Thursday, October 16, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, October 16, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the Iraqi Parliament meets and then adjourns until Saturday, the White House's 'diplomacy' team heads home, CNN's Elise Labott forces the Pentagon spokesperson to dance, and much more.

US Vice President Joe Biden has two sons: Beau and Hunter.  Hunter is in the news.  Eric Brander (CNN) reports that Hunter Biden's February 2014 discharge from the Navy Reserve was an "administrative discharge" after he tested positive for cocaine.  I know Joe (and like Joe) and we're not going to be accused or hiding what happened.  But we're also not a gossip site so let's note that drug use takes place in all families, that the military especially needs to up their efforts to address drug use and addiction.

Hunter is an adult and responsible for his own decisions and, if he has an addiction, the treatment of his disease.  He has issued a statement today taking responsibility.

Falling down doesn't define us, how we brush ourselves off and resume our journey does.  All eyes are on Hunter right now and that's not a comfortable place for anyone to be in.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari is a former prime minister of Iraq and is currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  National Iraqi News Agency reports he held a press conference today to announce "that there was no state party which asked to bring ground troops to Iraq."

That's a nice thought.  Not a clear one, not an honest one, but a nice one.

Earlier this month, Laura Smith-Spark, Ben Wedeman and Greg Botellho (CNN) reported on Anbar Provincial Council's request for US forces for combat.  They're provincial and not federal but that call was significant and only becomes more so.  But you can ignore that.

And I guess if you pretend hard enough, you can convince yourself that all the US forces Barack sent over since June are something other than 'ground troops.'

Barack pretends otherwise, after all, and so do many Americans.  As Peter Certo (Other Words) observes:

If Barack Obama owes his presidency to one thing, it was the good sense he had back in 2002 to call the Iraq War what it was: “dumb.”

Now, with scarcely a whisper of debate, Obama has become the fourth consecutive U.S. president to bomb Iraq — and in fact has outdone his predecessors by spreading the war to Islamic State targets in Syria as well. With the Pentagon predicting that this latest conflict could rage for three years or longer, Obama is now poised to leave behind a Middle East quagmire that closely resembles the one he was elected to end.

But before Ibrahim gets crowned the great pretender, check out Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby.  In the grand tradition of the crossovers on The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man, today the Pentagon and the State Dept held a joint press conference.  During the press conference, CNN's Elise Labott nailed him and Kirby just pretended otherwise.

RADM KIRBY: Thanks. Thank you. Thanks, Jen. Thanks for welcoming me over here. As Jen said, this is something we’ve been talking about for a long time. We just work together so closely every single day that we thought this was a good idea. And now I’m going to beg her to come over to the Pentagon and do it in our briefing room as well. So that’ll be the next iteration of this.
I just want to update you on – quickly on two military operations that the Defense Department has been focused on in recent weeks: our efforts against ISIL, of course, and our efforts in the Ebola response in West Africa.
With regard to the counter-ISIL effort, Operation Inherent Resolve – we just officially unveiled that name yesterday – U.S. forces conducted 14 airstrikes near the town of Kobani yesterday and today. Initial reports that we’re getting from Central Command indicate that those strikes successfully hit 19 ISIL buildings, two command posts, three fighting positions, three sniper positions, one staging location, and one heavy machine gun. Very precise targeting. With these airstrikes, we took advantage of the opportunity to hit ISIL as they attempt to mass their forces and combat power on the Kurdish-held positions – or portions, I’m sorry, of Kobani. While the security situation there does remain tenuous, ISIL’s advances appear to have slowed and we know that we have inflicted damage upon them.
On our response to Ebola in West Africa, Operation United Assistance, our forces on the ground in Liberia continue to make progress in setting up infrastructure and facilities to support the international response. Setup has been complete on the 25-bed hospital, and we expect it to be fully operational, with U.S. public health service medical workers taking responsibility for that unit next week. Meanwhile, personnel from the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center continue to operate three mobile medical labs, which provide 24-hour turnaround results on samples. To date, they have processed more than 1,200 total samples. And lastly, construction continues on the Ebola treatment facilities with the first expected to be completed by the end of the month.
And I want to emphasize, again, that no U.S. military personnel will be providing direct patient care to the local population. As my Pentagon colleagues have heard me say many times, we’re focused on four lines of effort and only four lines of effort: command and control, logistics support, training, and engineering.
With that --

MS. PSAKI: All right. Well, as we typically do, we’ll stay with one topic. We talked about this, so let’s try to do that if we can. I know yesterday was a little wild and wooly.
Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m looking forward to this. Double the pleasure, double the information, I hope. Right?

MS. PSAKI: Double the fun.

QUESTION: Double the fun.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I just have one logistic question about this briefing. Are you, Admiral, going to be staying for the whole thing or are you going to leave?

