Monday, May 04, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Monday, May 4, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, whining among Shi'ite MPs continue, lying about a House bill continues, Iraq's Minister of Transportation threatens the US, the liberation of Tikrit remains a failure, and much more.

"Self-Defeating Brutality" is the name of Aki Peritz' essay on Iraq at Slate:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was in the U.S. last month, begging for arms and cash in order to fight ISIS. His requests come none too soon; the Iraqi military is reportedly gearing up for a summer offensive against ISIS in Anbar Province. But the impending series of battles will result in little intelligence gathered for the conflict-to-come in Mosul, Syria, and elsewhere. This spells bad news for Baghdad, Washington—and Tehran.

Why? Here’s one answer: Buried in a recent New York Times article about Iraq’s liberation of Tikrit from ISIS is this startling fact: The Iraqi militias battling ISIS took no prisoners of war. That was despite a fierce series of battles taking place in a dense urban area, resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of casualties.
To take zero prisoners during a major military operation probably means only one thing: Iranian-backed militias executed every single ISIS fighter they found under any and all circumstances. One spokesperson for the Badr brigade copped to as much. He said, “To be honest, everywhere we captured them we killed them because they were the enemy.”

Read the entire essay and grasp the disaster that was the assault on Tikrit.

For those who've forgotten, Tikrit was where the Iraqi government was supposed to show how strong their forces -- armies as well as the thugs in the militias like the Badr brigade.  The operation was going to move quickly, insisted the government.  And, by mid-week, the government was insisting that by Friday they would be in Tikrit.

Didn't happen.

Didn't happen in the second week.

Weeks into the operation, Holly Williams (CBS News -- link is text and video) reported:

A condition of the U.S. strikes is that the militias go home. Just outside Tikrit two weeks ago an Iraqi general -- Bahaa al-Azawi -- confidently told us that victory was days away.
"We got the ability, we got the capability to defeat terrorism, and push them away from Iraq," al-Azawi said at the time.

But the Tikrit offensive stalled -- even though one senior Iraqi politician told us ISIS may have only 20 fighters left in the city.

Yeah, with minimal Islamic State members in Tikrit, they still couldn't pull it off.  Iran was calling the shots via Iranian Quds Force General Qasem Soeimani and flexing muscle -- or what passed for muscle -- and the attempt to take Tikrit took weeks.

And might still be going on if Hadi al-Amiri had his way.


The Minister of Transportation most infamous in Nouri al-Maliki's second term for refusing to allow a plane to land in Baghdad because it had not waited hours for his son to board.

He's still Minister of Transportation -- this despite the failures in transport in Iraq.  (During Nouri's first term, they used to make a show of train successes.  They gave up that pretense early on.)

He also the head of the Bard brigade -- even though you weren't supposed to be allowed to run for Parliament if you were part of a militia.

As head of the Bard brigade he sort-of directed the Tikrit operation (Qasem Soleimani really called the shots) and he publicly insisted, week after week, that they did not need US air strikes.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi begged for US air strikes -- and the White house demanded Soleimani leave first -- and they were the only thing that saved the month-long operation from total failure.

But it's not accurate to call it a "success."

Not even all these weeks later.

Zaid Al-Ali explores Tikrit at The New York Review of Books:

The offensive to liberate Tikrit, launched in March 2015, involved a disparate group of armed groups, including regular forces, militias, volunteer fighters, local tribal forces, Iranian advisers, and US war planes. Throughout the campaign, dozens of bodies were transported daily to Wadi el-Salam, the world’s largest cemetery, in the Shia holy city of Najaf. Displaced Tikritis noted with consternation as Baghdad’s mainly Shia neighborhoods were lined with funeral notices for the young men who were dying in the battle to liberate their city.
One month after ISIS’s defeat, many locals who had left still consider it too dangerous to return to Tikrit. Since the liberation, hundreds of criminals have been operating freely, looting and destroying property. In one district, more than a quarter of the homes were destroyed after its liberation, and reports of property destruction are still coming in. The elected provincial council and the governor have not been able to return to the city. Municipal services have yet to be restored and few businesses have reopened. Many Tikritis are furious at the army and the police’s failure to restore order, and the government’s refusal to acknowledge the problem. 

