Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, May 12, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the refugee crisis continues to mount, Haider al-Abadi's half-hearted Sunni inclusion measures yield half-hearted results, how Jeb Bush is working the GOP base to improve his struggling political campaign, and much more.

It was not a good day for US President Barack Obama.  Alexander Bolton (The Hill) notes, "Senate Democrats on Tuesday delivered a stinging blow to President Obama's trade agenda by voting to prevent the chamber from tackling fast-track legislation."  Today also saw him criticized as sexist for his remarks on Senator Elizabeth Warren with NOW's Terry O'Neill declaring his remarks were sexist and that their "clear subtext is that 'the little lady' just doesn't know what she's talking about" while Senator Sherrod Brown stated, "I think the president was disrespectful to her by the way he did that.  I think that the president has made this more personal than he needed to."

As bad as today may be for Barack, next month may be worse.

June 2015 will mark the one year anniversary of Barack rebuking Iraq's then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and insisting the only way for the country to emerge from its crises was via a "political solution."  That publicly stated realization has been followed by months and months of the US government refusing to work with Iraq towards a political solution or to demand that Iraq's leaders take necessary steps.

Iraq came up in today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jeff Rathke.

QUESTION: Okay. And then some Sunni – Iraqi Sunni leaders are here in town in Washington, D.C., including Rafe al-Essawi, who is wanted by the Iraqi court. Can you tell us why they are here and whether they have met any State Department officials?

MR RATHKE: Well, we’re aware that the former Iraqi deputy prime minister and the governor of Nineveh province are visiting Washington this week. It’s an unofficial visit, not organized by the U.S. Government. They have requested meetings at the Department of State, so we expect that senior department officials who work on issues related to Iraq and ISIL will meet with them during their stay, but I don’t have further --

QUESTION: Are they going to meet Mr. Essawi?

MR RATHKE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Are they going to meet Mr. Essawi as well?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have further information on the meetings. As again – as I said, this is an unofficial visit. So they’ve requested meetings here, and we will meet with them. I don’t have a full lineup of exactly who’s going to participate.

QUESTION: Well, when you meet with them, will you be able to share some more information?

MR RATHKE: I don’t have any further information. I’d refer you back to their delegation to talk about the details.

Yesterday in DC, Rafe al-Issawi appeared at Brookings Institution event with Nineveh Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi.  The event was moderated by Kenneth Pollack.

Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi: [. . .]  the volunteers are ready to fight as soon as they get weapons.  By now we have thousands of fighters who have graduated from these camps [run by international trainers] and are ready to fight but they don't have weapons.  They don't have the weapons they need for the fight for the liberation of Mosul from Da'ash.  Since last January -- now five months ago -- we are still waiting for the promises of weapons that have been made by our government in Baghdad.  Promises are nice but it's the weapons that our volunteers need, not the promises.  The force which hold Mosul after liberation  must be trusted by the people of Mosul.  That means the force must be from Mosul and its surrounding province in Nineveh. If these forces to be trusted by Mosul community the Mosul people will be on the side of the liberation and Da'ash cannot make a comeback into Mosul.  The liberation comes first, of course, but its the period after the liberation that will be decided.  Our people will be watching. 

al-Nujaifi's remarks work with regards to Mosul.  He identified the Nineveh Province city as the equivalent of Chicago or San Francisco in the United States.

But the remarks also go to the ongoing operation in Anbar Province where non-Sunnis are failing in their assault on Ramadi and Shi'ite militias have also found no success.  The news that 1,000 Sunni fighters might take part is seen as too little and way too late.

Only 1,000, Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) notes as he explains:

 In response to mounting criticism that sectarian Shiite Muslim militias are committing crimes against the mostly Sunni Muslim residents of embattled Anbar province, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has authorized training and arming Sunni militiamen to combat the Islamic State.
But as the first class of local Sunnis began training this week, analysts, security experts and government officials expressed concerns that the program is too small and poorly coordinated to make a difference, while others are concerned that arming the Sunnis will alienate Abadi’s Shiite militia allies, who’ve already complained about the government’s cooperation with the American-led coalition.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/05/12/4521699/few-sunni-tribesmen-in-iraq-sign.html#storylink=cpy

The remarks by Atheel al-Nujaifi  also go to the failures of Prime Minister Haider al-Obadi to live up to his part of the deal:  The US government arms Iraq to fight the Islamic State and Haider distributes those arms to the fighters -- all those fighting against the Islamic State -- Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis.

