It's a boom economy!

Wally filling in for Rebecca to cover today's Senate Foreign Relations hearing. First off, how cold is it at home? (I mean Florida but will even accept C.I.'s place in California.) When we got back here (C.I.'s DC home), I turned on the TV to catch the weather to find out if it was going to be this bad and cold tomorrow and they said freezing rain overnight and 31 degrees. (That's overnight temp. They seem convinced that the temp will rise tomorrow with the sun. I hope they're right.)

Now for the hearing and first off the good news: The recession has ended and America is experiencing a boom economy.

Now I know that the unemployment rate doesn't back that up; however, when a Senate Committee and two government employees are so willing to spend billions of US tax payer dollars, the economy must be a boom one, right?


Under questioning from New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, the US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey defended the *billions* being asked for this year (and billions over the next year) with, "First of all, our assistance will drop. It's already quite low. [. . .] We're looking at 3 to 3 and 1/2 *billion* dollars in assistance ..." Oh, that's low.

[Wally note added 2-5-2011 "*billions*" signals I've changed it from "millions." It was "billions." My apologies for getting that wrong.]

We have a record number of US citizens on food stamps, if the ambassador doesn't kow, and we can't even seem to keep unemployment payments going without repeatedly voting for extensions in Congress, but James Jeffrey is comfortable spending your money and mine in Iraq.

He's as fake as his faux JFK accent.

We don't have the money. Not when we can't spend it on our needs here. And no one really seemed to grasp that fact but Menendez.

And even after Menendez raised that issue in the first round, we still got John Kerry asking about if they needed helicopters that they weren't asking for.

We still had John Kerry asking if the Congress could not only spend the US tax payer money on what the ambassador was requesting but also spend more money on things that weren't being requested.

I don't think DC gets how bad things are for people around the country. Maybe that's why they've done not a damn thing in two years to help Main Street while repeatedly gifting Wall Street.