RADM KIRBY: That depends on how --

QUESTION: All right, because I have a question that’s not related to either Ebola or ISIL for you.

RADM KIRBY: No, I’ll be here.


RADM KIRBY: I’ll be here the whole time.

QUESTION: All right. So let’s start with Kobani then. So in your comments just now in talking about the progress that the operation has made --


QUESTION: -- does this mean that saving Kobani from falling has now become a priority in the campaign?

RADM KIRBY: Well, we’ve been focused on Kobani for a long time. This isn’t the first day that we’ve done strikes there. We’ve been doing them for a long time. What makes Kobani significant is the fact that ISIL wants it. And the more they want it, the more forces and resources they apply to it, the more targets that are available for us to hit there. I said it yesterday, keep saying it: Kobani could still fall. Our military participation is from the air and the air only right now, and we’ve all been honest about the fact that air power alone is not going to be able to save any town in particular.

QUESTION: Right. But you and other officials, including Jen, have said in the past that – or indicated, and Secretary Kerry has as well, that losing Kobani or Kobani falling to ISIL is not a huge strategic loss, and now it seems like you’re really ramping up the effort to keep it – to prevent it – to prevent it from falling. And I’m just wondering, has the decision been made within the Administration that the propaganda or other symbolic – a symbolic victory in Kobani would be too much to stomach, from your – an ISIL victory in Kobani would be too much?

RADM KIRBY: I think we’ve been pretty consistent about the fact that we need to all be prepared for other towns and other cities to fall too. This group wants ground. They want territory, they want infrastructure. We all need to be prepared for them to continue to try to grab that, and succeed in taking it. There’s been no strategic shift here as far as I know, at least from the military perspective, about Kobani or any other town. What we’re trying to do in Syria – and this is an important point, Matt – in Syria we’re trying to deny safe haven and sanctuary. They want safe haven and sanctuary in Kobani; we’re trying to help not let that happen.
So Kobani matters from that perspective. It also matters tactically because, as I said, they’re putting more resources to the fight, so there are more targets. We’ve killed several hundred of their fighters in just these strikes in and around Kobani. It would be irresponsible for us not to try to target them in a more aggressive way as they become more aggressive around Kobani itself.
And the last thing is, frankly, it’s an issue of balancing resources. One of the reasons you’ve seen additional strikes in the last couple of days is because we haven’t been able to strike quite as much, quite as aggressively inside Iraq. There’s been terrible weather there, sandstorms this time of year. It’s made it very hard for us to get intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms up over to see what we’re trying to do in Iraq. So we’ve had resources available that we might not have otherwise had available to strike them there in Kobani. Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: Yeah, I think so.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that? Elise Labott with CNN. Welcome.


QUESTION: Yesterday, General Allen said that the increase in airstrikes in Kobani was for humanitarian purposes, and it sounds like now you’re saying that there’s more of a target. Rather than humanitarian aspects along the lines of what you did with the Yezidis, it sounds like this is more – you have more targets of opportunity.

RADM KIRBY: It is that. There’s a humanitarian component to it, no question about it.

QUESTION: Well, there wasn’t last week. I mean, it didn’t seem last week that there was.

RADM KIRBY: No, there’s a – there was a humanitarian component to it. But we don’t estimate that – right now, we think there’s hundreds, not thousands, of citizens remaining in Kobani. It fluctuates and it changed, but we believe most of the population is out of there. That doesn’t mean they’re out of danger, though, and so there is a humanitarian component to this. If we can help the Kurdish militia keep Kobani – keep ISIL out of Kobani, then you by default are helping protect the population that remains there. And so there is a component to it.

QUESTION: So is it more now that you feel that as long as you have targets, you’ll continue to strike them, or is it now you’ve made the decision that come hell or high water you’re going to make sure that this town doesn’t fall?

RADM KIRBY: We are going to continue – I think it’s a great question. We are on the offense against these guys. There’s this narrative out there that they’re opportunistic and they’re adaptive and they’re agile. Nobody is more opportunistic or agile or adaptive than the United States military, and so we’re going to continue to go after them wherever they are and wherever we can.
There’s going to be a limit, though. You can’t just hit every place you know them to be, because we do – unlike them, we have to be discreet and discriminant about collateral damage and civilian casualties. So we’re going to hit them where we can, where we can do it effectively, have an effect on their ability to sustain themselves and to operate, but without having a bad effect – a negative effect – on the surrounding population.

QUESTION: But it’s – but you said it still could fall and that --


QUESTION: -- wouldn’t mean that your goals weren’t achieved.

RADM KIRBY: That’s – our goals have not changed with respect to going after ISIL in Syria or in and around Kobani. And I said it yesterday, I’ll say it again: That town could still fall. We all need to be prepared for that possibility.

Pretenders also include the Iraqi Parliament which is back from its long holiday.  Kind of.   All Iraq News reports that today's session saw 217 MPs show up.  That might be good news were it not for the fact that Iraq's Parliament has 328 MPs.

So in the midst of multiple crises which have led other nations to contribute (wisely in the case of Germany which is sending doctors, poorly in the case of those dropping bombs), over 100 members of Parliament can't even show up for the sessions?

Thought Barack was going to be working on that political solution?

When exactly?

He's dropped bombs.  He's named his ridiculous bombing campaign.

Exactly when does he focus on the political?

The State Dept's Brett McGurk Tweeted the following today.

So now you go home?

The Parliament takes two weeks off, finally comes back into session and that's when the US government decides to send what passes for a diplomatic team home?

Barack can -- and did -- attend a meet-up this week with approximately 20 defense ministers from various nations but when it's time to talk diplomacy, it's reduced to Blinken and McGurk?

No wonder there's still no move towards a political solution in Iraq.

In related news, NINA reports:

An informed source said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi request to extend the deadline to provide the names of the security ministers for 24 hours.
The source said in a press statement: "The prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi asked the parliament to extend the deadline to provide the names of the security minister for 24 hours." 

Sure, why not?

Iraq hasn't had either since March 2010, so why rush now?

Because Iraq's falling apart.

So they showed up today -- or about two-thirds did -- and did nothing and now, All Iraq News reports, they've decided to adjourn until Saturday.

They did this as violence rolled Iraq.  National Iraqi News Agency notes a Ramadi suicide car bomber took his own life and the lives of 4 Iraqi security forces with five more left injured, a Mahmudiyah car bombing left 6 people dead and fifteen more injured, and2 Baiji home bombings left 17 family members dead and three more injured.  All Iraq News reports 11 corpses were discovered in Tikrit.  AP notes 2 car bombings in Baghdad's Dolaie section which left 14 people dead and thirty-four injured.  AP also notes the aftermath of the bombing:

Angry residents in the neighbourhood threw stones at police checkpoints and police cars that arrived to respond to the blasts, prompting police to withdraw from the area. Senior Iraqi officials have tried to reassure residents that the capital is too well-protected for militants to capture, even as they struggle to stop frequent near daily deadly attacks. 

On the topic of the Iraqi police, Elizabeth Palmer (CBS News) observes, "Basic training lasts 45 days. The young recruits are almost done. In two weeks, they'll be sent into combat. They're called police, but they're trained like the military."  A ton of money -- US tax payer money -- was already spent training the Iraqi police.

You may remember that the Minister of Interior said in the fall of 2011 that the US should find a better way to spend their money and that training wasn't needed.


You may remember that the man the US press insisted was the Minister of the Interior said that.  He wasn't the Minister.  The ministry was headless.  Nouri al-Maliki, thug and prime minister, refused to nominate anyone to head the security ministries.  Instead, he named flunkies 'acting ministers' which -- while unconstitutional -- allowed him to control the ministries.

So actually, the flunky was speaking on behalf of Nouri.

Now they need help.

One plan being tossed around was basically three sets of forces -- Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites -- making up a national guard.

The justification for this was probably best explained by Fareed Zakaria (CNN's Global Public Square), "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."

That notion appears to be dead now.  Tamer el-Ghobashy (Wall St. Journal) reports:

Momentum has swung against the proposal to create a national guard that would encompass local forces in Iraq’s provinces as rival political blocs expressed reservations over who would be allowed into the new service and how funding would be allocated.
The Obama administration has pushed the national guard proposal as a way to bring minority Sunnis closer to the Shiite-dominated central government after years of policies espoused by former Prime Minister Iraqi Nouri al-Maliki that excluded them.

So the police are being rushed through training, the national guard idea appears dead, Shi'ite militias terrorize Sunnis throughout Iraq.  On those militias, NINA quotes Kirkuk's Sheikh Othman Agha calling for "a solution to the militias, which are spread in public roads and highways being contrary to the Constitution and detrimental to the national interest and harmony among citizens of one nation."

It's a shame the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Interior aren't addressing these issues and --

Oh, wait, again there is no Minister of Defense and there is no Minister of Interior.

All Iraq News reports rumors that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi intends to make new nominations for the post on Saturday: Khalid al-Ubaidi for Minister of Defense and the always controversial Ahmed Chalabi for Minister of Interior.

On violence . . .

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    Winding down, the following community sites posted today:

  • Also, earlier this week, Mike's "The Invasion," Stan's "Halloween," Marcia's "Aliens," Ann's "Insidious," Elaine's "Scream," Ruth's "The Omen,"  Rebecca's "rosemary's baby," Betty's "The Exorcist," Trina's "The Believers" and Kat's "The Birds" were entries in a theme on favorite horror movies.