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Author: TriSec    Date: 07/05/2016 09:41:06

Good Morning.

We'll dive right in this morning; starting in the cauldron that is still Baghdad. You may have missed it yesterday during our red, white, and blue orgy...better than 160 people were killed in a suicide bombing yesterday. I suppose we could note that it's a city full of Sunni Muslims, likely killed by other Muslims - but that sort of violence doesn't happen, does it? I didn't bother with western media on this story. I was able to find something from Rudaw, which is the little-known news agency of Kurdistan. It pitches the incident in a somewhat different light.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—An Islamic State suicide car bombing in the Karrada district of Baghdad early Sunday morning ripped through the neighbourhood busy with shoppers preparing for this week’s Eid al-Fitr holiday, killing at least 167, wounding another 180, and further shredding the credibility of Iraq’s beleaguered government.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, visiting the site of the bombing, was met by an angry mob throwing stones at his vehicle convoy, calling him a thief. Though he vowed “punishment” for the perpetrators, bystanders cursed him and his government who they blame for not preventing the carnage on Iraq’s streets that is repeated all too often.

A suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden pickup truck outside a busy shopping centre shortly after midnight on Sunday. Many families were on the streets after breaking their Ramadan fast.

The blast set buildings in the area on fire. Officials said dozens burned to death or suffocated. It was the single most deadly attack in Baghdad this year.

“It was like an earthquake,” Karim Sami, a street vendor, told AP. “I wrapped up my goods and was heading home when I saw a fire ball with a thunderous bombing.”

A former soldier said six workers at his family’s shop were killed, their bodies burned beyond recognition. “I will return to the battlefront. At least there, I know the enemy so I can fight him,” Hussein Ali told AFP. “But here, I don’t know who I’m fighting.”

Many in Karrada are angry with the government’s failure to provide security. “We are in a state of war, and these places are targeted,” the street vendor Sami said. “The security can’t focus on the war and forget Baghdad.”

Hannain al-Qadu, member of the Iraqi parliament, called on the Iraqi government to close Karrada neighbourhood to cars, making it pedestrian only and installing security measures to protect civilians. “This region suffered terrorist bombings more than once, but the government did not take any action,” Qadu said.

Others have stressed that the Iraqi government, political parties, and society need to be united in the face of such horrendous acts.

Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Salim al-Jubouri, condemned the attack and called for all political parties to be united “against all that threatens the security and stability of the country.”

Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, also urged unity in condemning the attack.

“The terrorists of Daesh [ISIS] who have suffered defeats at the battlefront are seeking to avenge their losses by targeting vulnerable civilians,” he said. “Despite the pain and agony the Iraqi people will not surrender to the designs of those terrorists, will continue to reject their ways through displaying steadfast national unity and will eventually triumph.”

The Kurdistan Regional Government also joined the chorus of voices condemning the attack. “We strongly condemn this disgusting and coward terrorist attack," reads a statement issued by the Kurdistan Region Presidency. "Those carrying out such acts are the enemy of all humanitarian values and their fate is failure and elimination."

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack within hours of the blast, calling it a part of the group’s “ongoing security operations,” and said it targeted Shia Muslims.

We'll continue on to Afghanistan, and a somewhat murky story about valour. An American soldier by the name of Earl Plumlee was recently denied a Medal of Honor by the mysterious body that reviews such things. (Despite the official name of the "Congressional Medal of Honor", it isn't Congress that decides.) Instead, he was granted an award that is two steps below that honored rank - and some are crying "foul!"

The Army followed its rules while denying a Medal of Honor last year to a Green Beret soldier credited with staving off a brutal ambush in Afghanistan, according to a Defense Department Inspector General report released Wednesday. But the report provides a unique glimpse into something else: just how subjective decisions surrounding awards for valor can be.

The investigation examined the case of Army Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee, who was recommended for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for combat valor, for his role in repelling a bloody Taliban attack Aug. 28, 2013, on Forward Operating Base Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan. Plumlee, a member of 1st Special Forces Group from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, is credited with killing several attackers at point-blank range, using both small arms and hand grenades, as their suicide vests detonated.

The commander of Plumlee's task force nominated him for the Medal of Honor, and the recommendation was backed by senior battlefield commanders, including Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. But in May 2015, Plumlee instead received a Silver Star, two levels below the Medal of Honor, drawing concerns from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R.-Calif., and prompting Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter to request an inspector general investigation.

Hunter questioned whether Plumlee's award was downgraded to a Silver Star because he was subsequently investigated by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) for attempting to sell a rifle scope online. Though the investigation was closed without any charges being brought against him, the implication was that the Army didn't want a Medal of Honor recipient with that kind of baggage.

The inspector general found no evidence that anyone used the CID investigation to justify awarding the Silver Star, which typically is awarded in a small ceremony at a soldier's base, rather than the Medal of Honor, which comes with national recognition and a ceremony at the White House. But the report did provide new details about how the decision to not give Plumlee a Medal of Honor was reached.

In Afghanistan, the Medal of Honor of Honor recommendation received approval from senior officers that included then-Maj. Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller, now believed to be the three-star commander of Joint Special Operations Command; then-Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, now the four-star Army chief; and Dunford, now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Army Human Resources Command's awards branch received the nomination in January 2014. The issue was taken up by the service's Senior Army Decorations Board afterward, with two three-star generals and the top enlisted soldier in the service, then-Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler, serving as voting members. Two of them recommended the Silver Star, while another saw the Distinguished Service Cross, one notch below the Medal of Honor, as more appropriate. Separately, a previous unnamed Medal of Honor recipient serving as a non-voting adviser to the board also recommended the Silver Star.

One of the voting members said his decision not to recommend the Medal of Honor came down in large part to one thing: Plumlee's rank. Then a staff sergeant, Plumlee was expected to be a leader once the Taliban attacked rather than "a private who would be seized by the moment and take extremely valorous and courageous action," the board member told the inspector general, according to the report.

"One' s a leader. One's a Soldier," the member said, according to the report. "And so when I looked at the circumstances and, although the battle was ferocious and unfortunately a couple members were killed, I just thought that it wasn't a sufficient level for the Medal of Honor based off of the individual and the circumstances and that, I just felt there was an expectation of a leader who did a phenomenal job, that there was something more that [the nominee] needed to have done in order to, in my mind, to make a recommendation for a Medal of Honor."

Finally, on this day after the anniversary of General Lee's retreat from Gettysburg, it seems like that little Confederate Flag controversy just won't go away. South Carolina took down the flag last year, and earlier this year its display at Federal cemeteries was severely restricted. I've said it before; in the proper historical context it's probably OK to display once a year, but as a part of any US or State official display - it's still tantamount to an act of treason.

WASHINGTON — A year after South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its capitol grounds, official Washington is struggling with further restrictions on the flag's display on federal property, including the U.S. Capitol complex.

The National Park Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Army have longstanding guidelines for its cemeteries that permit the display of the Confederate flag one or two days a year. This is particularly true in Southern states that celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, giving descendants of Southern soldiers the chance to use the flag to commemorate their ancestors.

In recent weeks, Republicans quietly dumped a provision preventing the flag from being flown over mass graves of Confederate soldiers from broader legislation to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs. Flag displays would still have been allowed over the graves of individual soldiers.

The move angered Democrats, especially since both House Republicans and Democrats had voted in May for the provision. Further complicating the issue is that the flag provision had been combined with an overall bill to fund the fight against the Zika virus.

"Republicans even used this ... listen to this one — to block the prohibition of Confederate flags on federal facilities," said top Senate Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada.

Reid mentioned the flag fight every day this past week, often muddying the facts.

On Monday, he accused Republicans of allowing the flag to fly over "any veterans' facility," which would include hospitals and clinics. On Tuesday, he claimed that there is already an "order in effect saying you can't fly the flag on military cemeteries."

Congressional Democrats have not pressed the White House on this issue. Unlike official rulemaking, which requires public feedback and can take years, guidelines on the flag can be swiftly changed by agency officials who answer to the White House.

The White House seemed surprised when asked about it this week.

"I'm not aware of any executive action that's being contemplated," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. The White House followed up with a response detailing the limited circumstances in which the flag can be displayed in VA cemeteries.

The flag issue became a national discussion after a white man was arrested for gunning down nine black parishioners at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Democrats tried to ban the flag's display at cemeteries run by the National Park Service, but divisions in the House scuttled the effort.

While Republicans in Washington ducked the Confederate flag issue, the legislature of South Carolina — dominated by tea party Republicans and including many black Democrats — voted overwhelmingly to remove the flag from the Capitol grounds in Columbia. The debate won wide praise for its civility.

In Washington this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., sought to put the Confederate flag controversy to rest. Ryan approved a move to block the Mississippi flag, which incorporates the Confederate battle flag in its top inner corner, from being restored to its display in a passageway between the Capitol and a House office building.

Republicans negotiating the final bill to fund the Veterans Affairs department abandoned the provision despite the House vote in May.

"It is shameful that Republicans would once again seek to allow Confederate battle flags, a historic symbol of hate, to be flown over VA cemeteries," said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who had sponsored the provision.

We sure do seem to keep going around in circles, don't we?

22 comments (Latest Comment: 07/05/2016 18:38:14 by livingonli)
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