Monday, February 16, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Monday, February 16, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Haider al-Abadi continues to (at the very least) tolerate ethnic cleansing in Iraq, an assassination of a Sunni sheikh leads to a walk-out, Iran's influence on Iraq garners some press attention, we continue to cover Thursday Congressional hearing on the AUMF, and much more.

NBC News correspondent Richard Engel has long reported on Iraq and recently returned from yet another trip to the country.  Appearing Sunday on Meet The Press (NBC), he was asked by host Chuck Todd about his impressions.

Richard Engel:  I was incredibly depressed, frankly. I knew that Iraq was in bad shape. It was even worse than I thought. ISIS is a huge problem in Iraq, in Syria. But unless you confront the much bigger issues, the issue of will Kurdistan be an independent state? What happens to Sunni areas? Will the government in Baghdad continue to be run by Shiite militias? What happens with Hezbollah? What happens with Assad?  Unless you address these bigger issues, ISIS is still going to be there. I was completely discouraged by what I saw. The Iraqi army has been described as pathetic, little more than a coalition of militias. So, I got no indication that things are going well.         

Iraq is not a country with one crisis, it's a country with multiple crises and that has been the case since Nouri al-Maliki's second term as prime minister.

In terms of fighting/combatting/overcoming the Islamic State, the biggest crisis would be the alienation of the Sunni community.  Nouri's second term was marked by them being sidelined politically, their votes ignored, their protests ignored, their representatives ignored, falsely arrested and imprisoned, Sunni women and girls tortured and raped in prisons, Sunnis attacked and killed by government forces and government welcomed Shi'ite militias, etc.

In August, Haider al-Abadi became the new prime minister.

Haider is, as Isaiah noted in today's The World Today Just Nuts,  "No Friend To Sunnis."

Sunday, Human Rights Watch issued a release which includes the following:

Abuses by militias allied with Iraqi security forces in Sunni areas have escalated in recent months. Residents have been forced from their homes, kidnapped, and in some cases summarily executed. At least 3,000 people have fled their homes in the Muqdadiyya area of Diyala province since June 2014 and, since October, been prevented from returning. In addition to the events documented here, Human Rights Watch is conducting an investigation into more recent allegations that militia and SWAT forces killed 72 civilians in the town of Barwana, also in Muqdadiyya.

Residents told Human Rights Watch that security forces and allied militias began to harass residents in the vicinity of Muqdadiyya, an area 80 kilometres northeast of Baghdad in June, shortly after the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) took over Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The abuses escalated around October, witnesses said, the month after Hayder al-Abadi took over as prime minister, pledging to rein in abusive militias and to end the sectarianism that fed the cycle of violence under his predecessor.

“Iraqi civilians are being hammered by ISIS and then by pro-government militias in areas they seize from ISIS,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “With the government responding to those they deem terrorists with arbitrary arrests and executions, residents have nowhere to turn for protection.”

Human Rights Watch spoke to six displaced residents of villages near Muqdadiyya – a largely rural region in central Diyala with a diverse population of about 300,000, including Sunni and Shia Arabs, Kurds, and Turkoman. Five residents told Human Rights Watch that they initially left their villages in June and July, when Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq militiamen, volunteer fighters, and Iraqi SWAT forces attacked.

In mid-October, hearing that militias had left the area, residents began to return home, only to find that militias had torched many homes. Soon after, militia members who now control the area began kidnapping the returned residents and firing randomly in the street, at homes, and in the air with automatic weapons. The residents interviewed described the kidnappings and killings of three men by militias.

The attacks in northern Muqdadiyya appear to be part of a militia campaign to displace residents from Sunni and mixed-sect areas after the militias and security forces routed ISIS in these areas. On December 29, Hadi al-Ameri, the Badr Brigades commander and transport minister under the previous administration of Nuri al-Maliki, threatened Muqdadiyya residents, saying, “The day of judgment is coming” and “We will attack the area until nothing is left. Is my message clear?”

In October, Human Rights Watch researchers observed militias occupying and setting fire to homes in the proximity of Amerli in Salah al-Din province, following the retreat of ISIS fighters. On December 17, the Wall Street Journal and other media reported that militias were carrying out evictions, disappearances, and killings in the Baghdad Belt after conducting military operations against ISIS. In January 2015, media reported that militias had arrested thousands of men in Samarra without warrants and were preventing them from returning home. On January 26, militias, volunteer fighters, and security forces reportedly escorted 72 civilians from their homes in Barwana, Diyala province, and summarily executed them. Human Rights Watch is currently investigating these allegations.

