Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, June 5, 2012.  Chaos and violence continue,  Brett McGurk intends to take himself and his self-admitted "blue balls" before the Senate Foreign Policy Committee tomorrow, whether he will be asked by the senators whether it was appropriate to engage in an affair with a reporter while stationed in Iraq or to conceal it from his supervisors remains an unknown, Moqtada says they have enough signatures to call for a no-confidence vote on Nouri al-Maliki, poverty and sanitation rates released by an Iraqi ministry do not demonstrate progress, and more.
In recent times there have been several attempts to block the nomination of an ambassador.  Republican Senators successfully blocked Mari Carmen Aponte from the post of Ambassador to El Salvador.  Prior to that, Democrats successfully blocked the nomination of John Bolton and then Bully Boy Bush recess nominated only to have Bolton step down after the 2006 mid-term elections when Democrats won control of both houses. Democrats blocked Gene Cretz's nomination successfully as well (Bush nominated, Democratic senators had a problem not with Cretz but with sending an ambassador to Libya, he was confirmed near the end of Novembe 2008).  Tomorrow morning the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on three nominations.  Senator Bob Casey will be acting Chair.  (John Kerry is the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). It will most likely be very boring and run of the mill.  Why?
As the above examples demonstrate, in recent times, objections only come from the party not occupying the White House.
The Senate has a job to do and they don't take it seriously.
They can argue that all they want but the reality is that while Susan Marsh Elliott's nomination to be the US Ambassador to the Republic of Tajikistan and Michele Jeanne Sison's nomination to be the US Ambassdor to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (while also serving as US Ambassador to the Republic of Maldives) may not be controversial, Brett McGurk's nomination to be the US Ambassador to Iraq should be very controversial.
Setting aside who the nominee is, just the fact that this White House has nominated someone to be US Ambassador to Iraq should be controversial.
When Barack Obama was president-elect and not yet sworn in, then-US Ambassador Ryan Crocker kindly offered to continue in his role until Barack could find a replacement.  Barack thanked him for that offer and took him up on it.  So far, so good.
Then came the nomination of Chris Hill and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- on the Democrat side -- refused to do their job.  They waived through a moron.  An obvious moron as demonstrated in his March 25, 2009 confirmation hearing (those late to the party can refer to the March 25, 2009 snapshot and the March 26th snapshot for coverage and gasp in amazement that Hill -- after being briefed on the issue -- still had no grasp on Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution or the issue of Kirkuk).  Hill was a supposed trained and accomplished diplomat (his personnel file begged to differ) but under him nothing got resolved and the long delay in the elections also comes under his watch.  Iraq falls apart under his watch, it can be argued.  I heard all about his "low energy levels" while in Iraq, his napping on the job, his inability to communicate with anyone (the then-top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno carried both the Defense Dept and the State Dept all by himself because Hill couldn't be counted on; Odierno had to do double duty and Hill was said to be resentful over all the work Ordierno took on -- work Odierno had to take on when Hill either couldn't or just wouldn't do it).  Peter Van Buren published the book We Meant Well: How I helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, he's a whistle blower now being targeted by the White House.  And until he posted the grossly offensive photos of Hill and a 'colleague' earlier this year, I wasn't aware that Hill was also mocking the assassination of JFK.  Chris Hill was a disaster and we said he would be after his hearing.  But he was much worse than anyone could have imagined and he owes the American people an apology for that little stunt where he mocked JFK and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  He wasn't hired for his 'cutting edge comedy,' he was paid by the tax payers to be a diplomat and there was nothing diplomatic about turning the assassination of a sitting US President and the horror of the First Lady who saw her husband assassinated into a cheap joke.   If you missed that, refer to Peter Van Buren's blog here and here.  And maybe then you'll understand why so many -- especially US military officers in Iraq -- could not believe that this moron made it through a confirmation hearing. 
Having made that disaster, the same Committee should be very careful. Proof of Hill's complete failure, July 20, 2010 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was holding a hearing on James Jeffrey's nomination to be the US Ambassador to Iraq.  In his hearing, Jeffrey proved himself to be competent and aware of the issues.  He has now left his post and we're not supposed to note that or to comment on the why of it.  He went in thrilled to have the post and worked very hard at it.  You'd think the press would be interested why he no longer wanted it.  But the press doesn't report, they fawn.
What does the Senate Foreign Relations Committee do?  Is the attitude of Democrats on the Committee that Barack can't win a second term? 
If that's their attitude than the hearing really doesn't matter.  You're talkin gabout someone who will be voted on by the end of the month or early July so he'd only be in Iraq for a few months before the new president was sworn in.
So maybe tomorrow the Democrats won't be asking tough questions because they don't think Barack Obama can win re-election.
If they do think he can, then they need to be asking some serious questions of the nominee.  It is not normal to be on your third ambassador to a country in less than four years. 
A death might excuse that number but there have been no deaths. The previous two left government service to get out of the job.  Clearly, the confirmation hearings have been a failure.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee should grasp that.
The nominee should have to explain what their committment to the job is, how long they could conceivably hold it and what they intend to bring to the table?
Iraq is supposedly a major issue to the US.  It should be.  US taxpayers saw trillions go into that illegal war.  The world saw millions of Iraqis die,  4488 US service members die (DoD count), 'coalition' partners losses, an unknown number of contractors, reporters and many more.  And you'd think with all that blood, with all those lives lost, with all that money wasted, that the US government would take the post of Ambassador to Iraq seriously.  One president having three nominees in one term -- an ongoing term -- does not indicate that serious work has been done either by the White House or the Senate.
