Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, April 1, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, for the second day in a row the Iraqi government announces victory in Tikrit (they, no doubt, really mean it this time), fighting continues in Tikrit, the US government tries to spin events to make themselves the winner, the Ashraf community remains under attack, Canadian MP  Jack Harris observes "mission creep" has been replaced with "mission leap," and much more.

There's still no deal with Iran though the US government continues dithering at the table despite swearing they'd walk away on Tuesday if there was no deal.

Does it matter?

Columnist Mubarak Al Duwailah (Qatar's The Peninsula) thinks so:

Look at what is happening around us! What is stopping America from checking the Iranian expansion in Iraq? What is preventing America from putting an end to the persecution of Sunnis in Iraq? Why doesn’t America stop the forced displacement of Arabs in Iraq from their cities and neighbourhoods? Why does the West, under American leadership, let Iran and Hezbollah support Bashar Al Assad’s regime?

Yeah, it matters.

And when members of the US Congress begin focusing on the latest assault on the Ashraf community in Iraq, it's going to matter a lot more.

  • Shahriar Kia (News Blaze) explains:

    On Monday, 16 March 2015, Mr. Safar Zakery, a truck driver and a member of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran residing in Camp Liberty near Baghdad International Airport, was hit by an Iraq SWAT Humvee in a suspicious road accident. Traffic police at the site to investigate the matter immediately said the SWAT Humvee was responsible for the accident.
    Despite the fact that Safar Zakery was innocent, the Karkh investigative court - under the influence of three Iraqi army intelligence officers in contact with the Iranian regime's embassy and in charge of Camp Liberty's management team - had Mr. Zakery illegally arrested and imprisoned.

    The illegal arrest and continued detention of Safar Zakery are under orders issued by Iraqi national security advisor Falih Fayyadh. He is implementing his policies through his three agents by the names of Sadeq Mohamed Kadhem, Major Ahmed Khozeir and Captain Heidar Azzab Mashi, all having major roles in the crackdown and massacre of Ashraf and Liberty residents from 2009 onward.

    We're going to go into the Ashraf community at length in one of the next two snapshots.  For now, we'll note that Baghdad remains a puppet of Tehran when it comes to the Ashraf community.

    And we'll note that Congress doesn't care for the White House's excuses and Brett McGurk, awhile back, was able to spin Congress to a degree on Ashraf but they've since woken up to his lies and know that he is not to be trusted on this issue.

    And if you need another real world implication from the never-ending and over-the-barrel 'negotiations,' right at this moment is that the US State Dept is paralyzed to the point that it can't even handle a daily press briefing.

    For the second day in a row, the State Dept was unable to pull off a press briefing.

    If they can't handle something that basic, should we expect anything out of them?

    Not everyone's silent.

    "Here we come to you, Anbar! Here we come to you, Nineveh, and we say it with full resolution, confidence, and persistence."

    That's Iraq's Minister of Defense Khalid al-Obeidi as quoted by the AP.

    And yes, he does sound a bit like Howard Dean.

    AP notes he dubbed today in Tikrit a "magnificent victory."

    They're far too kind to note that yesterday was also dubbed a victory.

    BBC News does note that, claims aside, "Troops are still fighting to clear the last remaining IS holdout in the city, but Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was filmed raising an Iraqi flag there."

    Haider Tweeted a photo.

    Prime Minister Al-Abadi raises the Iraqi flag in the center of Tikrit
    128 retweets109 favorites

    Alsumaria has a photo essay on Tikrit here.

    Also noting that fighting continues is AFP:

    A top leader in the Badr organisation, one of the most prominent Shia militias in Iraq, admitted that Tikrit had not been completely purged of ISIL fighters.
    "Snipers are still there and many buildings are booby-trapped," Karim al-Nuri told AFP news agency in the northern Tikrit neighbourhood of Qadisiya.

    A commander for the Ketaeb Imam Ali militia said his men were involved in a firefight in the north of the city as late as 11:00am (0800 GMT).

    AFP also notes that the claim of victory was previously made yesterday.

    That points made even more clearly in an AFP report entitled "Iraq forces hunt diehard militants after Tikrit victory claim: Coalition and militias say it is premature to claim victory."

    But it's not premature, apparently, to start trying to claim glory and credit.

    The State Dept's Brett McGurk Tweeted:

    As is liberated, we're training 10000+ Iraqi soldiers for coming offensives vs. .
    29 retweets 20 favorites

    Considering that taking a city took 31 days (and counting), I'm not really sure it's a point of pride to brag responsibility for training the Iraqi soldiers.

    Matt Bradley and Julian E. Barnes (Wall St. Journal) explain the way the US government is trying to spin things:

    Policy makers in Washington have long been conflicted over the Shiite militias, warning that using them to liberate Sunni-populated areas threatened to worsen sectarian tensions. But they acknowledged that with the Iraqi security forces weakened by Islamic State invasion, the militias were needed to defend the U.S.-allied government in Baghdad.
    On Wednesday, military officials reiterated the U.S. would continue to work with Shiite militias, as they did in Tikrit, as long as they were under Iraqi, not Iranian, control.

