Thursday, June 7, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's attempts to become the Little Saddam catch attention, the moves towards a no-confidence vote continues, we explore further Brett McGurk Iraq testimony to the Senate -- testimony that contradicts Leon Panetta and James Clapper -- and more.
"At the very top of my mind is the safety of all Americans serving in Iraq. I track this extremely closely. Over the course of this year, we have had on average zero to three attacks a week on the overall US presence. Almost entirely 170 mm rockets from the Naqshbandia group which is the rememnants of the Ba'athists Party. Fortunately, we've had no casualties from those attacks," declared Brett McGurk testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. Did the press rush to report that the US was still under attack in Iraq? Nope. Senator Robest Casey was the Acting Committee Chair at the hearing (filling in for Senator John Kerry). We covered some of this yesterday. We'll cover some today and try to wrap it up tomorrow.
What once had been labeled America's most important foreign policy issue, what still is the world's largest embassy, what was a crusade that killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands Iraqis, a failed policy that is still sending waves through the volatile Middle East, is now so unimportant that it is lopped together with the Maldives as another bit of perfunctory business for the Senate to rap out before summer recess.
Nobody cares anymore.
It really did seem that way in the hearing.
McGurk, responding to questions by Senator Tom Udall, began discussing groups in Iraq he saw as a problem. He started with al Qaeda in Iraq and this was interesting. al Qaeda in Iraq (also known as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia) was created by the Iraq War. Prior to 2003, there was no al Qaeda presence in Iraq. It is largely homegrown.
Like too many people, McGurk used "al Qaeda in Iraq" as a catch all for any attack taking place in Iraq. This did not speak to an awareness. That wasn't his biggest problem when discussing al Qaeda in Iraq.
McGurk declared that they were striking at a similar rate in Iraq this year as they had last year. That is remains a significant threat.
That's really interesting. Dropping back to the June 9, 2011 snapshot, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta (now Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta) was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
CIA Director Leon Panetta: Senator, I have to tell you, there are a thousand al Qaeda that are still in Iraq. We saw the attack that was made just the other day. It too continues to be a fragile situation. And I believe that uh we-we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we've made there.
It was treated as big news in real time. Missy Ryan (Reuters) live Tweeted the hearing and to her this was significant (more so than anything else) resulting in many Tweets including the following:
So by the summer of 2011, per the current Secretary of Defense, testifying before Congress, there were less than 1,000 al Qaeda in Iraq . . . in Iraq. That alone is troublesome considering McGurk's testimony.
Now what about the fact that most observers have declared that the bulk of the (small) al Qaeda in Iraq had gone on to Syria due to the turmoil there? Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported in February of this year:
The departure of al Qaida-affiliated fighters from Iraq to join the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria has had one benefit, Iraqi officials say:
[. . .]
Iraqi officials declined to provide precise figures for the drop-off or to estimate how many al Qaida-affiliated fighters have left the country for Syria. But the impact of the departure, they said, has been especially apparent in Ninewah province, which borders Syria and has long been the scene of some of al Qaida in Iraq's most violent bombings and assassinations.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/02/20/2651671/iraq-officials-violence-drops.html#storylink=cpy
He also asserted, "In terms of internal security and the Iraqis being able to secure their country, they're not doing a bad job. Uh, they secure the capital to host the Arab League Summit, they secured the capital to host the P5+1 talks. That would have been unheard of three to five years ago. So they're doing very good internal security."
That's such a bold faced lie. Baghdad's never had a big problem with bombings or shootings if they went into crackdown mode. Shortly after Nouri first became prime minister, fighters almost breached the Green Zone. What followed was Nouri's first crackdown.
So doing the same for the summit and +1 was nothing. It's equally true that it's a lie that Iraq did that. Take the Arab League Summit. When US President Barack Obama goes somewhere he goes with his own security detail. Do you really think that doesn't happen with other countries' leaders as well? It does happen. And just as the Secret Service preceeds a US president to any city days ahead of time to secure the visit, the same thing happened there. Iraq got a ton of help from Arab countries for the Summit and from the west and Iran for the P5+1.
In the 2010 parliamentary elections, violence within Baghdad was very minimal. And during the summit, there were mortar attacks on the Green Zone.
Is McGurk unaware of that? Is he unaware that any foreign leader has a security detail? He gave no indication that he was. And the elected officials had no interest in asking.
