Saturday, July 26, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, July 26, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri refuses to step aside, the State Dept refuses to break it off with him, and much more.

Wednesday morning, the State Dept's Brett McGurk and the Defense Dept's Elissa Slotkin appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to talk about Iraq.  Thursday, they appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to talk again about Iraq.  We're going to spend another day on the Senate hearing and we'll kick things off with this lengthy exchange.

Senator John McCain: So if we did initiate an air to ground campaign, without including Syria, they would have a sanctuary in Syria.  Would you agree with that?

Brett McGurk: One of the reasons I defer to my colleague Elissa, we're focused on training the moderate opposition and have a face that's able to deny safe haven and deny space to the -- to the ISIL networks in Syria.

Senator John McCain:  Well probably so but the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both stated publicly that the Iraqi security forces are not capable of regaining the territory they lost to ISIS on their own, without external assistance.  Do you agree with the Secretary of the Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

Brett McGurk: The Iraqi security forces have moved, uh, a little bit out of -- We had this snowballing effect out of --

Senator John McCain: Again, asking if you agree or disagree with the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who both stated publicly that the Iraq security forces are not capable of regaining the territory they've lost to ISIS on their own without external assistance?  Do you agree or disagree?

Brett McGurk:  They could not conduct combined operations -- which it would take -- without some enabling support.

Senator John McCain: So, since we all rule out boots on the ground, that might mean the use of air power as a way of assisting them.  Would you agree with that?

Brett McGurk:  Uh, Senator, I just -- uh, all of these options, potential options for the president, are being looked at and, as Elissa said, we're not going to crowd the table --

Senator John McCain: And how long have we been "looking at them," Mr. McGurk?

Brett McGurk:  Uh, well --

Elissa Slotkin: Sir, the assessments came in last week and --

Senator John McCain: So the assessments came in last week.  How long have we been assessing?

Elissa Slotkin:  I think we assessed for two solid weeks.

Senator John McCain:  I think it's been longer than that since the collapse of the -- of the Iraqi military, Ms. Slotkin.

Elissa Slotkin:  I think the president made his announcement on June 19th.  And then he instructed that assessors go to Baghdad.  They flew there and began their assessments immediately.

Senator John McCain: I see.  And so far we have launched no air strikes in any part of Iraq, right?

Elissa Slotkin:  That's correct.

Senator John McCain:  And you stated before that we didn't have sufficient information to know which targets to hit.  Is that correct?

Elissa Slotkin: I think we have adequately improved our intelligence --

Senator John McCain: But at the time, did you believe that we didn't have sufficient information in order to launch airstrikes?

Elissa Slotkin:  I think that we -- given our extremely deliberate process about launching any airstrike we would --

Senator John McCain:  You know, it's interesting.  I asked: Do you think at that we didn't have sufficient information to launch airstrikes against ISIS?

Elissa Slotkin: I think given the standards the United States has for dropping ordinance, no, we did not have the intelligence we would ever want at that time.

Senator John McCain: I find that interesting because none of the military that I've talked to, that served there -- and even those who flew there -- they're absolutely convinced, as I am, that when you have convoys moving across the desert in open train, you can identify and strike them.  We know that they were operating out of bases in Syria -- out in the open, in the desert.  So with those of us who have some military experience in the advocacy of air power, we heartily disagree.  And that isn't just me, it comes from military leaders who served there.   

There are a number of reasons to note the above.  One reason we did?

Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Newspapers) reports one aspect of the hearing:

Like the rest of the world, the U.S. government appeared to have been taken aback last month when Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell to an offensive by jihadis of the Islamic State that triggered the collapse of five Iraqi army divisions and carried the extremists to the threshold of Baghdad.
A review of the record shows, however, that the Obama administration wasn’t surprised at all.

I don't like people who lie.

In the House hearing especially, there was a pretense of 'I am so shocked!'  Often with a claim of 'It turns out that late last year, Nouri al-Maliki asked the White House for air strikes.'

John McCain is no friend of the White Houses.  That is a large chunk of his exchange in the Senate hearing.

You can agree or disagree with the points he raises.  But you will notice he does not pretend he is shocked or act like he just learned of Nouri's request from last year for air strikes.

You can refer to the November 1, 2013 snapshot covering Nouri's face-to-face meet up with Barack Obama to grasp that there's no way anyone can pretend to be shocked by today's events.

Yet a number of House members pretended and played -- and lied -- during Wednesday's hearing.  And a number of reporters are eager to join them in pretending and playing.

Another topic that came up repeatedly was Nouri's failures.

For example, former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey told the Senate Committee on Thursday:

Despite the election of a moderate Sunni Arab speaker of the Iraqi parliament two weeks ago, there is no certainty that Iraqi political leaders and parliament can overcome their deep divisions to create an inclusive new government as rightly demanded by the U.S. Government. For starters, any such government must not be headed by PM Maliki. He has lost the trust of many of his citizens, including a great many Shia Arabs, yet is still trying to hold on to power. In this uncertain situation, while pushing the traditional approach, we must simultaneously prepare to deal with an Iraq semi-permanently split into three separate political entities, and to shape our approach to the Sunni Arab, Shia Arab, and Kurdish populations and to the central government on that basis.

Nouri "is still trying to hold on to power"?  Michael Gregory and Larry King (Reuters) reported Friday morning that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistanti's Friday message was that politicians must stop "clinging to their posts, in an apparent reference" to Nouri who refuses to step aside.

Jeffrey thinks the answer is "an inclusive new government" and one that "must not be headed by PM Maliki."  In the same Thursday hearing, it was wondered if the State Dept was backing Nouri and at what cost?

Senator Jeff Flake:  Is it possible at all, in the State Dept's view to move ahead with Maliki in charge?  Will there be sufficient trust -- any trust -- in the Sunni population that he'll be inclusive enough?  His government?  Or does our strategy rely on somebody else coming in?

Brett McGurk: Again, it's going to be very difficult for him to form a government.  So they're -- they're facing that question now -- now that the president's been elected to face the question of the prime minister.  Any prime minister, in order to form a government, is going to have to pull the country together.  And so who ever the leader is, it's someone who's going to have to demonstrate that just to get the votes he needs to remain -- or to, uh, uh, be sworn into office.  So that's something that's going to unfold fairly rapidly over the coming days.  Again, there's a 15 day timeline to nominate a prime minister [designate] and then whomever the nominee is then has to form a Cabinet and present it to the Parliament to form a government.

 While Nouri has lost the support of many -- including, reportedly, the support of the Iranian government, the US government continues to support him and not just as evidenced by Brett's slip-up ("he needs to remain") but also by the exchange in Friday's State Dept press briefing moderated by Marie Hark

QUESTION: Right. Yeah, I wanted to ask you if there’s any progress on the forming of the new government. Do you have any updated --

MS. HARF: Well, they selected a president and --


MS. HARF: -- they have up to 15 day – excuse me, up to 15 days, I think, to name candidates for prime minister. And then after that, I think up to 30 to actually form a government. I can check on the dates. But they have now a speaker, they have a president, and then next up is a prime minister.

QUESTION: Should we read from the testimony that Mr. McGurk did on Capitol Hill that you are losing patience with Mr. Maliki, you’d like to see someone else take his place?

MS. HARF: You ask this question a different way every day. We don’t support --


MS. HARF: -- and I’ll give you the same answer, so let’s – for consistency, let’s do that again today. We don’t support any one candidate, any one person to be prime minister. We’ve said it needs to be someone who is interested in governing inclusively. We’ve also said we’ve had issues in the past with how Prime Minister Maliki has governed. But again, it’s not up for us to decide. It’s up for the Iraqis to decide.

QUESTION: Right. But your confidence in Maliki’s abilities to rule inclusively, as you said, is --

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve had issues in the past.

QUESTION: -- not ironclad.

MS. HARF: We’ve had issues in the past.

The State Dept has "had issues"?  With a War Criminal, they've "had issues"?

Prime Minister and chief thug of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki killed 4 civilians  and left eight more injured in his latest bombing of Mosul on Friday, NINA reports.  Thursday, NINA reported:

Head of the doctors resident at the Fallujah Educational Hospital Ahmed al-Shami said on Thursday that the outcome of the bombing on the city of Fallujah since / 7/ months reached / 2696 / martyrs and wounded, including women and children.
He told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / that the final outcome to this day for the victims of the bombing suffered by residential neighborhoods in the city of Fallujah was / 610 / Martyrs and / 2086 / wounded, including women and children.

