Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, July 23, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes get called out, the US government's decision to supply Nouri with weapons he can use on the Iraqi people gets noted, Brett McGurk's spin to Congress falls flat, and much more.

US House Rep Ed Royce: Never has a terrorist organization itself controlled such a large, resource-rich safe haven as ISIS does today. Never has a terrorist organization possessed the heavy weaponry, cash and personnel that ISIS does today -- which includes thousands of western passport holders. The Iraqi population is terrorized; they have suffered mass executions and harsh sharia law. Last week, the remaining members of the ancient Christian community in Mosul fled on foot in face of ISIS demands that they convert or face death. To be clear, ISIS's take-over has been aided by Prime Minister Maliki’s malfeasance and incompetence. Maliki has disastrously failed to reconcile with key Sunni groups. Many -- including myself and Ranking Member Engel -- urged him to form a more inclusive government so that ISIS could not exploit legitimate Sunni grievances. Maliki has only proven himself to be a committed sectarian; certainly no statesman. It is time for Iraqis to move forward in forming a government that serves the interests of all Iraqis.

Royce was speaking at today's House Foreign Affairs Committee.  He is the Chair of the Committee, US House Rep Eliot Engel is the Ranking Member.  Appearing before the Committee were the Defense Dept's Elissa Slotkin and the State Dept's Brett McGurk.

We're going to start with Elissa Slotkin:

First, we have added forces to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq. The safety of U.S. citizens and personnel in Baghdad and throughout Iraq is our highest priority. The Department of Defense is meeting all requests from the Department of State for security support to US Embassy Baghdad. As described in the War Powers notifications we transmitted to Congress on June 16 and 26, DoD has sent a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST ), a Crisis Response Element (CRE), and additional military assets and personnel to reinforce security at our diplomatic facilities in Baghdad and the Baghdad International Airport.

That's from Slotkin's opening remarks and we're going with the written version and not the oral version because that was more clear in writing.

Should something go wrong with regards to US diplomatic staff in Iraq, people will be asking what was going on?  Was there a plan?  Already, the issue of the safety of the diplomatic staff has been an issue.  Speaking on behalf of DoD today. Slotkin conveyed the government's position.

Whether that's enough or not is something events will most likely determine.

Something that can be determined right now?

That the administration was doing enough or not?  That can be judged right now. Here's Brett McGurk speaking of the days after rebels took Mosul.

Brett McGurk:  Over the next three days, in meetings with our embassy team and video conferences with President Obama and the National Security Council, we immediately prepared and executed our crisis response. We also worked closely with Iraqi officials to organize the defenses of Baghdad and restore some of the confidence that had been battered. Our response to the immediate crisis proceeded along three parallel tracks. First, and most importantly, we worked to ensure the security of our own personnel and facilities. Second, in parallel, we both relocated and surged U.S. diplomatic, intelligence, and military resources to develop strategic options for the President with real-time and accurate information. Third, we worked with Iraqi officials to strengthen their defenses of strategic locations, and set the political process on track, with a focus on forming a new government following national elections.

Everything the administration has done since 2010 has pretty much been wrong.  That includes US President Barack Obama's weasel words when running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2007 and 2008.  He did not face cheering crowds and garner applause and shouts of joy for declaring, "I will withdraw some troops from Iraq in 16 months, in fact, let's call them 'combat troops,' while I keep many more on the ground in Iraq."

No, what got cheers were his claims that "we" wanted to get the US troops out of Iraq -- all.  16 months was the promise he gave the public. He should have kept it.  He should have ordered an immediate departure from Iraq of all US troops upon being sworn in back in January 2009.  If he'd done that, it would be Bully Boy Bush's (illegal) war.  BBB started it, the American people wanted it ended, Barack could have done that and then, if anything bad happened, he could say, "All I did was end the war."

But he's not very bright nor are his advisers -- and, even worse, than not being very bright?  Being not very bright and falsely assuming you're a genius.  Instead of leaving it Bully Boy Bush's war, Barack wanted to toy with it, wanted to f**k with it, wanted to put his stamp on it.

And he did.  And he owns the illegal war the same as BBB.

No one knows what would have happened if Iraq had been left to move forward on its own at the start of 2009.  But what is known now is that installing Nouri al-Maliki for a second term -- after voters rejected him --  guaranteed Iraq would take the path it currently is on.p

And now Nouri wants a third term.

Grasp that Barack never anticipated that happening.  He's unable to forsee the most basic possibilities.

Remember that, following the 2005 parliamentary elections, Iraq waited several months for a prime minister.  What was the hold up?

