Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, May 13, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Shi'ite militias continue to target Sunnis, Nancy A. Youssef calls out propaganda, Barack's photo op flames out, and much more.

Tomorrow is supposed to be US President Barack Obama's big photo op at Camp David to prove that he's friends with the Arabs in the Middle East and that they stand with him.

Of course, they don't.  Not these days.

His embrace of Iran has disturbed officials in the region and threatens to result in instability or futher instability.

In what has been interpreted as an international snub, Saudi Arabia's King Salman has refused to travel to the US for the event and has instead sent two Saudi princes.

Jeff Mason (Reuters) reports that Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Mohammed bin Salam were welcomed by Barack at the White House today.

The White House released this transcript of remarks at the brief photo op.

THE PRESIDENT:   Well, it’s wonderful to welcome back the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Nayef, as well as Deputy Crown Prince Salman.  We are very pleased to have them both here today, as well as the delegation from Saudi Arabia.
As all of you are aware, the United States and Saudi Arabia have an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to Franklin Roosevelt and King Faisal, and we are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time.
This gives us an opportunity to discuss some of the bilateral issues, including the crisis in Yemen and how we can build on the ceasefire that’s been established to restore a process for an inclusive, legitimate government inside of Yemen.  And it will also give us a chance to discuss some of the broader issues that will be the topic of the GCC-U.S. Summit tomorrow. 
I can say that, on a personal level, my work and the U.S. government’s work with these two individuals, Crown Prince bin Nayef, on counterterrorism issues has been absolutely critical not only to maintaining stability in the region but also protecting the American people.  And I want to thank them for their extraordinary support and hard work and coordination on our counterterrorism efforts.  And they came in as a critical component of our coalition in the fight against ISIL, and I’m sure that we’ll have opportunities to discuss as well the progress that’s been made in the fight against ISIL in Iraq, as well as the continuing crisis in Syria, and the importance of us addressing not only the humanitarian crisis but the need to bring about a more inclusive and legitimate government there.
Well, I just thank you so much for your presence here today and for your longstanding friendship.

CROWN PRINCE BIN NAYEF:  (As interpreted.)  I would like to thank the President for your kind invitation extended to me and to His Royal Highness, the Deputy Crown Prince.  I wish to convey to you the greetings and appreciation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, who attaches -- along with everybody in the Kingdom -- great importance to the strategic and historic relationship between our two countries.
This historic relationship we seek to strengthen and broaden and deepen with time.  Mr. President, you spoke about the situation in the region, and we look forward to, God willing, to working with you to overcome the challenges and to bring about calm and stability in the region.
Once again, Mr. President, I want to thank you for this meeting.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, everybody.

Q    Mr. President, what do you plan to tell the GCC leaders about Iran and the nuclear deal?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We’ll have a whole press conference, Julie.  You’ll get all kinds of questions.

Q    I’m holding you to that.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, guys.

Julie is Julie Pace, AP correspondent.

The President tried to spin pretty.  Andrew Beatty (AFP) observes:

But the warm words belied deep malaise over Obama's perceived disengagement from the region and willingness to talk to Iran.
The Arab and largely Sunni Muslim states suspect Obama's nuclear deal with Tehran is a harbinger of a bigger role for their Persian and Shiite arch-foe.

Barack's photo ops this week does not include the Sunni Arab delegation from Iraq.  But two of those visiting the US, former Finance Minister Rafe al-Assawi and the Governor of Nineveh Province Atheel al-Nuajaif (brother of Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi) were hosted at a Brookings Institution event on Monday which was moderated by Kenneth Pollack.  We've covered the event in the Monday and Tuesday snapshots.  Today, we'll note this section.

Kenneth Pollack: You [Rafe al-Assawi]  made the point -- and Governor feel free to disagree with this if you do but I have the sense that you also agree with this -- and it was certainly the impression that most of Washington got -- that the problem is not Haider al-Abadi per se.  Prime Minister Abadi wants to do the right thing and that was certainly  the impression that he left here in Washington, that he very much knows where Iraq needs to go and wants to do it.  The problem is not the what, the problem is the how.  And if that is something you both agree with, I'd love to get your thoughts on how you believe the United State might help him to better actually achieve those goals.  Rafe, would you like to start?