    U.S. officials say they deliberately used the Tikrit operation to drive a wedge between Iran and Iraq while opening space for groups such as Mr. Assadi’s who passionately want to defeat Islamic State but are less beholden to Iranian interests.

    Jim Michaels (USA Today) tosses some perspective over those lofty claims:

    The United States' hopes of using the successful outcome of the offensive to drive a wedge between the Shiite-led Iraqi government and the militias may not be realistic, however.
    "U.S. officials are delusional if they believe they can convince Iraq's government to remove these militias from ongoing military operations against the Islamic State," said Ali Khedery, a former special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors in Iraq. "There's been a lot of wishful thinking going on."
    The militias are tied to powerful politicians in the government and have been armed and financed with government money, according to experts on Iraq.
    "The militias are embedded in the state institutions and they're getting more and more entrenched," said Richard Welch, a retired Army colonel who spent years in Iraq running reconciliation efforts.

    Also pouring cold water on the idiotic claims of US officials, Tirana Hassan (Foreign Policy) who explains what happened in the last 'liberation' by militias:

    While we don’t know exactly how events in Tikrit will play out, we do know how the operation last summer ended in Amerli, which had been under siege for three months. In that battle, Iraqi authorities, along with U.S. and coalition forces, turned a blind eye to the abusive conduct of Shiite militias after the Islamic State abandoned the area. The apparent indifference of the United States and coalition forces paved the way for a wave of destruction, as the militias targeted Sunni Arabs and other minorities in the surrounding area.
    Our research on the operations around Amerli revealed how the operation to clear and secure a 300-mile area around the town quickly morphed into a campaign of revenge attacks. Pro-government militias and volunteer fighters, along with Iraqi security forces, purposefully burned Sunni villages to the ground, destroyed homes with explosives, and looted entire villages, leaving them virtually uninhabitable.

    Under the guise of fighting the Islamic State, the marauding militiamen waged their own sectarian war with complete impunity. While Amerli is a Shiite Turkoman village, the majority of the surrounding villages were home to Sunni Arabs and several mixed Arab and Turkoman communities that the militias accuse of being Islamic State collaborators and sympathizers. The families from these surrounding villages told me that the militias drove them from their homes — and in the days after my visit, reports continued to flow in from desperate families describing how militiamen took away their brothers and sons and destroyed more of their homes. These were families caught between the horrors of the Islamic State and the vengeance of out-of-control Shiite militias.

    Hamdi Alkhshali, Jomana Karadsheh and Don Melvin (CNN -- video report) examine the 'legacy' of the Islamic State in Tikrit and feel that it is "booby traps, IEDs and fear."

    On the topic of violence, UNAMI released the following today:

    Baghdad, 1 April 2015 – According to casualty figures released today by UNAMI, a total of 997 Iraqis were killed and another 2,172 were injured in acts of terrorism and violence in March*. 

    The number of civilians killed was 729 (including 42 civilian police), and the number of civilians injured was 1,785 (including 98 civilian police).

    A further 268 members of the Iraqi Security Forces (including Peshmerga, SWAT and militias fighting alongside the Iraqi Army / Not including casualties from Anbar Operations) were killed and 387 were injured.
    Baghdad was the worst affected Governorate with 1,290 civilian casualties (362 killed, 928 injured). Diyala suffered 51 killed and 75 injured; Salahadin suffered 34 killed and 48 injured, and Ninewa 20 killed and 15 injured.
    According to information obtained by UNAMI from the Health Directorate in Anbar, the Governorate suffered a total of 939 civilian casualties (237 killed and 702 injured). This included 58 killed and 391 injured in Ramadi and 179 killed and 311 injured in Fallujah. 
    “I am shocked to see that Iraqis continue to bear the brunt of appalling numbers of casualties caused by successive waves of violence, which are threatening with additional suffering and misery”, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Mr. Ján Kubiš said. 
    “The United Nations calls upon the Government of Iraq to do all it can to ensure that civilians’ safety and security is protected in line with fundamental human rights principles and humanitarian law”, the UN Envoy further stated.

    *CAVEATS: In general, UNAMI has been hindered in effectively verifying casualties in conflict areas.  Figures for casualties from Anbar Governorate are provided by the Health Directorate and are noted above. In some cases, UNAMI could only partially verify certain incidents.  UNAMI has also received, without being able to verify, reports of large numbers of casualties along with unknown numbers of persons who have died from secondary effects of violence after having fled their homes due to exposure to the elements, lack of water, food, medicines and health care.  For these reasons, the figures reported have to be considered as the absolute minimum.

    So that's at least 997 plus the 237 killed in Anabar.

    Margaret Griffis ( provides a daily count and released her numbers for the month:

    At least 6,081 people were killed and 1,874 more were wounded in the month of March. These estimates are conservative, and the actual number of casualties could be much higher. In particular, the Iraqi government has resisted releasing credible military casualty numbers, but anonymous sources sometimes reveal that military casualties are much higher than being reported. The number of dead and wounded militants could go either way. There is no independent confirmation of their casualties, and the military could be exaggerating their victories. compiled 1,913 dead and 1,241 wounded in the column during March. These figures were gleaned from media sources and do not include enemy casualties. Adding militant casualties, the figures are 6,081 dead and 1,530 wounded.