But Haider has refused to supply the needed arms to the Sunnis and the Kurds.  Atheel al-Nujaifi noted the failure to provide Sunni fighters with the needed arms.

Last week, KRG President Massoud Barzani visited DC and he noted, again, the failure of Haider and the Baghdad-based government to arm the Kurds.

Rudaw examined Barzani's visit in a discussion featuring Nussaibah Younis and Ernie Audino with Rudaw's Namo Abdulla moderating.

Nussaibah Younis:  I'm not at all surprised that President Barzani was well recieved in the United States. After all, the Kurdish Peshmerga -- and particularly the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga -- are the only responsible, very well equipped, very effective forces on the ground in the fight against ISIS and the United States has been absolutely desperate to support forces on the ground so that the US  is not again in the position where it has to send ground troops into Iraq.  So it makes absolute sense that President Barzani and other Kurdish leaders would be very well received in Washington.

[. . .]

Ernie Audino:  I think President Barzani left the meeting seemingly happy with the results of the meeting maybe not because of the independence issue -- maybe not because of that.  But we can presume that that was one of several issues he very likely discussed.  Now I wasn't in the meeting, but it's clear he certainly had to articulate a case for direct arming of the Peshmerga -- something that has not happened yet, okay?  Arms and equipment go directly to Baghdad first  and -- from my experience on the ground trying to equip the Kurdish government back in 2006, I can tell you the equipment, very little of that gets into the hands of the Peshmerga.  And right now if its on the manifest of the carrier that's landing in Baghdad and Baghdad does not want that in the hands of the Peshmerga, the Peshmerga do not get it. And the Peshmerga just got 25 mwraps.  And that's good, I'm glad   That's 10% of all the Mwraps that were delivered to Baghdad.

Namo Abdullah:  That's mine resistant vehichles, right?

Ernie Audino:  That's correct.  That's correct.  The Peshmerga desperately need those vehicles to cross the open ground.  But 10% landing on the ground in Baghdad going to the main effort in the fight? The Peshmerga?  That's inconsistent with sound military doctrine. 

If Haider wants to continue to oversee the distribution, he needs to honor his word to distribute the arms and equipment.  If he can't, the US Congress is prepared to handle the responsibility he's shirked.

There is genuine concern in Iraq over Haider's inability to deal fairly.

At Monday's event, Atheel al-Nujaifi also noted, "President Obama last month pledged $200 million in humanitarian aid.  With this humanitarian aid, President Obama promised, to be on hand immediately in Mosul after liberation.  Or  will it be tied up in Baghdad's bureaucracy?"

And that's a very good question since so much of the money in Iraq tends to vanish and never reached the intended or the needy.

The refugee crisis once prompted Nouri al-Maliki to insist that neighboring countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon would receive money from the Iraqi government due to all the Iraqi refugees they were hosting.  That never happened.

But long after Nouri is no longer prime minister, the refugee crisis continues to grow.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued the following today:

