Thursday, April 16, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, April 16, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Marie Harf remembers Iraq exists (briefly remembers), Haider al-Abadi spins in DC, he gets guffaws as he jokes about the threats against journalist Ned Parker, and much more.

We'll start with the State Dept press briefing today where Marie Harf finally decided to talk about Iraq this week.  This is her exchange with Al Quds Daily's Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Can we go to the visit of the Iraqi --

MS HARF: We can.

QUESTION: -- prime minister (inaudible) to Washington. He spoke today and he refuted the claims that – the press claims that there was a difference or a point of difference between the United States and Iraq on the delivery of weapons, that that was not an issue of contention between the two.

MS HARF: (Inaudible) delivery weapons to Iraq?

QUESTION: Right. So --

MS HARF: Correct. Yes. Which I’ve been saying for weeks from this podium, yet I’m glad he was on the same page.

QUESTION: So should we expect – I mean, there are all kinds of reports suggesting that the F-16s will be delivered perhaps this summer. Is that – would you confirm that?

MS HARF: I’m happy to check on the latest there, Said. I don’t have that in front of me.

QUESTION: Okay. He also talked about offensive – I mean, heavy weapons you called it – for two divisions that he’s awaiting. Is it safe to assume that these weapons will be delivered --

MS HARF: Let me check.

QUESTION: -- as they gear up to sort of liberate Ramadi?

MS HARF: Let me check on that. I know there’s a lot of moving pieces with our weapons deliveries here, so let me check.

QUESTION: Okay. Also he talked about a lot of issues, but one of the issues he addressed was the bombardment of Yemen.

MS HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: He disagreed with it completely yesterday. Today he was less --

MS HARF: Yeah. I think it’s – yeah.

QUESTION: -- less abrasive today. But yesterday he was quite clear, in fact, prompted the Saudi ambassador to hold his own press to say that you do support the bombing that is going on. Do you or do you not support the Saudi bombing, the Saudi-led bombing that is going on in Yemen?

MS HARF: Well, the U.S. is clearly supporting the Saudi-led coalition that’s responding to the Houthi aggression in Yemen. But on Prime Minister Abadi’s comments, I think the message he was conveying – and I won’t try to speak for him, but I think the message he was conveying – and this is certainly the message --

QUESTION: But you will.

MS HARF: I said I’m going to see what I think he was conveying. What the message President Obama was conveying was that this shouldn’t escalate into a broader conflict, that ultimately the conflict can only be settled through a political negotiation involving all parties. I think that’s the crux of what Prime Minister Abadi was saying, particularly because he’s seen his country go through such violence and strife, and he really knows firsthand how damaging that can be to a country. So I think those sort of topline messages were the same. And I know the prime minister spoke about this today as well. We are firmly supportive of the current GCC-led operations to defend Saudi Arabia’s southern border, to push back on the Houthi aggression. And when it comes to the joint fight against ISIL, that’s really a separate issue. I think some people were trying to conflate the two. It’s really just a separate issue from the discussions about what’s happening in Yemen.

We'll touch on a little bit of that throughout the snapshot.

But let's stay on questions and answers.  Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was at an event this morning.  The forum was hosted by The Center For Strategic and International Studies.  Haider opened by reading a speech (which we'll note sections of) that lasted approximately 15 minutes and was most noted for the fact that he delivered it in English.  Unlike Iraq's former prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki, he did not speak through an interpreter or utilize one.  (Nouri can speak English.)

He and an Al Jazeera commentator would engage in Arabic when they wanted to trash the White House.  Such brave little cowards.  (I'm all for trashing anyone but do it openly, don't hide behind a foreign language.)  When the Al Jazeera commentator was asked to translate the question to English (as he was told he'd have to before he asked it), he insisted he'd ask his next question in English.

When told that wasn't good enough, the commentator then grew petulant and reduced his lengthy question to a simplistic sentence or two.

Haider responded to it in Arabic.

He was also unwilling to translate it and tried to avoid doing so.

At one point, he insisted he was not being paid to translate.

Well, I guess it's true, a whore expects to be paid for everything, right?

Huffy, Haider finally offered a very loose (and brief) translation of his remarks.

Haider also left the prepared text of his speech from time to time, such as near the end when he raised the issue of Saudi Arabia (and walked back some of his statements from the previous day -- "more concilitory" is how the New York Times' Michael R. Gordon termed the new remarks during his question to Haider at today's event).

His speech was filled with distortions.

Things got worse when the speech was set aside.

Responding to the first question asked by CSIS' Jon Alterman, Haider stated, "What we are facing in Iraq is a polarization of society caused by this terrorism and, of course, failure of governance, not only in Iraq but in the entire region."

That was problematic for a number of reasons.

First of all, the reply is ahistoric.  It attempts to set a mid-point as an instigating or creation point.  The Islamic State is the terrorism that Haider's referring to.

The Islamic State did not cause "polarization of society" in Iraq.

The Islamic State took root in Iraq, gained support and a foothold in the country, due to the government (led by Nouri) targeting Sunnis.

If Haider can't be honest about that, he's never going to accomplish anything.

The second biggest problem with the response is that Jon Alterman's actual question was: "I want to give you an opportunity to be critical about what Iran's doing in the Middle East.  What are they doing that they shouldn't be doing?"

And Haider took a pass -- instead noted that Iran shared in the battle against the Islamic State.

He sidestepped the issue with generic and bland statements such as, "It's not my role to criticize Gulf States, Saudi Arabia . . ."

Alterman attempted to follow up on the Iranian issue and Haider offered generic platitudes such as, "We welcome the Iranian help and support for us."

Haider relationship to the truth can best be described as "elusive."

At one point, he did not that "there must be a political solution.  In all honesty, I haven't seen any movement on that."

And, yes, it is true that US President Barack Obama has been declaring -- since last June -- that the only answer to Iraq's crises is a political solution.

But when Haider declared today that "there must be a political solution.  In all honesty, I haven't seen any movement on that"?

He was talking about Syria.

He was as full of it as the institution hosting him.  They included one Twitter question -- and that from a 'personality' -- in the proceedings -- this after spending over 24 hours begging for questions.

  • What's the future of Iraq? Tweet your questions NOW for Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi's address tomorrow, using 

  • The Center For Strategic & International Studies gave the impression that they wanted questions for Haider al-Abadi and yet they really just wanted to waste people's time.

    Prime Minister @HaiderAlAbadi will answer audience questions, including yours sent via  to @CSIS 

    The questions that insisted CSIS and Haider ignore them?

    The bulk were about the violence including that carried out by militias and Iraqi forces, this was followed by the lack of work being done on a political solution (with many noting US President Barack Obama declared this the only answer for Iraq back in June), many were about the threats against journalism and journalists in Iraq (with an emphasis on Ned Parker), many were also about the status of Iraqi women (with a number asking who the highest ranking woman was in Haider's office and how many women served in his Cabinet), etc.  I was told that CSIS was hoping for questions more along the lines of, "What do you miss most about Baghdad?" and impressions on DC.

    In other words, meaningless questions with inoffensive answers from Haider.

    FYI, I agreed not to slam Jon Alterman -- and I could, I could really do so -- in exchange for finding out what the Twitter users were asking about -- the questions CSIS compiled from Twitter but never used.

    While ignoring hard hitting questions from Twitter, they couldn't ignore the journalists present and, after Iran, the most asked of topic was Ned Parker.

    Barbara Slavin: And also, one of our colleagues, Ned Parker, recently has left because of threats against Reuters for reporting what happened in Tikrit.  Will you issue a statement in Arabic protecting journalists for reporting what goes on in Iraq.  Thank you.

    Haider al-Abadi: As with Mr. Parker, Ned Parker, I've known him for many years.  I heard this story while he was still in Baghdad.  My natural fact, a spokesman for my office has given me a message and he told me Ned Parker feels threatened and asked what sort of threats he had received? We want more information so that I can take action about these people who have threatened him.  I haven't received anything on that, to be honest with you. I asked for protection of his office -- to increase protection of his office -- and we did.  But all of the sudden, I'd heard he left. I know he sent a message he wants to meet me in Washington but unfortunately my program is, uh -- I didn't even have time to talk to my wife yesterday. [Begins chuckling.]  So I don't think I would talk to Ned instead of my wife.

    And a statement in Arabic?

    I-I think my office issued a statement. In English?  Okay, we translate.

    What followed was an embarrassing and shameful round of laughter.

    This isn't a laughing matter.

    When the guffaws finally died down, the next question returned to the topic but with less 'jolly' and 'funnin'.'

    Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory: [. . .] But piggy backing on the last question about Ned Parker, I was just wondering if you could briefly comment as to your take on the current state of press freedom within Iraq?  And also, in terms of going and taking action in response to Parker's being chased out of the country, what steps are you planning -- or are there any steps planned to institute protections for international press covering your country?  During your address, you said, and I quote, "A free society needs a free press."  And so I was just wondering if that would extend to foreign press as well?

    Haider al-Abadi: Well I think if you look at the Iraqi press first, I think they're free to criticize.  I think that number one   institution which is being criticized in Iraq is the government.  We don't even reply to them.  We don't do anything. I drop charges against all-all media.  But I ask the media to have their own self-discipline.  That's important.  The media shouldn't be free to accuse others falsely.  They should respect freedom of others.  Freedom of speech is there but -- We need facts. But I refuse so far -- and I hope I continue on that -- you never know what office does.  Office usually corrupts people, right?  But I hope it doesn't corrupt me.  We keep on respecting the freedom of the press, we keep on protecting it.  As to the foreign press, as far as I know, there's no limitation on them, no restrictions.  They're free even to go to our --within our military unit.  I think we went to that extent to allow free reporting from the fronts.  I remember when the US army was there in 2003 [that's when Haider returned to Iraq after decades of exile in England], they had embedded journalists and they were restricted to what they were reporting.  I very much respect that.  I hope I can have that power to do that but unfortunately I cannot do it now.  It's so free, the situation in Iraq.  Now I'm not sure if Mr. Parker, why he has left.  To be honest with you, I didn't have the story from him.  He wrote something to me.  I cannot see why he left.  Was he really threatened?  Or he felt he was threatened?  I know some -- some Facebook thing and social media has mentioned him in a bad way but the-the thing I've seen -- in actual fact, they were condemning the government in the first place, not him.  They were condemning me as the prime minister to do something about it -- rather than him.  I know some of these, they want to use these things to just criticize the government in the same way when they accuse the coalition of dropping help to Da'ash or accuse the coalition of killing Iraqis falsely.  In actual fact, what they're trying to do -- trying to criticize the government for its policies. They don't want the government to seek the help of the coalition -- international coalition or to work with the US.  But to -- I think me, as prime minister, the safety of the Iraqi people, the interests of the Iraqi people is number one [. . .]

    He continued to babble on and avoid the question.

    Ned Parker appeared on today's Morning Edition (NPR -- link is audio, text and transcript) and here he's discussing, with host Steve Inskeep,  the Reuters report and what followed.

    NED PARKER: Well, our team on the day that Tikrit was liberated, they called me during the day and said we've witnessed an execution by federal police of a detainee in the street, and it was a mob mentality. And they could only stay a few minutes because it was such a crazed scene. I think our people feared for their own safety.
    So when they came home that evening, we had a huge debate about, do we report this? Is this too sensationalist? It's one incident. But when we looked at the whole picture, we also saw a body being dragged by a group of Shiite paramilitaries. We had photos of this, which we published, and there had been looting and arson of areas that surround Tikrit. So we felt that we had to report what happened there, that if we didn't, we wouldn't be meeting our obligation to report fairly and impartially about the critical issue right now, what happens when security forces enter an area that has been under Islamic State control, that is Sunni and then has predominantly Shia security and paramilitary forces enter?

    INSKEEP: This is the most basic job of a war correspondent; go look at a war and report exactly what you see.

    PARKER: Right. And this was a test case for the government. The Iraqi government and the U.S. government have spoken about the importance of post-conflict stabilization operations in Iraq.

    INSKEEP: What happened after you published this story?

    PARKER: It was picked up everywhere. I think it was seen because of what our correspondents witnessed - this execution, which was horrific - where they watched two federal policemen basically trying to saw off the head of a suspected Islamic State fighter to cheers from federal police. Our story became really the example of what went wrong in Tikrit, and it was published on April 3. The night of April 5, on Facebook on a site associated with Shiite paramilitary groups and political forces, a picture of myself went up calling for Iraqis to expel me. It quickly received over 100 shares and comments, including better to kill him than expel him.

    INSKEEP: Did it blow over?

    PARKER: No, it only got worse. I did go out and try to have meetings with some people, different prominent Iraqis, about it. And then on Wednesday night on the channel of Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, which is a prominent Shiite political party and paramilitary group, my face is the backdrop as the anchor talks, and he actually waves also a printout of my face and talks about how I should be expelled from the country and then proceeds to read a letter from an Iraqi living in the United States who also again calls for me to expel and describes Reuters as trampling upon the dignity of Iraq and Shiite paramilitary groups. And after that, there's no way I could've stayed in the country both for myself and for my staff. My presence was polarizing the situation, so I left the next day.

    [. . .]

    PARKER: Prime Minister Abadi last Thursday, the day after the broadcast against Reuters and myself, he gave a speech in public where he spoke in very broad strokes against a journalist who had been in Tikrit and had reported on the execution and the lootings and arson and implied perhaps some of the journalists who had been there had even been there deliberately to smear the government and the Shiite paramilitary forces on...

    INSKEEP: This is the same prime minister who was installed with the support of the United States recently and who's visiting Washington?

    PARKER: Right, and on the eve of his visit, a statement was issued by the prime minister's office in English talking about the need to protect and respect journalism in Iraq, including Reuters, and the statement referred to the incident involving myself and Reuters. But that statement was only put out in English and until now, it has not come out in Arabic.

    INSKEEP: So he's sympathetic to you in English and something else in Arabic entirely.

    PARKER: We're still waiting for the statement to come out in Arabic. It hasn't yet.

    Ned got the date wrong on Haider's remarks -- more than understandable, he had a large number of other issues on his mind.

    He believes the speech was made April 9th.

    No, it was made on the 8th.

    From Sunday:

    Thursday's snapshot noted Haider al-Abadi's attack on the press -- in a speech the press covered, one he gave in Falluja, but somehow all the outlets covering the speech failed to cover Haider's attack on the press.
    His office published the attack April 8th -- in Arabic.  It never made it up to the English side of the site.  It's still not up there now.
    Realizing thugs lie, we've posted the press release here.

    We noted part of the speech on April 8th.  We waited on the attack on the press until the next day because I wanted to have that -- the English version -- because too many people e-mail insisting, "This doesn't say that."  When I link to Arabic articles, people who can't read Arabic flood the public e-mail account with claims that the linked to article doesn't say this or that.

    So I thought we'd wait a day (this is all noted here on Thursday) to see if the press release was translated to English and posted on the prime minister's site -- as almost every other one is.

    They've not published it.

    Even now.

    They don't want English readers to know just how disgusting and vile Haider is.

    Haider fanned the flames.

    What's going on is a deception and outright lie.

    Haider's office publishes some weak ass statement on Ned Parker April 11th -- but in English only.  So Haider can look -- to the English speaking world -- like a defender.

    Haider's office publishes an attack on the press on April 8th -- but only in Arabic -- to fan flames in Iraq and to ensure that the English speaking world remains unaware of his attack.

    His remarks insisting his wife was more important than speaking to Ned Parker?

    He's allowed to play the  fool in part because the White House has refused to speak on the topic as has the State Dept.  Neither will defend freedom of the press on camera, in public.

    They're craven and shameful.

    So Haider thinks he can make jokes.

    But this isn't funny and it's actually becoming an international incident.

    The silence from the White House and the State Dept should be remembered when various members of the media who went to work for the administration try to go back to the media and act like they have ethical ground to stand on.  They have none.

    And let's deal with the nonsense of "I dropped all lawsuits against the press" -- there shouldn't have been any.  These were lawsuits Nouri brought.

    And that was months and months ago.

    In the words of Janet Jackson, "What have you done for me lately?"

    Not a thing to help.

    He has announced -- this month -- that there will be a huge reduction in the number of Iraqi outlets because he's pulling funding from many of them.

    That's the sort of thing the western press has refused to report on.

    Margaret Griffis ( counts 313 violent deaths across Iraq today.

    Lastly,  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following today:

    YC Vets Unite at City Hall to Demand Action from Mayor de Blasio
    81% of NYC post-9/11 vets surveyed say the mayor is failing veterans

    NEW YORK (April 16, 2015) – At 3:00 P.M. today, members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will stand with fellow veterans and the city’s top veteran leaders from across multiple organizations and generations to urge Mayor de Blasio to show real support for New York City veterans. With 22 veterans dying from suicide every day nationally and the VA still reeling after an epic crisis, the city’s veteran leaders will call on the mayor to stand up and show his dedication to our returning heroes.

    At a unity event on the steps of City Hall, the veterans groups will note that during the mayor’s 15 months in office, the administration has shown no real results, failed to meet with them a single time, failed to increase the budget for veterans, and failed to even put forward a clear plan to meet the needs of the city’s 230,000 veterans.

    Combat veteran leaders scheduled to attend are made up of current and former members of the mayor’s own Veterans Advisory Board and include Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA CEO and Founder, Kristen Rouse, leader of the NYC Veterans Alliance, Lee Covino, the Borough Hall veterans and military affairs adviser, Terry Holliday, NYC Veterans Commissioner for the first year of the de Blasio Administration, Joe Bello, NY Metro Vets, Tireak Tulluck, IAVA Leadership Fellow, and members from Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, American Legion and others.

    “The veterans of New York are strong civic and community leaders. They served at Normandy, in Vietnam, at Ground Zero and in Baghdad. They are true heroes and our city’s very best. Many of them are joining us on the steps of City Hall today. Yet, these voices have been entirely ignored by our mayor,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “We’ve been patient. But enough is enough. It’s been 15 months since the mayor took office and our veterans have seen absolutely nothing to show that he cares about our community and our families. He addressed horse-carriages on ‘day one,’ but veterans have yet to get so much as a single meeting. He seems to have time for everyone in the city except us. The mayor must respond today and show us that he cares with an actionable plan and real resources. Talk is cheap and we need results. It’s time for the greatest city in the world to get serious about supporting the greatest warriors in the world. IAVA presented clear recommendations to the mayor’s representatives more than six months ago on urgent issues ranging from suicide to unemployment. And we are still awaiting a response or even a meeting. One of those recommendations is to create a new Department of Veterans Affairs in the city, which would be a huge step forward in ensuring that our veterans are properly supported. In a city budget of over $60 billion, only a pathetic $600,000 is dedicated to veterans. But the mayor has failed to address this urgent call for resources. Instead, he’s opposed increases to our pensions and ignored requests to meet from his own Veterans Advisory Board. As a community, we want to work together with the mayor and city council to make New York the best city in the country for veterans. But we’ve waited long enough. The time is now. With Memorial Day just over a month away, the mayor must meet with us and deliver real help.”

    IAVA, which represents more than 10,000 members from the New York City-area, provided the administration recommendations in October 2014. Those recommendations can be found here. IAVA has also testified three times before the city council. The October 2014 testimony by IAVA’s Jason Hansman can be found here.

    The veterans leaders also urged the city council and Speaker Mark-Viverito to immediately pass critical legislation introduced by Councilman Eric Ulrich, Chair of the Committee on Veterans, and created in consultation with IAVA, which would create a Department of Veterans Affairs for New York City. This legislation has so far been opposed by the de Blasio Administration.

    From taking nearly nine months to appoint a Veterans Affairs commissioner to advocating for a veto of a veteran pension bill at the state level, the mayor has shown a consistent lack of commitment on veterans issues. In the case of the pension bill, the mayor directly advocated against veterans interests. He also fought against the expansion of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs (MOVA), despite city council efforts to expand its budget and create a new department. With an absurdly small budget and no real power, MOVA is ridiculously ill equipped to handle the current and rapidly growing needs of the veterans community.

    IAVA also released the results of its recent poll of NYC members on the mayor’s handling of veterans issues:

    - Only four percent of veterans surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that the mayor was improving the lives of veterans and servicemembers.
    - Only five percent agreed or strongly agreed that the mayor is listening to veterans and servicemembers.

    Leading veterans and veterans organizations stood with IAVA in calling for action from the major. A sample of their statements is below:

    “The service of our NYC veterans embraces major conflicts in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other places that don’t flash on the everyday radar of most Americans. While the satisfaction of service to the United States is reward alone, many veterans need assistance with housing, education, medical benefits and availability of treatment beyond those provided by the Veterans’ Administration. There must be a clear and consistent veterans policy developed in dialogue and partnership with veteran organizations that have been in the service mode for decades. As a concerned veteran, I don’t see that effort coming from city hall,” said Terrance Holliday, former Commissioner of Veterans Affairs for NYC.

    “The city council has stepped up to hold hearings and take initial steps toward making city government more responsive toward veterans. Mayor de Blasio needs to follow suit by showing that he cares enough to understand the needs of those of us who have served our country, especially those who are still struggling to find their way home and contribute as citizens of this great city. His record thus far shows only tone-deaf disregard. There is much to be done at the city government level to serve veterans. For all the federal and state programs for veterans, the rubber meets the road here at the city level where veterans live, work, and interact on a daily basis with city agencies and services. Veterans issues shouldn’t be partisan or unfavorable to any mayoral administration, and we realize that the administration of a city as large, complex, and amazing as NYC is a formidable task. Yet the delays, inaction, under-resourcing, and blatant exclusion of veterans under Mayor de Blasio’s administration has been exceedingly disappointing. We simply must show up and speak out on this to show NYC government that veterans matter,” said Kristen Rouse, Director, NYC Veterans Alliance.

    “If national security remains a top priority, then so must our troops whom willingly serve beneath the flag. And if our elected officials are willing to send young men and women into harm’s ways, then they must be able to take care of them when they come home,” said Ryan Graham, Queens VFW Commander.

    “The NYC Officers Club stands united with our fellow veterans organizations in NYC in encouraging the mayor and the rest of the city to continue to make veterans issues and initiatives a major priority and support those who have served and those who continue to serve,” said Joel Knippel, President, NYC Military Officers Club.

    “During his 2013 campaign, Mayor de Blasio stated: ‘Veterans issues are personal to me – and they will be an important part of my administration.’ However, 16 months in, his message towards veterans and family members has been long on thanks but short on substance. Besides not engaging with or reaching out to the community, veterans have witnessed a number of policies and decisions from his administration that are both perplexing and frustrating. Mayor de Blasio has often talked about his father serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, losing a leg in Okinawa and the struggles he faced when he returned home. This gives the Mayor a unique insight into the difficulties veterans face on an everyday basis. So it’s extremely disappointing that with the United States still at war, with veterans still returning home, as well as those already here, and with many coming to New York City for economic opportunities, that in the ‘tale of two cities’ Mayor de Blasio appears to be leaving us behind. We believe he must and can do better,” said Joe Bello Founder, NY MetroVets.

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

    Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization (VEO) with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA has repeatedly received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.