Monday, December 22, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Monday, December 22, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Christians in Iraq remain targeted, Senator Pat Roberts overlooks that fact as he rushes to spin "success," the State Dept's Marie Harf announces -- a bit after the fact -- that the Iraqi air defense is present and operating, the EU cares about diplomacy even if the White House doesn't, and much more.

Iraq came up briefly in today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by the madcap spokesperson Marie Harf:

QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to ask a question about ISIS. Deputy Prime Minister of Kurdistan Qubad Talabani said that the United States has directly provided arms to the Kurdish Peshmerga, a claim that the United States used to deny. They – you had said before that – I mean not you personally, but the United States has said that what it did was help transfer weapons from Baghdad to Kurdistan; no direct weapons from American stockpiles had been provided to the Peshmerga. Why does he say something different from --

MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re skipping over the conversation we’ve had over the last three or four months. The President and others have said a few things: first, that we are providing assistance to both the Iraqi Security Forces and to the Kurdish forces. We’ve been very open about saying that. All of this is coordinated, certainly, with the Iraqi central government, but we’ve been clear we will provide assistance across the board.

QUESTION: So weapons --

MS. HARF: And DOD can outline more specifically what that assistance looks like.

QUESTION: So weapons from American stockpiles have directly been --

MS. HARF: I’m happy for the Department of Defense to speak more to those specifics, but we’ve been clear we will provide assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces, to the Kurdish forces, all in coordination with each other, but certainly to both. The President has spoken to that.

QUESTION: One more question on Sinjar: If you aware that the Kurds carried out a major operation --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- taking most parts of the town. I’d like to ask a broader question here about President Obama’s strategy. How effective it is in other parts of Iraq and Syria? I mean, we’ve seen some progress from the Kurdistan side. Can we say that’s the only part of the President Obama’s strategy that’s really working?

MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. On Sinjar specifically, Kurdish Peshmerga ground forces, supported by coalition and Iraqi army air support, have opened a corridor to Mount Sinjar. As you said, this is a significant development. Once this land route is confirmed safe for civilian travel, communities on and around Sinjar will have the opportunity to leave the area to move about if they want to do so. So this wasn’t just a Peshmerga operation. It was in coordination with coalition air support and Iraqi army air support.
But it’s not one size fits all here. There are different challenges we have across Iraq. Obviously, there are different challenges in Syria. The strategy is tailored to each of those operational challenges on the ground. Sinjar prevents – or presents, excuse me, one specific set of challenges that one specific operational plan can deal with. But it’s different across the board.

QUESTION: Sorry, did you --

MS. HARF: And we’ve had success other places as well. It’s not just in the Kurdish areas. There has been success pushing ISIL back throughout Iraq. But this is a long fight; we know that too.

QUESTION: Sorry, did you say Iraqi air force also helped?

MS. HARF: Correct. The Peshmerga forces on the ground around Sinjar were supported by coalition and Iraqi army air support.

QUESTION: But does Iraq have any air defense system?

MS. HARF: Well, clearly there was some helping here, so the answer would be yes.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, please, Marie?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Is it now an idea that the Peshmerga will help join any fight to advance on Mosul, which of course has been taken by the ISIL for several months now?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any operational plans like that to preview. The Peshmerga have played a key role in pushing back ISIL in parts of Iraq. I just don’t have any preview on that kind of issue.


Let's go back for Marie's comic gold:

QUESTION: But does Iraq have any air defense system?

MS. HARF: Well, clearly there was some helping here, so the answer would be yes.

Of Marie's high-larious proclamations, IBT notes, "The offensive on the mountain marks the first time the Iraqi air force contributed to a high-profile offensive against the Sunni militant group. Previously, only the U.S.-led coalition air forces, as well as some Iranian jets, had carried out strikes against ISIS."

If it happened.

So far the only source is Marie Harf.

Maybe she can next spin the popularity of the President?   CNN explains:

President Barack Obama has struggled with sagging approval ratings over the last year, but the commander-in-chief's numbers may have dropped further among active-duty troops.
Just 15% of active-duty servicemembers gave Obama a thumbs up in the annual Military Times survey and more than half -- 55% -- say they disapprove of Obama's job as commander-in-chief. The President has struggled to gain the approval of troops throughout his time in office, but these numbers reflect a new low for Obama, who finished his first year in office with a 35% approval figure and only 4 in 10 disapproving, according to the Military Times survey. The Military Times survey is not scientific and relies on a voluntary response from the publication's readers. President Obama's approval rating in the general population is much higher, though still well below 50 percent. In the most recent CNN / ORC poll, he got the approval of 44% of Americans.

