Thursday, October 23, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, October 23, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the US government and the Turkish government clash, Mount Sinjar is not a White House success, and much more.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the President of Turkey and he's in the news cycle.  Hugh Naylor and Brian Murphy (Washington Post) report, "Turkey’s president sharpened criticism of U.S. airdrops to aid Syrian Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State, but promised on Thursday that Kurdish reinforcements would soon arrive in the embattled border town of Kobane. [. . .] Erdogan also amplified his criticism of U.S. airdrops to help the Syrian Kurdish fighters, claiming it was blatant interference in Turkish affairs."

In what may have been a retaliation for criticizing the White House publicly,  David Cohen went on the attack against Turkey today.  James Reinl (Rudaw) reports Treasury Undersecretary Cohen declared today that US sanctions will be slapped on Turkey and any "Kudrish middlemen" caught trafficking in 'terrorist' oil.  Cohen stated, "Last month, ISIL was selling oil at substantially discounted prices to a variety of middlemen, including some from Turkey.  It also appears that some of the oil emanating from territory where ISIL operates has been sold to Kurds in Iraq, and then resold into Turkey."

Cohen made his remarks/allegations/threats while speaking at the Carnegie Endowment For International Peace.  In his remarks, he also outlined how the US government believes the Islamic State makes money:

Before turning to the specific steps we are taking, let me take a moment to detail these sources of revenue.
First, ISIL has raised a significant amount of its money – many millions of dollars – from selling oil it extracts from fields in Syria and Iraq. 
Our best understanding is that ISIL has tapped into a long-standing and deeply rooted black market connecting traders in and around the area. After extracting the oil, ISIL sells it to smugglers who, in turn, transport the oil outside of ISIL’s strongholds.  These smugglers move oil in a variety of ways, from relatively sizeable tankers to smaller containers.
We also understand that ISIL controls oil refineries of various sizes and output capacities, and earns some revenue from the sale of refined petroleum products. 
So who, ultimately, is buying this oil?  According to our information, as of last month, ISIL was selling oil at substantially discounted prices to a variety of middlemen, including some from Turkey, who then transported the oil to be resold.  It also appears that some of the oil emanating from territory where ISIL operates has been sold to Kurds in Iraq, and then resold into Turkey.  And in a further indication of the Asad regime’s depravity, it seems the Syrian government has made an arrangement to purchase oil from ISIL. 
It is difficult to get precise revenue estimates on the value to ISIL of these transactions in light of the murky nature of the market, but we estimate that beginning in mid-June, ISIL has earned approximately $1 million a day from oil sales. 
There are good indications, however, that recent coalition military efforts have begun to impair ISIL’s ability to generate revenue from oil smuggling.  Airstrikes on ISIL oil refineries are threatening ISIL’s supply networks and depriving it of fuel to sell or use itself.  Moreover, our partners in the region, including Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government, are committed to preventing ISIL-derived oil from crossing their borders. Last week, the International Energy Agency reported that ISIL’s ability to produce, refine and smuggle oil had been significantly hampered.
Second, ISIL also kidnaps innocent civilians to profit from ransoms paid to obtain their release.
ISIL did not pioneer kidnapping for ransom – it has been around for thousands of years.  And other terrorist organizations, including al Qa’ida’s affiliates in Yemen and north Africa, also rely on ransom payments as a key revenue source.  As I have said before, kidnapping for ransom is one of the most significant terrorist financing threats today.  For ISIL, these ransom payments are irregular, but each one can be a significant boon.  This spring, ISIL released captured journalists and other hostages from several European countries.  In return, according to press reports, ISIL received several multi-million dollar payments.  All in all, ISIL has taken at least $20 million in ransoms this year. 
Third, like its predecessor, al Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), ISIL raises money – up to several million dollars per month – through a sophisticated extortion racket.  In Iraq and Syria, ISIL extracts payments from those who pass through, conduct business in, or simply seek to live in the territory where it operates. 
In the Iraqi city of Mosul, for instance, accounts have surfaced of ISIL terrorists going home-to-home, business-to-business, demanding cash at gunpoint.  A grocery store owner who refused to pay was warned with a bomb outside his shop.  Others who have not paid have seen their relatives kidnapped.  Religious minorities have been forced to pay special tributes.  We’ve also seen reports that when customers make cash withdrawals from local banks where ISIL operates, ISIL has demanded as much as ten percent of the value. 
Make no mistake: This is not taxation in return for services or even for real protection.  It is theft, pure and simple.  The money ISIL pilfers is being exchanged not for a guarantee of safety but for the temporary absence of harm.
Fourth, ISIL also profits from a range of other criminal activities.  They rob banks.  They lay waste to thousands of years of civilization in Iraq and Syria by looting and selling antiquities.  They steal livestock and crops from farmers.  And despicably, they sell abducted girls and women as sex slaves. 

