Monday, November 03, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, November 3, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the Islamic State carries out several massacres, the Iraqi forces carry out a massacre in a Sunni mosque, sh-don't-tell but the State Dept is easing towards exploring a diplomatic response in Iraq, and much more.

Poor Jen Psaki, being a smart flunky in a stooge department.  The State Dept spokesperson noted at today's breifing, a the top, "Following the statement we released on Friday on ISIL executions in Anbar province, we saw additional reports this weekend of ISIL’s brutality, including that they may have massacred hundreds of members of the Albu Nimr tribe, including scores of women and children. This also coincides with reports of indiscriminate killing of other Sunni tribe members and the senseless attack on Shia pilgrims preparing for the commencement of Ashura. This proves once again that ISIL does not represent anything but its warped ideology and provides more evidence, if any were needed, why our coalition partners, including Iraqis from every background, must work together to defeat these terrorists."

You might think this led to questions about Iraq.


Matt Lee, Elise Labot and others had to joke and waste time and blah blah blah.

They really are useless, the press corps covering the State Dept.  Giggling like schools boys over whether a US official has a superhero costume and other bulls**t.

It was in the final moments of the press conference that this finally took place.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the massacre in the Anbar province?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: One of the tribal leaders is saying that he made repeated requests to the Shiite-led government for weapons and they didn’t provide them to them. Is that accurate? Do you think that they should be providing weapons to the Sunni tribal leaders to fight ISIS?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s hard to analyze off of one anecdote, but what I will convey is that obviously we know that there has been a history of ineffective workings between the Iraqi Central Government and the tribal leaders – the Sunni tribal leaders. That’s something that was obviously needed to be addressed with the new leadership in the government. And Prime Minister Abadi just recently – last week – met with tribal leaders. He stressed he took responsibility for the protection of all Iraqis, regardless of religion or sect. He emphasized that ISIL has killed more Sunnis than Shia.

This will – is not the end. This is not – there will be many more meetings and – but this is an effort that will be ongoing. It’s one that the United States is certainly supportive of and involved in to the degree it’s useful. But in terms of what their needs are and what assistance or material will be provided, that’s something that will have to be discussed between the parties.

What's happened is huge news but you'd never know it from the briefing.

Fortunately, smarter members of the press exist outside the briefing room.

  • Polly Mosendz (The Atlantic) reports:

    Western Iraq saw more brutal bloodshed this weekend after the Islamic State massacred 322 people of the Albu Nimr tribe, a Sunni group, including women and children. The Iraqi government confirmed the attack in the Anbar region, which began on Saturday and continued into Sunday, and was described as "systematic killings."

    The tribe had been working to fend off ISIS militants, but began to run low on ammunition, food, and fuel last week. Sheik Naeem al-Ga'oud, a tribe leader, had according to Reuters "repeatedly asked the central government and army to provide his men with arms but no action was taken." Al-Ga'oud noted the killings were execution-style and included high schoolers and college students who tried to escape ISIS militants.

    Odai Sadik, Chelsea J. Carter and Todd Leopold (CNN -- link is text and video) explain how the recent slaughter began, "They were taken from their homes, some pulled from their beds, in the middle of the night. They were fathers, brothers and sons, members of the U.S.-allied Albu Nimr tribe -- the Sunni clan considered among the last holdouts against ISIS in Iraq's western desert."

    It's horrifying.

    AP adds, "Islamic State group militants shot and killed 36 Sunni tribesmen, women and children in public Monday, an Iraqi official and a tribal leader said, pushing the total number of members slain by the extremists in recent days to more than 200."  EFE notes, "The bodies of 30 men, four women and two children who had been shot by IS jihadists were recovered Monday from an area in Al-Anbar province, between Al-Tharthar and Hit, a source in the tribal community told Efe."

    Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Newspapers) reports:

    The Islamic State’s message to the other Anbar tribes was horrifyingly clear: Don’t fight us.
    But that’s exactly what the Obama administration envisions in its plan to crush the Islamic State – the Albu Nimr and other Sunni tribes rising up against the Islamic State, just as they did during the 2006-7 U.S. troop surge against the Islamic State’s forerunner, al Qaida in Iraq. This time, however, the Anbaris would be incorporated into a newly established national guard, armed by the Iraqi government and advised by the United States.
    Yet the new national guard won’t be ready for at least six months – too long, say the Anbar sheikhs. The Shiite-led government in Baghdad remains deeply divided over sending weapons in the interim to Sunni tribes that many Shiites consider to be their rivals. And U.S. officials say they won’t provide training until the Baghdad government is providing the weapons.
    “We need to expand the train-advise-and-assist mission into the Al Anbar province,” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged to reporters at the Pentagon last week. “But the precondition for that is that the government of Iraq is willing to arm the tribes.”

