Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, August 5, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the Yazidis remain vulnerable, how much does a chaotic Iraq hurt Barack's image, and much more.

The UK Catholic Herald notes:

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has urged Catholics to answer a call from Church leaders in Iraq to take part in a universal day of prayer on Wednesday, the same day as the Feast of the Transfiguration.
Rt Rev Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton and chairman of International Affairs at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, asked the faithful to pray “for an end to the violent persecution that threatens to extinguish the ancient Iraqi Christian community”. 

What is the Bishop speaking of?

One more time, let's note Aid to the Church in Need's announcement on the Global Day of Prayer for Peace:

Aug. 6, 2014--Feast of the Transfiguration
“Please stop, I ask you with all my heart, it’s time to stop. Stop, please.” Inspired by these words of Pope Francis (June 27, 2014), the international pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, united with His Beatitude Louis Rafael Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq, appeals to all persons of good will to join in a Global Day of Prayer for Peace to be held on August 6, 2014—the Feast of the Transfiguration.Chaldean Cross

The feast of Transfiguration marks the moment when Jesus, on Mount Tabor, appears to three of his disciples in a state of glory, shortly before His ultimate trial on Calvary. This feast holds out a sign of hope for humanity: it is a source of courage when obstacles appear impossible to surmount; a sign that light is stronger than darkness; and testimony that death can turn into life.

Meant to be observed in churches and homes across the country, this Global Day of Prayer in the midst of so much suffering in Iraq—particularly for the ancient Christian community of Mosul—tells the world at large that US Christians have not forgotten and abandoned their suffering brothers and sisters.

Patriarch Sako has personally composed the Prayer for Peace:

The plight of our country
is deep and the suffering of Christians
is severe and frightening.
Therefore, we ask you Lord
to spare our lives, and to grant us patience,
and courage to continue our witness of Christian values
with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the foundation of life;
Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us
to live with each other without fear and anxiety,
and with dignity and joy.

Glory be to you forever.

The Patriarch also said: “Let us unite our voices and hearts before the Lord of peace. May the light of Tabor fill the hearts of all suffering people with consolation and hope. May the message of Tabor, through our prayers, inspire the leaders of Iraq to sacrifice personal interests for the common good and welfare.”

Please click here and join ACN's candle vigil for Iraq.

Many will be joining around the world to take part in the prayer.  Meanwhile Yazidis, like the Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, are being targeted as well.  UNICEF notes:

ERBIL, 5 August 2014 – The reported deaths of 40 children from minority groups who were displaced from Sinjar city and district by armed violence are of extreme concern.

According to official reports received by UNICEF, these children from the Yazidi minority died as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration over the past two days.

Families who fled the area are in immediate need of urgent assistance, including up to 25,000 children who are now stranded in mountains surrounding Sinjar and are in dire need of humanitarian aid including drinking water and sanitation services. 

Sinjar, a district of Ninewa in northwest Iraq with a population of at least 150,000 children - including many who are internally displaced - was taken over by the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) on Sunday.

Children are particularly vulnerable, and are most affected by the continuing violence, displacement and fighting in Iraq. UNICEF repeats its urgent call for all children in need to be protected and immediately provided with life-saving assistance to prevent further loss of life.

UNICEF calls all those who have influence to immediately grant children and women free and safe access to areas of refuge and respect the special protection afforded to children under international humanitarian and human rights law.”


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit: www.unicef.org
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For more information, please contact:
Juliette Touma, on mission to UNICEF Iraq, Tel: +962 79-867-4628, jtouma@unicef.org

On the Yazdis, Loveday Morris (Washington Post) adds:

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.
Unable to dig deep into the rocky mountainside, displaced families said they have buried young and elderly victims of the harsh conditions in shallow graves, their bodies covered with stones. Iraqi government planes attempted to airdrop bottled water to the mountain on Monday night but reached few of those marooned.

Each day, things get worse in Iraq.  In an essay for The London Review of Books entitled "Isis consolidates," Patrick Cockburn offers:

In Baghdad there was shock and terror on 10 June at the fall of Mosul and as people realised that trucks packed with Isis gunmen were only an hour’s drive away. But instead of assaulting Baghdad, Isis took most of Anbar, the vast Sunni province that sprawls across western Iraq on either side of the Euphrates. In Baghdad, with its mostly Shia population of seven million, people know what to expect if the murderously anti-Shia Isis forces capture the city, but they take heart from the fact that the calamity has not happened yet. ‘We were frightened by the military disaster at first but we Baghdadis have got used to crises over the last 35 years,’ one woman said. Even with Isis at the gates, Iraqi politicians have gone on playing political games as they move ponderously towards replacing the discredited prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
‘It is truly surreal,’ a former Iraqi minister said. ‘When you speak to any political leader in Baghdad they talk as if they had not just lost half the country.’ Volunteers had gone to the front after a fatwa from the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric. But these militiamen are now streaming back to their homes, complaining that they were half-starved and forced to use their own weapons and buy their own ammunition. The only large-scale counter-attack launched by the regular army and the newly raised Shia militia was a disastrous foray into Tikrit on 15 July that was ambushed and defeated with heavy losses. There is no sign that the dysfunctional nature of the Iraqi army has changed. ‘They were using just one helicopter in support of the troops in Tikrit,’ the former minister said, ‘so I wonder what on earth happened to the 140 helicopters the Iraqi state has bought in recent years?’
Probably the money for the missing 139 helicopters was simply stolen. There are other wholly corrupt states in the world but few of them have oil revenues of $100 billion a year to steal from.