Again, maybe Marie can find a way to spin that?

Or maybe she could spin Jamal Hashim's analysis for Xinhua which concludes, "At the end of 2014, the Iraq is prepared to be the world's number one battleground against the extremist IS group which probably would last for years"?

The never-ending, illegal war has been very tough on religious minorities.  Al Monitor reports that there is only one Jewish family left in Baghdad.  Baghdad's also seen the number of Christians living there and in surrounding areas reduced drastically.  Loveday Morris (Washington Post) reports:

Just a year ago, an Advent service at St. George’s Chaldean Catholic Church would have drawn 300 to 400 worshipers, says the Rev. Miyassir al-Mokhlasee. But now only around 75 people are scattered across its pews.

Ringed by concrete blast walls and police checkpoints, the church has seen its congregation shrink for the past decade. The instability and violence following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 have driven many Christians out of the country. The nation’s Christian population has plummeted from more than a million to what community leaders estimate is less than 400,000 today.

Patsy McGarry (Irish Times) offers these numbers:

According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, although Christians make up less than 5 per cent of the Iraqi population, they account for 40 per cent of refugees there.
In 2003, prior to the US-led invasion, Iraq had 1.5 million Christians. That number is now down to 400,000.

Attacks and threats have led huge numbers to leave the country or to move to the northern area of the country.  And now northern cities like Mosul are no longer safe havens.   Frederik Pleitgen (CNN) speaks with Juergen Todenhoefer about what is taking place in Mosul today as the Islamic State has taken over, "130,000 Christians have been evicted from the city, the Shia have fled, many people have been murdered and yet the city is functioning and people actually like the stability that the Islamic State has brought them."

Despite the above, Senator Pat Roberts has joined the White House's chorus of spin insisting things are improving in Iraq.  As All Iraq News noted Saturday, he visited Iraq last weekend.

Along with granting interviews, Roberts has been Tweeting.

Was he in the same Iraq as Xinhua?  Because of the same weekend period, Xinhua notes:

A militant group of the Islamic State (IS) recaptured the oil refinery town of Baiji which has been freed recently by the Iraqi security forces, a source from the northern central province of Salahudin said on Sunday.
On late Saturday afternoon, dozens of IS militants carried out a massive attacks on several points of the main road that bisected the town of Baiji, some 200 km north of Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and seized government and security compounds, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

The extremist militants also surrounded the oil refinery in north of the town, where some of the withdrawing troops and their allied Shiite and Sunni tribal militiamen resorted after the attacks, while other forces and militiamen withdrew to the villages of al-Mazraa and al-Malha in south, the source said.

 Baiji has been recaptured but Roberts insists that he's "glad to see progress against" the Islamic State?

Mitch Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) offers, "If the Islamic State eventually recaptures the refinery, which can produce around 40 percent of Iraq’s refined oil products, it would be a devastating blow both militarily and economically for the cash-strapped central government, which had hoped to begin gasoline production this month. In November, the Iraqi government pushed Islamic forces out of Bayji and the refinery."

Read more here:

"I went in expecting the worst," Senator Pat Roberts tells AP. "I'm just guardedly impressed."

I wonder how "guardedly impressed" the citizens of Kansas -- the state Roberts is elected from -- are?

49.9% of them self-identify as Jewish and Christian.  Do you they think they hear about the continued persecution in Iraq and are "guardedly impressed" as well?

Or do you think, in the month of Hanukkah and Christmas, they hear Roberts prattling on and think, "How disconnected from reality is he?"

Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) reports:

 There will be no last stand for the besieged Iraqi Christians of Dora.
Father Timothaeus Issa talks of holding out for the sake of his dwindling flock, but even he is packing his bags, just in case.
"The people with families have left," he said. "The old people, some of them have stayed. All the young people have left. There are very few children here.
"As for me, in terms of my religious responsibilities, my job is to be father of my people here. I have to stay with these families.
"But personally, I'm thinking about it. I'm making my preparations." 

