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Iraq snapshot - June 4 , 2014

The Common Ills

Wednesday, June 4, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes continue, the Iraqi military shoots dead a college student as she sits in the exam hall causing no harm to anyone, the VA scandal continues, Barack's terrorist trade continues to blow up in his face, and much more.

Yesterday, a bill was introduced in the Senate to address VA issues.  Senator Jeanne Shaheen's office issued the following:

In Response to Inspector General Report, bill addresses gaps in VA health system, prohibits bonuses for VA officials
June 3, 2014 (Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation today designed to address the gaps and gross mismanagement of Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) resources that were recently identified in an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report and have led to delayed care for veterans. Shaheen’s bill, the Veterans Access to Care Accountability Act, includes numerous provisions to remedy identified instances of veterans being delayed care, strengthen VA accountability and hold individual VA officials responsible, including through precluding bonuses from being paid to VA officials involved in mismanagement.
"The problems we’ve seen at VA hospitals across the country are unacceptable," Shaheen said. "We need to do everything we can to make sure that veterans are getting timely access to the quality medical care they’ve earned. If there are problems, we need to know immediately, and those responsible need to be held accountable. This bill will go a long way toward improving oversight of the VA and ultimately providing our veterans with the care they deserve."
Shaheen’s bill would implement a new random auditing requirement by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Office of Inspector General and other watchdog agencies for VA medical facilities and would require veterans be contacted within 48 hours and scheduled an appointment with an outside medical facility within one week if a report determines veterans have been delayed access to care. The Veterans Access to Care Accountability Act also includes provisions to hold VA officials involved in potential delays accountable, specifically banning the distribution of bonuses to VA officials who may have been involved in mismanagement.
The bill builds off bipartisan legislation Shaheen is co-sponsoring that has been included as an amendment to the FY 2015 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to give the Secretary the authority to fire or demote senior level employees based on their performance. Shaheen, who called for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki following the release of the OIG report, has also requested a full briefing on the findings of rapid audit teams deployed across the VA enterprise, including at the Manchester and White River Junction VA Medical Centers that serve New Hampshire’s veterans.

Good for Shaheen.  Sad that there's been so very little Senate action. Various bills are floating around.  That's about all.  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following today:

IAVA Urges Senate to Reach Compromise on Critical Legislation

CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or press@iava.org


IAVA Urges Senate to Reach Compromise on Critical Legislation
President Must Get Involved to Help Restore Confidence within the Department of Veterans Affairs

Washington DC (June 4, 2014) – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the largest non-profit, non-partisan organization representing post-9/11 veterans and their families, today called for bipartisan cooperation among Senate leaders to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More than 40 bills to reform the VA, and improve benefits and services to veterans, are currently pending before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC). This includes a revised version of the Majority’s veterans omnibus bill introduced on Monday by SVAC Chairman Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and a new Republican proposal more narrowly tailored to health care access issues introduced on Tuesday by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). IAVA called for the Senate to advance all legislation that would garner filibuster-proof bipartisan support and would achieve real reform.  

Earlier this week, IAVA CEO & Founder Paul Rieckhoff, joined by IAVA veterans from across the country, unveiled eight steps the Obama Administration and Congress can take now to restore confidence in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Among the steps are recommendations from IAVA’s 2014 Policy Agenda.

"Veterans don’t have time for political games. Reforming the VA requires a concerted national response – and Congress must play its part," Rieckhoff said. "The Senate can start by working together to pass key initiatives that support veterans and help ensure they get the care they need. With very little time left in the legislative calendar, our members and the wider veteran community do not have time for more rounds of political stunts. 

Rieckhoff added: "This urgency underscores the need for presidential leadership, and why we need a Marshall Plan for veterans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi must sit in a room together and provide the bipartisan leadership necessary to support veterans."

IAVA is endorsing the Veterans Choice Act of 2014, sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). In the wake of revelations that the VA has been concealing excessive wait times at facilities around the country, it is clear that VA has an issue meeting demand. This bill will serve an emergency need to increase VA service capacity by temporarily authorizing veterans to get quicker care from approved private and community providers if, and only if, the VA cannot provide medical care to the veteran within a reasonable amount of time set by the VA or if the veteran would have to travel beyond a reasonable distance to receive VA care. While IAVA believes that a strong, sustainable, fully-funded VA is necessary for our country to meet its commitment to veterans, IAVA is also open to complementary solutions that augment VA's capacity and ensure that veterans receive the highest quality care possible in a timely manner. 

