Saturday, November 29, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, November 29, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, more civilians are killed in the US-led air campaign, despite announcements no budget bill is read in Parliament, corruption remains rampant, and much more.

In a letter to the editors of the Houston Chronicle, Carl Schiro asks a question no one seems able to answer:

Regarding "Corruption hobbles Iraq's military efforts" (Page A1, Monday), why is our government still sending our troops and money to such a corrupt country?

Can anyone answer that question?  The article Schiro's referring to is David D. Kirkpatrick (New York Times via Hamilton Spectator) report on Iraqi forces:

The Iraqi military and police forces had been so thoroughly pillaged by their own corrupt leadership that they all but collapsed this spring in the face of the advancing militants of the Islamic State — despite roughly $25 billion worth of U.S. training and equipment over the past 10 years and far more from the Iraqi treasury.                         

Now maybe if there had been work on the political solution -- the one US President Barack Obama has spent months giving lip service to -- corruption could have been dealt with.

Instead, Barack's planning a work-around.  Francesca Chambers (Daily Mail) notes:

The U.S. military has decided against rebuilding the entire Iraqi army and will instead focus on training a handful of brigades to take on Islamic radicals, initiating a shift in the Pentagon's decade-long approach to the handling the country.
'The idea is, at least in the first instance, to try and build a kind of leaner, meaner Iraqi army,' a senior U.S. official told the Washington Post.
Officials who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity said the military plans to create nine new Iraqi army brigades of up to 45,000 light-infantry soldiers over the course of the next two months and team them with other Kurdish and Shiite fighters. 

So the problem is being labeled as "corruption" and the US government thinks the way to handle/address that is to just make smaller units?

That 'solution' -- laughable as it is -- certainly makes more sense than the Iraqi government's response.

Michael Gregory (Reuters) reports that Minister of Finance Hoshyar Zebari has stated that the military will take up about 23% of the proposed budget for 2015 and he's also calling "for deep-rooted reforms to stamp out corruption in a military that collapsed in the face of an Islamic State advance."

Yes, by all means, put nearly a quarter of your annual budget into a military machine known for its corruption.

Don't root out the corruption, just toss more money at it.

A quarter of your budget, for example.

Since the US isn't planning on any major actions until at least February, there's nore than enough time to address graft in the Iraqi military.

In fact, doing so would expose a mountain of corruption because as members of this political party or slate go down, you can rest assured they will take others down with them.  Meaning?  A State of Law military official goes down for corruption, they'll rat out someone in the Ministry of Transportation and so on and so on.

Corruption is rampant in Iraq.

That's why Transparency International ranks Iraq the 171st least transparent country or territory on a list of 177 for 2013.  This is not a new development.  In 2009, Barack was sworn in as president.  Transparency International's finds for 2009?  Iraq was ranked the 176th least transparent. (For those who want to trumpet the 'success' in Iraq moving from 176 to 171, please note that the 2009 list included 180 listings.They dropped three.  So Iraq really just moved one spot.)

In 2009, Patrick Cockburn (at CounterPunch) pointed out, "Iraq is the world’s premier kleptomaniac state. According to Transparency International the only countries deemed more crooked than Iraq are Somalia and Myanmar, while Haiti and Afghanistan rank just behind. In contrast to Iraq, which enjoys significant oil revenues, none of these countries have much money to steal."  Bill Van Auken (World Socialist Web Site) also noted the Transparency International 2009 report:

In relation to Iraq, the report found rampant corruption as well, with corrupt government officials operating with impunity. It cited a recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation stating that in Iraq “non-security institutions remain weak and debilitated. The Iraqi leadership faces many structural constraints on governance, such as a massive brain drain, a high level of political division, and extreme poverty.”

Across the political spectrum, the corruption has been noted repeatedly and consistently.  For example, early this year the right-wing Heritage Foundation noted of Iraq:

Corruption is pervasive at all levels of government. There are widespread reports of demands by officials for bribes, mismanagement of public funds, payments to “ghost” employees, salary skimming, and nepotism. Although judicial independence is guaranteed in the constitution, judges are subject to immense political and sectarian pressure and are viewed by the public as corrupt or ineffective. Property rights are not well protected.

