Thursday, May 07, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, May 7, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue,  reporters killed got a tiny bit of attention from the US State Dept (if their deaths could be used for propaganda), Senator Tim Kaine wants Congress to discuss authorizing Barack's latest wave of war on Iraq, the Baiji refinery is said to be controlled (80%) by the Islamic State, and much more.

In the US Congress today, Senator Tim Kaine took to the floor of the Senate to weigh in on the still lack of legal authorization for US President Barack Obama's action's in Iraq:

Mr. President, I rise today to commemorate an anniversary and challenge my colleagues in Congress.
Today marks the completion of nine months of America’s war against ISIL.  Tomorrow, May 8, starts the tenth month of this war. 
In the war on ISIL, here is what’s happened so far. We’ve deployed thousands of troops far from home to support military operations in Iraq and Syria—a significant number are from Virginia, including the Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, based in Norfolk. We’ve conducted more than 3,000 U.S. airstrikes on ISIL from land bases in the region and also from aircraft carriers. We’ve spent more than 2 billion American taxpayer dollars and counting. We’ve lost the lives of American servicemembers and seen American hostages killed by ISIL in barbaric ways. And while we’ve seen some progress on the battlefield in Iraq, we’ve also witnessed ISIL spread and take responsibility for attacks in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen.   We’ve seen other terrorist groups, such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram, pledge alliance with ISIL.   We’ve seen acts of terrorism in Europe and now the United States that have been influenced or at least inspired by ISIL.
All this has happened in nine months. But here is what hasn’t happened, Mr. President.  Congress, the Article I branch, whose most solemn power is the duty to declare war, has not done its job, has not debated this war, has not taken any formal steps to authorize what was started unilaterally by the President 9 months ago.
As of today, ISIL has no indication whether Congress cares one iota about the ongoing war. Our allies in the region, who are most directly affected by the threat of ISIL, have no indication whether Congress cares one iota about the ongoing war.  And, most importantly, the thousands of American troops serving in the region, serving in the theater of battle have no indication whether Congress cares one iota about this ongoing war.
In the Senate, there has been no authorization vote or even debate on the floor.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee did report out a war authorization in December, but it died without floor action at the end of the 113th Congress. In the House, there has been no debate or authorization on the floor,  and, in fact, there has been no action in any House Committee in the 9 months of this war.
The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful. How can we explain to our troops, our public or ourselves this complete unwillingness of Congress to take up this important responsibility?
President Obama maintains that the authorizations voted on by Congress in 2001 and 2002 give him the power to wage this war without Congress. Having reviewed the authorizations carefully, I find that claim completely without merit. The 2001 Authorization allows the president to take action against groups that perpetrated the attacks of 9/11. ISIL was not a perpetrator of the 9/11 attack; it was not formed until two years after the attacks in 2003. It is not an ally of Al Qaeda; it’s fighting against Al Qaeda now in certain theaters. The only way the 2001 authorization could be stretched to cover ISIL is if we pretend that it was a blank check giving the president the power to wage war against any terrorist group. But, Mr. President, that was precisely the power that President Bush asked for in 2001, and Congress explicitly refused to grant that broad grant of power to the president even in the days right after the 9/11 attacks.
The 2002 Authorization to wage war in Iraq to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein also has no relevance here. That regime disappeared years ago.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 does grant the president some ability to initiate military action for 60-90 days prior to congressional approval, but it also mandates that the president must cease military activity unless Congress formally approves it.  Here, we’ve blown long past all of the deadlines in that Act, Congress has said nothing, and yet the war continues.
So the President does not have the legal power to maintain this war without Congress. And yet Congress, this Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power, even threatening him with lawsuits over immigration actions and other executive decisions, is strangely silent and allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.
Nine months of silence leaves the impression that Congress is either indifferent about ISIL and the threat that it poses or lacks the backbone to do the job it is supposed to do. And that is why I rise today—to challenge my colleagues to take this seriously and promptly debate and pass an authorization for military action against ISIL. We should have done this months ago. By now, all know that ISIL is not going away soon. This problem will not just solve itself.
Mr. President, I am given some hope by recent actions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and this body on a pending matter – the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. On a challenging and important national security issue, because of strong leadership by Senators Corker, Cardin and Menendez, we have shown the ability to act in a bipartisan way to assert an appropriate congressional role in reviewing any final nuclear deal with Iran. We are taking an important stand for the congressional role in matters touching upon diplomacy, war and peace. And we have fought off, thus far, the temptation to play politics with this important matter.
This gives me some hope that we might do the same with respect to the war on ISIL. Because, Mr. President, the role of Congress in war is undisputable. The framers of the Constitution were familiar with a world where war was for the monarch, or the king, or the sultan or the executive. But they made a revolutionary decision to choose a different path and placed decisions about the initiation of war in the hands of the people’s elected legislative branch. They did so because of an important underlying value. The value is this: we shouldn’t order young servicemembers to risk their lives in a military mission unless Congress has debated the mission and reached the conclusion that it is in the nation’s best interest. That value surely is as important today as it was in 1787.
So to conclude, Mr. President, I hope we remember that right now, in places far from their homes and families, thousands of members of the American Armed Forces are risking their lives on behalf of a mission that Congress has refused to address for 9 long months.  Their sacrifice should call us to step up, do our job and finally define and authorize this ongoing war.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Jeremy Diamond (CNN) notes Kaine also took the issue to CNN's New Day:

Congress has largely dropped the ball since then and Kaine pointed out that the AUMF hasn't made it to either the House or Senate floor for debate.
But it also took the White House six months to send an AUMF proposal.
Kaine said both the White House and Capitol Hill shoulder some of the blame for the drawn-out inaction.

Kaine tells Markus Schmidt (Richmond Times-Dispatch), "There is no power that is more clearly a congressional power than the power to declare war, and yet there has been this strange conspiracy of silence for nine months when Congress hasn't been willing to even have a meaningful floor debate on it, which is so unusual. But it's just the proof of the longer historical tradition in Congress, members in Congress want to avoid hard votes, and there is no harder vote than a war vote."

We've been noting the threats Shi'ite officials have made, threats of violence, against the United States over a bill in the House which calls for the Sunnis and the Kurds to be armed independently of Baghdad since Haider al-Abadi, prime minister of Iraq, has failed to keep his promise to distribute the US provided equipment and weapons equally to the Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis.  See yesterday's snapshot and this from this morning especially.

Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports on the controversy:

The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and a number of his ministers denounced the plan and some prominent Shiite Muslim figures, such as the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, threatened US interests with violence. The military wing of al-Sadr's supporters organised parades in two southern Iraqi cities in a demonstration of strength. And one of the best known female MPs, Hanan al-Fatlawi, a member of the State of Law coalition previously headed by al-Maliki, said that the US embassy in Baghdad should be closed and the US ambassador expelled.

[. . .] 
When al-Abadi took on the Prime Ministership he declared his willingness to form a National Guard in Iraq. Such a force would effectively allow local people to form their own military units and police their own areas and was considered an antidote for the marginalization of Iraq's Sunnis and Kurds that seemed to be one of al-Maliki's central policies.

Two months after al-Abadi's government formed, the different parties in Parliament agreed that the National Guard should happen, with tens of thousands of members; around 70,000 from Iraq's Shiite-dominated provinces, 50,000 fighters from Sunni-dominated provinces and further additions from the Iraqi Kurdish forces. The plan was to have the National Guard armed and controlled by the Iraqi government, so that all of those currently fighting in, and being paid through, informal militias would be back under state control.

But that was months ago. 

From Congress to the State Dept, if you missed it, there's a propaganda war and supposedly ISIS is winning.  Like anyone could ever be better at propaganda than the US State Dept?

They released the following video to 'honor' World Press Day.

For those with streaming issues, the piece is basically a silent film -- set to bad music.  It's one screen shot after another with title cards.

Journalists often put their lives and safety at risk to keep the world informed 

In Iraq and Syria, ISIS has kidnapped, tortured, and murdered journalists.

ISIS has used these acts of brutality to terrorize journalists, extort ransoms, and silence reporting on their atrocities.

Here are some of the Iraqi and Syrian journalists whom ISIS has killed.