IAVA is currently reviewing the Restoring Veterans Trust Act of 2014, sponsored by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). This bill is essentially a redesign of the previous IAVA supported veterans omnibus bill that failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to clear the Senate. Following that failed vote earlier this year, military and veterans service organizations, including IAVA, asked Chairman Sanders to work proactively and cooperatively with the minority to craft the re-do of the veterans omnibus bill that has a chance of passing needed reforms through the Senate. Unfortunately, substantive engagement across the aisle has yet to occur, once again rushing critical reforms to veterans care and education to failure. IAVA has made it clear to Chairman Sanders that a pre-negotiated agreement that has a chance of passing is a necessary component of IAVA’s support of any further re-writes of the Senate veterans omnibus bill.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator. 
# # #

Other than bills, where is the Senate?

They're not holding a hearing tomorrow.  It's been postponed.

A veteran said to me today, he was at the April 30th Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing (we covered that hearing in the May 1st snapshot), that he couldn't believe that the Chair of the Committee (Senator Bernie Sanders) had stated in that hearing that his Committee would be up in arms if the accusations about Phoenix turned out to be true.

They are true.  The report the Office of the Inspector General released last week confirmed that the books were cooked and two sets of wait lists were kept.  Senator Dianne Feinstein does not serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, she does Chair the Senate Intelligence Committee.  She issued a statement Monday and we'll note this from it (I'll post the statement in full tomorrow morning -- there is not room for it to be included in full in this snapshot):

Senator Feinstein expressed frustration that a December 2012 GAO report identified a history of record tampering at VA health care facilities. In March 2013, GAO Health Care Director Debra Draper testified about the report before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Veterans’ Affairs, saying "staff at some clinics told us they change medical appointment desired dates to show clinic wait times within VHA’s performance goals."
"The 2012 GAO report tells me one thing: that VA knew about this problem many months ago but instead of taking action to fix it, employees created schemes to cover up the problem," Feinstein said. "This is inexcusable and speaks to deeper problems within the VA."

On April 30, 2014, Feinstein wrote a letter to VA Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin calling for an expansion of the investigation into the Phoenix VA Health Care System to determine if similar problems were prevalent at other VA health care facilities.

There are senators calling out the scandal and making suggestions for reform.  But the reality is that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has failed to seriously address the issue as a Committee.  I'm not talking historical, I'm talking about since the scandal broke.  CNN was covering this story -- breaking it -- in April. It's now June.

Where's the hearing addressing the scandal?

The House can hold a hearing (and did, last week) but the Senate can't get it together to hold a hearing?

A number of veterans lost trust with Sanders over that April 30th hearing.  Instead of focusing on the news of the day, he wanted to cover acupuncture, yoga and other issues which, quite frankly, were not issues in need of dire attention.  That was the first wrong step by Sanders.  He then became seen as an apologist of the VA -- Chris Cuomo was the first to make that observation and did so in a live interview with Sanders.

I don't know what you do after you weaken or break the bond of trust.  I don't know how you come back from one stumble after another.  But veterans in DC are not very pleased with the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee or with the Committee itself right now.

Announcing this morning that a planned hearing (for tomorrow) was cancelled did not help.

So let's turn to the House of Representatives.  Beto O'Rourke is a Texas Democrat serving in the House.

And he issued this on the survey:

I recently sent an email to all veterans in our database, asking them to participate in a survey to determine the quality and access to care for primary and mental health at the El Paso VA.

Hundreds took the time to respond, and from their responses we’ve compiled a report with important information about access to care for El Paso veterans, including the significant discrepancy between what the VA is telling me and what you are telling me.

For example, for each month between March 2013 and March 2014, the El Paso VHA has reported to me that between 85% and 100% of veterans new to the system seeking mental health appointments saw a provider within 14 days of their appointment request. Our survey shows that on average it takes a veteran 71 days to see a mental health provider and more than 36% of veterans attempting to make an appointment were unable to see a mental health provider at all.

For those who do get an appointment, these sessions are routinely cancelled before they can take place. The survey also found that wait times for primary health were unacceptably long, with over 71.8% reporting that they could not schedule a primary care visit within 14 days of their request.

The recent scandal in Phoenix, where administrators kept secret wait lists and denied care to those they were entrusted to help, proves that we cannot depend on the VA to hold itself accountable. The best way to determine how the VA is doing is to ask the veterans themselves. In doing just that, this report can provide the basis for real accountability and improved service at the El Paso VHA clinic and perhaps serve as the model for allowing our country’s veterans to do the same for the national VA system.