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, ISIL derives some funding from wealthy donors.  Even though ISIL currently does not rely heavily on external donor networks, it maintains important links to financiers in the Gulf, as a spate of Treasury designations last month made clear. 

Cohen's accusations against Turkey don't detract from what Erdogan stated today.  On that, Anatoul Agency adds:

Turkey criticized the U.S. for its military aid to the outlawed Kurdish Democratic Union Party on Monday, saying that would mean arming "terrorists," Erdogan recalled at the press conference.
"Why is Kobani so important? Where were the rest of the world while Daraa, Idlib, Hama or Homs was burning?" Erdogan asked.
"There are no civilians left in Kobani, only about 2,000 PYD fighters," he added, using an abbreviation for the Kurdish party. 
The Kurdish Democratic Union Party is affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long separatist fight with the Turkish army. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.

For Turkey, the Kurdish question has long been an issue.

Internally, Turkey has a long history of suppressing Kurds and while Erdogen has made overtures in recent years, the oppression continues.

Along with overtures to Kurds in Turkey -- many of whom want their own country, Erdogen has also, with Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani, formed a working partnership with the KRG.

The KRG is the closest thing Kurds around the world have to their own country.  The KRG is a group of provinces in northern Iraq which border Turkey.  Many Kurds in Iraq would prefer that the semi-autonomous KRG become fully autonomous.

For years, this has been a fear -- a big one -- for the Turkish government which has worried that should the KRG become fully autonomous it would lead the Kurds in Turkey to strengthen their demands for autonomy.

On the Turkish government, Con Coughlin (Telegraph of London) explains:

The Turks’ reluctance to get behind the military effort against IS is based on two concerns, both of which put Ankara fundamentally at odds with the objectives of its Nato partners. The first is Turkey’s aim in Syria’s brutal civil war to see Assad overthrown and replaced by an Islamic government with a similar outlook to that of its own President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Until last year this was not a problem, as Britain and America and Ankara shared a common goal regarding Assad. But the West’s priorities have changed dramatically since the heady days of late August 2013 when President Obama and David Cameron made their ill-fated attempt to garner support for air strikes against Damascus.
These days, the West’s priority is to defeat the Islamist militants who oppose the Assad regime. Claims that the Turks are actively supporting IS fighters with arms and training indicates that there now exists a sharp divergence between Turkey’s priorities in the conflict and those of the western powers.
The plight of the Kurds is the other bone of contention between Turkey and Nato. Denying Kurdish aspirations for full independence is hard-wired into the DNA of Ankara’s political establishment, to the extent that the Turks, as shown in Kobane, would prefer to see a town overrun by IS rather than have the Kurds prevail.

