Monday, May 14, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, the State Dept trashes Tim Arango's report . . . while also confirming it, two consevatives seem to think they read tea leaves but all they had to do was pay attention to Congressional hearings, at least 75 people have died from violence so far this month in Iraq, the politcal crisis continue, and more.
At the conservative blog American.com (American Institute Enterprise), Marc Thiessen is noting "what a different five months make," contrasting Barack's December words of eternal ties with Iraq with the New York Times report yesterday, Tim Arango's "U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police." Arango reported that the police training program has already cost US taxpayers $500 million since October alone and is an utter failure with Iraqis having ceased attending training on US facilities and Americans unwilling to train the Iraqi police on Iraqi facilities due to safety concerns. If it accomplishes nothing else, Arango's article forced the State Dept and spokesperson Victoria Nuland to address Iraq in their daily briefing today (here for transcript and video):
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: I realize this was addressed by the Embassy yesterday, but I just want to get from here -- you know what I'm talking about, yes? -- in terms of the elimination, or reported elimination, of the Iraqi police training program. This -- the report said that it was being considered that the whole program could be -- could vanish, that it could go away. The Embassy, while it denied that, didn't say that it wouldn't be substantially cut or whittled down to a mere fraction of what it originally had been planned to be. Can you just clarify what exactly is -- what are the plans for the police training program?
MS. NULAND: Well, first let me clarify we have no intention to cancel our police training program in Iraq. What we are engaged in, in collaboration with the Iraqis, is a right-sizing exercise for this program along with all of our programs. As you know, we are absolutely committed to, first of all, supporting Iraqi self-reliance. So if they tell us they need less support, we are going to downsize. And in this case, they are asking us to continue the advisory and training program but to downsize it, and also to saving the U.S. taxpayer money wherever we can. So I can't give you a final size for this. We are in the evaluation process now, working with the Iraqis. But we do anticipate we're going to be able to downsize it considerably while continuing to be able to support the Iraqis on the police training side.
QUESTION: Okay. This is the second time in -- since the beginning of the year that this particular publication has written something about the Embassy which you had a serious dispute with. Both times it has been cast -- the reports have cast these reductions or slashing of personnel as serious miscalculations by the Administration in terms of its Iraq policy. What's your feeling about that, that characterization of it?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, it's important to appreciate that we are in a new phase with Iraq. We're in a phase where it is up to the Iraqis to decide precisely what kind of footprint they want by foreign support, foreign countries offering support, offering assistance in the context of their overall approach to their sovereignty. So we very much need to respect that this is a collaborative decision how much support they want on the police training side. So we're trying to be in step with their increasing self-reliance. We're trying to do this in a negotiated, phased, managed way. But we're also trying to make clear to Iraqis that we think we have valuable training, valuable advice to offer, as we do to some hundred countries around the world. So we're going to work this through, but I think folks need to get on the program that we have a sovereign Iraq who's going to make its own decisions about how much outside support it wants.
QUESTION: All right. So you agree or disagree with the characterization that this is -- that this represents a serious political -- or a serious policy miscalculation?
MS. NULAND: Well, of course I'm going to disagree with that. Thank you.
QUESTION: Was the report correct that the Administration has spent $500 million so far on the police training program?