And the failure inside the city may explain why so few have returned.  Mustafa Habib (Niqash) notes:

A combination of pro-government forces expelled the Islamic State, or IS, group from Tikrit in early April. But as yet there's no real civilian life here, no schools open, hospitals, courts of justice or police stations active. Residents of the city who fled their homes some time ago – the city was largely empty when the security forces arrived to fight the IS group – remain displaced, in cities around Iraq waiting for an official decision as to whether they should return. In fact, the city is more like a ghost town at the moment, populated only by wraiths from the various kinds of security forces in charge of different areas around the city.

Getting to Tikrit is hardly fun at the moment either. The soldiers deployed along the highways leading from Baghdad to Tikrit look terribly tired and they all seem to be in a bad mood. They certainly don't trust strangers. They act as though everyone coming through here may as well as be a member of the IS group, until they can prove otherwise.

Once inside Tikrit, it's not particularly easy to move around. There are three types of security forces inside the city and each controls its own areas. The first and most powerful is composed of members of the unofficial Shiite Muslim militias, composed of volunteers who took up arms to fight the IS group. Those most obvious here are Hezbollah in Iraq, the League of the Righteous, (or Asaib Ahl al-Haq in Arabic) and the Najbaa brigades.

The second strongest organisation in Tikrit is the official Iraqi army, including counter terrorism units and special forces. And the third group here are the local police, who appear to have only limited resources and powers.

NIQASH was asked not to report which areas are under control of which groups for security reasons. Additionally all of the forces present in Tikrit are not happy to let those they consider “strangers” take pictures in the areas they supervise. After journalists reported on some members of the Shiite militias who burned and looted property and exacted their revenge on locals they thought were IS members, the militia men do not trust journalists. However both the Shiite militias and the soldiers were happy to give visitors pictures they had taken themselves.

Despite the failures of the Tikrit operation, the high profile failures, nothing has been learned.

‫#‏الثورة_العراقية‬ :
The Iranian Hadi Al-Amiri : We will get into Anbar without taking permission from any person
What do you say to Al-Amiri
 · Comment · 
  • Denis Savic, Yaman Asfour, Abulmugheera Alkhateeb and 4 others like this.
  • Ayad Babakhan I say to Stinky Hadi Go FYS!!!
  • Abulmugheera Alkhateeb You may hurry to die Hadi with your troops ... Tomorrow is too soon.

That lovely Hadi.  The thug's in the news today for other things as well -- apparently threatening the United States.  Rudaw reports:

Iraqi Shiite leader Hadi Ameri, who is currently commanding Hashd al-Shaabi fighters in the Anbar military campaign against ISIS militants, has threatened “all parties working to dissolve Iraq.”
Ameri’s controversial comments came days after a new bill introduced by Republicans in the US Congress called on the White House to directly arm and assist the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Sunni Arab tribes against the Islamic State.

Rudaw, like nearly every other outlet, is wrong to designate the bill to Republicans in the US House of Representatives.  We went over this at length last night but we'll note this press release on the bill:

H.R. 1735 Passes
House Armed Services Committee
WASHINGTON - The House Armed Services today passed H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016 by a vote of 60-2.  Details of the bill can be found here.  Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the Committee, made the following statement on passage:

"This is a bill the entire Committee can be proud of.  After a day of extensive debate, we have produced legislation that is the first step in a process of substantial reform at the Department of Defense.  Those reforms will enhance our military's efficiency and begin restoring its agility.  I look forward to bringing this legislation to the floor in the weeks ahead."  

It passed the Committee on a vote of 60 in favor and 2 against.  That's not a "Republican bill" -- that's a bipartistan bill.

The bill makes formal what Haider was supposed to have done.

The US government has supplied Haider with weapons to fight the Islamic State.

The weapons were supposed to go to the Shi'ites, yes, but also to the Sunni and Kurds.

Haider's been more than a little greedy with the weapons. And the US Congress has covered this in one hearing after another.

In one hearing after another, witnesses -- US officials such as Barack's special envoy John Allen -- have insisted that it's a past problem.

Then comes the next hearing and Kurds and Sunnis still aren't getting the weapons and equipment they need.

The only witness that's been honest about this in their testimony to Congress is former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey.

Congress got tired of Haider's empty promises.

These are US weapons and the US government can dictate who gets them.

 Shi'ite thugs and fools have tried to insist that this violates Iraq's sovereignty.