They had no interest in the 2008 Baghdad e-mails (we covered them in "Iraq snapshot" and "'Blue Balls' McGurk faces Senate Foreign Relations..." and "Iraq snapshot") which document McGurk -- who was married -- in a sexual relationship with Wall St. Journal reporter Gina Chon -- a relationship he attempts to conceal from the then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Gina Chon is now the second wife so will she be accompanying him to Iraq? I'll give her the same advice I gave Elizabeth Edwards in 2002, "Put him on a leash, a very short one." Just as Mr. Grabby Hands was notorious for coming on to women and sleeping around, Chon should realize the man who cheated on wife number one while he was in Iraq will likely repeat the act. I have no interest in Chon's e-mail side of the conversation. But I will offer that warning.
The Committee also tended to avoid the issue that has gripped Iraq for over a year now: the political crisis. Senator Lugar tip-toed up to it as his first round of questioning was coming to a close.
Ranking Member Richard Lugar: Let me ask, how are you going to advise Prime Minister Maliki under the current circumstances in which where he's not getting along well with the opposition to say the least and the Kurds are drifting off by themselves? What are the challenges for our diplomacy here?
Brett McGurk: Thank you, Senator. It's a really critically, critically important point. I have worked with Prime Minister Maliki for a number of years and all the Iraqi leaders and I've worked with him in his capacity as the prime minister. As I said in my written statement, I would try to focus now on dealing with the Iraqis in an institutional way. So dealing with Malliki as the prime minister now, if there was a new prime minister tomorrow, I would have the same close working relationship with him. I've worked with four Speakers of the Parliament, for example. You need to focus on the institution. When you're in Iraq and dealing with all sides, there are different narratives to the political proces. The government that was put in place in 2010, as you know, took eight months to put in place. When it finally came together, it represents 98% of the Council of Representatives.
Let's stop him for a moment. What is "it"? He's referring to the Cabinet. The Council of Representatives is the Parliament and he clearly doesn't see them as the government. He sees the Cabinet as the government and is saying the Cabinet represents 98% of the Parliament. He's referring to the various blocs in the Parliament.
Brett McGurk: They're represented in the Cabinet. That naturally leads to a lot of inefficienies, a lot of rivalries, a lot of intrigue and that is certainly going on now. Uhm, Maliki will say that his opposition figures who are in his Cabinet won't share responsibility for governing. The opposition figures say Maliki is consolidating power. They're all right. And we need to work with all of them to live up to their prior agreements and to work within the Constitutional system to change the process. You mentioned the Kurds and this is critically important and I would plan to visit the Kurdistan Region as much as possible. I'd like to be up there, if I'm confirmed, at least once a week because it's the personal interaction between the ambassador and the Iraqi leaders that's so important for keeping everything stable and for bridging areas of disagreement. The Kurds are having some difficulties with the Baghdad government right now, the Baghdad government's having difficulties with the Kurds. The real rivalry is [KRG President] Massoud Barzani and Prime Minister Maliki. Uh, we have to play an important role in mediating that effort. Uh, I would just leave it at there's a Constitutional system in place now. This is the third Iraqi government, the second Parliament, The Iraqis are going to fight through their politics under the Constitutional rules they themselves have devised. We cannot direct outcomes through that process. When we try to do that, the unintended consequences are quite enormous. But we can help bridge differences. We can mediate back and forth and be constantly, actively engaged and that's what I intend to do if I'm confirmed.
Well if Iraq consisted solely of the Nouri and his supporters on the one hand and the Kurds on the other hand, that answer might be a good one. Lugar didn't notice and didn't care. He just gaped at McGurk in slack-jawed wonder, making cow eyes at him.
Ahmad al-Mesaree, a lawmaker with the Sunni-backed Iraqiya slate, told Radio Free Iraq that McGurk's close ties with Maliki were cause for concern.
"His statements and political positions have not been neutral toward the political factions," he said.
Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi lost to Maliki in the latest round of elections.
The Iraqi Embassy in Washington told the news service, however, that Baghdad had "no objection or reservation" to McGurk's nomination.
Oh, yeah, Iraqiya. The political slate that won the most votes in the 2010 elections. The political slate that lodged an objection with DC when McGurk was first nominated -- arguing that he was a tool/toy of Nouri's and that he would not be fair to all factions in Iraq. His testimony certainly placed a great deal of emphasis on Nouri but he did mention the Kurds by name. The same was not true of others. Iraqiya's concerns appear well founded.