While obstacles remain there, the US Defense Dept wants everyone to know they are shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraq.  Via spokesperson Rear Adm John Kirby, the Pentagon released the following today:

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke via telephone with the Iraqi Minister of Defense Khaled al Obeidi today. Secretary Hagel congratulated the newly-appointed Defense Minister and underscored his support for the Minister's counterterrorism pursuits.
Secretary Hagel emphasized the importance of rebuilding the Iraqi Security Forces in a way that engenders trust and confidence among the armed forces personnel and the Iraqi people.
The two talked about ways to train, equip and prepare the Iraqi Security forces for upcoming offensives against ISIL and Minister Obeidi expressed his appreciation for U.S. advisors and airstrikes. Both Secretary Hagel and Minister Obeidi promised to continue to work closely together to pursue mutual security objectives.

As Barack Obama's nonplan continues in Iraq, there are whispers of another plan (a post-mid-term election one).   Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) reported yesterday that the White House thinks it has another 'plan' for addressing the Islamic State in Iraq.  This one would be termed a "battle plan" and a sure sign of its weakness can be found in the belief that it will take place "gradually."  DeYoung explains:

The plan, described as methodical and time-consuming, will not begin in earnest for several months and is designed to ensure that Iraqi forces­ do not overextend themselves before they are capable of taking and holding territory controlled by the militants.

It may also include U.S. advisers in the field with the Iraqis, should that be recommended by American military commanders, said the official, who updated reporters on administration strategy on the condition of anonymity under rules imposed by the White House. The advisers, the official said, would not participate in combat. President Obama has said repeatedly that no U.S. ground forces would be deployed to Iraq.

You can be sure that the "may"s will disappear after the start of the next month when Barack will no longer have to worry about the immediate voter fallout.

Bill Van Auken (WSWS) offers:

And, as for Obama’s promise about no “ground forces,” this term is used in a manner that does not apply to special operations troops, advisers and other smaller units, but rather to the deployment of full combat brigades.
The announcement that the topic was discussed by US and Iraqi officials almost certainly indicates that preparations are being made to substantially increase the number of US military personnel deployed in Iraq, which, according to official figures, now stands at over 1,400.

Leaving what's around the corner to take a look at what's on the road now, Lolita C. Baldor (AP) notes, "The Pentagon says Iraq's new defense minister says his troops will go on the offensive against Islamic State militants who have taken over large sections of the country."

They'll go on the offensive, will they?

Anytime soon?

Sunday, World Bulletin noted the Iraqi military's efforts to retake Baiji ended when a bomb blew up "an armored vehicle" killing 4 Iraqi soldiers and leaving seven more injured.  The military insists the vehicle blown up was driven by a member of the Islamic State and that the military mistook it for one of their own vehicles and, most importantly, they'll try again to retake Baiji.  Real soon.  But still not yet, not as of today.

And today Saif Sameer and Ned Parker (Reuters) report that the Islamic State seized Zauiyat albu Nimr Village in Anbar Province and that, during the battle, the Iraqi military began escaping via a helicopter.

They're going on the offensive when?

Do they understand what "offensive" means?

They just might be as confused as Valerie Jarrett who, two Sundays ago on NBC's Meet The Press, declared Mount Sinjar to be an important "success." Today,  Saif Sameer and Ned Parker (Reuters) also report, "U.S. President Barack Obama authorized air strikes on IS in Iraq in August, citing the duty to prevent an impending genocide of minority Yazidis at the hands of the jihadist insurgents who attacked them around Sinjar Mountain."

Air strikes on Mount Sinjar.  Just like the latest wave started August 8th.

What's really changed since then?


And I keep waiting for US Senator John McCain to haul out his whack-a-mole talk from the previous administration and point out that any minor victory in X leads to a loss in Y.

Mount Sinjar came up in today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by Jen Psaki:

QUESTION: Can you confirm reports or do you have any comment on the fact that Yezidis are once again trapped on Mount Sinjar and requesting help, expecting an assault again by ISIS fighters?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, as you know, we had taken recent action, relatively recently I should say, over the course of the summer. I don’t have anything new to predict for you. We remain committed to addressing humanitarian crises as we see them and to continuing to assist those who are impacted by the threat of ISIL. But operationally, I would point you to DOD to see if there’s anything they would want to preview about anything they’re planning.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, the Administration has said repeatedly that, for example, Kobani in a city of itself doesn’t have a lot of strategic import in the overall fight. I’m wondering if you have any idea what ISIS’s – what their aim is in trying to get Sinjar. Why? Do you have any idea why Sinjar is such a prize? They keep going back to it, so --

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think – I know this is not what you asked, but even on Kobani I can’t tell you why – we can’t tell you why, aside from their desire to have a propaganda victory, that they are focusing there either. The reason --

QUESTION: Well, the border. They could control the border there.

MS. PSAKI: But in terms of their focus on Sinjar, I don’t know that I have analysis on why strategically ISIL is going after it more.

QUESTION: But the reason that you undertook the action in the first place is because you thought that ISIS was trying to launch a genocide against the Yezidis.

MS. PSAKI: Right. That’s right.

QUESTION: So aren’t you still concerned about that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly remain concerned about any group that’s threatened by ISIL, and we’ve taken action in the past. I have nothing to preview for you in terms of future operations, as would be typically the case.

Saif Sameer and Ned Parker (Reuters) report, "U.S. President Barack Obama authorized air strikes on IS in Iraq in August, citing the duty to prevent an impending genocide of minority Yazidis at the hands of the jihadist insurgents who attacked them around Sinjar Mountain."  But AFP reports, "Islamic State group jihadists besieging Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq have killed a commander of forces from the Yazidi religious minority defending the area, a fighter said yesterday. The commander, Al Sheikh Khayri, had returned from Germany, which has large Yazidi community, to fight, and was killed on Wednesday night, Khalaf Mamu said by telephone."

And the Yazidis are only one group targeted.  Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth Tweets:

  • Lastly, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following yesterday:

    CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or

    New York, NY (October 22, 2014) – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing post-9/11 veterans and their families, today announced director, producer, actor and writer Peter Berg – who recently wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated, blockbuster hit, “Lone Survivor” – will join the organizations’ Board of Directors this fall. 
    Director Pete BergBerg, a loyal veteran advocate and son of a Marine, received IAVA’s 2014 Leadership in Entertainment Award this past May at the Heroes Celebration in Los Angeles, CA. 
    “IAVA is honored to have Pete Berg join our board and lead the effort to support and empower the New Greatest Generation of veterans,” said IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff. “In 2014 and beyond, we look forward to working with Pete in fighting for critical veterans issues. “Lone Survivor’s” success elevated a national conversation on the sacrifices of our veterans and servicemembers over the past 13 years.  As the son of a Marine, Pete is a staunch supporter of post-9/11 veterans and the military community. In the past few months he has met with IAVA members and veterans in both New York and Los Angeles. We are excited to bring him on board as we begin to celebrate our 10th anniversary and prep for Veterans Day 2014.”
    In addition to “Lone Survivor,” Berg is also known for his fierce portrait of high school football in the 2004 film adaptation of Buzz Bissinger’s bestseller, “Friday Night Lights.” The film's success, both in theaters and on DVD, spawned the acclaimed TV series of the same name, which aired for five seasons and garnered multiple Emmy nominations and wins. In addition to serving as the series' executive producer, Berg also directed several episodes of the show, including the 2006 pilot, for which he earned an Emmy nomination as Best Director. As one of the series' writers, he also shared a Writers Guild nomination for Best New Series.
    As an actor, Berg's recent film work includes roles in “Lions for Lambs,” “Smokin' Aces,” and "Collateral.”
    In addition to directing the 2012 film "Battleship," the New York native (and son of a Naval historian) also develops projects under his Film 44 banner. Berg has also directed “Hancock” and “The Kingdom,” among other feature films. Most recently, Berg was an executive producer and directed several episodes of the HBO series "The Leftovers," starring Justin Theroux and Liv Tyler.
    Note to media: Email or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or IAVA leadership. 
    Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has nearly 300,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.