Monday, March 16, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Monday, March 16, 2015,  Chaos and violence continue, Tehran-Bagdad forces take a four day break to rest up after (finally) reaching Tikrit, the press goes out of the way to avoid ABC News' scoop last week on human rights violations by Iraqi forces, David Petraeus shared classified information -- he's admitted to it and he'll be sentenced for it -- but somehow he's got a security clearance again, and much more.

Reuters reports, "Iraq said on Monday it had put its Tikrit offensive on hold and senior officials called for more air strikes to dislodge Islamic State (IS) militants,"

On hold?

Did they pause on Monday?

Because they paused on Saturday, remember?

Reuters explains in a longer report, "The offensive, the largest yet against insurgents has been stalled for four days after Iraqi security forces and Shia militia pushed into Tikrit last week."

Four days on hold.

And they took 12 days to reach Tikrit.

Loveday Morris (Washington Post) puts it this way, "Iraqi forces’ operation to retake the city of Tikrit has stalled as troops suffer heavy casualties at the hands of Islamic State militants, raising concerns about whether the pro-government fighters are ready for major offensives."

I would argue that the inability to reach Tikrit in a timely fashion made it clear that the Baghdad-Tehran forces were not "ready for major offensives."

Reaching it and then taking a break?  Then starting back up for a day before taking another break?

Anne Barnard (New York Times) reports:

As the days pass, critics are asking why the government’s 30,000-strong force has been unable to dislodge the last Islamic State fighters -- and whether the reduced pace is a bad sign for future efforts to root the militants out of their self-declared capital, the much larger city of Mosul.

Yeah, why can't do it anything?

"Hundreds" is the number of Islamic State fighters that were reported to be in Iraq when the Tehran-Baghdad forces arrived in Tikrit.

But the Islamic State is winning in Tikrit?

Nabih Bulos (Los Angeles Times) explains:

State media, meanwhile, displayed slogans announcing that there was "no backing down" from  the battle for Tikrit, hometown of Saddam Hussein, as reports came of the destruction of the former Iraqi strongman's grave in the city.
State media also broadcast interviews with various military officials who downplayed the stall, saying that military operations had not ceased and accusing opposition media of seeking to "demoralize people."

The destruction of the grave of former President Saddam Hussein?

Tikrit was chosen for one reason only: The motivation factor.

Shi'ites who loathed Saddam could be encouraged to charge, to behave like rabid dogs.

And with regards to Saddam's grave they did just that.

They destroyed it.

But apparently, that wasn't enough to motivate them to take on Tikrit.  (Saddam Hussein's grave is in nearby al-Owja village, not Tikrit itself.)

BBC News reports:

Poster-sized pictures of Saddam that once covered it have been replaced with Shia militia flags and pictures of militia leaders, including Iranian General Qassem Soleimani who advises the Shia militias.
Militia leaders said IS put up a strong fight for the village, and left many bombs and booby-traps behind, says BBC Middle East correspondent Jim Muir.
But there will be suspicions among many in Iraq's Sunni community that the tomb was deliberately destroyed by the Shia militias, he says.

Of course they'll believe that.

Look at who was involved.

Look at what happened after.

And this assault?  This attempt to wave a red flag to send the Shi'ite fighters on a rampage?

It was done when the US government already knew about the War Crime accusation.  Niles Williamson (WSWS) points out:

 ABC News reported last week that Iraqi military units and Shiite militias trained and armed by the United States are being investigated by the Iraqi government for possible war crimes, including the torture and summary execution of Sunni prisoners, in many cases by decapitation, and the desecration of corpses. ABC has known of these crimes since September last year, when it came across an online video posted by a member of the Iraqi security forces showing a handcuffed prisoner being shot in the head.
An investigation was reportedly opened by the Iraqi government after an ABC News journalist presented evidence of “uniformed soldiers from some of Iraq’s most elite units and militia members massacring civilians, torturing and executing prisoners, and displaying severed heads.”
Multiple images posted by ABC last week depict soldiers wearing the uniforms of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces and the Emergency Response Brigade, which operates under the authority of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, posing with severed heads. Others depict Iraqi Special Forces dragging corpses behind their Humvees. Another image shows a corpse being hung from the guard tower of an Iraqi military base.
Responding to the revelations of war crimes carried out by its proxies in Iraq, the Obama administration issued a statement declaring, “If these allegations are confirmed, those found responsible must be held accountable.”
Such statements are worthless. While there has been detailed reporting on the crimes of ISIS, next to nothing has been said by the American government or media about the activities of the US-backed forces. The New York Times has yet to dedicate a single column inch to the latest revelations.