    Read more here:

    US President Barack Obama has no plan.  He keeps calling doing the same thing (bombing from the air) a 'plan' but it's not a plan.

    It fails to adapt, it fails to address.

    It's just violence responding to violence.

    Your latest clue is the inability of the State Dept to utilize what is taking place.

    Want to get Sunnis on board with the government?  Give them a reason.

    Especially give them a reason when the actions of the Islamic State are prompting revulsion.

    I've noted before, over and over, that new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi needs to make grand gestures to the Sunni community in order to make clear that the targeting they experienced under Nouri al-Maliki is a thing of the past, that they are welcome and wanted in the government and the country.

    This is where you do it.

    When the Sunni community is reeling from what is supposed to be a 'message sent' from the Islamic State, a warning not to cooperate with the government, that is when you have the best chance to make your case for a new Iraq.

    But the State Dept can't do it and Haider al-Abadi is proving to be incredibly inept.  In the face of the above killings, he announced he would increase bombings.

    That does nothing to help the Sunni community.

    It does physically destroy the land they call home but it doesn't help them.

    And while he had a public comment on the massacre carried out by the Islamic State, he had none on the massacre carried out by his own forces.

    Sunday, Human Rights Watch released an alert which opened:

    Victims of a massacre in a mosque in Diyala province by Iraqi pro-government militias and security forces recognized the attackers and knew them by name. The Iraqi government should promptly make public any investigation of the attack on the Musab Bin Omair mosque on August 22, 2014, which killed 34 people, and bring those responsible to justice.

    According to accounts by five witnesses, including one survivor of the attack, armed men, some wearing civilian clothes and others in police uniforms, attacked the mosque at midday in the village of Imam Weiss in Hamreen, Diyala province, about 50 kilometers northeast of Baaquba, the provincial capital. The attackers shot to death 32 men, one woman, and one 17-year-old boy, all of whom witnesses said were civilians who were attending Friday prayer when they were killed, with PK-type and AK-47 Russian-made automatic weapons, the witnesses said. All of the witnesses said they recognized the attackers and knew them by name.

    “Pro-government militias are becoming emboldened and their crimes more shocking,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Iraqi authorities and Iraq’s allies alike have ignored this horrific attack and then they wonder why the militant group Islamic State has had such appeal among Sunni communities.”

    Witnesses, all of whom asked Human Rights Watch not to reveal their identities for their protection, said the shooting began at about 12:10 p.m., during the imam’s Friday speech. A survivor, who was inside the Sunni mosque, said he saw a man enter wearing the dark green T-shirt, pants, and headband typically worn by militiamen affiliated with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, a pro-government militia. He was carrying a PK-type automatic weapon.

    “He shouted, ‘Do not move. No one leave!’” the witness said. “He aimed his first shot at the sheikh [imam], and then he continued shooting at the rest of us. When I heard the first gunshot I dropped to the ground.”

    The gunman continued shooting at random, the witness said. ”People were on the ground screaming and crying, saying, “Allahu akbar [God is great], La ilaha illa Allah [there is no God but God].”

    Three of the witnesses entered the mosque after this first attack. They said they saw eight armed men leaving the mosque. When they entered, they saw about 10 people who appeared to be already dead and about 30 more injured. “What I saw was indescribable, inhuman,” one said. “Most of the people were injured, not dead, and were crying out for water and for help with their injuries. I saw a man whose left side of his head was completely blown off.”

    Two witnesses said they had begun carrying the wounded into the garden in front of the mosque when, after about 10 minutes, they heard more shooting as a second group of between 20 and 30 armed men headed toward the mosque. The witnesses fled, leaving the wounded behind. Another witness who was watching from his house about 100 meters away confirmed this account.

    All of the witnesses said they then heard screams and more gunshots. The second round of shooting lasted approximately 15 minutes, they said.

    The witnesses told Human Rights Watch that all of the 34 dead except one were from the Beni Weiss, a Sunni tribe in Diyala. None of the witnesses knew the reason for the attack, but one said he believed it was in retaliation for an attack with an improvised explosive device earlier that day about 20 kilometers north of Imam Weiss that killed five militiamen. The witnesses all said there were no fighters in or around Imam Weiss at the time of the attack.

    The witnesses said there was an army checkpoint about 200 meters from the mosque and a police checkpoint about 150 meters from the mosque, but that no security forces responded to the attack even though the shooting was broadcast over the mosque loudspeaker and could be heard from at least 600 meters away, where one witness heard the shooting from his home.