Former Minister Rafe al-Assawi:  Okay, thank you very much, Ken, again.  This a broad, very big question.  If we answer it, that means we'll liberate Iraq from ISIS but also from the militias  would save Iraq not just from ISIS and from the militias so all our presentations will answer that so thank you very much.  Look gentlemen -- ladies and gentlemen -- talking about Haider al-Abadi who inherited a very damaged political and security situation -- and he's a good guy.  Yes, I agree with you.  He's trying, yes. He needs to be supported -- both Americans, both Arab Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds, yes, I agree on that.  But until this moment, the program of the government has not been implemented according to his commitment in front of the Parliament.  I'm talking about the timetable.  So some of the stories like amnesty -- he talks about six months for example.  Now?  Nothing took place. And if you come to all other points of reconciliation, de-Ba'athifcaiton, etc.  So yes, I agree we should help Haider al-Abadi.  America can help to rebuild the Iraqi security forces that I talk about because without building national security forces it means Iraq would be controlled totally by militias on one side and by ISIS on the other side.  And this is the question -- the story of arming Sunnis: Would arming Sunnis divide Iraq?  The question is: Is Iraq united now?  More than 50% is under the control of ISIS.  We want to bring back, restore united Iraq by arming the Sunnis. So when we send Sunni fighters and Kurds to liberate territory from ISIS, we want to bring back the unity of Iraq.  So helping him in dismantling militias on the Shi'ite side, bringing back state of law, supporting him in the very rapid arming of the Iraqi fighters -- Kurd and Sunni according to our suggestion of this committee because central government keeps saying that if we push the weapons to the Sunni tribes and the Sunnis may push it.  Is it the Sunnis who will push the weapons or or the defeated Iraqi army who'll give his tanks in Mosul when he's defeated?  So you see, this is not justification.  You cannot keep saying -- putting question mark on everything. You have to trust people who are fighting ISIS.  So this is dismantlying militias putting all the resources of all the Iraqis supporting them in fighting ISIS, supporting Iraqis in presenting the draft of national guard because we agreed upon local forces that catch security on the ground in Nineveh on its own and in Anbar local, by the way, and on the southern province also so south has its own national guard.  The problem is national guard has not moved yet.  So these are the main topics on which America can help.  Finally, America can also work to support Abadi on oil because when the prices have collapsed, it's very difficult for the government to cover the costs of all these huge numbers of displaced people, the story of international funds may help also.

Kenneth Pollack:  Governor Atheel?

Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi:  I believe in the unity of the stronger groups. I think it will not be -- Iraq will not be united if we strengthen one group and weaken the others.  So what we need is to strengthen the Sunni group so that they can fight ISIS also they will return to balance the Iraqi forces.  And US can do that. It can strengthen the Iraq, the Sunni groups, the Kurds and the legal Shia group who are in the Iraqi Constitution.  

Kenneth Pollack:  Governor, let me follow that up with a specific question to you -- but, Rafe, I would also be glad to get your thoughts -- the process of reconciliation was something you both talked about, that Prime Minister Abadi talks about.  Again, it is clear that every Iraqi who knows anything about the situation understands that this is critical.  Does the US have a role to play in fostering that process of reconciliation because, again, we see people like you, we see people like the Prime Minister talking about the process of reconciliation [but] we don't really see it happening. Is it happening behind the scenes?  Is there more that can be done? Should the US be doing more? Governor?

Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi:  I think that there's a real wish for the reconciliation in Iraq especially when some of the Shi'ite groups get the authority and they didn't want to lose it.  So they want the reconciliation to keep the power in their hand and it cannot be a reconciliation like that.  If we are talking with real reconciliation, as I said, we need to strengthen the other groups to give them the freedom to choose their representatives so they will be in balance with others.  And that will work.  I'm talking about elections.  We need elections getting all of the groups of the Sunnis -- not only me and Dr. Rafe -- all the Sunni groups must be involved in that election.  And so we will have all the Sunni community inside the political process.