Not the Parliament.  They wanted to name Ibrahim al-Jafaari.  He's been the prime minister, then Ayad Allawi.  But the Bully Boy Bush administration -- not one noted for wisdom -- managed to grasp that Iraq -- ruled by a strongman -- could quickly fall back to that pattern.  They nixed al-Jafaari.  But in the next election, even with Nouri losing, Barack and his administration weren't smart enough to grasp that giving Nouri a second term could lead to all the problems Iraq now faces.

They're not very smart and really struggle to anticipate much of anything.  The gang that supposedly moved on three dimensional chess levels?  Turns out they can't even handle tic-tac-toe.

From the hearing . . .

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: In your excellent opening statement, Mr. Chairman, you had said -- about Mr. McGurk -- that in February you [McGurk] said that we must ensure that ISIL can't gain safe haven in western Iraq and that you were confident that Iraq would deny them this.  We all know how that turned out.  Just a few months later, ISIL took over most of western Iraq.  How could your assessment have been so far off?  How could Iraq lose this territory?  Why didn't we respond to their calls for help?  Your testimony from February shows that there's some serious disconnect within the administration and the reality of the threat in Iraq.  Or we've just been completely failing in addressing it.  You said in February, that the US began to accelerate some of our foreign military assistance programs and information sharing to get a better intelligence picture of Iraq. Last month, Secretary [of State John] Kerry said nobody expected ISIL to capture Mosul.  Even if  our foreign military assistance had not  quite kicked in yet, shouldn't our information and intelligence gathering efforts have been able to get a better assessment, a more accurate assessment, of Samarra and Mosul?  And it has been widely reported that while taking control of Mosul, ISIL seized rather large quantities of US supplied foreign military assistance and made off with nearly half a billion dollars from the local banks -- in addition to tanks and humvees that were taken.  US officials were quick to deny the claims of ISIL-- that they captured advance weaponry such as Black Hawk helicopters.  Did they capture any caravan aircraft with advanced weapon platforms?  And did they take any other advanced weaponry like MPADS [Man-portable air-defense systems]?  US military equipment and hundreds of millions of dollars aren't the only items that ISIL has seized. The Iraqi government confirmed that ISIL took uranium from Mosul University.  What is the status of that uranium?  What could ISIL use that for?  And on the Christian community, we've seen that the ancient Christian community in Iraq is under seige by these Islamist militants.  Once a vibrant and sizable community, now over 1 million Christians have been forced to flee their homes  and communities or be killed.  Their homes are being marked by ISIL and they are being given an ultimatum to flee, to convert or to be murdered.  In February, you said, Mr. McGurk, that the Christian community had the resources to protect itself and that we had actually made progress.  It's clear that we haven't made any progress.  We cannot protect them.  So what are we doing now to protect the few remaining Christians and their religious sites and artifacts?  As Ranking Member Engel had pointed out,  are we -- on any level -- coordinating with Iran on the -- or Syria -- over our Iraq policy or ISIL and does the administration believe that Maliki must go?  Yes or no?  Thank you, sir, gentle lady.

Brett McGurk:  Let me -- Let me try to address some of these in order.  First, uhm, the discussion we had -- the very good discussion we had back in February was focused on Anbar Province and I'll just bring you up to speed on-on where we are Anbar Province.  At the time, Falluja was in control of ISIL, Fallua's still in control of ISIL.  I made clear then that our advice was 'not to move into Falluja, that it was to set up a coordinate' -- and that coordinate remains in place although it is fairly loose.  Second, we wanted them to hold the provincial capitol of Ramadi.  So far, they are still holding the provincial capitol of Ramadi.  What has changed significantly in Anbar is a very sophisticated attack what happened late last month with an attack on al Qaim the strategic border crossing in Iraq -- which again proves that ISIL is really an army, it's a military capable force, it was a multiple day assault. 

al Qaim?  In June, in two days in June, al Qaim, Rutba, Rawa and Anah were taken by rebels -- all in Anbar.

Other aspects of Brett's testimony registered as well as evidenced by today's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Marie Harf.

QUESTION: Very quickly, the parliament failed today to choose a president. Now the problem if they don’t do it tomorrow, then they will miss the deadline, because next week is the (inaudible).

MS. HARF: Well, they’ve said they will meet tomorrow and will vote tomorrow.

QUESTION: Could you very quickly tell us what Mr. McGurk is doing now?

MS. HARF: Brett McGurk?


MS. HARF: He’s back in the United States.

QUESTION: He’s back in the --

MS. HARF: He was testifying on Capitol Hill today.


QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

QUESTION: (Off-mike) McGurk.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: He said that ISIS is not just a terrorist organization, but a full army and is more powerful than al-Qaida. Can you comment on that?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen – I didn’t watch his entire hearing this morning. Let me take a look at what he said. Clearly, they have significant military capabilities, though. That is true.

We'll return to the hearing to note this exchange.

US House Rep Albio Sires: Ms. Slotkin, I have been here since 2006 and I have come to hate the words "assess" and "train."  We seem to be assessing and training Iraqi soldiers, assessing the situation in Iraq and I think the situation is worse than ever.  After spending billions of dollars, we train an army, someone shoots at them, they run for the hills.  Where did we go wrong with these people?  That we put all this money into this training and they can't even defend a section of their own country?  And I just -- it's mind boggling to me.  Now we have this situation where we have ISIL moving in all sorts of directions and I'm concerned that -- in Jordan, for example -- we have 2 million refugees and if we have a situation where they destabilize Jordan, the whole area -- It's just -- It's just a big mess.  What did we do with all that money that we paid to train those people?  Where are these trained people?  And I've been here since 2006 -- and not just this administration.  I'm talking from 2006 on.  Can you just -- Mr. McGurk, could you also assist me in understanding this?

Elissa Slotkin: Sir, let me address the issue of the training.  I think anyone who has watched the news or been part of our efforts in Iraq was disappointed by what we saw in Mosul.  And I think the biggest thing that we looked at and that we were surprised by was the disolving of frankly four Iraqi divisions up and around that area -- and some areas where they did not fight, in contrast to western Iraq where they did put up a fight.  And rather than a lack of capability, I think what we believe happened is that they just lacked either the will or the direction to fight.  So either they saw a snowballing effect, out of fear, stripped off their uniform and turned or they waited for direction from Baghdad that did not come and therefore departed.  We don't believe that they lacked a basic capability.  It's that, at the end of the day, they did not have the will or direction to fight in that part of the area. 

Slotkin may or may not have been truthful (I have no reason to doubt her) but it is her area of expertise.  It is not, however, Brett McGurk's area of expertise.

It was hilarious to watch Brett bluster on about the Iraqi military and how it was stronger now and it was this and it was that.

Uh, Brett, you're State Dept.  You don't know a damn thing about the military.  If you did, you'd be the 'trainer' doing the 'assessment.'

In addition, it is widely known that Brett is cozy with Nouri and has skewed reports in the past to make Nouri look better to the administration.  Sort of like he attempted to do with the Congressional Committee today.  Too bad for Brett that so few were willing to indulge him this go round.

Telling aside of the hearing?  When Royce pointed out, "The performance on the battlefield of certain Iraqi units was abysmal.  That's to be expected when you put your son in charge and you sack the officer corps and replace them with cronies.  But anyway . . ."

Runner up?  US House Rep Brad Sherman: "Maliki is not a good guy just because we installed him."

On the topic of Nouri, Sinan Antoon and Zaid Al-Ali address him and other topics in a column for the Washington Post:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been the target of choice. He is certainly responsible for the deterioration of the situation in Iraq, and there is much to fault and criticize in his policies. However, to understand the current situation’s genealogy one ought to look beyond individuals and consider dynamics and trends that predate the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Focusing on Maliki alone obscures the real culprit of Iraq’s woes: The pure and undiluted self-interest of long-standing U.S. policy toward the country, and the contempt for the right of Iraqis to live in their own country with dignity. In fact, that disregard runs so deep that U.S. policymakers have for decades failed to engage in adequate planning with regards to Iraq and to admit to any form of culpability when their actions on the ground destroyed countless lives.
[. . .]
Appointing Maliki in 2006 and reappointing him in 2010 was merely a continuation of decades of U.S. policy, and attempts by current and former U.S. officials to create a distinction between his first and second terms in office are designed to obfuscate that truth. Maliki was openly sectarian and conspiratorial in his methods from the start. On Jan. 25, 2007, in what was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated initial attempt at national reconciliation in parliament, Maliki launched a sectarian outburst on live television at the first hint of criticism. Rather than address concerns relating to abuses by the security services (which were in any event not fully under his control at the time), he accused a member of parliament, without evidence, of engaging in genocidal acts, bringing the session to an early close.

Just a few months later, Maliki commenced a military operation to bring the Mehdi Army, an illegal militia that was loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, to heel (he was only successful after the U.S. army intervened). Although many Iraqis were rightly satisfied to be rid of the militiamen, Maliki’s actions were wrongly interpreted at the time as evidence of his non-sectarian credentials. In fact, they were merely additional evidence of his cracking down on opponents regardless of their identity, at a time when he felt strong enough to do so. Maliki also wasted no time in cultivating and protecting ties with corrupt officials, culminating in his attempts to immunize Faleh al-Sudani, a close collaborator who had been minister of trade until 2009 and who was the focus of unending accusations of corruption, from prosecution.

