Saturday, December 03, 2011

Their strings are pulled





Starting with veterans issues.
Chair Patty Murray: Dr. Zeiss, I wanted to ask you, when you testified before a hearing for this Committee May 25th, I asked you whether VA had enough resources to meet OEF OIF veterans needs for health care and you said the resources weren't the problem. In light of what you've learned from last May, especially from your own providers do you stand by that statement from me?
Antonette Zeiss: I believe that we have unprecedented resources and that we have gotten them out to the field and that we have hired an enormous amount of staff. And at the time, I believed that they were adequate if used in the most effective ways possible. We continue to have an increasing number of mental health patients. We have looked at the FY'11 data and the numbers have again jumped from FY'10 and we are proactively predicting what kinds of increases there will be in FY 12 and we're working with the Office of Policy and Planning to ensure that those projection are embedded into the actuary model that drives the budget predictions so that I can say that we will be aggressively following all the data that we have available to ensure that we can make effective predictions at the policy level about what level of funding and level of staffing will be essential and we will be partnering very closely with Dr. Schohn's office who are responsible for ensuring that those resources are are used most effectively are used in the field to deliver the kinds of care that we have.
Chair Patty Murray: So you still today do not believe that it's resources that's the issue?
Antonette Zeiss: I believe that we're at a juncture where we need to be looking absolutely at resources because of the greatly increased number of mental health patients that we are serving. And some of that is because of very aggressive efforts we've made to outreach and ensure that people are aware of the care that VA can provide. The more we succeed in getting that word across and serving increasing number of veterans, the more you're absolutely right, we have to look at what's the level of resources to keep -- to be able to sustain the level of care that we believe is essential.
Chair Patty Murray: You're looking at it, we're asking. We need to have this information upfront now if you need more resources. You just look at the stories out there, the thousands of people coming home, the people that aren't getting served, the people are reaching out to. It just feels to me that this is something we should know now. We've been ten years into this.
Anonette Zeiss: We . . . Uhm. We believe that people are receiving an enormous amount of service from VA and we agree -- as Dr. Schohn has said -- that we need to focus on some specific aspects of care, particularly the evidence based therapies. And we are working with Dr.Schohn who will be developing a very specific staffing model so that we can identify what are the levels of staffing that are available at specific sites and how does that --
Chair Patty Murray: Well let me ask a specific question then. Dr. Schohn according to the mental health wait data provided to the Committee by the VA, Veterans at Spokane VA, my own home state, wait an average of 12 days with a psychiatrist, with a maximum wait for a psychiatrist being 87 days. Now I've been told that all of the psychiatrists in VA in Spokane are booked solid for several months and that there are other places in the country that are far worse than that. You mentioned that the VA is working to fill those vacancies but the hiring process is very slow. What can the Dept do now to make sure that we are shortening these wait times?
Mary Schohn: In fact there is efforts already underway in Spokane to improve the hiring. The waiting time has decreased. There is a shortage and there is variability in our system in terms of ability to, for example, hire a psychiatrist in Spokane. One of the efforts that's being made is to use tele-psychiatry. Essentially to use -- to provide service from a site where there's a greater ability to recruit psychiatrists and to use their services at the site where they are at and to then be able to provide resources to Spokane, for example. The chief medical officer in Spokane has worked to ensure that coverage can come from other facilities within VSN 20, to where the needs of the veterans in Spokane are met. Those are the kinds of things that we're working on as we come across evidence that we're short in some areas. We know that in some other areas, there are not shortages and there may be some surpluses that can be used in those sites.
Chair Patty Murray: Well let me ask you another question. There was a provision on using community providers for mental health services in the Caregivers Omnibus that was passed by Congress earlier this year. It included peer-to-peer services and we heard from our first panel how important peer-to-peer services are. I am told that the Department is making very little progress on implementing that. Can you tell me what's holding up that?
Mary Schohn: We have made some progress. I'm going to ask Dr. Kemp to talk specifically on that.
Janet Kemp: As you're aware most of our peer-to-peer services -- Or a lot of our peer-to-peer services are provided by the vet centers which is an exceptional program that you are all very familiar with which we endorse and support. We've grown the number of vet centers. By the end of the year, we will have three hundred vet centers across the country open and running in addition to the 70 mobile vet centers that will be up and traveling across the country. So I think that we have made huge strides in providing those services to combat veterans and their families across the country. We also have a contract which has been let out and is in the process of being filled to provide training to train more peer type support counselors. We're looking forward to that being completed and we will get those people up and going as soon as we're able to get them on board.
Chair Patty Murray: Okay --
Janet Kemp: We agree with the intent of that legislation for lots of good reasons and we will continue to implement those services.
Chair Patty Murray: Okay, well this Committee will be following that very closely. And before I turn it over to Senator Burr, I just want to say that I'm really disturbed by the disconnect between the provider data and your testimony on the wait time issue. And I am going to be asking the Inspector General for a review of that issue. I assume, Senator Burr, you will join me in that. [Senator Burr nods] And I would like all of your [VA witnesses on the panel] commitment to work with them on that.
The three Witnesses replied "Absolutely" in unison, no doubt hoping they came off like the charites when in fact they more closely resembled the beastly cerberus. We'll come back to the beast.
It was Wednesday morning and Committee Chair Senator Patty Murray was calling to order the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for a hearing, "Today's hearing builds upon our July hearing on the same subject. At that hearing, the Committee heard about two service members who, even after attempting to take their own lives, had their appointments postponed and difficulties getting through red tape in order to access the care that they needed. I know that, like me, many on this Committee were angered and frustrated by their stories and I'm glad that today we are going to have the opportunity to get more information and answers on why these delays persist. [. . .] At our hearing in July, I requested that the VA survey their frontline professionals about whether they have sufficient resources in order to get veterans into treatment. The results that came back to me shortly after that were not good. Of the VA providers surveyed, nearly 40% said they cannot schedule an appointment in their own clinic within the VA mandated 14 day window, 70% said they did not have adequate staff or space to meet the mental health care needs of the veterans they serve, and 46% said the lack of off-hour appointments prevented veterans from accessing care. The survey not only showed that our veterans are being forced to wait for care -- it also captured the tremendous frustration of those who are tasked with healing veterans. It showed wide discrepancies between facilities in different parts of the country -- including the difference between access in urban and rural areas. And it provided a glimpse at a VA system that, 10 years into war, is still not fully equipped for the influx of veterans seeking mental health care."
10 years into war, the VA is still not fully equipped to deal with the influx of veterans seeking mental health care. That's what the hearing was about.
The Committee heard from two panels of witnesses. The first panel was composed of retired Col Charles W. Hoge (who is a medical doctor), Barbara Van Dahlen, Michelle Washington and John Roberts. They shared important experiences within the VA system. We'll skip the panel to focus on the VA's incompentence and we're able to do that because we'll include questioning from Ranking Member Richard Burr which includes him asking about the testimony from the first panel.
The second panel? We're back to the ceberus -- a multi-headed beast in Greeky mythology that guards the entrance to the Underworld: the VA's Mary Schohn, Janet Kemp and, especially, Antonette Zeiss.
Zeiss is a lousy witness. She's such a lousy witness that you doubt she can do her job properly. There's an issue of being professional. This is the fourth or fifth time, I've registered her outfits. When you appear before Congress as a witness, you need to look professional. Now were I to wear my hair a color of gray with garish off-yellow waxy streaks in it and it was down inches below my shoulder, I'd put some color on it or have the yellow waxy streaks removed. [Looking at her hair, one is forever reminded of Mary Hartman (Louise Lasser) discussing yellow waxy build up on kitchen floors.] Were I not to cut it (and I would cut it), I would at the very least pin it up to try to look professional instead of showing up with a rat's nest spilling down my shoulders thereby revealing to the world that I can't afford either a comb or a brush. But,okay, maybe I'm a little too focused on hair. (I don't think so. And, again, she could and should pin it up if she's not going to cut it. She's supposed to be appearing before Congress not chatting with Hugh Hefner on Playboy After Dark.) There is the issue of your professional uniform. And the first time I noticed this with her, I thought, "Well, sure, we can all forget an appointment and then have no time to change. And just have to pull together something to show up in." Either she's always forgetting or no one ever taught her what constitutes professional dress. Here's your first hint, an ugly blazer that needs to be dry cleaned (that sorely needs to be dry cleaned) and pressed to get all the wrinkles out doesn't qualify as professional. Not even when quickly put it on top of a dress that doesn't qualify as professional but might qualify as a house dress. (Did she buy it on her way into DC, from a vendor on the side of the road?) That's before you get to her putting that ratty blazer with every dress regardless of whether they match or not. (Thus far, I haven't seen her match it with anything when testifying before Congress. If she' suffers from color blindness, she should ask for help.)
