Monday, October 13, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, October 13, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the Iraqi military flees a base in Anbar, criticism continues to mount of US President Barack Obama's so-called 'plan' to confront the Islamic State, the Islamic State assassinates another journalist, Turkey is letting the US use its air bases and -- oh, maybe it's not, the Iraq and Syria crises continue to result in more and more refugees, and much more.

Yesterday, ABC's This Week aired an interview Martha Raddatz did with General Martin Dempsey, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs.

 GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: ISIS is blending in to parts of the disenfranchised Sunni population. So for indirect fire, the answer is yes. Heretofore, we've been successful -- mostly the Iraqis have been successful -- in keeping them out of range. But I have no doubt there will be days when they use indirect fire into Baghdad.

RADDATZ: But perhaps most critical right now, keeping the Baghdad Airport out of the hands of ISIS. The chairman revealing a recent fierce battle near there between ISIS and Iraqi forces, where for the first time the U.S. had to call in Apache attack helicopters to prevent the Iraqi forces from being overrun.
Those helicopters fly low and at a much greater risk than fighter jets.

DEMPSEY: The tool that was immediately available was the Apache. The risk of operating in a hostile environment is there constantly.

RADDATZ: That was righty by the airport.

DEMPSEY: Well, this is a case where you're not going to wait until they're climbing over the wall. They were within, you know, 20 or 25 kilometers whereÉ

RADDATZ: Of Baghdad airport?

DEMPSEY: Sure. And had they overrun the Iraqi unit it was a straight shot to the airport.
So, we're not going to allow that to happen. We need that airport.

[. . .]

RADDATZ: What is it like inside Mosul and Fallujah where ISIS controls those areas?

DEMPSEY: Extraordinarily strict interpretations of Shariah Law, punishments -- you know, crucifixions and beheadings of a nature that the world hasn't seen in hundreds of years.

RADDATZ: That's still going on.

But ISIL is also clever to give the enemy its due. They are also providing basic goods and services. They seek to reach out to children to influence the next generation.

RADDATZ: It was, of course, Dempsey who testified some weeks back.

DEMPSEY: If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I'll recommend that to the president.

RADDATZ: This, after the president had said there would be no American combat boots on the ground.
Would we be more effective against ISIS if we had U.S. troops on the ground spotting targets, if we had those ground control?

DEMPSEY: Yeah, there will be circumstances when the answer to that question will likely be yes. But I haven't encountered one right now.

RADDATZ: What kind of point would that be?

DEMPSEY: I've actually used the example of -- you know, Mosul will likely be the decisive battle in the ground campaign at some point in the future.

RADDATZ: When the Iraqi security forces have to go back and try to.

DEMPSEY: Yeah, when they are ready to back on the offensive. My instinct at this point is that that will require a different kind of advising and assisting, because of the complexity of that fight. 

Dempsey's focus on Baghdad was mirrored by the media on Sunday.  CBS News' Elizabeth Palmer reported yesterday morning on the advance towards Baghdad:

 ISIS is now on the attack in a kind of half circle around Baghdad from the north around the west, and down to the south. At the closest point their fighters are in an outer suburb called an Abu Ghraib, which is about eight miles from the perimeter of Baghdad International Airport. There are now twelve teams of American military advisors on the ground with the Iraqi forces whose are charged with protecting the capital and America is also carrying out airstrikes nearby, mainly to the west and to the south. Now, nobody expects a major assault on the city anytime soon, but it's likely ISIS will keep up the pressure with a bombing campaign by slipping through the many army and police checkpoints in the city and even civilian security checks that have been set up in all public places, including in mosques. In fact, yesterday more than thirty people were killed in three separate bomb attacks.

While Palmer noted "nobody expects a major assault on the city anytime soon," the focus remained on Baghdad.  Today, CBS News notes:

Inside Baghdad itself, there are ISIS sleeper cells that carry out almost daily bombings and assassinations, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported.
An Iraqi officer told CBS News that the U.S.-led airstrikes are helping to clear an ISIS-free buffer zone around the city, where there are Iraqi boots on the ground. In fact, there are 60,000 men assigned to defend the capital, and CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that there are 12 teams of American advisers deployed with the Iraqi brigades. The estimate is that the Iraqi army will fight for the capital and there is no real concern that Baghdad is in imminent danger, Martin says. 

But it wasn't Baghdad where major news was made today.  No, news came out of a neighboring province. This morning, CNN (link is text and video) broke the news that Iraqi forces had abandoned a military base "outside the city of Hit" in Anbar Province.  Aziz Alwan (Bloomberg News) observes, "Islamic State came closer to gaining full control of Iraq’s Anbar province after it seized a military base to the west of Baghdad that had been one of the government’s few remaining outposts there."

Vivian Salama and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) observe, "In Anbar, the capture of the Iraqi military camp came despite the U.S. airstrikes campaign. The U.S. military, which withdrew its forces from the country in late 2011 after more than eight years of war, first launched the airstrikes in early August to help Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces fight back and retake ground lost to the Islamic State group."

