Saturday, May 16, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, May 16, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the State Dept lies about what KRG President Massoud Barzani said during his DC trip last week, the US House of Representatives passes the National Defense Authorization,  Ramadi is being lost but the White House seems unconcerned, we look at the targeting of Sunnis, and much more.

Monday, 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 which was moderated by Kenneth Pollack.  We've covered the event in the Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday  and Thursday snapshots.  We'll continue the coverage today.

Kenneth Pollack:  As you are painfully and personally aware, one of the problems with the current federal system is that we've had a corruption of the justice process and key Sunni leaders -- again, present company included --  have been targeted by the central government using that judicial system.  How would you think about a future Iraqi system that would prevent that from happening?  How do we go about creating an Iraq in which you and Tareq al-Hashemi [Iraqi Vice President whom Nouri al-Maliki swore out an arrest warrant and who was tried in absentia despite Constitutional protections preventing that] and Ahmed al-Alwani [Ramadi MP whose home Nouri ordered a military attack on during a dawn December 2013 morning -- the raid left several people dead -- including al-Alwani's brother -- al-Alwani has since been convicted to death by the 'impartial' and 'fair' and 'legal' Baghdad court system] and others can't be personally targeted by this system.

Former Minister Rafe al-Assawi:  And it depends upon Iraqis.  All Iraqis -- Shi'ites, Sunis, Kurds, Muslims, Christians -- whether to live together in a united Iraq, to respect these designations of authorities.  Now for sure there is interferences in the judicial system.  American -- and you, Ken -- can help a lot to restore.  Everything needs to be restored.  Everything is damaged.  So you have to restructure damaged Iraq -- as I indicated in my presentation -- PowerPoint.  So restoring Iraq again means you have to build again. On the corruption side -- which is really in the security and non-security institutions -- part of this is totally controlled by militia.  So money create militia and militia took money.  And it is a vicious circle.  That's why I said the challenge is to restore back again the state.  So it depends on how serious are Iraqis -- including me and my colleagues -- to rebuild Iraq?  Otherwise, if everyone keep only observing's Iraq's burning, saying 'this is not my job,' or  we only keep beating others for participation or giving promises without implementation we will not move any step.

Kenneth Pollack:  Governor, anything you'd like to add on the judicial system?

Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi:  I think that the corruption and all that problems may be solved easier if we are near to the people, not farther away from the people.  Now with controlling everything from Baghdad, they have no interest, no concern what happen in Mosul [which the Islamic State took control of last June] or in Anbar [which the Islamic State controls part of] -- what the people of Anbar want.  They want to found Mosul and Anbar, they want them to belong to them, not follow the problems or the corruption in their cities.  And that's what happened in Mosul exactly before the collapse of Mousl.  The corruption in the army is too much but Baghdad, they didn't care with that corruption, they care that the Mosul people must belong to them.  So I think dividing the authorities as I said [he spoke of the need for a model similar to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government -- while al-Assawi noted that the division of powers is in the Constitution but it is not being followed] and we can see the KRG as a model, dividing the authorities.  Even if there is a problem between some of the Kurdish leaders and Baghdad, there is no real problems that can't be solved, no problems inside their autonomy.

Anbar Province was noted in the discussion.  Last month, Haider al-Abadi ordered the start of the assault on Ramadi, a key city in the province.  The assault has not gone well by any measure -- including the civilians left wounded and terrorized.

Ramadi was a topic in Friday's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jeff Rathke.

QUESTION: Yeah. Jeff, do you have any reaction to the advances made by ISIS today in Ramadi in Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Right. Well, in conjunction with Anbari tribal forces, Iraqi Security Forces have been confronting ISIL fighters in Ramadi and around Anbar province for several months. Today, ISIL is once again attempting an offensive in the city of Ramadi. I don’t have a battlefield update to provide, but I would highlight that the coalition is supporting Iraqi Security Forces to help protect the citizens of Anbar province and to support their efforts to force ISIL from Ramadi and other cities. We continue to provide targeted air support in ISIL-held and contested areas, and that includes numerous airstrikes in Ramadi today. But as for the status on the ground, I would refer you to the Iraqi Government for their update. And about – for the details of U.S. military support, my colleagues at the Pentagon can share more detail.

QUESTION: And do you consider what happened as a blow for the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi forces?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, we’ve said before that there will be good days and bad days in Iraq. ISIL’s trying to make today a bad day in Ramadi. We’ve said all along we see this as a long-term fight in conjunction with our Iraqi partners against ISIL. We are confident that Iraqi forces with support from the coalition will continue to push back ISIL where they’ve tried to gain advantages on the ground. So our policy and our engagement remains the same.