Again, I have to wonder how Kansas responds to Pat Roberts' 'joy' and 'praise' -- Kansas is slightly above the rest of the United States average when it comes to citizens self-identifying as Christians and Jews.

In other 'success' to Roberts, Arabian Business reports, "A US Navy helicopter has crashed during a training mission in Kuwait, injuring three crew members, the Bahrain-based Naval Forces Central Command said on Monday."

'Success' has been all around lately in Iraq, hasn't it?  With liars in the press corps grading new prime minister Haider al-Abadi on a very generous curve.

One who's not falling into that trap is Ramzy Mardini who evaluates Haider for The National:

Some in the Sunni Arab political elite are beginning to see Mr Al Abadi as someone too weak to deliver on his promises.
“Just talk,” one senior Sunni Arab politician described the new prime minister. “He makes promises to us like Maliki did, but nothing happens.”
The lack of movement in a law to establish a Regional National Guard – a force made up of local Sunni Arab tribal fighters to combat ISIL in Sunni-dominated territories – is one of many political issues that the prime minister must balance on sectarian fault lines.

Why might Sunnis look at Haider that way?

How about Falluja?

Iraqi Spring MC posts this video of some of the latest bombings of Falluja -- Iraqi military bombing Falluja's civilian population, destroying homes.

This is why Sunnis cannot trust Haider.

This is where we point out that on September 13th, Haider promised these bombings were over.  We're going to go a little more on that since no one wants to join us in calling it out.

Here's the opening of the Associated Press' September 13th report:

Iraq's prime minister said Saturday he has ordered the army to stop shelling populated areas held by militants in order to spare the lives of "innocent victims" as the armed forces struggle to retake cities and towns seized by the Islamic State extremist group this summer.
"I issued this order two days ago because we do not want to see more innocent victims falling in the places and provinces controlled by Daesh," Haider al-Abadi told a news conference in Baghdad, referring to the Islamic State group by its Arabic acronym.

Here's the opening of Reuters' report on the same day:

Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday that he had ordered his air force to halt strikes on civilian areas, addressing a condition set by Sunni Muslim tribal figures to support his campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters.
Rights groups say Iraqi government attacks this year, many of them in areas held by ISIS which controls one third of the country, have indiscriminately targeted civilians.
“I have ordered the Iraqi Air Force to halt shelling of civilian areas even in those towns controlled by ISIS,” Abadi said on his official Twitter account, using the former name for militant group Islamic State.
The United Nations representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, welcomed the comments, which were repeated by Abadi at a conference about refugees on Saturday in Baghdad.

Why are we acting like this never happened?

Nouri started the daily bombings targeting civilians -- a legally recognized War Crime -- in January and they have continued every day since.

Haider announced September 13th that they were over.

September 14th the bombings continued and they continue to this day (one civilian was injured in today's bombings).

These are War Crimes.

Did Haider lie to everyone or is he just unable to command the Iraqi military?

That question has been raised repeatedly here.  Sadly, no one in the press ever wants to touch it.

And there seems to be some sort of agreement that everyone will just pretend what was reported on September 13th never happened.

Another thing that's not supposed to happen?

Using prisoners for entertainment.

That happened under Nouri with forced confessions being aired as entertainment.  It continues under Haider al-Abadi and we called it out this morning.  Let's go back to Ramzy Mardini's evaluation of Haider for The National:

Recently his weakness was on display when Iraq’s judiciary delivered death sentences to Sunni Arabs arrested on counterterrorism charges. The court condemned a former member of parliament to death, a move which outraged many Sunnis, who claim the counterterrorism law has been used to marginalise them.
“Iraq’s judiciary is still handing down convictions in politicised trials, fraught with legal irregularities,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. 

There is no justice in Iraq.  And with its failing legal system, the last thing it needs to be doing is forcing prisoners to appear on television.  This is in fact abuse and it needs to stop.

But a press that can't even note Haider's inability to stop the War Crimes (the bombing of Falluja's civilian neighborhoods) is the last to give a damn about the rights of the accused -- in a functioning legal system or in a dysfunctional one.

Lastly, Barack's 'answer' and 'plan' for Iraq is to drop bombs and then drop more bombs.  By contrast, the European Union seems to feel diplomacy might be needed.  The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini is visiting Iraq.

  • In , meeting the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Speaker of Parliament to bring solidarity and EU support to