Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, June 16, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Haider al-Abadi gets closer to Iran, some Iraqi officials have even closer ties to Iran, Brett McGurk yet again outlines what DoD will do in Iraq while failing to note the State Dept's role, Nouri al-Maliki lurks in the background, and much more.

Tell Congress to end U.S. warfare in Iraq:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Do Iraqis care whether it's Bully Boy Bush or Barack bombing them?

And are they longing to be led by Iraqi turncoats who fought on the side of Iran during the Iraq-Iran war?

  • Qasim al-Araji is an MP who leads the Badr bloc in Parliament.  Hadi al-Amari is the Minister of Transportation and the head of the Badr miliita. Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban is the Minister of the Interior.

    It really is amazing how many traitors to Iraq are now in the government of Iraq.

    Rudaw notes, "Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is expected in Tehran on Wednesday in order to meet with top Iranian top officials, according to a Baghdad government announcement."  AFP reminds, "With its forces in disarray last June, Baghdad turned to volunteer forces that are dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias for support, and they have proved instrumental to Iraqi gains against ISIS."

    While he trolls to Tehran, his government is in shambles.  Over 7,000 detainees are currently sentenced to die and the Ministry of Justice is carrying out executions while bypassing the presidency council.

    The presidency council -- the president of Iraq and its vice presidents -- is the only group authorized to sign off on an execution.  That's per Iraq's Constitution and if the Ministry of Justice is not in compliance with the Constitution, the Minister of Justice Haidar Zamili should be removed from his post.

    While Haider hurries to bow and scrape in Tehran, cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr speaks to French television.  France 24 notes:

    Sadr was interviewed by FRANCE 24’s Michel Kik on June 13, 2015, in the cleric’s office in the Iraqi city of Najaf, in the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq.
    In characteristic form, Sadr also lashed out against Washington for “sowing divisions” in the Middle East. “America gives arms to Sunnis, to Shiites, to Kurds, heightening sectarianism and ethnic tensions,” he said.

    Real Clear Politics offers a partial transcription:

    MOQTADA AL-SADR: I would like to convey a message to the Americans. The American intervention displays that the U.S. can no longer claim to be a super power. The Islamic State group only has 5,000 members according to estimates, and the world's biggest super power has not been able to defeat this terrorist group in Syria, Iraq, and other regions, so the U.S. can no longer claim they are a super power.

    FRANCE 24 INTERVIEWER: That is the question. What is the objective of the Americans? Some say the U.S. support the Islamic State organization, others say Americans dropping weapons. There are many assumptions doing the rounds about this. What in your view is the goal? Why don't the U.S. want to get rid of this organization?

    MOQTADA AL-SADR: The Americans always do the same thing. First of all, they create discord somewhere, and then they stoke the fire. Exacerbate tensions with weapons, by fostering sectarianism, exacerbating the tensions, and the Americans let the protagonists kill each other, the watch the situation and they enjoy the bloodshed.

    National Iraqi News Agency notes that Moqtada has declared Iraq is at "its worst now" and that, "Iraq is sinking into a spiral of violence."

    And as it sinks, will trash rise?

    Specifically, will former prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki use the conditions to stage a comeback or coup?

    Guy Taylor (Washington Examiner) reports on how US officials believe Nouri is currently thwarting any efforts new prime minister Haider al-Abadi might make towards reaching a political solution in Iraq:

    The Obama administration continues to publicly back Mr. al-Abadi. But in private, several high-level U.S. officials from the intelligence community and the administration echoed Mr. Mufriji’s assertions and voiced frustration that Mr. al-Maliki is trying to play the spoiler.
    Those officials, who spoke anonymously with The Times, said a big part of the problem is that Mr. al-Maliki — not Mr. al-Abadi — holds the most sway over Shiite militias leading the fight against the Islamic State, despite a desire by many Sunni tribes in the nation to take up arms against the extremists. Iraq’s national army, all sides agree, has not performed well in direct engagements with Islamic State fighters.

    Nouri's an easy scapegoat.

    Is he really the reason there's no political solution in Iraq?

    A year ago, Barack Obama declared that a political solution was the only answer to the crises in Iraq.

    A year ago.

    But the US hasn't done anything to aid such a solution.

    In fact, the 'diplomatic arm' of the government has repeatedly confused itself with the Pentagon.

    That was made clear yet again this week when Brett McGurk appeared on NBC's Meet the Press hosted by Chuck Todd.

