Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, March 24, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the US shares intel with Iraq (and Iran), this sharing includes a man designated as a terrorist by the US government, Atheel al-Nujaifi contacts Congress, the Tikrit assault remains stalled, and much more.

Starting with the day's big news, Dion Nissenbaum and Julian E. Barnes (Wall St. Journal) report:

The U.S. has started providing Iraq with aerial intelligence in the stalled battle to oust Islamic State from Tikrit, drawing the American military into closer coordination with Iranian-backed militias spearheading the offensive.

Military officials said they aren’t working directly with Iran. But the intelligence will be used to help some 20,000 Iranian-backed Shiite militia fighters who make up the bulk of the force that has been struggling for weeks to retake the strategic city. 

Al Quds' Said Arikat asked US State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki about this topic at today's press briefing.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Iraq?

MS. PSAKI: On Iraq? Sure.

QUESTION: Very quickly. It says that the American forces are going to be aiding the Iraqi forces in Tikrit. Do you know anything about this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, the coalition, as you know, has continued to provide air support in the fight against ISIL with multiple airstrikes on ISIL targets in various locations. Twenty, I think, is the number we’ve talked about in terms of areas we’re assisting in. With numerous strikes occurring in the last couple of days, we’ve made clear that we stand ready to support Iraqi-led operations. I’m not going to go farther than that, though, in speaking to tactical or operational decisions or actions, and obviously, DOD would naturally have the lead on any military steps.

Jen Psaki was spinning for many reasons, most obviously because the US government is not yet ready to announce the policy shift.  Jack Moore (Newsday) offers:

It appears that U.S. reservations over cooperation with Iran, while both conduct crucial nuclear negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programme, have resided after the offensive to recapture the city stalled, says Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University and member at the Council on Foreign Relations.
”There seems to be an inverse relationship between the roles of Iran versus the U.S. in terms of taking the lead in the fight against the Islamic State,” he noted. “In Tikrit, the Iranians and the Shiite militias are playing a central role and Washington had been saying that it was standing on the sidelines so as not to collaborate with this questionable ally. Now, we see no such reservation.”

AFP reminds, "The Iraqi military had lobbied for US-led coalition air strikes while paramilitary forces opposed such a move. One militia leader, Hadi Al Amiri, boasted three weeks ago that his men had been making advances for months without relying on US air power."

Why now?  Among other reasons, the Tehran-Baghdad alliance attacking Tikrit has been a failure.  Over three weeks after the mission to retake the city of Tikrit began, it's still not finished and the fighters still haven't made it into the center of Tikrit.  What has been described as a few hundred Islamic State fighters have managed to hold off thousands of forces under the command of Tehran and Baghdad.

Vivian Salama and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) point out that "the offensive has stalled in recent weeks, with Iraqi officials saying they will not rush a final assault."   That is what the Iraqi officials say.  I'm unconvinced that AP is required to offer that spin.  Last Friday, Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) reported:

The much ballyhooed Iraqi government operation to capture the central city of Tikrit from the Islamic State has stalled three weeks after it began, amid widespread reports that Shiite Muslim militias and the government are badly divided over tactics and roiled by claims that the militias have engaged in war crimes against the local Sunni Muslim population.
It's a failure.

The assault is a failure.  And with MP Shakhawan Abdullah telling Rudaw reports, "At least 30,000 soldiers and military experts from the Islamic Republic of Iran are fighting ISIS militants in Iraq"?

It really doesn't make Iran look very powerful or able to carry out a ground war.

And what does it say about thug Hadi al-Ameri?


He commands the Badr militia.

But the Shi'ites also an MP and Minister of Transportation.

Which is confusing because to run for office, political entities in Iraq were supposed to give up their militias.

But the Badr brigade is run by al-Ameri who somehow (illegally) serves in the Iraqi government.

Days ago, Ammar Karim (AFP) quoted Ameri on the topic of US air strikes, "Some of the weaklings in the army... say we need the Americans, while we say we do not need the Americans."

The loquacious Hadi al-Ameri also told AFP that Iranian Qassem Soleimani (identified by the US government as a terrorist) who is there, in Iraq, "whenever we need him,"   Jim Michaels (USA Today) notes, "The Tikrit offensive has placed the United States in an awkward position. The battle is waged largely by Shiite militias with backing from Iran. The commander of Iran's elite al-Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, has played an active role in Iraq, CIA Director John Brennan told Fox News recently."