This hearing was illuminating only in illustrating just how out of touch the Senate is. Rebecca asked me to remind everyone that John Kerry is up for re-election in 2014.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Tuesday, February 1, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee gets played (and few members are even awake), withdrawal or 'withdrawal' gets attention at the hearing and in the press, Nouri's secret prisons continue (despite denials) as does his power grab, Steven Lee Myers responds to New York Times readers and more.
Starting with withdrawal. In reply to "When does the United States military leave?," Steven Lee Myers writes at the New York Times' At War blog:
This will be one of the most important and potentially divisive issues of the coming months. I wouldn't blame anyone for being confounded by the statements of various officials and observers, many of them contradictory. The fact is that neither the Obama administration nor Mr. Malik's government has so far decided, at least publicly, what role the American military will have in Iraq in the future, if any. The leaders' own advisers seem divided on the matter.
The security agreement President George W. Bush negotiated with Mr. Maliki over 2008 set a deadline to withdraw all American troops from Iraq's cities by June 30, 2009, and from the country entirely by Dec. 31, 2011. The withdrawal from the cities happened on schedule -- with a little fudging on municipal boundaries to allow bases in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad, for example -- and American officials and commanders say the final withdrawal will also happen on schedule.
President Obama added only his own withdrawal timetable within the broad terms of the agreement, delayed a bit from his campaign promises, though not radically. He reduced the number of American troops to just below 50,000 last August and declared an official end to the American combat mission (also with a little fudging on what constitutes combat, as we've noted in several articles).
The schedule for withdrawing the remaining troops has not yet been made public, but it is expected to begin in the spring and be in full swing by August, with as few as 25,000 troops left by August, as I heard recently. In the State of the Union address, Mr. Obama again stated that the remainder of the troops would withdraw as planned, which would seem to rule out a future role for the American military, but not entirely.
My colleagues and I recently outlined some possibilities and the political difficulties both he and Mr. Maliki face as they grapple with the 2011 deadline. Iraq's security forces, while larger and increasingly confident, still require significant training and equipping, as many officials have noted. Keeping any significant number of American troops in Iraq to do that -- even in a purely advisory capacity -- will require an extension of the current security agreement, the negotiation a new agreement of some sort, or some more fudging. How that unfolds will be a major story this year.
Last week, we quoted from Steven Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin's analysis of the State of the Union address and noted Myers would be answering questions left at that analysis. Today, his responses are online. We'll go out, at the end of the snapshot, with another section from his replies but the issue of withdrawal or not withdrawal is where we start. Steven Lee Myers also reports on a US military release that the military quickly retracted today:
"This was an internal staff action in the eventuality of the Iraqi government approving the sale," a spokesman here, Col. Barry A. Johnson, said in a statement. "It was not intended for distribution. Approval of the sale has NOT/NOT occurred and notification of any approval will first be made by the government of Iraq."
Mistakes happen in the fog of war, but what was telling was the specificity of the news release, dated Jan. 31.
It included the number of aircraft, the date of delivery in 2013, the fact that 10 Iraqi pilots were already training in the United States and the implication that Americans would continue to train the Iraqi security forces well after a deadline for a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.
The US Ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, and the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Lloyd James Austin, appeared in DC this morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The hearing came, Salam Faraj (AFP), "[. ..] two days after a US watchdog said shortfalls in the capabilities of Iraq's security forces could undo security gains after American troops leave at the end of the year. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) noted that while Baghdad's forces had made major improvements, they suffered from poor logistics capabilities, and that corruption within the police and army had hampered their development." And as Mark Landler (New York Times) reports this morning on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report to be released later today which states that US diplomats will be left unprotected in Iraq if the US announced plan for withdrawal or 'withdrawal' is followed: "Without thousands of additional soldiers -- a prospect that seems untenable, given political pressures in both countries -- the report recommends rethinking the American civilian presence, which is projected to number 17,000 diplomats, contractors and others in 15 sites in Iraq."
This was the Foreign Relations Committee's "first hearing of the new Congress," as Chair John Kerry noted at the start. He welcomed "five new members" to the Committee, Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Tom Udall and Dick Durbin While that was Committee business and may be excused as such, his many, many words about Egypt? Including plugging his own guest column in the New York Times? As he went on and on -- still in his opening statement -- about Egypt and its importance to the US, you saw people looking around and appearing to wonder, "Is this hearing about Iraq or not?" Finally, he hailed the "success" and, with that lie, everyone knew he had found his way back to the topic of the hearing. (FYI, his office passed on this from Kerry on Egypt. He had no news release on Iraq -- no news release on the subject of the hearing he chaired this morning.) A woman next to me leaned in and asked, "Did he just say 'We are also here today?'" Yes, he did. He said "we are also here today" to discuss Iraq. Also? Iraq, he declared, "because of successes has moved off of the front burner, so to speak." Really? Seems it moved off the front burner of the hearing Kerry chaired because John Kerry was more interested in being a dog chasing a Hot Topic Ambulance down the street than in addressing the topic the hearing was called for. "In accordance with the 2008 bilateral agreements that were signed and negotiated by the Bush administration, American troops must leave the country by the end of the year," Kerry declared before adding "but these agreements also acknowledge -- and it's important for people to focus on this -- they also acknowledge the need for continued military cooperation." If that seems strange, strange was the hallmark of the hearing.
