Saturday, July 21, 2012

Work it!







This morning there were many interesting articles about Martin Kobler's presentation on Iraq to the United Nation's Security Council yesterday.  Kobler is the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq.  And the few articles this morning about the presentation were nothing like what Kobler delivered yesterday.  (This afternoon, UPI produced a report that demonstrated their correspondent saw the actual presentation.)  But the reports this morning were a lot like the press conference Kobler held after -- about an hour after -- the Security Council presentation.  You have to wonder how editorial boards ever pretend to have an ethical stature to call others out from when their reporters lie?  A press briefing is not the report Kobler presented to the UN Security Council. 
Kobler's report was interesting for what it said.  It was even more interesting for what it didn't say but you probably needed to hear the report to know that and you probably needed to have heard the April report to be able to offer context in July. 
April 10th was when he made his previous presentation and we covered that in the April 10th snapshot and the April 11th snapshot.  His Thursday report we covered yesterday and we'll continue that coverage now.  When we left off yesterday, he was talking about 12 acts of violence a day and over 1,300
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Each victim is one victim too many.  The Iraqi authorities must continue to make every effort to identify the perpetrators of these acts of violence and bring them to justice.  These attacks are intended to ignite further violence.  Despite the sufferings, Iraqis from all walks of life and religious backgrounds must turn their backs on past divisions and unite for a peaceful future.  Mr. President, human rights are a cornerstone of Iraq's democratic future and are at the core of United Nations mandate  in Iraq. To this end, UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] continues to support activities of the Ministry of Human Rights in ensuring that Iraq meets its international humanitarian rights obligations.  As I informed the Council members last April, the Council of Representatives endorsed the appointment of the Commissioners of Iraq's first Independent High Commission for Human Rights.  And I am pleased to further report the commissioners have now met and started their work.  UNAMI and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]  are supporting the Commission in this process.  The findings of the 2011 United Nations report on the Human Rights Situation in Iraq published in May underlined the fragility of human rights situation in Iraq.  The report's conclusions largely coincided with the  Ministry of Human Rights own findings.  While it is recognized that the government of Iraq has made progress in implementing measures to protect and promote human rights, the impact on the overall human rights situation remains limited.  The UN is assisting the Iraqi authorities in strengthening the rule of law and boosting protections for human rights in Iraq to bring an end to abuses like arbitrary arrests and detentions.  The economic, culture and social rights of Iraqis are also a matter of real concern.  Poverty, high unemployment, economic stagnation, environmental degradation and a lack of basic services continue to effect large sections of the population.  It is vital that Iraqis -- in particular, vulnerable groups -- be provided with better access to basic services, social welfare and community development programs and opportunities for education.  Nothing less is required in order to provide for the success of future generations.  The rights of all Iraqis -- including minorities -- must be protected as stipulated in the Iraqi Contrib -- Iraqi Constitution.  Mr. President, Iraq retains the death penalty for a large number of crimes.  I therefore reiterate the call by the Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] and the High Commissioner of Human Rights for the government of Iraq to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to their abolition.  I welcome that the authorities of the Kurdistan Region continue to implement a moratorium on carrying out executions which has been in place since 2007. 
That's not the end of his report.  We'll continue noting from there in order but we're breaking parts up.  It was interesting how in both the written report (July 11th) and the oral report Kobler gave yesterday, the Russian bikers were ignored.  5 men threatened with the death penalty, 5 men arrested and beaten.  An international incident and not a word on it.  But Kobler wasn't very interested in words.  There was time to whine about his budget taking a 20% cut next year but not time to note, as the written report did:
Journalists and media professionals in Iraq continue to face arbitrary arrest and detention and to suffer from intimidation and attacks as a result of their profession.  During the reporting period, UNESCO and UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] trained 240 media professionals in Basra, Erbil and Baghdad on security, self-protection, risk management and trauma first aid to enable them to cope with existing professional threats and risks.
The issue so bothered Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he raised it twice in the written report (the first time is quoted above).  When Kobler states he's repeating the Secretary-General's point about stopping death penalty, he's referring to the written report (it's the 72nd paragraph in the written report). 
Iraq being discussed before the UN.  That means what topic gets touched on that the US media usually ignores?  Chapter VII.  Iraq was placed in that status by the UN as a result of Iraq's war on Kuwait. 
Speical Envoy Martin Kobler:  Let me now turn to some of the regional and international developments pertaining to Iraq.  As you know, Prime Minister Maliki's visit to Kuwait in March was followed by the historic visit of the Emir of Kuwait [Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah] to Baghdad to attend the Arab League Summit.  These two visits have markedly improved bi-later relations between Kuwait and Iraq and facilitated the resumption of the meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee. Iraq has also taken decisive steps to finalize the Iraqi-Kuwait border maintenance project in accordance with Resolution 833.  At the request of both parties, the United Nations is preparing now for maintenance work to start by 31st of October provided that key prerequisites -- like the removal of obstacles on the borders -- are met bringing all Chapter VII obligations pertaining to Kuwait to a satisfactory close will boost prospects for bilateral trade, investment, promote regional cooperation and lead to the restoration of Iraq's rightful standing within the international community.  In this regard, I would also like to take the opportunity to welcome the adoption of on 28th of June by the Council of Representatives of a law ratifying the additional protocol to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and encourage the government of Iraq to take the remaining steps to ensure its entry into force as soon as possible.   Mr. President, the intensity and frequency of sand and dust storms mainly generated from inside Iraq has increased in recent years.  They have significant impact on public health in Iraq and in the wider region --  especially for the most vulnerable --  and they effect transport and trade. During my visit to Kuwait in June and following an offer by the Emir of Kuwait to invest a portion of Iraq's outstanding war compensation funds back into Iraq, I proposed an environmental fund to combat sand and dust storms.  If Iraq and Kuwait agree, the fund could be used to undertake activities to reduce this health hazard which is impeding daily life in the region.  Such activities might include improving water resource management, anti desertification, re-forestification and agricultural projects.  Mr. President, needless to say that the ongoing violence in Syria is a source of deep concern given the potential for the spread of instability and violence, humanitarian fall out and political repercussions.  The UN system in Iraq is putting in place contingency plans for possible humanitarian emergency.  In this connection, I recently visited a refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region for those displaced by the conflict in Syria.  So far, with 7,000 refugees, their number are manageable.  On 10th of July, the United Nations and League of Arab States Joint-Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Kofi Anan, visited Iraq and met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The government of Iraq was very clear on the policy of a political transition that is Syrian-led and Syrian-owned and ensures that the legitimate and democratic aspirations of the Syrian people are fully realized.
So there's a refugee camp in the KRG.  And the KRG has a moratorium on the death penalty.  Wonder how much bleaker the state of Iraq would be reported to the Security Council as being if the Special Envoy didn't keep including the semi-autonomous KRG region?
As he continues, he'll note some basic numbers.
Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Mr. President, the United Nations in Iraq also continues to support the development of effective, accountable and transparent state institutions.  My new deputy and resident humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Ms. Jacqueline Babcock, took up her duties on 13th of May.  She has already shown her determination and leadership in coordinating the UN country team to deliver as one.  I have asked her to ensure that the country team  strengthens its presence and activities across the country.  This is taking shape in Basra. There, the UN funds and programs can assist in bringing the quality of life in this oil rich province to those levels found in other oil rich countries in the region.  Mr. President, let me briefly highlight two of the priority areas with important political, security and development implications where the UN system in Iraq is working together.  Iraq is one of the most youthful countries  in the world with 50% of the population under the age of 18.  At the same time, the unemployment rate for youth is more than double the domestic average with 23%.  The UN system is supporting programs aimed at increasing youth participation in social, political and economic spheres.  Building on the International Year of Youth 2011, the UN is supporting civil-society groups to strengthen their role in ensuring democratic spaces and freedom.  The third UNDP National Development Report focuses on youth and will be published later this year.  As with youth, women are important actors in Iraq's development. Yet the illiteracy rate among Iraqi women is more than double that of Iraqi men.  In my meetings with the Iraqi governmental interloculators, as well as women's civil-society organizations, I advocate for the adoption and implementation of the proposed National Strategy on the Advancement of Women.  The UN family is working to support women take up their role also in political and economic life.  The UN is also continuing to implement Security Council Resolution 1322 and to encourage the government to fulfill its committment in this regard. 
Now we're getting to Camp Ashraf.  Camp Ashraf were approximately 3,500 residents who were Iranian dissidents.  They came to Iraq in the 80s and had protection up to the Iraq War.  When the US-launched war toppled the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the US government -- largely via US military officers -- began a dialogue with the residents which resulted in their surrendering their arms and becoming protected persons under the Geneva Agreement and international law.  Though never legally revoked, that protection would be ignored once Barack Obama was sworn in as US president.  Nouri would twice attack the camp resulting in multiple deaths and a large number of wounded.  Humanitarian organizations -- Amnesty, for example -- would decry the attacks but the US government would remain silent.  When you read over Kobler's remarks in a second, focus on what's really harming Camp Ashraf right now.
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Finally, Mr. President, I still remain very concerned by the lack of progress in resolving the issue of Camp Ashraf. 2,000 residents of Camp Ashraf have relocated to Camp Hurriyah [Liberty] in the last months.  Approximately 1,200 remain in Camp Ashraf.  The several deadlines set by the government of Iraq have been extended. I thank the government of Iraq for their flexibility in this regard and I appeal to the Iraqi authorities to continue the process to resolve the relocation peacefully. Our committment is strictly humanitarian, to facilitate a voluntary, temporary relocation of residents to Camp Hurriyah as the first step of resettlement to countries outside of Iraq; however, the success of a facilitator depends at least on good will. Their can be no facilitation without constructive and practical dialogue.  We are faced with three main challenges.  First, recent weeks have witnessed difficulties in maintaining dialogue between UNAMI and the residents and between the residents and the government of Iraq reinforcing a perception that the residents lack genuine will to participate in the process faciliated by UNAMI.  Second, responsiblity also falls on the many international supporters.  It is of great importance that they contribute to positively influence the residents' position.  And third, to  date almost no memeber-state has stepped forward to offer resettlement to eligible, former Ashraf residents.  There must be a way out of Hurriyah in the foreseeable future.  Without prospect for resettlement, the ongoing process runs the risk of collapsing.  The tempoary transit location at Camp Hurriyah has the capacity to accomodate the remaining 1,200 residents and meets acceptable humanitarian standards.  Both UNAMI and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have devoted substantial energy and resources to resolving this issue.  More than 100 staff are dedicated to the project in the meantime.  I appeal to the government of Iraq to be generous -- particularly in terms of humanitarian needs like water and electricity and to avoid violence under any circumstances.  I also appeal to camp residents to abide by Iraqi laws and avoid provocation and violence.  Time is running out to find a sustainable solution.  The government's patience is wearing thin. I would therefore like to echo the Secretary-General and urge Camp Ashraf residents to cooperate with the Iraqi authorities and to relocate from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriyah.  It is also imperative that third countries step forward to accept eligible residents for resettlement as soon as possible without which there can be no durable solution. 
The residents have stopped moving to Camp Liberty.  They want to take items such as generators.  Why? 
Nouri doesn't want them to take items such as generators.  Why?
Because both sides don't believe that the Camp Ashraf residents will soon leave Camp Liberty.  Why don't they believe it?
Because no one's left so far and that's because other countries aren't willing to take them in.  In Nouri al-Maliki's view, Camp Liberty is just a place to store Camp Ashraf residents for another lengthy period.  In his view, he's being conned and then in a year or two, he'll be told they'll be moved somewhere else in Iraq.  It's a view Camp Ashraf residents can share.  Because both they and Nouri have seen 1200 moved and not resettled anywhere.  They're just remaining in Camp Liberty, the same way they remained in Camp Ashraf.   If Nouri (or the government in Tehran) is to believe that the residents are being resettled, they're going to have to see some resettled.  It's not that complicated.
Why are so many nations so reluctant to take them?  Because the US government refuses to do their job.  Camp Ashraf residents are part of the MEK.  The MEK is considered a terrorist group by the US government -- the Clinton administration put them on that list in the late 90s in an effort to make an overture to the government of Iran.  Though ordered by a federal court to resolve the MEK status quickly, the State Dept refused and now has until October to do so or the court will impose a punishment.  (Whether Barack Obama is re-elected president or not, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already stated she will not serve a second term in her post.  An October deadline from the court is a joke because the administration will treat it as such -- either because they will quickly become a lameduck one or because they will be looking for a new Secretary of State.)   Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and those under them have repeatedly and falsely equated MEK and Camp Ashraf residents as one grouping.
The US government does not recognize the MEK as protected persons.  The US government does recognize Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons.  This issue should have been resolved a long time ago, the US government made promises and needs to keep them.  The easiest way is to create an excpetion for the Camp Ashraf residents.  That's 3,200 people currently.  They are all in Iraq.  Those in Iraq transferring out would not be considered "terrorists."  This is due to where they were located, due to the stationary aspect of their location and due to the fact that the US government already gave them protected persons status.  That status expires only when they are out of Iraq so it is in the US government's best interests to get them out of Iraq quickly.  The State Dept could easily create a subgrouping of those residents in Iraq to allow other countries to take them in.
The refusal to do so means the Barack Obama administration will likely have blood on their hands because one side will likely explode in a very short time.  This has been going on too long and neither Nouri nor the residents are seeing any progress.  If the US government can not seriously assist the Camp Ashraf residents by creating a subgrouping/classification for them and violence takes place, those deaths -- Iraqis or Ashraf residents -- will be the responsibility of the US White House.
There was a lot mentioned in the report.  A lot overlooked as well.  As he winds down, Kobler makes the decision that UNAMI itself -- and its budget -- is more important than any Iraqi topic that he could include in the final moments.
Special Envoy Martin Kolber:  Mr. President, in my introduction, I posed the question of whether the people of Iraq still need UNAMI?  I am convinced that UNAMI is needed more than ever to help Iraq complete its transition to a stable and prosperous democracy.  UNAMI has the legitimacy and the standing to represent the international community in Iraq.  Iraqis from all communities look to UNAMI to protect their aspirations and to ensure their needs are met.  With Security Council support, UNAMI will continue its efforts to address the many outstanding issues crucial to securing Iraq's future.  The substantial cut of 20% of UNAMI's budget in 2013  requires that we do more with less.  In this context, the mission may need to reconsider some areas of operation.  Mr. President, I should like to sincerely thank the members of the council for their continued support, the government of Iraq and the wider membership of the United Nations as well as the staff of UNAMI for their unrelenting commitment and dedication to implement our mandate.  Thank you very much.
And that was it.  Last April, in his presentation to the UN Security-Council, he refused to note the targeting of Iraq's LGBT community.  In the written report (written in March), there was a passing reference ("perception of their sexual orientation") with the promise that the UN was in the process of corroborating the reported deaths and would address it when they had.  It's months later, presumably the UN has been able to corroborate those reports in some fashion by now.  So why can't Martin Kobler talk about it?  It's not even in the written report (which was published July 11th).  There is no mention made of it.  If Martin Kobler wishes to represent Iraqis, he needs to represent all Iraqis.  He needs to find it in his comfort zone to use the terms "gay" and "lesbian."  If that's too much work for him, if it's too much of a stretch, he needs to find a new position.  The United Nations was silent as young Iraqis were targeted -- males and females -- because they were believed to be gay or to be Emo or both.  Rolling Stone and NME covered it.  But the United Nations stayed silent.  The US State Dept covered it in their own human rights report.  But the United Nations stayed silent.  That's unacceptable.

Recommended: "Iraq snapshot"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One size fits all?






"It's unacceptable the federal government is doing nothing but continuing to promise what they promised before," declare House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa this morning.  He was attending the House Oversight's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations.  US House Rep Jason Chaffetz is the Subcomittee Chair. Appearing before the Subcommittee were VA's Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, the VFW's Gerald Manar and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante. 

Darrell Issa:  42 years ago this November, I raised my right hand and became a soldier.   I have no claim today before the Veterans Administration.  But for those 42 years, soldiers, sailors and Marines have served  and need our support.  It's unacceptable the federal government is doing nothing but continuing to promise what they promised before. 183 days the average processing time for a claim.  It's unacceptable.  More unacceptable is that the fact that the error rate is 16%and perhaps higher in some regions.  Veterans who appeal the system face multiple years 883 days, three years in order to be adjudicated.  The system was broken during the Vietnam war when I enlisted.  The system has never been fixed so today we're going to concentrate in this Committee on hearing what you're going to do.  But understand, we've heard it before.  Today, you will be judged by what you say and what you do.  You will no longer be allowed to come back again with promises of reform a year away. Today, I understand, you will be talking about getting better over the next year -- perhaps talking about ways in which you have improved recently.  In 1970, the system was paper and the system failed veterans miserably.  Today the system is computerized but not harmonized.  Today the Veterans Administration continues to claim that they will get better be but they have not. 

Jason Chaffetz:  Madam Under Secretary,  Mr. Manar,  I think accurately points out in his testimony that in order to solve the problem, you need to know exactly what the problem is.  And I see a major discrepancy in some of the numbers and I want to help clarfiy that.  In youre testimony in talking about the integrated disability evaluation system, you say, "We went from 240 day average in the legacy system to 56 days" and it goes on.  And there's a definition of the backlog.  The House Armed Services Committee staff and the House Veterans Affairs Committee staff on July 13 of this year which was not too long ago gave a briefing to these two Committees.  It says in here that the current monthly average completion time is 408 days.  You say it's 56 days -- 54 days -- yeah, 56 days -- and they say it's 408 days.   Can you help clarify that for me please?

Allison Hickey:  Thank you, Chairman Chaffetz for your question. First of all, allow me to clarify by stating a few basic definitions so also, as I say things, you can understand what words I'm using and their context  We have, in the inventory and pending an overall number of 854000.  That's not backlog.  Those are claims that even as we've been sitting here for the last ten to fifteen minutes, more claims have come into us from veteran service members  and

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay, let me stop you -- let me stop you right there. Let me stop you right there.  On July 16th, which is not very long ago, the Monday morning workload report says there are 919,461 claims.  You say that number is -- what did you say that number is?  860,000 something?

Allison Hickey:  The numbers I'm using are 854,000 --

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay, so we're off by about 50 or 60 thousand.  And we're talking about something that is just  couple of days old.  Why the discrepancy on those number?

Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz, our backlog -- I mean our inventory is a dynamic inventory.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  I know but that's less than ten days so --

Allison Hickey:  Chairman, I'm happy to answer the questions if I'm allowed an opportunity.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Sure I want to know.  You're saying that that number is 800 and something thousand and I'm just saying that the VA's report says it's 919,461.  That's of July 16th --

Allison Hickey:  Chairman, I'm happy to answer the question if I'm allowed an opportunity.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Ma'am, just answer the question.  Yes.

Allison Hickey:  Thank you very much.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  --  That's why I asked the question.

Allison Hickey:  Thank you very much, Chairman.  The numbers that I'm using are from the endpoint of a month.  Probably the end of May.  So you probably are using the end of this week's report.  I chose not use a floating number that continues to change over time and over dates and over weeks.  So I used an end of month number to be able to to talk to you, to be able to have a solid number to hvae a discussion around.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  If you --

Allison Hickey:  Regardless of what it is -- Regardless of what it is, I will tell you that our inventory and our pending is not our backlog.  And typically, the statistics show 61% of that backlog are supplemental claims that people -- veterans who are already receiving compensation from us are coming back with a second, third or a fourth claim in that process.  So of the number I will use 854,000, I could use your number as well.  And I could use the weekly reports number in backlog it would be exactly the same thing which is about 65 to 66% of our claims are in -- they are more than 125 days old.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay --

Allison Hickey:  That is the --

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay, that's great.  More than 125 days old.  You say in your testimony -- I mean, to hear your testimony, these things are getting so much better.  We went from a 240 day average in the legacy system to 56 days?

Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz, I'd be happy to answer the question in the disparity for the briefing which you just handed out.  I have different processes that have different standards.  The process you described is our end of b -- our integrated disability evaluation system that we work with DoD for our most wounded and ill -- injured service members.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  In your testimony --

Allison Hickey:  The numbers that you are --

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  I'm sorry --

Allison Hickey:  -- describing are the VA -- the 56 days are the VA numbers in that complete process --

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  I'm -- I'm --

Allison Hickey:  -- where VA has the responsibility for --

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Hold on.  Hold on.  Let's tackle them one at a time.  This is your testimony, "We are closely collaborating with DoD through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System."  You say that's 56 days.  This report, this briefing that went to another Committee just last week says it's 408 days.  That's not exactly close.  Which --

Allison Hickey:  Chairman Chaffetz --

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  -- one is it?  Is it --

Allison Hickey:  The VA days for those 10,000 we have done in FY12, the VA days, the days that I have responsibility for doing them are 56 for those 10,000.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Are you saying this is accurate or inaccurate?

Allison Hickey:  I'm saying I do not know what's on that slide.  If you were to give me that slide and give me some time to digest that slide I'd be happy to do that, Chairman.  You have access to that information right at this moment, I do not.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  We will make -- we will make --

Allison Hickey:  I will be happy to take that for the record and respond to you.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How -- In it's simplified format here, how bad do you think this problem is?  I'm trying to quantify it and I'm concerned because we're not off by a couple of 100 people here,  we're talking about hundreds of thousands of people.  And in your testimony, you would lead the American people to believe that it's getting much better.  But if you look at it over the course of time, it's getting worse.  It's --

Allison Hickey:  Chairman, I have clearly stated --

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  It's getting worse.

Allison Hickey:  -- in my testimony that two -- that -- that, uh, 65% of people in more than 125 days, from a VA perspective, is unacceptable.  I've clearly stated that.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  And you say that this is a decade's old problem --

Allison Hickey:  It is a decade's old problem and for the first time we have an integrated plan that goes after the way we're organized and trained to do the work, the processes that we've done that we have streamlined, the technology that we're bringing in that under this administration and this Secretary [of VA Eric Shinseki], VBA has never had an emphasis on it's IT infrastructure to get from a paper bound process to a paperless system that we have right now.  We are implementing it right now.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Okay, my time is far expired.  The numbers and the discrepancies here are absolutely stunning. 

 I let that run through so that Hickey -- who was very defensive and very loud in the hearing -- had her say such as it was.  But there's a ton of nonsense in there.  First off, if you're using a figure, you need to know what month the figure is from.  She chose not to use the most recent numbers, that was her decision.  Having made that decision, she needs to know what period of time the number she's using are from.  But she stated, "The numbers that I'm using are from the endpoint of a month. Probably the end of May."  Probably? 

Probably's not good enough.   Chair Chaffetz was using 919,461.  He explained his numbers.  More to the point, this morning at the Washington Post's blog Federal Eye, Steve Vogel was addressing numbers noting that the 919,461 was the number "as of Tuesday."  Vogel notes that the claims stood at 903,000 in April.*  Did the numbers fluctuate in May and June?  We don't know because Hickey seems to believe she can use any numbers she wants.  Up to date numbers were available, she chose not to use them.  If she didn't want to use July because the month is still ongoing, then she should have fallen back to June.  And this wouldn't require new reports, these figures are kept weekly.  [In Vogel's report he says "backlog stood at 903,000" -- he most likely meant claims.  In the hearing, Hickey was repeatedly talking about the difference between the two.  If you use the link in Vogel's report for that number, you're taken to an earlier report he did where he refers to that number as "pending claims."  I understand what he means and would call it "backlog" myself.  It is backlog, any claim that's not been determined today is now backlog.  But since she made such a huge deal out of the terminology, I'm noting this.] 

She needs to be better prepared.  US House Rep Bob Filner has clearly put a scare and to her and good for that.  But she needs to know that the VA will be held responsible.  And she speaks about that but time and again things keep happening in hearings that if she didn't know about it, she should have.  And if she did know about it, she's playing dumb with the Committee.  At a recent hearing, Filner wisely noted that Hickey was hired to a do a job and did not need her hand held but she did need to do her job.  It would be nice if everyone could remember that.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Madam Undersecretary, the VA had reported that it awarded $2.8 million to 245 senior executives.  How do we justify that?  I mean, that's a very small group of people.  We've got hundreds of thousands -- close to a million -- veterans waiting in line and 245 people got $2.8 million in bonuses?  How do we justify that?

Allison Hickey: Chairman Chaffetz, thanks for the question.  First of all, I will tell you in VBA, since 2009, we have actually decreased by a full third the number of our SESs that are getting outstanding ratings. So we have done what this administration's asked us to do which is to really scrutinize the ratings that we are giving to our senior executives and bring them down. I'll tell you from a VBA perspective, I have 98 metrics, performance metrics, that I rate every one of our senior executives against.  They are performance based.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How --

Allison Hickey:  They are production and quality based.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How many --

Allison Hickey:  And in those environments where I do have outstanding leaders, I need to keep those outstanding leaders. They're making a difference for our veterans, their family members and survivors.

Chair Jason Chaffetz:  How many of them -- How many of the people that worked for you go those bonuses?

Allison Hickey:  Congressman, I'll have to bring you the explicit information.  I wasn't prepared to come and talk about bonus structure. 

If all 245 got approximately the same amount of bonus, they got a bit over $10,000 each.  How does anyone working for the federal government deserve that?

They did a great job?  Good.  They were supposed to.  I don't understand when the American people are being told that drastic cuts are needed how 245 employees of the VBA are getting not just their nice salaries but bonuses of $10,000 each for . . . doing their job?  Long before Senator Patty Murray and others were called for the Super Congress panel to address the deficit, the White House should have notified all cabinets that all bonuses were suspended.  I'm not joking on this.  A month ago there was a hearing that I knew nothing on -- record retention, record digitizing, etc. -- and I had to speak to a number of people who were kind enough to speak with me (that friends were kind enough to hook me up with) to get repeat walk throughs on this (because that's how I am, I have to over-saturate to feel comfortable talking about a topic) and I was speaking to government employees on all levels.  I heard about pay freezes and hiring freezes.  This is not uncommon across the country right now due to The Great Recession which continues.  And for state and municipal employees, this comes as layoffs have already demanded that they do their jobs and the jobs of two or three other people that were let go.  In some instances, they've also had pay cuts.  And yet at the federal level, senior executives, whose job it is to run the VA, are getting $10,000 bonuses?

That's disgusting.  The White House, if they understood a damn thing about the current economy, should have let senior execs know -- especially for VA -- that there were no more bonuses until the economy turned around.  Especially VA?  The backlog's not gone.  And the service isn't there.

Let's demonstrate the quality of service via statements in the hearing by two members of the Subcommittee.

US House Rep Peter Welch:  [. . .] one family that contacted our office.  And this woman, the mother of Howard Hoy, the son who had contacted us, they had a claim that just wasn't answered for years and it wasn't until after the mother died -- and this was her trying to get pension benefits from what she was entitled to as the survivor -- it wasn't until after she died that they adjudicated this.  [. . . ] After this woman died, she got a condolence letter. So one part of the system was working but the part that would have been beneficial to her while she was alive was not working.

US House Rep Jackie Speier: [In San Francisco at her "VA Fix-It meeting"] over 250 veterans showed up.  They were angry, they were hostile and they had every right to be.  I'm just going to tell you a few of these stories.   Sgt Ari Sonnenberg had multiple tours in Iraq.  He was facing eviction from his apartment while he waited for over a year for a disability ruling. He was unable to work -- a fact that took Oakland VA months and months to verify.  He needed treatment for PTSD. He was ordered by the VA actually to go to the VA Medical Center in Oakland.  The breaking point came the day before I took his wife and mother to meet with the director at Oakland. Until that meeting was set up, the Oakland Office was unaware that Mr. Sonnenberg was hospitalized at the VA facility for the next several months.  At the "VA Fix-It meeting" that we had, he told the packed room that he almost committed suicide.  Now the good news is that he will be boarding a plane for home tomorrow, he's had his surgeries, he's had treatment for PTSD and he has his disability benefits.  Had we not intervened, Mr. Sonnenberg would probably be dead today.  Another gentleman, a 92-year-old WWII vet who was confined to a wheel chair showed up at the "Fix-It meeting." He waited for over two years to have his claim adjusted, he had a service connection of 60%.  He was there, in his condition, his caregiver said, "It's been two years and now you're telling us that we've got to go back to a doctor to determine what his status is even though we've already done that.  Now the good news there is because we had that "Fix-It meeting," within a week, he was given retroactive payment of $32,000 and is now receiving $2000 a month.  He's 92-years-old.  Michael Cortez argued that his Parkinson's Disease was caused by exposure to Agent Orange.  He, again, waited two years.  As it turned out, because we had that "Fix-It meeting," his claim was recently resolved.  He's got a one-time retroactive payment of $92,000   [. . .] and now he's receiving $3,400 a month.

Does that sound like quality service?  And when the Congress funds VA, are they aware that so much money is going to bonuses?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The 15 minutes has ticked down







Starting in the US where there's major news on the legislative front.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following today:
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
TOMORROW: Murray to Call on Senate to Pass Veterans Omnibus Legislation
Murray will ask for immediate passage of the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, Wednesday, July 18th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray will give a speech on the Senate floor calling for unanimous consent on the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, bipartisan, bicameral, and comprehensive legislation that combines provisions of the Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011 (S. 914, Report No. 112-088) and Honoring American Veterans Act of 2011 (H.R. 1627, Report No. 112-084 Part 1), as well as provisions from other Senate and House legislation. This comprehensive package would extend health care to veterans and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune, expand critical health programs, improve housing programs for severely disabled veterans, enhance programs for homeless veterans, and make needed improvements to the disability claims system.
WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
WHAT: Senator Murray will seek unanimous consent on the passage of important veterans omnibus legislation.
WHEN: TOMORROW: Wednesday, July 18, 2012
11:00 AM ET/ 8:00 AM PST
WHERE: Senate Floor
WATCH: Speech will air live on C-SPAN 2
Kathryn Robertson
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
Camp Lejeune is a North Caroline Marine Corps base which was considered to be one of "the biggest water-contimination case[s] in history, with more than a million people potentially exposed to carcinogens such as TCE and benzene from the 1950s to 1985, when the poisoned wells were shut down" (Mike Manager of GovExec).  Franco Ordonez (McClatchy Newspapers) observes, "Up to 750,000 people at Camp Lejeune may have been exposed to water that was poisoned with trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene and vinyl chloride. Some medical experts have linked the contamination to birth defects, childhood leukemia and a variety of other cancers."
Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has long championed this issue.  Last month, Kat reported on a Senate Veterans Affairs Committeee hearing and  how there appeared to be movement on this issue and she quoted Chair Murry stating:

I am optimistic that by the time of the next mark-up the President is going to be signing into law the Honoring of America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 which includes legislation from our last mark-up.  Veterans legislation obviously continues to be bi-partisan and that  is at it should be.  So I want to thank all the members of our Committee.
This will be a historic and long awaited moment for the many families of Camp Lejeune.
Iraq is considered the cradle of cvilization due to its long and historical importance. 
Oh, Baghdad
Center of the world
City of ashes
With its great mosques
Erupting from the mouth of god
Rising from the ashes like
a speckled bird
Splayed against the mosaic sky
Oh, clouds around
We created the zero
But we mean nothing to you
You would believe
That we are just some mystical tale
We are just a swollen belly
That give birth Sinbad, Scheherazade
We gave birth
Oh, oh, to the zero
The perfect number
We invented the zero
-- "Radio Baghdad," written by Patti Smith and Oliver Ray, first appears on her trampin'
For all of its glory and history the Baghdad-based government  currently attempts to hold onto the history of  another people.  AFP reported at the end of last month that Nouri al-Maliki's Baghdad government had made the decision to cut archaeological ties with the United States over Jewish archives.  Nouri's government insisted the Jewish archives belonged to Iraq.  The same government that refused to protect the Jews in Iraq now wants to lay claim to the documents: "The archives, which were found in the flooded basement of the intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, include Torah scrolls, Jewish law and children's books, Arabic-language documents produced for Iraqi Jews and government reports about the Jewish community."
The only thing Nouri's government can lay claim to is the government reports.  They can lay claim to that because Nouri is the New Saddam.  And, as such, he can claim the property of a people as surely as Saddam Hussein would be insisting, if these were Shi'ite papers, that they belonged to the Iraqi government.    A people own their own documents and that is especially true when you're dealing with an oppressed people -- the Shi'ites under Saddam or the Jews in modern-day Baghdad where all but a handful have been run out of their homes and out of the country.  Shame on the government for attempting to lay claim to that which it is not entitled to.   Xinhua noted this week, "Iraq rejected an offer made by the United States to bring back half of the Iraqi Jewish Archive previously transferred from Baghdad to the US after 2003, insisting that Iraq should restore the whole Archive, an Iraqi official newspaper reported on Sunday." 
While Nouri's government uses a great deal of time and energy trying to grab that which it is not entitled to, it refuses to maintain Iraq's historic treasures.   Dropping back to the May 29th snapshot:
Last week Aseel Kami (Reuters) reported on the State Board of Heritage and Antiquities' Mariam Omran Musa who is suing Iraq's Ministry of Oil over a pipline through Babylon which threatens the existence of the historical Hanging Gardens.  Musa declared, "Oil and antiquities are both national wealth, but I have an opinion: when the oil is gone, we will still have antiquities."  The Travel Channel notes that the Hanging Gardens were considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  RT adds:

The magnificent gardens allegedly built for a king's homesick wife in the 6th century BC were one of the Ancient World's seven wonders. Some historians doubt they existed, but they were described in many written sources and were said to have been destroyed by earthquakes.
The remains of the ancient city of Babylon are situated near present-day Al Hillah in Iraq's Babylon Province south of Baghdad. The country has long been trying to get UNESCO to add the site to its World Heritage list, but chances appear to be fading away as authorities plan to lay an oil pipeline there.
Iraq's Oil Ministry plans to extend a strategic route to export oil through six provinces at the center and south of the country.Two pipelines carrying oil products and liquid gas from Basra in the south to Baghdad were built under the ancient site in the late 1970s and early 80s.
Stephane Foucart (Guardian) seeks out expert opinion on the issue:
"The pipeline crosses the perimeter of the archaeological site but outside the walls, beneath the so-called outer city," said VĂ©ronique Dauge, chief of the Arab States Unit at the Unesco World Heritage Centre. "But even if it doesn't cross the centre of the ancient city, it is in an area that has never been excavated." The site covers approximately 850 hectares, most of which is virgin territory for archaeologists. A spokesman from the Iraqi oil ministry quoted by AFP reported that the land dug up revealed no archaeological remains.
"No one can say right now if the oil pipeline has caused damage," said Lisa Ackerman, executive vice-president of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), a New York-based foundation for preserving architectural heritage, who works on the site with the Iraqi authorities. "But I think it's very likely that it crosses sensitive archaeological zones."
Meanwhile AFP reports, "Teams of Iraqi archaeologists have discussed 40 ancient sites in the country's south from the Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian periods, an Iraqi antiquities offical said on Monday."  And hopefully the fate of those sites will be better than the currently threatened Hanging Gardens or other threatened sites in Iraq.  Mohamad Ali Harissi (Middle East Online) reports that historical sites discovered near Najaf's airport -- including "the remains of the celebrated ancient Christian city of Hira" -- are at risk, "unexplored and unkempt," due to a lack of excavation funding.  One of the people who led historical digs upon the discovery and in 2009 and 2010 is Shakir Abdulzahra Jabari who states, "The area has historical importance, because it is rich in antiquities, including especially the remains of churches, abbeys and palaces.  But now the antiquities have been neglected for a year, and they do not receive any attention, despite the fact that many Western countries are interested in Hira's history as the main gateway of Christianity into Iraq."
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the Hanging Gardens remain in jeopardy in Iraq today.  They're not the only historical marvel at risk.  There is also the famous Abbasi Bridge in Zahko.  Abdul-Khaleq Dosky (Niqash) reports on the bridge and notes the many origin stories told about the ancient marvel:
One of the oldest revolves around a young man in the Abbasside era - the Abbaside dynasty ruled for almost two centuries from the year 750 - who fell in love with a girl living in the village on the opposite side of the river; he built the bridge so he could be with her. 
Another story focuses on a Turkish architect who came to Zakho, which lies near the border of Iraq and Turkey, in the Middle Ages. A nearby Turkish governor had amputated one of his hands and as a kind of challenge to him, the architect decided to build a bridge.
Legend has it that the architect built the bridge by constructing both ends and then having it join in the middle. Using this method, the bridge was in danger of collapse many times. So the architect consulted a medium who told him that he should kill the first person to cross the river and bury the body in the centre of the bridge. Unhappily for her, the next day his son's wife, a woman called Dalal, came across the river to bring him his breakfast. And apparently that is why to this day the locals know the crossing as the Dalal bridge.
Iraq has so much worth preserving and so much in need of preserving.   It certainly is telling that Iran's Press TV can run -- and has run, here and here for examples -- multiple pieces on the Jewish archives and interview biased Americans but when it comes to Iraq's historical treasures Press TV has nothing to say.  That's your first indication that this isn't about history, just another pissing match and the world's certainly seen more than enough of those. 
Although it might not be at the top of your vacation destinations, let's not forget that Iraq is the home of the first city that was ever recorded, Sumerian, that was built over 6000 years ago so why diminish the importance of visiting such a pillar of civilization? We are not talking about an apple mac support London from the corner of the street here. True it has its own significance but what about a city that was built thousands of years ago and which is known to be the place where the first book was ever written. Here in Iraq between the rivers of Euphrates and Tigris once stood the great and famous Mesopotamia, a region where the first form of writing was developed, where the first signs of irrigations systems were found and where people had already discovered the wheel.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Does the beard get itchy?







Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) boils down the big Iraq news out of England down to one quote from the Iraq Inquiry, "The Inquiry has advised the Prime Minister that it will be in a position to being the process of writing to any individuals that may be criticized by the middle of 2013."  James Tapsfield (Independent) points out, "The findings about the run-up to the 2003 invasion and its aftermath had originally been expected by the end of last year. The timing was then put back to this summer."  Of the latest development, James Blitz (Financial Times of London) predicts it's "a development that will trigger anger among MPs at the slow pace of the inquiry." Gordon Rayner (Telegraph of London) does the math, "So far the Inquiry has cost 6.1 million pounds, and the extra year of information-gathering is expected to cost the public purse around 1.4 million pounds more."  Steve Bell (Guardian) offers a visual take on the news (political cartoon).    Gavin Stamp (BBC News) explains, "The BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera said there had been an ongoing row between the inquiry and the Cabinet Office over certain documents - particularly notes sent by former prime minister Tony Blair to President Bush and records of their discussions in the run-up to the conflict."  Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) adds, "O'Donnell told Chilcot that releasing Blair's notes would damage Britain's relations with the US and would not be in the public interest. 'We have attached particular importance to protecting the privacy of the channel between the prime minister and president,' he said."  And the end result? The Daily Mail breaks it down: "It means the committee's final judgment will not be delivered until at least a decade after the war."
Yesterday, Nick Hopkins (Guardian) reported, "Speaking for the first time about her experiences, Emma Sky also questioned why no officials on either side of the Atlantic have been held to account for the failures in planning before the invasion."  Who?  Sky was a Spring 2011 Resident Fellow at Harvard and from their bio on her:
Emma Sky left Iraq in September 2010, where she had served for three years as Political Advisor to General Odierno, the US General commanding all US forces in Iraq, had worked directly for General Petraeus on reconciliation and had been the Governorate Coordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority back in 2003/2004. In the intervening years, Sky had served in Jerusalem as Political Advisor to General Ward, the US Security Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process; and as Advisor to the Italian and British Commanding Generals of the NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2006.
As a British, female, civilian, with a background in international development and strong anti-war credentials, it seemed unlikely that Sky would become advisor and confidante to some of America's finest military leaders. And certainly it has been quite a journey for someone who did not support either the Iraq war or the Afghanistan war.
Nick Hopkins has the first series of extensive interviews with Sky.  From the first one, we'll note Sky saying this:
We'd have power point presentations with pictures of men who've had half their brains blown out. Some things you never forget … the smell of burning bodies. I didn't want to learn to cope with these images. The military talk about KIAs (killed in action). That's how they cope. They don't say, the victims were women and children. There was so much violence that it was almost too big to comprehend. The military has a language that is not accidental, it is used to quarantine emotion. Everyday we would hear reports that another 60 or 70 bodies had turned up, heads chopped off or drilled through. It was absolutely horrific. We could tell which groups had been behind the attacks by the way the victims had been killed.
Violence in Iraq continues today.  All Iraq News reports a Kazak roadside bombing has left 2 Iraqi soldiers dead.  Alsumaria notes that, northwest of Baquba, unknown assailants shot dead (with machine guns) a Sahwa who was leaving his home while southwest of Baquba a security checkpoint was bombed, a Tikrit car bombing left five people injured, a 21-year-old man was discovered drowned in Zab River and four of his friends have been arrested in the death, an attack in the Abu Ghraib section of Baghdad left 1 employee of the Ministry of Electricity dead and, Sunday night for the last two, 1 corpse was discovered (25-year-old man, strangleed) in Kirkuk, and 1 Sahwa was shot dead last night in Tarmmiyah near his home.  That's 7 deaths and five injured so far in today's news cycle.  (The Sunday night events were not reported on Sunday.)   Violence continued over the weekend as well. Xinhua reports of Sunday's violence: 1 person shot dead in Baquba, 1 "young girl" shot dead by her Muqdadiyah home, a bombing attack on the Baquba home of a Sawha leader which left fifteen injured and an al-Tahrir grenade attack that left one police officer injured.  AFP notes a Rashidiyah attack which left 9 security forces dead and two more injured and an attack in Hammam al-Alili attack which left four people injured.  Iraq Body Count tabulates178 deaths from violence so far this month.
The oil corporations wanted to wait until there was a permanent government in Iraq so they could have secure contracts. The first permanent post Sudan government was formed in May 2006 under Nouri al-Maliki, and in the months -- even the months before that -- the U.S., Britain, the International Monetary Fund were saying your first priority has to be pass an oil law to give multinationals leading role in Iraq's oil industry again for the first time since the nationalization of the 1970s. And then, this oil law was drafted very quickly after the government was formed. It was drafted in couple of months by August 2006. As well as putting multinationals in the driving seat, its other role was to deprive their contracts of parliamentary scrutiny. According to existing Iraqi law, if the government signs a contract with a company like BP or Exxon to develop an oil field, it has to show it to parliament to get the yes or no or amendments. One of the major functions of the oil law was to repeal that existing legislation and so allow the executive branch, which was of course populated by U.S. allies, to sign contracts without Parliament getting in the way. So, this was the function of the oil law, it was drafted by August 2006. The U.S. hoped it would pass very quickly without anyone knowing about it because the vast majority of Iraqis are very keen that oil stays in the Iraqi hands in the public sector. It didn't turn out that way.
In October 2006, two months after it was drafted, the draft started to leak out. In December 2006, I attended a meeting of Iraq's trade unions at which they decided they were going to fight the law. During the course of 2007, this became a central struggle over Iraq's oil. As you remember, Amy, in January 2007, President Bush announced a surge; he was sending an extra troops into Iraq. Actually that was on half of a two part strategy. The troops were sent to achieve control over Iraq. The second part of the strategy was to use that control, use that influence, to pressure Iraqi politicians to achieve what they call benchmarks. These were marker of political progress. As you reported at the time, the foremost among these was getting an oil law passed. So, throughout 2007, there is constant pressure from the Bush administration on Iraqi politicians. But, at the same time, the trade unions were organizing to try and stop this oil law because they thought it was going to be a disaster for the country. That campaign spread, and because of the strength of Iraqi feeling about it, over the subsequent months, the more it was talked about, the more people opposed it and then the more it was talked about, and opposition to the oil law spread across the country. Civil society groups, both secular and religious, was talked-about in Friday sermons in mosques. And by the summer, this opposition spread into the Iraqi parliament and it became -- politicians saw it as a political threat to their futures to support the oil law, and an opportunity to get one up on their rivals by joining this popular cause. The Americans had set a deadline of September 2007 to pass the oil law or face a series of consequences; cutting off aid, removing military support to the Maliki government etc. The September deadline came and the oil law wasn't passed, and the reason the oil law was not passed was because of this grassroots civil society campaign. Now, to me, that is a very inspiring story. It's why I feel hopeful about the future of Iraq. That operating in the most difficult circumstances imaginable, civil society was able to stop the U.S.A. of achieving its number one objective.
 FYI, that's one interpretation and you can determine it's validity  for yourself.  I would pick apart several minor points, but overall would agree with the above.  With the above.  A few weeks back, Muttitt wrote a piece of nonsense after Brett McGurk was no longer a nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq.  He wanted to dismiss the affair with a journalist.  What Gina Chon did means she should never report again.  But it was just as wrong for McGurk.  What he did was in violation of US policies.  And he knew it which is why he hid it from Ryan Crocker -- as he admitted in an e-mail to Chon that was published.  For a reporter to sleep with a source is bad enough.  For her to then allow him to vet her copy is even worse.  By the same token, public servants aren't supposed to be secretly influencing their press.  But that's what McGurk did. 
If he'd had an affair with a nurse, doctor, diplomat, etc., that would have been different.  The backpedeling on the Chon-McGurk scandal has really been something to see.  And it's going to be a scandal years from now.  Lot of 'last reporters standing' types are going to continue to churn out their cut and paste 'books' and, within five years, they'll have to include Chon-McGurk.  It's too big of an ethics story to ignore.  And when they do, let's hope that their book tours find many, many people asking, "Why didn't you weigh in in real time?"  And let's hope the answer of "I was carrying water for the administration" is greeted with the proper boos it deserves.
In that idiotic post that Muttitt wrote, he also wanted to say the 'surge' was bad but the 'surge' was good.  Granted, he insisted it wasn't noble but he went with the tired myth that the "surge" "created the conditions for sectarian bloodshed to subside."  If you mean the increase in the number of US troops on the ground in Iraq allowed those Iraqis targeted  who couldn't flee to be hemmed in and hunted, absolutely.  But I don't think that's what he means.  Ethnic cleansing took place.  If you're on the left and you can't push that fact foward, then you need to hop on over to the right because you're not helping anyone on the topic of Iraq.  The "civil war" (ethnic cleansing) killed an unknown number -- still unknown -- and also forced the mass fleeing that created the biggest refugee crisis in the MidEast since 1948. 
Equally true, Muttitt's history ignores the Democrats and the Democrats are very much a part of the benchmarks.  In real time, here, we repeatedly pushed back at the lie that these were Democratic benchmarks.  They were the White House's benchmarks.  But the Democrats wanted some form of benchmarks.  Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray (Washington Post, May 3, 2007) reported, "House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) indicated that the next bill will include benchmarks for Iraq -- such as passing a law to share oil revenue, quelling religious violence and disarming sectarian militias -- to keep its government on course. Failure to meet benchmarks could cost Baghdad billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid, and the administration would be required to report to Congress every 30 days on the military and political situation in Iraq."
Iraq may be of the richest oil regions in the world but all that excess oil has not translated into fewer squabbles than in other regions.  Sinan Salaheddin (AP) reports that Nouri al-Maliki's Baghdad-based government is thundering to the Turkish government about a deal that they made with the KRG to export "crude oil and gas to Turkey."  Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh insists that the deal "is illegal and illegitimate" when, in fact, it's not.  It could be.
Those benchmarks we were talking about -- Nouri agreed to pass an oil and gas law.  He never did.  And while the one the US wanted was awful for Iraq, nothing prevented him from proposing something different but he never did.  And what's he proposing now?  Saturday, Al Mada reported more on the Thursday night meeting between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi. Nouri asked that several bills introduced in previous sessions -- included the oil & gas draft -- be considered this session and Osama agreed.  So Nouri's still pushing that law -- one the Parliament doesn't want or hasn't thus far.  He could push something different but he chooses not to. 

Without a national oil  and gas law, there's nothing preventing the KRG from making deals on the oil in their semi-autonomous region.  Maybe if Nouri had gotten off his lazy ass and did what he was supposed to in 2007, he'd have a valid complaint today.  All the lethargic tend to do is complain -- at that Nouri excels. 

Raheem Salman, Sylvia Westall and Stephen Powell (Reuters) add that Ali al-Dabbagh threatened that the deal could harm Baghdad's relationship with Ankara.  And all along, we all thought the biggest harm to the relationship between Baghdad and Anakra was Nouri's big mouth.  KUNA reports the response from Turkey's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Selcuk Unal, "The conflict is between the government in Baghdad and the Kurdish administration and Turkey has no role in it."

The Journal of Turkish Weekly quotes an unnamed Turkish official stating, "If there was a legal problem, we would not start exporting."  The journal notes that the back-and-forth is "the latest sign of cooling ties between Ankara and Baghdad, as well as between Baghdad and Arbil."  The Journal of Turkish Weekly also notes, "Turkey said on July 13 that it had begun importing 5 to 10 road tankers of crude oil a day from the northern region of Iraq and the volume could rise to 100-200 tankers per day."
 There's still no heads to the security ministries.  Nouri's failed to nominate them.  He was supposed to have done that by the end of 2010.  2012 is over half-way over and still no heads to the security ministries.  In the most recent development on that front, Al Mada notes whispers that Nouri's State of Law is stating that if members of Iraqiya want to be nominated to the security ministries then they need to withdraw from Iraqiya first. As violence has increased, Nouri's done nothing.