Then there's her condescending way of answering questions. She speaks slowler and in the tone of a voice that you'd use when speaking to a very young child. It's patronizing and off-putting.
Now let's get to her profession's issues. She's working for the VA. Has been promoted throughout the VA. There are problems in the VA and as Chair Murray noted, things are going to get more hectic with the huge influx of veterans about to be added to the system. So Zeiss might either need to agree to earn that salary or turn in her resignation to continue her on-the-side work on geropsychology.
She's paid a salary by the tax payer and her little sidelines could be justified in the past with the claim (illusion or reality) that the VA was doing just great. It's doing a lousy job and, specifically, her own areas need improvement. So she can earn her salary by devoting her full attention to this issue or she can leave and do her geropscyhology work. Or how about her more recent work on marriage? So let's not pretend she's giving her all to the administrative role she's paid to perform. And, after 29 years with the VA, she really shouldn't need anyone else pointing out that obvious fact. Of that, when you're salary, and not hourly, and things go wrong, you have to put in more than 40 hours.
Meanwhile the VA should be explaining why she and others oversee a psychiatry program. Meaning? That's a medical program. Do you see me calling her "Dr. Zeiss"? No. Nor do I call anyone in these snapshots "doctor" unless they're a medical doctor. (Or unless they're a veterinarian.) Zeiss appears before the Congress and wants to be called "Doctor" and wants to talk about medical issues including psychiatry which is a medical license. I have nothing against psychology (I have many friends who are psychologists including one of my best friends) but why is a psychologist over the VA's pyschiatry program?
Would we put a gastroenterologist over a cardiac ward?
Well, we wouldn't. But the US government might.
And they have. Outside of Lousiana, I don't believe a psychologist can prescribe medicine in the US. (Correct me if I'm wrong on that.) Now when I hear the testimony of Schohn and Zeiss -- neither of whom is a psychiatrist -- that psychiatrist from one VA will be providing medical care to VA patients at another VA via the telephone, my first question is about meds. That's what psyhaiatrists do that draws the line between them and psychologists. So let's pretend I'm a veteran. You're telling me I'm going to get the same level of care from a VA psychiatrist whether I'm on the phone with her or face to face?
Is she able to prescribe for me over the phone?
These are questions that should be asked.
Ranking Member Burr had questions about flexibility and Schohn insisted they had flexible off hours and then tossed to Zeiss who needed a definition from Burr of "flexible." Again, this is someone in charge of oversight? We'll pick up right after that in the exchange.
Antonette Zeiss: Well I believe, as Dr. Schohn has been saying, we do have flexibility in hours of service. What we've discovered, in looking at the data, is that the initial requirement was for evening clinic -- one evening clinic at least once a week and others as needed. And what we're finding is that the data suggests is what works much better for veterans is early morning hours and weekend hours. And so the policy group is looking very carefully at that in terms of changing and creating even more flexibility than the original after hours policy. The Uniform Mental Health Services Handbook that Dr. Schohn referenced also has an incredible array of flexible programs and defines a very broad range and flexible range of mental health services.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Let me stop you there if I can. Let me just say, I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of you. I mirror what you've heard from other colleagues. I thank all the VA employees for what they do. But the fact that you've got something written in a book or you've put out a guideline and believe that you can still come in front of this Committee and say, "We've got it written! It's right there!" What we hear time and time again, and I heard from Mr. Roberts, in his testimony. There is no evening options in areas. It doesn't exist. Whether your data shows that it's preferred to be in the morning or the afternoon. In his particular case, your guideline shows the evening and he said, testified, it doesn't exist. So I hope you understand our frustration and, Dr. Schohn, I'm going to ask you if you would provide, for the Committee, a detailed audit of how the $5.7 billion has been spent. And I'm not talking about breaking it down in 403 million dollar categories. I'm talking about, for the Committee, a detailed description of how we spent that $5.7 billion in additional mental health money. Now let me just ask you, is Dr. Washington correct when she said a majority of the patients seen in the 14 day window are there for the purpose of information gathering, not necessarily treatment and many are not seen by a health care professional, they are seen by a staffer there to collect data.
Mary Schohn: That was -- That is not how the policy was written. And if that is happening --
Ranking Member RIchard Burr: Well let me ask it again: Is she right or is she wrong?
Mary Schohn: I -- I don't know about Wilmington. I will admit. That is something I would certainly want to follow up on because that is not the expectation of how services are to be measured.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Let me, let me read you some comments that have been made today, Dr. Schohn, and you just tell me whether these are acceptable. "Veterans have little access to follow up care."
Mary Schohn: That is not acceptable.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: "VA-- VA focuses on medication management."
Mary Schohn: That is not acceptable and we have a huge policy and training program to ensure, in fact, that veterans have access to evidenced-based psycho-therapy.
Ranking Member RIchard Burr: "Can't fill appointments for the proscribed amount of time."
Mary Schohn: That -- I'm not totally clear what that means.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: I would take for granted that an attending has said somebody with PTSD needs to have X amount -- a frequency of consults, a frequency of treatments and it should extend for X amount of time. Would you find it unacceptable if, in fact, the system was not providing what the health care professional prescribed them to have.
Mary Schohn: Absolutely. We do have a system set up in place to actually monitor if in fact this is not happening, we are concerned by reports that it's not happening in places, we have many evidences of places where it is happening, but as we hear these reports, we are as concerned as you are and have developed a plan to go out and visit sites to ensure that these things are happening and to make corrections when they're not.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: The inability to get appointments.
Mary Schohn: Same thing. We -- The VA is available to veterans. We want to assure that any veteran needing medical health care has access to health care in the timeliness standards that we think are important.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: "Mental health treatment is trumped by new entries into the system."
Mary Schohn: Again, not acceptable.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: These are all issues that exist with the current mental health plan at VA.
Again, Burr covers many of the issues raised by the first panel. Now we're going back to the issue I was raising. All three heads of the beastly cerbeus lack a medical degree. And yet they're evaluating mental health care treatment being carried out by doctors with medical degrees. Okay. Well an administrator with a degree in administration can be very effective. But yet again not one of them has that either.
Part of the problem -- a very big part of the problem -- is that they're not qualifed. A large number at the VA shares that quality. They were basically grandfathered in -- often during the eighties -- some were psychologists, some were social workers. It's past time that when this class that's graduated to management repeatedly fails that their qualifications for the position they hold are examined. And when their qualifications are found lacking, they need to be reassigned to an area they are qualified for. And those who would argue experience is a qualification, I don't doubt that it is and can be. Except when there are the same repeat problems. At which point, clearly the experience or alleged experience is not making up for the lack of formal education in the required field.
Further evience of failure can be found in, as Senator Burr noted, the fact that there has been a 136% increase in the VA's mental health services budget since 2006 and yet when the VA's Inspector General surveyed the VA centers, it was discovered "only 16% of the sites they visited met the staffing requirements for mental health care." That's something good adminstrators are aware of and on top of before an IG researches the issue.
In the excerpt of the exchange with Ranking Member Burr, Zeiss brags about flexible hours -- but they clearly aren't flexible or VA centers would have changed them on their own. Mary Schohn talks about how when she hears of a problem it makes her think they should check out a VA center. I'm sorry, I thought their job did require supervision. In fact, it does. They're really not paid the big salaries they are to write manuals every other year. They're paid to be administrators who supervise and ensure a quality of care. This is the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal only because the wounds are mental and/or emotional and not solely physical, the press appears little skittish to really sink their teeth into this story.
If a veteran lost a limb would it be acceptable for them to wait 14 days for care? Then why is it acceptable for that time limit to be considered a good time limit for someone with mental or emotional wounds?
It is unacceptable.
And it is unacceptable that Mary Schohn appears to think she never needs to check out the facilities unless there's a complaint to Congress. It would never get to that level if Mary and the other two heads of the cerberus were doing their job.
It was a strong hearing. Senator Jon Tester had a very strong exchange. The first panel had witnesses who were really honest. Senator Daniel Akaka, who used to Chair the Committee, showed up and underscored with Chair Murray and Ranking Member Burr just how important these issues were and how unacceptable the VA's problems are.

