Before we get to Iraq, Kia Makarechi (Vanity Fair) explains:
President Barack Obama declared the 13-year war in Afghanistan officially over on Sunday, praising the troops and claiming that Americans are safer for their efforts. In Kabul, General John Campbell folded the flag of the International Security Assistance Force, and unfurled the flag of a new mission, Resolute Support.
But while the administration would like to characterize this as a victory, the end of a conflict, it’s more of a re-branding. More than 10,000 United States troops will remain in Afghanistan, and just over one month ago, the president secretly expanded their 2015 combat mission to include fighting with the Taliban and/or al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, or other insurgent groups. The expansion of duties, which was first reported in The New York Times, also allows for the use of American manned aircraft and drones. Some 4,000 NATO troops will also remain in Afghanistan next year.
If only there'd been that kind of honesty with regard to the Iraq drawdown -- which didn't end the war and, look around, hasn't ended US military involvement in Iraq.
At today's US State Dept press briefing, moderated by spokesperson Jeff Rathke, the following exchange took place.
QUESTION: Okay. So first on Iraq, yesterday, General Allen told Der Spiegel that an Iraqi ground offensive will occur when the time is right. What is your current assessment of Iraqi forces, and do you have an update – a timetable for any kind of ground offensive? And a separate one on Russia/Syria.
MR. RATHKE: Well, of course we are engaged with Iraqi forces to help improve their capacity. We’ve already seen Iraq take the initiative in places like Sinjar, where now the siege has been broken, and in a variety of other places where they have taken the fight to ISIL. I’m not going to get ahead of their decisions about further military activity, of course. That’s – that is something that one wouldn’t want to telegraph, and it’s also a question for the Iraqis to decide first and foremost.
Well that's good to know.
Better to know would be reality.
It wasn't the Iraqi military that "we've already seen . . . take the initiative in places like Sinjar." Sinjar was the Peshmerga. They are not part of the Iraqi army. They are the Kurdish elite force trained and based in the Kurdistan Region (northern Iraq) and answerable to the Kurdish government.
The US government knows it -- Rathke damn well should -- because there have been stand offs regarding disputed areas in Iraq -- stands offs between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi army.
Do you think just because the US government pretends otherwise -- and because some stupid people in the US nod along -- either side in Iraq has forgotten it?
The Peshmerga has always had their act together.
When Shi'ite militias became a recognizable problem in Baghdad, the Kurds offered to send the Peshmerga in. Baghdad didn't want that, the Shi'ite government in charge of Iraq did not want that.
But from the beginning of the Iraq War, the only functioning military in Iraq has been the Peshmerga.
I don't understand how pretending that reality hasn't taken place helps anyone.
Now the Iraqi military has had some limited successes -- both with the help of the Peshmerga and all by themselves. But what happens after?
Isabel Coles (Reuters) reports:
Like dozens of other communities in Iraq, this small Sunni settlement in northern Salahuddin province’s Tuz Khurmatu district has been reduced to rubble. In October, Shia militiamen and Kurdish peshmerga captured the village from the Sunni militant group ISIS. The victors then laid it to waste, looting anything of value and setting fire to much of the rest. Residents have still not been allowed to return.
“Our people are burning them,” said one of the Shia militiamen when asked about the smoke drifting up from still smouldering houses. Asked why, he shrugged as if the answer was self-evident.
Well, it's something.
It's nothing you can build on.
It's something only fool would bill as a "success."
But it's something -- something very disturbing and troubling..
And that destruction taking place on a smaller scale it mirrored by the nonstop bombings of Iraq, from the air, that the US is leading.
The State Dept's Brett McGurk Tweeted excitedly about the bombings.
But while dropping bombs on Iraq may give Brett trouser lift, it does damn little for the Iraqi people.
A point this response to Brett makes clear:
A few weeks ago we noted the significance of Moqtada al-Sadr insisting the Americans needed to get out of Iraq. Alsumaria reports today that MP Abdul Karim Abtan, speaking on behalf of the National Coalition, has declared the Americans have destroyed Iraq with the Iraq War and that they are using the excuse of the Islamic State to continue to "ruin" Iraq. Another MP with the coalition, Nayef al-Shammari, goes further, insisting the US needs to get out and that Iraqis have set aside their differences (yeah, that's a stretch) and can now defend Iraq without any help from the US.
State of Law is thug Nouri al-Maliki's coalition. Alsumaria speaks with State of Law MP Abbas al-Bayati who also expresses harsh words for US efforts. Those words include likening the US to the Islamic State.
That's not how US President Barack Obama sees it -- or how he tries to sell it.
He did a lengthy interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep (which Morning Edition is airing in three parts) before he and his family went to Hawaii to celebrate Christmas. This section hasn't aired yet. (And NPR has video as well as audio of the interview.) Part one aired today. Part two airs tomorrow. Part three on Wednesday. The excerpt hasn't aired yet.
[Steve Inskeep:] Just to wrap this up with this idea that you began with, of doing things that you want to do rather than ...
[President Barack Obama:] Yeah.
[Steve Inskeep:] ... have to do, has your limited response to ISIS in Iraq and Syria been driven in part by a sense that this is a very dangerous threat, but not the biggest problem the United States faces in the world, and you do not want to be distracted from far bigger things going on elsewhere?