All of the above would be for any person nominated today to that post.  In addition to the above, McGurk is woefully unsuited for the job.  He should be asked to explain his administrative experience.  He's not heading a desk in a vacation getaway.  If confirmed, he would be heading the most expensive US embassy project.  That's even with talk of staffing cuts and talk of this and talk of that.  Even now the US diplomatic presence in Iraq is the big ticket item in the US State Dept's budget.  What in his record says to the American people, "Your tax dollars are not about to AGAIN be wasted?"
Iraq is highly unstable.  The US should not be sending Ambassador Number 3 since 2009.  But it's in that position now because people trusted to do the work -- vetting the nominee, confirming the nominee -- didn't do their jobs.
Democrats saw it as, "One of our own is in the White House! Whatever he wants!" That's not why you were elected to the Senate and you have wasted tax payer money with this continued turnover of this post.  At a time when sequestering looms over the budget, the notion that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee thinks it can just waive this appointment through is inexcusable.
Unless of course, we're to infer that the Senate doesn't feel the position matters because they're assuming Barack will lose in November so McGurk would only briefly be in position until Mitt Romney could nominate his own ambassador.
Donna Cassata (AP) reports that "members of the panel saying they saw no obstacles to McGurk winning their approval to the posting to one of the United States' largest diplomatic mission in the world."  That should be "some members."  Even her own report notes that Senator John McCain is not gung-hu. McCain's not the only one.  I count three others that might ask difficult questions and rise to the occassion and to the duties of their office. Cassata feels the need to offer, "While violence has dropped sharply in recent years, attacks on Iraqi government offices and members of the security forces are still occuring."  That's so damn offensive.
The Iraqi people don't matter, Donna Cassata?  Just the "government offices and members of the security forces"?  Not only is that insulting it's inaccurate.  Siobhan Gorman, Adam Entous and Ali A. Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) reported on the National Counterterrorism Center's statements of "an uptick in attacks by al Qaeda's Iraq affiliate" since December and, "Recent U.S. intelligence reports show the number of attacks have risen this year to 25 per month, compared with an average of 19 for each month last year, according to a person familiar with them."
McGurk could become the new Ambassador to Iraq . . .  blue balls and all.
What's that?  Click here for some of his alleged e-mail correspondence with Gina Chon who covered Iraq for the Wall Street Journal.  It appears real and I'm told it is real.  What were the ethics of his being sent to Iraq by the US government and his beginning an affair with Chon?  Is he really supposed to be using taxpayer computers to send Chon messages about "I had a very real case of blue balls last night! I think they're still blue."? He was working under Ryan Crocker and a June 23, 2008 e-mail to Chon makes it clear that Crocker was unaware that his staffer was sleeping with a reporter for a news outlet ("[. . .] you would indeed provoke serious head scratching on Ryan's part").
To be very clear, I'm not quoting Gina Chon's e-mails and have no interest in them.  The reason being she's a reporter.  Her paper paid for her to be in Iraq.  US taxpayers paid for McGurk.  US taxpayers paid for American soldiers as well.  It was not assumed that the US soldiers would be sleeping there way through Iraq.  In fact, anything they did like that, they were expected to do while on leave.  I don't understand how a government employee went to Iraq -- a war zone -- and thought it was okay to romance a reporter and thought it was okay not to inform his superior of this little hidden dance.
If McGurk is confirmed, will he be able to focus in Iraq or will his self-admitted "blue balls" demand that he find 'relief' with a reporter?
Soldiers had to focus on their missions, I'm amazed that McGurk, now nominated to be the US Ambassador to Iraq, didn't have the same requirement.  I also wonder, of this man with so little administrative experience, how he would be able to model appropriate behavior or, if need be, discipline for inappropriate behavior? 
Will anyone have the guts to ask him tomorrow why he didn't inform Crocker of his entanglement with a member of the press?
Again, the exchange is here.  Gina Chon did not work for the government.  She was free to do whatever she wanted with her time and I'm making no comment on her or any sort of judgment.  I feel badly about linking to these exchanges that include her e-mails; however, the US Embassy in Iraq has been a story of too much sex and too little work.  Again, don't expect the Senate to provide the oversight that they're supposed to.
And Iraq's a country where the people need a friend.  Alsumaria reports that 70% of the urban areas are without proper sanitation.  The numbers are from the Ministry of Planning.  They also claim that 79% of the people say that they have safe drinking water.  That doesn't mean that (a) they have safe drinking water out of the pipe.  Saying you have "safe" drinking water may merely mean that you know to boil it before drinking it -- which is far more likely when you look at the lack of sanitation.  Also true (b) the cholera outbreaks each fall indicate that a number of Iraqis either don't know about safe drinking water or don't think they can be harmed themselves.  This is not a minor issue, this is a human rights issue.  And for those who might fret that I'm on the soapbox again, although I agree with that definition, I'm not the one making it, the Foreign Ministry of Iraq defines human rights with a long list which does include the right to safe water and to sanitation.
Poverty is also defined as a human rights issue by the Iraqi government.  Ministry of Planning spokesperson Abdul Zahra al-Hindawi states that it is the lack of electricity that is hurting water and sanitation.  The Minister of Planning, Ali Yousef Shukri, tells Alsumaria that the unemployment rate in Iraq stands at 16% while the poverty rate is approximately 11%.  You can be sure both numbers are actually higher.   And the UN estimates the poverty rate to be 23% while youth unemployment is 30% and total unemployment is 15%.   But how does an oil rich country ever justify poverty in its borders?  The Ministry of Oil is yet again bragging about estimates including that in the next 20 years they expect oil revenues to bring in five trillion dollars.  Five trillion dollars.  How do justify poverty in Iraq?
Meanwhile Al Mada reports that the Parliamentary Integrity Committee is stating that Nouri has taken their files and the fear appears to be that he will use them to go after political rivals.  One Commssion member states that the work of the Commission for the past months has now vanished.
Dina al-Shibeeb (Al Arabiya) speaks with two analysts of Iraqi politics, Ahmed al-Abyadh and Amer al-Tamimi:
"If the majority of the political factions in Iraq agree to unseat Maliki, the United States cannot convince or stop them from doing so," he said.
"If Maliki falls," Tamimi said, "that there are two possible outcomes: one, a national partnership government will be formed or two, a struggle to agree on Maliki's substitute will ensue which could lead to the setting up of a caretaker government."