On December 18, 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Prime Minister al-Abadi in which he pledged to “bring … all armed groups under state control. No armed groups or militias will work outside or parallel to the Iraqi Security Forces.” In addition to ordering a public investigation into the killings in Barwana, al-Abadi ordered an investigation into allegations that security forces extrajudicially killed two Sunni civilians in Anbar and has strongly condemned unlawful conduct by militias and security forces.

The evidence that militias are leading security operations in Salah al-Din, Diyala, Baghdad, and Babel provinces belie this pledge, Human Rights Watch said. On January 1, 2015, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, the long-time leader of the Kita’ib Hezbollah militia who now heads the Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Front), a quasi-governmental organization, gave a news conference in which he described himself as a military commander and the president of the “militia Hashd al-Shaabi,” and attacked Saudi Arabia and the US, which he described as sponsors and supporters of ISIS. This suggests that despite the prime minister’s promises, militias continue to act with free rein.

“The Iraqi government and its international allies need to take account of the militia scourge that is devastating places like Muqdadiyya,” Stork said. “Any effective response to ISIS should start with protecting civilian lives and holding those who abuse them to account, especially in areas where people have already suffered from ISIS occupation and attacks.”

Since August, Haider al-Abadi has been prime minister.  What has he done to show Iraq's Sunni community that he was different from thug Nouri al-Maliki (who Haider is friends with)?

Not a damn thing.

  • September 13th, Haider al-Abadi did announce that he had ended the bombing of Sunnis civilians in Falluja.  That's a War Crime, deliberately bombing civilians.  And they were War Crimes when Nouri al-Maliki started the military bombings in January of 2014.

    But while Haider got some easy publicity for his announcement, the next day, September 14th, the bombings continued, as they have every day since.

    So much for Haider's word.

    Haider's also refused to supply Sunni forces in Anbar Province (home to Falluja and Ramadi, among other cities) with the weapons needed to fight the Islamic State.  Greg Botelho and Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) report:

    An Iraqi tribal leader said Saturday that ISIS militants are gaining ground in Anbar province, predicting a "collapse within hours" of Iraqi army forces there if tribal forces withdraw.
    Sheikh Naim al-Gaoud, a Sunni Muslim leader of the Albu Nimr tribe, called for more U.S. intervention -- including ground troops, arming tribes directly or at least pressuring the Iraqi government to give the tribes more firepower.
    While U.S. officials have said that ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, is on the defensive in Iraq and Syria, al-Gaoud says that's definitely not the case where he is.

    The Sunni fighters against the Islamic State in Anbar have been denied weapons and support.

    They're the only ones who can effectively fight in the Sunni dominant province.

    Even if the Shi'ite militias could get their acts together -- and stop slaughtering Sunni civilians -- any victory they might have would be negligible due to their awful (and deserved) image in Anbar.

    Saturday saw the assassination of Sunni Sheikh Qassem al-Janabi and his son and six bodyguards.  The attack was apparently carried out, in Baghdad, by Shi'ite militias.  The editorial board of Gulf News offers, "Sunni politicians have had a sharp reminder that even if Al Abadi is more secular in spirit, many of the forces in Iraq remain firmly sectarian and are willing to go to any length to wreck any reconciliation. The way forward is for Al Abadi to disband and disarm the militias and show that the government is in charge. Al Abadi has to stop these vicious killings and make sure that all Iraqis have to obey the law."  Hamza Mustafa (Asharq Al-Awsat) adds:

    In another sign of growing sectarian tensions in Iraq, two of the largest Sunni-majority blocs in the Iraqi parliament announced on Sunday they intend to begin negotiating with Shi’ite volunteer militias directly in a bid to persuade them to hand over members suspected of committing sectarian killings for trial.
    Both the Wataniya bloc and the Iraqi Forces Alliance are boycotting parliament in response to recent alleged transgressions committed by the militias, and have now formed a joint committee that aims to begin talks with militia groups, saying they will bypass the government of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi if it does not take action by the end of this week.
    As well as attempting to convince the militias to surrender those suspected of involvement in massacres, it will also seek to control the movement of arms among them. 

