Chris Hill is the nominee to be Ambassador to Iraq and he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday (see Wednesday and Thursday's snapshots) and demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the country he's nominated to be the ambassador to. The days that have followed have played out as if Iraq's attempting to give him a remedial education. That has happened again today. For those late to the party, we'll drop back to Wednesday's snapshot:
It was a bad opening and an early portent. He's very lucky that Democrats on the committee are pulling for him because he made a fool out of himself in his exchange with Senator Chris Dodd. He walked into a scheduled hearing knowing there was a controversy about his nomination and he didn't prep? Dodd asked about the "Awakening" Councils and that wasn't a curve ball question. It's been in the news. It was always going to be asked. Hill repeatedly referred to Anbar and, around the fourth or fifth time, it became obvious that he believes all "Awakenings" are in Anbar Province. That is troubling. Any diplomat, regardless of where they were stationed, should have had a better grasp of the issue just from casually following the press over the last years.
Dodd noted that "at some point we're going to have to stop funding these Awakening Councils . . . how much of a risk does that raise?" The question was how much of a risk was that? Hill never answered that question. He babbled on about how he thought the "Awakenings" were "very key and I think we wisely took on the task and make the payroll of this" -- at least he was correct about the payroll. That one time.
Hill then went on to declare that al-Maliki's government has been progressing and "doing so in terms of taking over the payments that these 'Sons of Iraq' receive. And I think, more importantly in the long run, incorporating them into the Iraqi forces." If your jaw dropped, hold on. He went on to reword himself, "I think the fact that they took over the financing of this and that it's going very well is a testament to them and I think it's been working."
al-Maliki has not, NOT, assumed all payments. The US made the payments at the start of the month to over 40,000 "Awakenings" (approximately 42,000 says M-NF). The US hopes -- HOPES -- al-Maliki will be making that payment at the start of next month. Hopes. It hasn't happened yet. And Usama Redha and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times)
reported yesterday that the ones al-Maliki is supposed to be paying aren't being paid: "The latest hiccup has been the budget woes of the Iraqi government, with bureaucratic snafus resulting in a failure to pay many of the Sunni paramilitaries, called the Sons of Iraq, in Baghdad for just over a month." For over a month. Reported yesterday by the Los Angeles Times. And Hill has no idea. Hill comes to hearing and praises al-Maliki for paying the "Awakenings" and he doesn't know what he's talking about.
Senator Johnny Isakson gave Hill the opportunity to clarify those statments asking if he'd heard Hill correctly that al-Maliki had taken over all the payments of the "Awakenings"? Hill replied that was his understanding.
Hill also claimed al-Maliki was absorbing the "Awakenings" into the government. Yesterday's snapshot noted Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin's New York Times article where the reporters explained, "After months of promises, only 5,000 Awakening members -- just over 5 percent -- have been given permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces." Five percent. Chris Hill was slobbering over Nouri and praising him for things that have not happened. He was ill prepared throughout and even with the softballs lobbed by the Democratic majority committee, he wasn't able to answer the questions.
Hill praised Nouri, slobbered over him, claimed that the "Awakenings" were being absorbed, claimed Nouri was paying for them -- wrongly claimed Nouri was paying for all of them -- the US cut checks AGAIN at the start of this month.
The reality check that slammed Chris Hill in the face today? Today's clash in Baghdad.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "16 people were injured (seven Sahwa members, four Iraqi soldiers and four civilians) after clashes broke out between the Iraqi army and Sahwa members in Fadhil neighborhood in downtown Baghdad around 2 p.m. The clashes broke out during an operation of the Iraqi army to arrest the leader of Fadhil Sahwa and one of his deputies. Five Iraqi soldiers were kidnapped in the incident."
"Sahwa," "Awakening," "Sons of Iraq" are all the same. AP reports:
On Saturday, however, leaders of several Awakening Council groups complained that the government has not paid them in months, with some threatening to quit a movement.
"We have not received our salaries in two months," said Ahmed Suleiman al-Jubouri, a leader of a group that mans checkpoints in south Baghdad. "We will wait until the end of April, and if the government does not pay us our salaries, then we will abandon our work."
Similar complaints were also raised by Sons of Iraq groups in Azamiyah, a former al-Qaida stronghold in north Baghdad, and in Diyala province near the capital.
"The fighters in Diyala haven't been getting paid since three months ago," said Khalid Khudhair al-Lehaibi, leader of the volunteers in the province. "We appeal the government to pay our salaries, and if they won't, we will organize demonstrations and sit-ins in the province."
Efforts to contact a government spokesman were unsuccessful because offices are closed on weekends.
At what point is Chris Hill going to be seriously questioned or is that just not going to happen? Is his incompentence not going to stand in the way of the steamroll to confirm him?
In this morning's New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin offers "Britons, Held for 2 Years, May Be Freed in Exchange:" which notes the rumors that five British citizens kidnapped in May 2007 may be released shortly and notes Mowaffak al-Rubaie (National Security Adviser) states "things are happening" in Iraq while Arab media reports "an agreement among the Americans, the British and the leaders of the Shiite militant group" in which the five will be released for fifty Iraqi prisoners being released. Rubin explains of the Iraqi prisoners to be released:
Three are among the highest-profile Shiites in custody, including two who were implicated in an ambush that killed five American soldiers in January 2007.
[. . .]
In the 2007 ambush, five American soldiers were gunned down at the Iraqi police headquarters in Karbala in late January.
American officials have said privately that they believe that two brothers, Qais and Laith al-Khazali, were involved in planning that attack. Qais al-Khazali was once a member of the inner circle of the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, but split from him when Mr. Sadr called for a cease-fire by his followers in early 2007.
Rubin also reports that the Mujahedeen al-Kahlq, an Iranian group that has been in Iraq since 1979 and protected by the US military since the start of the Iraq War, is yet again the topic of al-Maliki's government as they repeat that the group must leave but, for now, the focus is on moving them "to new quarters in western or southern Iraq".
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