And if you need a government source, here's the US Embassy in Baghdad:

Corruption remains a salient feature of the political and economic landscape of Iraq and poses and threatens its full economic and social development.  Mitigating corruption’s corrosive effects on Iraq’s reconstruction requires continued USG engagement – both in terms of programs and in terms of bringing political and diplomatic pressure to bear on Iraqi leaders. 

With all the above in mind, let's return to the question that opens Carl Schiro's letter to the editors of the Houston Chronicle:

Regarding "Corruption hobbles Iraq's military efforts" (Page A1, Monday), why is our government still sending our troops and money to such a corrupt country?

It's not a hidden factor.  In June, Richard Engel (NBC News -- link is text and video) interviewed Iraqi forces and they repeatedly cited corruption as the country's "biggest enemy."

And as Patrick Cockburn (at the Independent) pointed out last year, the corruption was predicted at the start of the Iraq War:

A few months before the invasion, an Iraqi civil servant secretly interviewed in Baghdad made a gloomy forecast. “The exiled Iraqis are the exact replica of those who currently govern us… with the sole difference that the latter are already satiated since they have been robbing us for the past 30 years,” he said. “Those who accompany the US troops will be ravenous.”
Many of the Iraqis who came back to Iraq after the US-led invasion were people of high principle who had sacrificed much as opponents of Saddam Hussein. But fast forward 10 years and the prediction of the unnamed civil servant about the rapacity of Iraq’s new governors turns out to have been all too true. As one former minister puts it, “the Iraqi government is an institutionalised kleptocracy”.

Cockburn spent the last years worshipping the Shi'ites and spitting on the Sunnis so it's really hard for him to name names when covering the continued disintegration of Iraq.

But there are names to be named.

Chief among them Nouri al-Maliki.

In 2006, the White House demanded Nouri al-Maliki be named prime minister (the Iraqi Parliament wanted Ibraham al-Jafaari).  In 2010, the White House demanded Nouri get a second term and, having lost the election, the White House offered a legal contract (The Erbil Agreement) to give Nouri a second term.

Which means from spring 2006 to summer 2014, Nouri al-Maliki ruled Iraq.

And corruption thrived.

This despite Nouri insisting he would take on corruption -- repeatedly insisting.  But it's kind of hard to do that when you're part of the corruption.  Pennies found in sofa cushions don't buy all the sports cars Nouri's son zips around London in nor did they buy the swank home.

Back in June, Zaid al-Ali (Foreign Policy) explained:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki established a new political alliance, the State of Law alliance, which campaigned on a platform of re-establishing strong state institutions, reducing corruption, and providing adequate services to the people. The Iraqiya alliance, another large and newly formed coalition, backed a similar platform. The tantalizing prospects of establishing a new political environment and creating a stable state seemed within reach.
It never happened. Rather than consolidating these gains, several factors began working against Iraq's national cohesion as early as 2010. Maliki's government used "de-Baathification" laws, introduced to keep members of Saddam Hussein's regime out of government, to target his opponents -- but not his many allies, who also had been senior members of the Baath Party. The 2010 government formation process turned out to be yet another opportunity for politicians of all stripes to grant themselves senior positions which they could use to plunder the state. When tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in February 2011 to protest corruption, they were branded terrorists and were attacked and beaten by security forces and hired thugs. Dozens were killed and thousands arrested and tortured until the protests fizzled. Meanwhile, though terrorist groups were not operating as openly as before, hundreds of civilians continued to be killed every month, particularly in Baghdad, denying Iraqis in many parts of the country even a brief period of normalcy.

At that time, Maliki began referring to himself publicly as Iraq's preeminent military leader. When the 2010 electoral results did not conform to his expectations, he demanded a recount in his "capacity as commander in chief." When he forced senior anti-corruption officials from their positions, he once again inappropriately invoked his military credentials. He called officers on their mobile phones to demand specific actions or that individuals be arrested, circumventing the chain of command. After the new government was formed in November 2010, he refused to appoint ministers of the interior and of defense, preferring to occupy both positions himself. He appointed senior military commanders directly, instead of seeking parliamentary approval as required by the constitution. 