It was a very strange John Kerry, one who badly needed a hair cut (unless he's trying to ape Ben Nelson's look) and he was hunched over and, most importantly, shifty-eyed in a way that brought to mind his one-time nemesis Richard Nixon. Did anyone ever think he would end the Iraq War if elected? (I actually did. I can be wrong and often am. I was certainly wrong about John.) Whatever happened to the young man who publicly wondered,, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?" The current War Hark John Kerry obviously killed him and, judging from the excess pounds Kerry is packing, ate him as well.
Kerry, still yammering away in his never-ending opening statement, declared, "In the coming weeks I will explore the possibility of a multi-year authorization package for Iraq that would include the operational costs of the mission as well as the security and the economic assistance programs. This package could serve as a road map for the American public so that our effort in Iraq will end better than it began." Politicians can get into a trap -- not just them, Naomi Wolf's there currently -- where they paint themselves into a corner and instead of owning up to a mistake, risk a lot of money and a lot of lives. It's past time that the United States government got as honest as the American people: The Iraq War is a failure. Billions of tax payer dollars have been thrown at the 'problem' and it never made it right and it never will because when you start an illegal war, you can never rewrite the beginning. At the very root, this war that has cost countless Iraqi, US, British, etc lives, this war was corrupt. In England, they've had several inquiries into the Iraq War. Not in the US. In the US, our leaders will not admit the war was a mistake.
You might say, "Wait, Kerry's made remarks about it being one and so has Barack Obam and so has . . ." Those remarks were made when a Republican was in the White House. These days we get lies from John Kerry and Barack Obama about what a "success" Iraq is. If Barack had a brain, he would have, immediately upon being sworn in, withdrawan all of the troops from Iraq and stated the war was wrong. Then it wouldn't have been his war and anyone pointing to post-Iraq problems would have to deal with the fact that George W. Bush started it. (And for those who whine that Barack would have been breaking the SOFA, no, he wouldn't have been. The SOFA was never signed off on by the US Senate. Check the Constitution. And Barack and Joe Biden realized that when they were running for office and actively called out the SOFA and stated they would oppose it . . . until they got elected.)
Not only have billions been wasted on the illegal war, John Kerry now wants to waste more tax payer dollars when the US does not have them to waste. This was always the problem with setting up an illegitimate puppet government. When you do that, you can't leave. You have to stay in there in some form or another or accept the risk that the puppet government will topple as the people demand self-rule (as they should). John Kerry today is as scary as John McCain talking about a US presence in Iraq for a hundred years in 2008.
Ranking Member Richard Lugar, in his opening statements, knew what hearing he was at. No talk of Egypt and what the US 'must do.' Lugar noted, "As our military presence in Iraq diminishes, our civilian presence is being enhanced by thousands of personnel engaged in diplomacy, development and security cooperation of nearly one thousand Defense Dept personnel is planned to mentor the Iraqi military. Despite progress in Iraq, violence continues. The most recent erport on the security of Iraq by the Depts of State and Defense cites improved conditions but labels the situation in the country as 'still fragile.' Although the United States should continue preparations for winding down the military mission, withdrawal from Iraq cannot be the sole driver of our policy there. We have significant interests in Iraq and it is important that our government is exploring ways to further those interests in the absence of significant US military power in the country."
No, it doesn't sound like the US is leaving Iraq and that's what happens when an alleged peace movement turns itself into a 527 for a Corporatist War Hawk. Thank you, Leslie Cagan for whoring the movement. You are far from alone but no one sought the limelight more than you when Iraq was the media hot topic. And certainly, you surrendered on behalf of the peace movement with the idiotic message you posted the day after the 2008 election hailing Caeser, er, Barack, and folding up tent and going home.
At some point, a real reporter needs to press these 'strategic interests in Iraq' types like John Kerry on what those interests are because as they blather on endlessly about 'strategic interests' all they really telegraph is that this was a war about oil. If a reporter would press for that answer, they might get the truth or hear the ridiculous response Jeffrey offered the Committee:
US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey: Iraq's strategic importance is based on a number of factors. Iraq plays a central role in the Arab and Muslim worlds and hosts Shi'a Islam's holiest sites. Iraq has a diverse, multi-sectarian and multi-ethnic population. Geographically, Iraq is strategically positioned between major regional players, including Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Syria. Iraq represents the frontier between the Arab and Persian worlds. And because it is endowed with a significant portion of the world's oil reserves, Iraq will play an increasingly influential role in the global economy.
So for those not stupid enough to believe the US government is really concerned about the the "Shi'a Islam's holiest sites," we're left with the issue of oil. And, oh, but Jeffrey didn't offer that to the Committee verbally. It was in his written statement, one he referred to and credited to himself and the general. (And the State Dept foolishly posted the written statement here.) For his spoken statements, he wanted to warn everyone that "a Charlie Wilson's War" could take place in Iraq. And as domestic box office demonstrated, no one wants that bomb stinking up the cineplexes again.
If there's ever been a more dishonest hearing on Iraq that we've attended in the last five years, I'm failing to remember it.
For example, "Today, Iraq has the most inclusive government in their nation's history." That lie was via Gen Austin. That statement is appalling. If you're not getting why, let's drop back to last week. Manal Omar is the author Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity -- My Own and What it Means to be a Woman in Chaos. Starting in the 1990s, she has done humanitarian work in Iraq. NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq interviewed her last week.

NCCI: When was the last time that you were in Iraq? Did you notice any changes in women's status in the country at that time?

Manal Omar: The last time I was in Iraq was December 2010. Unfortunately, during my trip there was the announcement of the new government ministries. It was very sad to see that Iraqi women were not part of the list of ministries at all. Many of the women's organizations I have worked with for the last seven years called me and were in shock to see how Iraqi women continue to lose rights rather than gain them! After the previous elections, there were 6 female ministers; now there are none. Even the Ministry for Women's Affairs has an interim male Minister. This highlights that the challenge facing women is stronger than ever.

Even the Ministry for Women's Affairs has a man as Minister. And Austin wants to brag about how inclusive the government is? That's a shameful lie. And a sign of just how much people will spin to continue the Iraq War. When someone reveals either that much stupidity or that much duplicity, we're done with them and their opening one-liners.
Senator Ben Cardin asked about the refugee returns and Jeffrey noted that "the overaching reason why people don't return is concerns about security." But, happy talk time, he was convinced that people will return after they have seen that the security is there. Really? After two weeks of massive bombings, Jeffrey wants to appear before the Committee and happy talk security?
Senator Ben Cardin: On that same side, the chairman's talked about a long term committment to Iraq, I think we all understand we're going to be there from the point of view of helping to rebuild the country. What can you tell us is being put in place to make sure that the US funds are being used in the most cost-effective way, that we have protections against US funds being used to help finance corruption -- local corruption -- in the country, how do we avoid that and what are we doing for promoting US values including gender equity issues, making sure that we continue to make progress? Do we have -- Do you have an accountability system in place that gives confidence that we should be considering a more permanent, longterm, committment to Iraq?
US Ambassador James Jeffrey: Yes, sir, on all of those accounts,Senator. First of all, this is an important priority for us and it's an important priority for this administration and the last administration. In fact, a unique institution, uh, the Special uh Inspector General for Iraq, SIGIR, has been set up and they have a very active uh program, they have dozens of uh people stationed or with us TDI either out in the field in Iraq. We also have the State Dept and other IGs but SIGR in particular has been very active in looking into assistance programs and how effective and how efficient they are and, uh, to what extent there is corruption. Uh, I, uh, meet with the head of it, with [Stuart] Bowen, with his deputy and with other members frequently. In addtition, uh, uh, since the time of [former US Ambassador to Iraq] Ryan Crocker, we've organized the embassy in a unique way: where normally we have the ambassador and then a deputy chief of mission But for the economic and assistance elements of it -- we've created essentially a second, uh, deputy chief of mission -- the assistant chief of mission, currently Ambassador Peter Bodde who looks into that and focuses directly on the issues of "Are we getting our bang for the buck?," uh, "Are we looking into corruption?," uh, and these kind of issues. Uh, a good deal of our assistance goes -- and a good deal of our political relationships with Iraqis and our engagement with them goes to issues such as gender equality, minorities, the refugee issue. We have a very, very broad dialogue with them. We played a role behind the scenes on some of the decisions taken in the Iraqi Constitution on -- under equality -- for example, 25% of the Parliament has to be uh, uh female. Uh, now there are problems with this at times. For example, uh Iraqis -- both men and women -- were unhappy with the makeup of the Cabinet. Uh, the prime minister then decided that he would have to hold off on completion of the Cabinet until he could find more female candidates and that process is ongoing.
That is so blatantly false. It was only after Nouri named his (incomplete) Cabinet that women -- including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's niece -- voiced their outrage over the lack of women in the Cabinet. But remember that because, according to the lie, we're going to see Nouri filling the remainder of his Cabinet with women. There are ten positions left. In terms of SIGR, they do strong work. It's also after-the-fact work. Meaning, they are auditing programs that are often completed or the money is all spent. In other words, after the money (or the bulk of it) has been mispent. In addition, how dare an employee of the US State Dept claim responsibility for SIGIR which was created, in 2004, by an act of Congress. 'What are you doing' was the question Jeffrey was asked. The answer is: Not real damn much. It would have been great if at some point -- maybe during Austin's non-stop praise for Iraqi security forces -- the targeting of Iraq's LGBT population -- by security forces -- had been raised. But that never happened.
For a scheduled hearing, there was surprisingly very little awareness of the issues effecting Iraq. It was equally surprising how little concern there was about money. At a time when Barack keeps saying everyone will have to cut back, Jeffrey estimated that they will need between $3 billion and $3 and a half-billion just for 2011. Only Senator Robert Menendez appeared concerned about the costs (as evidenced by his citing all the money the US has already spent on training and reconstruction).
Senator Robert Menendez: We will be watching it closely as well because after 58 billion dollars when we were told that Iraqi oil would fund the full cost of our invasion in Iraq and the cost of it, obviously, it's tough to see, here in America, the challenges that we have, the lack of investment that we have on critical issues and spending 58 billion dollars in Iraq and a continuum of anywhere from three and three-and-a-half billion dollars a year is -- is something that I think is going to be increasingly under a microscope.
After Menendez spoke, the Committee suddenly appeared to be interested in money. (An issue they'd mentioned prior only in terms of 'how much can we give you' and 'do you need helicopters' and other spending sprees). Jeffrey declared that it will cost over a billion dollars in the next fiscal years and hundreds of millions of operating costs. Chair John Kerry asked why the US was laying out two billion to maintain its presence and Jeffrey never had an answer.
While the ambassador and the general were spinning to the Committee (which largely accepted the spin gladly), Human Rights Watch was noting more abuse in Iraq. Last week, Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reported that Nouri's Baghdad Brigade "is holding detainees in miserable conditions for months at a time" at Camp Honor. Khalid Walid (Iraqhurr.org) reported that the Deupty Minister of Justice, Busho Ibrahim, continues to deny the charges of abuse and mistreatment including during an interview with Radio Free Iraq. He insists they are being dealt with a timely and fair manner and that their families and attorneys can visit them in the prison within the Green Zone but Walid noted that just to get into the Green Zone you have to have special identification and this can prevent many from entering which has led human rights activists such as Hassan Shaaban to argue that the prison needs to be moved outside the Green Zone. Today Human Rights Watch notes:
Elite security forces controlled by the military office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of Iraq are operating a secret detention site in Baghdad, Human Rights Watch said today. The elite forces are also torturing detainees with impunity at a different facility in Baghdad, Human Rights Watch said.
Beginning on November 23, 2010, and continuing over the next three to four days, Iraqi authorities transferred more than 280 detainees to a secret site within Camp Justice, a sprawling military base in northwest Baghdad, interviews and classified government documents obtained by Human Rights Watch reveal. The Army's 56th Brigade, also known as the Baghdad Brigade, and the Counter-Terrorism Service, both under the authority of the prime minister's office, control this secret site. The hurried transfers took place just days before an international inspection team was to examine conditions at the detainees' previous location at Camp Honor in the Green Zone. Human Rights Watch has also obtained a list of more than 300 detainees held at Camp Honor just before the transfer to Camp Justice. Almost all were accused of terrorism.
"Revelations of secret jails in the heart of Baghdad completely undermine the Iraqi government's promises to respect the rule of law," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to close these places or move them under control of the justice system, improve conditions for detainees, and make sure that anyone responsible for torture is punished."
The Iraqi government should immediately close the facilities or regularize their position and make them open for inspections and visits, Human Rights Watch said.
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) explains, "The international rights group says it obtained classified documents that describe a secret site within a military camp called Camp Justice, in Baghdad's Kathamiya neighborhood. It's run by the Iraqi Army's 56th Brigade and the counterterrorism service. Both outfits are under the authority of the prime minister." Liz Sly (Washington Post) adds, "One of the sites is at a military base where U.S. forces maintain an advisory team, the U.S. military confirmed. Former prisoners at another of the facilities, a military base in the Green Zone that was vacated by U.S. troops last summer, have told Human Rights Watch researchers that detainees there were regularly abused, by being hung upside down, beaten and given electric shocks to various body parts, including the genitals," Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) notes, "Mr. Maliki created the brigades in 2008 and they have been a longstanding issue with Sunnis and others who have accused Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, of using the security forces as his personal militia. Those fears have been stoked by the fact that many detainees who have been held by the forces he commanded appear to be Sunnis." Geraldine Baum (Los Angeles Times) provides this context:
Under pressure from government ministers, Maliki had ordered that facility closed and had promised prison reform and a crackdown on those responsible. But in an article last month, The Times again revealed allegations of abuse by members of the Baghdad Brigade, this time at Camp Honor. The Times reported that families and lawyers had been barred access to detainees, including some who had been held for two years.
Maliki also had said last year, at the time of the prison scandal, that Camp Honor was being handed over to Iraq's Justice Ministry, which is in charge of prisons, but Human Rights Watch obtained documents indicating that this facility and others remain under control of units that report directly to the military office under Maliki.
Officials from both Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries complained to Human Rights Watch that soldiers in these elite units and members of the Counter-Terrorism bureau routinely make mass arrests and detentions without notifying proper authorities in the security ministries.
The US government installed Nouri al-Maliki and he'snow in the midst of a power-grab. Background, as November wound down, an arrangement was reached that allowed Nouri al-Maliki to be named prime minister-designate and have 30 days to put together a Cabinet. (Actually, that was in the middle of November but Jalal Talabani waited on 'officially' declaring Nouri prime minister-designate in order to give Nouri a lot more time to put together a Cabinet. Not that it helped any. Even now, he still doesn't have a full Cabinet.) So knowing that he was prime minister-designate and, most likely, prime minister, Nouri filed (December 18th) with the Supreme Court in order to have independent bodies the central bank, the electoral commission, the human rights commmission and the anti-corruption body placed under his control. He did this without notifying anyone in Parliament. When news leaked out last week, outrage was expressed with many referring to it as a "coup." From yesterday's snapshot:

Saif Tawfeeq (Reuters) reports that Nouri insisted today that the bodies would continue to be autonomous ones despite his control of them. Alsumaria TV adds, "Iraq's Parliament is due to host on Tuesday heads of the independent commissions to discuss the ruling of placing certain institutions under ministerial control. The Parliament is expected to receive head of the Integrity Commission Rahim Al Ukaili, the High Electoral Commission Chairman Faraj Al Haidair and Central Bank Chief Sanan Al Shabibi, a source from the Parliament speaking on condition of anonymity told Alsumaria News."

Nouri has been insisting that the Parliament has no say and shouldn't even attempt to address the issue. Hisham Rikabi (Al Mada) reminds that Nouri went on state television Saturday night to insist that the court decision is binding and cannot be appealed before adding that any attempt to do so would "destroy the country." This is the thug the US installed -- twice. The US government installed him twice.

The idiot pontificator Tareq Harb is trotted out (as usual) to provide cover for Nouri as he's done for years now. Harb is not a legal expert, he's a legal idiot. And his refusal to stay with the law (the law doesn't predict, for example, why Biden visits Iraq though 'legal expert' Harb has used his 'legal expertise' to 'tell' why Biden has visited) should have long ago exposed him as the useless gasbag he is. But today he gets Al Sabaah treating him as though he knows something. He declares today that the Parliament cannot overturn the decision. Actually, per the Constitution they can and if Harb's brain wasn't up Nouri's ass, he might know that. Parliament is over the funding of those bodies. Parliament can kill the bodies tomorrow and vote to recreate new ones. Parliament can do any number of things and a real "legal expert" would not only know the Constitution of Iraq, he or she would know what it meant in practice. As for the United Nations? Al Mada reports that the United Nation's top official in Iraq, Ad Melkert, can't do a damn thing or won't. He weighs in to sa that the court's decision must be respected but so must Parliament. Way to choose a side, United Nations. It gets worse. Ad Melkert doesn't feel the issue is at all important (this is how Saddam Hussein's happen, pay attention). What is important? "The next stage requires a focus on the recovery of the Iraqi economy," he is quoted stating.

