Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 14, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Ramadi's in the control of rebels, the assault on Anbar continues to target women and children, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq asks for US monitors to Iraq's upcoming elections, Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi explains the US has never given Nouri conditions for their support, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits the KRG (including a Syrian refugee camp), and more.

We'll start with Monday's US State Dept press briefing when spokesperson Jen Harf was asked about Iraq.

QUESTION: On Iraq, please.

MS. HARF: Iraq?


MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the recent – I mean, updating about the cooperation with the Iraqi Government regarding --

MS. HARF: Yeah, let me – yeah – sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off there.

QUESTION: -- confronting different --

MS. HARF: Yep. Let me just --

QUESTION: -- challenges?

MS. HARF: -- give you a few updates here, and then if there are any follow-ups, I’m happy to get to it.
So just a couple of things. We put out a fairly lengthy statement about Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk’s travel to Iraq. Just a little update on the situation on the ground, and we talked about this a little last week – but basically that if we think back on, I think it was January 1st when AQ took over much of Ramadi, Fallujah, that the Iraqis, their local police, with the support of the army in a supporting role, have really cleared out most of Ramadi, and basically did it in about a week, a little longer, and now have a plan to use some of those same tactics to do the same thing in Fallujah. We’re working with them very closely on this.
Obviously, Fallujah’s a more complicated situation, but I think it’s important to note when there is success in doing this. A lot of people covered when AQ took over Ramadi. I think there should be as much attention paid to when the Iraqi local police was able to push them out to the outskirts of Ramadi. So we’re working with them on a whole host of issues, really. It’s working with them politically – as you saw Deputy Assistant Secretary McGurk met with everybody, I think, in Iraq over his few day trips there – but also on the military and counterterrorism side, certainly accelerating our cooperation.
I don’t have more details other than what we talked about last week.

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, if it was the talk about 72 hours ago or 48 hours ago, was about this Apache helicopters and missiles and all these things are – these things are finalizing, or on --

MS. HARF: Well, we certainly hope so. This is – these are things we certainly support, the Administration supports. We will keep working with Congress to as quickly as possible get more things, for lack of a more technical term, more materials to the Iraqi Government they can use in this fight. We are very committed to supporting them in this way through foreign military sales, and also politically and diplomatically.

It's rather sad that on the day the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon begins a visit to Iraq, the US State Dept doesn't even note the visit.  Monday, Ban Ki-moon spent the day in Baghdad.  Among those he met with?  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Deutsche Welle explains, "Visiting refugees from neighboring war-torn Syria in the Kurdish-hub of Irbil in northern Iraq on Monday, Ban had urged Iraqi leaders to seek 'political dialogue' and said he was saddened to 'so many young children and vulnerable groups who suffer from this man-made tragedy'."   UPI notes, "Their meeting followed a bloody Sunday that left 22 dead and 80 injured. On his fifth trip to Iraq, the UN leader expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation and encouraged political unity and civic participation."  ABC News Radio says the violence "overshadowed" the Secretary-General's visit to the capital.

Today, he visited the KRG in northern Iraq.  The UN News Centre reports:

Visiting with Syrian refugees in northern Iraq, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called “heart-breaking” what he saw in Kawrgosik camp, saying he was particularly saddened to see so many young children, women and vulnerable people suffering from “this man-made tragedy.”
“I am here to send our strong solidarity and support to all the refugees who came from Syria, on behalf of the United Nations and the international community,” said Mr. Ban alongside the High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, and Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.
“We are also here to listen to the concerns and aspirations of all the refugees here,” the UN chief said, recalling the people with whom he met in their tents. “Families shared their struggles to survive, find their loved ones and cope with the sadness of those who have been lost.”
The Kurdistan Regional Government is hosting more than 220,000 Syrian refugees. Mr. Ban highly commended “its commitment to humanitarian principles” in establishing refugee camps, transit sites and a humanitarian corridor to north-east Syria. 

And they note:

In a private meeting in Erbil with the President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, Mr. Ban urged the Government to keep the border open for refugees fleeing the conflict.
  The request was echoed by Mr. Guterres, who said it “breaks my heart” to see Syrian refugees risking their lives to escape from the country, such as the reported 200 people who drowned in a Nile River ferry accident.
“Your border is open,” he said, urging Governments to take in refugees and assume full-burden sharing with neighbouring countries “in the noble need to respond to this dramatic situation.”