Yasser Faysal al-Joumaili, an Iraqi freelance cameraman who was filming the fighting in the Aleppo province. 

On 4 December 2013, he was detained and shot by ISIS at the Syria-Turkey border.

Bashar al-Nuaimi, a cameraman with al-Mosuliya TV. 

On 24 October 2013, he was shot to death near his home in Mosul. 

Nawras al-Nouaimi, an Iraqi presenter working for al-Mosuliya TV, covering stories related to women and children. 

On 15 December 2013, she was shot near her home returning from school

Employees at the Salaheddin TV station -- cameraman Jamal Abdulnasir; Arabic language expert Ahmed Khattab Omar, newsroom director Raad Yassin al-Baddi; archives director Mohammed Abdul-Hameed and news anchor Wassan al-Azzawi.  

On 23 December 2013, following a car bomb detonation outside the TV station near Tikrit, suicide bombers entered the station and shot all five before detonating their vests. 

Al-Mutaz Billah Ibrahim, an anchor with the Sham News Network. 

On 4 May 2014, he was executed after being held hostage and tortured for over two months.

Bassam al-Rayes, a freelance cameraman who was shooting footage of the Syrian opposition.

On 30 June 2014, he was abducted, tortured, and murdered. 

ISIS Threatens Journalists with:
Threats against their families

Under ISIS rule, there is no freedom of speech, there is no truth beyond what they say, and there is no such thing as mercy. 

Think Again Turn Away

The State Dept ignored the assassination of Iraqi journalist Thaer Ali last week in Mosul by the Islamic State.  Ignored it all last week -- in one briefing after another.  But then created the video above to pretend to care about Iraq and journalists (and Syria).

They don't care.  They're little liars.  Ned Parker had to flee Iraq last month due to threats against him as a result of his reporting.  The threats came from Shi'ite militias supporting the Iraqi government.

They don't care about that, not the State Dept.

I recognized one of the faces immediately in the slide show video.  Let's drop back to the December 23, 2013 snapshot:

December 15th, journalist Nawras al-Nuaimi was assassinated.

This is all the attention AFP gave her when she was killed:

GUNMEN murdered a female TV presenter in northern Iraq on Sunday, her station and police said, making her the sixth journalist to be killed in the country since October. Nawras al-Nuaimi was shot near her home in Mosul, Al-Mosuliyah TV said, and was the fifth journalist killed in the northern city in the same period.

Her life was worth a grand total of 55 words to AFP when she died.

She was the fifth journalist killed in Mosul from October to December 2013 -- but where are the four others?

Oh, that's right.

If they were killed by Iraqi forces, for example, or militias, they're not going to be noted in the video supposedly expressing concern for journalists.

Earlier this week, CNN noted the countries with the most journalists killed since 1992.  Topping the list was Iraq with 166 journalists killed -- more than double the second place county (Syria with 80).

The issue of Iraq was briefly raised in today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jeff Rathke:


MR RATHKE: Yeah, Iraq and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Iraq, very quick.


QUESTION: Yesterday at an event at the Atlantic Council, the KRG President Massoud Barzani – I asked him a pointed question about the independent --

MR RATHKE: I’m sure you did.

QUESTION: -- Kurdistan. And he said that for sure, it’s coming. 

Let's put the briefing on hold for a minute because we did note Said and his question in yesterday's snapshot:

Said Arikat: Are we likely to see the rise of an independent Kurdistan over the next year?  And, if not, why not?  Thank you.

President Massoud Barzani: I cannot say -- I cannot confirm whether it will be next year or when but certainly the independent Kurdistan is coming.

Back to today's State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: So you guys are fine with that? So we are likely to see an independent Kurdistan and you are likely to support it?

MR RATHKE: You’ve made several leaps there from the question to our policy. There’s been no change in U.S. policy, as I think we’ve talked about in advance of the visit. We believe that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq. We continue to support an Iraq that is federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified, as envisioned by the Iraqi constitution. So there’s been no change in the U.S. view. And I think also – President Barzani spoke to this as well – Iraq’s territorial integrity is under threat from ISIL, and the only effective way to address this threat is for all communities – Sunni, Shia, Kurd – to work together and address these security needs as well as in the political realm. And I think President Barzani also stated yesterday that the fight against ISIL needs to be the priority.