That's a look at Iraq today.

The prime minister is the chief thug Nouri al-Maliki.  In 2006, Bully Boy Bush refused to allow Ibrahim al-Jafaari to have a second (non-consecutive) term as prime minister, arguing the 'new' Iraq (post 2003-invasion) was too young to survive a two-term prime minister, that it would be too easy to slip in a new Saddam that way.  So the Bully Boy Bush administration began demanding the prime minister be Nouri -- who had passed several tests with administration officials (including Zalmay Khalilzad) and with the CIA (who felt his paranoia would make him very easy to control).  And that's how nobody Nouri ended up becoming prime minister the first time.

Barack Obama was elected president in November of 2008.  We're doing a very simplistic time line here.  In 2010, Iraq holds elections.  Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law loses to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya.

Last week, Frontline (PBS) served up "Losing Iraq."  One of the people they spoke with was Zalmay Khalizad.  He's generally considered to be a neocon and he was a supporter of the Iraq War as well as the US Ambassador to Iraq from 2005 to 2007.

Zalmay Khalizad: Then at the same time, the Iraqi election was front and center. And once the Iraqi election had occurred, Mr. [Ayad] Allawi’s party, called Iraqiya, won more seats than Maliki’s party.
I felt the success of those two parties also showed political progress in Iraq, the waning of sectarianism and the rise of cross-sectarianism, because Iraqiya was a secular party that had a lot of Sunni support but had some Shia support as well. For it to go from 25 seats in the previous election to 92 seats in the 2009 election showed increased support for secular or cross-sectarian and less support for sectarian parties.
And Maliki, who had been the leader of a religious party, a Shia religious party by one of its leaders, adapted by establishing a new party called the State of Law, which had nothing to do with a sect as such, and he was the second largest party. He too moved away from being sectarian.
These two were the two biggest political forces, the State of Law and the Iraqiya, afterward. So government formation became a preoccupation of the administration as well.

[. . .]

Frontline:  So the 2010 election takes place. The United States basically backs Maliki, is the one to sort of name the new government, despite the fact that he had less seats. Is that important? Some people say that’s a turning point, that if Allawi had been allowed to set up the government, if Maliki had been pushed out of the prime minister role, it might have allowed more of a chance for power sharing, more of a secure Iraq moving forward, alleviating some of what happens afterward that we’re seeing today.

Zalmay Kahlilzad: It would have been very important, in my view, to follow the constitution of Iraq in order to maintain support for the process and to show that being cross-sectarian pays off. It has political consequence.
And to ask Allawi to form the government, he may have or he may not have succeeded in forming a government. Although he was the largest bloc, he wasn’t the majority, and therefore he would have had to convince some Shia, Kurds and some of the Sunnis who had separate parties of their own to vote for him.
But that did not happen. Instead Maliki maneuvered, used the judiciary in a politicized way by getting a judgment from the court that said the bloc that even forms after the election, if it’s larger than the bloc that won the election, as they were before the election, can lead in forming the government. And we kind of bandwagoned with that, rather than pushing back and saying the constitution had to be followed.
And an even bigger mistake, in my view, was in retrospect, that once the government had been formed with Maliki leading, … the package that was part of the agreement on the staffing of the government — establishment of this new position of a senior group of a strategic council that Ayad Allawi was to chair — was never formed.
Some of the other agreements that were in place on policy issues did not occur, and we became much more disengaged after intense engagement in the formation of the government with a vice president and the president being hands-on, calling. Then we didn’t push, pursue, cajole to have these other elements also be implemented.
Then add to that the absence of a SOFA and total withdrawal and the deterioration of the region, all of this then impacted Iraq.

There are things I disagree with in the above (State of Law nonsectarian?) but in terms of a sweeping summary, it's better than most. The agreement he's speaking of is The Erbil Agreement -- the one giving Allawi a position over national security.  For over eight months, Nouri refused to step down.  In doing so, he brought the government to a standstill.  The political stalemate set a world record at the time for the longest period of time between elections and the formation of a government.

Nouri would not have been able to pull that off without backing from the White House.  Some point to Iran as well.  And they did support Nouri.  They did not, however, ensure his second term as prime minister.  The White House did.  The Parliament finally met (and named a president, a speaker and a prime minister-designate all in one day) the day after the US-brokered Erbil Agreement was signed.