Iraqiya has become the Cassandra of Iraq, in fact.
For eight months following the 2010 elections, Nouri caused Political Stalemate I. He wanted a second term as prime minister; however, his State of Law had come in second to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya. The Constitution outlined what was supposed to happen and it most likely would have been followed if Nouri didn't have the support of both Tehran and the White House. The US government would pretend to be an honest broker and arrange the Erbil Agreement. This contract would give Nouri his second term and he would have to make various concessions to Iraq's other political blocs.
Nouri was named prime-minister designate the next day and immediately refused to implement the creation of an independent security council (among other things). In protest, Ayad Allawi walked out with many other members of Iraqiya. He was told, by the US, that he wasn't giving Nouri time and that of course the Erbil Agreement -- a signed contract! -- would be honored. So he returned to the Parliament.
Nouri used the Erbil Agreement to get a second term and then refused to follow it. Iraqiya should have listened to their own instincts and grasped that the US government didn't give a s**t about anyone in Iraq except for Nouri al-Maliki.
It's a lesson that the Kurds learned. As December 2010 drew to a close, Nouri failed to name a full cabinet. The security ministries, for example, were vacant. He refused to name a Minister of Interior, a Minister of Defense or a Minister of National Security. With heavy spin from the US State Dept, the press ran stories telling people that it would be a matter of weeks before Nouri made those nominations. (Per the Constitution, he should have been stripped of the title prime minister-designate and it should have been awarded to someone else and they would have had 30 days to form a cabinet.) While the US government lies were being circulated, Iraqiya declared that Nouri had no intention of naming anyone to those posts. Nouri would keep them vacant because controlling the security ministries would help him become Little Saddam all the quicker.
The Erbil Agreement has still not been implemented. Nouri is threatened with a no-confidence vote over that and knows all he has to do is implement it to stop the vote. He refuses to implement the contract he signed. Iraqiya was right. The press said, in December 2010, that it would be only a matter of weeks before Nouri named ministers to head the security ministries. Wrong. Still vacant. He will not send anyone to Parliament as a nominee because once Parliament votes them into the post, Nouri can't remove them without Parliament's approval. So instead, he finds stooges and calls them "acting ministers" -- despite the fact that there is no recognition of such a post in the Constitution.
During a presentation at the National Defense University in May, British scholar Toby Dodge described Maliki as "muscular" and as "a grey functionary," a man who has long known he has many enemies and now has moved to consolidate power both brutally and efficiently. The prime minister, Dodge said, is "consolidating an authoritarian regime, the ramifications of which are rather stark" and he urged the United States to "adopt a policy to combat this rising dictator." He has gone from the last man standing to a direct and profound threat to any remnants of Iraqi democracy."
Maliki began by targeting the military, the courts, and the ministries. As the U.S. military, in particular the U.S. Special Forces, transferred responsibility to their Iraqi counterparts, Maliki created several special brigades within the army as counter-terrorism brigades and moved them out of the defense ministry to report directly to him. The office of commander-in-chief was moved to the prime minister's office and staffed with friends loyal to him. He then consolidated the police and army into one office under one general in order to control all security functions. His special operations forces, which Iraqis refer to as Fedayeen al-Maliki, a term reminiscent of Saddam's infamous fedayeen Saddam, number approximately 4,200 and are under his direct control.
Dodge and others note that by retaining the title and role of defense and interior minister, moving special security units out of the defense ministry, streamlining the military hierarchy, and controlling high-ranking appointments, Maliki has circumvented the military chain of command and, in effect, coup proofed the military. He has also moved to tighten control over the intelligence and security services. As in Saddam's time, Iraq now has six separate intelligence services overseeing each other and everyone else. According to Dodge's figures, 933,000 people are employed in the Iraqi Security Forces, an estimated 8 percent of the Iraqi workforce and twelve percent of the male population. Other sources describe Maliki as targeting midlevel intelligence-officers to drive them out if they are seen as threats to him. The effect has been to undermine the coherence of the chain of command and fracture the ability to produce and utilize actionable intelligence. Shiite security forces masquerading as militias maintained secret prisons, conducted kidnappings and targeted killings with apparent impunity. Dodge estimates that given Maliki's control over special security, intelligence, police, and prisons, no one in Iraq's growing security apparat would dare challenge him. Dodge is almost certainly correct.