QUESTION: So is it the U.S.’s view that Ramadi is falling to ISIL, is under ISIL control, or would you say that it’s contested?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would – I’m not in a position to confirm reports that – I know there have been several reports out there – about the situation in the city center. I’d refer you, again, to the Iraqis for up-to-date information. We have said in the past that Ramadi is and the areas around it have been contested for months, and – but as to the situation in Ramadi right now, we’re working with the Government of Iraq to get a clearer picture of the situation.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) consider keeping Ramadi out of ISIS’s control a strategic priority, or is this going to be like Kobani where it’s not a strategic priority unless you win, and then it becomes a strategic priority?

MR RATHKE: Well, no. I think what we said about Kobani was that it was a strategic priority for ISIL. So – but anyway, to switch back to --

QUESTION: Do you consider this – yeah.


QUESTION: Do you consider this a strategic priority for the anti-ISIL coalition and for the Iraqis that this does not become an ISIL stronghold?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a fight that’s being led by the Iraqis, so it’s the Iraqi Government’s job to set priorities. So that would be their – it’s their country and they need to set those priorities and we support them. Clearly, Ramadi is important and it’s a large city. It’s been contested for some time. And Anbar province – we’ve talked a lot about other actions in Anbar province in recent weeks and months, so Anbar is important, Ramadi is important. I’m not going to place labels on them to try to suggest a prioritization.

QUESTION: You – this building and this Administration has been a leader in creating a global anti-ISIL coalition.

MR RATHKE: Certainly.

QUESTION: Do you consider it important that they – that ISIL not gain what would be a significant victory here? I mean, are you --

MR RATHKE: No, I’ve just said Ramadi is important. I agree with you. But what I --

QUESTION: But are you willing to tell the people of Ramadi, the civilians in Ramadi, “We will not let this city fall”?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we are – our approach in Iraq is to support the Iraqi forces as well as the tribal forces and all the forces who are fighting against ISIL under the command and control overall of the Iraqi central government. So we – that commitment remains and we are going to continue that support, and that’s not going to change.

QUESTION: Jeff, on this --


QUESTION: -- do you consider that the Iraqi Government bears some responsibility in the falling of Ramadi since they didn’t provide the tribes and the Sunni militia the arms that they asked for or they need?

MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, this – I’m not going to start from the assumption that the city has fallen. I’m not issuing that judgment from this podium. With regard to the outreach to the Sunni tribes, this has been a priority for Prime Minister Abadi. He and other senior Iraqi government officials have been reaching out to the tribes to bridge differences and to build trust. We know there’s a lot of history there to be overcome and Prime Minister Abadi has been working continuously to address that.

So in broader terms, taking a step back from Ramadi, we have been encouraged by the Iraqi Government’s efforts to enlist and to arm tribal fighters in the campaign. They’ve been building on the thousands of Sunni fighters who have joined the popular mobilization forces, as they call them, over the past six months. I would highlight as well that the Anbar governor just last week held a ceremony to induct about a thousand more tribal fighters. So these units are going to be working with and coordinating with the Iraqi army. Prime Minister Abadi last month visited Anbar and delivered weapons to Sunni tribes. Of course, there are more efforts to organize and to arm the Sunnis and to integrate them; those who want to fight ISIL will be needed in the coming months. This is a long-term effort, so – and – but we will continue to support the Iraqi Government in that effort.

QUESTION: But – one follow-up on this.


QUESTION: Did you consider that the Iraqi Government is fulfilling its commitment regarding the Sunni tribes, first? And is – or will the U.S. provide the Sunni arms directly without passing the Iraqi Government?

MR RATHKE: Well, our policy on arms transfers to Iraq is – remains the same. We – all of those arms transfers are coordinated through the Iraqi central government. That’s not going to change. And as I said, Prime Minister Abadi has made it a priority to reach out to the Sunni population in particular in Anbar, and so we support those efforts.

Namo, go ahead.

QUESTION: We have seen little progress in Prime Minister Abadi’s outreach to the Sunnis, because – I mean, if you just look at the cities and towns that have been falling to ISIS in Iraq, almost all of them have been Sunni towns. It’s predominately Sunni towns. Does that – what does that tell us? Does that – doesn’t that tell us that the Iraqi army, which is basically a predominately Shia army, is unwilling to protect Sunni areas? Or doesn’t that also tell us that Prime Minister Abadi has failed in his outreach toward – to the Sunnis? Because they have been demanding weapons and also some equipment that they need to defend themselves.

MR RATHKE: Well, and the Iraqi Government has been providing it. So they --

QUESTION: But they have failed.