    I'm joined by Ambassador Brett McGurk. He's the president's diplomatic eyes on the ground in Iraq, and an ISIS expert these days. His official is Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL or ISIS. He is also key advisor to President George W. Bush on Iraq and Afghanistan, and he just returned from Iraq on Thursday. Welcome to Meet the Press.

    Thank you. I'm honored to be here.

    Let me ask it this way. Obviously the president's plan really depends on a functioning Iraqi military. What do 450 advisors going to need $20 billion in training the Iraqi army hasn't done?

    Well, Chuck, we're of course, nine months into what's going to be a long-term campaign. And what the announcement the president made this week is designed we've looked at what really works. And we had a training mission, which is longer term, we also have an advise and assist mission. And we found that every time we have advised and assisted Iraqi forces' tribal fighters, the Kurds, they've been very effective against ISIS.

    Taqaddum Air Base is centrally located right between Ramadi and Fallujah. After Ramadi fell, about three weeks ago, we saw Iraqi forces consolidate. You know, when Mosul fell, five Iraqi divisions completely disintegrated. Ramadi was a little different. They actually retreated, consolidated, they reset their headquarters of Taqaddum Air Base. And Prime Minister Abadi asked us to come to help him to train to plan to recruit Sunni fighters to take back territory.

    We looked at that. And based upon success we've had in other areas of Anbar Province, at Al Asad Air Base, we've been working there since November with three tribes. They're mobilized, they're fighting. And the Iraqi Seventh, the first Iraqi Army division is out there fighting. And they've actually had some real success. So what the National Security Council Team and the president we said, "What's worked, what hasn't worked?" The advise and assist mission has been very effective. We think that Taqaddum, we can really make some gains there.

    It seems as if whether you want to go back to the surge or go to this plan that you just described, that you say is taking what works, the common denominator is this: as long as the United States is there, Iraq can be cobbled together. The minute you try to withdraw the American presence, Iraq falls apart. It's been that way now for 14 years. How is that ever going to change?

    Well, it's a question we ask ourselves every day, let me say two things. I think we have to keep in mind what the enemy ISIS is. We've looked at it very closely. Main assessment last summer and it still holds. It is better in every respect than its predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq. It's better manned, it's better equipped, they're better fighters. And we remember what it took for U.S. forces to defeat that enemy.

    It's also a real threat to the United States. This is something we've never seen before. The number of fighters, the number of Jihadist fighters coming into Syria right now, about 24,000, depending on who's counting, but it's about twice as many that went into Afghanistan over ten years to fight the Soviet Union in 1980s. We know what that led to.

    So we have to get our hands on this. It's why we built a global coalition to defeat it and many facets, including the foreign fighter flow. But in Iraq, we're not trying to make Iraq into a Jeffersonian democracy and a perfect place. Prime Minister Abadi's vision for the government is much more federalism, much more local control.

    As Sunnis rise up to take on ISIS, they're going to have much more autonomy in their provinces. It's called a functioning federalism, it's consistent with their constitution, and we've been working with them. I was in Iraq last week

    It's a partition with an umbrella. It's a three partition, but with a little bit of a federal umbrella

    It's a constitutional federalist framework. Now I was in Iraq last week, you know, talking not only to the central government leaders, but the governor of Anbar Province, the local tribal leaders, I just got off the phone with some of our commanders in the field. Now that we're based in Taqaddum, and working with the tribal committee in Anbar, we're gonna see over the next week, I think pretty soon some new tribal fighters coming in to get equipped and get into the fight.

    I'm going to ask you about something the former president George Bush said this week in an interview with an Israel media outlet. He said this, "A fair number of people in our country were saying that the was impossible to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is ISIS as far as I'm concerned. They said I must get out of Iraq. But I chose the opposite. I sent 30,000 more troops as opposed to 30,000 fewer.

    "I think history will show that Al Qaeda in Iraq was defeated. And so I chose the path of boots on the ground. And we'll whether or not our government adjusts to the realities on the ground." He's essentially, first time we've heard him directly, I think, criticize the strategy. If he thinks there has to be boots on the ground, why is he wrong?

    Well, Chuck, I've worked closely with two presidents. And I think the strategy we have now, it was a different time. When we were in Iraq before, we were there, we had real authority to do whatever we wanted. We're there now at the invitation of the Iraqi government. And we have to work very closely with them.