We will note the hearing in another snapshot this week -- hopefully tomorrow.

Seven months and he still can't get it together because he refuses to initiate a political system that values and includes people not part of his State of Law political coalition.

National Iraqi News Agency reports the Iraqi military says they killed 15 suspects in Jurf al-Sakar (all burned alive in air strikes),  they also brag about burning to death 23 other suspects in an aerial bombing of Rawa, and 3 Peshmerga were kidnapped north of Mosul.

The Iraqi military claim they killed a commander here and another there.  These are suspects, they don't know who they're killing, they lack the intelligence and equipment to pull off even the grotesque air targeting the US government could (so-called 'precision strikes' which still kill multiple innocents).  The lack of intelligence is one of the reasons the White House was reluctant to allow Nouri to have US air strikes -- they didn't trust what US troops could not verify.  Another reason was that the fear was Nouri would use the US military to target his political rivals -- he has a long history of targeting his political rivals including having tanks surround their homes or invade their homes in the middle of the night.

What's really going on is that the bulk of the 'brags' Nouri's forces have on killings are from air bombings.  It's as though Iraq has no ground forces at all -- or none that will go out on missions.

Human Rights Watch issued a press release today which included:

“The Iraqi government may be fighting a vicious insurgency, but that’s no license to kill civilians anywhere they think ISIS might be lurking,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s airstrikes are wreaking an awful toll on ordinary residents.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 30 witnesses, victims, medical staff, and family members of those killed by airstrikes in Fallujah, Beiji, Mosul, Tikrit and al-Sherqat. Of the 75 deaths in the attacks Human Rights Watch investigated, 17, including 7 women and 2 children, were a result of barrel bombs.

There was a consistent pattern of aerial bombardments in residential areas by government forces using helicopters, jets, and other aircraft. The attacks hit areas surrounding mosques, government buildings, hospitals, and power and water stations. Residents in Mosul, al-Sherqat, and the oil-refinery town of Beiji described a pattern of intensifying strikes throughout the first half of July in areas where groups of civilians had gathered.
The Iraqi government should immediately stop all indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas. Foreign governments providing military support and assistance should continue support only on the condition that the armed forces obey international humanitarian law and halt actions that disregard the consequences for civilians caught up in the conflict.
The United States has sent Iraq military aid, including Hellfire missiles, ammunition, and surveillance drones, since the Anbar conflict began in January and is debating other military initiatives in Iraq. In accordance with US law, though, it should immediately end its military assistance until the government of Iraq complies with international law, Human Rights Watch said. The Iraqi government’s continued unlawful attacks, despite its denials of such attacks, indicates that Iraq may continue to use military assistance in ways that violate international law and harm Iraqi civilians who are trapped between the government forces and insurgents.

Human Rights Watch has spoken out loudly and clearly while Amnesty International has been a grave disappointment.

Briefly back to today's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Brett McGurk testified, "The Kurds are now, for example, are choosing their nominee to be the next president of Iraq. And we hope to have that sorted out over the coming days."

The coming days?  The plan was to choose a president today.  This morning, All Iraq News noted former Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is vying for the post of President of Iraq.  There are many reasons that qualifies as news -- the main one most likely being that al-Mutlaq is a Sunni and Kurds feel they have the right to the post of President -- they feel only they have that right.  (And Sunnis did claim the post of Speaker of Parliament already this month.)

Another reason it's news is that there's hope (misguided or valid) that a president might be picked today.  NINA explains, "A special session held by the House of Representatives for the election of the president of the republic with presence of 236 deputies this afternoon.  It is scheduled that during this hearing the election of the president and his two deputies would take place."

Yesterday, there were thought to be as many as 100 people who would be vying for the post.  All Iraq News explains this morning that 8 candidates have already been tossed by the so-called Justice and Accountability Commission and that Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim has declared, "I call all the nominees of the non-Kurdish community to reconsider or cancel their nomination for the President Post in order to avoid any surprises that might accompany the nomination process because this post is a merit for the Kurds."  Sinan Salaheddin (AP) notes that  two Kurds are considered front runners for the post "former deputy prime minister Barham Saleh and the Kirkuk provincial governor Najimaldin Karim."

But though there were plenty of people who wanted the job, in the end, no one was selected.  Isra' al-Rubei'i and Maggie Fick (Reuters) report, "Iraq's parliament, which had been due to elect the country's president on Wednesday, postponed the vote by a day, delaying the formation of a power-sharing government urgently needed to confront a Sunni Muslim insurgency."