Saturday, December 27, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, December 27, 2014. Chaos and violence continue, US Senator John McCain travels to Iraq, the Speaker of Parliament asks the US to arm Sunni tribes to fight the Islamic State, we look at Sahwa, and much more.

The Washington Post's David Ignatius looks back on 2014 in terms of Iraq in a column which notes, "The problem, the tribal leader argued, was that because the United States was working so closely with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, Sunnis in Anbar doubted there was any U.S. commitment to giving them more power. Without this political commitment, weapons and even Apache gunships would be of little use."

He's referring to Sahwa.

Also known as "Awakening," "Sons of Iraq" (and it's female counterpart "Daughters of Iraq").

Sahwa's a complex issue that many want to turn simplistic.  I'm not referring to David Ignatius, I'm referring to cheerleaders on various sides.

Sahwa was a US government plan to get Sunnis fighters -- resistance -- to big-tent it in Iraq.

By 2007, the Awakening movement was finally getting traction.

However, for over a year prior the US government repeatedly claimed success there when there was no success and many in the press ran with articles about this great new movement that did not exist.

On great.  Some tribal leaders were like any other people on the face of the earth -- the mixture of positive attributes and faults.  But equally true, some leaders of Sahwa -- at least two noted ones -- were mafia.  Iraqi mafia.  One, in fact, making big money in the cement industry.

That's part of it too and you can't talk about the history and be dishonest.

That's the leadership.

David Petraeus was a US general who was the top commander in Iraq. By 2008, a number of things were going on in Iraq resulting in a reduction of violence.

Sahwa was one component.  Another was the 'surge.'

The 'surge' is something I have a real problem with.  As late as 2010, I could hear someone on my side (the left) talk about the surge and dismiss it completely and think we could disagree and that was that.  But the reality is, as the years have shown since, this is not an area where people are honest or thoughtful.  This is a knee-jerk area with a lot of uninformed stupid people.  If that seems simplistic, so does, in 2014, saying "The surge didn't work!"

I opposed the surge, check the archives.  I called it out when it was proposed.  I called it out when it was started.  I said it would be a failure.

I was half-wrong and I was half-right.

The surge was two parts.

(1) Bully Boy Bush was greatly increasing the number of US troops in Iraq and (2) this was being done so that a 'diplomatic surge' would take place -- violence would be reduced and the US troops would be leading on that to allow the Iraqi politicians to focus on the always spoken of but never achieved "political solutions."

The US military did what they were tasked with.

They succeeded.

I don't know why some on my side have a problem admitting that.

Check the archives, I said it wouldn't happen.  I was wrong.  I have no problem admitting that.

But part one, the success, was supposed to create the space for part two and that never happened.

This is a really important point because it's not just history from a few years back, it applies to today when Barack Obama is doing the same thing that Bully Boy Bush did, focusing on the military aspect and just assuming the political will fall into place all by itself.

At any rate, the reduction in violence came about for three reasons.  The surge and Sahwa were two of those reasons.  The third reason was ethnic cleansing.

Many still want to call it a civil war.

It wasn't and we didn't play like it was in real time.

Baghdad was 'cleansed' and went from an integrated city to one that is predominately Shi'ite.

The bulk of the external refugees of this period were Sunnis.  The bulk of the dead were Sunnis.

You can play it off as 'civil war' for however many decades before you're comfortable admitting the US government's role in it.

But that's why violence began to decrease: Sahwa, the surge (the military aspect, the only success) and ethnic cleansing.

The reduction in violence was such a success that it distracted from the political failures which included Nouri al-Maliki -- then prime minister of Iraq and forever thug -- being unable to meet the White House defined benchmarks for success (which Nouri agreed to and signed off on).

To sell the continuation of the illegal war, April 2008 offered a week of  The Petraeus and Crocker Show, where the then top-US commander in Iraq Petraeus and then-US Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified to Congress repeatedly.  By focusing on violence, they tricked the bulk of Congress (or maybe the bulk of Congress was in on the con? -- certainly some were) into talking about that and ignoring the lack of progress on the political front.  (US House Rep Lloyd Doggett was the only one who, that entire week, used his questioning time to bring up the issue of the failed political benchmarks).  We were at all the hearings that week and we'll drop back to April 8, 2008 for  that day's snapshot:

Today The Petraeus & Crocker Variety Hour took their act on the road.  First stop, the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador Ryan Crocker are supposed to be providing a status report on the Iraq War.  They didn't.  In fact, Petraeus made clear that the status report would come . . . next September.  When the results are this bad, you stall -- which is exactly what Petraeus did. 
 The most dramatic moment came as committee chair Carl Levin was questioning Petraeus and a man in the gallery began exclaiming "Bring them home!" repeatedly.  (He did so at least 16 times before he was escored out).  The most hilarious moment was hearing Petraeus explain that it's tough in the school yard and America needs to fork over their lunch money in Iraq to avoid getting beat up.  In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the "Awakening" Council (aka "Sons of Iraq," et al) that it was a good thing "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads.  These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."  Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to avoid being beat up. 
How much lunch money is the US forking over?  Members of the "Awakening" Council are paid, by the US, a minimum of $300 a month (US dollars).  By Petraeus' figures that mean the US is paying $27,300,000 a month.  $27 million a month is going to the "Awakening" Councils who, Petraeus brags, have led to "savings in vehicles not lost".  Again, in this morning's hearings, the top commander in Iraq explained that the US strategy is forking over the lunch money to school yard bullies.  What a [proud] moment for the country.

Crocker's entire testimony can be boiled down to a statement he made in his opening statements, "What has been achieved is substantial, but it is also reversible."  Which would translate in the real world as nothing has really changed.  During questioning from Senator Jack Reed, Crocker would rush to shore up the "Awakening" Council members as well.  He would say there were about 90,000 of them and, pay attention, the transitioning of them is delayed due to "illliteracy and physical disabilities."  

Sahwa was paid to stop attacking US equipment and US troops -- that was the order Petraeus repeatedly gave that week and where he placed the emphasis.

Could the movement exist without buy-offs?

If the payments stopped would the movement stop?

In 2008, I believed it wouldn't.

I was hugely wrong.

During that week, Senator Barbara Boxer noted the millions being spent on this program and wondered why the US government was footing the bill and not the oil-rich government of Iraq?

This took both Petraeus and Crocker by surprise and, realizing they a potential nightmare on their hands, they basically rewrote policy while testifying by insisting they could and would raise that with the Iraqi government.

Which was Nouri.

Nouri loved Iraqi money.  Loved it so much, he took it home and played with it.  Also known as embezzlement and theft.

But while he'd grab it for himself (and for his crooked son), he wasn't keen on using it to better Iraq.  Which is why there was no improvement to Iraq's crumbling public infrastructure under Nouri -- despite his serving 8 years as prime minister.

He also didn't want to pay Sahwa.

But, more than money, his problem was that they were Sunnis.

When the US insisted on coward Nouri in 2006 -- insisted he become prime minister because the CIA analysis on Nouri argued his paranoia would make him an easily controlled puppet -- they pretty much doomed the country.  (Barack sealed the doom by insisting, in 2010, that Nouri get a second term as prime minister even after he lost the election to Ayad Allawi.)

Nouri was back in Iraq not out of love for the country.  Love didn't cause the coward to flee either.  He hated Sunnis and he wanted revenge.

And though he was being told by the US government that he'd have to pay Sahwa and that he'd have to incorporate them into the Iraqi forces and into the Iraqi government, he had no intention of doing so.

And, in the end, he didn't.

The press kept trumpeting that he'd put them on the payroll and then, a few months later, the press would begrudgingly admit that, oops, the US was still paying them.

Then they just weren't getting paid at all.

But still the Sahwa continued to fight and defend areas.

I was completely wrong that it was just for money.

Sahwa gave many rank and file a sense of purpose and a belief in a new Iraq.

And not only did they continue even when not paid, they continued when they were targeted by Nouri.

They were arrested, they were killed, they were harassed -- not by the rebels they were fighting but by Nouri and his thugs.

Nouri termed them "Ba'athists" and "terrorists" and much more publicly.

In August, when Haider al-Abadi replaced Nouri as prime minister, there was supposed to be a sea of change. For Sahwa, it's largely been a desert of stillness.

As we noted Friday morning, US Senator John McCain was in Iraq and scheduled to meet with Speaker of Parliament Salim al-Jubouri.  Anadolu Agency reports they did meet and that Jubouri asked for the US to arm :100,000 Sunni tribesmen living in four regions that are controlled by the ISIL."

From McCain's Twitter feed:

McCain supported the surge, supported Sahwa and supports the current phase of the never-ending war (while having some qualms over its execution), so he was most likely receptive to the request and will convey it to other members of Congress and the administration while also supporting it.

But this can't be seen as an "Iraqi government request."

Yes, the Speaker is Iraqi.

So is Haider al-Abadi.

Haider's made no such request.

Haider is Shi'ite.

Salim al-Jubouri is Sunni.

He is one of the two highest ranking Sunnis in the government.

The Joel Wing crowd is deeply stupid so, since we're doing a remedial here, let's explain that statement.

Currently, the two highest ranking Sunni officials are Salem and Osama al-Nujaifi.  Osama is the former Speaker of Parliament and currently one of Iraq's three vice presidents.

Saleh al-Mutlaq is a Sunni.  He is Deputy Prime Minister.  He was that in Nouri's second term as well.  From time to time, the Wingers tried to portray Saleh as the highest ranking.


He's the lady in waiting.

He's the runner up at Miss America.

The post of the Speaker is part of the "three presidencies" (check the Iraqi Constitution) -- the Prime Minister, the President and the Speaker.  That alone gives the post tremendous powers.  There's also the power of being in charge of the Parliament -- a power that scared and frightened paranoid Nouri so much that he repeatedly attempted to turn the Parliament into two houses.

(He failed.)

So that's the power of the Speaker.

On the vice presidents, someone will immediately insist, "The presidential post is only ceremonial."

That's really not true.

Jalal Talabani was a lazy fat ass who refused to do any real work.

For the sake of this discussion, we're zooming in on just one issue.

Jalal is opposed to the death penalty.

He spent his two terms as President of Iraq speaking about how he opposed it.  Never explaining it or advocating for it or working to win people over to his side.  He'd just declare he opposed the death penalty and take the easy applause which globally greeted his bare minimum statement.

As president, he had to sign off on the executions for them to take place or allow one of the vice presidents too.

Jalal never stopped an execution.

He had the power too.

He could say no to one or to all of the executions.

He failed to do so despite being so against the death penalty.

In March 2010, Iraqis voted in parliamentary elections.


The vote was supposed to have taken place sooner.

In the fall of 2009, however, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi looked at the proposed election law and argued it did not properly factor in Sunni refugees.  So he blocked the bill, which had passed Parliament.  And he blocked it from going forward until he got concessions he wanted.  Which is why the parliamentary elections didn't take place at the end of 2009 but took place in March of 2010.

This infuriated the White House and upset their planned roll out -- elections in 2009, 'combat forces' out in 2010, the bulk of US forces out of Iraq at the end of 2011 as part of the 'drawdown,' etc.

But Tareq had the power as Vice President.

Saleh has none of these powers as Deputy Prime Minister.

Yet the Winger set and a large part of the American press felt the need to lie and portray Saleh as the most important Sunni official.

A solid argument could be made that Saleh also ranks below any Sunni who has been confirmed by the Parliament to head a ministry (provided the ministry has actual funding -- the Ministry of Women continues to have funding issues which appears to indicate Haider al-Abadi has as little respect for women as did Nouri).

So while current Speaker of Parliament al-Jubouri has tremendous power, unless Haider joins the call, this really isn't a request from the Iraqi government but from one part of it.

Haider's refusal to join this call goes to how he's not really different from Nouri.

He's not as stupid as Nouri -- but few people are as stupid as Nouri and no one is probably ever going to be more stupid than Nouri al-Maliki.

So he's avoiding openly antagonizing the Sunnis or the Kurds or Iraq's neighbors.

But he's also not doing much at all to help within Iraq.

Sahwa will fight in Anbar.

If Sahwa's armed and the order is given to go into Falluja, they will.

That's really not in doubt.

By contrast, the thugs in the Iraqi military currently over Falluja?

They're cowards and they're criminals.

They're Shi'ites who are too chicken into Falluja and think they look 'strong' by bombing the cities residential areas.  They're bombing civilians.  This is Collective Punishment.  It's a legally defined War Crime, the United States recognizes it as such and, as long as it continues, the US government is breaking the law -- that's Barack -- and can be put on trial for War Crimes because Barack is collaborating with  a government that is knowingly bombing civilians.

In the past, Barack wouldn't have to worry.

Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, LBJ, et al (leave out Jimmy Carter) all acted with impunity and didn't think too much about War Crimes -- either their own or those of regimes that they collaborated with.

There was an arrogance that the military and the economy of the United States afforded its leaders.

The world has changed and is changing.

For a US president, Barack is a young man.  (Hillary, if elected, would be a very old president by contrast.)  Provided his health holds out, he could live for many decades more.

And if he succeeds with his 'trade' treaty and ships even more US jobs out of the United States, that means the country will be even weaker economically.  Who knows where it will stand in 20 or 30 years.  But if it continues to slide, the arrogance so many US presidents have had just might get stripped away and they might find that -- like leaders of tiny countries -- they too can be paraded in front of the Hague for War Crimes.

Arming Sahwa is pretty much a necessary step. Even the White House knows it's needed.  But they're trying to walk Haider up to the point where he can see the need for it as well.

Thing is, they've been walking him on that treadmill for months and, if he hasn't seen it already, he's not going to.  Which is why you tie it to something that he wants.  X for agreeing to arm the Sunnis.

Diplomacy is longterm work, no question.

But Iraq has a very short period of time right now.  Haider was supposed to represent change and he's largely failed to do that.  The window to show he's not Nouri is closing.  He needs to have what one State Dept official calls a "come to Jesus moment" -- and he needs to have it really soon.  Especially if Barack intends to continue with the plan to move on Anbar in February.

As everyone waits for February (or later), the violence continues in Iraq.

Fridays' violence?

The Latin American Herald Tribune notes a Sinjar mortar attack left 6 Peshmerga dead and eleven more injured.

Alsumaria reports a Muqdadiyah mortar attack left 1 police member dead and one civilian critically injured, another Muqdadiyah mortart attack (on a market) left three people injured, and 2 corpses -- a man and a woman -- were found dumped on the streets of Kirkuk Province.

The refugee crisis in Iraq just continues to grow and that, too, reflects poorly on Haider.  Loveday Morris (Washington Post) examines the crisis from various points and we'll note the issue of the Kurdistan Region:

Ismail Mohammed, the assistant governor of Dahuk province, said that the Kurdish province, once one of the smallest in Iraq by population, is now the fourth-largest because of the influx of displaced people. He conceded that the Kurdish regional government has been able to provide little help as it wrangles with the central government in Baghdad over its budget. He hopes that will change as the country’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, improves relations with the Kurdish authorities. He complained that the United Nations has been slow to act.

The Washington Post offers a graph here on displacement. Deborah Amos has long covered the refugee crisis in Iraq. and she has a report for Saturday's Weekend Edition (NPR -- link is audio and text).  She is the author of Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East which, see "2010 in books (Martha & Shirley)," was this community's choice for book of 2010.   In addition, Dalshad Abdullah (Asharq Al-Awsat) reports:

Approximately two million Iraqi citizens, mainly from the country’s central and western governorates, sought refuge from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan in 2014, an official from the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration told Asharq Al-Awsat.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, director of Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration office in Erbil Alia Al-Bazzaz said: “The number of [Iraqis] displaced to the Kurdistan region, from the provinces of Anbar, Diyala and Salah Al-Din, has reached approximately two million. The majority of them are in Dahuk, while others are located in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.”
[. . .]
Zarkar said that Baghdad is not providing sufficient aid for the displaced Iraqi citizens, calling on the central government and UN to help refugees in the city.

the washington post
david ignatius