It's October.  US President Barack Obama started bombing Iraq in August and calling it a "plan" to deal with the Islamic State.  There's been no success and it's comical when officials, such as State Dept spokespersons, are put on the spot by a media asking them to point to even one singular success.

As Chuck Todd put it yesterday on Meet The Press (NBC), "But after hundreds of U.S. air strikes, the terror group is still gaining ground. "

Yet 'the plan' continues.

It's not a 'plan.'  And there are no other facets to it in terms of the military.  (Barack has insisted Iraq needs a political solution but he's done nothing to work towards that solution.)

He has nothing else to offer.

Former CIA director and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta attempted to spin pretty Sunday on Face The Nation (CBS) as he insisted Barack "has taken the right steps" leading a skeptical Bob Schieffer to attempt a redirect.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Basically, what you are saying, we have to have some kind of people on the ground here.

LEON PANETTA: You have got to have boots on the ground. Maybe doesn't have to be American boots on the ground, but you have got to have people on the ground who can identify targets and who can help us develop the kind of effective airstrikes that are going to be needed if we are going to be able to undermine, destroy this vicious enemy that we are dealing with.

Quick note, Leon will be the guest for the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) on Tuesday where he will discuss his book Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace  with Diane.

As for boots on the ground, they really aren't part of Barack's 'plan' thus far (yes, there are US soldiers on the ground in Iraq, Barack splits hairs and pretends otherwise).  On Meet The Press yesterday, Barack's national security advisor Susan Rice insisted that there would be no change to the plan in that regard, "The president has been very plain that this is not a campaign that requires or even would benefit from American ground troops in combat again. The Iraqi prime minister, the government of Iraq have said very plainly, they don't want American troops in combat. We are there to help build up the Iraqi capacity to sustain their territory and to hold their ground. "

So what is the plan?

To bomb and continue bombing.  Maybe throw in a couple of prayers for success.

There is nothing else at present.

Which is why Barack should never have started bombing Iraq to begin with.

It was never going to solve anything.  But once the bombing started, all talk of a political solution was set aside as war was treated as a game and bombs as toys by the White House.

It's really accomplished nothing.

On Meet The Press, NBC News' Richard Engel offered this evaluation of the 'plan:'

The Iraqi army is in no better shape now than it was when it collapsed. The new Iraqi government is not instilling confidence in the people. It is not instilling confidence in the armed forces. The U.S. spent years and years and billions of dollars to build the Iraqi army, only to watch it collapse and hand over so many of its weapons.
So it is completely unrealistic to think that now, with a little bit of outside help and a lot of American good will, that the army is going to fundamentally change and the Iraqi government, which is really just a reshuffle of the same characters, is going to fundamentally change and suddenly inspire the Iraqi people to be behind it.

Of the Iraqi military, Fareed Zakaria (CNN's Global Public Square) offers, "Billions of dollar poured into it, because it was based on the idea that there was an Iraq, that there was a nation that there would be a national army for. Maybe we need a different strategy, which is to stand up sectarian militias, Shia militias, Sunni militias. They already exist. And the Kurds have their Peshmerga, that model. Send them into fight in their areas, not in other areas where they would be regarded as a foreign army."

Meanwhile, Peter Symonds (WSWS) notes, "Haditha is reportedly the only major town in Anbar still firmly in government hands. Since the beginning of the month, ISIS forces have captured a series of towns including the provincial capital of Ramadi."  The fall of city after city in Iraq has become almost as much a daily staple in the news cycle as the never-ending violence.  In terms of today's abandoned base and takeover, Al Jazeera notes:

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said that ISIL's takeover puts nearby towns including Amiri under threat.
"Amiri is a very key town, that is where the main supply line from Anbar province into Baghdad and the rest of the south of the country goes from," he said.

The fall of the base comes as residents of the area flee to other parts of Anbar.  BBC News reports:

As many as 180,000 people have fled fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State (IS) militants in and around the city of Hit in western Anbar province, the UN says.
The civilians - many of whom were already displaced - have headed east towards the war-torn city of Ramadi.

On the topic of refugees, UNHCR notes Mohammed Ali of Syria and that "He is one of more than 2,500 Kurdish Syrians from Kobane to have made the crossing since Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government opened the border to refugees last Friday, with the authorities predicting that tens of thousands more could arrive in the coming weeks."

While the military abandoned the base near Hit, they continue to hold the base in Ramadi -- at least so far.  This despite a major loss over the weekend. Jean Marc Mojon (AFP) reports:

The region's police chief was killed on Sunday by a roadside bomb blast as he led forces battling Islamic State (IS) fighters on the outskirts of provincial capital Ramadi.
His death was the latest setback suffered by the government in Anbar, a vast Sunni region, parts of which IS had control over even before it launched its sweeping June offensive in Iraq.

In Peru today, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was asked about events in Anbar Province.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about Anbar. The U.N. said today that 180,000 civilians had left. And there was also reports about an airbase near Hit being evacuated by Iraq security forces. I was wondering if you could confirm that, talk a little bit about it.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I talked a few hours ago with our CENTCOM commanders on what they know and to give me an update. What they told me was they are not aware of any fighting around the airport or in the area that the press reports are specifically focused on.