Nouri should be in prison.

Instead, he's now a vice president of Iraq -- one of three.

And he's visiting Shi'ite enclaves and denouncing the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, denouncing him as an appeaser to the Kurds and Shi'ites, trying to sew unrest.

Some in the intelligence community are saying the answer is "bullet to the head."

Regardless, having destroyed Iraq, Nouri's not content.  He's attempting to start a revolt against the current government.

And his attempts grow only more desperate as he sees some of his cronies kicked to the curb.  From the November 12th snapshot:

The Iraq Embassy in DC issued the following today:

Prime Minister Dr. Haider Al-Abadi in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces visited Baghdad Operations Command on November 10, 2014 and held an extended meeting with commanders and officers from various units of the Armed Forces.
He hailed the efforts of Baghdad Operations Command, calling on its officers to firmly deal with organized crime and enforce severe measures against criminals who seek to undermine Baghdad’s security environment.
The Prime Minister also stressed the need to work hard to address serious challenges that threaten our society. He confirmed that the Ministry of Interior would resume responsibility for the management of security in Baghdad and noted the government’s determination to remove all concrete barriers in the city of Baghdad. The Prime Minister announced plans to remove road blocks that do not contribute to enhanced security and noted that the issue must be dealt with professionally and thoughtfully in order to ease traffic for the residents of Baghdad. In addition, the Prime Minister noted intentions to open access to parts of the Green Zone and stressed the need for vigilance against terrorists who seek to exploit these new measures.
Prime Minister Al-Abadi also discussed a number of issues related to living conditions and traffic accidents in the city of Baghdad, and issued several executive orders in this regard.
On November 12, 2014, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Dr. Haidar Al-Abadi issued executive orders to relieve 26 military commanders from their posts and retire an additional 10 commanders. He also appointed 18 military officers to senior posts within the Ministry of Defense as part of ongoing efforts to professionalize Iraq’s military institutions and root out corruption in its various forms.
Prime Minister Al-Abadi also met in his office today a number of military commanders from the Armed Forces. During the meeting, he stressed the need for Iraq’s military leadership to exhibit efficiency, integrity and courage so that soldiers can rally behind their commanders and fight effectively, adding that any assessment of the armed forces should be based on these merits.
Prime Minster Al-Abadi said that the Iraqi Army’s losses were the result of many complicated internal, external and political factors, stressing the need to restore confidence in the security forces through real action and by combating corruption at the individual and institutional levels. He emphasized his strong support for this approach, stressing the need to act swiftly, particularly given that the military enjoys considerable political and popular support, in addition to backing from the religious establishments.
The Prime Minister noted that the army is the defender of the homeland, and in the near future will seek to limit its task to defending Iraq's borders, while transferring security responsibilities to the Ministry of Interior and other security agencies.

The Prime Minster highlighted the great victories achieved by our armed forces on various fronts and their determination to liberate every inch of Iraqi territory in cooperation with the people of the provinces. 

Many outlets reported on the above -- AFP, the Associated Press, etc.  But no one pointed out the obvious re: firing the commander over Anbar.
Since January, the Iraqi military has been bombing residential neighborhoods in Falluja (and in other Anbar cities, but Falluja's been bombed daily since the start of the year).  September 13th, Haider al-Abadi announced that the bombings would cease.  (The bombings fit the legal definition of War Crimes.  They are collective punishment.)  Despite that announcement, the bombings have continued.
Anbar's military command has refused to follow the orders of al-Abadi who is supposed to be commander in chief of the Iraqi military.
That's kind of a key detail and one that everyone left out in their so-called reports.
David D. Kirkpatrick (New York Times) reports on the firings and forgets the issue of the bombing of Falluja's residential areas.  But he gets credit for noting that al-Abadi appears to have ignored the role Parliament is supposed to play in this sort of action and that he mirrors Nouri al-Maliki in that.  He also gets credit for this:

Mr. Abadi was elected three months ago, with strong American backing, on a pledge to build a more inclusive and responsive government after the divisive eight-year rule of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Mr. Maliki is a senior leader of a political faction based in the Shiite Muslim majority, and he is widely blamed by many Iraqis and the White House for cronyism, nepotism and police abuses that alienated the Sunni Muslim population, opening doors to the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. As prime minister, he was a strongman who kept tight control of the security services, and he stacked the military’s top ranks with loyalists rather than the most competent officers, contributing to the erosion of the military’s fighting ability.

