Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, August 20, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack talks a beheading, then heads off for a round of golf, United for Peace and Justice still can't issue a statement on the bombings, and much more.

This afternoon, US President Barack Obama spoke from Martha's Vineyard.  These are his remarks in full:

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL.
Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend.  He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away.  He was taken hostage nearly two years ago in Syria, and he was courageously reporting at the time on the conflict there.
Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world.  He was 40 years old -- one of five siblings, the son of a mom and dad who worked tirelessly for his release.  Earlier today, I spoke to the Foleys and told them that we are all heartbroken at their loss, and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did.
Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers.  Let’s be clear about ISIL.  They have rampaged across cities and villages -- killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence.  They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery.  They have murdered Muslims -- both Sunni and Shia -- by the thousands.  They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion.  They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.
So ISIL speaks for no religion.  Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.  No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.  ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings.  Their ideology is bankrupt.  They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.
And people like this ultimately fail.  They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.
The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people.  We will be vigilant and we will be relentless.  When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.  And we act against ISIL, standing alongside others.
 The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities.  The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists.  They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.
From governments and peoples across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread.  There has to be a clear rejection of these kind of nihilistic ideologies.  One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.
Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday.  And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism, and replace it with a sense of hope and civility.  And that’s what Jim Foley stood for, a man who lived his work; who courageously told the stories of his fellow human beings; who was liked and loved by friends and family.
Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim.  All of us feel the ache of his absence.  All of us mourn his loss.  We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families.  We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.
May God bless and keep Jim’s memory, and may God bless the United States of America.

AP notes Barack went golfing after delivering the speech.  Nelson Sigelman (Martha's Vineyard Times) explains, "Afterward, the motorcade drove to the Vineyard Golf Club where he has played once before on this vacation. His golfing companions were retired basketball player Alonzo Mourning‎, businessman Glenn Hutchins, and Valerie Jarrett family member Cyrus Walker‎, according to the White House."  The speech followed Barack's day in DC yesterday.  AP notes, "The day appeared aimed in part at countering criticism that Obama was spending two weeks on the Massachusetts island in the midst of multiple crises."

B. Christopher Agee (Western Journalism) notes this Tweeted reaction:

Attention , you won't get Barack Obama's attention by beheading Americans. If you hide Obama's golf clubs however, the gloves are off.

Noting the nearness of the November mid-term elections, the editorial board of the Washington Times offers, "If Mr. Obama wants to keep the Senate in his party’s hands, he should put down his driver and putter and think about how to strengthen the economy and make the world quit laughing at us."

Mario Trujillo (The Hill) reports, "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) suggested President Obama should cut his vacation short in light of the apparent murder of a U.S. journalist by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria."
Barack is not the only leader of a nation on vacation.  David Cameron, for example, is another and he's also been criticized for being on vacation as Iraq melts down.  But, as Polly Mosendz (The Wire) notes, Cameron has ended his vacation:

Cameron offered this statement on his decision, "If true, the brutal murder of James Foley is shocking and depraved." His office announced "[Cameron] will meet with the Foreign Secretary and senior officials from the Home Office, Foreign Office and the agencies to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) terrorists."

Sebastian Payne (Washington Post) also notes Cameron's decision:

On Monday, he defended his decision to go on holiday in language that echoed the White House's defense of Obama's Martha's Vineyard break. “Wherever I am in the world I am always within a few feet of a BlackBerry, and an ability to manage things should they need to be managed,” he said.

But Cameron promised to return if the situation called for it. And on Wednesday, he announced that he had made that decision, saying it is “increasingly likely” that a British citizen beheaded Foley. Upon his return to Downing Street on Wednesday, Cameron has said he will chair meetings on the situation in Syria and Iraq.

The beheading was also discussed at today's State Dept press briefing by Marie Harf.  We'll note this section:

QUESTION: You mentioned the 14 strikes from Central Command around Mosul Dam --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- in the last 24 hours. Were those strikes conducted after the video was released or obtained by the U.S. Government?

MS. HARF: It is my understanding that they were, yes. I believe they happened today.

QUESTION: Right. Is there a concern – today as in our time or today as in Iraqi time? I guess --

MS. HARF: Today Iraqi time.

QUESTION: Okay. Is there a concern that these airstrikes – I mean, given the threats that were laid out in the video that were pretty explicit, is there a concern that the continued airstrikes around Mosul Dam on ISIL targets will lead directly to the death of Mr. Sotloff?