No, it doesn't.

The Kurds have been armed by the US going back to the days of Henry Kissinger.

Though Americans may be ignorant of that, you'd expect Iraqis to know better.

As for the Sunnis, the "Awakenings"?

Nouri didn't arm them, he didn't even pay them under Bully Boy Bush or during the first half of Barack Obama's first term.

The US government paid them and supplied them.

Liars and fools -- and crazies like Reider Visser -- try to insist that what the Congress is proposing is novel and new.


Not at all.

The House may or may not go through with the bill -- they have to vote on it.

But maybe it's put enough panic into Haider?

If he keeps his promise (finally), there's no reason for that aspect of the bill.

But Haider better get off his fat ass and do something real quick because there are less than ten days for amendments to be added to that bill per the Rules Committee.

The Badr brigade supposedly broke ties with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq years ago.  But Hadi's attacks on Sunnis are echoed by Ammar al-Hakim (head of ISCI).

He's been attacking the Minister of the Interior -- a Sunni -- for making comments about the security forces.  As Minister of the Interior, he's over those forces.

He should be able to make any comment he wants.

But let's all pretend this has nothing to do with Sunni or Shia.

Let's not be alarmed by the attack because, after all, the world ignored this under Nouri al-Maliki and that worked out so wonderfully, didn't it?

Oh, right.

It didn't.

Asharq Al-Awsat notes that the Iraqi Parliament -- or aspects of it -- voted Saturday against the bill.  The Kurds and Sunnis walked out before the vote and the 167 MPs that remained?  162 voted for it.

What the article fails to tell you?

162 isn't even half.

There are 328 members of the Parliament.

Half would be 164.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Qader explained the reasons for the Sunni–Kurdish walkout during the vote.
“The National Alliance put forward a motion for us all to reply to the [US Congress] proposal, but we the Kurdistan Alliance and our Sunni brothers in the Iraqi Forces Alliances refused it because the National Alliance insists on us all refusing the [US] bill without even discussing the matter,” he said.
“On the other hand, our position, and that of the Sunnis, is that we need to form a united front, [but] based on the principle we have all agreed to [i.e. discussion], especially in such major issues such as this, where we can see how going against this principle threatens Iraq and its national unity.”
He continued: “Our position as the Kurdish bloc in parliament—and this is a position shared by the Sunni bloc—is that we welcome all efforts related to arming the Peshmerga or the Sunni tribes in cooperation with the Iraqi government, insisting at the same time that we believe in the unity of Iraq.”
“The Peshmerga are in dire need of arms—bearing in mind that the Iraqi government has over the last two years failed to provide even one dinar of assistance to the Kurdistan Regional Government in terms of military aid.”
He added: “Why do we accept the [involvement of the] international anti-ISIS coalition led by the US but not the US’s arming the Peshmerga or the Sunni tribes within the context of cooperation with the Iraqi government?” 

And for all the alarmists screaming the sky is falling?

We'll drop back to the March 26th snapshot for some of that day's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing:

Chair Ed Royce:  Adding to the problem, the regional forces on the ground these airstrikes are supposed to be supporting are badly undersupplied.  After seven months of fighting, the Committee is still receiving troubling reports that the Kurdish Peshmerga are outgunned on the front lines.  This morning, Ranking Member Engel and I are re-introducing legislation to allow US arms to be sent directly to the Kurds.  These brave fighters need the better equipment to defeat ISIS.  And the Sunni tribal fighters, who will be central to this fight, are yet to trust Baghdad.  Strong local police and provincial national guard forces are desperately needed to protect Sunnis in Anbar Province and elsewhere.  Into the void on the ground in Iraq have stepped Iranian-backed Shi'ite fighters, the leading force behind the recent Tikrit offensive.  Senior US officials have put this development in positive terms.  And reports indicate that US intelligence and air power will now support this Iranian-backed mission.  The Washington Post wisely cautioned in an editorial this week, "The growing power of the militias, with their brutal tactics, sectarian ideology and allegiance to Iran's most militant faction, has become as large an impediment to the goal of stabilizing Iraq" as ISIS.  Shi'ite militias taking on ISIS may serve the immediate interest of killing jihadis but it is hard to see how empowering Iran's proxies is in the short, medium or long term interests of an inclusive Iraq or a stable Middle East.  The fear that many of us have is that Sunni Iraqis, who have been tortured by ISIS, will get the same brutal treatment by their Shi'ite militia 'liberators.'  That would fuel endless conflict.  Political reconciliation in Baghdad must be central to US policy.  The Committee will be interested to learn what the administration is doing to press Prime Minister [Hadier al-] Abadi to ensure he doesn't become former Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki, a disastrous sectarian.  