I'm not of the opinion that Haider al-Abadi is a "good person."

I honestly don't care whether he is or not or whether he wakes up smiling or has a pleasant bowel movement.

I care if he delivers on his promise.

He was installed (by the US government) to demonstrate to a fracturing Iraq -- and a targeted and disenchanted Sunni group -- that democracy -- in some form -- was still a possibility for Iraq.

We'll go into democracy or 'democracy' in Iraq in Thursday's snapshot.

But for now, let's just note that Haider's installation as prime minister was a last gasp effort to try to save Iraq -- last gasp effort by the US government.

And let's note that Barack declared, eleven months ago, that the only answer to Iraq's crises was "a political solution."

Now if that was sincere, if the whole point was to trick and screw over the Iraqi people (yet again), then the US government should have been aiding and facilitating reconciliation.

They should have made every weapon delivery, every equipment delivery, every bit of financial aid promised and delivered conditional upon steps towards national reconciliation.

Not empty words, mind you, but actual steps, actual actions taken.

You laugh he said you think you're immune
Go look at your eyes they're full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies just pretty lies

-- "The Last Time I Saw Richard," written by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Blue album

Those pretty lies aren't doing a damn thing to help Iraq.

And it's a sign of just how awful thug Nouri al-Maliki was as prime minister that Haider al-Abadi doing nothing for eight months is a sign of 'improvement.'

Or treated as though it is.

There is no improvement.

You can argue things are getting worse.

Haider clearly has no control over the Shi'ite militias.

The US government has lost the support of Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (a Shi'ite political group -- with ties to two Shi'ite militias).  al-Hakim spent all of last month publicly slamming the United States government.  He's made this week about praising the government of Iran for its help and insisting that its done an outstanding job in the fight against terrorism.

And the White House doesn't seem to care.

They did not have a closer Shi'ite ally than Ammar al-Hakim.

They have never gotten along with cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr.  The relationship with Nouri al-Maliki was based upon mutual deceptions and lies.  Ibrahim al-Jaafari has never cared for the US -- why would he?  Following the December 2005 elections, Ibrahim was supposed to be prime minister (for a second term) but the US government refused to allow that to happen and instead installed Nouri in the spring of 2006.

Those really are the main Shi'ite political players.

And the only one that was willing to publicly give the US a fair hearing, Ammar al-Hakim, has publicly transitioned from/turned against the US government and this hasn't bothered Barack at all.  There have been no efforts to address whatever issues or problems have sprung up.

The diplomatic approach -- if you can call it that -- has been to ignore Ammar.

At whatever point the US government decides they need to work on or towards a political solution, they're going to have a hard time building support.

And Haider needs prompting, needs pushing.

Tuesday saw a demonstration in Balad Ruz, Sunnis decrying the kidnapping of 25 Sunni civilians by Shi'ite militias in the area to 'protect' the people.

Just because the western media ignores it doesn't mean that the Iraqi people have.

Haider was supposed to represent change.

Nothing's changed.

Sunnis are still being targeted.

And the Kurds are still being given empty promises from Haider al-Abadi.  National Iraqi News Agency reports:

PM of the Kurdistan Regional Government Nechirvan Barzani reiterated on Tuesday the Regional government's commitment to the agreement between Baghdad and Erbil, waving to take an "appropriate political decision" in the absence of Baghdad's commitment to the agreement.
A statement by the Regional government quoted al-Barzani as saying that "the Government of the region interested in implementation of the agreement with the central government, and it committed to it fully, adding that "if Baghdad did not comply with the agreement, the Government of the Region and political parties participating in the government should take the necessary political decision, and find a way to resolve the financial and economic crisis in the region ".
He added that the parliament and the government of the region are obligated, according to the law, in finding other way to secure the requirements of the region, if the federal government failed to secure it.

