Friday, August 08, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Friday, August 8, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack bombs Iraq, he comes to the decision after Riding In Cars With Boys, no strategy is apparent to his so-called plan so he dusts off Vietnam justications, and much more.

Speaking at the US State Dept today, spokesperson Marie Harf declared, "As you saw this morning, the Defense Department put out a statement that at approximately 6:45 a.m. the U.S. military conducted a targeted airstrike against ISIL terrorists with two F/A-18 aircraft dropping 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil that ISIL was using to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil, where, of course, U.S. personnel are located. As the President has made clear, the U.S. military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel or facilities."

Last night, US President Barack Obama announced he would be authorizing air strikes on Iraq. Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) observes, "Less than 12 hours after he finished speaking, the United States had already struck twice and a third bombing run was just a few hours away. The quick series of airstrikes raised fears among some of mission creep _ a term coined during the Vietnam War to describe a growing commitment of men and materiel after initial steps failed to produce the desired result."

US House Rep Barbara Lee is one who has noted mission creep.  Her office released this statement today:

Washington, DC - Congresswoman Lee issued this statement upon receiving news of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq:
“I support strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.
While the President has existing authority to protect American diplomatic personnel,  I remain concerned about U.S. mission creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose.
There is no military solution in Iraq. Any lasting solution must be political and respect the rights of all Iraqis.
I am pleased President Obama recognized this in his statement last night, when he said: ‘there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.  The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.’
I will continue to call for the President to seek congressional authorization before any combat operations. For too long, Congress has abdicated its Constitutional role in matters of war and peace. The President should come to Congress for authorization of any further military action in Iraq.”

When's he going to come before Congress?

Next week?

Are they holding Congressional sessions on Martha's Vineyard because Barack's embarking on a two week vacation.

Last night he declared:

Today I authorized two operations in Iraq -- targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.  Let me explain the actions we’re taking and why.    
First, I said in June -- as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq -- that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation required it.  In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces. 
To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.  We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.  We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.
Second, at the request of the Iraqi government -- we’ve begun operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain.  As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis.  And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect.  Countless Iraqis have been displaced.  And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women. 
In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives.  And thousands -- perhaps tens of thousands -- are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs.  They’re without food, they’re without water.  People are starving.  And children are dying of thirst.  Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.  So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice:  descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.
I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world.  So let me be clear about why we must act, and act now.  When we face a situation like we do on that mountain -- with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help -- in this case, a request from the Iraqi government -- and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.  We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.  That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.

I’ve, therefore, authorized targeted airstrikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there.  Already, American aircraft have begun conducting humanitarian airdrops of food and water to help these desperate men, women and children survive.  Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, “There is no one coming to help.”  Well today, America is coming to help.  We’re also consulting with other countries -- and the United Nations -- who have called for action to address this humanitarian crisis. 

Late last night, he declared that and more.  Kicking it off with the statement that he made his decision "today."  But he didn't inform Congress of it until Friday (today).

When did he make his decision?  Margaret Talev (Bloomberg News) reports he made his decision "[d]uring a five-minute limo ride back to the White House from the State Department with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey" in which "Obama's fears were confirmed."  AP also notes Barack's Riding In Cars With Boys moment which they say took place Wednesday.  BBC News' Jonathan Marcus offers, "Analysts say the relentless advance of IS fighters, together with the continuing failure of Iraqi politicians to agree on a new government, after an inconclusive election in April, may have swayed Mr Obama into deciding to act now."

Another hypothesis is offered by BBC News' Paul Danahar.  Friday morning on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane asked him about the strikes.

REHM: Paul Danahar, President Obama authorized the airstrikes against Iraq to begin this morning. What was his rationale? 

DANAHAR: Well, I think we can guess that finally, he's found a conflict that he thinks is fairly localized, has a clear objective, and will stop him getting so much flack for not doing any of the things he's always talked about, which is having a high moral value in America that will stop bad things happening around the world. When there is an American interest, and there is an American interest in this, because there are American personnel in Erbil. 

REHM: How many? 

DANAHAR: Around about 40 we think. So, that's a good reason to intervene. And we do have what may literally be a genocide of these people, these Yezidis, because they are a very small group of people, between 70,000, maybe a couple hundred thousand. And they're all pretty much located in one place in Iraq, so if they were taken over by ISIS. And ISIS considers them to be devil worshippers. They would wipe them out, so this is an intervention that I think Obama is probably comfortable with, because he can see a beginning and an end. 

40?  Did he mispeak?

The number issue was raised at the Friday press briefing.

QUESTION: I’ll go back to the humanitarian situation --

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: -- in a second. But first, just a couple of quick questions. How many American citizens are at the consulate in Erbil, absent the military presence right now?

MS. HARF: So we don’t give exact numbers. Let me just give a quick update. I know there are a lot of questions about the status of our consulate there. It is operating normally. There’s been no change to the current status of our consulate. We continue to monitor the security situation and will take appropriate steps to mitigate the risk to our colleagues. Obviously, we do this on a continuing basis. We don’t comment on specific numbers, are always reviewing staffing levels in light of the security posture. But I would note that the – one of the reasons, obviously, not just to protect Erbil but that we want to keep our people there is so they can keep working in this joint operation center to help the Iraqis fight this threat. We don’t want to have to pull them out. We’re constantly reevaluating the security.

QUESTION: I understand the reluctance to talk about specific numbers. I don’t need a specific number.

MS. HARF: It’s not a reluctance. We just never do it, as you know.

QUESTION: Well, we know there are about 5,000 people in the U.S. mission in Iraq right now. The vast majority of them are in Baghdad. So can you give some kind of – for example, I’ve been told somewhere between two to three hundred are in --

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to give any number ranges for security reasons. I understand the desire to have them. We do have a large presence still in Baghdad as well. You are correct on that.

Really, Marie?

When did it become classified?

This week?

I was at a Congressional hearing this summer where the State Dept official addressed the topic Marie claims must be kept secret.

Norwalk's The Hour has an online poll currently asking: "Do you support the latest airstrikes in Iraq?" The answers to choose from are yes, no and unsure.

The people don't support it.  And where is the Congress?

Does Barbara Lee have anything to offer other than words?  It's a question to ask.  But I won't slam her without offering this context:  She issued a statement that contained objections.

Where's our Socialist in the Senate Bernie Sanders?

Brave Bernie had nothing to say.

Not a statement, not even a Tweet.

Sami Ramadan (Stop the War UK and the Guardian) offers thoughts such as these, "It is sickening to see Obama and the Western media shedding crocodile tears for the Iraqi people, after the US-led occupation pulverised Iraq as a society and killed a million of its people. It is obscene to now suggest that the US will fight terrorism and protect the Iraqi people, when the rise of terrorism was the direct result of the US-led invasion of the country."

That's a bit of common sense in an otherwise mindless media.

Another bit of common sense popped up in today's State Dept briefing:

QUESTION: You said – first off, just to follow up on something you just said, you said that this strike comes as it would have whenever U.S. personnel are threatened. And I would just note that there have been attacks in Baghdad that are within hearing and feeling range of the U.S. Embassy there, and I wonder why this is happening now to protect personnel in Erbil, when U.S. personnel in Baghdad have been under threat for years.

MS. HARF: Well, first, what we’ve seen over the past several days really, but also several weeks, but really in the past several days is that there has been an ISIL fairly rapid advance towards Erbil. They’ve had access to heavy weapons. So basically, at this point, what we are trying to do is stop this advance, to give expedited support to the Iraqis as they fight this – obviously there’s a political process ongoing as well – also to provide humanitarian assistance.
And look, we’re focused on Erbil today because that’s where ISIL has been advancing. If – look, we have a very significant diplomatic presence in Baghdad, so, of course, the same principle would apply if we saw ISIL advances on Baghdad that would threaten our personnel as well. So obviously, it’s something we constantly monitor, but we’re focused on Erbil operationally right now.

QUESTION: But as you know, there have been ISIL bombings in Baghdad for years.

MS. HARF: There have been. But obviously, we look at the threat and look at the picture, and we saw here both a humanitarian situation where the U.S. military had unique capabilities to bring to bear that could be brought very quickly to bear in a very urgent crisis, and also a situation where you had ISIL advancing on Erbil, where, again, we have some military capabilities that we can use. I would also note that the Iraqis have been taking strikes of their own. We’ve been working in very close coordination with them out of our joint operation center at Erbil and the one in Baghdad as well.

Is there a plan here?  Is there a means to measure with?

Not really.

Japan Times quotes former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker stating,  "Two FA-18s dropping some 500-pound bombs on (militant) artillery is not going to turn the tide of this conflict. I don’t know what their strategy is."

The lack of strategy makes it all the more likely that US military involvement grows.

No, that it continues to grow.   The troops sent in the last few weeks have grown, the bombings are just another part of that growth.

Robert Burns and Lara Jakes (AP) insist it's a "strategy" and that it's containment.


So it's back to the 'domino theory.'

That's reassuring, right?  That was used to justify so many misadventures -- including Vietnam.

While the State Dept doesn't think Baghdad's at risk, cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr disagrees.  AFP reports:

One of Iraq's most influential Shiite clerics, Moqtada Sadr, claimed Friday that jihadists were poised to attack Baghdad and he vowed to send his men to defend the capital.
"There are terrorist groups that have completed their preparations for a breakthrough into Baghdad," the cleric said in a statement.
"We are ready to defend the city, we are ready to supply forces and coordinate with the authorities to face any scenario," said Sadr, who announced the creation of the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) group in the aftermath of the jihadist offensive that began in June.

 Turning to today's violence, Margaret Griffis ( reports, "It is impossible to know how many militants were killed in the U.S. airstrikes today; however, the Iraqi military claimed that over 800 militants were killed in a number of operations. Some of them may have involved U.S. forces. Only five people, civilians or security forces, were killed in other violence."  In addition, AFP reports Kurdish reporter Deniz Firat was killed by shrapnel in an attack in Makmur.

Last word goes to Senator Richard Blumenthal:

(Hartford, CT) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today released the following statement on military and humanitarian operations in Iraq:

“I oppose open-ended military commitments, which the President’s actions in Iraq could become. Humanitarian relief is necessary to prevent genocide and provide food and water to meet an urgent emergency, but the President owes the American people a better, fuller explanation of the scope and strategy of military actions. I am deeply concerned that these actions could lead to prolonged direct military involvement, which I would strongly oppose. As a condition for any military aid in Iraq, I have said that there must be a new government that is inclusive and unifying. I continue to believe that the current situation in Iraq is a failure of Iraq’s leaders, who have used the security forces – with training and equipment we provided – for their own sectarian ends, rather than uniting their country. It is also a consequence of the failure of the international community to contain the ongoing civil war in Syria. I support the President’s diplomatic effort to work with Iraqi leaders and the countries in the region to support stability in Iraq.”

Senator Blumenthal is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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