Al Mada reports there are rumors that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has signed on to the no-confidence vote on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Alsumaria notes that today Talabani announced the formation of a committee to vet the authenticity of the signatures on the motion for a no-confidence vote.  Alsumaria reports sources tell them that there are 40 signatures from the Sadr bloc, 48 from the Kurdish bloc, 75 from Iraqiya, 3 from minority seats and 9 from the National Alliance. That would add up to 175.  Al Rafidayn reports Moqtada al-Sadr announced there were 176 signatures yesterday. Either Alsumaria missed one in their reporting or else one signed on after.  More interesting is Nouri's public boasting that the White House will save him -- and rumors that Vice President Joe Biden will make a visit to Iraq -- by "persuading" some signees to leave the list.  Nouri's not usually so publci about how dependent upon the White House he is.   Al Rafidayn notes that Nouri spent yesterday disputing the validity of signatures.  Al Mada adds that the National Alliance is being urged to propose an alternative to Nouri.

It's the ongoing political crisis.  And Nouri could end it at any time -- Moqtada al-Sadr has publicly stated so -- by merely implementing the Erbil Agreement.  But Nouri has refused to do so.

In March 2010, Iraq held parliamentary elections.  Nouri had a fit and demanded a recount.  Even after the recount his State of Law was still second place to Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi).  So like a big cry baby, he dug his feet in and refused to allow the process to go forward.  For eight months, Political Stalemate I, he refused to allow the Constitutional process to go forward and he was able to get away with it because he had the backing of the White House and of the Iranian government in Tehran.

Running interference for him, the US-brokered the Erbil Agreement.  It allowed loser Nouri to have a second term as prime minister.  The willful child had exhausted everyone's patience and the other blocs tried to be mature and put Iraq ahead of everything else.  So they agreed to let Nouri have a second term as prime minister provided he made concessions (such as following the Constitution's Article 140).  He signed off on it and the US vouched for the agreement, it was legal, it would be followed, let's all move forward.