Nouri's a War Criminal.

But the State Dept is happy to stand next to him, hold hands with him and, provided with enough booze, have a hot and sticky, back seat make out session with him.

While a War Criminal gets embraced, some argue an ally gets mistreated.

Dropping back to Thursday's hearing:

Senator Barbara Boxer:  I want to ask you about the Kurds.  Both of you.  I don't know which.  Either of you could answer.  The Kurds in northern Iraq have long been a strong ally of the United States and they have played an important role in countering the rapid advance of ISIS.  When I went to Iraq a very long time ago, the bullets were flying.  The Kurds?  I found them to get what this was all about.  And there's so much prejudice against the Kurds.  The Kurdish militia offered to support Iraqi security forces when ISIS began its offensive in Mosul.  Kurdish forces have kept much of northern Iraq out of terrorists hands.  Kurdistan has beome a destination for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing from ISIS controlled territory.  And, you know, I have to say as I watch Mr. Maliki, I don't think he appreciates it.  As the Iraqis work to determine their future, I'm asking you, what role can the Kurds play?  And should the United States acknowledge that the Kurds should have a significant amount of autonomy?  I think they've earned it and I wondered what the administration's position was vis a vis the Kurds and more autonomy for the Kurds?

We'll ignore all the pretty words Brett McGurk offered Boxer because Marie opened her mouth in the State Dept press briefing.

QUESTION: Okay. Reuters has reported that a tanker loaded with oil from the Kurdistan region of Iraq is near Texas and is apparently heading for a potential buyer there.

MS. HARF: Well, we are aware there’s a tanker off the coast of Florida currently. But our policy here has not changed. Iraq’s energy resources belong to all of the Iraqi people. The U.S. has made very clear that if there are cases involving legal disputes, the United States informs the parties of the dispute and recommends they make their own decisions with advice to counsel on how to proceed. So I’d obviously refer you directly to the parties in terms of any arbitration here. I know that’s what the stories have focused on.

QUESTION: Are you actively warning the – say, the U.S. firms or other foreign governments to not buy Kurdish oil specifically?

MS. HARF: Well, we have been very clear that if there are legal issues that arise, if they undertake activities where there might be arbitration, that there could potentially be legal consequences. So we certainly warn people of that.

QUESTION: Do you keep doing that now too?

MS. HARF: We are repeatedly doing that, yes.

QUESTION: So why – I mean, if you think it’s illegal or that --

MS. HARF: I didn’t say it was illegal. I said there’s a legal dispute process here, an arbitration mechanism. There will be a legal ruling on it. I’m not making that legal determination from here.

QUESTION: So you’re not sure if it’s – the sale of Kurdish oil independent from Baghdad is legal or illegal?

MS. HARF: Correct. So we know – we have said what our – the United States position is, is that the Iraqis – people own all of Iraq’s energy resources and that the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government need to reach an agreement on how to manage these resources. There is separately a legal arbitration procedure that can take place if there are legal questions about oil in this – such as in this case, which is a separate question from what our policy is. And there will be a legal ruling made that’s separate from us.

QUESTION: But if you don’t – if you’re not sure if it’s legal or --

MS. HARF: It’s not that we’re not sure. It’s that there’s a separate process.

QUESTION: Yeah, there’s – it’s a separate process, but it seems to me that you are taking the side of Baghdad – or Baghdad, you are, like --

MS. HARF: Taking the side of all of Iraq, a federal Iraq.

QUESTION: Because you’re saying if the federal government does not approve of it, then the – you are discouraging U.S. firms or other international buyers from --

MS. HARF: We said there could be potential legal disputes that arise from it.

QUESTION: But you’re warning them, right?

MS. HARF: We are warning them that there could be potential legal disputes. These are commercial transaction. The U.S. Government is not involved in them. Our position, from a policy standpoint, is that Iraq’s oil belongs to all Iraqis and that the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government need to work together on an accommodation and come to an agreement here. And so that’s been our position for a very long time, and we do warn individual entities that there could be legal actions that come from some of these actions we’ve seen.