Below are our full findings and steps we will take based on what we’ve learned.

For the full report, click here http://goo.gl/8BOi1g.

Thank you for your service in uniform and your service today on behalf of your fellow veteran. It is an honor to serve you.

It is no longer just Phoenix that the administration admits was using two sets of wait lists -- a public one filled with lies and the real one hidden from the public.  Jim Salter (AP) reports, "VA officials first acknowledged the Midwestern lists in letters last week to U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both of Kansas. The letters included information about conditions in the VA's Heartland Network, with unauthorized lists maintained at facilities in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana."  Hannah Davis and Angela Smith (KWCH -- link is text and video) report on the use of a "secret wait list" at Robert J. Dole Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kansas.  Hanqing Chen (Pro Publica) offers a round up of reporting on the various VA scandals.

CNN notes, "Nearly six in ten Americans give President Barack Obama a thumbs-down on how he is handling the Veterans Affairs controversy, according to a new national poll."

Let's turn to another scandal.  Barack entered into negotiations with the Taliban, agreeing to surrendering 5 Taliban prisoners for one American soldier.  I don't know the soldier, I don't know his story.  I have not insulted him nor have I rushed to gush over him the way some idiots did today.  (The host could still claim to be going where the silences are but that would mean she would have needed to cover Kim Rivera and she didn't.)  He may or may not choose to tell his story.  The military is currently investigating the case.  At present his story is probably best characterized as "no one knows."  So we're not engaging in that aspect of the story.

The Lead with Jake Tapper (CNN -- link is text and video) spoke with former FBI negotiator Chris Voss who stated, "I would have been embarrassed to make this deal. Five for one? I can't see how this was a good deal for us, on top of that, from what I understand, they named the people they wanted."  Elise Labott explores the meaning of the deal here.  Slate's Fred Kaplan tries to argue this was a mere prisoner of war trade.  No.  And the US government wouldn't argue that and couldn't argue that because if the five are prisoners of war -- if the US government admits to that -- then they should have been treated as such but the US government refused to do that and refused to classify them as prisoners of war.  Maria Nybondas (Asser Institute) offers an indepth look at that classification in a 2002 paper.  As Amy Davidson (New Yorker) observed yesterday, " One can’t have it both ways: there are laws associated with prisoners of war, too. The phrase 'P.O.W.' is not just shorthand hand for 'don’t have to go to court'."  Chris Moody (Yahoo News) reports, "Senators are frustrated with President Barack Obama for ignoring a legal provision requiring the secretary of defense to notify Congress 30 days before releasing detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

Nouri's War Crimes continue as he continues bombing residential neighborhood.  National Iraqi News Agency reports 2 civilians were killed and eleven more injured in the latest series of bombings.  These War Crimes have been taking place since January and take place on a daily basis.  The Iraqi people are being terrorized by Nouri.  And it goes beyond Falluja.  BRussells Tribunal notes Sama Laith Mouayad was shot dead.  The college student was sitting in the exam hall of Ramadi's Al-Anbar University when she was shot dead by a military sniper.

Kent State.  The May 4, 1970 assault is still remembered each year.  And yet Nouri's forces kill a college student, shoot her dead as she's sitting in the exam hall, and that's okay?

In what world?

Nouri is a War Criminal who needs to be removed from office.

Instead, the White House can't stop providing Nouri with weapons.  Andrea Shalal (Reuters) reports:

Lockheed Martin Corp this week will deliver the first of 36 F-16 fighter jets to Iraq, marking what Baghdad's envoy to the United States called a "new chapter" in his country's ability to defend its vast borders with Iran and other neighbors.

They're going to do a little ceremony tomorrow in Fort Worth about this 'wonderful' move.

Blood money.  That's what Lockheed's raking in.

Nouri is a War Criminal and he's being provided with the means to further kill the Iraqi people and, yes, he will be sharing technology with the government of Iran.

Another wonderful move by Barack, another genius move.