2001?  US Treasury Department noted Executive Order 13224 by "publishing the names of five individuals whose property and interests in property are blocked."  Let's note some of it:

On September 23, 2001, the President issued Executive Order 13224 (the “Order”) pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. 1701-1706, and the United Nations Participation Act of 1945, 22 U.S.C. 287c. In the Order, the President declared a national emergency to address grave acts of terrorism and threats of terrorism committed by foreign terrorists, including the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. The Order imposes economic sanctions on persons who have committed, pose a significant risk of committing, or support acts of terrorism. The President identified in the Annex to the Order, as amended by Executive Order 13268 of July 2, 2002, 13 individuals and 16 entities as subject to the economic sanctions. The Order was further amended by Executive Order 13284 of January 23, 2003, to reflect the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Section 1 of the Order blocks, with certain exceptions, all property and interests in property that are in or hereafter come within the United States or the possession or control of United States persons, of: (1) Foreign persons listed in the Annex to the Order; (2) foreign persons determined by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States; (3) persons determined by the Director of OFAC, in consultation with the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Justice, to be owned or controlled by, or to act for or on behalf of those persons listed in the Annex to the Order or those persons determined to be subject to subsection 1(b), 1(c), or 1(d)(i) of the Order; and (4) except as provided in section 5 of the Order and after such consultation, if any, with foreign authorities as the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, deems appropriate in the exercise of his discretion, persons determined by the Director of OFAC, in consultation with the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Justice, to assist in, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, such acts of terrorism or those persons listed in the Annex to the Order or determined to be subject to the Order or to be otherwise associated with those persons listed in the Annex to the Order or those persons determined to be subject to subsection 1(b), 1(c), or 1(d)(i) of the Order.
On October 11, 2011, the Director of OFAC, in consultation with the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice and other relevant agencies, designated, pursuant to one or more of the criteria set forth in subsections 1(b), 1(c) or 1(d) of the Order, five individuals whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to Executive Order 13224.
The listings for the five individuals on OFAC's list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons appear as follows:


ABDOLLAHI, Hamed (a.k.a. ABDULLAHI, Mustafa); DOB 11 Aug 1960; citizen Iran; Passport D9004878 (individual) [SDGT] [IRGC].
ARBABSIAR, Manssor (a.k.a. ARBABSIAR, Mansour), 805 Cisco Valley CV, Round Rock, TX 78664; 5403 Everhardt Road, Corpus Christi, TX 78411; DOB 15 Mar 1955; alt. DOB 6 Mar 1955; POB Iran; citizen United States; Driver's License No. 07442833 (United States) expires 15 Mar 2016; Passport C2002515 (Iran); alt. Passport 477845448 (United States); Driver's License is issued by the State of Texas (individual) [SDGT] [IRGC].
SHAHLAI, Abdul Reza (a.k.a. SHAHLAEE, Abdul-Reza; a.k.a. SHAHLAI, Abdol Reza; a.k.a. SHAHLA'I, Abdolreza; a.k.a. SHAHLAI, 'Abdorreza; a.k.a. SHALAI, 'Abd-al Reza; a.k.a. SHALA'I, Abdul Reza; a.k.a. “ABU-AL-KARKH', 'Yusuf”; a.k.a. “YASIR, Hajji”; a.k.a. “YUSEF, Hajj”; a.k.a. “YUSIF, Haji”; a.k.a. “YUSIF, Hajji”), Kermanshah, Iran; Mehran Military Base, Ilam Province, Iran; DOB circa 1957 (individual) [SDGT] [IRAQ3] [IRGC].
SHAKURI, Gholam, Tehran, Iran; DOB 1964; alt. DOB 1965; alt. DOB 1966 (individual) [SDGT] [IRGC].
SOLEIMANI, Qasem (a.k.a. SALIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLAIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLEMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLEYMANI, Ghasem; a.k.a. SOLEYMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SULAIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SULAYMAN, Qasim; a.k.a. SULEMANI, Qasem); DOB 11 Mar 1957; POB Qom, Iran; citizen Iran; nationality Iran; Diplomatic Passport 008827 (Iran) issued 1999 (individual) [SDGT] [SYRIA] [NPWMD] [IRGC].
Dated: October 11, 2011. Adam J. Szubin,
Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Did you catch the last one?