Nouri doesn't appear troubled by the crisis and one reason for that calm may be that he has some sort of promise from the US government? Alsumaria notes that Kurdistan Alliance head Mahmoud Othman is declaring the US government does not want Nouri removed from his post and think the crisis can be dealt with by a simple slap on the wrist (censure). Dar Addustour reports State of Law is still stating the the US will save Nouri al-Maliki, that they have Barack Obama's backing and that the White House will stop the proposed no-confidence vote (in the Iraqi Parliament) against Nouri. Supposedly, the White House is preparing a message that will convince enough -- if not all -- members of Parliament that Nouri should stay in his position.
If the White House does do that, it's not surprising. But possibly they could answer at what point they intend to allow democracy to take place? It wasn't when the Iraqi people voted. They made clear Nouri was not their first choice. But the White House didn't give a damn about who the Iraqis wanted as their leader. Iraqis risked a great deal to vote. And voting wasn't just going to their precent. Voting, in Baghdad, meant traveling to a second or a third or a fourth polling place. And this while checkpoints and bans are in place. It was very difficult for them to vote. But they voted. And the US refused to honor that vote. The US insisted that Nouri must remain prime minister.
Ask Iraq's Sunni, Kurdish and even some Shiite leaders these days what they think of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and the rhetoric is likely to be shrill: Many call him a dictator, autocrat or even a new "Saddam" who needs to be voted from office. For the second time since American troops left last December, Maliki is wading through a crisis with the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs in his government at each others throats in a feud that risks spilling from politics into sectarian violence.
Al Mada reports that the Sadr bloc says they are still supporting the no-confidence vote and standing with Iraqiya and the Kurdistan Alliance. They call for reforms and say -- noting Nouri's history -- that they don't rule out last minute surprises popping up. I'm having computer issues on this end, sorry for the long delay. We'll cover Othman and no-confidence vote in the snapshot and just get this up before I have to reboot again.
In other news of violence, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice announces to Alsumaria that Abed Hamid Hmoud was hanged today. Hmoud was the former secretary of Saddam Hussein. AP adds, "As Saddam's presidential secretary, Hmoud controlled access to the Iraqi president and was one of the few people he is said to have trusted completely, U.S. officials said in 2003." No one will speak of the crimes or the trial on the record. But though it appears he was not accused of killing anyone himself, he was put to death for "persecution" of others.
This wasn't justice, this was the settling of old scores.
In tomorrow's snapshot, I hope to work in suicides and Sahwa among other topics. For now we'll wind down with this from Senator Patty Murray's office. Senator Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, June 7, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
VETERANS: Murray Commends VA for Focus on Reproductive Injuries
Murray: VA must continue to work to enhance fertility treatment services for severely wounded veterans
(Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki to commend the Department's addition of coverage for reproductive and urinary tract injuries to the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection Program. The nature of the current conflict and increasing use of improvised explosive devices leaves servicemembers far more susceptible to blast injuries that affect these systems. Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011 more than 600 servicemembers from OEF/OIF/OND suffered these life-changing battle injuries.
"It is vital our veterans and their families receive benefits and services that allow them to fulfill their life goals, such as attending college or having a child," said Senator Murray. "I look forward to working with VA to make sure veterans get the support they need."
The full text of the letter follows:
June 6, 2012
Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
I write to commend the Department's recent focus on reproductive and urinary tract injuries in the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection Program. The nature of the current conflict and increasing use of improvised explosive devices leaves servicemembers far more susceptible to blast injuries that cause this type of trauma. This is an area that has been of increasing concern to me as these injured servicemembers attempt to move forward with their lives.
Recent Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011 more than 600 servicemembers from the current conflicts suffered reproductive and urinary tract battle injuries. As these servicemembers readjust to civilian life and eventually get ready to start their own family, they find VA's fertility services do not meet their complex needs. While VA's fertility services provide limited assistance to the veteran with reproductive and urinary tract trauma, there is no coverage for their spouse.
I know that you share my belief that it is critical that veterans and their families receive benefits and services that allow them to fulfill as many of their goals as practicable, whether they include attending college or having a child.
I look forward to our continued work is this area to support our Nation's veterans and their families.