Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, September 30, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack redefines civilian casualties, Australia has concern about the legality of the war, and more.

The violence never ends in Iraq.  Yesterday, Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counted at least 256 violent deaths for Monday.  Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin (AP) report that a "wave" of violence has left "at least 47 people" dead today.

Violence hasn't stopped in Iraq.  Many are starting to register that.

At the Pentagon today, spokesperson Rear Adm Jack Kirby declared:

We've been pretty honest about the fact that military action alone will not win this effort, but that shouldn't be taken as an admission of ineffectiveness, and one of the ways we know we're having an effect is precisely because the terrorists have had to change their tactics and their communications and their command and control.  Yes, they're blending in more. Yes, they're dispersing, and yes they aren't communicating quite as openly or as boldly as they once were. That's a good thing, because if they aren't operating as freely, then they aren't as free to achieve their goals.
That doesn't mean ISIL doesn't still pose a threat. It doesn't mean they aren't still trying and in some cases succeeding at taking and holding ground. No one said this would be easy or quick, and no one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate airstrikes. We will not, we cannot bomb them into obscurity.

Kirby was speaking at a press briefing and, during it, he was asked about yesterday's reports that the Islamic State was close to Baghdad.

Q: Can we go back to Baghdad for a minute? Because Iraqi officials are saying now there has been ISIS fighting as close as five miles south of Baghdad. So, understanding everything you said, what does that tell you about ISIS's capabilities and intentions towards Baghdad? What concerns do you have about it? And particularly, what looks to be their moves to get in and around Baghdad Airport?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we've been watching this for awhile, Barb. It's not -- I understand, I've seen the coverage today that you know, they're within five to eight miles or whatever it is, how it's being reported. We have consistently seen them pose a threat to the capital city.

This is not a new thing. And they'll make an advance and they'll back off. They'll try another way. One of the -- you've seen several of the strikes that we've been doing and the last ten days to two weeks have been to the south and southwest of Baghdad because that's where they've kinda maneuvered to. So, they continuously pose a threat to the capital city, and we continuously, in concert with the Iraqi security forces, are trying to put them back.
But this should come as no surprise to anybody that they have designs on -- on Baghdad, as they have had designs on other cities and other places of infrastructure throughout the country.

Q: How convinced are you that Baghdad can be -- remain safe, that Iraqi forces can hold Baghdad, and that Iraqi forces can hold the airport?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I can tell you is -- with certainty is that we're going to do what we can to help Iraqi security forces maintain control of the capital city. As I've said before, they have -- Iraqi security forces in and around Baghdad have been performing well. They've stiffened their defenses. They have -- they have not allowed Baghdad to come under a major assault. They've -- they've done pretty well in and around the city.

And as I said, we've been helping from the air put pressure on ISIL.

Q: One last – to press the point one last time, can the Iraqis hold Baghdad and hold the airport on their own without you?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I am -- I am -- there's a lot of things I'm not good at. One of them is predicting the future. What I'll tell you is that we're -- we're watching it very closely. We have been watching it very closely. The Iraqi security forces have been continuing to stiffen their defense around the city. We believe that they've done a good job with that. They'll continue to focus on it.

Obviously, it's a -- it's a city of immense importance to them and to their government. It's clear they share the same sense of urgency about protecting the city, and so I think, you know, we're -- I can't predict anything one way or the other, other than to tell you what I can predict is we're going to continue to work with them and their defense -- their defenses of it.

By the way, while reporters covering the Pentagon could and did ask questions about Iraq in the press briefing, for the second day in a row at the US State Dept briefing, no reporter could be bothered to make time for the topic.

While the useless reporters covering State can't even pretend to be interested in Iraq, it's not that way at the Defense Dept or, for that matter, at the White House.

Yesterday, the first questions Josh Earnest, White House spokesperson, faced were about Iraq.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  The President in his “60 Minutes” interview last night, acknowledged that the United States underestimated what was happening with the Islamic State and also the Iraqi military’s ability to deal with it.  And I know that the President is reliant on the intelligence community and his advisors for those kinds of assessments, but I’m wondering if he sees himself as having any responsibility for that failure to connect the dots there or if he has a role in what happened there.

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, the President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief, and he often talks about how he is the one that is ultimately responsible for protecting the national security interests of the United States of America all around the globe.  There is no question that he relies on important advice from the leaders in our military, from leaders in our diplomatic corps, and from leaders in our intelligence community.  He values the relationship and advice that he gets from leaders among all of those important segments of our government, and in fact, it’s only because of the strong, sound advice that he has received from members of the intelligence community that we have had some success early on in our efforts to combat the threat from ISIL.
One of the things that we talked about earlier this summer is the efforts underway at the Pentagon to develop military options for the President, either in Iraq or in Syria.  And at that time, I talked about how it was important  -- or at that time, I talked about how military planners were relying on intelligence that was being collected and cultivated by our intelligence community to develop a set of targets on which the President could order military action. 
The early reviews, the early assessments of those military operations indicate that the strikes were impactful and effective.  That’s a testament, first and foremost, to the skill and courage of our men and women in uniform, but it would not have been possible without the tremendous ability of members of our intelligence community.

Q    And the President also discussed last night how the Islamic State group has become the more immediate threat even as the United States continues to wish to see Assad go.  I’m wondering if there is anything that the U.S. is actively doing at the moment to work to get Assad to go.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, certainly our efforts to build up the moderate elements of the Syrian opposition will have a very negative effect on the Assad regime’s ability to hold on to power; that as the opposition in Syria is built up, it will succeed in providing a legitimate counterweight to the Assad government, with the ultimate goal of a diplomatic resolution of that situation.  That’s also something the President discussed in the “60 Minutes” interview over the weekend.

There is not a military solution to the very grave problems that are plaguing Syria right now; that ultimately at the core is a political resolution as it relates to governing that country. And building up, fortifying and strengthening the capacity of moderate elements of the Syrian opposition will move us further in pursuit of that goal.

The 60 Minutes exchange where Barack blamed the intelligence community is certainly garnering a great deal of attention.  Tod Robberson (Dallas Morning News) offers:

Obama shifted responsibility to his director of national intelligence, James Clapper: “Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.”
I would have enjoyed a time reference to help us understand when this little lapse occurred, because I’ve been going back through some old headlines, blog items, love letters and other correspondence, and by golly, it’s pretty obvious that Obama knew about this an entire year ago. So what was he waiting for?
Take, for example, the letter that Democratic and Republican senators sent to Obama on Oct. 29, 2013 — 11 months ago — warning him that ISIS was taking over Syria and moving into Iraq. This wasn’t speculative on their part. It was a statement of facts that were known at that time and warnings that were already being sounded by Iraq’s then-prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

“The deteriorating conflict in Syria has enabled al-Qaeda in Iraq to transform into the larger and more lethal Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which now has a major base for operations spanning both Iraq and Syria. As the situation in both countries grows worse, and as ISIS gathers strength, we are deeply concerned that Al-Qaeda could use its new safe haven in Iraq and Syria to launch attacks against U.S. interests and those of our friends and allies,” said the letter, signed by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Carl Levin (D-Mich), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

David Rutz (Washington Free Beacon) adds:

Obama pawned responsibility off to CIA Director James Clapper and others for underestimating the threat in a recent 60 Minutes interview, but intelligence officials have warned Obama about ISIL for months.
The Daily Beast quoted one former Pentagon official saying, “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullsh**ting.”

And for more on the topic, you can refer to the video Bill Roggio's urging people to stream.

  • The bombing's aren't working.

    And the Islamic State is adapting.

    And US strikes keep killing civilians.

    On War crimes, Michael Isikoff Tweeted:

  • Let's stay with War Crimes.  On last week's Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) topics addressed included  the legality of Barack's current war actions. We noted some of this in the September 22nd snapshot.  We'll note some more of the discussion now.

    Michael Ratner: So if you look at the attack on ISIS or on the Islamic State we're not using supposedly -- Let's accept for a second we don't have "combat troops" in there -- but the War Powers limitations that you can't go to war without the UN or the Congress still apply.  They apply to bombings.  It doesn't say anything about troops on the ground, it applies to the use of force, to the creation of hostilities or really the use of force. So that is not a distinction.  But Obama is clearly violating this -- as probably every president before him has violated ot.  If we look at what Obama's justifications are he has two justifications that they've sort of articulated -- they haven't articulated well but have sort of said.  One is that the original grant of authority to bomb and go and use force and US troops in Afghanistan -- called The Authorization To Use Military Force -- passed shortly after 9/11  in 2001 which basically said the president could use force to go after the perpetrators of 9/11, those who harbored them or those who aided and abetted them.  That's the authority that the US went info Afghanistan on  and that's the authority which is the equivalent of the Gulf of Tonkin, in my view, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution -- that's the authority that the president has used now  to go into war everywhere.

    Heidi Boghosian: Right.

    Michael Ratner: Not just continue in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has been pushed out, but go into Yemen, to go into Somalia

    Heid Boghosian:  It's like a blank check book that he can use wherever he wants.

    Michael Ratner: Because he claims everybody's affiliated with al Qaeda in some way or everybody's affiliated with 9/11.  And where that really breaks down now is the claim that somehow we can go after the Islamic State based on that.  Because in this case, in the case of the Islamic State, they're actually at war with and have been denounced by al Qaeda.  So they're not part of, certainly not part of any 9/11 conspiracy at all.  They may be in some future time, according to somebody some king of threat to the United States -- although there are a lot of people who think they are not.  But if they are then President should go to Congress and actually get an explicit statue authorizing  the war.  And then he should go to the UN and try and get the Security Council to go and authorize that war. 

    These are not academic discussions.  In Australia, some effort appears to going into determining the legality of Barack's latest phase of war.  Brenda Nichols (The Australian) reports:

    TONY Abbott will not be rushed into ordering airstrikes against jihadist targets in Iraq before a proper legal framework is in place, government sources have told The Australian.
    The sources said the Prime Minister insisted on the most prudent possible approach to such a major step.
    That decision could still be days away.

    The topic led to the following Tweets.

    1. PM Abbott announces RAAF aircraft have started operating over Iraq in support capacity only, refuelling etc. No airstrikes, pending approval
    2. PM Abbott says the Govt has not yet made the final decision to engage in combat but Aust refueller will start flying over Iraq from today

    law and disorder radio
    michael s. smith
    heidi boghosian
    michael ratner