SOLEIMANI, Qasem (a.k.a. SALIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLAIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLEMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLEYMANI, Ghasem; a.k.a. SOLEYMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SULAIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SULAYMAN, Qasim; a.k.a. SULEMANI, Qasem); DOB 11 Mar 1957; POB Qom, Iran; citizen Iran; nationality Iran; Diplomatic Passport 008827 (Iran) issued 1999 (individual) [SDGT] [SYRIA] [NPWMD] [IRGC].

The US government labels him as a terrorist.

But US President Barack Obama is now going to let him have access to US intelligence and will apparently be announcing air strikes in support of the terrorist.

Samia Nakhoul (Dawn) reports:

Iran may be serious about a nuclear deal that ends its pariah status and the crippling sanctions. But it has been maximising its strength across the Middle East and, because Iranian forces and allied militias are spearheading the fight against IS in Iraq and Syria, Sunni Arab leaders believe the United States will do nothing to stop this.
This month, US Secretary of State John Kerry assured Saudi leaders there would be no “grand bargain” with Tehran attached to any deal. Yet in a news conference at which Kerry acknowledged that Soleimani was involved in Tikrit, his host, Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, almost exploded.
“The situation in Tikrit is a prime example of what we’re worried about,” said Prince Saud. “Iran is taking over Iraq.” That is why, regional analysts say, it is not so much the prospective nuclear deal that is panicking the Gulf and its Sunni allies such as Egypt, but what a US-Iran rapprochement may bring.
Sultan al-Qassemi, a commentator in the United Arab Emirates, says: “The Iranian deal is a game-changer for the region and I think it is going to encourage Iran to pursue an even more assertive foreign policy.
“This deal is the grand bargain Kerry is denying it is. It is giving Iran carte blanche in exchange for empty promises. Iran is on the ascendant. Iran has the winning hand in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.” Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based INEGMA think tank, warned of “all-out sectarian war” between Sunnis and Shias.

Are you confused?  Maybe you're remembering that John Kerry testified before a Senate Committee on March 11th.  Maybe you're remembering Ava's report on the hearing:

"I have nothing but respect for the Committee's prerogatives," he insisted at the hearing.
He insisted at the hearing where he snarled at Senator Mark Rubio that he was flat out wrong.
Rubio wasn't flat out wrong.
Regional leaders in the Middle East are nervous about a possible treaty between the US and Iran.  That's not news.  Or it's not new news.  But Kerry wanted to lie and snarl at Rubio to get his facts.  Kerry's the one who needs to get his facts.
Sunni leaders in the region have seen the persecution of Sunnis in Iraq.  They are concerned about what deal Shi'ite Iran could work out with the US.
Are they opposed to any and all deals?
I doubt it.
But Rubio didn't claim they were.
He only noted they were concerned.
And Kerry snarled at him that he was flat out wrong.

Who's flat out wrong today?

Because it looks like John Kerry is flat out wrong.

It looks like Senator Mark Rubio did know what he was talking about.

And while Kerry spins and lies, others grow ever concerned about Iran's presence in Iraq.

Eli Lake (Bloomberg News) reports:

On Sunday, Nujaifi sent a letter to U.S. leaders warning that his country was at a tipping point with regard to Iranian influence. As U.S. forces wait on the sidelines in an Iranian-led campaign to liberate Tikrit, Nujaifi said he worried that his country was being lost to Iran.
[. . .]
Nujaifi, whose province includes Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul, addressed his letter to Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and asked that it be placed into the record for a hearing this week on the administration's strategy against the Islamic State. The Iraqi governor also sent copies to President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Secretary of State John Kerry and John Allen, the retired Marine general who is U.S. envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State.
Royce told me that he agrees with Nujaifi that the administration has failed to challenge Iran's efforts to expand throughout the Middle East.  "The fact that the governor is compelled to reach out directly to us in Congress speaks volumes about the sway that Iran holds over critical positions in the government in Baghdad," he said. 

Nujaifi wrote that Iran "has essentially taken over the fight in Iraq against ISIS." He added, "But the threat goes even deeper -- there is a grave and immediate threat that Iran is taking over decisive points in the government of Iraq itself."

Atheel al-Nujaifi is the Governor of Nineveh Province.  He is also the brother of former Speaker of Parliament and current Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi.

Atheel stood up to Nouri al-Maliki who launched one attack on him after another during Nouri's second term (2010 - 2014).  Nouri attempted to force him to resign at one point.

If Atheel can stand up to Nouri, it's doubtful he's going to be 'managed' by the White House.  They might need to start paying attention right about now.

Dispatches: Doomed to Repeat History on Iraq? by

Dispatches: Doomed to Repeat History on Iraq? by


  • Turning to today's violence, Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports, "Separate clashes on Tuesday between Iraqi forces and Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq's western province of Anbar left a total of 55 people killed and 71 wounded, security and medical sources said."

    Senator Johnny Isakson is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Time permitting, we'll note the Committee's hearing later in the week but for now we'll note this statement his office issued today:

    Isakson to VA: Unacceptable to Tell Veteran ‘We Can’t Help’

    Calls on VA leaders to ‘stop making excuses,’ fully implement Veterans’ Choice reforms

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to act quickly to implement a more sensible interpretation of the Veterans’ Choice distance criteria to allow veterans better access to health care.
    At a committee hearing held today, March 24, 2015, Isakson raised concerns over how the VA has implemented the distance criteria that was included in sweeping reforms passed last year in the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act. The distance criteria, known informally as the “40-mile rule,” requires the VA to allow a veteran to receive care outside the VA health system if the veteran resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility.
    Earlier today, VA Secretary Robert McDonald announced that the VA would change its interpretation of the Veterans’ Choice Program's “40-mile rule” in response to repeated calls from Isakson and other members of Congress to address these challenges and expand veterans’ ability to receive care.
    “This interpretation makes a lot of sense. What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that it took so long for VA to come to that decision, but I’m glad it finally did,” said Isakson. “I’d rather …see to it that our veterans are being helped instead of VA continuing to make excuses and telling a veteran who would risk his life for our country that we just can’t help him. That’s just not right.”
    Since the Veterans’ Choice Program began in November 2014, the VA has measured the 40-mile distance “as the crow flies,” or in a straight line on a map, as opposed to measuring the 40 miles in driving distance, thus disallowing veterans who live within the 40-mile radius of a facility but have to drive more than 40 miles to get there from benefiting from the Veterans’ Choice Program.
    At today’s hearing, Isakson called on VA Deputy Secretary Sloane Gibson to swiftly implement the changes in the VA’s interpretation of the distance criteria so that all veterans could receive the proper care they need, regardless of proximity to a VA facility.
    “The Senate VA Committee’s job, and the members of the Senate’s job, is to get more money if we need to; it is not to make excuses as to why we can’t do things for our veterans,” said Isakson. “The veterans expect us to deliver and Congress expects y’all to deliver… We’ll do it right the first time and we’ll be committed to providing funding to deliver care to our veterans. I appreciate very much the Secretary’s movement to address the issue with the 40-mile rule and I appreciate that the VA is now talking about what we can do rather than talking about what we can’t do.”
    Isakson also pointed to a second ongoing issue with the Veterans’ Choice Program’s distance criteria –veterans who live within 40 miles of a VA facility but are unable to receive the necessary treatment at that particular facility are currently ineligible to receive care outside the VA health system. Isakson indicated that he and Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the ranking Democrat on the Senate VA Committee, will work with VA on legislation to address this issue.
    “The faster we act on that the better off we will be. If there is a legislative impediment, let’s fix it, because our intent is to see to it that veterans get the service,” said Isakson.
    Isakson questioned Deputy Secretary Gibson about how the VA will properly communicate these changes to veterans. Isakson highlighted the lack of information available to veterans about the Veterans’ Choice Program, including information about the appeals process.
    “As long as the VA is doing everything it can do to see to it that veterans are not frustrated, but in fact are pleased with the communication they get, then I think we will all be better off,” said Isakson.
    View Isakson’s opening remarks from today’s hearing here.
    Video of today’s hearing is available online here
    The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.

    Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.