The KRG notes the Erbil meet-up with President Barzani and Ban Ki-Moon was also attended by Prime Minister Barzani and Deputy Prime Minister Imad Ahmed as well as other officials. Ban Ki-Moon expressed his thanks for the KRG hosting the Syrian refugees and that the situations in Syria and Iraq were discussed.

Amir Taheri (Asharaq Al-Awsat) observes:

Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has claimed that the city, which drove governmental forces out last week, is now controlled by Al-Qaeda. His aides have warned that the new Iraqi army has received orders to “liberate” the city with a shoot-to-kill strategy. “We are not going to take any prisoners,” says Muwaffaq Al-Rubai, a veteran advisor to Maliki. Using the Al-Qaeda bogeyman, Maliki has managed to persuade the Obama administration in Washington to speed up arms deliveries, including drones using Hellfire missiles, to Iraqi government forces.
However, the black-and-white picture painted by Maliki does not tell the whole story. To start with, although radical Islamist groups are involved in the current crisis in Fallujah, it is simply wrong to brand them all with the Al-Qaeda label. Elements from the groups operating under the label of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are certainly present in Fallujah and, to a lesser extent, in Ramadi, another town in Anbar. But the insurgency that has wrested control of Fallujah away from Maliki has also attracted armed Arab Sunni tribes that helped drive Al-Qaeda out of the city almost a decade ago. Some of the radical Sunni armed groups came to Fallujah from neighboring Syria, where they have suffered a series of defeats at the hands of rival Islamist groups. In a sense, Maliki provoked them into direct control by launching operations at the Kilometer 90 junction where the borders of Iraq meet with those of Jordan and Syria, a major crossing point for radical Islamists fighting against President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.

Nouri's assault on Anbar Province continues.   Alsumaria reports that Anbar Province's Health Committee announced today the vast number of victims (300 dead and 251 injured) in the two week assault have been women and children.  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports, "Gunmen on Tuesday regained control of more districts in Ramadi, the capital of the volatile Anbar province in western Iraq, after fierce clashes with Iraqi army backed by Sunni tribes. [. . .]  On Tuesday, they managed to retake control of most areas in central and northern city, a provincial police source told Xinhua."  Al Jazeera adds, "Rebel fighters have staged coordinated attacks near the western Iraqi city of Falluja, destroying two army tanks and capturing a police station, police have said." AFP notes of Ramadi, "Most civil servants have returned to work and many shops reopened, but schools remained closed."  Meanwhile World Bulletin reports the Anbar tribal leaders held a press conference today:

Tribal chieftains held a conference on Tuesday in provincial capital Ramadi at which they issued a joint statement condemning what they called "the unjust war waged by the government of [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki" on the province.
The province was rocked by clashes early this month when Iraqi security forces dismantled a months-old anti-government sit-in. The sit-in was staged by Sunni tribesmen to protest perceived anti-Sunni discrimination by the Shiite-dominated government.

Chieftains said that the crackdown on the province had led armed tribesmen to take up arms against government troops "in defense of their souls and the pride of the tribes that al-Maliki tried to undermine."

UNHCR issued a statement today which included:

The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that it has been able to deliver aid over the past week to some of the estimated 70,000 people displaced by fighting and insecurity in central Iraq's Anbar province.
"Aid from the UN and partner agencies has been reaching some of the affected communities since January 8, and yesterday a further 12 trucks of UNHCR relief reached neighbourhoods around Fallujah, carrying non-food aid," spokesman Adrian Edwards said, adding that the International Rescue Committee was conducting the distribution for UNHCR.
"At present, insecurity and access difficulties are still hampering the overall effort. The UN is advocating with the government of Iraq to ensure access to displaced persons and safe passage of humanitarian aid," he added.

Other responses to Nouri's assault on Anbar?  Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports,  "Up to 10,000 Iraqi commandos would get antiterrorism training from the United States to bolster Baghdad's fight against al-Qaida under a plan currently being negotiated, diplomats said on Tuesday.  Washington and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are finalizing a security pact that would arrange for antiterrorism training for between 8,000 and 10,000 Iraqi commandos in Jordan, US diplomats based in Amman said."  Tom Roeder (Colorado Gazette) reports on Fort Carson service members in Kuwait:

Soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team are preparing for three major training exercises in the next 40 days, with the biggest matching their tanks against a Kuwaiti battalion. The training allows the 3,800-soldier unit to fulfill its mission of helping America's friends while honing skills that leaders hope deter threats in the roiling region.
"It has taken on increased significance and meaning, many of us in the brigade are veterans of Iraq," said Col. Omar Jones, brigade commander and a veteran of fighting in Fallujah, Baghdad and Mosul.
The brigade deployed to Kuwait in the fall, replacing Fort Carson's 1st Brigade Combat Team for a nine-month stint.
Keeping Fort Carson troops at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, near the Iraqi border is seen as a safeguard against violence that could spread beyond Iraq. The Colorado Springs soldiers also are the nation's first responders if trouble arises in the Persian Gulf region.