MS. NULAND: I don't have the total amount here, but as you know, we've been involved in police training from the beginning of the Iraq operation, as far back as 2003. I can take the question if it's of interest to you to sort of tote it all up. But we were involved in police work ourselves, police training for the Iraqis from the beginning, the standing up of their own professional police forces. I don't think anybody in that country wanted to submit themselves to the old Saddam-ite police, so it needed a bottom-up work and cleansing. So --
QUESTION: One other thing. The report alleged that much of the training provided by the United States, and in particular by the State Department since the departure of the U.S. military from Iraq, was not helpful to the Iraqis, that it consisted of retired or late-in-their-career American state troopers telling war stories about how they conduct their activities in the United States. And it cited one anecdote in which it said that the two key indices of someone possibly going to -- planning to launch a suicide bombing were: one, that they would withdraw a lot of money from the bank; and two, that they'd go out and get drunk. And it suggested that those were perhaps not very apposite indicators for Iraq where: one, a lot of Iraqis don't have bank accounts; and two, a lot of Iraqis don't drink. Do you -- how do you address the criticisms in the story that regardless of how many millions were spent on this, that the training wasn't actually all that useful?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, I'm not going to get drawn into parsing the anecdotes in a story with which we took considerable issue, both in its macro assertions and in many of its details. We had considerable difficulties with that story, as the statement from Embassy Baghdad made clear. With regard to the integrity of the police training that we do -- we have done in Iraq over these many years, we stand by it. The Iraqis have a new, modern, more democratic police force largely as a result of the support of the international community led by the United States. I'm obviously not in a position to speak to every individual involved in this, but all over the world we rely on the expertise of retired officers from the United States, from other countries, who are willing to participate in these training programs. And they participate on the basis of their experience in democratic law enforcement, not to hang around and tell inappropriate war stories. So we stand by the program. And if you'd like more on the numbers, et cetera, we can get you a separate briefing.
QUESTION: Can I just -- the last one this?
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just given the severity of the differences that you had with this, has there been any contact between the Department or anyone -- any senior officials in the Department and the editorship of the publication in question?
MS. NULAND: Well, I'm not going to get into our discussions with the --
QUESTION: Well, have you asked for a correction or clarification or --
QUESTION: Or a retraction?
MS. NULAND: We have made absolutely clear in our public statements and in our messages to that publication how we feel about the story.
QUESTION: But does that mean that you've asked for a retraction or a correction or some kind of -- I mean, after the first one, you demanded one. And you were quite open about it, and you got one.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. I think we're still working on that set of issues.
They should work on those issues.
They should also work on Victoria Nuland's status of spokesperson. That's the full exchange on Iraq so we're not accuesed of misquoting her. But the key passage to her response was this: "What we are engaged in, in collaboration with the Iraqis, is a right-sizing exercise for this program along with all of our programs. As you know, we are absolutely committed to, first of all, supporting Iraqi self-reliance. So if they tell us they need less support, we are going to downsize. And in this case, they are asking us to continue the advisory and training program but to downsize it, and also to saving the U.S. taxpayer money wherever we can."
That's exactly what Tim Arango reported. That the program was being downsized, that cuts were being considered and that the program might get scrapped. That is what he reported. Nuland can pretend to be upset and outraged but she should be most upset and outraged with herself because she confirmed Arango's report. Arango did not report, "The State Dept is closing the police training program!" His opening sentence established the main point of the article: "In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed -- and may jettison entirely by the end of the year -- a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here." That jibes exactly with what she said in the paragraph above.
At the conservative opinion journal Commentary, Max Boot also takes to gloating ("also" refers back to Marc Thiessen -- not to Victoria Nuland or Tim Arango). Boot insists, "All of this was utterly predictable -- and in fact was predicted by numerous commentators, including yours truly, who had no faith in State's ability to run such an ambitious undertaking in a coutry that remains so dangers." So there's Max Boots crowing about his crystal vision. I think, by contrast, I'll just sing along with Carly Simon, "I'm no prophet and I don't know natures way" ("Anticipation," written by Carly, first appears on her album of the same name).