The agreement was a contract -- a binding contract, US officials told the leaders of each political bloc.  In writing, the leaders agreed to give Nouri a second term as prime minister in exchange for concessions from him -- such as Allawi's national security appointment, the Kurds wanted Article 140 of the Constitution implemented, etc.

Nouri didn't win.

There was no reason for him to be prime minister.

The legal contract was how the US government got people on board with a second term.

And then Nouri refused to implement it and the White House played dumb.

In 2011, he's not implemented it.  By that summer, the Kurds, cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraqiya are among those publicly calling for Nouri to implement the agreement.

We need to wrap this section up -- it's all prelude to another portion of the snapshot -- so let's big picture it.

Nouri does not keep his word.  Not on The Erbil Agreement.  Not on the White House benchmarks.  Not on this, not on that.

I have called out Barack repeatedly here for refusing to stand up to Nouri.  A friend who left the administration in 2013 tells me I'm wrong.  Barack gave many firm words to Nouri over the years especially November 1, 2013.

Okay, I'm fine with being wrong on that.

The man who's all talk scolded the man who can't keep his word.  And nothing ever followed because Nouri can't keep his promise and Barack thinks empty words solve everything.

Barack should have long ago made clear that if X isn't met then the US pulls support.

By not doing so?

Peter Sullivan (The Hill) notes the results of the latest NBC News - Wall St. Journal poll including, "Respondents rated Obama's handling of foreign policy even lower, with 36 percent approving, also an all-time low for the president."  This a day after Connie Cass and Jennifer Agiesta (AP) reported on the latest AP-GfK poll which finds "38 percent find the situation in Iraq of pressing importance; 57 percent disapprove of Obama's handling of it."

Barack ran for the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential nomination on the lie that he was 'right' about Iraq.  (Barack protested it before the war started.  Once it started, he was supporting it.  That's public record.  I also knew this for a fact long before Boston in the summer of 2004 -- when Barack spoke to the New York Times.  He had already told Elaine and I at a fundraiser that 'we're there now' so opposition to the war no longer mattered.)

He deserved your vote, he insisted, because he was right about Iraq.

Does he look right now?

He took over in 2009 as violence was dropping and all he's done is throw gas on a fire to keep it going and to make it grow larger.

Does he look right now?

Andy Piascik (Connecticut Post) observes, "True to his preference for violence over diplomacy, Obama has sent a strike force to Iraq which grows larger by the day."

Barack's 'superior judgment' never was all that and events on the ground in Iraq threaten Barack's very image and power base.

The ongoing failure that is the failed state of Iraq is a reflection on Barack and, as usual, the dim bulbs of the administration have somehow managed to repeatedly overlook that fact.

The public doesn't appear to be.  The low marks Barack's getting have to do with his false advertising being revealed to be false.

Meanwhile, the editorial board of the Khaleej Times notes:

NOURI AL Maliki has been late in his strategic response to the Kurdish region. The Iraqi prime minister’s move to extend air cover to the insurgency-hit areas in the north is too little, too late.
In fact, the relatively calm areas inhabited by the Kurd minority would not have fallen to the intruding Levant militia had Baghdad discharged its duties in a prudent manner. The point that Iraq is Balkanised and deeply divided on sectarian and ethnic lines is an outcome of mismanagement and nepotism at the helm of affairs. Maliki who tried to extend his power base by playing the sectarian card is squarely responsible for the dismal state of affairs.

This as AP misses the point.  In a 'report,' they note that Nouri has offered to use Iraqi planes to bomb areas of and near the KRG to kill terrorists.

The AP wrongly says the news value here is the cooperation angle.


From yesterday's snapshot:

Tim Arango (New York Times) reports Iraqi state TV carried a statement from Iraq's military spokesperson Qassim Atta "The general commander of the armed forces, Nuri al-Maliki, has issued an order to the Iraqi air forces to provide air support for the pesh merga against ISIS."  Arango notes that the statement did not seem so much hopeful (Baghdad and the KRG coming together) as it "seemed only to reflect the dire situation on the ground."

I'd argue Tim Arango's take is stronger.  But that's not even why I'm calling AP wrong.

I'm calling it wrong because here's the news angle they -- and everyone else avoids:  Nouri is helping terrorists!

What am I talking about?

The Kurdish cabinet members walked out of Nouri's Cabinet only weeks ago, or have we forgotten that?

Those of us who remember will recall that Nouri accused the Kurds of being in league with the terrorists.  The Kurds, he insisted, were harboring the terrorists.

And yet now he's offering the Kurds air strikes?

The Kurds aren't terrorists (few people Nouri calls "terrorists" ever actually are).

But just weeks ago, Queen Drama Nouri was insisting publicly that the Kurds were harboring terrorists, in league with the terrorists, blah, blah, blah.