Tuesday, April 24, 2012







Starting in the US, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on "VA Mental Health Care: Evaulating Access and Accessing Care" starting at 9:30 am EST in the Senate Dirksen Office Building, Room 138. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office issued the following today:
Monday, April 23, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224 - 2834
Murray Statement on IG Report Showing Major Delays in VA Mental Health Care
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, released the following statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General released a report that she had requested on the time it takes the VA to complete mental health care appointments for our nation's veterans. The report concludes, as Sen. Murray has repeatedly warned, that the wait times faced by many veterans far exceeded that which the VA has previously reported and the time the VA mandates. Murray will hold a hearing on Wednesday, April 25th to seek answers to these problems. The VA Inspector General will testify at that hearing.
"This report confirms what we have long been hearing, that our veterans are waiting far too long to get the mental health care they so desperately need. It is deeply disturbing and demands actions from the VA. The report shows the huge gulf between the time VA says it takes to get veterans mental health care and the reality of how long it actually takes veterans to get seen at facilities across the country.
"Getting our veterans timely mental health care can quite frankly often be the difference between life and death. It's the critical period, not unlike the 'golden hour' immediately after a traumatic physical injury. Yet this report clearly shows that the VA is failing to meet their own mandates for timeliness. Clearly the VA scheduling system needs a major overhaul. The VA also needs to get serious about hiring new mental health professionals in every corner of the country.
"What's particularly disappointing is that this report shows that the VA is failing many of those who have been brave enough to seek care. It is hard enough to get veterans into the VA system to receive mental health care. Once a veteran takes the step to reach out for help we need to knock down every potential barrier to care. Providing timely mental health care is a cost of the decade-long wars our veterans have fought and it is a cost that Congress and the American people are willing to meet."
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct
A number of e-mails came in wanting the Petzel VA issue included in today's snapshot.  If there's room, it'll be at the end in full, if there's not room, it'll be edited.  I'll try to keep in the points that veterans and veterans' family members e-mailed saying they wanted included in the snapshot.
BAGHDAD, 23 April 2012 --  UNICEF condemns an attack that took place yesterday on a secondary school that killed two children and injured one near the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit. 
"UNICEF condemns this attack in the strongest terms" said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "The killing of children is unacceptable. Attacks on schools, which are meant to provide a safe learning environment, is a grave violation of children's rights."
According to several reports, five armed men stormed into the school, two are said to have entered a 4th grade class and opened fire on the students, killing 16-year-old and 17-year-old boys and injuring a third aged 16.
UNICEF calls on the Government of Iraq to take the necessary measures to bring to justice those responsible for this attack and take swift action to ensure that measures are put in place to guarantee the safe access to schools to all children in Iraq. 
The violence never ends in Iraq.  Alsumaria notes an attack to the northeast of Baquba in which unknown assailants shot two police officers leaving them injured and they note that 2 intelligence service officers were shot dead (pistols had silencers), a Salah al-Din roadside bombing left a police major and a police captain injured and a roadside bombing west of Samarra left 1 person dead.
Meanwhile how bad are things between Iraq and the US currently? So bad that the White House is really trying to spin.  In other words, the administration finally gets that portraying Iraq and Iran as close friends doesn't work for the Barack Obama re-election campaign. 
In desperate need of an answer to "What the hell is going on?" -- a question, please note, not asked by the timid press, but by those concerned with national security -- the White House tried to turn a minor meeting into an event.  First, they issued a press release noting that a low-level Iraqi deputy (Huassain al-Shahristani) had met with Daniel Poneman (US Deputy Secretary of Energy) and Carlos Pascual (Special Envoy and Cooridinator for International Energy Affairs). Some will wrongly tell you that he's the former Minister of Energy.  No, he wasn't.  To have that post, he would have to be confirmed by the Parliament.  He was never confirmed for that post.  he did previously serve as the Minister of Oil.  He was nominated for that post by Nouri and the Parliament voted him into that post.  From Minister to one of many deupties, that's a demotion.  And that demotion took place despite the fact that al-Shahristani has been loyal to Nouri and is a member of Nouri's political slate State of Law.
The US bragged about spending (since 2003) $6.7 billion to help Iraqi energy production ("$4.6 billion to the power sector and $2.1 billion to the oil sector").  They then sent all three officials out for a photo-op and press briefing.  Again, the whole thing took place, this sudden 'event' because of the fact that the White House is facing tough questions from national security types and they have no answers.
Let's go to the weekend and then come back.  Over the weekend, Nouri went to Iran to dialogue with officials in Tehran.  That included the country's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iran Independent News Agency notes, "Iraq no longer needs any help from the United States, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday as he offered to strengthen ties between the two neighbouring countries, which were once at war." Pakistan's The Nation adds:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday at the start of a two-day visit to boost relations between their Muslim states. "If Tehran and Baghdad are strong, the region will have no place for the United States and the Zionist regime," Ahmadinejad said, quoted by state news agency IRNA, in reference to Tehran's arch-foe Israel. He said there was "no limit to the strengthening of political, economic and cultural ties" between them. 
Such moves would serve to "boost stability and security in the region," chimed in Maliki, who also held talks with parliament speaker Ali Larijani.Maliki was also to see Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. 

Dar Addustour notes the public remarks Ahmadinejad made with Nouri by his side about how the region was no place for enemies of freedom like the US and Israel. The Tehran Times has Ahmadinejad calling the US and Israel enemies of the free world. (It's "Zionist regime," but he's referring to Israel.) RTT News observes, "Observers believe Iranian leaders intend to enhance their influence in Iraq after the pullout of U.S. troops by strengthening ties with Prime Minister Maliki who, like a majority of Iranians, is also a Shia Muslim."  

Generally speaking, the US government doesn't reward that sort of behavior.  Call it petty or pin it on vanity, but US leaders don't usually reward (or ignore) that sort of public display.   Now the official reason from the administration is "Iraq's going to help us with Iran on the nuclear thing!"  That's nonsense.  Iran's no where near building a nuclear weapon.  That's the talk of serial fabulists,  But to briefly inhabit the world so many in the administration do, let's pretend that they are on the verge.  There's nothing Iran's going to do that it doesn't want to do.  That's true today, that will be true when May 23rd rolls around as well. I spoke today to two who gave Barack's 2008 campaign the 'gravitas'  it so sorely needed.  They'd discussed this with the White House, Nouri's shoulder-to-shoulder as the US is verbally attacked.  They explained that the White House's actions are seen as pushing Iraq into the arms of Iran.  They explained how vulnerable Barack still is on foreign policy issues. 
Because of those conversations (and there were others raising the issue with the administration today), a minor non-meeting was pimped as an event.  It wasn't an event, it wasn't significant.  It took place today.  Friday, did the US State Dept's press briefing note the scheduled meeting? Nope.  In fact, Iraq wasn't even mentioned on Friday.
The State Dept has a regular press briefing today.  Did Victoria Nuland raise the meeting in the press briefing?  Nope.  We'll note the Iraq section -- reporters did ask about Iraq -- later in the snapshot but this meeting was noted or brought up.  Because it was a minor, do-nothing meeting.  It got inflated and pimped because repeat complaints to various members of the administration today made clear to them that they have an image problem that could hurt the 2012 election.  Please note, they're convinced that getting Nouri to meet with Iran for the nuclear talks is a great thing for knowledge.  But the complaints made them see there was political fallout so this minor meet-up was promoted as an event to try to say, "We're still close!"
He says: What do words ever reveal?
He says: In speaking one can be so false
We're so close we have a silent language
We don't need words at all
-- "We're So Close," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her album Spy
FYI, that is an incredible song (link on song title goes to video) and, as Kat noted, last week the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) warded Carly the prestigious ASCAP Founders Award -- a very high honor -- others awarded the Founders Aware previously include Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Ashford & Simpson (Valerie Simpson and the late Nick Ashford), and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart.
Marina Ottaway:  Finally -- and this is the last comment that I want to make in terms of agency -- you also have to look at the neighboring countries.  And here I -- and here I truly disagree with the previous speaker.  I think the situation in the region is going to make the -- is going to aggravate the internal problem that Iraq is facing -- because, like it or not, the regional -- the politics of the region is moving in the direction of sectarian -- of sectarian conflict.  The -- talk about the -- you know, the Iran, Iraq, Syria -- one should say, Hizbollah, more than Lebanon -- sort of arc, if you want; the Shia crescent of which King Abdullah of Jordan spoke at one points -- which is coming back with a vengeance.  And I would argue that the polices of most countries -- of neighboring countries towards Iraq are colored, and are determined essentially, by this -- by the sectarian perspective.  The Gulf countries have resisted embracing the new government in -- essentially embracing Iraq, because they are perceiving Iraq as being a pawn of Iran.  Whether or not it is true, they are certainly contributing to pushing -- to pushing Iraq in the arms of Iran.  But there is no doubt that the policies of the Gulf countries towards Iran -- excuse me, towards Iraq -- are driven by this perception of what is the relationship between Iran and Iraq. 
That's Carnegie Endowment For International Peace's Marina Ottaway speaking at The State Of Iraq conference last February.  If she's correct (and she quite often is), the weekend love-fest really didn't help Iraq draw closer to all their other neighbors. 
And it's not like Iraq doesn't have problems with its other neighbors.  UPI notes, "Iraqi officials announced Monday they summoned Turkey's ambassador in Baghdad in reaction to disparaging remarks made last week by the Turkish prime minister."  What's going on?
Friday, Nouri al-Maliki abandoned his brief 13 day attempt to be nice.  He lashed out declaring Turkey to be an "enemy state" of Iraq.   Saturday Ayla Jean Yacklery (Reuters) reported, "Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday regjected charges he sought to inflame sectarian divisions in Iraq with recent criticism of its government and accused his Iraqi counterpart of trying to gain 'prestige' in an escalating war of words between the neighbours."  Al Jazeera added:

"We don't differentiate between Sunnis or Shias. Arab, Kurd or Turkmen, they are all our brothers," Erdogan told reporters in comments reported by the NTV news channel.
"If we respond to Mr. Maliki, we give him the opportunity to show off there. There is no need to allow him to gain prestige."
Turkey, which is majority Sunni, has been seen as a key ally and even a role model for Iraq, because of its secular constitution and close relations with the West, including membership in NATO.
Iraq is Turkey's second largest trading partner after Germany, with trade reaching $12 billion last year, more than half of which was with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. 

With everything else Iraq is facing, you'd think Nouri al-Maliki would have the brains not to also antagonize one of its neighbors. 
Iraq came up in today's US State Dept press briefing.  There were three issues.  We'll note the third one first.
QUESTION: Toria, just a quick follow-up to this, but Maliki had really harsh words for Turkey. And now both of them are your allies, you have invested a great deal in Iraq. I mean, they're -- he's pushing the envelopes. You don't have any comment on that?
MS. NULAND: We have, for almost a decade now, encouraged increased dialogue, increased direct contacts between Iraq and Turkey. There are mechanisms for them to work through their issues together which we have endeavored to facilitate, and we encourage them to continue to use them to work through the issues that they have.