[President Barack Obama:] I think we can't underestimate the danger of ISIL. They are a terrorist network that, unlike al-Qaida, has not limited itself to the periodic attack but have aspirations to control large swaths of territory, that possess resources and effectively an army that pose great dangers to our allies and can destabilize entire regions that are very dangerous for us.
So, I don't want to downplay that threat. It is a real one; it's the reason why I've authorized, as part of a broader 60-nation coalition, an effort to fight back and to push them back and ultimately destroy them.
But it's not the only danger we have. America is probably as well-positioned for the future as we've been in a very long time.
We've created more jobs since I've been president than Japan, Europe and every other advanced nation combined. Our energy resources, both conventional and clean energy resources, put most other of our competitors to shame.
Demographically, we've got a young population, in part because of immigration. We've got the best universities in the world; we've got the best workers in the world. Our manufacturing base has come roaring back, led by the auto industry but not restricted by it. Our deficits I've cut by two-thirds.
And so, if you look out towards the future, America is in a great position and our military is more capable than any military in history. We don't really have a serious peer, at least on the conventional level, although obviously Russia is a significant nuclear power.
The question then becomes, all right, how do we play those cards well? Part of it is attending to immediate problems like ISIL; part of it is making sure that we are firm in upholding international norms as we have been in Ukraine; part of it is managing short-term crises that could turn into long-term disasters if we're not attentive, like Ebola. But ultimately, the thing that is most dangerous for the United States is us not tending to the very sources of our strength.
So, it is true that when it comes to ISIL, us devoting another trillion dollars after having been involved in big occupations of countries that didn't turn out all that well — I'm very hesitant to do that, because we need to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding our schools, our roads, our basic science and research here in the United States; that is going to be a recipe for our long-term security and success. And what we've also learned is that if we do for others what they need to do for themselves — if we come in and send the Marines in to fight ISIL, and the Iraqis have no skin in the game, then it's not going to last.
So that's the problem?
Iraqis didn't have any 'skin in the game'?
Considering the bombings alone, one would assume Iraqis had skin in the game, organs in the game, limbs . . .
The sacrifice the Iraqi people have made is tremendous.
And they didn't scream to be invaded.
The illegal war was imposed on them.
'Their' government was imposed on them.
Most were like Nouri al-Maliki, thugs who fled the country decades before, agitated for war on Iraq and only returned after the US invaded.
The American Kurdish Council of California's Delovan Barawri (at Huffington Post) offers:
Yet, while the oppressive Middle Eastern regimes subjugated their citizens, especially the minorities, the global players kept a blind eye on the brutality, often supporting and arming the oppressors. A prime example is the Obama administration's support of the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Maliki, in spite of his dictatorial and marginalizing policies, which ultimately allowed the Sunni regions to turn into breeding grounds for ISIS.
Oh, that's right.
Barack did back thug Nouri.
In fact, in 2010, Iraqis went to vote.
Who was the winner of that election?
Not second place Nouri.
How did Nouri end up prime minister after losing the election?
The US government brokered a legal contract to give him a second term (The Erbil Agreement).
Iraqis voted out Nouri yet Barack imposed Nouri on them.
Skin in the game?
And Nouri began targeting the Sunnis even more.
They were harassed, they were beaten, they were falsely imprisoned, they were raped and they were murdered.
By the Iraqi government.
And Barack wants to talk about not having skin in the game?
The thug he gave a second term to insisted on keeping Sunnis out of the process.
That's what makes you feel you have no "skin in the game."
What a dishonest interview.
And Steve Inskeep has demonstrated yet again that he doesn't understand Iraq, he doesn't care about the Iraqi people and he shouldn't be allowed to address the topic.
Give it Renee Montagne or a guest host but don't let Steve mess it up year after year as he has done.
In other news . . .
News that should have been expected and anticipated, Suadad al-Salhy (Al Jazeera) reports Sunni tribal leaders are considering asking Iran for help in the fight against the Islamic State. They conveyed this possibility in a weekend meeting with John McCain.
One of the repeated criticisms of the Iraq War is not that it's illegal (though it is and was). Instead, domestically in the United States, there has been much hand wringing among the chattering bobble heads that appear on the Sunday Chat & Chews about how the US has only succeeded in pushing Iraq closer to Iran -- mere decades after the two countries were engaged in a war -- one that still is a touchy subject on both sides.
The Shi'ite led government of Iran has been very helpful to the Shi'ites of Iraq and has sent death squads into Iraq to take on the Sunni population.
The US government's refusal to arm the Sunnis (which follows the Baghdad-based government's same refusal) may now lead even the Shi'ites to move closer to Iran. (The Kurds were always close to Iran and, during then-President Jalal Talabani's inability to perform his job for the last 18 months of his tenure, First Lady Hero was constantly in contact with the government in Tehran and made many trips into Iran.)
Meanwhile, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports:
A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest blew himself up among mourners inside a funeral tent on a farm about 12 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday, according to police.
At least 21 people were killed and 35 others injured at the funeral in al Taji, a mostly Sunni district, officials said.
In addition, The National reports 17 pilgrims were killed and another thirty-five wounded by a Taji suicide bomber. Alsumaria notes a home bombing south of Tikrit left 3 security forces dead and thirteen more injured, and the corpse of an engineer was found dumped in Kirkuk