Today, Nouri gave another weekly speech and now he's wanting a unity conference on Anbar Province.  Mushreq Abbas (Al-Monitor) types up:

Sheikh Mohammad al-Bajari, an influential tribal leader in Fallujah, told Al-Monitor, "Maliki’s call for holding this conference came too late. He should have called for it when we were peacefully staging a sit-in in the desert, before things evolved."
"Fallujah and Anbar sheikhs and tribes do not trust the government and the conference’s intentions. If there is indeed a desire to solve the crisis in Anbar, the government will have to show good will. For instance, it should stop the shelling on Fallujah and several other regions, withdraw the army from the cities and hand in the people implicated in the murder of the innocent to the courts," he added.
Far from the political tensions surrounding the conference, the Iraqi government acknowledged that it was important for the political, security and military courses of action to go hand in hand, rather than separately, to solve the Anbar crisis. This is a development in itself, late as it might be.
Perhaps the debate about Maliki’s late invitation to hold the conference, 18 months after the outbreak of protests in Sunni cities, and five months after the outbreak of bloody confrontations following the Iraqi army’s raid into the Anbar sit-in square late 2013, is not as effective as the different parties’ investing in a positive environment to reach a final solution to the crisis.

It's cute what gets paraded and what is hidden.  For example, the April 23rd massacre of a sit-in in Hawija resulted from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  But that's not being included, is it?   Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists died and 110 were injured in the assault.   AFP reported the death toll rose to 53.  UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

Again, some things get remembered.  Some get buried.  National Iraqi News Agency reports:

MP for Alarabiyah coalition Liqaa Wardi , called on international and local human rights organizations to adopt a firm stance against the massacres that Anbar province experiences, especially the "genocide ," against Fallujah, the source said .
Wardi also said in a press statement " what the government forces are doing against the province of Anbar and Fallujah in particular ,situate within the framework of genocide against innocent civilians.
She added : "The murder of a student at the College of Agriculture, targeting doctors, service workers and forcing families to emigrate , but a systematic attempt to break the will of the people of this province who only demanding their legitimate rights to live in safety and peace.

Nouri's a War Criminal and he wants a third term as prime minister.  The elections were April 30th and there's still no government.  Kitabat reports National Coalition spokesperson Maysoun al-Damlouji states bloc leader Ayad Allawi has not yet aligned himself with Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's party but he continues to oppose a third term for Nouri. Allawi issued a statement today calling the Parliament weak and noting "the upper hand in any democratic country is the legislative authority, and that this Parliament could not do its role -- even some of the decisions were taken by voting, rejected by the Federal Court." That would be the court Nouri controls, the court that acts as Nouri's rubber stamp.  NINA reports, "The National Coalition called on Tuesday the State of Law Coalition to withdraw their nomination for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for the third term."  All Iraq News adds that Allawi met with Iraqi National Alliance head Ibrahim al-Jaafari and that they discussed the election and the new government.

NINA notes the rumors that Nouri has received backing from the Tehran government for a third term as Iraq's prime minister.  Dropping back to Monday's snapshot:

Thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki wants a third term.  His office issued the following today:

His Excellency Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki said in an interview with Al-Iraqiya TV which will be aired at a later time we now have 175 guaranteed votes, but we want more partners who agree with us in the program and principles to be adopted in the next government , and he called on all political blocs to adopt understanding and dialogue in order to form the government as soon as possible and move towards construction and development.
With regards to the adherence of some political blocks and some politicians to what they call red lines against this or that party , Mr. Prime Minister said: I recommend that everyone read the developments well , there has been so many developments during the past four years and none can holds the neck of the political process anymore .
On the goal of the conference, which the Prime Minister called for in Anbar , his Excellency said it is intended to isolate the terrorists and strengthen national unity in Anbar and address reconstruction efforts .
On the issue of exporting oil from the Kurdistan region and its consequent effects , the Prime Minister said, that this act is in violation of the Iraq's sovereignty and Iraq's constitution , it cannot be accepted under any conditions. He stressed that there is no such thing as cutting the salaries of the Kurdistan region, but this is a banner raised for mobilization and incitement.

Nouri may or may not have the votes his office states.  He's prone to making claims that aren't true.  All Iraq News notes, "The Ahrar bloc within the Sadr Trend and the Kurdistani Democratic Party announced rejecting the nomination of the Premier, Nouri al-Maliki, for the third term of the Prime Minister Post."

NINA notes National Union Forces coalition MP Raad al-Dahlaki declared today that Nouri's 175 claim was "nothing but a negotiating message to other political blocs, to try and make them join the convergence to the government of the political majority that calls for it."  Yes, Nouri is lying in an attempt to make it appear a done deal.  He is no closer to a third term today than he was on April 29th but he hopes lying will frighten off challengers.