MS. HARF: Well, let me make a few points here. First of all, there is no justification for these kind of barbaric acts, period. None. Second, we don’t make concessions to terrorists. The United States Government has a longstanding policy that we feel very deeply about that we do not do that. The President was clear we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. And I would also note that, as I said earlier, ISIL has been willing to kill and rape and enslave anyone who gets in their way, regardless of what country they’re from, regardless of the policies of that country. They’ve been – shown themselves very willing to kill Christians and Muslims and Yezidis and people from all across Iraq and Syria. So again, while highlighting that there is absolutely no justification for this in any way, we have seen them be very willing to kill people – really anyone who gets in their way.

QUESTION: And you call on ISIS, I assume, to release Sotloff, even though --

MS. HARF: To immediate release Mr. Sotloff, yes.

QUESTION: And in terms of the video, was the Secretary and the President – they were briefed on the video. Did they watch the video?

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that. I’m happy to check. I have not watched the video and don’t intend to.


QUESTION: This horrific event – would this event is going to trigger any kind of assessment of your policy for the last 18 months when the ISIL spread very rapidly without any real check on it?

MS. HARF: Well, I think you’ve seen us, as ISIS – and ISIL now in Iraq – has gained in strength, that we have continued to assess our policy and use the tools at our disposal to work to degrade their capabilities. You’ve seen that with the airstrikes that the U.S. military has taken beginning about a week and a half or two weeks ago now. They’ve taken – I think I have the number here – 84 total airstrikes since August 8th.

So in that vein, we are constantly looking at how we can further degrade their leadership, their financing, their capabilities. We know they’re a threat. We have known that for some time, and that’s what we’ll be focused on going forward.

QUESTION: Would you be able to tell us, is there any regret on your part that the U.S. Government did not take more robust action in Syria to stop ISIL?

MS. HARF: Well, as I said, I think to Michel’s question, I’m hesitant when people say if only we had done X, everything would be different or everything would be fixed. I think we have constantly looked at ways in Syria, in a very complicated situation where there are no easy answers, to improve the capabilities of the moderate opposition to fight not only the regime, but also terrorist groups like ISIL and Nusrah.

So this is an ongoing process here. We are committed to fighting this in the long term. I can assure you we are putting all the resources of this Government – military, diplomatic, intelligence – towards finding Americans who are being held and bringing them home, and towards, in the long term, taking out the capabilities of ISIL, because we’ve seen what they can do. As the President said, there’s no place for this kind of group in the modern world, and that is what many, many people are working on every single day.

QUESTION: So it’s safe to say that you don’t have any regrets? That’s what we should --

MS. HARF: Just not – I think I made very clear what my position was.

Marie thinks she made clear her position.  If she did, that certainly puts her ahead of many others.

By the end of this week, the US will have conducted over 100 bombings of Iraq.

And where's our brave United for Peace and Justice?

Here's their home page.

Well try to remember that in 2007 and 2008, like CodeStink, UPFJ abandoned protesting war to instead campaign for Barack Obama.  In fact, immediately after Barack won the November 2008 election, UPfJ said bye-bye in a post which appeared to mistake the latest coronation of a War Hawk Corporatist with the emergence of a peace leader.

During the war on Libya, UPFJ kepts its trashy mouth shut.  Ditto throughout Barack's ongoing Drone War. They only re-emerged earlier this year so that, come 2016, they can pretend like they haven't taken six years off and instead tell you, as your dear and trusted friend, who to vote for in 2016.

Not one damn word on the Iraq War have they offered in weeks.

Not one damn word.

Not everyone is as pathetic as Leslie Cagen and her cronies.  Iraq Solidarity Association issued the following:

The US once again is bombing in Iraq and threatens the country with a "long-term project". The pretense is to stop the extremist Islamic state (IS) movement and “prevent genocide”. The experience – from the US occupation 2003-2011 and from “humanitarian interventions” in other countries – shows that this in fact means continued war against the people of Iraq, with devastating effects on the civilian population. The true purpose is to secure American interests and strengthen military control of Iraq.
The fact that the United States was forced to withdraw its troops from Iraq in 2011 – and that Prime Minister al-Maliki’s regime was forced to reject the demand for impunity for a remaining continuation force – was a significant achievement for the popular resistance. Since then, the United States has worked to regain military control and to carve up Iraq into smaller, more easily controlled statelets and not least to secure control over the oil production.
It is in that perspective the IS should be seen. It is in fact a creation of the UK, the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia. That has been well documented and confirmed for instance by secret documents publicised by Edward Snowden. At the Al-Mafraq military base in Jordan the US is said to have gathered and trained 20-30 000 terrorists for the war against Syria and Iraq.
After setbacks in Syria the IS are now concentrating on Iraq, committing heinous crimes and providing an excuse for the US to intervene against the locally rooted resistance movement, which has fought for the unity and independence of the country ever since the 2003 occupation.
The IS are a barbaric, reactionary force, which in no way contributes to the liberation of Iraq from the remains of the occupation. Just like US Vice President Joe Biden, the IS wants to extinguish Iraq as a state. Also Israel now openly wants an independent Kurdistan, i.e. to divide Iraq. Is it a coincident that the US is intervening now, when the IS are attacking Kurdish areas?
The IS are expelling Christians from Mosul. They are expelling Yezidis, Turkmens and other religious and ethnical groups. That is another serious crime against the Iraqi people, but the notion that this can be prevented through intervention of the superpower that lies behind the last decade of ethnic cleansing and displacement is an illusion. This dispossession of people is a continuation of the sectarianism and ethnic cleansing that accompanied the US occupation and the structure that was set up by the administrator of the occupation, Paul Bremer. The US has done nothing to prevent attacks against peaceful Sunnis, or against the popular uprising headed by local leaders. On the contrary, they sent weapons to the al-Maliki regime, weapons used to defeat the popular movement and to bomb Fallujah and other cities. Already a few months ago, UNHCR estimated the number of civil sunni refugees forced to leave their homes in the Anbar province to 450.000.

