted to be the soapiest of soaps, with back-biting and in-fighting and sleeping around. It veered off on tangents involving Julia and her family, from  a planned adoption and pot-smoking teen son to arguments over household chores. It went home to the Midwest with budding star Karen and asked viewers to care about her fights with her boyfriend and his budding political career. It threw Ivy into an affair with director Derek (Jack Davenport), who had previously tried to seduce Karen. Pill popping, poisoned smoothies, surprise pregnancy -- "Smash" had it all.

Pennington thinks the show improves with the return.  But she also thinks the problem was Ellis.  Nope, Ellis was a character I hated at the start but then grew to appreciate him knowing how much Ellis kept the storyline moving. 

Ivy's the problem with the show.

I've seen the first episode already (I'll write about it later, after it airs) but the idea that Ivy is a victim was always a stretch.  In the two-hour season opener, we get Ivy realizing she can't piss Karen off without risking being fired from the show.  So she apologies. 

I don't know.  I never find Ivy believable.

She also apparently thinks she and Derek were on a break.

She's just ridiculous. 

She also looks too old to be paired with the kids in the chorus.

Smash will rise or fall based on if they get that Ivy is not a main character.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today CNN's  Tweeted:

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

Dropping back to yesterday's snapshot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's going on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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