QUESTION: Well, once that priority is handled and taken care of, or Mosul is liberated and and ISIL is defeated, then the independence of Kurdistan would be fine, wouldn’t it? Would be --

MR RATHKE: That’s – again, I’m sure you were listening to my answer --

QUESTION: Are you – okay --

MR RATHKE: -- but I’m going to repeat it because it’s important: There’s been no change in U.S. policy. We believe that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq, and we believe in an Iraq that is federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified, as envisioned by the Iraqi constitution.

QUESTION: Would you sort of support a more robust autonomy in the northern region of Kurdistan?

MR RATHKE: Again, we support the Iraqi constitution and an Iraq that is federal, that is democratic, it’s pluralistic. I don’t have any further comment on it than that.

Baiji is in the news today.  Yesterday, the Washington Post's Liz Sly Tweeted:

  • The Pentagon said Ramadi isn't as strategic as Baiji. Now Baiji is threatened, it says Baiji isn't important either

  • Today, AFP explains, "The Islamic State jihadist group launched a fresh offensive against Iraq’s largest refinery, where a military official says security forces are facing one of their toughest battles." IANS adds, "A refinery site in Baiji city of northern Iraq was captured by Islamic State (IS) militants recently and Iraqi security forces now control only 20 percent of the facility, a senior US official said." CNN's Wolf Blitzer Tweets:

    Pentagon correspondent reports Iraq's huge oil refinery at Baiji is now 80 percent controlled by

    Here for Starr's article which notes, "U.S. and coalition fighter jets have been able to strike ISIS fighting positions and supply routes around the refinery, but are not striking inside, the official said. The reason, in part, is to preserve as much of the infrastructure as possible for the future."

    Oh, that's wonderful -- isn't that wonderful? -- when it comes to an oil refinery, care is taken but when it's bombing areas with civilians, little care is taken to protect either the people or the structures.

     Reuters reports, "American forces are trying to relieve pressure on Iraqi forces at the geographically important Baiji oil refinery, hitting militants with 26 air strikes since Tuesday and helping drop 18 pallets of supplies, the top US general [Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey] said on Thursday."  And Jennifer Hlad (Stars and Stripes) notes, "Although the Beiji refinery has not operated in recent months, it's a critical part of Iraq’s oil infrastructure. It also sits along the main route from Baghdad to Mosul, which has been controlled by the Islamic State since last summer’s offensive. Beiji also controls a corridor linking the valleys along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers."

    In other violence, Alsumaria reports 1 corpse was discovered to the north of Baghdad -- cut up into sections, 2 corpses were discovered dumped in the streets of Baghdad, 3 corpses were discovered in Rasheed (all three men were shot to death),  assailants in military uniforms kidnapped five people in eastern Baghdad, 1 government employee was shot dead to the east of Muqdadiyah, and a  Radwaniyah home invasion left 6 family members (including two children) dead.  In addition those incidents, Margaret Griffis ( reports 68 violent deaths across Iraq today ("no civilian casualties" are noted in her report so all that Alsumaria noted can be added to her total).

    Lastly, on The NewsHour (PBS) tonight, Margaret Warner had a report on Emma Sky which included:

    But their success was short-lived. As Sky tells it, as the Americans left, rushing to meet an Administration deadline to get all U.S. forces out of Iraq, Vice President Biden threw the U.S. weight behind Maliki remaining as Prime Minister, even after he’d narrowly lost the 2010 election to a non-sectarian party and its candidate Ayad Allawi. With the Americans gone, Maliki reverted to type, instituting a hype-sectarian Shiite rule, pushing Sunni politicians out of the arena, and reneging on his promises to keep Sunnis in the armed forces. After four years of this, Iraq’s 3 sects — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — were so alienated that Islamic State group fighters had no trouble rolling into Iraq and seizing a third of the country’s territory last summer.

    Click here for video and transcript of interview.  And Emma Sky's book published last month is The Unraveling: High Hopes And Missed Opportunities In Iraq

    the newshour
    margaret warner