Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 27, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, retired military leaders tell the Senate Iraq needs more than guns and bombs, to a near empty room a Democratic Senator makes an impassioned plea for a return of the draft (even though he used college, marriage and children to avoid serving in Vietnam himself), Angelina Jolie shares her experiences at refugee camps in Israel, Sunnis remain targeted in Iraq, even the Yazidis join in, and much more.

This morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony from three retired military officials: Gen James Mattis, Gen John Keane and Adm William Fallon  or, as Senator Kelly Ayotte described them, "three of America's most distinguished military leaders."

Ayotte presides over the hearing as Acting Chair since John McCain was not present.  He's out of the country and we'll note why later but while he had an excuse for missing the hearing, others really didn't.

Unlike Senator Lindsay Graham, I'm referring to members of the Committee.  We'll note his criticism in a minute but it would have been nice if all members in the country could have been present.  There are twenty-five members on the Committee.  Seven are women.  That's a big deal.  The Senate Judiciary Committee, by contrast, has only two women on it.

Only two.

The Armed Services has seven women and three things on that.

First, show up for the hearings.  You wanted on the Committee, show up.

At a time when even Brookings can decry the low number of women invited to participate in Middle East discussions, female senators on the Armed Services Committee should consider themselves obligated to participate in hearings on the Middle East.

Second, Senator Kelly Ayotte's noted here but we're not excerpting.  That's not that she did anything wrong but most of her time was wasted by a witness giving an ahistorical view of the Cold War.  I don't include known lies.  People can have different opinions and I'm fine with that and fine with including different opinions or even different or new facts or factoids.  But when you lie about history and I know it's a lie, I'm not including it. That witness took up Ayotte's entire questioning time in the first round with his rewriting.  Senator Joni Ernst did attend -- one of the few women to show up.  She's new and I would've graded anything on a curve because she is new.  The first female Iraq War veteran to serve in the Senate, I expected Ernst would reflect on the war.  I expected her view to be different than mine and I thought we'd include it.  We're not noting her because she didn't talk about Iraq.  She didn't ask about Iraq.

This isn't the "Afghanistan snapshot." This isn't the "Iran snapshot."  This isn't the "sequestration snapshot."  If Iraq's discussed, that's our focus.

One female senator did show up and did ask about Iraq.

Senator Mazie Hirono:  Gen Keane, you described life in Mosul where schools are set up just to radicalize the population, where every day life has changed.  And one wonders how long ISIL can so-called 'govern'  in this way?  So you're indicating that we need to be doing -- we, in the United States, should have people on the ground -- not boots on the ground -- when the people in Iraq finally get to the point where they want to fight ISIL.  Now the question becomes then, when is that time?   And would you say that is perhaps a major role for our intelligence community?  To inform us as to when that critical point is that we need to be there to help the people fight back? And I'd also like to ask that question of Gen Keane because Gen Keane you noted the importance of our intelligence community in establishing priorities.

Gen John Keane:  Yeah the -- Listen, that's a very tough question, Senator.  The only thing I can -- in helping you with that -- is just look back a bit.  We had an insurgency begin in Iraq in the spring and summer of 2003 -- led by Saddam Hussein and his people -- and the al Qaeda fell in on that very quickly.  And the in 2006, some two-and-a-half, three years later, Sunni tribes began -- who were aligned with them -- began to push back -- and much of it was literally driven by women, frankly.  Because the women were putting pressure on the tribal leaders that they did not want their children and their grandchildren to live like this for generations to come with 7th century Talibanism, under the foot of what al Qaeda was doing, controlling every aspect of their life -- from diet to costume behavior, Sharia law, etc.  That frustration is already there.  I do believe that given the fact that -- particularly in Anbar Province -- that this has existed before, the accelerate will be faster and not take three years.  I'm going to make an assumption that our intelligence community, with the use of informants and others are-are monitoring what is taking place and we have some sense of what the conditions are and more importantly what the attitude and behavior of the people are themselves.  But let's also be honest that there's just so much those people in Mosul will be able to do against a well armed and well equipped force as ISIS is -- in Mosul and in its suburbs.  To eject them out of there will take a conventional military force to do that -- supported by air power and some pretty good intelligence on where people are.  The attitude and belief of the people will be a factor.  But I don't believe in and of itself it will be decisive.  What will be decisive is the use of military force to defeat the military organization that is there.

Senator Mazie Hirono:  And the conventional military force should be the Iraqi military itself? With --

Gen John Keane:  Yes.

Senator Mazie Hirono:  -- possible air support --

Gen John Keane:  Yes.

Senator Mazie Hirono:  -- from us and our allies.

Gen John Keane:  Well it's the Peshmerga, as you know, who is the militia from Kurdistan who have the will to fight and the skill.  They don't have all the weapons they need.  Iraqi army?  And by the way the Iraqi army is probably in better shape based on some recent reports I just got this weekend from people who returned [Kimberly and Fred Kagan] and many of the military reports are suggesting -- But secondly, and thirdly, would be the Sunni tribes.  Now the Shi'ite milita are part of this and they have strengthened the Iraqi military very considerably.  The best fighters in the army are Iranian-backed Shia militia

Third thing regarding the women on the Committee?  Ava's going to grab that at Trina's site tonight (it's a joke we polished in the hearing).  Kat's going to grab a topic at her site and Wally's planning to grab an exchange that took place during Senator Thom Tillis' round of questioning (he'll be posting at Rebecca's site).

Of all the idiotic moments in the history -- and there were a good many -- Senator Joe Manchin provided the worst as he used his time to advocate and argue for re-instating the draft -- a position that even the three generals were reluctant to embrace.  Manchin kept insisting the US forces would still be in Vietnam today if there had not been a draft during the Vietnam era.  He also, when he realized no one was supporting his call for a return of the draft, began proposing an enlisted force with "some" element of a draft.

Is Manchin insane?

That was the Vietnam era.

You had people drafted and you had them enlist.

I'm confused that Manchin's confused by this.

He graduated high school in 1965, he lived in this era.

Of course, he didn't serve.

The Chicken Hawk who now wants to bring back the draft didn't serve in Vietnam.

He took a football scholarship to college.

Had a -- we're sure -- 'brutal' injury on the football field -- why, he's practically a P.O.W.!

It takes a lot of nerve to be a sitting US Senator trying to bring back the draft, pointing to the Vietnam era, and failing to note that your own ass sat that war out.

By choice.

And via war babies, right?  Avoiding the draft by rushing into marriage and popping out war babies? Dick Cheney did the same thing.  We've called him out for it as well.

When Manchin starts trying to bring back the draft, how he avoided it becomes news worthy.

And Senator Jeanne Shaheen should be happy about that.  It allows us to ignore her show up for the hearing over two hours after it started and the prepared question she brought with her.

Senator Graham had criticism, as I noted earlier.

Senator Lindsey Graham:  I just regret, to our media friends that are here, thank you for coming.  Maybe if we had Tom Brady, we'd fill up the room.  But that's the world in which we live in.  We're talking about consequential things and got [only] a couple of reporters here.

 Where was the media?

Where was CodePink?  Oh, right, if the media's not there, CodeStink's not there.

But this was an important hearing.  It was noted, by Gen John Keane, that Iraq required "a political and military alliance."  He elaborated further:

Gen John Keane:  There is no other way I believe that you can cope with this scale of problem without bringing the countries involved together whether they're in the region or have interests outside of the region as many do because of the export of terrorism to their countries and develop a strategy to deal with it.  This isn't about the United States driving a strategy.  This is about the countries together because much of what has to be done in the region where the radical Islamists are growing has to do with those countries themselves, has to do with the conditions that exist in those countries.  This issues simply are -- and what the Arab Spring was about if you recall, it was about seeking political reforms, social justice and economic opportunity.  Nobody was demonstrating in the streets for radical Islam.  But the radical Islamists saw the Arab Spring as an opportunity and it became an accelerate for them because they saw political and social upheaval and they could take advantage of it.  So using that as a backdrop -- it drives you -- those issues are still there -- political reform, social injustice and lack of economic opportunity.  