Then when Nouri got his second term, he trashed the agreement, refused to abide by the contract and the same White House that brokered the contract now refused to call for it to be followed.
UPI notes, "Even fellow Shiites are saying Maliki, who controls all Iraq's military, security and intelligence forces, should go. At the same time, Tehran is seeking to ensure that Iraq's Shiites don't upstage Iran's long-held spiritual domination of the Shite sect, a position that the Iranian clergy seized

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2012/06/05/Iran-steps-in-to-prop-up-Iraqs-Maliki/UPI-79511338917097/#ixzz1wxoxUc2y
Last night came news that the CIA was contemplating drawing down its presence in Iraq.   The CIA, still in Iraq?  Yes.  Last December, Ted Koppel filed an important report on Rock Center with Brian Williams (NBC).

MR. KOPPEL: I realize you can't go into it in any detail, but I would assume that there is a healthy CIA mission here. I would assume that JSOC may still be active in this country, the joint special operations. You've got FBI here. You've got DEA here. Can, can you give me sort of a, a menu of, of who all falls under your control?

AMB. JAMES JEFFREY: You're actually doing pretty well, were I authorized to talk about half of this stuff.

Yes, the CIA continued in Iraq after the 'withdrawal' (remember, the Pentagon always called it a drawdown -- the press and the White House insisted on using "withdrawal').  So you have the CIA, Joint Special Operations Command, the DEA and the FBI. As well as thousands of contractors, Marines to guard the US Embassy and 'trainers.'

Siobhan Gorman, Adam Entous and Ali A. Nabhan (Wall St. Journal) reported last night that the CIA was considering cutting its staffing in Iraq?  Cutting it all?  No.  Cutting it to 40% less than it was in 2011.  Why?  Maybe the clue comes from the Ministry of Interior's Hassan Kokaz who states of the US in Iraq today, "We have asked them to wear civilian clothes and not military uniforms and to be searched when they visit Iraqi institutions.  Perhaps they are not used to this."  How major is the story?  It actually led to Iraq being raised at today's US State Dept press briefing (link is text and video).  Mark Toner was the spokesperson handling today's briefing.

MR. TONER: Let's go Iraq and then back to you.
QUESTION: Yeah. Mark, I wanted to ask you if you'd -- if you have any comment on plans by the CIA to scale back its presence in Iraq, and how does that impact the presence of your personnel at the Embassy?
MR. TONER: Well, I certainly can't speak to the matters raised in the article that you mention. I would just say that we continue to work closely through the Embassy as well as through our Office of Security Cooperation to support Iraqi Security Forces.
QUESTION: Are U.S. diplomats able to conduct their business in Iraq freely and let's say the consulates in Mosul and Basra and places like that?
MR. TONER: Yes. We believe that they -- that our -- as I said, our cooperation with Iraqi security forces is very good.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally, would the U.S. continue to conduct its diplomatic efforts in Iraq as usual with a lessened number of, let's say, contractors?
MR. TONER: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: With a scaled-back number of contractors that provide security?
MR. TONER: Well, as we've talked about before, we're looking at possible changes in reductions in our footprint in Iraq. But as we always say, the safety and security of our personnel on the ground is paramount.
As the war drums continue to pound against Syria, Professor Joshua Landis warns against foreign intervention at Foreign Policy.  Excerpt.
Anyone who believes that Syria will avoid the excesses of Iraq -- where the military, government ministries, and Baath Party were dissolved and criminalized -- is dreaming. Syrian government institutions and the security forces will fall apart once the revolution prevails. They are overwhelmingly staffed by Baathists, Alawites, and other minorities, recruited for loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad -- no revolutionary government will keep them on. Their dismissal will provide fodder for a counterinsurgency, promoting greater chaos across the country.
We'll close with "Obama's list of death" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):
The presidential election campaign is well and truly under way in the US. Barack Obama wants to banish any lingering illusions that he might be an anti-war president.
Long gone is the candidate who opposed the "bad war" in Iraq, opposed rendition and promised to close Guantanamo Bay.
Timely revelations from White House insiders this week present him coolly signing off on "kill lists" for deadly drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
He wants everyone to remember that he is the man who took out Osama Bin Laden.
Obama has resolved the "kill or capture" dilemma by relying on drones which kill indiscriminately.
Since he was elected the number of deaths by drone strikes has soared. It's impossible to obtain clear figures for civilian casualties—the US military always claims that all men of military age who die are "combatants".
Drone attacks have the added benefit for him of not putting US lives at risk. The operators are safe in a Nevada bunker.
And fear of drones that could strike at any moment is intended to terrorise populations, giving US troops the space to get out.
Obama was never really anti‑war—he was just against George Bush's strategy for war.
The establishment backed his election to pursue US imperialist interests by different methods.
But today those methods will seem little different to people living in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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