    Violence also includes Iraq's use of the death penalty.  There are said to be 500 people on death row in Iraq with 150 expected to be executed in 2105.  On this topic, Pakistan's Nation newspaper reports:

    Governments around the world are using the threat of terrorism — real or perceived — to advance executions, Amnesty International states in its annual report on the death penalty.
    Some 2,466 death sentences were handed out last year, representing a 28 per cent increase on 2013, the rights group said on Wednesday.

    In Canada, some are crying foul.  Steven Chase (Globe and Mail) notes that the country's prime minister, still Stephen Harper who's apparently serving some form of a life sentence, forced a vote on extending "Canada's combat mission [in Iraq] by 12 months" and, only two days after the vote, did Minister Jason Kenney reveal that this move will cost Canadians $406 million in addition to the $122 million previously announced.

    The Liberal Party's Joyce Murray is quoted stating:

    There’s absolutely no excuse for the minister to announce the cost only days after the debate was over.  This was the kind of thing [Canadians] should have been informed about.  It's irresponsible they were not released before the debate.

    Stephen Harper is the leader of Canada's Conservative Party.  Jack Harris of the New Democratic Party argues that the money could have been utilized better by focusing on the needs of the displaced.

    He said more in a speech in Parliament today.

    MP Jack Harris:  The Foreign Affairs Minister, the Defense Minister and the Prime Minister have all stated that ISIL poses a direct threat to Canada. When the Prime Minister says, "We will deal with the threat to this country as long as it is there.  We will not stop dealing with it before that," we know we are in this for the long haul.  Because we have to look at how this government has defined the threat. The Minister of Foreign Affairs said in a speech this morning that Canadians are "under siege."  "Under siege," Mr. Speaker.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defense and the Prime Minister have repeatedly said that ISIL has declared war on Canada.  This organization has declare war on Canada. And the Minister of Defense actually invoked Canada's independent right of self-defense and international  law as a justification for the actions being taken by Canada. Now these overblown statements by the  most senior leaders of the Canadian government risk the credibility of Canada in the international world and the government at home; and are clearly designed to raise the level of fear among Canadian citizens.  What kind of respect and reputation in foreign affairs can Canada expect with this kind of leadership on the most serious matter of state going to war in foreign countries.  We do know, of course, that terrorists exist in Canada.  That is not new.  But neither the attacker on Parliament Hill nor Saint-Jean-sur-Richellieu were sent here by any foreign entity.  As pointed out in one of Canada's most foremost national newspapers, the Globe & Mail, "despite attempts by the Prime Minister to closely tie ISIS to the terrorist threat in Canada, the actual connections are thin to non-existent."  But instead of dealing with the actual threat by engaging in a robust and well resourced anti-radicalization and counter-radicalization programs here at home by working with the Muslim community instead of alienating them and by preventing the flow of funds to ISIL, confronting the dire humanitarian situation in a significant and increased manner, by doing all those things that my colleague the Member for Ottawa Centre [Paul Dewar]  emphasized in his speech this morning and are contained in the NDP amendment, instead of doing all those things, Mr. Speaker, this government is going down the road of war from mission creep to mission leap with no clear goals, no honesty with the House of Commons and the Canadian people, no clear end or exit strategy, with dubious legal justification and no end game.  In fact, in a television appearance the other day, the Minister of Defense stated that the strategy of defense has gone from one of containing ISIL to defeating it.  And we just heard the same thing from the Parliamentary Secretary.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs said something else today.  But when the Minister of Defense was asked what happens in the event that Canada reaches the objective of defeating ISIL, he admitted that he'd need to look for a crystal ball.  That'll give you some idea about where this government thinks this is going and how it's going to lead to an actual resolve that they are proposing.  The objectives keep changing depending upon who is speaking.  And without a clear objective, the uncertainty about this mission and its length is obvious.  Neither  can we trust what this government will do  in the course of this military action.  We found that out in the last six months as the mission 'evolved ' without Canadians knowing about it at the time and 'evolved' contrary to the express promises of the  Prime Minister.  But this time, he's given us a hint.  On Tuesday, in the House, the Prime Minister said, "We have made important deployments.  These deployments could easily be changed."  He also opened the door to further expansion, saying, "We must avoid, if we can, taking on ground combat responsibilities in this region.  We seek to have the Iraqis do this themselves."  With this government's record, that's far from reassuring. 

    Another country whose people may have been misled by those in the ruling power is New Zealand whose Voxy reports:

    The truth is slowly emerging over New Zealand’s involvement in Iraq, after months of the government denying New Zealand First MPs were right about the depth of our involvement.
    "Kiwi soldiers are now training in Australia," says Ron Mark, New Zealand First Defence Spokesperson.
    "The sad truth is that we know more about what the New Zealand Defence Force is doing than hapless Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee does.
    "On Tuesday, it was ‘up to 50 troops’ training in Australia but yesterday that number grew to 100.