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, the death toll for January was twice that of December.
Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reports
, "The death toll from violence in January climbed to highest level since September late year as several massive terrorist attacks killed and wounded hundreds of people, including security members and Shiite pilgrims, Iraqi authorities said on Tuesday." Lara Jakes and Donna Cassata (AP) report, "At least 159 Iraqi citizens and 100 police and soldiers were killed in insurgent attacks in January -- the deadliest month for Iraq since September, according to data released Tuesday by security and health ministry officials in Baghdad. An Associated Press count of Iraqis killed in attacks over two weeks alone puts the death toll at more than 200."
Alberto B. Martinez got away with murder. Not the Alberto Martinez who -- along with Jacob Burgoyne and Douglas Woodcoff -- murdered Richard Davids July 14, 2003. This Alberto Martinez walked free after murdering Lou Allen and Phillip Esposito while the three were serving in Iraq on June 7, 2005. He used a Claymore mine to kill Phillip Esposito and wound Lou Allen and then tossed three grenades in an attempt to cover his actions. When he walked, after being aquitted December 4, 2008, Lou Allen's widow Barbara Allen exclaimed, as the verdict was announced, "He slaughtered our husbands, and that's it? You murdered my husband!"

February 21, 2009, the New York Times ran Paul von Zielbauer's "G.I. Offered to Plead Guilty, Then Went Free in Iraq Deaths" on the front page, detailing that Martinez plea agreement that got tossed aside: "This offer to plea originated with me. No person has made any attempt to force or coerce me into making this offer." The agreement was also signed by the same two attorneys who represented Martinez. Barbara Allen was quoted by von Zielbauer stating, "They had a conviction handed to them and chose not to take it." The plea would have meant life in prison. Georgetown law professor and former Marine judge Gary D. Solis told von Zielbauer, "The only reason you should turn this down is if you have an absolutely bulletproof case. I can't imagine why they didn't take it. You've got life in prison in hand."

Drew Brooks (Fayetteville Observer) reports that Siobhan Esposito is suing to obtain a full transcript of the court martial of Martinez -- a court martial that was open to the public and at which reporters were present but a court martial that the military refuses to provide a full transcript for. From Brooks' report:

According to Siobhan Esposito, that transcript was redacted to exclude information that was stated in open court, such as the names of lawyers, the military judge and witnesses and the names of some bases in Iraq.
"I was outraged. It was a shock," she said of the redacted transcript. "I believe the law gives me the right to those records."
Siobhan Esposito's lawyer, Eugene Fidell, said the redactions were baffling. He teaches military law at Yale Law School.
"The notion that someone would take the time to do this . there's a serious problem in the way the Army views the records related to a court-martial," he said.

How petty is the US military brass? Not only has the woman lost her husband but she saw his killer walk free because the military prosecution set aside a plea agreement because they just knew they could win it in court. And after all of that, they want to deny her a full transcript to what was an open hearing?
Thanks to everyone who wrote, especially Jimmy from Dallas who asked if those of us working here "realize you are read." We do, even if Iraq has receded so far from the center of public attention in the United States -- as I noted about President Obama's State of the Union address -- that it can sometimes feel as if it has been forgotten, overshadowed by economic troubles at home, the renewed focus on Afghanistan and all the turmoil elsewhere in the world.
I have been struck more than once when I am home -- in Washington -- by how little Iraq comes up in day-to-day conversations anymore, when it once devoured so much. So it's nice to know there are many who care deeply about Iraq's fate and pay attention -- whatever the rationale for the war, which continues to be contentious, as several questions/comments made very clear.