Monday, June 23, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, June 23, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, John Kerry visits Iraq, Nouri has so far refused to sign a treaty granting US troops immunity, the Kurds are among those ready for Nouri to step aside, and much more.

Connie Cass (AP) offers "Iraq at Risk Again: How Did We Get Here So Fast?" and dozens more want to see (or insist) that there are lessons there for Afghanistan.  And the on the extreme insane side is Mike Whitney's assertion that this is all about Israel.

It's all useless unless the point is to churn out meaningless prattle about Iraq which people can repeat in a psuedo informed manner.

Mike Whitney's not a bad writer, he's gifted and we've often considered him for "truest statement of the week" at Third.  But if there is a connection to US efforts right now in Iraq and the government of Israel ("it's all for Israel"), Whitney's failed to establish it in his piece of writing.  As for Case?  If this is an attempt to mock, okay, great job.

Maybe it's a bad edit?  To ask, "When did the trouble start?" and offer "632 AD"?  This is stand up, right? Or maybe it's parody of the press industry itself as a reporter believes 'analysis' from 632 to the present

But to make your starting point 632 AD? And finish up in 2013?  In five brief paragraphs?

I believe Cass' article could be the text book example for "shallow press."

I have no idea how anyone could find any 'lesson' or 'example' to apply to Iraq from Cass' article.

Except maybe the lesson that no one paid attention?

We were pointing in 2011 that violence was increasing -- during 2011, we were saying violence was increasing.  We noted it during 2012.  We noted it during 2013.  About mid-way through 2013, the press started to notice.

In 2010, violence was reduced.  It fell based on the death toll.  In 2011, it increased a little.  In 2012, it increased a little more.  You can click here and look at Iraq Body Count's totals.

What was going on?

2010 was a parliamentary election year.  They held elections in March.  Nouri lost to Ayad Allawi and Nouri refused to step down.  For eight months, Nouri refused to step down.  This was the political stalemate.

He could refuse because he had the backing of the White House.  The White House also negotiated The Erbil Agreement with the heads of the political blocs -- which included Nouri.  This contract ended the stalemate.  It gave Nouri the second term as prime minister that he wanted -- that he wanted but did not earn.  To get the heads of the other political blocs to agree to that, the contract promised them things as well and outlined the new government, a power-sharing government.

That contract was signed off on in November 2010 and finally Parliament held their first real session (they had held one faux session in the spring of 2010) and Nouri was named prime minister.  He then trashed the agreement.  First, he said that he needed time to implement it.  Then his spokesperson said the contract was illegal and he refused to implement it.

He was never going to.  Nouri breaks every damn promise he makes.  He can't be trusted.  He used a contract to get a second term and then refused to honor it.  By the summer of 2011, Moqtada al-Sard (Shi'ite cleric and movement leader), the Kurds and Iraqiya were calling publicly for Nouri to implement The Erbil Agreement but he refused.  And the White House that swore the contract they negotiated was legal and had the full backing of the White House?

Suddenly, the White House couldn't remember the contract.

Look at the violence in 2011 slightly increasing.  In May 2012, there's an attempt for a no-confidence vote in Parliament and all the requirements are met but President Jalal Talabani (pressured by the White House) basically rips up the signatures.  And the violence goes up.  Protests return to the street at the end of 2012 and Nouri refuses to listen to them.  And the violence goes up.

It's a surprise?

Only if you weren't paying attention.

Back in July 2012, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."  

As violence increased year after year, Nouri refused to fill the security positions.

Can you imagine if the US had combat in multiple US cities and Barack had failed to appoint a Secretary of Defense and a Secretary of Interior?

In fact, Barack or any other US president that failed to fill a cabinet for a full four year term would be roundly criticized and possibly impeached.

The refusal to fill the posts was a power-grab on Nouri's part and it took place while the violence was climbing each year.

How did we get here so fast, AP's Connie Cass asks?

I believed I just answered your question and I'm rather amazed you couldn't do it yourself.

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Iraq today.  Alsumaria features this photo of John Kerry making nice with tyrant Nouri.

Chelsea J. Carter and Holly Yan (CNN) note, "As radical Sunni militants snatch city after city in their march to Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Iraq on Monday during the country's tensest time since the U.S. withdrawal of troops. He'll meet with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the man some say needs to step down."  John Kerry discussed his visit today:

Now, President Obama asked me to visit Baghdad today to demonstrate America’s support for Iraq and its people during this time of crisis. This is clearly a moment when the stakes for Iraq’s future could not be clearer. ISIL’s campaign of terror, their grotesque acts of violence and repressive ideology pose a grave danger to Iraq’s future. ISIL is not, as it claims, fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq; quite the contrary. ISIL is fighting to divide Iraq and to destroy Iraq.
So this is a critical moment for Iraq’s future. It is a moment of decision for Iraq’s leaders, and it’s a moment of great urgency. Iraq faces an existential threat, and Iraq’s leaders have to meet that threat with the incredible urgency that it demands. The very future of Iraq depends on choices that will be made in the next days and weeks. And the future of Iraq depends primarily on the ability of Iraq’s leaders to come together and take a stand united against ISIL – not next week, not next month, but now.
In each of my meetings today, I stressed that urgency and I stressed the responsibility of Iraq’s leaders to act, whether the meeting with Prime Minister Maliki, with speaker Nujaifi, with ISCI leader Hakim, or Foreign Minister Zebari, I emphasize that defending Iraq against ISIL depends largely on their ability – all of them – to form a new government and to do it quickly. It is essential that Iraq’s leaders form a genuinely inclusive government as rapidly as possible within their own constitutional framework.
It’s also crystal-clear that ISIL’s rise puts more than one country at risk. ISIL threatens the stability of the entire region and it is a threat also to the United States and to the West – self-declared. Iraq’s neighbors can bolster Iraq’s security, as well as their own, by supporting the formation of an Iraqi government that represents all Iraqis and also respects Iraq’s territorial integrity.
Now, President Obama has stated repeatedly that he will do what is necessary and what is in our national interest to confront ISIL and the threat that it poses to the security of the region and to our security in the long run. None of us should have to be reminded that a threat left unattended far beyond our shores can have grave, tragic consequences.

The President understands very clearly that supporting Iraq in the struggle at this time is part of meeting our most important responsibility:  The security of the American people, fighting terrorism, and standing by our allies.


Let's start with allies.  Nouri's been screaming and begging for the US military and its weapons since the end of October. And this month Barack agrees.  Why?

I think sending weapons and US troops to Iraq is wrong.  I think Nouri's government's falling because it's illegitimate and Nouri's a tyrant.

But the 'why' here is for another reason.  Nouri wants it.  Barack promises it.  And now we learn that Nouri can't agree to certain basics?

Read more here:
Eli Lake and Josh Rogin (Daily Beast) report today:

Obama will take Iraq's word for now that U.S. soldiers won't be prosecuted by the country's courts as they defend Baghdad.

President Obama pulled U.S. forces out of Iraq in 2011 because he couldn’t get Iraq’s parliament to offer U.S. soldiers immunity from Iraqi prosecution. But now Obama is promising to send in hundreds of special operations forces based on a written promise that these soldiers will not be tried in Iraq’s famously compromised courts for actions they are taking in defense of Baghdad.  
The U.S. military and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have opposed sending any special operations teams to Iraq until there is a written agreement from Iraq’s government that they will not be prosecuted under Iraqi law.

I don't know who's more stupid: Nouri or Barack.

Nouri wants US weapons and troops, has asked for them, is now getting them and is foot dragging (or refusing) to sign needed agreements?  And Barack is willing to send in US troops without the immunity agreement?

On the issue of what's being done -- troops with no written agreement for immunity -- Prashant Rao reTweets Reidar Visser:

         Retweeted by Prashant Rao

Iraq offers same legal assurances to US military in 2014 as in 2011. Nixed by Obama then; might have prevented crisis today.

Unlike Visser, I don't believe that the crises -- plural, Reidar -- would have been prevented if Barack had not drawndown the number of US troops in Iraq.  We can go into that more at another time.  But the crises stem from Nouri being given a second term as prime minister in exchange for a power-sharing government and his refusal to allow a power-sharing government.

The crises -- not even the violence today which is only one part of the crisis -- does not steam from Barack drawing down on troops.

As for Kerry's claims of the huge threat ISIS poses to "the security of the American people"?  That argument's been made in the United Kingdom, some UK politicians and officials have insisted ISIS is a threat to them.  Simon Jenkins (Guardian) disagrees today and notes:

The idea that the Isis action in Iraq poses a threat to the British state is ludicrous. That it came as a complete surprise to London (and apparently Baghdad) shows how trivial MI6 thought the threat before it happened. Otherwise, why did Cameron not do something about it a month ago? Surely heads should roll. In truth there is no threat, just a useful excuse for sabre-rattling and fear politics. If Isis can undermine Britain's safety, Britain must be a feeble place indeed.
As for the returning jihadists, they too are no threat to Britain. They may threaten to explode some bombs, a threat to life and limb. Why Cameron should want to elevate, indeed almost romanticise, that menace is a mystery. The only security against this violence is from policing and from targeted intelligence.

2715 is the number of miles between the United Kingdom and Iraq.

6927 is the number of miles between the United States and Iraq.

If Jenkins believes the UK is suffering a very small -- if any -- threat, why would the threat be greater for the US which is even further from Iraq?  (Barack's plan -- as it is implemented -- may in fact make the US a target for ISIS but it has not been one so far.)

Also on ISIS, Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) reports:

Insurgent records suggest that the United States will find it difficult to rout an organization whose structure and attention to detail allowed it to prosper even during the toughest U.S. counterterrorism efforts of the last decade. U.S. officials believed, incorrectly, that the group had been vanquished.
This rare, in-depth look into the seed money and organizational structure of the militant organization comes from the Department of Defense’s classified Harmony Database, a repository of more than a million documents gathered from Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones. Some 200 Iraq-related documents _ personal letters, expense reports, membership rosters _ were declassified in the past year through West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center for the use of RAND Corp. researchers looking into the evolution of al Qaida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq, the precursors to ISIS. Some analysis of the documents, which haven’t yet been published, was discussed with McClatchy to lend context to the current crisis.
The documents provide a cautionary tale as the Iraqi government pleads for U.S. military assistance to beat back ISIS’s brazen new campaign. The records reveal that previous incarnations of ISIS have shown an extraordinary ability to regroup even after military defeats.

Free Speech Radio News is back with weekly editions.  On this week's edition (also streamable at this KPFA webpage), Iraq was noted at the top of the broadcast.

Nell Abram:  Pressure is growing on Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to step aside as Iraq's government faces an insurgency that's captured key territory within the country.  The militant group known as ISIS launched a surprise offensive earlier this month and has since garnered the support of previously unaffiliated armed actors. Iraq's largest oil refinery has been a flashpoint for fighting between insurgent and pro-government forces.  Which side is in control of the facility remains unclear -- as does the fate of hundreds of its workers. US President Barack Obama has stopped short of ordering the support the Iraqi government requested but did authorize 300 military advisors to support its efforts to repeal insurgent advances.

President Barack Obama (from his Thursday speech): I think we always have to guard against mission creep.  Uh, so let me repeat, uh, what I've said in the past. Uh, American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.  Uhm, we do not have the ability to simply solve this problem by, uh, sending in tens of thousands of troop and, uh, committing, uh, the kinds of blood and treasure, uh, that's already been expended in Iraq.

Nell Abram:  According to Iraq Body Count, almost 2800 civilians have died since the beginning of June and the United Nations says more than one million Iraqis have fled their homes this year. 

On Barack's plan, AP notes today that criticism is emerging:

"I think that you have to be careful sending special forces because that's a number that has a tendency to grow," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, one of Obama's staunchest supporters.
Anna Galland, the executive director of the liberal group, said even a limited mission "is a dangerous and troubling development that threatens to lead to broader military engagement."

David Welna's report for Sunday's All Things Considered (NPR -- link is text and audio) quoted Senator Ted Cruz disagreeing with the White House's assertion that they do not need to seek permission from Congress for Barack's plan, "So if the president is planning on launching a concerted offensive attack that is not constrained by the exigency of the circumstances, he should come to Congress first to seek and to receive authorization for the use of military force."

One of the strongest and most plain spoken voices to emerge on the plan is Phyllis Bennis (IPS) who notes:

This is how wars begin.
Barack Obama says we’re not going back to Iraq. “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq,” he said on June 19th, “but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well.”
The White House says it’s “only” sending 275 soldiers to protect the embassy, it’s only sending 300 Special Forces, they’re only “advisers.” There’s only one aircraft carrier in the region, they say, and a few other warships. They’re considering missile strikes but they’re not going to send ground troops.

Iraq isn’t a start-up war for the United States—we’ve been there before. And these actions increase the danger we could be heading there again. 

One of the weakest voices?  That list is too lengthy but it's worth noting that Iraq Veterans Against the War once stood like giants (2006 and 2007) but now crouch in fear.  Today, they're Iraq Veterans Kind Of Sort Of Maybe Against the War If We Don't Have To Criticize Barack Otherwise We'll Just Stay Silent.

Today, Kitabat reports KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has declared Nouri al-Maliki is complicating efforts to resolve the crisis in Iraq and that Nouri should step down.  Since Friday, rebels have seized for cities in Anba Province and Sunday they seized three of the four (Rutba, Ana and Rawa.  Nolan Feeney (Time magazine) notes:

The capture of Rutba, a town located approximately 150 km east of the Iraqi-Jordanian border, gives insurgents major control over a key route to Jordan. The control of border posts and towns like Rutba will allow insurgent forces to more easily move weapons and soldiers between countries.
The seizure of Rawah and Anah suggest movement toward the city of Haditha, where a major dam lies — which, if destroyed, could wreak havoc on the country’s electrical systems and cause major flooding. Iraqi authorities speaking to the AP on the condition of anonymity say 2,000 troops have been dispatched to protect the dam.