We'll note this exchange.

Ranking Member Jack Reed:  Gen Keane, do you agree with Adm Fallon's point that unless there's a political cohesion in Iraq -- that the government recognizes and integrates the various sectarian groups that military efforts will be probably ineffectual?

Gen John Keane: Yeah, absolutely.  I think we can be -- we can be a little bit encouraged by Abadi and his movements and some people from the Institute for the Study of War just returned from a Baghdad meeting with government officials and military officials.  Uhm, Abadi is moving in the right direction and that's-that's good news.  But, lookit, let's be honest here what [thug and former Pime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki's malfeasance and nefarious character and the way he undermined political inclusion despite his rhetoric in Iraq particularly after we pulled out of there was tragic.  The Sunni tribes are key as Fox pointed out.  And right now while some of them are fighting against ISIS, most of them are not.  And the harsh reality is: To get them to move, actually to get them to take ISIS on, they will have to be convinced that there is reckoning for longterm political inclusion in this new government.  It is a major issue for us.  Anbar Province will be largely Sunni tribes with some Iraqi army assisting to retake that river valley.  Peshmerga will not participate.  Sunni tribes will also be needed in a counter-offensive to retake Mosul.  While they will not be the main force, they will need to be a supporting force because of the tribes that are up in that region.   So, yes, it's key.  And I think we've-we've known that from -- from the outset.

Ranking Member Jack Reed: So, in effect, the politics will drive the military operations?  I mean, without effective political reconciliation -- real signals from Baghdad, our military efforts -- strenuous as they are now -- won't be particularly successful

Gen John Keane:  Yeah I'd just

Ranking Member Jack Reed: Let me --

Gen John Keane:  It would be hard to visualize a scenario with a successful counter-offensive to retake the territory that's been lost without significant Sunni tribe participation in it.

So it's a real shame that the White House -- even after US President Barack Obama noted in June that the only solution to the political crises was a "political solution" -- has ignored efforts on that front to instead focus solely on military issues.

Senator Lindsey Graham:  How in the world do we go into Falluja -- excuse me, Mosul?  If the past is any indication of the future, if we had 10,000 Marines -- and I think there were about 9,000 actually -- being engaged in helping the Iraqi security forces liberate Falluja [November 2004] from al Qaeda in Iraq who I think is weaker than ISIL-- how in the world do we -- do we do this in Mosul without a larger American component?  Can you envision that being successful without more American help, Gen Keane?

Gen Keane:  I don't know for sure.  As I said in my -- in my remarks, we are advising, training and assisting an indigenous force.  We made a policy decision not to commit combat forces to do that.  I basically agree with that decision.

Senator Lindsey Graham:  I'm not saying that we need -- You said that we need brigades in the ready in Kuwait.

Gen Keane: I believe.

Senator Lindsey Graham: You said -- excuse me -- You said we needed people on the front lines and embedded in Iraqi units.  Is that correct?

Gen John Keane: Absolutely.

Senator Lindsey Graham: What number does that come out to?

Gen John Keane:  Well I think we get really close to a number in training and assist and advising something close to 10,000.

Senator Lindsey Graham:  Okay.

Gen John Keane: And not the few hundred that we're currently doing.  I'm talking about front line advisors with companies and battalions.

Senator Lindsey Graham:  I got you.  And I got 30 seconds left.  So we got 3,000 on the ground today, we need 10,000 in your view.  I think that's correct.  If we lose in Mosul -- if we take ISIS on and lose in Mosul, that's a bad day for all of us.  Do you agree?  You've got to take these guys on and win?  All of you agree? [The three generals nod.]  Don't take 'em on if you can't win.

This military approach is being sold and that's taking place, in part, because the White House has been allowed to ignore the diplomatic efforts.

No one forced Barack to forgo diplomacy.  Maybe it was his intent to resort to combat, maybe it wasn't.  But his decisions bring US forces ever closer to combat.

Or are we all still pretending Barack didn't ask  Congress to allow him to send US forces into on-the-ground combat in Iraq -- a request made last month, see  the December 9th Iraq snapshot, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

Gen Keane, in the hearing today, noted the need for "a comprehensive approach to deal" with the Islamic State and that, without it, they'll be a new 'ISIS' coming down the pike to worry about.

Let's remember what he said:

This issues simply are -- and what the Arab Spring was about if you recall, it was about seeking political reforms, social justice and economic opportunity.  Nobody was demonstrating in the streets for radical Islam.  But the radical Islamists saw the Arab Spring as an opportunity and it became an accelerate for them because they saw political and social upheaval and they could take advantage of it.  So using that as a backdrop -- it drives you -- those issues are still there -- political reform, social injustice and lack of economic opportunity.  

Senator Kelly Ayotte noted at the start of the hearing, "The key question for this panel and for all of us remains what is the best path forward to address these national security challenges?"  A good question.  And Keane provided some good answers when he noted: "political reform, social injustice and a lack of economic opportunity."

We noted earlier that John McCain wasn't at the hearing.  He was in Saudi Arabia for a funeral.  He wasn't the only US official making the journey.  Isaiah's latest The World Today Just Nuts "Barack Goes To Saudi Arabia" noted Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama also made the journey.  Reuters offers, "US President Barack Obama sought to cement ties with Saudi Arabia as he came to pay his respects on Tuesday after the death of King Abdullah, a trip that underscores the importance of a US.-Saudi alliance that extends beyond oil interests to regional security."

While Barack worried about diplomacy in Saudi Arabia, a natural event took place in Iraq.

The persecuted decided to persecute.  EFE reports:

A militant group including Yazidi and Syrian Kurdish fighters has killed at least 25 Arab civilians on the perimeters of the northwestern Iraqi town of Rabia, on the Syrian border, an official source announced on Tuesday.
Hosam al-Abar, a member of Niniveh's Provincial Council, told Efe that a series of barbaric revenge attacks targeted four Arab villages located 120 kilometers (74 miles) west of Mosul.

The attacks were carried out by Yazidi fighters supported by militias affiliated to Syrian Kurdish parties.

Pity us!  Feel sorry for us!  Now look the other way as we kill and kidnap!

This is only a manifestation of the hateful remarks some Yazidis were making publicly in 2013 and 2014.  Their being trapped on the mountain was a crisis and did require humanitarian aid being dropped to them.  That's really all the US should have committed.  (And that's all we advocated for here.)  In Iraq, the Yazidis are basically the short man at the party -- chip on their shoulder and easily outraged.

Years of being called "Satan worshipers" took their toll long before the Islamic State showed up.

Now they've mistaken global pity for permission to destroy and kill.

This is only the latest attack on the Sunnis in Iraq.  Yesterday's snapshot included:

Ahmed Rasheed, Stephen Kalin and Robin Pomeroy (Reuters) report:

Sunni politicians and tribal chiefs from Iraq's eastern Diyala province accused Shi'ite militias on Monday of killing more than 70 unarmed civilians who had fled clashes with Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) militants.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan denied the claims, saying ISIL was trying to undermine the reputation of Iraqi security forces.

The Minister of the Interior is a laughable joke and far from a trusted source on the topic of thugs murdering Sunnis.  As Loveday Morris (Washington Post) noted last October:

The new interior minister is Mohammed Ghabban, a little-known Shiite politician with the Badr Organization. But there is little doubt that Hadi al-Amiri, head of the party and its military wing, will wield the real power in the ministry.

The Badr militia ran notorious Shiite death squads during Iraq’s sectarian war, after infiltrating the Interior Ministry. A leaked 2009 State Department cable said sources had indicated that Amiri may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis. Amiri has denied such allegations.

Today Al Jazeera reports on the attack and notes:

Sagar al-Jabouri and Ahmed Ibrahim, Sunni sheikhs from Muqdadiya, confirmed the reports.
"The militias are acting above the law. The security forces are unable to restrain them," Jabouri said. "We will defend ourselves. We are afraid we will be next.
Amir Salman, Diyala's governor, called on Baghdad to intervene in Barwanah, 3 miles northwest of Muqdadiya where pro-government fighters and some security forces took control of about two dozen villages earlier on Monday.

Mioh Song (Xinhua) adds, "The governor of Iraqi Diyala province announced Tuesday forming a high-level security committee to investigate what he called the human horrific massacre involving more than 70 civilians, including women and children, in the village of Barwanah in Diyala province."

Today's hearing offered many quick and easy evaluations of Haider al-Abadi but the reality for many non-US officials is far less glowing.

  • Iraqi government only controls on the Green Zone Iran muhalls controls all of Iraq by Shiite militias armed so sad

  • That's a perception that can't be countered -- in part because the White House refuses to offer real leadership and make real demands on the Iraqi government to end the attacks on Sunnis.

    Sunday actress, director and United Nations Refugee Agency Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visited Iraq.

    In yesterday's snapshot, we noted Anjelina Jolie visited refugee camps in Iraq on Sunday.  She's written a column about it for the New York Times which includes:

    What do you say to the 13-year-old girl who describes the warehouses where she and the others lived and would be pulled out, three at a time, to be raped by the men? When her brother found out, he killed himself.
    How can you speak when a woman your own age looks you in the eye and tells you that her whole family was killed in front of her, and that she now lives alone in a tent and has minimal food rations?
    In the next tent, I met a family of eight children. No parents. Father killed. Mother missing, most likely taken. The 19-year-old boy is the sole breadwinner. When I comment that it is a lot of responsibility for his age, he just smiles and puts his arm around his young sister. He tells me he is grateful he has the opportunity to work and help them. He means it. He and his family are the hope for the future. They are resilient against impossible odds.

    Lastly, David Bacon's latest book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration.  We'll close with this from Bacon's "GRAPES OF WRATH:  CALIFORNIA FARMWORKERS FIGHT TO UNIONIZE: Fruit grower tries to challenge mandatory mediation law in state court" (Al Jazeera America):

    FRESNO, Calif. - When Jose Dolores began picking grapes at Gerawan Farming in California's San Joaquin Valley in 1990, the company was paying a little over the state minimum wage of $4.25 an hour. "We just weren't making enough, and everything cost a lot. That's why people wanted the union," he recalls.

    Dolores was one of over 1,000 workers at Gerawan that year, when its workers voted for the United Farm Workers union to represent them. But they didn't get any further. Mike Gerawan, one of the company's owners, repeatedly challenged the validity of the union vote. The one time he met with the UFW he said, "I don't want the union, and I don't need the union."

    That effectively ended bargaining on a contract, which union reps believe would have provided better working conditions and more protection for the laborers. Mike Gerawan declined to comment, but in a statement, the company publicist, Erin Shaw, blames the union for the stalled efforts: "The UFW abandoned Gerawan employees without ever negotiating a collective bargaining agreement." Over the years, with no contract, Gerawan Farms grew to become one of the nation's largest growers, with more than 5,000 workers.

    It was only in 2012, after a new state law on mandatory mediation was implemented, that the UFW was able to go back to Gerawan to demand a renewal of the talks. While the company did meet with the union, it also attempted to have the UFW removed as the representative of the workers. Even more importantly, it is challenging the constitutionality of the law in state court.

    Losing this fight could have devastating consequences for the UFW and, indirectly, for farmworker unions in other states, since it would make it much more difficult for workers to get growers to agree on a contract. No real union can survive indefinitely without being able to win contracts and thus being able to gain members and make substantial changes in wages and conditions.