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"The 'B' stands for 'bitchy'"

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The "B" stands for "bitchy"





‘And I always tell Malia and Sasha, look, you guys, I don't worry about you.

‘I mean, I worry the way parents worry - but they’re on a path that is going to be successful, even if the country as a whole is not successful.



US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher: This whole episode in American history is a very disturbing thing to look at. And I think when people look back, they're going to wonder why the hell did we ever go into Iraq? And there will be no question, even in our minds today, whether or not the money that was expended and the lives and the blood that was expended there was worth it? It was not. And whatever we are spending now should be terminated and as soon as we can get those troops out, the better. When you find yourself in a bad situation, you don't try to mess around to make it a little bit less bad, you just step over and try to get in a good situation somewhere else where you can accomplish things.

Yeah, some can speak the truth and not shy from it. Rohrabacher was speaking at a hearing yesterday, one about the State Dept's plan to spend or waste billions training the Iraqi police or supposedly training since DoD contracts set the pattern for a lack of accountability that it has now handed off to State.
"Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program?" asked US House Rep Gary Ackerman yesterday. "Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue."
That was Ackerman's important question yesterday afternoon at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia hearing on Iraq. US House Rep Steve Chabot is the Chair of the Subcommittee, US House Rep Gary Ackerman is the Ranking Member. The first panel was the State Dept's Brooke Darby. The second panel was the Inspector General for the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen and SIGIR's Assistant Inspector General for Iraq Glenn D. Furbish. Chabot had a few comments to make at the start of the hearing. They often echoed comments made in the November 15th Senate Armed Services Committee hearing [see the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," the November 16th "Iraq snapshot" and the November 17th "Iraq snapshot" and other community reporting on the hearing included Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)" and Kat's "Who wanted what?" ]. But while Senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham made their comments during rounds of questions, Chabot made his as the start of the hearing in his opening remarks.
Chair Steve Chabot: Unfortunately, these negotiations failed due to, in my opinion, mismanagement by this White House. Amazingly, the White House is now trying to tout the breakdown and lack of agreement as a success in as much as it has met a promise President Obama made as a candidate. This blatant politicization calls into question the White House's effort to secure an extension. Fulfilling a campaign promise at the expense of American national security is at best strategic neglect and at worse downright irresponsible. And the White House tacitly admits this in negotiating an extension in the first place. I fear, however, that our objective is no longer to ensure that Iraq is stable but merely to withdraw our forces by the end of this year in order to meet a political time line. Saying that Iraq is secure, stable and self-reliant -- as Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough recently did -- does not make it so. And to borrow a quote from then-Senator Hillary Clinton , It requires "the willing suspension of disbelief" to believe that withdrawing our forces from Iraq at a time when Iranian agents seek to harm at every turn our country and its allies advances our strategic interests. Although I understand that Iraq is a sovereign country, I believe there is much more we could have done to secure a reasonable troop presence beyond the end of this year.
McCain was wrongly criticized for not grasping Iraq was a sovereign nation in some press accounts. Wrongly. McCain grasped that fact and acknowledged it repeatedly in the hearing. Chabot may have wanted all of that at the start of the hearing to ensure that he was not misunderstood. In addition, Chabot noted the "reports of obstruction and noncooperation on the part of the Department of State during SIGIR's audit. This is extremely distressing and, to echo the sentiments of several of my colleagues in the other body which they recently expressed in a letter to Secretary of State Clinton, the Department of State is legally obliged to cooperate fully with SIGIR in the execution of its mission; jurisdictional games are unacceptable." In his opening remarks, the Ranking Member weighed in on that topic as well.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: He [Bowen] has testified before other bodies of Congress, he has released written quarterly reports, as well as specific audits and the message is the same: The program for which the Department of State officially took responsibility on October 1st is nearly a text book case of government procurement -- in this case, foreign assistance -- doesn't buy what we think we're paying for, what we want and why more money will only make the problem worse. Failed procurement is not a problem unique to the State Department. And when it comes to frittering away millions, Foggy Bottom is a rank amateur compared to the Department of Defense. As our colleagues on the Armed Services committees have learned, the best of projects with the most desirable of purposes can go horribly, horribly off-track; and the hardest thing it seems that any bureaucracy can do is pull the plug on a failed initiative. How do we know the Police Development Program is going off-track? Very simple things demonstrate a strong likelihood of waste and mismanagement. Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the program? Interviews with senior Iraqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter disdain for the program. When the Iraqis suggest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States, I think that might be a clue.
Ackerman went on to note how "the program's objectives remain a mushy bowl of vague platitudes" and how it had "no comprehensive and detailed plan for execution, there is no current assessment of Iraqi police force capability and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no outcome-based metrics. This is a flashing-red warning light."
Before we go further, let's jump back to Rohrabacher's statements quoted earlier. Some may rush to condemn him for them -- some on the right, some on the left, some on the center, some from the apathetic aisles -- by noting that he supported the Iraq War. True. And he didn't deny that. Later in the hearing, he noted Ranking Member Ackerman's questioning of Brooke Darby with praise and then added, "Mr. Ackerman and I weren't always on good terms. I argued the case for supporting President Bush with his efforts in Iraq with Mr. Ackerman numerous times and I was wrong. Thank you, Mr. Ackerman. This [the Iraq War] has been a waste of our lives and our money." He also stated during another section of the hearing, "I hope that someone's listening because I wasn't listening years ago when I berated Mr. Ackerman." As US House Rep Brian Higgins would point out, that was a significant moment in Congress where few ever admit they got anything wrong.
Brooke Darby was sent before the Committee to spin. I'm not going to waste much time or space on her testimony and I do feel sorry for her that she was farmed out on this assignment. "I can't answer that question," she said when asked anything that hadn't been covered in at least three other hearings or "I'm not prepared to put a time limit on it." (The last one to Gary Ackerman's question of if will take the State Dept 8 years to train the Iraqi police?) I think she did a strong effort trying to sell the plan but I've heard it all the talking points before over and over -- and so had the Subcommittee, as was evident by their reactions -- and there's no point in including too much of it here.
She referenced her conversation recently with Adnan al-Asadi, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior. It was apparently a good conversation and he believes trainers and training are both needed. Chair Chalbot asked if he denied the comments? (He is among those dismissive of training in the SIGIR reports that Ranking Member Ackerman referred to.) Darby testified that he didn't.
Another good question would have been, who is al-Asadi's boss?
He's the Deputy Minister at the Ministry of the Interior. Who is his boss? He has none. That is one of the three ministries Nouri al-Maliki was supposed to have named a head of back in November 2010 -- November 2010 -- to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister. Those opposed -- as many members of the Subcommittee were -- funding police training should have probably raised that issue. Grasp that the headless Ministry of the Interior is who State is coordinating the training with, that there is no Minister of the Interior and they want to throw away a billion US tax payer dollars.