Nouri's inability to prevent this from happening results in more embarrassments and, yes, even less support from the Iraqi people.  Kitabat notes rumors that the US is backing Ayad Allawi to be the next prime minister in Iraq.  Starting late Thursday, the rumor was the White House was pushing for Ahmed Chalabi to be the next prime minister.  Charis Chang (Newscomau) observes:

While the US originally backed al-Maliki, it now seems to believe a change of leader could be the key to halting the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which continues to take over territory in northern Iraq. 
It has been quite a turnaround. Al-Maliki came to power in Iraq with the backing of the US and Iran after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

But he has been unable to create a functional political system and there has been growing resentment among Iraq’s Sunni minority against his Shiite-led government.

She also quotes Peter Mansoor, who served under the one top US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus,  "He’s governed Iraq with an iron fist, he has alienated large segments of the Iraqi population, including its Sunni and Kurdish inhabitants, and his governing style has led directly to this moment when he’s lost control of more of third of his country.  It says something when the Sunnis feel so bad about the way they’ve been treated that they would forge a temporary alliance with these very extremist jihadists."

In his remarks on Iraq today, John Kerry stated:

It is incumbent on Iraq’s leaders to convene parliament on time, and I might say to you that every single leader today committed that they are dedicated to meeting the July 1st deadline for the meeting of the representatives, the parliament. It is also incumbent on them to choose a speaker immediately, then to choose a president, and finally a prime minister and a cabinet. And to do so, they must effect a unity that rises above the traditional divisions that have torn the government apart.
So I encouraged the leaders today to start this process and to move along a path that is outlined by Iraq’s constitution itself. Nothing that the United States through President Obama sending me here today – nothing that we asked them to do or offered is outside of the constitutional process or without complete respect for the choices of the leaders of Iraq. The United States is not choosing any leader; we are not making any preconditions with respect to who can or can’t take part. That is up to Iraq. It’s up to the people of Iraq to make that decision. And what we asked for today is also very much in line with the message that Grand Ayatollah Sistani offered just a few days ago. As I told Iraqi leaders today, and as I’ve made clear to my counterparts in the region, neither the United States nor any other country has the right to pick who leads Iraq. That is up to the people of Iraq. So it is when all of Iraq’s people can shape Iraq’s future, when the legitimate concerns and aspirations of all of Iraq’s communities – Sunni, Shia, Kurd – are all respected, that is when Iraq is strongest. And that is when Iraq will be the most secure.

Martin Chulov (Guardian) explores the situation and notes:

Ahead of meeting Kerry, Nujaifi told the Guardian that only the implementation of a federal system of government could hold Iraq together.
"A federal system is a solution," said Nujaifi, who hails from Mosul – the first city to be over-run by Isis earlier this month. "It is constitutional and even the Shias are starting to come around to it. There will be autonomy within each federal state, but Baghdad will remain the central Government.
A federal form of government has regularly been touted as a solution for Iraq over recent years. But such a system would be strongly opposed by neighbouring states, including Syria and Turkey, who fear the implications of such a move for their borders.
"This is a catastrophe. We are at the edge of the cliff and we have to hurry to find a solution," Nujaifi said "We'd been telling the US what was happening here, but they didn't get the message. I have been telling them for years that there is a leader (Maliki) that is sectarian, a one-man band who listens to no-one else. Now they understand."

This comes as Mick Krever (CNN) reports:

Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani gave his strongest-ever indication on Monday that his region would seek formal independence from the rest of Iraq.
“Iraq is obviously falling apart,” he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview. “And it’s obvious that the federal or central government has lost control over everything. Everything is collapsing – the army, the troops, the police.”
“We did not cause the collapse of Iraq. It is others who did. And we cannot remain hostages for the unknown,” he said through an interpreter.

“The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold.”

For video on where things stand for the Kurds, refer to this segment of The Lead with Jake Tapper (CNN).

Turning to some of today's reported violence, Alsumaria reports 70 prisoners were killed to east of Hilla with ten more injured (the prisoners were in the process of being transferred), 1 person was shot dead in Haswa,  Baghdad Operations Command spokesperson Saad Maan announced that 104 suspects were killed with thirty-one more injured, a Tarmiya home invasion left 6 family members dead, 5 corpses were found dumped in Baghdad, and the Peshmerga shot dead 1 sniper in Jalawla.  National Iraqi News Agency reports a Rabia bombing left 1 Peshmerga dead and six more injured, 1 person was shot dead in Baquba, and an Abu Ghraib attack left 1 person dead and one police member injured.  Through Sunday, Iraq Body Count counts 2969 violent deaths so far this month.


mohammed tawfeeq