MR RATHKE: No, but – I wouldn’t accept that characterization. The prime minister has been reaching out. He has made the commitments to enlist and to arm tribal fighters. And those aren’t just the commitments on paper, they’ve been happening. I was just talking about some of the most recent steps in answer to Michel’s question. And so in addition to his personal engagement in Anbar, there was just last week an induction of another thousand tribal fighters. So yes, more efforts are needed but Prime Minister Abadi has focused on this and he continues to pursue that.

That is Jeff Rathke and the State Dept's opinion.

It is not fact and should not be mistaken for fact.

The Congress begs to differ.

And too bad for the State Dept, Congress can cut off funding.

Now the White House and the State Dept can go around Congress if Congress cuts off funding -- the White House and the State Dept can do that by (a) breaking the law, (b) creating a Constitutional crisis and (c) courting impeachment of US President Barack Obama.

If they choose to pursue that, it will certainly liven up the remainder of Lame Duck Obama's final term in office.

Congress' opinion on the matter can be found below:

Requirements relating to assistance for fiscal year 2016
In general
Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this subsection, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State shall jointly submit to the appropriate congressional committees an assessment of the extent to which the Government of Iraq is meeting the conditions described in subparagraph (B).
The conditions described in this subparagraph are that the Government of Iraq—
is addressing the grievances of ethnic and sectarian minorities;
is increasing political inclusiveness;
is conducting efforts sufficient to reduce support for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and improve stability in Iraq;
is legislating the Iraqi Sunni National Guard;
is ensuring that minorities are represented in adequate numbers, trained, and equipped in government security organizations;
is ending support to Shia militias and stopping abuses of elements of the Iraqi population by such militias;
is ensuring that supplies, equipment, and weaponry supplied by the United States are appropriately distributed to security forces with a national security mission in Iraq, including the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribal security forces with a national security mission, and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard;
is releasing prisoners from ethnic or sectarian minorities who have been arrested and held without trial or to charge and try such prisoners in a fair, transparent, and prompt manner; and
is taking such other actions as the Secretaries consider appropriate.
The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State may submit an update of the assessment required under subparagraph (A) to the extent necessary.
The assessment required under subparagraph (A) and the update of the assessment authorized under subparagraph (C) may be submitted as part of the quarterly report required under subsection (d).
Restriction on direct assistance to Government of Iraq
If the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State do not submit the assessment required by paragraph (1) or if the Secretaries submit the assessment required by paragraph (1) but the assessment indicates that the Government of Iraq has not substantially achieved the conditions contained in the assessment, the Secretaries shall withhold the provision of assistance pursuant to subsection (a) directly to the Government of Iraq for fiscal year 2016 until such time as the Secretaries submit an update of the assessment that indicates that the Government of Iraq has substantially achieved the conditions contained in the assessment.
Direct assistance to certain covered groups
In general
Of the funds authorized to be appropriated under this section for fiscal year 2016, not less than 25 percent of such funds shall be obligated and expended for assistance directly to the groups described in subparagraph (E) (of which not less than 12.5 percent of such funds shall be obligated and expended for assistance directly to the group described in clause (i) of such subparagraph).
Additional direct assistance
If the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State withhold the provision of assistance pursuant to subsection (a) directly to the Government of Iraq for fiscal year 2016 in accordance with paragraph (2) of this subsection, the Secretaries shall obligate and expend not less than an additional 60 percent of all unobligated funds authorized to be appropriated under this section for fiscal year 2016 for assistance directly to the groups described in subparagraph (E).
Cost-sharing requirement inapplicable
The cost-sharing requirement of subsection (k) shall not apply with respect to funds that are obligated or expended for assistance directly to the groups described in subparagraph (E).
Rule of construction
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the groups described in subparagraph (E) shall each be deemed to be a country for purposes of meeting the eligibility requirements of section 3 of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2753) and chapter 2 of part II of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2311 et seq.).
Covered groups
The groups described in this subparagraph are—
the Kurdish Peshmerga;
Sunni tribal security forces with a national security mission; and
the Iraqi Sunni National Guard.

That's Sec. 1223 of H.R. 1735 which passed the House on Friday (it remains a bill, the Senate has to pass their version) on a vote with 269 members supporting it (41 were Democrats) and 151 opposing it (143 were Democrats) while 12 members elected not to vote.

Wow, there is widespread Democratic opposition to this Iraq proposal.


The Iraq issue is the least controversial element of the bill (well the changes related to the registration and tracking of sex offenders is probably the section that has the most support from Democrats and Republicans, but after that, Iraq's the least controversial).

If you're not grasping that, Democrats are noting publicly their problems with the bill.  Leo Shane III (Military Times) reports, "House lawmakers on Friday approved a $612 billion defense authorization bill for next year despite objections from Democratic leaders and a White House veto threat over plans to skirt spending caps with oversized temporary war funds."

That makes me laugh.

For two reasons.