    In response to the assassinations, Stephen Kalin (Reuters) reports that 75 MPs are now boycotting Parliament as a result -- this includes "some Shi'ite members" due to Iraqiya being part of the walkout (Iraqiya is a non-sectarian political slate which includes Sunnis, Shi'ites and other groupings).

    The BBC landed a do-nothing interview with do-nothing Haider al-Abadi who insists his forces will "retake Mosul from the Islamic State" . . . not now, you understand, but in a few months.  He also used the interview to launch complaints about assistance from the governments of the United States and Turkey.  Again.

    But while he can call out Turkey and the United States, you may notice -- as has Congress (not that any US news outlet bothers to cover that) -- he doesn't call out Iran.

    In fact, Tian Shaouhui reports:

    The level of economic relations between Iran and the neighboring Iraq should be upgraded to the same pace with the expansion of bilateral political ties, Iran's First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri said on Monday.
    "The economic relations of the two countries now stand at a proper level, and the volume of (trade) exchange between the two sides is (currently) about 12 billion U.S. dollars," Jahangiri was quoted as saying before leaving for Iraq.

    Alsumaria adds that the two nations have signed Memorandums of Understanding today.  On what? On issues like trade, housing, transportation . . .

    Nothing in there about reaching an understanding that Iran would stop supplying Shi'ite militias with weapons or sending Iranian Shi'ite militias into the country -- Bita Bakhtiari reports on the weapons supply for the Guardian here.

    Nothing in there about the sanctity of life and how Iran would agree to stop targeting the Sunni civilian population.

     Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent (Daily Beast) report:

    Iran’s influence in Iraq since ISIS sacked Mosul last June has resulted in a wave of sectarian bloodletting and dispossession against the country’s Sunni minority population, usually at the hands of Iranian-backed Shia militia groups, but sometimes with the active collusion of the Iraq’s internal security forces. Indeed, just as news was breaking last week that ISIS’s five-month siege on the Syrian-Turkish border town Kobane finally had been broken, Reuters reported that in Iraq’s Diyala province at least 72 “unarmed Iraqis” —all Sunnis—were “taken from their homes by men in uniform; heads down and linked together, then led in small groups to a field, made to kneel, and selected to be shot one by one.”

    Turning to US President Barack Obama's request for the authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) on the Islamic State, former US House Rep Ron Paul has a column at which notes:

    Last week President Obama sent Congress legislation to authorize him to use force against ISIS “and associated persons and forces” anywhere in the world for the next three years. This is a blank check for the president to start as many new wars as he wishes, and it appears Congress will go along with this dangerous and costly scheme.
    [. . .]

    The US has already spent nearly two billion dollars fighting ISIS since this summer, and there hasn’t been much to show for it. A new worldwide war on ISIS will likely just serve as a recruiting tool for jihadists. We learned last week that our bombing has led to 20,000 new foreign fighters signing up to join ISIS. How many more will decide to join each time a new US bomb falls on a village or a wedding party?

    The AUMF was the topic of Thursday's US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.  The witnesses appearing before the committee included former US Ambassador James Jeffrey, the Center for a New American Security's Dafna H. Rand and RAND Corporation's Rick Brennan.  US House Rep Ed Royce is the Chair of the Committee and US House Rep Eliot Engel is the Ranking Member.

    We covered the hearing in Thursday's snapshot and in Saturday's snapshot.

    Today, we'll note this from the hearing.

    US House Rep Gregory Meeks: I look at these hearings, as I did back in 2001, when we were endeavoring to understand what was the best thing to do there.  And I also try to utilize where we are now understanding what took place in 2001 and so that we could have  learned from it.  And some times   I think what the President's talking about when you say "patience," etc. -- we didn't have any patience.  In fact, we thought that -- and sometimes we think that -- it was  a quick hit. I remember very well when shock and awe happened and then a few days later we saw the president of the United States say mission accomplished.  We thought that that was going to be it.  Many members of this Committee said, once we got in there, that individuals would be waiving a flag and saying thank you America, and we're bringing all our values to them and they would just embrace it and that would be the great thing and everything would be different.  Ten or eleven years later, we still have troops on the ground and we committed, we have committed more in the region than anyone else.  And still I hear folks saying we didn't do -- No one has lost over 6,000 lives in military combat.  It's us. And then I still here -- and I've heard some testimony here today -- where our allies say, "Well you, United States, you need to get back out there and get some more folks."  Yet in their region, they're the ones who are immediately threatened.  We want to help our allies because they are in our strategic interests but the ones that are in immediate danger are those that are right around there and so we need to back out and say, 'Look, ya'll got to do something too.'  We're losing our lives.  We've put our lives on the line.  We're ready to give you all the strategic help that you can get.  And I think that we should.  The President was very clear: Keep our Special Ops and if we find that there's somebody over there from ISIL -- that their organization and some of our allies cannot get to them?  Well that's when we want to use that limited number that's in the AUMF, that they can go after those guys and absolutely destroy them. 

    We've covered the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the AUMF in Thursday snapshot and Saturday's snapshot.  Saturday, we called out members who didn't even show for the hearing.

    Maybe worse than not showing would be showing and not knowing what you're talking about?

    Meeks makes a lot of claims.  Few are accurate.

    The debate on Iraq didn't take place in Congress in 2001.  It did so in 2002 and early 2003.

    6,000 US troops have not died in Iraq -- in combat or otherwise.

    The number of US service members the Dept of Defense states died in the Iraq War is [PDF format warning] 4494.

    Bully Boy Bush did not say "Mission accomplished."  The Iraq War started in March 2003 and May 1, 2003 -- not "a few days later" -- Bully Boy Bush gave a speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, off the coast of California, under a banner which read "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED."

    Back to the 6,000 figure -- who's lost over 6,000?  The Iraqi people.  

    The very people who are not noted or acknowledged in Meeks' remarks except for being portrayed as ungrateful for failing to "embrace" the "values" of the country of the invading forces.

    We could quote him full and also include the actual definition of "resend" which wasn't how he used it.  We can note that there's the AUMF that US President Barack Obama sent to Congress and there's the one Meeks thinks he read --  that would be the one that he thinks contains a "limited number that's in the AUMF."

    Meeks also rushed to praise the War Hawk testimony of witness Dafna Rand.  No one was more off the mark repeatedly on the facts than Rand.  No one had less of an idea what a democracy was than Rand.  At one point, we've already noted her testimony on this in a previous snapshot, she insisted that groups the US government was labeling as terrorist could not be mentioned in the AUMF because they needed to be classified.

    The President of the United States wants a Congressional declaration of the use of military force then the American people have a right to know who the declaration is against.

    Not only did the idiot not understand the fundamental principles of democracy, she also failed to grasp the law.

    Contributing to a designated terrorist organization -- designated such by the US government -- can result in criminal charges.  Yet another reason the American public needs to know who the government (that serves them) is calling a terrorist.

    If you're not getting how stupid Dafna Rand is, she advised then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Libya -- Clinton called for war on Libya -- the position Barack took -- and we all know how well that ended up.  (Those who don't know can refer to ** Glenn Greenwald's ** "Hailed As A Model For Successful Intervention, Libya Proves To Be The Exact Opposite" published at The Intercept today. **Sentence corrected to credit Greenwald as author of report.**)

    The witness Meeks praised is the same one US House Rep Alan Grayson demolished with one question after another in the same hearing.

    Meanwhile, despite a legal authorization from Congress, Barack is allowing US forces to take part in combat.  Press TV reports:

    American helicopters have supported Iraqi ground forces battling the ISIL Takfiri terrorists in al-Baghdadi, military sources said on Saturday.
    The US military on Friday deployed Apache helicopters against an assault by the militants on the strategic Ayn al-Assad Air Base about 15 kilometers south of al-Baghdadi, CNN reported citing anonymous sources.
    During the assault, Iraqi troops managed to kill those attackers and the helicopters could safely return to base without firing a shot, the sources stated.

    In related news, AP notes, "More than 4,000 US soldiers based at Fort Carson, Colorado, are heading to Kuwait, where they will take over as one of America’s largest ground forces in the region after President Barack Obama asked Congress to authorize military action against Islamic State militants."  And Margaret Griffis ( counts 68 violent deaths across Iraq today.