There were two reports by ABC World News with David Muir.

The first was Wednesday evening with  James Gordon Meek, Brian Ross, Rym Momtaz and Alex Hosenball (ABC News) breaking the news that Shi'ites were committing War Crimes (they called it "human rights violations") in Iraq.

There was also the follow up on the Thursday broadcast of ABC World News with David Muir:

David Muir: Now to new fall out after our ABC investigation last night. It involves the fight against ISIS known for those awful videos, lining up their victims on the beach.  And now a new concern.  Are some of the Iraqi forces -- trained and paid for by US taxpayers -- using techniques that are just as brutal?  Well the State Dept tonight responding to our report and ABC's chief investigative reporter Brian Ross back on the job tonight.

Brian Ross:  The State Dept called these scenes today serious and disturbing.  Brutal images of what appear to be Iraqi forces and militias carrying out, celebrating, torture and beheadings.  In this torture scene, two US weapons against the wall. This video shows two civilians, pleading for their lives, about to be shot dead.  A man with an American supplied weapon walks by, a gunman with what appears to be the insignia of Iraqi Special Forces caught on tape.

US State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki: Their behavior must be above reproach or they risk being painted with the same brush as ISIL fighters.

Brian Ross:  The Pentagon says it has already cut off money to some Iraqi units because of gross human rights violations.  But Senator Patrick Leahy says the ABC News report shows the government should cut off money to more Iraqi units.

Senator Patrick Leahy: When you look at at the videos and look at the uniforms being worn, do we really want to say the US condones that?

Brian Ross: US officials tonight tell ABC News that America's top military leader Gen Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has repeatedly warned Iraqi leaders about the conduct of the Iraqi military and the militias that fight with them -- especially because the US is sending $1.5 billion to the Iraqi army and almost 3,000 American troops to help train them.

This was a major scoop.

The failure of most outlets to note it has been appalling and the silence telling.

One not staying silent?

  • Good for The Intercept.

    Now can someone explain KPFA to me?

    I'm grateful that the weekend evening news -- which is produced solely by KPFA -- continues to cover Iraq.

    Not just right now when it's in the news, but they've always made an effort.

    So here's my problem.

    They didn't note what Emma Graham-Harrison (Guardian) does:

    Large numbers of civilians living north of Tikrit could be at risk if the Iraqi city is liberated and fighting moves towards their towns, a senior official with medical charity MSF has warned.
    Long before the recent push to retake Saddam Hussein’s home town, the vast majority of Tikrit’s civilians had fled, leaving it vulnerable to destruction but most of its population safe from the fighting. However, if Islamic State loses control of the city and Iraqi fighters pursue them north towards Mosul, the two sides will be facing off in areas where many more people are still living in their homes and could be at risk during battles.

    They didn't note the ABC News story either.  I find that appalling.

    But I bring up the Guardian article because of what KPFA listeners had to sit through.

    I thought we had a problem, on the left, with relying on the ex-generals?

    That's all we got in the report.

    An ex-general talking strategy and 'success' to Al Jazeera and that being rebroadcasted by KPFA.

    There was no effort to include anyone discussing civilians or anything that wasn't strategy and kill-kill-kill.

    I like the KPFA Evening News.

    But I'm not really keen on reports which included pro-war voices only.

    I get it.

    KPFA whored out itself for Barack Obama.

    So that makes it really hard, today, to stand against war.

    I get that whores have destroyed the left in this country.

    But I'm still not in place where I can pretend it's okay that KPFA aired a report which went out of its way to include a retired general offering arm chair rah-rah-rah while excluding voices against war or voices cautioning that the assault is not as wonderful as a pro-war voice makes it out to be.

    AP notes:

    Concerns are mounting that Iraq's Shiite militias, of which an estimated 20,000 are fighting in Tikrit, will carry out revenge attacks on this and other areas that are home to predominantly Sunni residents.
    Amnesty International last year said the militias wear military uniforms but operate outside any legal framework and without any official oversight, adding that they are not prosecuted for their crimes. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch echoed those concerns, calling on the Iraqi government to protect civilians in Tikrit and allow them to flee combat zones. Its statement noted "numerous atrocities" against Sunni civilians by pro-government militias and security forces.

    But KPFA can't note that possibility?

    There's also this:  James Cullum (Talk Radio News) reports,  "The two-week-long fight to retake Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, from ISIL terrorists is on hold, and, the Defense Department announced Monday that coalition bombers have left the City untouched."

    Which really contradicts what the retired general had to offer.

    And should go to the fact that retired generals really aren't the experts the MSM presents them as -- they're not the experts the MSM presents them as or that KPFA now pretends they are.

    While the eradication of Tirkit appears stalled (it's not a liberation of the city, it's an attempt to obliterate the Sunnis and the region's history -- ISIS and Shi'ite thugs, different sides of the same coin), Tian Shaohui (Xinhua) reports:

    Kurdish fighters on Monday recaptured three villages near Kirkuk from Islamic State (IS) militants, a Kurdish security source told Xinhua.
    About 20 IS militants and three Kurdish fighters were killed in the battles to seize the villages of Wihda, Saad and Khalid, near the town of Daquoq, some 40 km south of Kirkuk, capital city of the province with the same name, the source said on condition of anonymity.

    IANS covers the claims here.  EFE notes, "The Kurds shot dead over 25 IS militants and wounded many more, while the rest of the combatants escaped, according to the sources, adding that the operation had concluded thanks to U.S.-led international coalition air support."

    What's interesting is that there are no posters of Barzani.

    Isn't that what's done?

    It's what Baghdad's doing.

    Destroying areas and calling it 'liberation' as they rush to post posters of Iranians and others.

    We'll note the Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson:

  • My report: In north Iraq, casualties as Kurds push back Islamic State: "They are retreating, we are weakening them"

  • On violence, Margaret Griffis ( notes 258 violent deaths throughout Iraq today.

    Changing topics, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) issued a statement today:

    WASHINGTON — More than 60 Iraqi cultural treasures illegally smuggled into the United States were returned to the Republic of Iraq Monday, following five separate investigations led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The objects were seized at the culmination of investigations led by HSI offices in New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Austin, Texas; and New Haven, Connecticut. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office assisted in two of the investigations.
    “These ancient treasures we are returning do not belong in the hands of any private collection or any one owner. They belong to the people of Iraq where they will be displayed and protected,” said Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “ICE will not allow the illicit greed of some to trump the cultural history of an entire nation.”
    “On behalf of the Government and people of Iraq, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to the U.S. Government and HSI special agents (the soldiers behind the scenes), and all those who contributed in restoring this priceless heritage that belongs to Iraq and its people, said Lukman Faily, Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq. “Today is a historic day that documents the deep relationship, cooperation and friendship between Iraq and the United States. While we stand here united with our friends and allies, we send a strong message to Daesh and its destruction that we are committed to defeating the terror, rebuilding our country and preserving its cultural heritage. The return of our looted archeological items is a national project and we call upon all countries to help us in preserving this heritage which is not only valuable for Iraq but for all mankind.”
    One of the most significant items returned to Iraq is the Head of Assyrian King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, from the Palace of Sargon II.
    As part of “Operation Lost Treasure,” HSI New York special agents received information on June 30, 2008, that an antiquities dealer based in Dubai was selling looted Iraqi antiquities to dealers around the world. The special agents seized the limestone statue on Aug. 13, 2008, after it was shipped to New York by a Dubai-based antiquities trading company owned by the antiques dealer.
    This investigation identified a broad transnational criminal organization dealing in illicit cultural property. Some of the network’s shipments were directly linked to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York.  The investigation has resulted in one arrest, multiple seizures of antiquities ranging from Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan, and the return of many of artifacts. A repatriation ceremony with Afghanistan was held two years ago and future repatriations are anticipated.
    In April 2012, HSI New Haven special agents received information that individuals were smuggling and transporting stolen goods, specifically gold plated items from Saddam Hussein’s private airport and palace. The individual obtained a water urn, door knocker and soap dish from in or around one of Hussein’s palaces.
    HSI Austin special agents viewed a Craigslist posting selling objects consisting of swords, daggers and an ax from various time frames and regions.  In June 2012 special agents determined that a Luristan bronze ax from Early Sumeria (present day Iraq) was among the artifacts being sold. The seller had no importation documentation and the ax was among several other items that were subsequently abandoned by the individual.
    In January 2014, HSI Baltimore received a tip reporting that a senior civilian employee working in Iraq in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, withdrew an Iraqi window seal from an Iraq government building and brought it home. 
    Special agents met with the employee where he stated he was not aware that he required permission from the United States, Iraq or military authorities to export the item out of Iraq.
    An investigation by HSI New York dubbed “The Mummy’s Curse” targeted an organization that smuggled cultural heritage objects into the U.S., sold them in antiquities markets and laundered the proceeds back to the source countries.  As part of the investigation, 37 Iraqi bronze objects, 21 clay reliefs and 18 pieces of Iraqi glass were forfeited to the U.S. government to be returned to the people of Iraq. This investigation was unique in utilizing money laundering charges, which allowed investigators to seize bank accounts containing the proceeds from the sale of smuggled cultural property. This allowed ICE to identify a large transnational criminal organization, resulting in the issuance of four arrests warrants. So far two convictions have been secured and the agency is seeking an international fugitive involved in the case.
    ICE has returned more than 1200 items to Iraq in four repatriations since 2008.  Since 2007, more than 7,800 artifacts have been returned to over 30 countries including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th-18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq, two Baatar dinosaur fossils to Mongolia and most recently 19 antiquities were returned to Italy.
    Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.

    Artifacts aren't the only thing returning to Iraq. David Petraeus is back in the news.  For example, UPI reports:

    Abbe Lowell is the lawyer for Stephen Kim, a former U.S. Department of State contractor, who is serving a 13-month sentence for discussing classified information about North Korea to Fox News.
    "The decision to permit General Petraeus to plead guilty to a misdemeanor demonstrates more clearly than ever the profound double standard that applies when prosecuting so-called 'leakers' and those accused of disclosing classified information for their own purposes," Lowell wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice.

    Petraeus plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information by sharing it with his mistress. He is scheduled to be sentenced in April.

    Yet he is now providing security advice on Iraq to the White House.  Ben Kamisar (The Hill) quotes White House spokesperson Josh Earnest declaring today, "General Petraeus is somebody who served for a number of years in Iraq, he commanded a large number of American military personnel in that country. Over that time, he developed strong relationships with some of his Iraqi counterparts and with some of Iraq's political leaders. He is, I think, legitimately regarded as an expert when it comes to the security situation on Iraq. So I think it makes sense for senior administration officials to on occasion consult him for advice."  AP reminds,  "A retired four-star general, Petraeus' vaunted career suffered a major blow from revelations he gave the biographer, Paula Broadwell, eight binders of classified material he had improperly kept. The 62-year-old agreed earlier this month to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count that carries a possible sentence of up to a year in prison. "

    So let's just recap.

    David Petraeus had to step down for an affair. Step down as CIA head.  And it was discovered he did indeed pass on classified information.

    And now Barack's bringing him back into the fold?

    After you've leaked classified information how do you get a security clearance?

    I am confused.

    Brian Ross