And there are other reactions to note as well.  Michael Holmes (CNN) reports on Iraq today including interviewing Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi:

Ayad Allawi:  And I warned all the leaders in the world and the region that unless this is averted then Iraq really is on the -- has started the civil war but hasn't reached the point of no return.  Once it reaches the point of no return then, unfortunately, the whole region will burn up.  

[. . .]

Michael Holmes [. . .] what he's saying about the US is that they backed al-Maliki which he says is fine.  They have no put enough pressure on him to reign in this sectarianism, to be more inclusive.  Here's part of what he [Allawi] said about the US.

Ayad Allawi:  They should support Maliki, it's up to them.  But they should also clarify to Maliki that their support is conditional on the inclusivity of the political process and respecting the Constitution and respecting human rights.  But unfortunately, the Americans are not doing this. 

Michael Holmes:  And he's a very worried man.  You know, I've had that sense coming back this time.  He's very worried that this could slip down that road to all-out sectarian war.  He says at the moment it's an asymeterical war with the car bombings, the assassinations.  He said it wouldn't take much for it to become a symeterical war -- that is armed rebellion, if you like, by the Sunnis in this country.  And that would be a disaster for the region and the country.

Today Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak was among those speaking in DC at the United States Institute of Peace.  Excerpt.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq:  Cruelty and abuse and marginalization can create a rich environment for terrorism and al Qaeda specifically.  And that's why al Qaeda is growing again in Iraq. And now we need all the effort to come together to help Iraq get rid of that danger -- likewise in the region.  I would like to emphasize that your brothers -- Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds and Arabs -- are quite determined to clean the country from  sectarianism and terrorism.  And they really need your help. I am quite sure that at the end we will be able to defeat terrorism in Iraq.  So we need help from the United States [. . .]  But today we need your help with the heads of the political groups to have a reconciliation in the country because we believe that arming the Iraqi army is not enough by itself because, you know, there's a society, cohesive society is needed to fight terrorism.  If you don't have these two factors, things will be really difficult.  And, as you know, that the American army with its might could not defeat al Qaeda unless they could have the cooperation of the local people.  

Hannah Allam and Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) add, "In telephone interviews, residents of Anbar echoed Mutlaq’s talking points but said they no longer viewed him as a legitimate envoy for their concerns because he’d refused to resign from the Maliki administration. Tribal leaders said Mutlaq should have consulted with them about their priorities before he went to Washington representing the Sunni population."  Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) covers it here.  We'll note the speeches tomorrow as well.  Eli Lake (Daily Beast) interviews al-Mutlaq and reports:

 Saleh al-Mutlaq, a deputy prime minister of Iraq, arrived in Washington this week with a modest request for a president he says prematurely withdrew American forces from his country at the end of 2011. He is asking President Obama to provide observers for the national elections in Iraq scheduled for the end of April.
As far is it goes, election monitors are not a big ask for Iraqi politicians. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has asked for the United States to send advanced aircraft, attack helicopters and other munitions for his military. He is getting some hellfire missiles and surveillance drones now that al Qaeda has claimed dominion over the western Iraqi city of Fallujah.
But Mutlaq—who is his country’s second highest ranking Sunni Arab politician after Usama al-Nujayfi, the speaker of Iraq’s parliament—would like the United States to try to save Iraq’s fraying political system before strengthening its army. 