From that first panel, we'll note this exchange.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
[long pause]
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye." Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.
Another exchange that also captured the inability of State to answer any questions took place shortly afterwards.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Madame Deputy Assistant Secretary, welcome. Is it your testimony here today that the State Dept is fully committed to transparency and accountability with respect to any and all programs it has oversight and responsibility for in Iraq?
Brooke Darby: We take our responsibility for accountability and cooperation with all of the audit entities, with Congress very, very seriously.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: No, ma'am, that was not my question. Is it your testimony that you're fully committed to transparency and accountability with respect to those responsibilities?
Brooke Darby: We are absolutely committed to accountability.
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Full accountability? Full transparency and accountability?
Brooke Darby: I'm not sure -- I'm not sure how you define that so . . .
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Well I guess I'm not sure why you avoid the word. That was my question and you've ducked it three times. Are we or are we not, is the State Dept committed to full transparency and accountability to the tax payers in the United States and the people who served in Iraq or not?
Brooke Darby: We absolutely are accountable to the tax payers, to our Congress and to all of the oversight bodies who are looking into how we are spending our dollars, whether our programs are achieving success. We are absolutely --
US House Rep Gerald Connolly: Alright. I'll sort of take that as a commitment.
Those two exchanges capture State's responses during the first panel (which took up the bulk of the hearing). During the second panel, Bowen would reference the exchange between Connolly and Darby that took place. Excerpt.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Mr. Bowen, you have indicated you've been in Iraq 33 times?
Stuart Bowen: 31.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: 31. Dating back to?
Stuart Bowen: February 2004.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: February 2004 and your last trip was?
Stuart Bowen: Two weeks ago.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Okay. The effort starting in 2003 was to commit 8 billion train the Iraqi police force, some 450,000 something Iraqis. Since there are no baseline assessments, again, I would ask you as I asked the previous witness, anecdotally what is your sense of the security system, the internal security system with respect to Iraq? Where the holes are? Are there any places, like in Baghdad, for example, Ramadi, that provide a good example of a successful result from this financial effort?
Stuart Bowen: I think there have been examples of success across the country. Anbar Province is much safer than it was six years ago. Uh, Kurdistan, the three northern provinces are largely very well in order.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: But they were pretty calm to begin with?
Stuart Bowen: You're right, there are two Iraqs. There are Kurdistan and the southern 15 [provinces]. But really what you are addressing is the current state of the Iraqi rule of law system as a whole. And that embraces corrections, the judiciary and the police. And I think that there continue to be serious problems on all fronts not just police training. The judiciary -- over 45 judges have been killed in the last 7 years. And I met with Judge Mehat [al-Mahmood] during my trip and another judge had just been killed and he was bemoaning again the lack of weapons guards for his judges' security members. And on the prison front -- we've-we've -- Frankly, we invested a lot of money building prisons and we wasted a lot of money.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Sadr City. About a five million population center of Baghdad. How does the Iraqi government deal with Sadr City? Just stay out of there altogether?
Stuart Bowen: I think it's a truce of sorts between the Sadrists who control that area and the rest of Baghdad. And I think that is why, frankly, Prime Minister Maliki's senior deputy minister al-Asadi and others are concerned that the primary location for the police development program in Iraq is right on the edge of Sadr City. It's directly next to the Baghdad police college -- another place where we wasted a lot of money -- right across the street from the Ministry of the Interior and adjacent to Sadr City and thus a magnet for indirect fire.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Clearly there's a lack of oversight and transparency. And that problem is seemingly pervasive and growing or least since we've initiated this back in 2003. Why is it that the State Dept would deliberately make efforts to obstruct, efforts to blame greater oversight and transparency? Why is there that adversarial relationship? It would seem to me that your efforts would be to benefit the effective use, efficient use, of American resources in that region because we all have a strategic interest in seeing that region evolve. Why is it that you suspect that the State Dept is seemingly obstructing those efforts?
Stuart Bowen: Well it was obstructing. I think we heard today that they are supportive -- almost "fully" supportive -- of our oversight at this stage. And it took an obstruction letter though, Mr. Higgins, as you were pointing to, to break that log-jam. Why? You know I can't read into the exact motives but I think to a certain extent it was a -- it was a legalistic argument about jurisdiction.
US House Rep Brian Higgins: Yeah. Okay. I just, a final thought on this, someone once said, I think it was [New York Times columnist Thomas] Tom Friedman, he posed the question: Is Iraq the way it is because Saddam was the way he is or is Saddam is the way he is because Iraq is the way it is? And I just think when you look at this long, expensive effort -- and I don't just mean financial expense, expense in human capitol -- and the surge experience -- again, which was to tamp down the violence, provide a breathing space within which all the political factions in Iraq could reconcile their difference and evolve; it seems that the surge succeeded militarily but politically the situation doesn't seem to evolve. And obviously the policing issue, as I mentioned previously, in Northern Ireland, is fundamental to the success of any power sharing agreement and without meaningful progress over the past 8 years and this renewed effort given this horrible past of wasted money and great expectations and lofty goals but very, very little to show for it , it seems as though a billion dollar expenditure over the next five years moving forward is not a good use of American resources in a region that I think we've done everything that we can do in order to help them achieve their objectives, whatever they are, be they consistent with our objectives or not.
Yesterday we attended a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing took place as well. There's just not going to be room for that this snapshot. It will be covered tomorrow. I thought we'd do far less on the Subcommittee hearing above; however, when talking to people about coverage today, I kept asking if Rohrabacher's statements were covered and was repeatedly told no. I agree with US House Rep Brian Higgins that it took character to do what so often never happens, admit that you got something wrong and give credit to someone who got it right as Rohrabacher did in the hearing to Ranking Member Gary Ackerman.
I think the American people are right to be frustrated with the Congress (and the White House) as polls demonstrate they are and I'm not one to believe in the need for 'happy talk' news meaning I don't think the press "owes" Congress sunny reporting. But I do think Rohrabacher's statements on the Iraq War were significant in themselves. I think they became more significant when he didn't attempt to pretend like that had been his opinion all along but instead stated he was wrong. And I agree with Higgins that you rarely get that in Congress let alone someone saying they were wrong and noting that an opponent on the issue was actually right. That moment demonstrated a maturity that the low results in polling indicate Congress could use a great deal more of.
I've not had time to read any reports on the hearing -- I barely had time to read over my notes from the hearing today -- but a friend at ABC News swears Charley Keys (CNN) had the strongest report on the hearing, click here to see what won praise from someone at a competing network.