    Two witnesses said they called for army assistance and for an ambulance, but none arrived until nearly an hour later. At about 1:30 p.m., they said, soldiers from the 5th brigade of the army’s 20th division arrived in an army ambulance and a cargo truck, which carried the dead to the hospital morgue in Muqdadiyya, 15 kilometers away.

    Hadier al-Abadi either can't or won't control the military.  September 13th, he ordered them to stop bombing the residential neighborhoods of Falluja.

    The bombings have not stopped.

    In fact, Iraqi Spring MC notes the latest results of these War Crimes (bombing civilian areas are defined as War Crimes): 4 civilians dead and three injure.

    In the face the continued bombings of Falluja, in the face of the slaughter carried out by the Iraqi forces, why should Sunnis believe in a buy-in of the new government?

    They shouldn't and they don't.

    al-Abadi looks like a fool or a liar.

    NINA reports Sunday saw him insisting that the rights of all minorities were protected in Iraq -- all Christian minorities.  And yet he's silent on the attack on the Sunni mosque, the attack carried out by his own forces.

    Per Iraqi law, those security forces should be put to death.  Execution is what Iraqi law requires.  But, as the Sunni community has noted, they're the ones who face execution.  And that hasn't changed since thug Nouri al-Maliki was forced out as prime minister.  The executions continue, despite international outcry, but they target one segment of the population.

    And the thugs that make up the Iraqi security forces get away, literally, with murder.

    Tirana Hassan (Foreign Policy) reports from Yengija Village:

    Despite being almost completely unaccountable to any official ministry, the Shiite militias have been tasked by the government with a key role in the war against the Islamic State. Yet what we saw in Yengija laid bare the costs of relying on these groups. Beyond the main road, an entire neighborhood of two-story homes was razed and flattened, with concrete slab roofs heaped atop piles of rubble. Personal belongings, children's toys, and furniture peeked out from under the debris, a poignant reminder of the Sunni Arab families who, until recently, had lived there. All these families had fled in August when the militia started battling the Islamic State fighters in the surrounding area.
    The destruction was overwhelming. The only houses that remained standing shared one common feature -- blackened exterior windows showing where the militia had set fire to them in their efforts to destroy whatever they could not loot. 
     Families that had been driven from their homes told us that when the militia arrived, they destroyed the families' homes. Former residents told us that those who have tried to return are accused of being Islamic State members or sympathizers; some were held by the militia for days, blindfolded, questioned, and beaten -- or simply disappeared. In the Peshmerga-controlled city of Kirkuk, we met Hamad, a government worker from Yengija. He told us that he had snuck back into the village undetected two weeks earlier to try to collect some of his family's belongings after being told by neighbors that his home was undamaged. But when he arrived, he found his house emptied of its valuables and his neighborhood torched.
    The militia had made no effort to conceal its crimes, but instead advertised their destruction by spray-painting "Khorasani" and Shiite slogans on the walls that were still standing.  

    That's Haider al-Abadi's Iraq and it's not going to change anything in Iraq until the government changes itself.

    AFP worries what happens when the pilgrims begin their journey.  That's a what, a 24-hour concern?  A 48-hour one?

    Does anyone think longterm?

    Obviously not, where's that political solution Barack used to speak of?

    No where to be found.

    And when efforts are made, the US government can't even promote them.

    They built up suspense for their meet-up of defense ministers but did you know that there is a diplomatic counterpart?

    The administration doesn't consider it worth mentioning.  The State Dept doesn't bother to mention it in briefings.  In fact, were it not for Brett McGurk's Twitter feed, it might receive no attention at all:

    Sarah Chayes was often the lone sane American voice on the topic of Afghanistan.  She's weighed in on the need for a political answer in Iraq:

    When a prime minister, whose corrupt and sectarian practices prompted repeated warnings from U.S. commanders, replaces well-trained officers with cronies on the take, the collapse of the security force should be predictable. When a formerly ruling minority is stripped not just of power, but of access to power or resources or the redress of grievances, or even protection from death squads, its willingness to fight for those things should be predictable. 

    After all, ISIS is not fighting alone in Iraq. Without support from thousands of Sunnis, including community leaders and seasoned military officers, the militants could never have achieved what they have.

    So the first element of a strategy must be to assign significant intelligence assets to the task of understanding the motivations and drivers of violent resistance to Baghdad.  How was the military being de-structured in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal? What functional roles in the capture of revenue streams were occupied by which members of the Maliki network?  How are these changing under Abadi? What grievances or aspirations are motivating most Sunnis? 

    Then, alongside efforts to dissuade people from joining the violent resistance, must come a parallel effort to modify offensive Iraqi government structures and practices that are driving them into its arms.   

    chelsea j. carter