Once again US President Obama speaks about the responsibility of the “outside world” to prevent a looming genocide in accordance with the R2P (“responsibility to protect”) doctrine. That is an argument that has been used in past conflicts to justify imperialist intervention in violation of the UN Charter. In this case too, that argument lacks credibility. If the United States really wants to prevent genocide – why do they not react sharply against Israel’s massacre of Palestinians in Gaza?
The United States has conducted devastating assaults on Iraq. Cities like Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi, Al Qaim, Samarra, Haditha, Rawa, Baquba, Tal Afar and many more have suffered extensive American bombing. The consequences remain in the form of dead and displaced people, deformed children, ruined infrastructure. Those responsible for these war crimes must be held accountable for their crimes.
Instead of imposing justice, President Obama has shielded the war criminals and continued their policy of war by other means. While the US leaders continue their policy of war with devastating consequences for Iraq and other countries and peoples, they mask themselves as a force for universal good.
The dictatorial regime in Baghdad, appointed through a sectarian constitution dictated by the United States, can never defeat the dark anti-humanitarian forces that IS represent. Only the Iraqi people can liberate the country and re-establish a sovereign independent Iraq. That presupposes a secular, democratic government of national unity, irrespective of religion or ethnicity.
We demand an end to the US war policy and justice for Iraq. The war criminals must be put on trial.
We demand an end to all foreign intervention in Iraq, from IS, but also from the USA, Israel, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
We call for support for the popular demands for respect for human rights – for Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs and Kurds, and others.

Solidarity with the Iraqi people for a free, united and independent Iraq!

In England, Stop the War isn't silent.   Debra Sweet of World Can't Wait hasn't been silent and noted earlier this month:

The U.S. always says it's bombing/selling arms/torturing to “keep us safe” from whatever group it identifies as the most dangerous target of the “war” on terror.  Each time a US president bombed Iraq, from 1990 on, whether the stated reasons were removing Saddam Hussain, breaking a fabricated connection with Al Qaeda, or finding weapons of mass destruction, the actual national security need was always keeping control of that strategic, oil-rich region.
This time, it is complicated. US military domination of the region, from Afghanistan across a sweep to Egypt, has increased the attraction of Islamic fundamentalism as a way of resisting western empire. US occupation in Iraq and support for the murderous, torturing Maliki regime created the conditions by which Iran has been strengthened in the region, and ISIS has gained a following.

By the way, I wasn't ignoring Debra's piece as a mutual friend fretted.  I didn't know about it until tonight.  I love Debra but since she organized a protest against a film she had not even seen, it's been very hard for me to take her or World Can't Wait seriously.  I don't believe in censorship and when you start trashing art, you're trashing my craft, my profession -- probably my religion and I do not take kindly too it.  Many decades ago, I was with a friend watching a small group of people protest the opening of his film -- supposedly it was 'mean' to the Bible or something -- and it had just opened and no one had seen it.  As he said at the time (paraphrase), 'I could take people seeing it hating it and would even be curious as to what points in the film bothered them.  But how do I take seriously people who give up their own time to go out and protest something they haven't even bothered to see?"  You don't -- you don't take those kinds of people seriously.

But Debra is speaking out and I will note her and applaud her for that.  And it's needed because Barack said he was just sending in around 300 US troops -- sending them into Iraq in the last weeks.  There are now a little over 800 that have been sent in the last weeks.  (Not counting Special-Ops.)  Lolita C. Baldor and Lara Jakes (AP) report that Barack is planning to seen about 300 more into Iraq.

At what point do people start objecting?

