Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, July 29, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the State Dept seems confused over weapons, the State Dept seems confused over the law, the State Dept seems confused over its mission, Nouri keeps killing civilians, and much more.

At the US State Dept this morning, Secretary of State John Kerry pompously declared, "What is unfolding in Ukraine has already gone on for far too long. It’s well past time for the violence to stop and for the people of Ukraine to begin the process of rebuilding their country and rebuilding it in a way that can have a relationship with Russia, with the West."

What's going on in Ukraine "has already gone on for far too long"?

What about Iraq?

John Kerry does grasp that in the October 2011, the US mission in Iraq was handed off from the Defense Dept to the State Dept, right?

Of course he does.

He was the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when that happened.  As such, he and his committee provided direct oversight -- or were supposed to -- of the State Dept.

He is fully aware that the State Dept, since 2011, has received billions of US tax dollars to spend in Iraq.

So if he wants to stomp his feet on Ukraine or on Syria or whatever catches his cat's fancy for this or that 30-second period, when exactly does John plan to focus on Iraq.

Again, the US mission in Iraq is under the State Dept.  That hand off took place nearly three years ago and while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at that time, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, John Kerry was following what was happening.

And he should be following how the department he heads moves further and further away from a diplomatic mission in Iraq.  Dan Lamothe (Washington Post) reports on the continued decay of the US State Dept:

The State Department has approved the possible sale of 5,000 AGM-114K/N/R missiles and related parts and training, Pentagon officials said. The estimated cost of the deal would be about $700 million, and dwarf previous shipments of Hellfire missiles to Iraq.

Diplomacy is apparently dead -- as is compliance with the law and common sense.

The law prohibits the US government from supplying weapons to any government that terrorizes their own people.

How do Hellfire missiles help the Iraqi people?

They don't.

National Iraqi News Agency reports:

A source at Fallujah General Hospital said on Tuesday that the number of martyrs among civilians since the outbreak of the crisis by more than 7 months reached 672 martyrs, 17 percent of them are children and 19 percent of them women, while the total number of wounded civilians, 2174 wounded, 19 percent children and 21 percent women..

The source told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / that This is not the final outcome, noting that there were martyrs were buried without going back to the hospital, and wounded were treated at health centers close to their places.

And Barack's answer is more weapons to Nouri?

So that Nouri can kill more civilians?

Falluja is just one city.  Also being bombed of late is Jurf al-Sakhar.  Ali A. Nabhan and Nour Malas (Wall St. Journal) report:

The airstrikes on Monday reflected that policy. It is not clear how many among the dead were militants, but local media reported at least one child was killed. Human rights groups have begun to criticize the Iraqi government for bombing civilian areas in its campaign against insurgents.

Human Rights Watch last week said it documented at least 75 civilians killed and hundreds wounded in government airstrikes—at times using the crude improvised explosives known as barrel bombs—on the cities of Fallujah, Beiji, Mosul, and Tikrit since June 6.

So the law -- including the Leahy Amendment -- is being violated by the White House.

Common sense?

Dropping back to the July 23rd snapshot for this from that day's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing:

US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:  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?  

Common sense dictates that when you're losing uranium, weapons, millions of dollars, you're really not the person to supply with more weapons.

But there's not much common sense in the US government.

The issue of the missiles was raised today in the Pentagon briefing by spokesperson Rear Adm John Kirby.  Excerpt.

Q: Hellfires for Iraq, the secure -- Defense Security Cooperative Agency today notified Congress of a potential sale of up to 5,000 Hellfires. It's 10 times more than you've said before. Any sense of how soon that (OFF-MIC) if Congress approves it, how soon could 5,000 Hellfires be sent to Iraq? And do they even have the capacity to absorb those weapons and effectively use them, since they only have two Cessna planes firing them off?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have -- I can't give you an assessment now of how fast they would get there. My -- if past is prologue, the shipment would probably be done in tranches, rather than in a whole -- a whole shipment. But, again, I don't want to get ahead of a process that's just now starting on the Hill.
But I can give you a short update, if you want. I mean, as of the 28th -- so that's, what, two days ago -- was that yesterday? What's today, 29th? Sorry, yesterday. Total of 466 Hellfire missiles have been delivered in July, just this month. Since January, we've delivered 780, and there's another 366 that are going to be delivered over the course of August.

So, I mean, we're -- the process of providing these Hellfire missiles continues. Again, I -- that's what we're doing now, and that I can -- I just -- I wouldn't -- couldn't speculate about exactly how the 5,000 would get there. Does that help?

Q: That does, yeah.

Q: Just to follow up on that, is there any update on the recommendations on how to deal with Iraq? The Iraqi ambassador yesterday was saying the U.S. is dragging its feet on this, and General Dempsey seems to be suggesting that the sense of urgency has kind of dissipated. Is the sense of urgency gone on dealing with this issue?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I haven't seen General Dempsey's comments about that. I don't -- so I wouldn't speak to that. I -- as I've said before, I think everybody shares the proper sense of urgency here about the situation in Iraq. There's no question about that.
The assessments are in. They are still being reviewed. I have nothing new to announce on that. And at -- if we get to a point where these assessments allow us to make recommendations to the interagency and to the president about a way forward, then we'll do that. And from those recommendations may or may not flow decisions and then -- and then we'll go from there.