First, I've been at these hearings, Armed Services Comittee hearings, and heard Democrats and Republicans on the Committee -- both sides -- insist that the military must be sacrosacnt and not part of the sequestration (automatic cuts) and blah, blah, blah.

And, for the record, in the Veterans Affairs Comittee hearings (House and Senate), we hear the same statements, the automatic cuts should not effect the VA.

Every committee works to protect its own turf.

And now Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader, is objecting to fudging numbers because . . . she thinks sequestration should just be eliminated when it comes to the military.

More money flows to the DoD than any other element in the budget but Nancy is opposed to cut being implemented on Defense.

Once upon a time, Americans believed in a thing called  "shared sacrifice."

Meaning we all share in the cuts equally.

But they don't want to do that -- it's not full of the high drama Congress and the White House count on.

It's like the issue of the homeless in America.

Congress doesn't give a damn.

Unless it's veterans.

If it's veterans homeless, oh, let's talk, let's do, let's fund.

But the American citizens that Congress is supposed to represent -- all citizens, not just veterans?

They don't give a damn.

Nor does Barack.

He's promised that veterans homelessness ends this year.

Well bully for him.

But when does the US government ever intend to end homelessness in America?

The crisis exploded during Ronald Reagan's two terms as president.

And he's more or less blamed for it.

But Ronald Reagan's not only out of the White House, he's dead.

What prevented George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bully Boy Bush and now Barack Obama from seriously addressing this issue and ending homelessness in America?

The only thing that stopped them was a lack of caring.

(HW is infamous for stepping over the sleeping homeless while leaving various DC eateries.)

Paul Kane (Washington Post) offers that "Democrats largely opposed the measure Friday because of their demands for new negotiations to set up different spending limits on defense and non-defense agencies that were imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act."

I hope that's clear enough for everyone.

The second reason I laugh?

The Iraq measure in the bill was supposed to be so controversial.

It is to the White House but it's not to Congress -- not to Congressional Democrats, not to Congressional Republicans.

Well they bellowed, and they hollered
And they threw each other down
Down in this valley
This cruel and lovely valley
Oh it should have been an alley
In some low down part of town
-- "Memorial Day," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her album Spy

And didn't they, though?

Didn't the press -- mirroring the White House -- because goodness forbid they come up with their own behavior -- insist that this was wrong, so wrong, so wrong?

Didn't they tell you that this Iraq section was going to be rethought?  And maybe pulled from the bill?

Didn't happen.

Never was going to happen.

And only idiots who hadn't attended Congressional hearings would have bought and/or promoted that nonsense.

It passed.

And it's not the source of Democratic objections.

Even the White House has sat its wild ass down on this matter realizing that they never had a chance at turning Congressional opinion on that in the first place but certainly not after certain thugs in Iraq -- thugs in the Iraqi government -- thought they could publicly threaten harm to the United States?

Congress is many things.  Arrogant to be sure.  But it's not a weak-willed president desperate to cave and remain silent in the face of threats from another country.

More than anything else, those threats solidified support in the House for this already popular provision.

So the Democrats are bothered that, to avoid spending caps, the bill ups the temporary expendiatures.

Margaret Griffis ( reports 62 people were killed across Iraq on Friday.

She forgets that the bill we noted above includes arming the Sunnis.

Back to Friday's State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: Just one question about the Erbil-Baghdad.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. I think we’re going to need to move on. So yes --

QUESTION: Just one quick question about the Erbil-Baghdad. Because the – over the past couple of days, that oil deal that the United States has been praising for quite a few – quite a while as a successful deal seemed to have come to the edge of collapse, with the Kurdish leaders accusing Baghdad of having failed to abide by the terms of the agreement. And even the prime minister of the Kurdish region said they are going to take independent steps if Baghdad fails to implement that deal. What is your understanding of the deal between Erbil and Baghdad?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we just had very good visits to Washington both by Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Kurdish Region President Barzani. One of the things that was discussed with them was the – were the important issues facing Iraq. And we understand that Baghdad and Erbil remain committed to seeking implementation of the deal. We continue to urge both sides to work together toward resolving the payments issue and fully implementing the agreement that was reached at the end of 2014. ISIL is the main threat, and we continue to encourage the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to work together to fight against ISIL and resolve those issues.

No, Jeff Rathke, that's what the administration 'understands.'

It's the lie they repeat.

And KRG President Massoud Barzani was very clear in his public appearances that not only are Kurds not getting weapons, not only is Baghdad not honoring their public promise from last December re: oil revenues, but they are also not receiving their portion of the federal budget.

That's a huge deal.

But grasp that Iraq was unable to pass a budget for 2014.

So the KRG didn't get money then.

Rathke is less than honest in his remarks.

But he wouldn't work for the State Dept if he didn't know how to lie.