I'm not seeing the importance in a big topic that Tom Hayden does.  That may mean I'm wrong.  Maybe not. But I will note that he's one of the few who can talk about the last four years in Iraq accurately.  At The Nation, Hayden writes (in his big topic column):

But what Obama doesn’t acknowledge is that the United States might have done far more in support of the Sunnis, instead of tolerating or backing two allies of Iran—Assad and al-Malik—both of whom treated the Sunnis with brutal force and without any hope of peaceful political progress. As for Syria, Obama often criticized the Assad regime, it is true, but hardly with the kind of pressure the United States has brought to bear on Cuba for fifty years. Assad was seen as a lesser evil who was impossible to defeat because of his geopolitical support. But in the case of Iraq, the United States was involved directly with the empowerment of al-Maliki and his repressive Shiite colleagues during two American administrations. Why exactly the Bush and Obama teams accepted al-Maliki is beyond comprehension at this point in history. It might simply have been that al-Maliki was “our guy,” or that US “experts” believed that a fair power-sharing process was gradually underway after a shaky start. Instead, al-Maliki built up his sectarian special forces, army and police, and implemented brutal ethnic cleansing against the Sunnis. By the end of 2006, Baghdad was cleansed of its 40 percent Sunni population, the remaining Sunni enclaves “withering into abandoned ghettos, starved of government services.”(1) With the awareness of American advisers, Shiite authorities began operating as many as ten secret prisons, rounding up Sunnis, and according to a State Department memo, engaging in “threats intimidation, beatings and suspension by the arms and legs, as well as the reported use of electrical drills and cords and the application of electric shocks.”(2)
The repression and exclusion never ended, al-Maliki guessing that the United States would never pull the plug. He even arrested and threatened Sunni political figures in Baghdad, including the country’s vice-president, who fled to Kurdistan.

Nouri al-Maliki is (finally) the outgoing prime minister.  Even as I type that, I'm aware how that could bite me in the butt.  A snake like Nouri isn't truly out until he's dead and buried.

But it appears Nouri is out.  Haider al-Abadi is prime minister-designate which means he has 30 days since Monday of last week to form a Cabinet -- that means nominating people and getting Parliament to vote in favor of them.

Tim Arango and Michael R. Gordon have a report on  al-Abadi.and Nouri:  "There is little in Mr. Abadi’s political history to suggest that he harbors views at odds with the Dawa Party establishment. Even so, interviews with Iraqi political leaders and foreign diplomats paint a more nuanced portrait, with some holding out hope that he could break the mold of Iraq’s recent leaders."  Shashank Bengali treads similar ground at the Los Angeles Times:

Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders all have endorsed the new prime ministerial nominee, veteran Shiite lawmaker Haider Abadi, a member of Maliki's Dawa political party. But observers say that one of Abadi's greatest challenges will be to forge consensus among sects that have grown deeply wary of one another.
"There is an absence of trust, an absence of dialogue, an absence of understanding," said Hanaa Edwar, a prominent Iraqi human rights advocate. "If you don't rebuild that, it's very difficult otherwise to reform the political process."

Mewan Dolamari (BasNews) notes:

Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani has said that the formation of the new Iraqi government is the last chance for a united Iraq.
He believes that the object should not only be forming the new government, but to also implement new programs and refrain from making the same mistakes as the previous government.
Bengali avoids recent history.  Apparently, more important than any hope Iraqis might have or need is the hope that US readers might need to cling to.  To allow for that, all US involvement in Iraq must be erased.  So Bengali, for example, offers that Iraqis turned against Nouri -- which many did -- while refusing to note that the White House also turned on Nouri.

It is a very rough and delicate time for the country.   Abdulrahman al-Rashed (Al Arabiya) offers a look at the outgoing p.m. and the potentially incoming one:

The appointment Abadi as prime minister brought a wave of optimism because Maliki's departure itself a victory for the political process and for the new Iraqi system. I am confident that if Maliki had managed to impose himself as a prime minister for a third term – as he tried to fight for until the last minute - he would have ended up hanged in one of Baghdad's squares after four years. His end would have been the same as that of the dictators who preceded him. He was a horrific tyrant, and the whole world has seen how he exploited his personal forces and whatever he put his hands on to impose himself and obstruct the naming of Abadi.

Al Arabiya News notes that the Kurds are working with others on forming the next government and have called off their recent boycott:

Infuriated by Maliki’s accusations of harboring terrorists in June following the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) offensive in northern Iraq, Kurdish ministers said they were boycotting meetings of Iraq's caretaker cabinet and authorities in Baghdad and halted cargo flights to two Kurdish cities.

Rumors are that al-Abadi will offer up nominations for his proposed Cabinet this coming Monday.  If so, he'll be at the half-way mark of the Constitutional deadline (30 days to put together a Cabinet).

  • If he does manage to form a Cabinet (full) in 30 days, not only will he meet the deadline, it will be the first time the deadline has been met.