The empty promises, the pretty words, they only amuse and distract for so long.

Haider's repeated inability to deliver on his public promises are preventing any progress or unity from being achieved.

At the Brooking Institution event, the national guard issue was raised.

One thing that US President Barack Obama has pushed for is a national guard in Iraq made up of the three dominant population groups with each of the three responsible for defending the areas in which their group is dominant.  Since last summer, Barack and others working for the US government have publicly promoted that idea.

They haven't put any real work in on the issue.

And there's still no national guard, as Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi noted at the Brookings event.

It still hasn't come into being.

Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports that a bill proposing the creation of the national guard was read into Parliament a second time last Thursday but no one bothered to comment during the reading and the excuse is there wasn't time.  Grace notes MP reactions indicate support from Sunnis but fear from Shi'ites that a national guard would elevate Sunnis and strip control and/or power from Baghdad.  The Badr bloc and the National Alliance (both Shi'ite groups) are said to be against the creation of a National Guard.

Turning to violence, Iraqi Spring MC notes a southern Baghdad roadside bombing left three Sahwa injured.  Alsumaria notes a Baquba bombing has left six member of the police injured, All Iraq News adds a Baghdad car bombing has left 3 Shi'ite pilgrims dead and eleven more injured. Margaret Griffis ( counts 104 violent deaths across Iraq.

And if you survive the Islamic State and/or or the Iraqi forces (including militias) don't kill you, you still have to watch out for the weather.  A dust storm,  Alsumaria notes, resulted in  97 asphyxia cases in Kirkuk  (all 97 received medical attention and survived) while in Anbar 1 person died and 19 others were in need of treatment due to asphyxia from the dust storm.

Not all citizens are at risk.

That video, posted by Iraqi Spring MC, shows the lengths Iraqi forces go to protect a citizen . . . of course he's the son of a government official and this is the Mansour section of Baghdad and he, apparently, really needs to race his car so it's really important that he have security forces standing by to protect him should any threats emerge to his pampered ass.

Iraq was a topic raised at today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jeff Rathke.



QUESTION: So International Crisis Group just released a report yesterday. They criticized the way the United States and other coalition countries provide military assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga. First of all, have you seen the report? And --

MR RATHKE: I haven’t seen the report. I think our stance on our support to the Kurdish forces, to the Peshmerga, remains the same. We provide very significant assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga, so I think there can be no question about our commitment to supporting the Kurdish forces. But we do that in coordination through the central Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Are you – is there any concerns that providing military assistance to the Kurdish Peshmerga might destabilize the region furthermore in the future, as the report states?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, our policy is – it remains the same. We believe that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq. We support the Iraqi constitution. And we have an active relationship, of course, with officials in the Kurdish region, as well as with the Peshmerga. So we see that as strengthening the – Iraq overall, and that’s why our policy is focused on a united, democratic, and federal Iraq.

QUESTION: Also on Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Yes. Yeah, Iraq. Yes, go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: There are reports – well, Iraq’s defense ministry has said that ISIS’s number two has been killed in Iraq. Can you confirm any of this?

MR RATHKE: I’m not able to confirm that. I think if anyone in the U.S. Government will know first, it would be my colleagues at the Pentagon. But I don’t have confirmation.

QUESTION: Would it matter if he were killed? What does it say about the current strength of ISIL?

MR RATHKE: Well, our view on ISIL is that its momentum has been halted; they’ve lost control of territory; and we believe that ultimately they will be defeated. So that’s certainly the way we look at ISIL.

QUESTION: We actually had (inaudible) saying that ISIL had made gains near Homs in Syria and that it is actually expanding its reach in Syria. Does that worry you, or do you actually not see that as the overall trajectory there?

MR RATHKE: I’m not familiar with that report. I hadn’t seen it.