The three year coffee break





In what will hopefully be a front page piece on tomorrow's New York Times, Mark Landler reports that Nouri announced today that "he was open to the eventual return of American troops as trainers." That, of course, is not new. It's long been noted by the Iraqi press, you've had people with State of Law explaining that Nouri needed to be able to say he got all the troops out (and we've noted that Barack needed to pretend on that point as well). So welcome to the party, the appetizers and salad are gone, we just finished the entrees but maybe we can re-slice the dessert for your late arrival?
Mark Landler's piece will be an important one in tomorrow's paper and I applaud him for it but if it just doesn't feel all that amazing to me it's because we've been going over this now for almost two months while others have been silent or lied. Or while others have offered fantasies of Barack Obama.
One of the few not serving up fantasies of rainbows and lollypops was Spencer Ackerman. He writes for Wired and my thoughts on Wired are known but he gets credit for what he did. He gets a link today because a friend called in a favor. He's covering what Nouri said and also what Joe Biden, US vice president, said. And offering, "If Biden gets his way, then U.S. troops returning to Iraq next year won't just be training their Iraqi counterparts, even if that's how Maliki sells it to a skeptical Iraqi populace."
US troops going back in should remind you of something. It reminds me of filling in for Kat last night and noting, "What AFP doesn't tell you is that Rand Paul's measure would have ended the Iraq War, key point coming up, which means if Barack wanted to send US troops back into Iraq, he would need to get permission from the Congress." What was that about? Senator Rand Paul's bill to end the Iraq War finally had a vote on the Senate floor yesterday. Donna Cassata (AP) noted, "The Senate also rejected an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have ended the authority for using force in Iraq. The vote was 67-30." AFP reported: Senator Carl Levin voted against it and insisted, "I just am unwilling to take this risk during the critical transition period." What risk? Hadn't Barack declared the Iraq War over? What does Carl mean about "transition period"?
He means (a) it's not a withdrawal, (b) negotiations continue and (c) Barack might send troops back in. Rand Paul's measure would have ended the Iraq War which meant that if Barack wanted to send US troops back into Iraq, he would need to get permission from the Congress. 30 senators voted for Rand Paul's bill, 67 voted against it. Here are the ones who voted in favor of the bill:

Baucus (D-MT)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
DeMint (R-SC)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Harkin (D-IA)
Heller (R-NV)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Manchin (D-WV)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-NE)
Paul (R-KY)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Snowe (R-ME)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Wyden (D-OR)