Nouri's a menace, let's turn to violence.  Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports, "Back-to-back car bombs" left 17 dead in Kirkuk.  National Iraqi News Agency reports the death toll increased to 19 and that  1 person was shot dead in Abi Saida Village, an al-Shura school worker was shot dead, a Mosul roadside bombing left three Iraqi soldiers injured, Baghdad Operations Command announced they killed 5 suspects, then they announced they killed 17 more,  1 person was shot dead in eastern Mosul, security forces killed 11 suspects in Alsijr, a western Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured, an Iraqi soldier was injured in a Fadliliyah shooting, a Meshahda shooting left one Iraqi soldier injured, 1 person was shot dead in Ghazaliya, and a Hilla car bombing left 6 people dead and twenty-four injured.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 140 deaths -- that's just in the first three days of the month.  If you add in the 62 noted above, that's 202 deaths.   Yesterday's deaths, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Chelsea J. Carter (CNN) note, included Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha:  "Abu Risha is the nephew of Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, head of the Anbar Awakening Council -- a group composed primarily of Sunni Arab fighters who turned on al Qaeda in Iraq in late 2006 and joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition."

Moving over to England where an inquiry into the Iraq War began when Gordon Brown was prime minister.

Well that was a long time ago
Sounded good on a
Delicate white-ribbon card

-- "One More Big Time Rock and Roll Star," written by Stevie Nicks, first appears as the flip side of the single "Talk To Me," first appears on CD on the Enchanted boxed set

That was a long time ago.  And yet the report from all those public hearings has still not been released.  The White House -- the current White House, Barack's White House -- has done everything they can to stop the release of the report.

Today, Gary Porter (Daily Post) reports: Bob McFerran is charging a cover up in the decision "not to publish the full exchange between Tony Blair and George Bush" He fears the truth will most likely not be known as a result and he is the father of Peter McFerran who died in a Basra bombing in July 2007 while serving in the RAF.  He is not the only parent of one of the fallen in Iraq who feels this way.  Last week, Rowena Mason (Guardian) reported:

Meanwhile, the mother of a 19-year-old soldier killed in Iraq has said she feels sickened by the decision to publish only partial extracts of the Blair-Bush exchanges before the war.
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in June 2004, said she believed the former prime minister was laughing at the families and would "walk away from it with a smile on his face".
"I feel sickened," Gentle said. "How will the families get to know the truth? We are just shoved aside. We just feel, what's the point?
"I think Tony Blair has got a lot to do with the decision. He is kind of behind it."
Gentle said the limited disclosure would mean the families were "still going to be wondering" about what had actually gone on between Blair and Bush before the invasion.

"I think it is definitely a whitewash. I feel Tony Blair is going to walk away from it with a smile on his face. I feel he is laughing at us."

Considering all the money being spent to make Ed Miliband  a serious contender for the next prime minister, it's amazing the American 'dream team' doesn't grasp that Miliband can be sunk with this report.  If the British people feel jerked around, it will bring up hostility towards Labour (Tony Blair is a member of the Labour Party as is Ed).  This issue needs to be dealt with fully and honestly.  And, for Ed, quickly.  The American 'dream team' does grasp that Tony Blair needs to be buried and they've done a solid job with regards to that.  But the report needs to come out and needs to come out immediately.  Robert Stevens (WSWS) offers:

A deal reached between the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and the Inquiry will allow only selected "quotes or gists" of discussions to be published from 25 notes from Blair to Bush and more than 130 records of conversations they held. It also stipulates that not a single view expressed by Bush to Blair during the exchanges will be made public by the Inquiry.
The agreement comes after the Chilcot Inquiry had first offered to block out anything from the Bush-Blair documents that the UK government thought should not be included. Indeed, once the government told Chilcot in January 2011 that the Blair-Bush records were off limits this was accepted without a hint of protest.
On May 28 Chilcot wrote to Heywood, "Accordingly, the requests submitted by the Inquiry last summer were for permission to disclose quotes or gists of the content. We have concluded they are sufficient to explain our conclusions."
The letter further reassures the government that only a glimpse of what was discussed between the conspirators will make it into the report, with Chilcot adding, "We have also agreed that the use of direct quotation from the documents should be the minimum necessary to enable the Inquiry to articulate its conclusions."
There is no end to the cover-up. Last month it was revealed that a personal letter written by Blair to Bush in July 2002, fully nine months before the invasion of Iraq, reportedly beginning with the words, "You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I’m with you," has "gone missing" from the US Presidential library.
The inquiry was always a fraud. When setting it up, former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who succeeded Blair in 2007, ensured that no one would be held accountable for anything, let alone be brought to justice.

:: Article nr. 107542 sent on 11-jun-2014 01:08 ECT


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