12 May 2015,Iraq - IOM Iraq’s new Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) published this week recorded 2,834,676 internally displaced Iraqis from January 2014 through 25 April
2015. The majority of the new displacement identified in the two-week period was caused by conflict in the Ramadi area of Anbar governorate.
Following the outbreak of the Ramadi crisis, which occurred around 10 April, DTM tracked 133,104 individuals displaced to 15 of Iraq’s 18 governorates. The governorates receiving the greatest number of displaced people as a result of the Ramadi crisis are Baghdad (83,172), Anbar (24,552), Babylon (7,392) and Sulaymaniyah (6,504). An estimated 65 per cent of the total population tracked as “in transit” has been recorded in this DTM report.
Within the reporting period, more than 16,000 individuals returned to the Markaz Ramadi sub-district, in the center of Ramadi district. The majority of this population cited the lack of a required sponsor to enter Baghdad as the reason they returned to Ramadi. Based on initial field reports, areas of return are under the control of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
Recent clashes between the ISF and armed groups also triggered displacements from Karmah district in Anbar. As of 8 May, 47,256 individuals were displaced; 94 per cent to Fallujah district and 6 per cent to Abu Ghraib district in Baghdad.
This is the second DTM report to present returnee tracking figures across Iraq. A total of 116,850 individuals (19,475 families) are monitored as having returned to their districts of origin. Diyala governorate shows the highest returnee population with 37 per cent (43,044 individuals), of which 73 per cent are reported to be returning from other areas within the governorate. Preliminary findings indicate that 77 per cent of the total returnee population resettled in their locations of former residence, while 19 per cent have returned to unfinished or abandoned buildings.
IOM Iraq Chief of Mission Thomas Lothar Weiss said: “We are deeply concerned about the new and continuing displacement in Iraq. IOM Iraq has provided over 115,000 non-food item kits since the beginning of the current crisis, and tens of thousands of displaced people have benefitted from our shelter, livelihoods, and health programme assistance. But the quantity of life-saving humanitarian aid available is insufficient. Funding constraints limit IOM and the humanitarian communities’ ability to offer the breadth of response required to the meet vast humanitarian needs. IOM is committed to provide continued assistance in coordination with the Government of Iraq and humanitarian partners in its efforts to assist displaced people.”
Salam Zidan fled from his home just outside of Ramadi in Anbar district on 19 April with his wife and six children. They left when shelling drew near to their neighbourhood. They spoke with IOM staff at a non-food item kit distribution in western Baghdad on 21 April.
“We spent two days travelling to Baghdad, between walking and hiring transport. I was shot in the leg during the displacement, so I can’t work. We came with nothing. Now after this distribution we have mattresses and stoves and other items. There are no words to describe our gratitude for what IOM gave us,” he said.
The DTM is an IOM information management tool that gathers specific information regarding the status and location of displaced people.
The most recent IOM Iraq DTM Dataset, Dashboards, and Dynamic Displacement Map, in addition to previous DTM products, can be found at: http://iomiraq.net/dtm-page

For more information please contact IOM Iraq. Laura Nistri, Tel. +964 751 234 2549, Email: lnistri@iom.int or Sandra Black, Tel. +964 751 234 2550, Email: sblack@iom.int

Turning to the topic of the ongoing killings, Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 137 violent deaths in Iraq today.

On violence, there are many ways to prevent it.  There are also ways to detect it.

For example, a bomb threat might lead to bomb sniffing dogs being used in an area.

Some aren't smart enough to resort to that and instead prefer to resort to 'magic.'  For a reminder of that, let's drop back to May 20, 2013:

Violence slams Iraq today.  Brisband Times notes (in a video report),  "Washing the blood off the streets, the clear up begins after another deadly day of violence in Iraq."  Fiji Broadcasting Corporation observes, "Baghdad was the worst hit."  This morning,  Al Jazeera noted, "Eight car bombs in mainly Shia districts of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, killed 20 people on Monday."   By the end of the day, AP reported the bombing toll was up to 10 and the death toll to 48 (with over 150 injured).  On this AP video report, a Baghdad man states, "We have become accustom to such explosions.  We have seen blasts every day. These attacks will never frighten us, God willing."  As Baghdad is slammed with bombings, it's worth dropping back to the May 10th snapshot:

Alsumaria reports that cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr declared his sympathy for the Iraqis who've lost family members as a result of the purchase and use by Nouri's government of 'magic' wands -- which have been known not to work since 2009.  Moqtada urged the families who lost loved ones and those who were injured as a result to sue the person who purchased the items. (That would be Nouri.)  April 23rd (see the  April 24, 2013 snapshot), James McCormick, the man who made and sold the wands, who was on trial for those wands, was pronounced guilty on three counts of fraud.  And still Nouri has allowed -- no, insisted that the wands be used.   May 2nd, McCormick was sentenced to a maxium of 10 years.  Jake Ryan (Sun) quoted Judge Richard Hone stating, "The device was useless, the profit outrageous and your culpability as a fraudster has to be placed in the highest category.  Your profits were obscene.  You have neither insight, shame or any sense of remorse." And yet last Friday, Ammar Karim (AFP) reported that the 'magic'  wands to 'detect' bombs (and drugs and, no doubt, spirits from the other world) are still being used in Iraq.  He spoke with a police officer in Baghdad who admits that everyone knows that they don't work but that the police are under orders to use the wands.

Last Saturday,   NINA reported,  "Leader of the Sadrist Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, demanded Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to apologize and stand before Parliament to answer about the deal of the explosives detection instruments."  Moqtada suspects some Iraqis were bribed in this deal and wants names he also demands that the 'magic' wands stop being used immediately stating that they are "an insult to the Iraqis' intelligence."  Moqtada and Iraqiya have called for Nouri to appear before Parliament and explain why the wands were purchased, who profited from them and the various details of the deal that was made for them.

Al Mada reports that the Ministry of the Interior claimed today that they would recover all the money spent on the magic wands.  Ministry of the Interior Inspector General Aqeel Turaihi states that they have known and acknowledged since October 2010 that the magic wands do not work.

Regardless of whether money is recovered for the purchase, as Moqtada al-Sadr points out, lives have been lost and people have been injured.

So in 2010, it was known that the magic wands were not working?  No.  It was known before that.  May 11th,  Alsumaria reported  that new documents from the Ministry of Interior (reproduced with the article) demonstrate that a Ministry committee said the wands were not working and, in 2009, recommended that they not be purchased anymore.  There were calls for Nouri to appear before Parliament to answer questions.  He needs to.  But he has refused all calls so far -- despite the Constitution on this issue.  He continues to violate and ignore the Constitution.   Kitabat  also coverd the revelations about the 2009 recommendation at length here.  May 12th,   Alsumaria reported Parliament's Integrity Committee held a hearing to determine the details surrounding the purchase of these wands and Committee Chair Bahaa al-Araji states that the Integrity Commission appeared before the Committee and offered names of "top officials" involved.  Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reported that even after Nouri was personally warned by a British commander "Colonel Powell" that the devices did not work, an order was still place and Al Mada reproduced that order -- it came from Nouri's office. Last Thursday, National Iraqi News Agency reports that Iraqiya MP Nada al-Jubouri is calling for an emergency session of Parliament to address yesterday's bombings, "These repeated security breaches came as a result of the lack of a way to detect car bombs, which claim the lives of people, in addition to the weakness of the intelligence information."  May 3rd, Ammar Karim (AFP) reported that despite the wands being found not to work, despite the conviction and sentencing of their seller and maker in a British court, the wands were still being used in Baghdad.  May 2nd, the seller and maker was sentenced:

The Belfast Telegraph notes that [James] McCormick "showed no reaction as he was told his 'callous confidence trick' was the worst fraud imaginable."  Jake Ryan (Sun) quotes Judge Richard Hone stating, "The device was useless, the profit outrageous and your culpability as a fraudster has to be placed in the highest category.  Your profits were obscene.  You have neither insight, shame or any sense of remorse."

The use of these 'magic' wands in Iraq still is criminal.

It was criminal.

Even more criminal is that those useless wands are still in use today.  Jacob Siegel (Daily Beast) reports Iraq is still using those worthless sticks designed to find golf balls -- they couldn't even do that -- but sold to Iraq as bomb dectectors.  You hold it and jog in place and that job turns the stick into a magical diving rod that can sense bombs. Sigel reports:

The wands provide a visible symbol of Iraq’s rampant corruption. They were bought despite warnings that they didn’t work and kept in service after it was proved they didn’t work. A 2010 investigation into their purchase ended before it started, without any officials held accountable, after Iraq’s interior minister used an article in the country’s criminal code that gives senior officials control over whether their subordinates are prosecuted for corruption. 
 “The government in Maliki’s era was corrupt and strong; now it is corrupt and weak,” said Dr. Abbas Kadhim, a senior foreign policy fellow at Johns Hopkins University, in a recent interview about the legacy of former Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki and current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The craftiness that is Jeb Bush, the stupidity that is us.

Last week, Jeb's struggling political campaign to win the GOP's presidential nomination was dealing with the kind of poll results that do real damage --- the ones that tell the media you're not really a serious candidate.

When that sinks in, the media tends to run from you.

And Jeb was supposed to be the front runner.

He's the son of a president (George HW Bush) and the brother of a man the Supreme Court installed in the Oval Office (Bully Boy Bush).  His grandfather (Prescott Bush) was a US Senator.  Himself, he's the former governor of Florida.

Those are the sort of credits that let you step to the front when you announce your running for public office.

But they didn't work for Jeb.

Throughout April, he found himself either only slightly ahead in the polls (within the margin of error) or running behind Senator Marco Rubio.

And in some polls, he was running behind Rubio and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

And in some polls, he was running behind Rubio, Walker and Senator Rand Paul.

In a crowded field, he was being overlooked.

His statements broadcast Monday, but leaked to the press on Sunday, that he would have gone to war on Iraq the way his brother did (and, he pointed out, the way Hillary Clinton had voted to support) moved him to the forefront.

He is the focus.

B-b-but the media is calling him out!

And what's your point?

We're talking about the Republican Party.

The party who invented the myth of a liberal media to take the heat off journalistic exposes and stinging commentaries.

The media attacking Jeb -- and that is what they're doing as they obsess over him -- only make Jeb more viable -- and relatable -- to the GOP base.

We all realize, right, that Jeb's running to appeal to the GOP base right now, right?

We get that?

Most of us are smart enough to know that Dems run left (or what they think is left) in the presidential primary and then veer towards the center in the general.

Guess what?

The Republicans do the same.

Jeb Bush is running for the GOP presidential nomination.

He may or may not make it to the general election.  But to get there, he's first got to appeal to the base.  And he's never been the 'regular guy' his brother Bully Boy Bush was portrayed as by the media.

So these attacks on him?

They're actually helping him.

And the Republican base which supported the Iraq War -- and a significant portion of which does not regret the Iraq War -- aren't bothered by his remarks but are watching with interest how he is attacked for expressing an opinion that they feel is very similar to their own opinion.

He's walked it back a bit, clarified his remarks.

He can say whatever he wants now.  To the base, he expressed their opinion and he was trashed for it. That provides identification with Jeb that they've never had before.

In some of the comments being made -- in Tweets, columns, etc -- Jeb is taken to task for not calling out his brother.  I have no idea what world these people live in.

But fueled by their own hatred, they suddenly believe it's normal to ask or expect Jeb to take on his brother.

That's never been considered noble or the thing to do.

My name is Joe Roberts I work for the state
I'm a sergeant out of Perrineville barracks number 8
I always done an honest job as honest as I could
I got a brother named Franky and Franky ain't no good

Now ever since we was young kids it's been the same come down
I get a call over the radio Franky's in trouble downtown
Well if it was any other man, I'd put him straight away
But when it's your brother sometimes you look the other way

Me and Franky laughin' and drinkin' nothin' feels better than blood on blood
Takin' turns dancin' with Maria as the band played "Night of the Johnstown Flood"

I catch him when he's strayin' like any brother would
Man turns his back on his family well he just ain't no good

-- "Highway Patrolman," written by Bruce Springsteen, first appears on his album Nebraska

Get it?

Get it, yet?

My side (the left) has now spent nearly three days being ridiculous with attacks that only help Jeb Bush with the GOP base.

By the end of last month, it really seemed like Jeb's run for the GOP presidential nomination was over.

Yet thanks to remarks -- and the reaction (over reaction) to them by the media and the left -- this week, he's now soaked up all the media focus and been treated in such a manner that the Republican base that wasn't sure about him now could very well identify with him.