Monday, May 11, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Monday, May 12, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, two prominent Sunni officials visit the US and talk Iraq, Barack's big Camp David summit photo-op is in danger, Congress gives some attention to the dangers of burn pits, and much more.

The month's not even at the half-way point and already a new calamity for US Pesident danger prone Barack Obama.  Terry Atlas (Australia's The Age) notes, "Mr Obama is convening the summit as the administration is trying to restore the flagging confidence of Gulf Arab leaders in US leadership in the face of an emboldened Iran. Several heads of state are sending lower level officials to meet with Mr Obama, sparking questions about whether the president had been snubbed by frustrated allies."

Raghida Dergham (Al Arabiya) offers this take:

The security concerns of the Gulf nations will be strongly present on the agenda of the meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has linked his historical legacy to a deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Any attempt to dissuade Obama from his eagerness for a deal with Tehran would draw the ire of the man who does not accept criticism easily and who has no wish to deviate from the path he set with Iran. Any attempt to remind him that he had backed away from his own red line on the 11th hour will be sure to anger him and make him more critical of his interlocutors. Barack Obama is not an easy man, but he is more complicated now on the verge of a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has little patience and he has no room for bargaining. 

The summit is set to take place at Camp David and was supposed to be a major photo op for the White House which has so frequently stumbled in the Middle East.  It was supposed to reassure the world that Barack was a friend of and to Arabs and that he stood alongside Arab rulers.


Reuters reports:

The White House scrambled on Monday to counter perceptions that the Saudi king's absence from a summit later this week could undermine U.S. efforts to assure Gulf states it remains committed to their security against Iran.
King Salman's abrupt decision to skip the U.S.-hosted regional talks shows how Gulf rulers, displeased by what they see as U.S. indifference to Iranian meddling in the Arab world, may hesitate to bless any final nuclear deal that President Barack Obama reaches with Tehran.

What's going on?

The Brookings Institution's Bruce Riedel offers an explanation which includes:

The Saudis are unhappy with U.S. policy toward Iran, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. They don't want a public argument with the Obama administration (unlike Israel) but they want a very public display of their dissatisfaction.
The timing of the decision, on the eve of the Camp David summit, is especially symbolic and intended to be embarrassing. Saudi sources are suggesting the summit was poorly prepared and lacked substantive deliverables. A reaffirmation of the Carter Doctrine of American support for the Gulf States is regarded as too little. More arms are too late. But the Saudis have known for weeks the constraints on Washington. They deliberately choose the last minute to cancel the king's trip to send a potent signal.

At the heart of Saudi unhappiness is the Saudi fear that the nuclear deal between the P5 and Iran will lift sanctions and end Iran's isolation. The Saudis, Emirates, and Bahrainis want Iran to be a permanent pariah under sanctions indefinitely. They are not worried about centrifuges; they are worried about subversion and intimidation. A rapprochement between the P5 and Iran leaves them dangerously exposed in their view.

In 2012 and '13, "  Kenneth Pollack said as he wound down his introduction of Iraqi official Rafe al-Issawi this morning, "Rafe came under attack by the previous government [Nouri al-Maliki].  His body guards were arrested. He was the target of an assassination attempt.  And he was forced to resign from the government.  He is the personification of the events that led to alienation of the Sunni community in 2012 and '13."

Pollack was speaking at the Brookings Institution as the host of an event featuring al-Assawi and the Governor of Nineveh Province Atheel al-Nujaifi (who is also the brother of Osama al-Nujaifi, the former Speaker of Parliament and one of Iraq's current three vice presidents -- the other two are Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki).

Pollack noted the need for a political solution and how that was not possible until there was a Sunni buy-in of the government.  For that to happen, Pollack stressed, the Sunnis need a picture of what they would be buying into and they would require a vision/plan that recognized them as full citizens of Iraq.

Barack once spoke of the need for a political solution -- in fact, he did so 11 months ago.  Last June, Barack declared that a "political solution" was the only way to resolve the crises Iraq was facing.

Despite that public declaration, Barack and the administration have worked on bombing Iraq and lining up other countries to fly war planes and drop bombs, and send 'trainers' into Iraq and lining up other countries to do the same.

The US State Dept has confused itself with the Defense Dept.  That's Secretary of State John Kerry who's confused the department's mission, that's Brett McGurk and that's especially Special Envoy John Allen who doesn't want to be billed as "special envoy" or "ambassador" but instead as "General" even though (a) he's retired and (b) he's working for the State Dept.

Diplomacy has not just been given a bad name, it's been given figure heads who seem embarrassed by any form of diplomacy that isn't gun point diplomacy.

Rafe al-Issawi noted that in the short term, the most immediate danger to Iraq was the Islamic State and its actions of violence and terror.  But that's not the only danger the country faces.  He explained,
"On the long run, you cannot deal with a country filled with militia which is illegal and which is non-state actors."

He detailed the many Sunnis forced into exile by Nouri al-Maliki and "politicized judiciary decisions" and noted the list of the Sunnis included Tareq al-Hashemi, a vice president of Iraq during Nouri's second term, who was forced into exile by the actions of Nouri.

And I'm noting, these actions did not follow the Constitution.  Charges were brought against Tareq despite the fact that this was not allowed to happen while he was a member of Parliament.  Nouri either had to get the Parliament to strip Tareq of his elected position (they refused to do so) or Nouri had to wait until Tareq's elected position expired.

Instead, Nouri refused to follow the law and had a laughable Court convict him (repeatedly he was convicted, one death penalty sentence after another) -- and the Court was laughable because before the case ever began, they held a press conference in Baghdad, these so-called judges, announcing Tareq was guilty.  This before a single argument was heard in court, before a single piece of evidence was introduced.  This despite the fact that the Iraqi Constitution insists all are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

This was a major moment.

So naturally the world press treated it as nothing.  Treated it as normal.  Underplayed it or outright ignored it.

It took place February 16, 2012 and we noted how it should have been reported:

After many claims that he could not receive a fair trial, Tareq al-Hashemi's
assertions were backed up today by the Iraqi judiciary.
BAGHDAD -- Today a nine-member Iraqi judiciary panel released results of an investigation they conducted which found the Sunni Vice President of Iraq was guilty of terrorism.  Monday, December 19th, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki swore out an arrest warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who had arrived in the KRG the previous day.  Mr. al-Hashemi refused to return to Baghdad insisting he would not receive a fair trial.  Instead, he was the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani.
During the weeks since the arrest warrant was issued, Mr. al-Hashemi has repeatedly attempted to get the trial moved to another venue stating that Prime Minister al-Maliki controlled the Baghdad judiciary.  Mr. al-Maliki insisted that the vice president return and that he would get a fair trial.
Today's events demonstrate that Mr. al-Hashemi was correct and there is no chance of a fair trial in Iraq.  This was made clear by the judiciary's announcement today.
A judiciary hears charges in a trial and determines guilt; however, what the Baghdad judiciary did today was to declare Tareq al-Hashemi guilt of the charges and to do so before a trial was held. 
Not only do the events offer a frightening glimpse at the realities of the Iraqi legal system, they also back up the claims Mr. al-Hashemi has long made.

Let's also state that the world press saw their role as trash talking Tareq.  They didn't play objective.  They certainly didn't play supportive.  They were too busy propping up thug Nouri.

They were too busy trashing the Sunnis.

Take AFP.

When allegations surfaced that Iraqi women and girls (predominately Sunni) were being beaten and raped in Iraqi jails and prison, AFP ignored the allegations.

When the Parliament began investigating and found the charges to be true, AFP ignored the allegations.

When this issue was one of the issues that led to series of protests lasting over a year in Iraq, AFP ignored the allegations.

When Nouri, months after the allegations surfaced, did a for-show release of a small number of Iraqi women and girls, AFP hailed the moment.

They 'forgot' to follow up on the fact that those females participating in Nouri's photo op never made it home -- their families publicly stated that (and the Iraqi press covered it).

AFP was only interested in the rapes and beatings when Nouri was insisting they weren't true and that, as proof, he'd be releasing a small number of females.

It wasn't just Nouri that brought Iraq to the brink from 2010 to 2014.

It was also the world press which refused to accurately and honestly report what was taking place on the ground in Iraq.

"We keep saying the solution should be political," Rafe al-Issawi noted at the event today. But that's not being focused on and "we don't need America to build its partnership with militias."

al-Issawi noted he had worked with Haider al-Abadi when they both served in Parliament.  He declared that he believed al-Abadi was trying.  But that more needed to be done than trying and that results have not been forthcoming.

Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi: After 11 years of just talking about reconciliation but no actual steps taken the Sunni in Iraq will no longer be interested in more talk.  The Sunni need to see actual and concrete steps. [. . .] I will give and only outline these points so we can have your questions and a good discussion.  I'm talking about Mosul as a model but I think what I'm talking can be for all the Sunni areas.  First, the people of Mosul are the key to the liberation of Mosul.  The Mosul people must be shown why liberation is better for them than the regime of Da'ash.  History shows that the people are the reason armies succeed or fail.  In a city of nearly 2 million people, soldiers -- no matter how many, even in thousands, or how well equipped and trained -- can do only so much.  We need the people of Mosul to rise up and to help the soldiers throw out Da'ash.  Will the people throw out Da'ash?  I believe they will but we must give them a vision of what their life will be like after the liberation of Mosul -- in addition to the support they need during and immediately after liberation.  

Sunni leaders have gotten far too little attention from the world press -- or the White House -- and we'll be noting this event again.  I have enough marked in my notes to cover at least one more snapshot.  We may end up bringing this into all the snapshots this week, however.

On the issue of a political solution, some will argue Barack's arms are tied.  This seems to be the fall back position for The Cult of St. Barack whenever he fails.

Unlike War Hawks, we never argue that the answer is bombing or sending US ground troops into combat.

There is a diplomatic tool box.  You use it.

If Haider al-Abadi's government wants X and you can give it, you do so on the condition that he does Y in exchange.

So Army Technology reports:

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has notified Congress of a potential foreign military sale (FMS) of additional ammunition and associated equipment to Iraq.
Under the estimated $395m sale, the Iraqi Government has requested the supply of 5,000, 81mm high-explosive mortar ammunition, 684,000 M203 40mm high-explosive ammunition, 532,000 MK19 40mm high-explosive dual-purpose ammunition, and 40,000, 155mm high-explosives.

That's what Iraq's government wants.

To receive it, Barack should demand that certain steps (he can define them) take place on the political reconciliation efforts.

Until a law is passed and implemented, for instance, the ammunition and equipment will not be delivered.

This can also be done with the $200 million he's promised Haider for reconstruction.

To have influence and impact, you don't have to rely on combat.

It's a point that's escaped Barack and his administration -- repeatedly.

Margaret Griffis ( counts 55 violent deaths today across Iraq.  In the last week, there have been two high profile murders of Iraqi journalists.  Raed al-Joubri and Thaer Ali's deaths have been covered here and we've noted the silence outside of the Iraqi media and La Prensa when it came to covering these deaths.  Today Reporters Without Borders issued a press release which includes:

Reporters Without Borders is deeply worried by journalist Raed Al-Joubouri’s murder at his Baghdad home last week just days after another journalist, Thaer Alali, was publicly killed after being abducted by Islamic State. The generalized violence and impunity is making the situation of journalists very difficult in Iraq.
Raed Al-Joubouri was found dead in his home in the Qadissiyah district of east Baghdad on 5 May. He had been shot several times, including once in the heart. The circumstances of his death are still unclear but his father told the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) he thought his son’s death was premeditated and organized.
Employed by the newspaper Azzaman and the host of a business programme on Al Rasheed TV, Joubouri was a critic of Iraqi politics and feared for his life, to the point that he had given those close to him a list of contacts to be alerted if anything happened to him, JFO director Ziad Ajili said.
Thaer Alali, 56, the editor of the local newspaper Rai’ al Nas, was murdered by Islamic State in the northern city of Mosul on 28 April, 20 days after being abducted while making phone calls in a café in the city’s Al-Dawasa district.

According to the JFO, he was the second journalist to be publicly executed by Islamic State this year, following Sama Mosul TV correspondent Qais Talal, 27, who was abducted in June 2014 and executed on 18 February.

We're going to close with a press release.  It was issued Friday.  We noted it here on Saturday.  I was in a hurry and just copy and pasted it from the e-mail and used the title the Congressional office gave it.  Hours later, I realized I shouldn't have.

The title was long.

And the main words, the key word, came way too late in the title.

At Third, we posted it with two words: "Burn Pits."

I asked Jim to check the stats for me and, sure enough, "Burn Pits" more than trumped "Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty Hears from Veterans i..." when it came to page views.

That's because -- here and at Third -- we've long covered burn pits.  And we have people who will eagerly read any news of burn pits if they know that's what it is.

So my apologies for not thinking of that before I posted the press release here on Saturday.

But we are closing with it now, this is from US House Rep Elizabeth Esty's office:


May 8, 2015
Press Release

WATERBURY, CT – Today, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) met with veterans at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury to discuss the consequences of exposure to burn pits while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Burn pits are areas on military bases where waste, such as human waste, batteries, and other garbage, is incinerated and toxic fumes are released into the atmosphere. Esty was inspired to introduce legislation, the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act, H.R. 2237, after veterans in her district contacted her office to inform her of the negative health consequences they suffered.

“While much attention is rightly paid to the visible wounds of war, our veterans also suffer from numerous less visible conditions that result from exposure to the environmental hazards found in war zones,” said Congresswoman Esty. “I’ve heard from veterans in central and northwest Connecticut who suffer from or who know fellow service members who suffer from respiratory and gastrointestinal issues that were likely caused by exposure to burn pits. This is exactly why I introduced the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act to expand care to those exposed to burn pits. Our veterans deserve real attention and quality care for the full range of health conditions from their service to our country.”

“Burn pits are the Agent Orange of our generation,” said James Rizzio, president of NVCC’s Veterans’ Club. “I was around burn pits a lot and it can lead to very serious medical issues later in life. Getting this legislation passed is the right thing to do.”

Rizzio spent six years in the U.S. Army and served in Iraq from 2009 to 2010.

Military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are exposed to a variety of potentially harmful substances including the smoke produced from the burning of waste on military bases. Items such as plastics, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, human waste, metal containers, tires, and batteries are thrown into open pits, sometimes doused with jet fuel, and set ablaze. Smoke from these open-air burn pits can waft throughout the entire base and even into living areas. Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits can include cancer, neurological and reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity.

The Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act would create a center of excellence within the Department of Veterans Affairs in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of health conditions related to exposure to burn pits.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs maintains an Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry for veterans who are suffering from conditions related to exposure to burn pits.
Full text of Esty’s bill, the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act can be found here.