25 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 1 independent (Socialist Bernie Sanders). If you've forgotten, in 2007, candidate Barack stated that he was comfortable, after withdrawal, sending US troops back into Iraq if Iraq wasn't 'stable.' For more on that refer to the November 2, 2007 snapshot and this piece by Third. So passing Senator Paul's end the war bill would have been highly problematic for the administration. After the vote, Paul declared, "This year we have seen the President commit our armed forces to combat, while Congress has been ignored or remained silent. No present or future administration should be given an indefinite blank check to conduct military operations in Iraq by Congress. Congress must reclaim its constitutional authority over the decision to go to war, or to end a war -- is it one of the body's most important powers."
Let's move over to the violence reported today. Reuters notes a Balad Ruz car bombing left seven people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life, 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul (a person "kidnapped in 2008"), a Kirkuk sticky bombing claimed 1 life and, dropping back to last night for the rest, a Udhaim roadside bombing injured a shepherd and a Samarra home invasion resulted in the deaths of "a fortune teller, his wife, sone and two guests."
In major news on violence today, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers via the San Francisco Chronicle) reports that the Monday attack on Parliament was a suicide car bomber and Issa observes, "The admission that a suicide car bomber had penetrated the fortified Green Zone, the first suicide attack there since April 2007, sent a wave of concern across the capital about the abilities, and loyalties, of Iraq's security agencies." As Sheikah (Dar Addustour) notes the questions about the attack in terms of how heavily protected the Green Zone is and how a "strange car with unknown identities" was able to penetrate the Green Zone. Al Rafidayn notes the need for permits to carry explosives in the Green Zone and indicates that some aspect of the attack was caught on cameras "deployed" in the area. This is major news and has been treated as such in the Iraqi press for two news cycles. As part of Monday's violence, it was noted as an aside in the small number of US outlets that cover Iraq. And a large number of that small number treated the notion that it could be a suicide bomber as some sort of Iraqi delusion. But it was a suicide bomber (not a mortar or a rocket) and the US press is strangely silent.
The answer why can be found in CNN's write-up: "Violence in Iraq remains at its lowest overall level since 2003, according to the White House."
Of course, the press isn't supposed to run with a party line. The press is supposed to be independent and skeptical. It's supposed to be a watchdog forever questioning official pronouncements. But it doesn't do that. As noted this morning, in reply to visitors who felt their favorite news outlet had been treated harshly by me in yesterday's snapshot with regards to the coverage of Joe Biden's visit to Iraq, I was more than kind. Read those articles again, but do so after you go to Time magazine. and read Mark Halperin's "Surprise Visit." You'll note all the details you thought the press had hunted down on their own were in fact spoon fed by the White House.
While the White House pretends violence is at a record low, earlier this week Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported violence was on the rise in Iraq with over 100 recorded deaths this month in Baghdad alone. Who was telling the truth? Sahar Issa who doesn't need to worry about how the truth will effect personal polling or an upcoming election.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The American souring on Barry O







Mercer Consulting has released its 2011 Quality of Living survey and, out of 221 cities worldwide, Vienna is ranked first for quality of living. And who came in last? Baghdad. Apparently unrelated to the findings, US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the Iraqi capital today. AP notes, "During his visit, Biden is expected to hold meetings with Iraqi officials over what the future U.S.-Iraqi relationship will look like." Carol E. Lee, Julian E. Barnes and Jay Solomon (Wall St. Journal) add, "While in Iraq, Mr. Biden will chair a meeting of the Higher Coordinating Committee of the Strategic Framework Agreement, a body that was launched to examine the non-security aspects of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship. Boosting Iraqi oil production is an ongoing part of U.S.-Iraqi discussions." Mark Lander (New York Times) explains Nouri al-Maliki and Biden are co-chairs of that Higher Coordinating Committee and that this is Joe's eighth trip to Iraq since being sworn in as Vice President in January 2009. Lander notes reported surprise that Biden was put in charge of Iraq instead of Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State) or Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense until last July). I have no idea who was surprised by the move. It took place during the transition planning (after the election, before being sworn in). Hillary wasn't considered because, at that point, her joining the administration was not a given. Gates was a holdover from the Bush administration and it would have been an early slap in the face of Barack's supporters to put Gates in charge. (The two also pointedly disagreed over the "surge.") Joe had the best relationship with Iraq of any Democrat due to repeat visits to the region, reaching out to the various leaders while serving in the Senate (remember, he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and more. He also had the strongest relationship with the Kurds of anyone in Barack's administration (during the transition phase or since).
Maybe the persons who expressed surprise to Mark Lander are the same ones he refers to in this statement: "Analysts said the United States and Iraq are likely to resume negotiations next year for a small American force that would train a Western-style Iraqi officer corps, manage tensions with the Kurds, and help with counterterrorism operations." Did "analysts" say that? Did they whisper it? Was it pillow talk?
I have no idea. I know that PUBLICLY it was stated by US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, stated this month, that negotiations continue -- they haven't ended CNN, you stupid liar -- and that Panetta stated PUBLICLY that he expected a deal to emerge early next year. I know that because we attended and covered the November 15th Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: see the November 15th "Iraq snapshot," the November 16th "Iraq snapshot" and the November 17th "Iraq snapshot" and other community reporting on the hearing included Ava's "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," Wally's "The costs (Wally)" and Kat's "Who wanted what?" ]. And let's drop back to the November 15th snapshot for this exchange from that hearing:

Senator Joe Lieberman: Let me, Secretary Panetta, pick up from that point. I've heard from friends in Iraq -- Iraqis -- that Prime Minister Maliki said at one point that he needed to stop the negotiations -- leave aside for one moment the reasons -- but he was prepared to begin negotiations again between two sovereign nations -- the US and Iraq -- about some troops being in Iraq after January 1st. So that's what I've heard from there. But I want to ask you from the administration point of view. I know that Prime Minister Maliki is coming here in a few weeks to Washington. Is the administration planning to pursue further discussions with the Iraqi government about deploying at least some US forces in Iraq after the end of this year?
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: Senator, as I pointed out in my testimony, what we seek with Iraq is a normal relationship now and that does involve continuing negotiations with them as to what their needs are. Uh, and I believe there will be continuing negotations. We're in negotiations now with regards to the size of the security office that will be there and so there will be -- There aren't zero troops that are going to be there. We'll have, you know, hundreds that will be present by virtue of that office assuming we can work out an agreement there. But I think that once we've completed the implementation of the security agreement that there will begin a series of negotiations about what exactly are additional areas where we can be of assistance? What level of trainers do they need? What can we do with regards to CT [Counter-Terrorism] operations? What will we do on exercises -- joint-exercises -- that work together?
When Panetta has testified publicly to the Senate Armed Services Committee this month that negotiations continue and that yhe expects additional negotiations, I have no idea why you have to go to "analysts." Panetta's testimony was on the record. Or at least, it was if you paid attention to it. CNN might need to.
If they wish to call Leon a liar, have at it and hopefully they can establish why they're making that charge. But until they've got the guts to do so, they need to stop LYING. Negotiations continue, he testified. In addition, many outlets need to catch this part of the testimony: "There aren't zero troops that are going to be there," Panetta testified. "We'll have, you know, hundreds that will be peresent by virtue of that office assuming we can work out an agreement there." CNN isn't stupid enough to claim zero US troops will be in Iraq or that all US troops in Iraq will return home. But a lot of other outlets are doing it. At Third Sunday, we took on The NewsHour and Judy Woodruff at the request of a woman who's brother will continue to serve in Iraq beyond December 31, 2011. Since then, a lot of e-mails are coming in from the families of troops who are going to be stationed in countries surrounding Iraq and they are furious that the media keeps saying ALL are coming HOME. I don't know how stupid the media is or if they're deliberately trying to be insensitive. I can't imagine having a loved one who will remain in Iraq or move over to Kuwait, for example, and have to hear on PBS that ALL are coming HOME when I know damn well that my loved one is not coming home yet. It's insulting and it goes to how shallow their pretense of caring about military families actually is. If they gave a damn, they'd tell the truth. They obviously don't give a damn.
Still on the silly, these claims of "surprise" visit. That it's today is a surprise. But the Iraqi press has been reporting that this visit was coming since October. It's only the US press that's kept their lips sealed. NBC's Shawna Thomas may be stupidist of all the press, not only does she claim "surprise," she also insists all troops are leaving. What an idiot. Someone might also want to tell her that a reporter does not say "He will also meet with . . ." They say, "He is scheduled to meet . . ." Will implies it will happen. Life can alter events. Reporters are not psychics, something they apparently need to be drilled on repeatedly. Ann Currey (NBC's Today) Tweets:
Ann Curry
AnnCurry Landed Bagdad lights off, pilots in infrared goggles.
Ann Curry will have an interview with Joe Biden on Thursday's Today Show (NBC). Biden arrives in Iraq on the day Al Sabaah reports that the Iraqi Parliament's Security and Defense Committee has declared it is close to making an agreement which will put NATO forces on the ground in Iraq, according to a statement read by the Security and Defense Committee Chair Hassan Sinead. Sinead states it will be a one-year agreement and that it can be renewed.
AFP is the only outlet that has any knowledge of Iraq apparently. Only AFP notes, "Biden's visit comes after a bloody seven days for Iraq, during which at least 61 people were killed in a wave of attacks." That's the kind of detail that the others should have included. But missed. Demonstrating how little they and their outlets pay attention to Iraq. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) noted yesterday that violence is on the rise in Iraq with over 100 recorded deaths this month in Baghdad alone. (Had McClatchy the wisdom to allow Sahar, Laith Hammoudi or any of their Baghdad correspondents to cover the visit, they might have had a story worth linking to instead of one that I delayed the snapshot for 30 minutes for at the request of a McClatchy friend only to be read the copy over the phone and ask, "Someone got paid to write that crap?" Lesley Clark got paid to write that crap. And, no, we're not linking to it.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Colbert King as Prissy in Gone With The Wind







In Iraq today, a suicide bombing attack on a prison resulted in multiple deaths. AGI notes today's bombing was "a suicide attack on Hout prison in Taji". Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reports the assailant "slammed a car packed with explosives into" the prison's gate and RTT adds, "The attack took place at about 8:00 a.m. local time (0500 GMT)". The spokesperson for Baghdad Operations Command, Quassem Ata, told Alsumaria TV, "Ambulances rushed to the explosion site and transported the wounded to a nearby hospital for treatment and the corpses to the Department of FOrensic medicine." AFP observes, "It was not immediately clear if the attack was part of a prison escape attempt, which are fairly common in Iraq." Citing an unnamed security source, Aswat al-Iraq reports, "He said that among the victims were visitors to their imprisoned relatives and prison guards." Adnkronos Security notes that the bombing also "killed and maimed guards, police and other staff while they were arriving for work." Sky News reveals, "Police officials said the death toll increased after cleanup crews found more bodies while removing debris at the site." BBC News reports 19 dead and twenty two injured in the attack. Kareem Raheem (Reuters) notes the last reported attack on the city: "The town of Taji, the site of a major Iraqi military base, was hit by bombers in July, when two blasts in the parking lot of a municipal government building killed at least 28 people and wounded scores of others." Al Jazzera provides this context, "Monday's bombing comes amid a surge of violence across the country." Al Rafidayn words it this way, "Despite toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein eighty years ago, Iraq continues to be plagud by near daily violence leaving tens of thousands dead."
The attack hit the US morning news cycle. It wasn't the end of attacks today in Iraq. In the one that will probably have the most impact the Baghdad-based government, Parliament was attacked. Confusion remains as to what it was attacked with. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) puts it this way, "Also Monday, a mortar round landed inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, killing at least two people, police said. The round landed on the outdoor car park that belongs to the Iraqi Parliament compound and hit a car. " Citing the news channel Al-Arabiya, Adnkronos Security maintains it was a rocket. KUNA states mortars and that it "hit a parking lot near the parliament" leaving at least four injured. Aswat al-Iraq notes Parliament's Mohammed al-Khalidi states it was a car and a suicide bombing, "the car exploded outside the parliament building, where the driver was trying enter, but blocked by a military hummer, which obliged him to commit suicide." AFP emphasizes the confusion over details, "The explosion in the parking lot of the Iraqi parliament was caused by a mortar round, said Baghdad security spokesman Qassem al-Moussawi and several other sources. However, at least two sources at parliament said it was a car bomb." Parliament's spokesperson Aidan Helmi declares the attack was an attempted assassination of Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and states the car involved was similar to the cars used in Nujaifi's security detail and that when asked to display a security badge, the car slammed into anothe car, the driver got out and detonated a bomb on his person. Jack Healy, Yasir Ghazi, Andrew E. Kramer and Zaid Thaker (New York Times) observe, "An attempted bombing steps outside Parliament would represent a serious security breach inside one of the capital's most heavily guarded sectors, raising questions about the competence -- or complicity -- of security forces. Parliament sits inside the Green Zone, the locked-down expanse along the Tigris River that houses many Iraqi governmetn buildings and the American Embassy."
"In the one that will probably have the most impact the Baghdad-based government, Parliament was attacked"? That's a statement based on past precedent. In the rush-rush effort to forever pimp the newest cause (OWS currently) and ingore actual news in favor of what you wish was news, many things get forgotten. The Bremer walls? Does anyone remember why they went up? Because of attacks in Baghdad. Yeah, but it was one attack in particular that got them up real quick.
Dropping back to the June 23, 2006 snapshot:

The ten day old "crackdown" in Baghdad, which has had little measurable impact on stopping violence, sprouted a new development today: "State of emergency." As Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) noted this morning, "Earlier today, insurgents set up roadblocks and opened fire on U.S. and Iraqi troops close to the US-run Green Zone." The Associated Press reports this was done as fighting forces seemed intent on breaching "the heavily fortified Green Zone." As Sandra Lupien noted on KPFA's The Morning Show, amidst the violence, US troops "rushed to the area." Current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has "ordered everyone off the streets" of Baghdad, provided "broader arrest powers" and placed "a ban on carrying weapons."
last declared a state of emergency (or martial law) in November of 2004 for the entire country (exempting only Kurdish areas in the north).Then prime minister Iyad Allawi declared it when violence broke out through much of the country as US forces geared up for their attack on/slaughter of Falluja. Current prime minister al-Maliki has declared a state of emergency for Baghdad only. A state of emergency was declared for the city of Basra in May of this year. Euronews notes that the Basra state of emergency "has not deterred militants." Omar al-Ibadi and Haider Salahaddin (Reuters) report that today in Basra a car bomb went off (police say ten killed, hospital says five).
Sam Knight (Times of London) reports that "the 5 million inhabitants of the Iraqi capital [were] given just two hours notice of a curfew" (started at 2:00 pm in Baghdad, as Knight notes, but it was set to end at 5:00 pm and not, as Knight reports, on Saturday -- since Knight filed, al-Maliki shortened the curfew). Knight notes the paper's Baghdad correspondent Ned Parker terming the "extended gun battle . . . just north of the fortified Green Zone" a "free-for-all." Along with gunfire and mortars, Reuters reports that two US troops died today "when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb southeast of Baghdad."
What followed were mutliple bombings in Baghdad for mutliple days and Nouri floating that there could be 'forgiveness' for 'insurgents' and then the wallas and walls and walls throughout Baghdad.
When the Green Zone was almost breached, when that safe area for Iraq's rulers was in danger, suddenly there was no tolerance for violence. When it was outside the Green Zone, when it remains outside, the tolerance is high and little is done by the Baghdad-based central government. So it is very likely that today's attack on Parliament will be taken more seriously than other recent attacks.
Before we get to the pattern of recent attacks, let's note the Baghdad government's 'new' plans for protection. Saturday Al Mada also reported that Major General Qassim Atta, head of the Baghdad operations command, declared that they will be putting up cameras to monitor the streets of Baghdad. And there's more. Remember after the walls started going up, Nouri also wanted to put a moat around Baghdad? Edward Wong reported on that with "Iraqis Plan to Ring Baghdad With Trenches" on September 16, 2006:

The Iraqi government plans to seal off Baghdad within weeks by ringing it with a series of trenches and setting up dozens of traffic checkpoints to control movement in and out of the violent city of seven million people, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Friday.
The effort is one of the most ambitious security projects this year, with cars expected to be funneled through 28 checkpoints along the main arteries snaking out from the capital. Smaller roads would be closed. The trenches would run across farmland or other open areas to prevent cars from evading checkpoints, said the ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf.
"We're going to build a trench around Baghdad so we can control the exits and entrances so people will be searched properly," he said in a telephone interview. "The idea is to get the cars to go through the 28 checkpoints that we set up."

Well they never got the moat. But let's drop back to the May 4, 2010 snapshot:

Occupied Iraq, ruled over by a US puppet whose fighting like crazy to hold on to the position. If US service members leave the Green Zone, Nouri falls. He knows that. The US military knows it, the US government knows it. So he's proposed madcap schemes to ensure his reign since he became prime minister in April of 2006. Two Circles Net reports, "Iraqi authorities have started the construction of a security wall around the capital Baghdad, reports the country's Al-Iraqiya TV citing a Baghdad security spokesperson. The concrete wall with eight checkpoints is to be completed in mid-2011." Once upon a time, Nouri proposed building a moat around Baghdad. A moat. Stagnant water. Just what Baghdad needs more of. Especially with all the cholera outbreaks. Nouri never got his moat but he will apparently get his walled-in-city.

But he didn't get that either. Yet he still hasn't give up on it. Dar Addustour quotes Atta from the same press conference today declaring that Nouri has ordered a security wall be constructed around Baghdad in early 2012. If there's anything sadder than having run out of ideas it would have to be repeatedly promising you're about to implement one of your tired ideas. At what point do those ruled note that you promise and promise but fail to deliver? It's not just that he can't stop the violence, it's also that Nouri can't follow up on his own announcements to increase security.

The most current pattern of violence is every two days for a major attack. So Basra is slammed with bombs on Thursday (Saturday Andrew E. Kramer noted the death toll for the Basra attacks had risen to 25). Two days later, Saturday, it was Baghdad. Al Mada reported Baghdad awoke to bombings Saturday. Laith Hammoudi (Miami Herald, McClatchy Newspapers) explained, "Some analysts fear that this year will mark a return to that bloodshed after the last two months, when the Shiite-led Iraqi government has undertaken a nationwide crackdown on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party, especially in the country's southern provinces, where Shiites are the majority. The arrests have been criticized by Sunni Muslim leaders as illegal, but the government has defended them, claiming those arrested have ties to terrorist activities and are based on warrants issued by courts." And some analysts feel that point has already arrived and you're seeing the slow awakening of a renewal of that fissure (which never went away).

Andrew E. Kramer (New York Times) reported the bombings "shattered the stillness of a crystalline autumn day in the desert". Zhang Xiang (Xinhua) provided a walk through, "In the morning, eight construction workers were killed and 13 others wounded when two roadside bombs went off almost simultaneously near their bus while travelling in the Abu Ghraib area, some 20 km west of Baghdad, a local police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. [. . .] Separately, up to seven people were killed and 28 wounded before midday when three bombs went off successively at the crowded commercial area of Bab al-Sharji, where dozens of stalls scatter at the popular open market, an Interior Ministry source anonymously told Xinhua." Press TV quoted an eye witness, "Three bombs exploded one after the other. I saw a woman serving tea to customers, lose a leg in one of the explosions." Of the construction workers, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) quoted police officer Ahmed Salman, "The victims were traveling every day in a minibus from Abu Ghraib to Falluja to work in a number of reconstruction sites."

Thursday, Saturday, Monday. And there was other violence on those days and there was violence on Friday and Saturday. The violence has not gone away.
And as it has increased in the last eighteen or so months, it's been very obvious that Iraq's security ministries remain headless. There is no one heading them. And no one's supposed to note Nouri's failure with regards to that. Al Mada reports that Iraqi officials are a twitter over 'news' (rumors) that Nouri al-Maliki will fill the posts to head the security ministries before the end of the year (Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of National Security). These are the posts that have been vacant all along. When Nouri was named prime minister-designate, he had 30 days to name nominees for these posts and to get the nominees approved by Parliament. Instead of following the Constitution, and with the US government strong-arming everyone, the Parliament and the presidency looked the other way and allowed Nouri to move from prime minister-designate to prime minister despite his inability to meet the only Constitutional requirement for being named prime minister.

When that happened in December 2010, the US newspapers which are supposed to be skeptical -- because the nature of journalism -- and independent and watchdog proved to be toothless and cowardly. Instead of barking, they assured readers that, by January (2011), Nouri would have filled those three posts. That didn't happen. Sadly their continued failure to predict the future hasn't steered any of them away from playing amateur prophet. They continue to ignore facts -- such as ALL US troops are not coming HOME at the end of the year from Iraq -- and instead offer fantasies served up as 'reporting.'

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