QUESTION: So you’re saying your position regarding Kurdistan, as it’s been reported by a couple of media outlets, has not been softened regarding Kurdistan’s export --

MS. HARF: I’m not sure exactly what – in terms of our oil?

QUESTION: Yeah, oil.

MS. HARF: Our oil position has not changed.


MS. HARF: Correct.


MS. HARF: Yes, Said.

QUESTION: In fact, your position is that all oil contracts should be done through the central government, but let me ask you --

MS. HARF: Well, I meant the central government should come to an agreement --

QUESTION: Right, yeah.

MS. HARF: -- with the Kurdistan Government about how to --

QUESTION: Exactly --

MS. HARF: -- go forward, mm-hmm.

Dropping back to June 28th:

Repeatedly, the State Dept has insisted they weren't taking sides on the oil issue and more gifted speakers have been able to walk the line so that there was the possibility that State wasn't choosing sides.  Their actions made clear they were backing Nouri but their words gave the indication that maybe that wasn't the case and actions were accidental or the product of chaos and not a plan that State was following.

Then Marie Harf clomps into the room and makes clear, it is an anti-Kurd position and that it always has been.

But a hiccup, this week, a hiccup.

A legal victory for the Kurds.  The KRG notes:

On 23rd June 2014, the Court convened a special meeting to address the Minister’s request and, after examining the reasoning behind his request, the Court decided unanimously to reject the request of the Minister “for being contrary to the applicable legal contexts in Iraq.”
It is worth noting here that the Minister’s claims were based on his own interpretation of constitutional provisions to claim that the oil and gas affairs fall within the exclusive powers of the federal government. In so claiming, the Minister was relying on the centralized laws enacted prior to 2003, thus ignoring the fact that current constitutional provisions do not incorporate any oil and gas matters within Article 110, which defines the  exclusive powers of the federal government.

With this Court decision, the Kurdistan Regional Government has another important clarification of its acquired rights as stated in the Constitution.  The Court ruling was taken by a unanimous decision of all its members, and it explicitly rejected the request made by the Minister. Such a decision by the highest court in the land is binding on the Minister and cannot be challenged in any way.
This is a clear victory for justice and for upholding KRG’s rights, despite the Iraqi Federal Oil Ministry‘s interferences and unjustifiable interventions. This decision clearly demonstrates that the Federal Oil ministry and its marketing arm (SOMO) will also fail on all their reckless efforts on the international level.

  This judicial decision by the Supreme Federal Court must be respected, and now we call upon the Federal Oil Ministry, SOMO and all their helpers to abandon their illegal and unconstitutional interventions to prevent oil exports from the Kurdistan Region. They must also cease sending intimidating and threatening letters or making false claims to prospective traders and buyers of oil exported legally by the Kurdistan Regional Government for the benefit of the people of Kurdistan and Iraq.

And that decision came down before Marie's latest flapping of the gums on this issue.

Marie and State should have been aware of the verdict.

They should also be aware that their active support and embrace of Nouri -- which was never backed by the law as they tried to claim -- looks even more repugnant and ill thought.

The Kurds are not only an oppressed people, they've been the ones to attempt to work with the US government for decades -- even though the US government has repeatedly turned on them.  What a slap in the face the US government has repeatedly delivered to the Kurds over the oil issue.

Nouri's failure to pass an oil law is the US government's failure since he's repeatedly promised to pass one since 2006 and now, 8 years later, there's still no oil and gas law.

Marie and State should be pressed now, with a legal verdict being delivered, on where they stand? And why this verdict is not supposed to change anything?

No, Marie -- on Friday -- was not going to call the Kurds' actions "illegal" because, as we just noted above, a court has ruled that the Kurds can do as they're doing.

An honest spokesperson would note that.  Marie's just a joke.

Iraq was briefly noted on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) today.  Iraq grandstander Nancy A. Youssef and other guests were certainly defensive when -- forty-nine minutes into the hour -- caller Terry raised the issue of Iraq.

Diane Rehm:  All right. To Terry in Florence, Ky. You're on the air.

TERRY: Good morning. I wanted to bring to the attention of the panel about the different groups that are being kicked out of Mosul as ISIS takes over there. And I wanted to ask, why is the media not really interested in talking about the different groups that get pushed out and what happens to them? In America, you know, we pay special attention to the Christian communities, but even beyond that there are several different variations on Islam in there. And they're -- the stories that are coming out are very, very worrisome.

HIRSH: Well, I would not agree that the media is ignoring it. There's obviously a lot of smoke and debris coming from all these other stories we've been discussing. It's hard to focus on everything at once, which is a big problem for Obama. But just in the last day or so, the ISIS militants in Mosul blew up the Shrine of Yunus, the so-called -- supposed grave place of Jonah, the Prophet Jonah, a place revered by all three major religions. Clearly, this is a brutal group. And the scariest thing about them is that they are not just destroying things. They are also -- are governing in a very repressive fashion. I mean, they've killed, in the last several days, three Sunni clerics in Mosul who urged resistance to them. And they're a Sunni group. So this has been horrific. We, you know, the media is paying attention to it. But again, it's hard to focus on everything at once.

Nancy A. Youssef:  I know, Terry, it might seem like ignoring. But think about the issues that have come up, the countries, the crises that have come up this summer. By my list -- Nigeria, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, in addition to the issues that we've been talking about today, Ukraine and Gaza and the Israeli conflict. And so it's been such a tumultuous summer and so many places are erupting that what might seem like ignoring is really I think a world overwhelmed by the number of crises confronting it.

Let's stay with this topic for a moment and we'll circle back to the trash that is NPR to wrap the topic up.

Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports on the apparent bombing of a Sunni mosque which apparently destroyed Jonah's tomb:

The holy site is thought to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale or fish in both the Islamic and Judeo-Christian traditions.
Militants belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, planted explosives around the tomb and detonated the explosion remotely Thursday, civil defense officials there told CNN.

NINA notes:

In a statement issued today Mottahidoon said : " With hearts rupturing of pain, and eyes full of blood of the terrible scene of blowing up the shrine and mosque of the Prophet Yunus peace be upon him, the Mosalion the whole world with them farewell a memorial combining history, civilization and sacred values, that is what it means the sublime edifice of Prophet Yunus peace be upon him which is located on Talit-Tawbah / hill of repentance/ in the left side of the city of Mosul.

Mottahidoon is the political party of Osama al-Nujaifi who was the Speaker of Parliament from 2010 until this month.  Mosul, of course, is where Iraqi Christians have most recently been targeted.  Alex McClintock and Scott Spark (Religion and Ethics Report, Australia's ABC Radio -- link is text and audio) report:

‘It's a very difficult time, Mosul is empty of Christians,’ says Father Andrzej Halemba, Middle East coordinator for Aid to the Church in Need. ‘Two thousand years of beautiful history, where the Christians and Muslims for centuries had helped each other, but now it’s the end of Christianity in Mosul. It's dreadful news.’
Christians were reportedly given a choice by ISIS militants: convert to Islam, pay an undisclosed tribute to their new rulers or be ‘put to the sword’. Up to 30,000 elected to flee to safer Kurdish-controlled areas, mainly on foot and often without access to fresh water. According to Father Halemba, even more radical Sunni clerics are arriving from the Gulf states, and they are urging militants to cut off water to Christian villages. Appalling  photos of decapitated Muslims and actual crucifixions of Christians in ISIS controlled areas are emerging on social media today.
‘They lost everything,’ he says. ‘They lost houses, they lost cars, they lost property, they lost money, they lost mobiles: whatever they had.’

Vatican Radio notes that Islamic leaders outside of Iraq have not remained silent either:

The most explicit condemnation came from Iyad Ameen Madani, the Secretary General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group representing 57 countries, and 1.4 billion Muslims.
In a statement, he officially denounced the "forced deportation under the threat of execution” of Christians, calling it a "crime that cannot be tolerated.” The Secretary General also distanced Islam from the actions of the militant group known as ISIS, saying they "have nothing to do with Islam and its principles that call for justice, kindness, fairness, freedom of faith and coexistence.”

While these events are important and are news, other events -- events ignored -- are as well.

Human Rights Watch's Letta Taylor Tweeted this week:

Than you for caring about atrocities by all sides in . interview with me on this:

We'll assume she means "thank you," but notice the interview and how Terry just wants to dish on IS and has no interest in exploring Nouri's War Crimes.

mohammed tawfeeq

 mcclatchy newspapers