    But the president made, again, specifically tailored to what works, we're there to advise and assist, to get Sunni tribal fighters into the fight, to work with Iraqis to reconsolidate and get their plan together. Every time we've advised and assisted an Iraqi operation, it's been successful. In northern Syria, as we speak, the Kurds, with Arab Free Syrian Army Fighters, and some Christian organized units, they're really giving a beating to ISIS.

    And they're very close to cutting off the main supply route that ISIS has in its capital of Raqqa. So there's a lot going on, Chuck. I think we'll watch the Euphrates Valley over the next six months, from Raqqa, to Ramadi, to Fallujah--

    We're going to be focused there.

    Those six months, success or failure depends on--


    Specifically in Anbar province. That's where we're focused. 

    Did Brett talk about a political solution?


    He talked about everything but a political solution.

    Last week, Barack Obama made some remarks that continue to haunt him.  One person sounding off?  Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  Martin Matishak (The Hill) speaks with Gates:

    “Just adding another few hundred troops doing more of the same I think is not likely to make much of a difference,” he said.
    “We have to figure out what our strategy is. We should have had a strategy a year ago that took into account differences within the Iraqi government and the sectarian difference in the country and so on,” Gates added. 

    Gates is far from the only one concerned with Barack's more of the same passed off as 'strategy' or a 'plan.'  The editorial board of the Baltimore Sun weighs in:

    The chances that a few hundred more American advisers can turn the situation around are remote unless Iraqi leaders can get their act together and unify the country against ISIS. Until that happens, sending more U.S. troops only serves as window dressing for a continued U.S. withdrawal from the region.
    After years of U.S. effort and billions of dollars spent training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, only to see them suffer a humiliating setback when Islamic State fighters captured the city of Ramadi last month, it's clear the U.S. strategy isn't working. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition haven't stopped ISIS advances on the ground, and U.S. commanders openly admit that plans to retake the major Iraqi city of Mosul, which fell to the insurgents last summer, are now on hold indefinitely. There's no telling how long the current military stalemate will last, but ISIS clearly has the advantage.
    [. . .]
    We are first to admit that there is no easy solution here, but the American public is being ill served by any suggestion that what Mr. Obama is doing will make the slightest difference. Sending a few hundred troops merely gives the impression that he is taking action while really just kicking the can down the road for the next American president to contend with.


    At Reuters, Peter Van Buren shares his take which includes:

    This is likely only the beginning of Obama’s surge. General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined the establishment of what he called “lily pads” — American base-lets scattered around the country. Of course, like Taqaddum, these lily pads will require hundreds more American military advisers to serve as flies, at risk of being snapped up by an Islamic State frog.  Any attack on U.S. troops would require a response, a cycle that could draw the U.S. deeper into open conflict.
    The new strategy also revises the role of American troops in Iraq. “Advise and assist” is the new “training.” While careful to say Americans would not engage in combat per se, signals suggest advice and assistance will be dispensed quite close to the front.
    In sum: More troops, more bases, more forward-leaning roles, all operating at times against the will of a host government the United States appears to have lost patience with. The bright light of victory is years down a long tunnel.
    We’ve seen this before. It was Vietnam.
    Some details are different. The jumps from air power to trainers to advisors to combat troops took years in the Vietnam War. Obama has reached the advisor stage in just months. The Iranians fighting in Iraq do share a short-term goal with the United States in pushing back Islamic State, but like the Russians and Chinese in Vietnam, ultimately have an agenda in conflict with American policy.

    Meanwhile, similarities scream. As in Vietnam, a series of U.S.-midwifed governments in Baghdad have failed to follow Washington’s orders; they have proceeded independently amid incompetence and corruption. Both wars are characterized as good versus evil (baby killers in Vietnam, jihadis chopping off heads with swords in Iraq); both were sold under questionable pretenses (humanitarian intervention in Iraq, reaction to an alleged but doubtful attack on U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964) and as part of a great global struggle (against communism, against Islamic extremism). Despite the stakes claimed, few allies, if any, join in. In each war, the titular national army — trained, advised and retrained at great cost — would not fight for its country. The host country is charged with ultimate responsibility for resolving its (American-created) problems, even as America assumes a greater role.

    And on the ground in Iraq, the dying continues.  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 275 violent deaths across Iraq today.  275 dead doesn't have the bright spin Brett McGurk likes to offer -- maybe the reason that the administration avoids talking about the dead unless it's the dead killed by US war planes dropping bombs from overhead -- at which point, it's talk of dead 'terrorists' while repeatedly ignoring that all the dead are not terrorists and that these bombs have killed a large number of civilians.