It's a detail that, for example, AP leaves out. 

Barack's small, mobile units choice (it's not a plan) is based in part on sidestepping Nouri's flunkies and sidelining Nouri.

What happens if you call out corruption?

Thursday may have provided an answer.

 All Iraq News reported:

The Representative of the Supreme Religious Authority, Ali al-Sistani,and the headmaster of the Jaafariya Religious School in the Pakistani Capital, Islam Abad, was killed by the criminals of the terrorist Jaish Sahaba organization.

The murder can be seen as retaliation.  Dropping back to the November 8th snapshot:

Friday, Raheem Salman (Reuters) reported major news:

Iraq's most influential Shi'ite cleric said on Friday that corruption in the armed forces had enabled Islamic State to seize much of northern Iraq, criticism that will pressure the government to enact reforms in the face of an insurgency.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has become increasingly critical of Iraqi leaders since Islamic State's lightning advance created Iraq's worst crisis since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

al-Sistani could determine elections, so great is his influence.  And he's a key figure the United States government seeks out whenever they attempt (half-assed or fully) an effort in Iraq.
While he remains politically neutral for the most part, he can remain pointedly politically neutral.
By 2011, it was clear al-Sistani was done with Nouri al-Maliki.  The protesters' demands were being ignored and that appeared to bother al-Sistani a great deal.  By the time the spring of 2012 rolled around and with Nouri facing real trouble, al-Sistani pointedly sat out on the issue of a no-vote in Parliament. 

Though he was asked to weigh in and call for the proposal to be set aside, he pointedly refused to comment one way or another allowing the measure to move forward.  (Then-Iraqi President Jalal Talabani would kill the effort at the end of May 2012.)
His remarks today are significant in the timing.  While many others say similar things privately (Ammar al-Hakim, to name but one), al-Sistani is going public and doing so very early in Haider al-Abadi's tenure as prime minister which can be seen as al-Sistani putting the new government on notice that it needs to get its act together and do so quickly.
The Grand Ayatollah wasn't the only one making statements today.  All Iraq News reports, "The Religious Authority represented by Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalayi, called Authority called politicians to understand their huge responsibility at current critical stage."

The US-led air strike campaign continued in Iraq today.

It's just supposed to kill 'militants' or 'terrorists' but that's how it works in a video game, not in the real world.  Michael Gregory (Reuters) reports on the latest civilians killed by this 'plan' to bring 'freedom' to Iraq, the dead included 17 civilians from the Albu Hishma tribe -- a tribe which is fighting the Islamic State.

In news of other 'liberation' and 'freedom,' Iraqi Spring MC reports security forces shot dead an elderly woman in Bahgdad. On Friday, Iraqi Spring MC notes, 14 civilians were killed or injured by the Iraqi military continuing to bomb residential neighborhoods in Falluja.  Margaret Griffis ( counts 126 people killed throughout Iraq on Friday with another 38 left injured.

Turning to the political . . .

  • What a great picture -- all those men and one token woman.  That's the way Nouri's State of Law has always been.

    Dropping back to yesterday:

    All Iraq News reports Speaker of Parliament Saleem al-Jobouri states the budget should be received by Parliament on Saturday.  This is the fourth time he's announced that, for those keeping track.
    In addition, Parliament has still not received the 2014 budget.
    National Iraqi News Agency adds, "MP, of the Citizen bloc , Hashim al-Moussawi said the House will extend its legislative term in the session of the House of Representatives session will be held on Saturday." al-Moussawi believes that they will receive both the 2015 budget and the 2014 one.

    So what happened?

    All Iraq News notes 225 MPs showed up for today's session.


    No budget.

    All Iraq News notes al-Jobouri declared today that the budget will be read tomorrow.

    It could happen.

    It could also turn out that the bill for the proposed budget doesn't get read.

    But, if you're keeping track, this is the fifth time the Speaker of Parliament has announced the budget law would be read.

    bill van auken