Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, February 3, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the Islamic State is in the news for another execution, the spring Mosul operation is pushed back on the observations of a US general, a US general tells Congress Iraq needs that political solution -- you know, the one the White House has forgotten about, and much more.

AFP-JIJI and Reuters note, "Islamic State militants released a video Tuesday appearing to show a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive, the jihadis’ most brutal execution yet of a foreign hostage."  The pilot thought to be dead is Jordanian military Lt Muath al-Kasaebeh whose plane was either shot down or crashed on its own December 24th.  All Iraq News notes the burning took place while Muath al-Kasebeh was locked in a cage.

Michelle Shepard (Toronto Star) points out, "The Islamic State had reportedly set a deadline of Jan. 28 saying he would be killed if Jordan did not surrender Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman incarcerated for her role in a 2005 bombing attack in Jordan"

The Oman Tribune notes, "In Amman, State television said Kassasbeh was already killed a month ago."  Reuters quotes Jordanian military spokesperson Colonel Mamdouh al-Ameri stating, "The revenge will be as big as the calamity that has hit Jordan."

The Islamic State was said to be seeking a swap, the Lieutenant for failed suicide bomber.  On tonight's The NewsHour (PBS -- link is text, video and audio), Gwen Ifill spoke with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace' Marwan Muasher and the New York Times' Rod Nordland.  Excerpt:

GWEN IFILL:  Rod Nordland, we are now learning that, in fact, we’re hearing that this Jordanian pilot was killed a month ago, even though negotiations were under way just until, we’re told, this week. Is there some sense now that this was nothing that was ever going to be fixed or that this was futile?

ROD NORDLAND, The New York Times: Well, I think it’s clear that Jordan’s position they had to show proof of life was informed by their belief that he was already dead, and they weren’t going to release this terrorist, Sajida Rishawi, from prison if they thought that he really was dead. And that now appears to have been the case.

GWEN IFILL: Were the — was his family still hopeful that he was alive?

ROD NORDLAND: They were really hopeful. They were hopeful up until a few seconds before word came that this video was out showing his death in this really horrible manner, burned to death in a cage.
As it happens, my colleague Ranya Kadri was sitting with the mother and the wife of the pilot when the word came, and it was kind of an unfortunate insight into just how devastating this kind of news is to families and the loved ones of somebody this happens to.
They were just completely hysterical, pulling their hair out, screaming. And it just really brought it home, because I was actually on the phone with Ranya when this all happened. And then, when we saw the video, it was really — it was just about as despicable a thing as you can imagine.

GWEN IFILL: Marwan Muasher, does this tit-for-tat diplomacy, now we’re hearing the woman prison will also be executed, is that — has that replaced diplomacy?

MARWAN MUASHER, Former Foreign Minister, Jordan: Well, first of all, these are unconfirmed reports, but there is no question in my mind that there is a state of anger and shock today among all Jordanians and that there will probably be a public demand to execute this woman and three others also that are in Jordanian prisons.
But let me point out that these are people who have already been condemned and sentenced to death, so they were awaiting execution for many, many years. And whether the government is going to retaliate in this way remains to be seen, but I think it will fall under public pressure to do so.

GWEN IFILL: Does this put Jordan between kind of a rock and a hard place? It’s part of the coalition. At the same time, it’s taking in so many refugees, and at the same time so many recruits for ISIL are coming from Jordan.

MARWAN MUASHER: Well, Jordan has been in a tough position.
The king has made it clear that he regards this war not just as a military war against ISIS, but also a cultural war, a war of values, if you want, to determine who speaks on behalf of Islam. And I think that, whereas some people in Jordan didn’t take that message, and really, you know, it is estimated that maybe between 2,000 to 5,000 people are ideologically attached to ISIS, I think this message will resonate more, particularly after the horrible, horrible way in which the pilot was killed.

Byron York (Washington Examiner) reports that Jordan's King Abdullah  met in DC today with House Armed Service Committee members and US House Rep Duncan Hunter quotes the king stating, "He said there is going to be retribution like ISIS hasn't seen [. . .] They're starting more sorties tomorrow than they've ever had."

That would be a change because the bombings had slacked off.  The World Tribune notes that the government in Jordan was already facing protests over their part in the US-led bombings of Iraq and, as a result:

Jordan, under heavy domestic pressure, has sharply reduced air operations against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
Diplomatic sources said the Hashemite kingdom has ordered a virtual suspension of air operations in the U.S.-led war against ISIL. They said the Royal Jordanian Air Force stopped all air strikes on ISIL in Iraq and Syria while approving limited reconnaissance operations along the kingdom’s border.

This is the second Islamic State assassination to receive media attention in the last few days.  Peter Symonds (WSWS)  reports:

The execution of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, as conveyed in a video released late Saturday night, is the latest atrocity to be carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It follows the beheading of another Japanese citizen, Haruna Yukawa, last week after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refused to pay a $200 million ransom for the two hostages.
The callous slaying of Goto and Yukawa, despite the appeals of their families and friends, once again exposes the reactionary character of Islamist organisations like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Far from being engaged in an anti-imperialist struggle, they represent dissident sections of the Arab bourgeoisie that are seeking to refashion relations with the major powers. Their methods of terrorist attack and execution of innocent civilians play directly into the hands of imperialism.

The killing of Goto immediately provoked a chorus of condemnation from the US and its allies, which have cynically seized on the executions as another justification for the renewed war in the Middle East. Washington, above all, is responsible for the creation of ISIS, which was spawned by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and then financed and armed by America’s Middle Eastern proxies as part of the Syrian civil war to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Yesterday, Holly Williams (CBS News -- link is text and video) reported on the Bard Brigade -- Shi'ite thugs fighting in Iraq -- fighting the Islamic State and fighting any Sunni civilians they can get near.  Williams characterized them as possibly "effective" and then went on to note last week's massacre of Sunnis (over 70) carried out by Shi'ite militia members (according to survivors).

That renders them ineffective.

There is no chance that they "may be effective."

They could kill X number of IS members a day, they would still not be effective.

That's because their targeting of Sunnis is exactly why the Islamic State got a foothold in Iraq and continues to thrive there.

As long as the Iraqi government continues to use these thugs, the Islamic State continues.

This is basic but Jen Psaki prefers to to play the public fool at the US State Dept such as today in the press briefing when she thought she was 'cute' during this exchange with Al Quds' Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Now, I know this is probably a question better addressed to the Pentagon, but there’s a great deal of talk about postponing the much-anticipated spring offensive, but there’s a political dimension to it. It seems that a great deal of differences between Sunni and Shiite --

MS. PSAKI: Are you referring to – in Iraq?

QUESTION: Yes, yeah. In the fight against ISIL, in the fight or in the effort to reclaim or retake, liberate Mosul. So there seems to be a lot of bickering and infighting among Sunni and Shiites and so on. My question to you – that General Austin was there, of course, Mr. McGurk was there the week before, I think, or maybe a couple weeks before. What are you doing in terms of bringing all these different points of views together, having the Kurds, the Peshmerga, and the central forces working together?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say on the first part I have no confirmation of that or validation of that, and my suspicion is your information is inaccurate.
On the second piece, there are a range of steps that we’re taking. Obviously, we work closely with the Government of Iraq. As you know, one of the efforts that the anti-ISIL coalition is very focused on is not only boosting their capacity but taking steps to go after ISIL in Iraq. We have – and you are right; most of this in terms of technicalities is best posed to the Pentagon, and they can get into specifics – let me finish – as they often do. And so I would certainly encourage you to pose this question to them.
But I would also add that, in addition to the efforts of the coalition countries, that Prime Minister Abadi has been taking steps to – greater – create greater unity to better incorporate different forces underneath the Iraqi Security Forces. That is something that has been ongoing. It’s not new now, but they’re continuing to take steps on.

QUESTION: I guess my point, or the thrust of my question, is the following: That while there was a great deal of enthusiasm, let’s say, a month ago among the Sunni tribes who was working with Prime Minister Abadi, there is less of that enthusiasm because they feel that much of what they have been promised has not been delivered. They are a bit skeptical about the national guard that is being formed and so on.
I wonder if you could – if you have any information, to begin with, that you can share with us on this.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I have nothing to validate your view or your opinion, and I haven’t --

QUESTION: It is not opinion. I mean, that’s --

MS. PSAKI: -- seen those reports that you’ve mentioned. So I don’t think anyone should take that as fact. The national guard is part of the Iraqi Government’s long-term restructuring plan of the Iraqi Security Forces into a federalized security force. This is something that they’ve asked for United States – the United States for assistance to help further define and develop the program. We’re working with the government and providing advice based on our previous experiences. The national guard would not replace, but rather augment a restructured multi-sect and multiethnic federal security force as well as address a key demand that many leaders from across Iraq have called for over the last 10 years. It’s been in the process of being implemented for a couple of months now, but obviously, it’s not at full completion.

Poor Jen.  She didn't come off cute, she came off like an ass -- and an uninformed one at that.

For example, this morning Alice Fordham (NPR's Morning Edition) reported today on this reality and notes, "[Sheikh Ahmed] Dabash's views are typical of a broad spectrum of Sunnis in Iraq Islamists, tribes, one-time supporters of Saddam Hussein.  They feel victimized by Iraq's Shi'ite-led government and many fight against the Shi'ite-dominant army either joining ISIS or aligning with them -- even if they find the group extreme."

Fordham notes how the US feels the (still not formed) Iraqi national guard is the solution but Sunni leaders feel differently.

Jen Psaki missed that report -- how uninformed and ignorant is she?

Al Quds reports the long planned spring offensive to retake Mosul just got kicked back and the decision was made after US Gen Lloyd Austin shared his observations about the current state of Iraq following his visit to the country last week.

There is no plan, there is no forward movement.

And the window for new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to show change has been closing for some time.

We've noted that here, we've noted the lack of a political solution in Iraq and we've noted the White House's inability to aid Haider in pursing a political solution.  Instead, US President Barack Obama has not just used the Pentagon to plan military strikes on Iraq and to build the so-called 'coalition,' he's diverted the State Dept from its mission of diplomacy to make it a mouth piece for a militant theocracy that worships exploding bombs.

And how's that working out?

David Alexander and Lisa Shumaker (Reuters) report:

"Quite frankly, we need to see in Iraq political outreach that addresses the fact that some 20 million Sunnis are disenfranchised with their government," Lieutenant General William Mayville told a hearing on global threats facing the United States.
Mayville, director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Staff, told lawmakers he endorsed the current steady, deliberate pace of efforts to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria because it gave the Iraqi government time to act politically, a step he said was necessary to resolve the crisis.
"I think it is very, very important that the pace of operations be such that ... the military lines of effort don't get out in front of the political lines of effort that must be achieved in order to get an enduring solution here," he told a panel in the House of Representatives.

It's February.

Nothing's been accomplished but talk.

Empty words from Haider.

Like on September 13th when he got a swarm of positive press for announcing he was stopping the Iraqi military bombing of the Sunni residential neighborhoods in Falluja (War Crimes)/  But the bombings continued September 14th and they continue to this day.

And, no, Sunnis in Iraq have no real reason to believe Haider al-Abadi represents change.

Ned Parker and Angus MacSwan (Reuters) report, "Iraq's cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft law creating a national guard, which Sunni political figures have described as a necessary step to achieving national reconciliation."  "Draft law" is a bill.  Parliament passes laws.  So what happened is the Cabinet voted to pass a bill onto Parliament -- two in fact.

One is the national guard measure.  The other is to put an end to the US-imposed de-Ba'athification.  Sunnis don't feel the measure passed by the Cabinet was enough.

And they're probably right for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Justice and Accountability Commission which was supposed to have been disbanded following the 2006 elections has been morphing into a Parliamentary committee and doing so publicly and with little attention from the western press.  (They held a press conference last week.  Which US outlet reported on it or even noted it?  None.)

This commission was supposed to dismantle in 2006.

In 2007, Nouri signed off on the White House benchmarks that would end the de-Ba'athification (kicking Ba'ath Party members out of government and military posts).  This de-de-Ba'athification was not supposed to come about in a decade but while Bully Boy Bush occupied the White House.

He left in January of 2009, after Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

And de-Ba'athifcation was never ended.

And continues to this day.

Then there is the rape and assault of Sunni girls and women in Iraq's jails and prisons.  There's all the Sunnis in prison because they were related to someone the forces had an arrest warrant for -- not for the daughters, sons, brothers, mothers, fathers, sisters who they hauled off.  Tossing people in prison because you couldn't find the person you had the arrest warrant for.

That's 'justice' in Iraq.  Still.

And Haider hasn't done a damn thing to indicate that there's any change coming.

Human Rights Watch issued a press release Monday which included:

Unlawful deaths in Iraq skyrocketed in 2014 as emboldened militias and security forces carried out unfettered abuses against civilians and the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) brutally took thousands of civilian lives, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015.
Government-backed Shia militias headed security forces in leading the fight against ISIS. In their enhanced role, they carried out kidnappings, summary executions, torture, and mass displacements of thousands of families with impunity. In turn, ISIS grew in strength and carried out atrocities from beheadings to mass executions to sexual slavery of women. The government has not held anyone accountable for the abuses by these groups or its own forces.
“Between state-sponsored militant groups and ISIS, the risk of falling victim to serious abuses has become all too common for many Iraqis,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “The Iraqi government urgently needs to move beyond window-dressing reforms so that it can win back public trust, confront the growing disaster that ISIS is unfolding in Iraq, and save Iraqis from an endless cycle of horrors.”
In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

Government forces attacked largely peaceful demonstrations on December 20, 2013, sparking an armed conflict in Anbar province between local residents, Iraqi security forces, and multiple armed groups, including ISIS. The fighting, which included indiscriminate government firing and the use of barrel bombs on civilian areas, displaced close to 500,000 people and killed an unknown number of civilians. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as of December 2014, more than 1.9 million Iraqis were internally displaced due to conflict.

The White House either doesn't want a political solution in Iraq or they're too stupid to figure out to work on one.  One thing is certain though: The Islamic State doesn't want a political solution in Iraq.

If that happens, their support dries up, their presence in Iraq no longer has footing, no longer has backing.

Moving over to the US for one more thing, today Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following:

Gretchen Andersen
Press Secretary
Tel: 212-982-9699


Washington D.C. (February 3, 2015) – Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, critical legislation that increases access to quality mental health care and combats veteran suicide. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who spearheaded the bill, applauds members of the 114th Congress for the legislation’s swift, bipartisan passage and calls on President Obama to honor our nation’s commitment to our veterans with an urgent signing ceremony at the White House. The historic legislation is named after Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Clay Hunt, a Marine sniper who died by suicide in 2011. More than 20 veteran service organizations and partners such as the American Psychiatric Association support the legislation.

Introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the bipartisan bill has a total of 53 cosponsors – 30 Democrats, 21 Republicans and two Independents. A full list of co-sponsors can be found here.

“We are extremely grateful for the Senate passing this bill and all those who have worked so hard on it. While we are a little bittersweet, because it is too late for our son Clay, we are thankful knowing that this bill will save many lives,” said Susan Selke, mother of Clay Hunt. “No veteran should have to wait or go through bureaucratic red tape to get the mental health care they earned during their selfless service to our country. While this legislation is not a 100 percent solution, it is a huge step in the right direction.”

“This is a tremendous day for our community,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “For too long the crisis of veteran suicide has been hidden in the shadows. This bill gives many veterans the new hope they so desperately need and demonstrates that our leaders are willing to give veterans the care they deserve. We call on President Obama to demonstrate his commitment to our veterans with a public signing ceremony. After being blocked by a lone Senator last session, our veteran members are relieved that we are now a huge step closer to reversing the trend that has taken far too many sons, daughters, friends and loved ones from us. We thank Senator McCain and Senator Blumenthal for their leadership in combating suicide and for reintroducing this vital bill. While we are thrilled about today’s vote, all of us must remember the sobering reality that necessitated this action: the invisible wounds of war and our nation’s initial failure to treat them.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. House unanimously passed the House version of the measure, H.R. 203, sponsored by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

Developed by IAVA and its allies on Capitol Hill, and driven by qualitative and qualitative data from IAVA’s annual member survey, the Clay Hunt SAV Act will:

Increase Access to Mental Health Care and Capacity at VA to Meet Demand
● Requires the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all VA mental health services for veterans.
● Addresses the shortage of mental health care professionals by authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists.
● Extends Combat-Eligibility for mental health care services at VA for one-year, providing for increased access for veterans that may be suffering from conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Improve the Quality of Care and Boosting Accountability at VA
● Requires evaluations of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA to find out what’s working and what’s not working and make recommendations to improve care.

Develop a Community Support System for Veterans
● Establishes a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services.
Over the past 10 years, IAVA has grown to become the leading advocate for veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization has put top issues for veterans on the map and jump-started historic changes, including passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, funding for health care at the VA, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, efforts to combat veteran suicide, and, in 2014, a national focus on the high VA disability claims backlog.

Note to media: Email press@iava.org or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or IAVA leadership.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has nearly 300,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.