MR RATHKE: So we’ve tried not to do a battlefield analysis on shifting lines on a day-to-day basis. I think if you look at the extent of ISIL’s reach about a year ago and look at where it is now, you see that it has been pushed back in many, many places, but --

QUESTION: I guess it depends when you start to look and – I mean, if you look at two years ago to where they are now, they have a lot more than what they had two years ago.

MR RATHKE: Well, and ISIL is a serious threat. That’s why we’ve mounted a coalition to oppose them. But my point is that since that coalition has been brought together and has taken so many different steps, that it’s had a real effect --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) just to follow up on --


QUESTION: But ISIL, I mean, their biggest prize that they’ve gotten so far is Mosul. And there was so much talk about a spring offensive to liberate Mosul and so on, and nothing really is happening (inaudible).

MR RATHKE: Well, we haven’t put a timeline on that. That will be a decision made by the Iraqi leadership. We are supporting Iraq through training, through equipment, and through our joint operation centers in Baghdad, in Erbil. But as we’ve said quite a few times, when they decide to undertake an operation to liberate Mosul will be an Iraqi decision, and I think the Iraqis want to do it when the time is right.

QUESTION: Most reports show that they are actually strengthening their presence in Mosul, not loosening it, so to speak. So they – they govern it as an independent entity and they do from traffic to finances to currency to all these things. They’re solidly in control. So wouldn’t it be safe to assume that the lack of this offensive, or the joint operations, as you call them, or the delay basically helps ISIS control more of that territory?

MR RATHKE: We’ve said all along that this will take time. So it’s – it is important. We’re working with our Iraqi partners to that end; also with our international partners.
Go ahead, Guy.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jeff. Just back to this talk about the International Crisis Group report, the report also went into quite a bit of detail actually about how the current U.S. and coalition policy of channeling the weapons through the ministry of defense in Baghdad is making Kurdish – factions of the Peshmerga that are aligned with different political factions within the KRG and around wider Kurdistan fight amongst each other and be more susceptible from Iranian military influence. My question for you – this report specifically called on the United States and its partners in the coalition to create a central command that included Baghdad and these various other factions to redefine the policy of distributing weapons to the various militias in Iraq. And there are others in Iraq that are calling for that right now. I’m wondering if that’s something you can comment on. Is it something being considered seriously in this building by perhaps General Allen, Mr. McGurk, and others?

MR RATHKE: Well, as I said in response to the earlier question, I haven’t seen that report, so I’m not familiar with its contents and I don’t want to --

QUESTION: I just told you what the contents were.

MR RATHKE: Well, I appreciate you’re offering the summary, but --

QUESTION: I also wrote about it. It’s in today’s paper if – it’s laid out fairly clearly. (Laughter).

MR RATHKE: You need to send me your articles. I hadn’t seen that one.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR RATHKE: But our policy is in support of a united and federal and democratic Iraq. And also our policy with regard to arms transfers, again, is designed to reinforce that policy. I’m happy to look and see if there’s anything additional to add on that, but I’m not aware of any discussion about changing – about the United States trying to suggest changes to how Iraq organizes its security forces writ large.

We long ago learned to ignore the claims of this fighter/militant/terrorist/leader killed in Iraq.  If you still immediately fell for that after 2006, you were being willfully ignorant.

The death raised in today's press briefing?

Nancy A. Youssef (Daily Beast) explores the propaganda:

Another day, another dubious claim about a top terrorist’s death. What’s going on here?
On Wednesday, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said ISIS’s No. 2 leader, Alaa al-Afri, had been killed in an airstrike targeting a mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar. The ministry released a video of what it called the Iraqi strike that killed al-Afri. The problem: The video was actually May 4 video of a coalition strike in Mosul, 40 miles away.
And given that Al-Afri spoke at a mosque in Mosul Friday, it is impossible that the released video could have been of the No. 2 commander’s death.
It’s not the first time Iraq has made dubious claims about offing ISIS chiefs. The question is: why do they keep doing it?


nancy a. youssef
the daily beast