I didn't need to be a prophet and I don't understand why the conservatives are gloating? If they really think they stumbled onto something, they've just demonstrated how out of touch they are. Let's go back to the February 8, 2012 snapshot:
We covered the November 30th House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the MiddleEast and South Asia in the December 1st snapshot and noted that Ranking Member Gary Ackerman had several questions. He declared, "Number one, does the government of Iraq -- whose personnel we intend to train -- support the [police training] program? Interviews with senior Iaqi officials by the Special Inspector General show utter didain for the program. When the Iraqis sugest that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States. I think that might be a clue." The State Dept's Brooke Darby faced that Subcommittee. Ranking Member Gary Ackerman noted that the US had already spent 8 years training the Iraq police force and wanted Darby to answer as to whether it would take another 8 years before that training was complete? Her reply was, "I'm not prepared to put a time limit on it." She could and did talk up Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior Adnan al-Asadi as a great friend to the US government. But Ackerman and Subcommittee Chair Steve Chabot had already noted Adnan al-Asadi, but not by name. That's the Iraqi official, for example, Ackerman was referring to who made the suggestion "that we take our money and do things instead that are good for the United States." He made that remark to SIGIR Stuart Bowen.
Brooke Darby noted that he didn't deny that comment or retract it; however, she had spoken with him and he felt US trainers and training from the US was needed. The big question was never asked in the hearing: If the US government wants to know about this $500 million it is about to spend covering the 2012 training of the Ministry of the Interior's police, why are they talking to the Deputy Minister?
In that hearing, nearly a month before Barack's speech, Stuart Bowen and Brooke Darby confirmed that the puppet Nouri al-Maliki had over the Minister of the Interior had said he didn't want the US training Iraqis.
In that same House Foreign Relations Committee hearing, it was also established that the State Dept had no real plan.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: When will they be willing to stand up without us?
Brooke Darby: I wish I could answer that question.
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: Then why are we spending money if we don't have the answer?
Ranking Member Gary Ackerman: You know, this is turning into what happens after a bar mitzvah or a Jewish wedding. It's called "a Jewish goodbye." Everybody keeps saying goodbye but nobody leaves.
Given the chance, by Darby, to retract his remark, he stood by it. We could drop back further but there's no need to bother, Peter Van Buren's already beaten us to it as he explains (at Huffington Post):
In October I reported on my blog wemeantwell.com that the State Department was on Capitol Hill in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, begging a skeptical Congress for more money for police training in Iraq. "Training" was again being cited as the cure-all for America's apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. That latest tranche of taxpayer cash sought by State was one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq.
The U.S. has been training Iraqi cops for years. In fact, the U.S. government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Ka-ching! Anybody's hometown in need of $7.3 billion in Federal funds? Hah, you can't have it if you're American, it is only for Iraq!
Ever-reliable State Department tool Pat Kennedy led the pack of fibbers in asking Congress for the cash: "After a long and difficult conflict, we now have the opportunity to see Iraq emerge as a strategic ally in a tumultuous region." He went on (... and on) promising "robust this" and "robust that." Best of all, Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces "will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection."
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
Now apparently Max Boot never heard of these hearing or others like it -- there were others -- but he's happy because he had a vision and turned out to be true.
Back in the land of reality, Nicholas Noe and Walid Read (Bloomberg News) note Ahmad al-Muhanna's Al Mada column about "the bitter power struggle between the Shiite Maliki on the one side and the main Kurdish and Sunni leaders on the other. In addition, Maliki is in a scrape with his fellow Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr, whose parliamentary bloc froms the ruling coaling with the PM's party. Sadr, who unlike Maliki is a determined foe of the U.S., has openly criticized Maliki for isolation Shiites by mopolizing governming powers. He joined Maliki's opponents recently in issuing the Irbil Paper, a list of demands including one that Maliki not run again after his current term expires in 2014."
Yesterday Al Rafidayn reported that the prime minister stated he was willing to dialogue about the issue of Saleh al-Mutlaq -- Deputy Prime Minister whom Nouri's State of Law is still trying to have stripped of his post in Parliament -- but that there would be no discussions or meetings on the issue of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. Al Mada notes that al-Hashemi declared yesterday that he was optimistic about the possibility of returning to Baghdad and that he feels negotiations will result in the charges against him being dropped. Alsumaria reports that Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc is declaring that they have candidates to replace Nouri and are ready to go forward with a no-confidence vote if Nouri doesn't meet the demands. The demands include a multi-point agreement by Moqtada which the press still hasn't reported on in any real depth. The demands also include the implementation of the Erbil Agreement.
