Monday, July 28, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, July 28, 2014,  Chaos and violence continue, rumors swirl that Nouri might have realized how toxic he is, how many US troops have been sent back into Iraq, and much more.

Counting is apparently hard for journalism majors.  Kristina Wong (The Hill) reported Sunday:

The Obama administration has quietly moved an additional 62 advisers to Iraq over the past three weeks, according to defense officials.
The additions bring the total number of advisers in the country to 242, still short of the 300 advisers that President Obama authorized for Iraq last month.

The Pentagon said 20 additional military advisers recently arrived in Iraq, bringing total U.S. military personnel there to 825. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said there are now 90 advisers working with Iraqi military forces, assessing their capabilities, and 160 Americans are assigned to joint operation centers in Baghdad and Erbil.
So who's right?  Wong or Schwartz?

Better question, when US officials testify before Congress and give a concrete number, why doesn't the press use that number -- if only to question it.  Last 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.  Let's note this exchange.

Elissa Slotkin:  First, I just want to clarify that we have sent in an additional -- I think it's up to 775 troops.  

US House Rep Tom Marino: Right.

Elissa Slotkin: 475 of that total are for the security of our people --

US House Rep Tom Marino: The Embassy, the airport, etc.

Elissa Slotkin: Exactly.  The other 300 are there to assess and answer those very questions.

Does Elissa Slotkin not know her numbers?  Does the press think she doesn't?

Wong insist that there are 242 advisors there but days before Wong insisted that, Slotkin testified to Congress that there were 300 advisors (with 475 there providing security).

This isn't a minor issue and vague generalities really don't cover it.

Maybe US House Rep Tom Marino grasps it better than many in the press do?  He noted, "I'm ambivalent on this as well because I don't want to see another American come home in a bodybag.  I've been on the ramp and saw the ceremonies where two people were sent back to my state and it's something I do not want to experience again."

Also, when possible, we do try to note it if an article, essay or book is noted in a hearing.  Marino noted Dexter Filkens' New Yorker article on Iraq from last April -- noted it positively.

The attacks on Iraqi Christians continue.  This month, Christians in Mosul were given the option of staying in Mosul and being killed, paying a tax for being Christian or converting to Islam.  Most fled -- most, not all.  Some could not afford to leave and remain in Mosul, keeping a very low profile. Suleiman Gouda (Asharq Al-Awsat) declares:

It is hard to find the words to describe the recent events in Mosul, in northern Iraq, and I can only turn to the words of Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, who said that what happened was a disgrace that must never be tolerated and a crime against Iraq and its history, against Arab and Islamic countries, and against all Muslims.
The statement of the Arab League chief came in response to reports last week that Mosul had been totally emptied of Christians for the first time in its entire history after they were expelled at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The attacks appear to be an attempt not just to wipe Christians out of Iraq but to also erase any evidence that they ever were a presence.  Dropping back to Friday's snapshot (really early Saturday morning):

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. 

Joel S. Baden and Candida Moss (CNN) explain:

In Christian tradition, the story of Jonah is an important one. Jonah’s descent into the depths in the belly of the great fish and subsequent triumphant prophetic mission to Nineveh is seen as a reference to and prototype of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The destruction of his tomb in Mosul is therefore a direct assault on Christian faith, and on one of the few physical traces of that faith remaining in Iraq.

The destruction is getting wide attention because the shrine was a go-to spot for several religions -- not just Christianity.   Fox News offers:

The Wall Street Journal reported that the group had destroyed a mosque in the northern Iraq city of Mosul that contained a shrine believed to be the tomb of Jonah -- who is revered as a prophet by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The paper reported that the militants had wired the periphery of the mosque with explosives and then detonated them.
"They turned it to sand, along with all other tombs and shrines," Omar Ibrahim, a Mosul dentist, told The Journal. "But Prophet Younes [the Muslim name for Jonah] is something different. It was a symbol of Mosul ... We cried for it with our blood."