al-Mutlaq's call for election monitors comes on the same day as a Nineveh Electoral Commission official was assassinated in Mosul.  In other violence today, NINA reports a Kadhimiyah roadside bombing left six people injured, a western Baghdad (Adil neighborhood) bombing claimed 2 lives (one was a police member) and left three people injured, 1 corpse was discovered in the streets of Buhriz ("bullet in the head and chest"), 1 Supreme Judicial Council judge and his driver were shot dead northwest of Baghdad, Nouri's forces and forces of Anbar tribes killed 21 Daash in Ramadi, a Mosul shooting left 1 man dead and his brother injured, an armed attack in Albotama Village left 4 Iraqi soldiers dead and five more injured, a Baghdad car bombing (Sadr City) left 4 people dead and ten injured, a Khalis clash left 2 people dead and three more injured, an Alwihdah bombing left 1 police members and 1 Sahwa dead as well as five more police injured, an attack to the east of Ramadi left 1 Iraqi soldier dead and four more injured, a western Baghdad car bombing (Ghazaliya area) left 6 people dead and thirteen injured, a Baghdad armed attack left 3 police members dead, "At least four civilians were wounded when two bombed cars expoded on Tuesday evening 14, Jan. south and east of Kirkuk," and a Baghdad armed attack (Al-Ersan) left 2 fighters dead, Qarma mortar attacks left 2 children and 1 man dead and ten more people injured.   EFE identifies the assassinated judge as Muttar Hussein.  Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) notes, "In Diyala province, gunmen attacked two houses at the edges of the city of Khalis, near the provincial capital city of Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, killing five people, three of them from one family, and wounding two others, a provincial police source told Xinhua."

National Iraqi News Agency reports Abu Karma mosque (Diyala Province) was set fire to leaving "material damages" and that this follows the bombing of "two mosques in the Zaganiah village 14 km northeast of Baquba" yesterday.  In addition, they note:

Director of Laylan District Mohammed Wayis announced the burning of two shrines south east of the city.
Mohamed Wayis said in a press conference that an unidentified armed group set fire on Tuesday 14, Jan. to the shrines of Sayyed Abdul Majid and Sultan Kozlh Baba on the main road linking between Kirkuk and Laylan District, a matter that led to serious material damages in them. "

And if you think things can't get worse there's MP Kadhim al-Sayadi.  He's billed as 'independent' by the press but he usually makes news for doing Nouri's bidding.  All Iraq News reports he's insisting he won't return to Parliament until Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi resigns.  al-Nujaifi is a member of Iraqiya.  Worth noting since last fall, al-Sayadi got into a fist fight with Iraqiy MP Hayder al-Mula.  Also last September he began demanding that Iraqiya MP Ahmed al-Alwani be stripped of immunity.  You may remember Ahmed al-Alwani.

Nouri ordered the dawn raid and illegal arrest of him on December 28th which kicked off the current conflict.  (Six people were killed in the raid including al-Alwani's brother.  When Osama al-Nujaifi attempted to lead an investigation into the raid, Nouri's military would not allow al-Nuajifi to leave Baghdad and enter Anbar.)

There is nothing independent about Kadhim al-Sayadi.  When Nouri's ass itches, Kadhim provides the scratch.  Kadhim is often the trial balloon for Nouri's next plan.  So the notion that Nouri wants to get rid of Osama al-Nujaifi is very frightening.  Osama is the last check on Nouri.

Nouri controls the judiciary.  He's run off Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (Sunni and a member of Iraqiya).  The country has no president.  December 2012,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17, 2012 (see the December 18, 2012 snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20, 2012, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.

There are no checks left on Nouri al-Maliki except for the Speaker of Parliament -- a post held by a member of the political slate that beat Nouri's State of Law in the March 2010 elections.

UPI reports Turkey's state-run Turkey Petroleum Co. announced today "it discovered oil while working in what it described as tough conditions near the borders with Iraq and Iran."  There are many implications for this and some will try to see it in terms of the KRG and Turkey's oil deal.  That's not what's going to be the issue here.  Iraq and Iran are already in border disputes -- you could argue the eight year war from 1980 to 1988 between the two countries had something to do with border disputes.  Since 2003, Iran and Iraq have repeatedly disagreed about where the border between their two countries are.  It's something a real prime minister of Iraq would have established long ago.  This will only add more pressure to the issue and that's before you factor in third party Turkey.

Turning to an ongoing topic, Michael Mathes (AFP) reports, "Several US lawmakers led by Republican Senator Rand Paul introduced legislation Tuesday that would finally bring to an end Washington's authorization to wage war in Iraq. President Barack Obama's White House backs the efforts, in principle, having withdrawn US forces in December 2011."  As noted in Friday's snapshot, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Tweeted. "Co-sponsoring 's bill to , to end authority for war and prevent more troops being sent there."  John Hudson (Foreign Policy) notes today:

 An administration official made clear that repealing the Iraq AUMF was not a priority for the White House because the effect would be largely symbolic. But the statement may provide cover for other Democrats who voted against Paul's attempt to repeal the Iraq AUMF in 2011 due to concerns that it would hamstring the administration. (At the time, Paul's repeal effort failed by a landslide 30-67 vote).
[. . .]

The bill is now backed by a bipartisan group of co-sponsors including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jeff Merkeley (D-OR).