The March 2010 elections were followed by eight months of political stalemate after Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi) came in first, besting State of Law (led by Nouri). Nouri didn't want to give up the post of prime minister and with both Tehran and the White House backing him, he knew he could dig his heels in. The US-brokered the Erbil Agreement in November 2010. Allowing Nouri to have the second term the White House wanted meant that Nouri would conceed on various other points. Nouri used the agreement to become prime minister and then went back on his word and refused to honor the agreement. This is the cause of the current political crisis in Iraq and it's been ongoing for over a year and a half.
Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel (Kurdish Globe) observes, "Iraq has been gripped by a grave political crisis for several months and there appears little intent on the part of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik's government to soothe tensions by working towards national reconciliation and resorting to constitutional principles."
Moqtada al-Sadr has given Nouri a 15 day deadline to take action on the demands agreed to at the April 28th meet-up in Erbil attended by, among others, Moqtada, Allawi, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, KRG President Massoud Barzani and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi. Al Mada reports State of Law states that they don't understand the deadline and that Nouri didn't attend because the meeting was with the Kurds and the Kurds follow their bloc and the KRG Prime Minister and not Nouri. State of Law does love the insults. But, reality, Nouri wasn't invited to the April 28th meeting.
Of that meeting, Mohammad Akef Jamal (Gulf News) observes:
Former prime minister Ebrahim Al Jaafari, who is also the INA's chairman, did not attend the meeting, neither did the representative of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
These absences that may seem innocent are usually due to political reasons. The policies of the State of Law Coalition headed by Al Maliki pushed Iraq into a maze, domestically and regionally. They also created a ripe atmosphere for a mutiny against the current set-up by the blocs that make up the INA.
And although the 'news' that is planted from time to time about the conflicts inside the alliance is either exaggerated or played down, one cannot deny the existence of a serious crisis facing the Shiite alliance for the first time.
And on the subject of Tareq al-Hashemi, Ayhan Simsek (Deutsche Welle) explains:
Despite a "red notice" issued by Interpol, Ankara has declined to deport its close political ally to Iraq. "Mr. al-Hashemi has a health problem and is in Turkey for medical treatment," a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman told the press. "We expect him to return to Iraq when the treatment is completed."
"The red notice doesn't mean that an arrest is required," he added. "Individual states have their own legal jurisdiction and can respond with whatever action they want."
This is the latest bout of a Turkish-Iraqi spat that has lasted for weeks, and has added to the concerns over a growing Sunni-Shi'ite rift in the region.
Today's violence? Alsumaria notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing has left four people injured -- at least two of which were police officers, a Baquba roadside bombing targeted a teacher's home and left a 12-year-old girl injured, and late last night there was a Baghdad home invasion which left a police officer and two members of his family injured. AGI adds that a Falluja car bombing claimed 5 lives and left eight people injured, intelligence officer Abbas Fatih Ahmed died in a sticky bombing attack, two armed attacks in Falluja left ten people wounded. Iraq Body Counts notes that, as of Sunday's violence, 75 people have died so far this month from violence.
In other violence news, Al Rafidayn reports that Iraq's Human Rights Minister Mohammed Shiya al-Sudani has declared that over 300,000 Iraqis were killed by "insurgents" since 2003 and that the international community must understand that when Iraq is handing out death sentences today. He refers to it as a process of transition. Of course, similar excuses have been given before. Clare O'Dea (Swiss Info) reported in 2009 of then Iraqi Minster of Human Rights Wijdan M. Salim, "Salim said the death penalty might be abolished at some point but not at present. 'The violence in Iraq is so high, the number of terrorist victims is so large. It's not for me to stop it or not. I think it will not stop until another time."