This is becoming an issue around the world.  The Pope has spoken out against the violence repeatedly. Oscar Lopez (Latin Times) quotes Pope Francis stating, "No more wars.  It's time to stop. Stop, please, I beg you with all my heart, stop."  France's Foreign Ministry issued the following statement:

Middle East Christians - Joint communiqué issued by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, and M. Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior (Paris, 28/07/2014)
The situation of the Middle East Christians is unfortunately dramatic. The ultimatum issued to these communities in Mosul by ISIS is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat facing these people - who have historically been an integral part of the region - by jihadist groups in Iraq as well as Syria and elsewhere.
France is outraged by these brutalities, which it condemns in the strongest possible terms. We have succeeded in getting the UN Security Council to condemn the Islamic State's persecution of minorities in Iraq. We are assisting displaced persons who are fleeing the Islamic State's threats and seeking refuge in Kurdistan. Should they so wish, we are prepared to offer them asylum on our soil. We have released exceptional humanitarian assistance to help them. France will continue to mobilize the international community in the coming days to ensure that these populations are protected - a prerequisite for stability in the region. We are in constant touch with local and national authorities to make sure that everything is done to guarantee their protection.

Laurent Fabius and Bernard Cazeneuve will soon be welcoming representatives of Iraq's Christian communities to France./.

And the issue is getting some attention in  the US. Cheryl K. Chumley (Washington Times) reports that a protest took place outside the White House over the week, "Demonstrators in general vented frustration at the Obama administration’s seeming lackadaisical response to the assaults on Christianity and on Christians in the Muslim-dominated Middle East and, more specifically, on the White House failure to respond to ISIL’s crackdown on Christians."  Barack hasn't really addressed the issue so it is natural that he would be the target of protests.

Lucy Westcott (Newsweek) offers this take on the targeting in Iraq, "One week ago, Christians living in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul were forced to leave, convert to Islam, or face execution by ISIS militants — but on the plus side, a report that the group had ordered women and girls in the city to undergo female genital mutilation appears to have been incorrect. Still, the violence continues. Figures from the UN indicate that nearly 900 Iraqis have been killed this month alone, and 5,500 were killed between between January and June of this year."

Sunday, Loveday Morris (Washington Post) reported on rumors/signs that Nouri al-Maliki will not see a third term as prime minister and that his time on top is dwindling.  Earlier this month, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani made statements which indicated Nouri al-Maliki should step down.  Friday's sermon made that even more clear.  Morris reports:

On Saturday, Sheik Abdul Halim al-Zuhairi, a senior figure in Dawa, was dispatched to Najaf to deliver a message to Ayatollah Sistani that the coalition was willing to replace Mr. Maliki if necessary, said Jumaa al-Atwani, a politician with Mr. Maliki’s coalition. Mr. Zuhairi passed the letter to Sistani’s son, he said.

MP, of Ahrar bloc, Bahaa al-Araji called on the Iraqi National Alliance, as the biggest bloc, to resolve the issue of nominating its candidate for Premier post before August 8. 
He said in a press statement received by All Iraq News Agency "The matter of choosing PM must move away from partisan and personal affiliations and the most importantly is to maintain the unity of INA to form a strong government can save Iraq from this crisis."

Having brought Iraq to the precipice, you'd think even Nouri would feel compelled to step down.  Knowing Nouri that seems unlikely.  

But it's so potentially good, rumors of his departure, you almost need for it to be true.  James Kitfield (Yahoo News) shares:

Reports over the weekend that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party is considering abandoning him as its candidate represent the one bit of hopeful news out of Iraq in recent weeks. When Iraq’s most revered Shiite religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called earlier this month for a new government in Baghdad that has “broad national acceptance,” Iraqis understood that he was signaling to the divisive al-Maliki to finally step aside for the good of the country. In his eight years as leader, al-Maliki has consistently pursued a sectarian agenda that alienated Iraqs Sunni minority and drove Sunni tribes once allied with the United States into the arms of the extremists of ISIL (also called ISIS). That uneasy alliance is behind ISILs lightning offensive last month that overran the border between Syria and Iraq and captured the Sunni-majority regions of the country, including major northern cities such as Mosul and Tikrit. 
On Saturday the Dawa Party reportedly sent a senior official to Najaf with a message to Sistani that it was finally willing to replace al-Maliki if necessary.

Nouri's the disease that never stops infecting.

 Tim Arango (New York Times) reports, "Just before midnight on Friday, Shiite militiamen in eight black S.U.V.’s rolled up to the Baghdad home of an important Sunni politician and abducted him and four of his bodyguards, a brazen move that threatened to further convulse a country already in the grip of a political crisis."

It was the fall of last year when Tim Arango broke the story that Nouri was arming, garbing and backing Shi'ite militias (death squads):

In supporting Asaib al-Haq, Mr. Maliki has apparently made the risky calculation that by backing some Shiite militias, even in secret, he can maintain control over the country’s restive Shiite population and, ultimately, retain power after the next national elections, which are scheduled for next year. Militiamen and residents of Shiite areas say members of Asaib al-Haq are given government badges and weapons and allowed freedom of movement by the security forces.

So a Shi'ite militia in Baghdad kidnaps a Sunni politician and his bodyguards in Baghdad?  Nouri's the one who made it possible. 

Although when that happened is confusing to Roy Gutman.  We already linked to Tim Arango's exclusive scoop from September of 2013 about Nouri bringing in the Shi'ite militias.

So try not to be confused by Gutman's second paragraph below:

The men who abducted Riyadh Adhadh, the head of the Baghdad Provincial Council, from his home wore military uniforms and arrived in government vehicles, he said after his release Saturday, according to Iraq’s Al Mada press. He said the apparent aim of the kidnapping was to implicate his political party in last month’s capture of much of northern and central Iraq by the radical Islamic State when the Iraqi military collapsed.
Maliki, who revived the Shiite militias as a response to the army’s disappearance, personally intervened to free Adhadh. He did it not by ordering in federal security forces, which he commands, but asking for help from a powerful Shiite militia _ which reports directly to his office.

Read more here:

The army's 'disappearance' was only weeks ago.  But Nouri brought the militias back in over a year ago.  Why can't Gutman report that?  Is he ignorant of events or shading the truth?

So many in the press miss so much.

They miss Nouri's War Crimes.  He continues to target civilians in Iraq.  He bombs cities because he claims 'terrorists' are present.  Regardless of whether or not they are, it is illegal to bomb civilians.  The term for that is collective punishment.

For civilians in Falluja, they've been terrorized by Nouri since the first of the year.

Omar al-Mansuri (Rudaw) reports:

In the evenings, the residents of Fallujah wait for the terror of the Iraqi helicopters that have been raining primitive but deadly barrel bombs that Baghdad has resorted to in its bid to recapture the city from militants of the Islamic State (IS).
Although residents know there are few measures they can take against the destruction, for the sake of comforting themselves they go through a routine of trying to protect themselves.
“We start by turning off the lights at home and assembling all family members in one room,” recounted Iyad Mahmud Halbusi, a 33-year-old family head caught in the war between the Shiite government in Baghdad and Sunni jihadis who have captured about a third of the country.
“We stay away from windows, usually on the ground floor,” Halbusi said. “But despite these measures we are fully convinced that we would not survive if we were hit by a barrel bomb.” 

Other violence today includes corpses.  AP notes 17 corpses -- 3 females, 14 males -- were discovered dumped in the streets throughout Baghdad today.  Margaret Griffis ( counts 274 dead in Iraq today from violence. 

Moving over to the US State Dept's press briefing today moderated by spokesperson Jen Psakit, we'll note this exchange:

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Scott.

QUESTION: From the podium, you pretty consistently objected to the Kurds exporting their own oil through Turkey. It would appear that, however, that that first shipment of oil has now been unloaded in Houston. So --

MS. PSAKI: My understanding of where things stand, Scott, is that it’s – there’s a tanker that’s anchored 60 miles outside of Galveston, Texas and that the cargo remains on board the ship at this time. I will see if there’s been any update to that information, but I spoke with our team about it right before I came down here.
Our policy, which you outlined, certainly hasn’t changed. We believe that Iraq’s energy resources belong to the Iraqi people and certainly have long stated that it needs to go through the central government. And as you know, there’s an ongoing legal dispute in this case, which is – which obviously is something that we’re aware of and we’re closely following.

QUESTION: Local Coast Guard say they asked you guys about it and everything was fine and it’s already being lightened.

MS. PSAKI: That – I would have to check. That was not the information that I had from our team, Scott. Obviously that contradicts it, which is concerning, but let me go back to them and see what the exact situation is on the ground.

Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Dan Murtaugh (Bloomberg News) report, "The Iraqi Oil Ministry is seeking a court order to seize more than $100 million of oil waiting to offload in Galveston, Texas, that it claims was illegally pumped from wells in Kurdistan."  Jonathan Stempel, David Ingram, Rebecca Elliott, Terry Wade, Anna Driver, Erwin Seba and Lisa Shumaker (Reuters) add, "The United Kalavrvta tanker, carrying some 1 million barrels of crude worth about $100 million, arrived off the coast of Texas on Saturday but has yet to unload its disputed cargo."


kristina wong