As to the Hit town and whether Iraqi security forces left that area, I'm aware of the fact that the Iraqi security forces make strategic decisions on these issues. They deploy their forces where strategically they think they can have the most impact. I don't know any of the specifics beyond that.

National Iraqi News Agency reports that Anbar police earlier transferred 82 people suspected of being Islamic State members "from prisons of Ramadi and Khalidiya to Baghdad."

On the topic of violence, NINA notes 1 corpse was discovered in Husseiniya (gunshot wounds),  13 corpses "were found dumped in a farm south of Tikrit,"  1 person was shot dead in Baghdad, 2 bombs "near Baquba, north of the Edhaym Dam" killed 2 Iraqi soldiers and left four more injured, 2 Baghdad bombings (Aden Square and Sadr City) left 7 people dead and fifty-two injured, and "15 civlians and policemen were killed and injured" in a Kirkuk motorcycle bombing.

It was just days ago that Raad al-Azzawi became the latest journalist to die in the Iraq War.  All Iraq News noted, "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."  The western press frenzy that greeted the recent deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff was not matched when it came to Raad's murder. Instead, western outlets offered silence on Raad's murder or a brief paragraph.  As we noted at Third in "Editorial: The Western Media Makes Its Point:"

But the western press did something even more valuable than cover the death.
They made it clear (yet again) that Iraqi lives do not matter.
Not to them.
Repeatedly, they've been (rightly) accused of ignoring the deaths of Iraqis while pretending to care about Iraq.
But the same media that sold the war in 2003 and that continues to sell the war today doesn't care about the Iraqi people.
That is the message they sent after their wall-to-wall, non-stop coverage bemoaning the deaths of two American journalists compared to their coverage of the execution of Raad.
They only care about Iraq in terms of selling war.

National Iraqi News Agency notes that journalist Muhannad Ekaidat was executed by the Islamic State today in Mosul.  All Iraq News reports:

The terrorist gangs of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant executed on Monday the Iraqi journalist Muhanad al-Egaidi in Mosul city.
The Media official within the Kurdistani Democratic Party in Nineveh province, Saeed Memozin, said in a press statement "the terrorists of the ISIL executed on Monday the journalist Muhanad al-Egaidi by shooting him to death."
"The ISIL terrorists kidnapped Egaidi two months ago and today they executed him in Ghizlani camp of southern Mosul city," he added.  
Memozin mentioned "The dead body of the killed journalist was transported to the morgue so that his parents can receive it."

It is worth to mention that Muhanad al-Egaidi was working as a reporter for SADA Press Agency in Mosul as well as program presenter at Mosuliya Satellite channel.

Some Tweets on the murder:

  • Would really like to see the same outcry when Iraqi journos are executed by - Muhannad Akidi is the latest one. RIP
  • Iraqi journalist Muhannad Akidi was executed by ISIS today. Let's spread as much awareness abt him as his foreign peers that were IS victims

  • Iraq has fallen by the way side repeatedly for the White House as they've rushed to zoom in on Syria and their desire to force out or overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  The inability to focus may explain the conflicting reports on whether or not Turkey was participating in Barack's 'plan' for Iraq and Syria.  In this morning's New York Times, Eric Schmitt and Kirk Semple noted, "Turkey will allow American and coalition troops to use its bases, including a key installation within 100 miles of the Syrian border, for operations against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, Defense Department officials said Sunday."  However, i24 News and AFP report:

    Turkey has denied reports that they had reached an agreement to let the United States use its Incirlik air base for operations against Islamic State militants in Syria.
    Sources at the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's office have said that talks on the subject are continuing.

    The issue/confusion popped up in US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's Peru press conference today:

    REAR ADM. KIRBY: First question will come from Lolita Baldor from the Associated Press.

    Q: Mr. Secretary, Syria, Turkey, have there been any developments in the ongoing negotiations with Turkey over Syria? I'm just wondering, there's a lot of back-and-forth going on. Are you still optimistic about it? And do you have any goals for the chiefs of defense meeting tomorrow? Anything you really hope they try to accomplish?

    SEC. HAGEL: Lita, I am optimistic about progress that we are making with the Turks, as the Turks further define their role in the coalition against ISIL. As you know, we have teams from Central Command and European Command there. As you all know, I spoke with General Allen yesterday to get a readout from his meetings there, as well as I spoke with the Turkish minister of defense.
    I said yesterday that I'll leave public announcements about what the Turks are committed to do to them, but I would say, though, to answer your question, we are making very good progress and I am optimistic.
    As to your question regarding General Dempsey bringing 20 of the chiefs of defense together from 20 nations, that is going to be an important meeting. As I think you know, President Obama is going to stop by at the end of that meeting tomorrow.

      The objective of the meeting that General Dempsey put together was to further coordinate and organize countries' efforts to participate in the coalition. They will be working through those specific areas and defining specific contributions that the nations will make. So I am much encouraged with that meeting, and it's going to be a very important meeting.

    So, in other words, even Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense had no idea what the status was with regards to Turkey providing US forces access to their air bases.

    the new york times
    eric schmitt