But, I mean, the assessments are still in the review process right now. But I would also remind you, Dion, I mean, this notion that we've done nothing is just false. We have 715 Americans, troops on the ground in Iraq defending our property and our people, and also providing assistance -- security  assistance and some advice through those joint operations centers, the one up in Erbil and the one in Baghdad.
And, oh, by the way, we're still flying an intensified program of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights, manned and unmanned, over the country, information from which is being shared with Iraqi security forces as appropriate.
So we're -- and Iraq still is the benefactor of one of the highest foreign military sales programs that we have with any country. So I -- I take deep issue with this notion that the United States and the United States military in particular is not moving fast enough or doing enough.
But ultimately -- and we've said this in the past, as well -- this is a fight the Iraqi security forces have got to make. It's their country. It's a threat to their people. And we've made it clear that we're willing to work towards helping them, but ultimately this is -- this is their fight.

Q: I just think people looking from the outside seeing the Islamic State blowing up mosques, solidifying their holds, and hearing you say we're reviewing, we're assessing, we may come up with recommendations that may lead to something suggests that the sense of urgency is gone.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I would just -- I just absolutely disagree. I don't think that there's been any lapse of sense of urgency here.
But, again, this is -- this has got to be a problem that the Iraqi government solves with the Iraqi security forces. And what's critical to this in the long run and what has given ISIL, let's not forget, the momentum that it's gained is the lack of an inclusive, multi-confessional, political process inside Iraq, and that is not something that the United States military can fix. There's not going to be a U.S. military solution here. It's just not going to happen.

Q: Is this just a bureaucratic holdup? Because it's taking longer now to review the assessment than it did to actually produce the assessment.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, it hasn't. It has not. I mean, the assessment teams took about three weeks to come back with assessments. We've had the assessments for a little over a week.

Q: (OFF-MIC) more than two.
Q: Two weeks, I think (OFF-MIC)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK, thank you. That's still more than a week. Look, again, they're being reviewed. And I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made yet or recommendations that haven't been formed yet.

Q: But, Admiral, is it fair to say that because the Sunni extremists advance has not continued on to Baghdad that this department and the government -- the U.S. government in general thinks that there is more time to make a recommendation, to wait for the Iraqi government to form a unity government, as you said? The fact that they're not marching on Baghdad, has that -- that given you more time in your perspective?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, the question would imply that -- that we're sort of -- we're dithering on the decision-making process here based on events on the ground. And we're certainly watching and monitoring events on the ground, but it's not having an impact on the work that's being done here in that regard.
So, no, I wouldn't tie the work of the review of the assessments to specifically to the situation on the ground. It's a very fluid situation. It can be radically different tomorrow than it is today.
I said it before, so I'll say it again. It's more important to get this right to offer the right recommendations forward for the interagency and the president to make than it is to do it quickly. And this is ultimately an issue that the Iraqi government has to stand up to and that the Iraqi security forces have to face.

Q: Regardless of when you start the clock, we are several weeks into this Iraq crisis. And the word from the president at the beginning was, this department would accelerate its military assistance to Iraq. Other than the Hellfires that Tony asked about, looking back, what other assistance was accelerated in terms of weapons or supplies?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We accelerated -- I mean, there was other -- I mean, there -- two and three quarter-inch rockets, almost 20,000 of them have been delivered to the government of Iraq. We've also provided thousands of tanks, tank and small-arms ammunition, thousands of machine guns, grenades, flairs, sniper rifles, M16 and M4s. So...

Q: (OFF-MIC) or is this (OFF-MIC)
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, this is just in total.

Q: (OFF-MIC) total?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: This is in total.

Q: And the word was we're going to -- the United States will step up its assistance after the fall of Mosul. What since that point has accelerated...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I just when through it with the Hellfires, which is -- which is the weapon most in demand by the Iraqi security forces. And then, you know, back to Dion's question, we've -- we've intensified ISR over the country. And that's -- that's still staying at a pretty high level. Roughly -- I think it's still roughly around 50 flights per day, manned and unmanned.

We put an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Gulf, where she remains, as well as escort ships. We flew in 700 -- more than 700 troops to provide both security assistance for our people and our property there, as well as to provide these assessments.
I mean, I can go through the litany all over again, but we have certainly intensified our efforts and our attention level on Iraq since ISIL took Mosul. But, again, it -- the Iraqi government had an opportunity in 2011, when -- when all U.S. forces left, and -- and I remind you what we said back then, that we -- that we believe that -- that the Iraqi security forces were competent and capable to the threat that they were facing in 2011.
There was an opportunity given to the -- to the Iraqi government in 2011 that they haven't taken full advantage of, the way they organized, manned, trained and equipped their army. And we've seen some of those units fold under pressure because of either lack of will or lack of leadership, not all of them, and we're seeing some -- we're seeing them stiffen themselves, continue to stiffen themselves around Baghdad. They're retaking some territory, and they've maintained control over others they've retaken, like the oil refinery and the Haditha Dam.
But ultimately, this is an Iraqi issue to deal with. And the -- and the -- and as we indicated in 2011, the -- and I could -- I wish I had the text for you. I quoted it from our report to Congress back then. But paraphrasing it, the best chance we said back then, the best chance to decrease violence in Iraq was through an inclusive political process, not through the largest army in the Middle East or X number of tanks or X number of F-16s, but through an inclusive political process. That was the best chance to decrease violence in Iraq, and that hasn't -- that -- that opportunity they've been -- they were given in 2011 has not been taken advantage of.

Human rights matter to the State Dept, right?

When they're not pushing for Nouri to get more Hellfire missiles, they're focusing on human rights, right?

Let's check in on today's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jen Psaki where the following exchange took place:

QUESTION: The Kurdish oil tanker?


QUESTION: You were right yesterday. I was incorrect.

MS. PSAKI: That may be Lesley’s question, too. Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: So thank you for setting us straight yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: What you said was what was happening, it’s still there. Now that a judge has ruled that that oil should be seized, what happens now and whose responsibility is it in terms of the U.S. Government?

MS. PSAKI: So the Government of Iraq, we understand, has filed suit – they filed suit yesterday in a Texas court against the cargo onboard the tanker. It remains anchored outside of U.S. jurisdiction off the coast of Texas. So the current – because of the current location, the government – the preliminary measure is – the measure that was done to seize the cargo was done in case the cargo enters into U.S. jurisdiction. It has not yet entered into U.S. jurisdiction, and once – our understanding is that if the oil enters into U.S. jurisdiction, the court order against the cargo could be enforced. But at this point in time, it remains – the cargo remains on the ship, which is outside of jurisdiction.

QUESTION: Have you been in communication with the people running this ship about their intentions and what you would like to see them do?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think our policy remains the same. There’s obviously a legal case here, and given that, we certainly recommend that the parties make their own decisions with advice from their counsels. There’s a legal case. Our policy position remains the same, which is that we believe that oil should be transferred through the central government of Iraq. But again, this is a case where because it’s not in our jurisdiction, there’s little we can do at this point in time.

QUESTION: But apart from the legal case, if that was not there, would you have a problem with this oil being offloaded, being sold?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think --

QUESTION: I mean, is there some kind of a legal restriction apart from this current case? Is there – does the U.S. policy include some – a ban on Kurdish oil coming into the U.S. unless it comes through --

MS. PSAKI: I’m – I’d have to check, Matt, but our policy position you’re very familiar with.

QUESTION: Right. But I mean, but it’s not prohibited by the U.S., is it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, but it’s U.S. policy that we’d oppose the selling of outside of the central government of Iraq.

QUESTION: Well, but you can oppose a lot of things that are not illegal, right?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can, but it doesn’t mean that we’d participate in it or support it.

QUESTION: No, I’m just wondering if the – if policy includes a ban on the transfer or sale of Kurdish oil outside --

MS. PSAKI: I will check and see if there’s a legal ban. I can just do about one or two more here.

Poor Jen, poor silly Jen.

She felt a little cocky because of a poor court ruling -- one that lacked jurisdiction.

Late in the day, the federal judge, Nancy K. Johnson, revisited her decision. Anna Driver, Kristen Hays and Terry Wade (Reuters) report she announced that "her court 'has no jurisdiction' over a tanker near Texas."  Driver and Hays have a longer report here.

Also in the US, there's a new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  Iraq and American Veterans of America note:

CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or press@iava.org

IAVA Welcomes New VA Secretary Bob McDonald
CEO Rieckhoff: New Secretary must be tenacious in rectifying VA

Washington DC (July 29, 2014) – The Senate today confirmed Bob McDonald, former head of Procter and Gamble and West Point graduate, as the new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing post-9/11 veterans and their families, welcomes McDonald. 

IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff released the following statement:

“IAVA applauds the Senate for quickly confirming Bob McDonald to head the VA. We believe this new change in leadership is the first step in restoring confidence in the VA. McDonald has a great challenge ahead of him – to rebuild faith in a health care system accused of wrongdoing and corruption nationwide. This will not be an easy task, but we stand ready to help him. We urge McDonald to meet with IAVA leadership and implement recommendations from IAVA’s eight-point “Marshall Plan” for veterans.”

Rieckhoff continued: “This is a critical time for veterans. We are losing 22 veterans a day to suicide, and in our latest Member Survey, we found that 40 percent of respondents knew another post-9/11 veteran who died by suicide. Post-9/11 veteran unemployment continues to be higher than the national average. And the VA claims backlog still stands at over 260,000 as the appeals backlog grows by the week. Combating suicide and improving access to mental health care should be one of McDonald’s first priorities upon taking command of VA. McDonald must be tenacious in addressing these issues and fixing a culture of systemic misconduct at VA offices and hospitals. Our veterans deserve better care and McDonald must rise to the occasion.”

Note to media: to arrange an interview with IAVA leadership, please email press@iava.org or call 212-982-9699.  

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its tenth year, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.

And lastly  the following community sites updated: