Saturday, October 11, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, October 11, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, 4 Iraqi soldiers are killed by . . . the Iraqi military, women are targeted in northern Iraq, Iraqi journalist Raad al-Azzawi is assassinated by the Islamic State, and much more.

Despite a BBC media whore spinning (we'll get to it), violence remains common place in Iraq.

For example, Baghdad was slammed by two bombings today.  Reuters notes the car bombing left 19 people dead and twenty-nine more injured.  AP reports one was a car bombing and the other a suicide car bombing.  Al Jazeera adds, "Also on Saturday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt in a market 28km north of Baghdad, between the towns of Tarmiyah and Mishahda, killing at least seven people and wounding 25 others. The area has been the scene of clashes between Iraqi forces and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters, who have taken control of large sections of northern and western Iraq this year."

AFP adds "The Islamic State group has executed at least four women, including two doctors and a politician, in their northern Iraq strongholds this month, relatives and rights activists said on Saturday." The politician was MP Iman Mohammed Yunnis, the name of the woman who was a law school graduate has not been released but the two doctors are Maha Sabhan and Lamia Ismail.  Activist Hanaa Edwar, of Al-Amal Association. tells AFP, "After going after the ethnic and religious minorities, they are now hunting down Sunni members of civil society groups and anyone remotely connected with the government.  [. . .] When you abduct and kill women, you are really spreading horror."

Along with the above, there was certainly much damage in bombs dropped from the sky.  CENTCOM announced today:

In Iraq, an airstrike north of Tal Afar struck a small ISIL unit and destroyed an ISIL armed vehicle. Two airstrikes northwest of Hit struck two small ISIL units. These strikes, in which the Netherlands also participated, employed attack and fighter aircraft deployed to the Centcom area of operations.
All aircraft exited the strike areas safely, officials added.
At the Iraqi government’s request, U.S. aircraft from several air bases in the Centcom area of operations airdropped 36 container delivery system bundles containing 7,328 halal meals, 2,065 gallons of water and 16,000 pounds of ammunition to Iraqi security forces near Bayji, officials said, and left the airdrop zone safely.

 The airdrops were intended to support the Iraqi forces, which continues to control Bayji, Centcom officials said, noting that areas outside the city remain contested, as ISIL continues to conduct operations in the area.

Oh, those 'precision strikes.'  Another 'precision strike' has left 4 people dead.  The four were Iraqi soldiers.  Wounded Iraqi soldiers, in fact.  Their killers?

The Iraqi militaty.

Al Jazeera explains, "The soldiers, who had been wounded by ISIL fighters, were being taken to hospital when Shia volunteer fighters mistook them for ISIL fighters and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at their vehicle, police and medical officials said."

And actually, that's Reuters explains -- specifically Ahmed Rasheed, Raheem Salman, Ned Parker and Raissa Kasolowsky -- though Al Jazeera forgets to credit the journalists.

Even when the not-so-precise 'precision strikes' hit their intended targets, there's still the problem with ensuring that the people targeted are indeed 'terrorists.'

The four Iraqi soldiers are just the latest in a long list of Iraqis who were wrongly killed.

On Friday, Margaret Griffis ( reports that 197 people died in violence with another twenty left injured.

AP also notes that Iraqi journalist Raad al-Azzawi with Salahuddin Television was killed yesterday in Tikrit according to Salahuddin Province Governor Raed Ibrahim. All Iraq News adds, "The Islamic State (IS) militants executed on Friday a cameraman works for an Iraqi television and three of his relatives in Iraq's central province of Salahudin, a provincial police source said. Raad al-Azzawi, 37, cameraman for local news Sama Salahudin satellite channel, was kidnapped about month ago with his brother and two relatives by the IS militants for alleged collaboration with Iraqi security forces, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity."  Al Jazeera speaks to the family who states Raad and his brother were killed along with two other people who are not identified.  An unnamed relative of Raad's tells Al Jazeera, "They came to his home and took him and his brother.  He did nothing wrong; his only crime was to be a cameraman. He was just doing his job."

September 11th, Reporters Without Borders noted the kidnapping of Raad in a press release:

Reporters Without Borders expresses grave concern over the fate of Raad Mohamed Al-Azaoui, an Iraqi journalist taken prisoner by ISIS on 7 September and threatened with beheading. The Islamic State offensive in Iraq that began last June, shows journalists more unprotected than ever in the face of mounting danger.
The Islamic State since its emergence has made journalists a terror target,” said Virginie Dangles, assistant research director of Reporters Without Borders. “The terrorist organization, in setting up an apparatus for kidnapping and executing news professionals, is attempting to eliminate all those who refuse to swear allegiance to ISIS.”
Al-Azaoui, a camerman for Sama Salah Aldeen TV, was captured by members of the Islamic State, accompanied by about 20 Iraqi nationals, in Samara, in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad. The jihadist organization has announced that it plans to carry out its decapitation threat because the journalist refused to work for the Islamic State.
Three weeks earlier, on 15 August, members of the jihadist organization had captured Ahmed Khaled Al-Dlimi - known as Bassem Ahmed Al Watani – in Tikrit. His fate remains unknown.
Metro Center, an Iraqi journalists’ rights NGO based in Suleimaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan, has expressed concern following the 13 August capture of journalist and Yazidi activist Tarek Salah Shankali. According to some information from people close to him, Shankali was killed soon after he was taken. But other sources claim he remains a prisoner of the Islamic State.

Iraq’s Journalistic Freedoms Observatory – RWB’s partner organization in Iraq – confirms that ISIS publicly threatened nine journalists by name in Mosul and Salahuddin provinces. The jihadist organization demanded that they stop their professional activities and join ISIS ranks or face execution. In addition, rumours are circulating to the effect that ISIS has seized digital files with personal data on journalists in the two provinces.

 Much has been made over the recent deaths of two American journalists -- you could make a strong argument that their deaths were used by the US government to sell the latest wave of the Iraq War (especially considering the grave disrespect the White House has shown the families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.).  The two were executed by the Islamic State.  Two British aid workers were also executed -- Alan Henning and David Haines  -- but they received very little attention because they didn't feed into the deep-seated narcissm at the heart of modern-day journalism.  Will Raad fare better in terms of coverage and recognition from western media because he was also a journalist or will his being Arab result in the western press (and governments) largely ignoring his execution?  Online, Conflict Nred is attempting to ensure that he is not overlooked.

In other news, is John Simpson the new Judith Miller?

Set aside the fact that Simpson, unlike Miller, is shockingly obese and looks a great deal like a more feminine Bea Arthur and the answer comes back:  YES!

In fact, "YES!" screams throughout his propaganda report for BBC News where John sees success as he's hauled around safe areas outside Baghdad:  "The other day I was driven in a convoy of awkward but heavily armoured Humvees through the scene of a recent battle near the village of al-Yusufiyah, 20 miles (32km) south-west of Baghdad."  Much closer to the Green Zone than al-Yusufiyah is Abu Ghraib and Jason Ditz ( points out, "Though it is still nominally controlled by the Iraqi military, the key Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib continues to have a significant ISIS presence, meaning the fighters are just eight miles away from the runways of Baghdad Airport."

John makes perfectly clear that Brigadier Jabbar Karam al-Taee (who, John squeals, has "his personal Humvee" -- sounds like love!) can eat crackers in his bed any time and John will gladly sleep in the wet spot.
Mainly, he makes clear that there needs to be a new classification for these 'embeds' -- reporters who travel with the military -- and, in John's honor, we'd suggest "spreads."

While he's seeing success as he rides around in Jabbar's Humvee, an unsigned BBC report notes, "Iraqi officials have made an urgent appeal for military help in the western Anbar province, saying the area could fall to Islamic State (IS) militants. The jihadist group has been attacking the provincial capital Ramadi, and has seized army bases in the area."  Jim Sciutto and Greg Botelho (CNN) also report on the Islamic State's continued hold on Anbar (a hold that's continued for months) and offer what appears to be a mini-wave of Operation Happy Talk:

The first official said the U.S. military is more confident right now about the Iraqi military's ability to protect Baghdad. The Iraqi brigades defending the capital are more capable and include U.S. military advisers, so at least Washington should have a better sense there if there's any imminent danger.

That splash in the kiddie pool appears to argue that although Barack's plan is a failure in Anbar, the positive is that the heavily armored Green Zone of Baghdad will continue to resist and repel attacks.

AP quotes the Rand Corporation's Richard Brennan stating, "It's not plausible at this point to envision ISIL taking control of Baghdad, but they can make Baghdad so miserable that it would threaten the legitimacy of the central government."

On Anbar Province, Erin Cunningham (Washington Post) reported Thursday:

The Islamic State’s offensive in Anbar has received less attention than its assault on the Syrian border city of Kobane, which has played out in view of news photographers standing on hills in nearby Turkey. But in recent weeks, Islamic State fighters have systematically invaded towns and villages in Anbar, besieged army posts and police stations, and mounted attacks on Iraqi troops in Ramadi, the provincial capital.
The Islamic State secured a major foothold in Anbar province in January when it seized the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. It pushed farther into the province in June, but Iraq’s government was able to maintain small pockets of authority in the majority-Sunni region.

That was Thursday.  Today?  Laura Smith-Spark, Ben Wedeman and Kareem Khadder (CNN) report:

The situation in Anbar, just to the west of Baghdad, is "very bad," the president of Anbar Provincial Council told CNN by phone on Saturday.
Sabah Al-Karhout said the council has intelligence that ISIS has dispatched as many as 10,000 fighters to Anbar from Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq.
The council's deputy head, Falleh al-Issawi, told CNN that it had asked the central government to intervene immediately to save the province from imminent collapse -- and to request the deployment of U.S. ground forces there.

Of the appeal coming from the officials, Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr states, ""They believe that it is just a matter of days, up to 10 days, and ISIL can control the whole province of Anbar." Friday, the State Dept was asked if there was any thought of moving beyond airstrikes to ground forces and spokesperson Marie Harf replied, "Well, our strategy hasn’t changed and it’s not just airstrikes. If you – I mean, we have said there will be no American boots on the ground in combat roles in Iraq or Syria. That has not changed, period."

That has not changed.



At the same press briefing on Friday, Anbar came up.

Of course, Harf didn't raise the issue, the press had to.

She was too busy attempting to spin the 'success' of Barack's 'plan' which, as we noted Thursday, is taking hits from across the political spectrum.  Excerpt:

QUESTION: Not that the criticism hasn’t been there almost from the beginning of the airstrikes back on August 8th, but there seems to be a cresting of criticism of the Administration’s strategy on confronting ISIL, primarily focused on the airstrikes from quarters as varied as David Ignatius in The Washington Post, Frederick Kagan writing in The LA Times, Congressman Buck McKeon speaking on one of the cable channels in the past couple of days, a former top advisor to General David Petraeus who was with him in Iraq, all suggesting that the airstrikes really need to be backed up at this point by U.S. ground forces.
And my question to you is: Are these people coming from different perspectives wrong? Is the criticism misplaced? What are they and the American public not understanding about the Obama Administration’s strategy?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple of points, Roz. I think, first, it’s easy to sort of try to be an armchair general and look at a very surface level of the strategic picture in Iraq and Syria and offer suggestions. I think that what we are confident in is the strategy as outlined by this President is being implemented by the Department of Defense, by other agencies working on the different five lines of effort, has a very comprehensive and clear path forward here. This is going to be a long fight. No one phase of it will be decisive. That’s how these fights happen. We only – how long ago was it that we started airstrikes? Not that long ago.
As of this week, the Defense Department and our coalition – the U.S. and our coalition partners have conducted a total of 398 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. We have continued to say that we will make every effort to degrade ISIL’s capabilities, to take out their command and control, to go after their sources of financing with the oil facilities, and to really push them back out of parts of Iraq. This is a long-term fight, and looking at any one day or any one week or any one town by no means gives a comprehensive picture of (a) what the fight looks like or how we’re going to take it on.
So I appreciate some of the commentary and understand where it comes from, but it’s just not a comprehensive look of what we’re facing, how we’re facing it, and how we’re fighting it. That’s what the Pentagon is doing. We’re obviously playing a role in some of the other lines of effort. And if you look at other conflicts we’ve faced, these are long-term efforts here. They can’t be driven by any one cable news cycle; that’s just not how it works.

QUESTION: But it’s not just the focus on what’s happening with the status of Kobani. There’s also concern about what is happening in Iraq, which some could argue isn’t getting as much headline attention because of the fighting in Kobani.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But there is concern in particular about the status of Anbar province –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- where ISIL has been quite aggressive in its –

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- efforts to take large parts of that province.

MS. HARF: And you’re not wrong, Roz, in that ISIL is going to be aggressive. We didn’t think that as soon as we started airstrikes and taking out their fighters and their positions and their tanks that they would just stop fighting. They’ve shown themselves to be brutal, aggressive. That’s why we’re taking the fight to them. But nobody thought as soon as we would take airstrikes they would stop fighting. We know there will be intense fights as part of this conflict in the days and months ahead. We should all be prepared for that. This is a tough fight.
But I will say when it comes to the fact that we are taking direct U.S. military action in Iraq and in Syria with our coalition partners, I just named at the top of the briefing all of the countries even since UNGA that have signed up to take strikes. This is a global effort here to do so. We don’t see an imminent threat to Baghdad at this time. I know there’s been speculation in the press about this.
Iraqi Security Forces in and around Baghdad are strong. They’re under constant assessment. The Embassy remains open and we continue to conduct business. We’ve deployed a significant number of our own military personnel to Iraq and to the region for the protection of American personnel and to advise and assist Iraqi forces.

When it comes to Anbar, it’s difficult to speculate as it has been under severe threat – you are absolutely right – since the beginning of this year. The situation remains very fluid. I’m probably not going to be providing battlefield updates from the State Department podium. But we continue to support efforts by Iraqi Security Forces, working in conjunction with the tribal fighters, directed against ISIL in Anbar. So this is going to be a tough fight. We are committed to it. Our partners are committed to it. You’ve seen us take almost – what did I say? – 400 strikes now. Those are going to continue.

The spin never ends.  If you doubt it, RT reports:

American intelligence officials are trying to blame news reports for failed military attacks against shadowy jihadist groups, arguing that the articles alerted a new terror group to impending air strikes.
Last month, the United States fired 46 cruise missiles at eight locations in northern Syria to target the Khorasan group’s training camps, a munitions center and other sites. However, the attacks only killed one or two key militants, US officials told the Associated Press.
The strikes near a compound in Aleppo didn’t cripple the group because members were able to scatter – something they blamed on news reports highlighting US missile plans. This led to the escape of a French-born jihadi with military skills that officials say they were interested in targeting.

So the problem is the press?

That's actually not even the first time the US government's blamed the press this week.  Dropping back to Monday's snapshot:

And the US government's response to this latest setback -- humiliating setback?  To claim that this is an issue inflated by local media.  Holly Yan, Michael Pearson and Ingrid Formanek (CNN) note:

And the Pentagon, the [unnamed "senior military"] official said, believes there's a media outcry about the situation in Kobani because reporters are there. Many other towns have fallen to ISIS without TV crews present, the official said.

Oh, it's the fact that "TV crews [were] present," that's the problem -- not that Kobani was taken.  In other words, if an Iraqi city falls in the forest when no one is around, it doesn't make a sound.

If the US government didn't have the media to blame, they might have to address the fact that the real problem is Barack's 'plan' is an outright failure.

Note the way the first sentence starts in what Mohamad Bazzi (Mint Press) offers:

As the new Iraqi government grows more dependent on US air strikes and military aid to defeat Islamic State (IS) jihadists, the country’s most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has emerged as an important voice of moderation.
Sistani called on the Shia-led government to keep Iraq united and reconcile with Sunnis. But he has also forcefully declared that foreign powers should not interfere in Iraq’s political affairs.

As the new Iraqi government grows more dependent.

That's not how you build strong governments.

But there's no effort to help build a political solution.

Instead Barack Obama has wasted everyone's time by using not only Defense Dept officials but also State Dept officials to try to round up people to join in the attacks on Iraq.

The 'plan' is a failure.