That was Republican Ed Royce announcing that he and Democrat Eliot Engel were reintroducing a bill to directly arm the Kurds.


So all the shock and drama and b.s. over the House Defense bill is either some form of mass hysteria or glorified ignorance on the part of Iraqi MPs who should have been paying attention much sooner.

Tomorrow  KRG President Massoud Barzani  is scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama.  Al Mada notes that in his meetings with Barack and with US Vice President Joe Biden, Barzani intends to press on the issue of supplying the Kurdish Peshmerga with weapons to fight the Islamic State.  Rudaw adds, "The question of Kurdish self-determination and the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) will dominate talks between the Kurdish delegation led by President Masoud Barzani and American officials in Washington, said the Kurdish President’s Chief of Staff, Fuad Hussein."

He'll also be meeting with members of Congress during his visit.

Trudy Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) filed a report last week which included:

 The Kurds don't want to invade the heart of Mosul, because it is a historically Sunni Arab city. They'd like the Iraqi army to play a leading role, but that force virtually collapsed when the extremists invaded. The army's officer class had been corrupted under the previous Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki. It is being retrained by U.S. and other coalition forces, but no one knows when enough revamped brigades will be available for Mosul.
Barzani also made clear that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are not the right force to liberate Mosul (in the battle for the Sunni city of Tikrit they burned and looted Sunni homes). While praising the militias' "good fighters," he stressed that "without one central command and control you cannot be successful." In other words, no role for Shiite militias that operate outside national army command.
I asked whether the Kurds had any expectation that the Sunni inhabitants of Mosul might rebel against their tormentors. Masrour Barzani, the Kurds' savvy intelligence chief and son of the president, interjected: "We see a lot of people very unsatisfied with ISIS control, but they know how brutal ISIS is."

At US State Dept press briefing today moderated by Jeff Rathke, Iraq was briefly noted.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iraq?


QUESTION: There are reports that the largest Iraqi oil refinery – that the people inside it are besieged and running low on food and pleading for reinforcements to save them from Islamic State militants.

MR RATHKE: You’re talking about Baiji?

QUESTION: Baiji. Exactly, yeah.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on this? And is the U.S. Government thinking about doing anything to help the people at Baiji?

MR RATHKE: Well, as has been the case for a while, the security situation within the city of Baiji and the refinery nearby remains contested. As we understand, Iraqi Security Forces continue to conduct defensive operations in the area, and they have been able to resupply forces in the refinery. And the coalition continues to coordinate with Iraqi security forces to provide targeted air support in ISIL-held and in contested areas, including at Baiji but throughout Iraq and in Anbar province, in order to back up the forces on the ground. We would turn to the Iraqi Government for the latest on the status of their forces in the area. My colleagues at the Pentagon may have more on specific actions, operations undertaken in recent days.

QUESTION: But it is indeed your understanding that Iraqi forces have been able to resupply people --

MR RATHKE: That’s our understanding, yes.

Reuters notes, "Iraqi forces besieged inside the country's largest oil refinery are running low on food and pleading for reinforcements to save them from Islamic State militants who have advanced deep into the compound in the past week. The insurgents now hold large sections of the sprawling Baiji refinery complex in northern Iraq where some 200 policemen, soldiers and elite special forces are holding out."

The Whore of Baghdad Jane Arraf offered a sympathetic portrayal of an unnamed Shi'ite militias on The NewsHour (PBS) this evening.  The fluff might have reminded me of the pro-Saddam Hussein stories she used to churn out while with CNN or her pro-Nouri al-Maliki 'reporting' for Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor.

On violence, Press TV reports, "Clashes between Iraq’s army and the ISIL Takfiri militants continue unabated in northern Salahuddin province with Iraqi air force killing at least 45 militants."  Margaret Griffis ( counts 106 violent deaths across Iraq.

I forgot to include new content at Third this morning so I'll note it here: