Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, June 10, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Barack contemplates sending more US troops into Iraq, Barack's Monday snub(s) of Haider al-Abadi get some press attention, more civilians killed in coalition airstrikes and much more.

US President Barack Obama is said to be readying to send more US troops into Iraq.  Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) explains, "In a major shift of strategy in Iraq, the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar Province and send hundreds of additional American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi and repel the Islamic State."

  • While no announcement has yet to be made,  Keith Koffler (White House Dossier) offers:

    Mission creep continues.
    Fighting war the way liberals love to fight them, President Obama is adding bits and pieces of brigades at a time, adding an additional 500 troops after ISIS swamped Ramadi.
    Because even though everything, according to he White House, is going fine, and ya win some ya lose some when it comes to battles in a war, the reality is that the situation is deteriorating.

    David Lerman and Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg News) add, "Sending more Americans wouldn't solve the political problems that plague the Iraqi government's efforts to rebuild its army after a series of defeats, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration's options. Many Sunnis continue to distrust Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite, as an ally of Iran, they said."

    David Martin (CBS News) reports that sending additional US troops into Iraq is only one of three options the White House is considering:

    The next option is to train Sunni tribesmen directly, Colonel Steve Warren, Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday. This option could be seen as a reprisal of the "Sunni Awakening" of 2006 and 2007. As of now, the job of training Sunnis has been left to the Iraqi government with underwhelming results.
    However, pursuing this option amounts to a vote of no-confidence in the willingness or ability of the Iraqi government to reconcile with the Sunnis. There's also some question as to whether the Sunnis would take up arms against ISIS the way they did against al Qaeda in 2006 and 2007.
    The third option for the U.S. is to close off the main border cross from Turkey into Iraq. Again, Warren on Tuesday mentioned "putting pressure" on border crossing to cut off or reduce the flow of foreign fighters.

    The issue of the US training Iraqi forces was raised at today's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jeff Rathke.

    QUESTION: Iraq?

    MR RATHKE: Iraq, yes.

    QUESTION: It’s one year since Mosul was taken by ISIS and they still maintain the grip on that city. Do you have any comment?

    MR RATHKE: Well, we’ve always been very clear that this is an Iraqi-led operation and that the timetable for an offensive, first of all, with respect to Mosul is one that will be set by the Iraqis. We are focused on getting Iraqi forces ready, adequately trained and equipped, and our efforts to train and advise Iraqi forces are ongoing at multiple sites across Iraq. And we’re doing that in cooperation not only with the Iraqi Government, but also with our coalition partners. And so that’s a central part of our response and of our broad international coalition, which is working on multiple fronts and multiple lines of effort to degrade and defeat ISIL.

    QUESTION: Thank you.

    MR RATHKE: Yes, Mary Alice.

    QUESTION: Following up on that question, yesterday President Obama made a comment that there was more training capacity than recruits. Could you perhaps tell us where – what the blockage is within the Iraqi Government to not actually supply more recruits?

    MR RATHKE: Well, it is – as the President said yesterday, one of the things that we have to improve is the speed with which we’re training Iraqi forces, and I think the President also spoke to that. We’re reviewing a range of plans for how that could be done. And I would highlight, though, that there is – we have already – we have trained 9,000 Iraqi troops. There are about 3,100 Iraqi troops currently in training across Iraq through our train, advise, and assist program. It is also true, though, that we have greater capacity to train troops than there are troops currently in the pipeline. And that’s why we’re working with the Government of Iraq to improve that aspect of the program. This is something that Prime Minister Abadi and his council of ministers recognize as well. When they put forward a plan on May 19th, one of the things that acknowledges is they need to expand recruitment into the Iraqi army as one of the key points of that plan.

    QUESTION: But do you know what the obstacle is? Why are they having so much trouble getting recruits? Where is the obstacle? Is it within the government structure itself, or is it that people just don’t want to join?

    MR RATHKE: Well, again, if you look at the response across Iraq, there is a lot of interest in joining. If we switch from the Iraqi army to the Popular Mobilization Forces, there are Sunni volunteers currently being trained by the Iraqis. About 1,000 Sunni fighters were inducted into the Popular Mobilization Forces at the end of May – May 27th – and they joined thousands of other Sunni volunteers who have already joined this program and are fighting side by side with Iraqi Security Forces. For more details about the particular difficulties in recruitment, I’d refer you back, I think, to Iraqi authorities.

    QUESTION: But, Jeff, the Pentagon’s spokesperson, Colonel Steve Warren, just told reporters an hour ago that of the 9,000 or so that have already been trained, a portion of them are Kurdish Peshmerga. So that actually knocks down the number of non-Kurdish Iraqi forces who have actually been trained, which doesn’t exactly put a good light on the efforts to build up the capacity and to try to confront ISIL fighters. And again, to echo Mary Alice’s point, are Iraqis really not willing to take up arms against ISIL, or is this just bureaucratic bottlenecks that are keeping people from actually getting into the training and then getting outfitted and getting deployed?

    MR RATHKE: Well, to go back to your first point, though, yes, some of those forces which we have trained are Kurdish forces, and that’s been part of the plan all along because, as we’ve seen, there are also – I mean, the Kurdish forces are also fighting back against ISIL in northern Iraq in the Kurdish region. So that is necessarily a part of our training and assisting mission with Iraq. So I don’t see any reason to discount those from the overall numbers that we’ve trained. We’re helping Iraqis push back against ISIL in all of those places of Iraq where they have tried to expand – not only in Anbar, although Anbar, of course, is a key region.

    QUESTION: But it does beg the question that in a country of some 25-odd million people that the most that have been trained is still under 10,000 in total to date.

    MR RATHKE: Well, those – that’s through the U.S. train, advise, and assist program. So those are the ones we have trained. We have a footprint of about 3,000 trainers on the ground, and that – again, we’re looking at ways to increase the throughput and the recruitment, because we have some additional capacity and we want to make use of it.

    QUESTION: Jeff?

    MR RATHKE: Yes.

    QUESTION: Can I just say something here to correct the record --

    MR RATHKE: Sure.

    QUESTION: -- and to do it because she’s too polite to herself. But the person to whom you’re referring as Mary Alice is named – her name is Sharon.

    MR RATHKE: Oh my goodness. Well then, I apologize most heartfeltly. Sorry about that.
    Yes, go ahead.

    QUESTION: Are you convinced that the 9,000 that you have trained through the American train, advise, and assist program have the will to fight?

    MR RATHKE: That’s certainly been our experience, and I think we’ve spoken to this since the fall of Ramadi. The President also has spoken about it. And our experience has been that for those forces who have gone through our train, advise, and assist program and are properly equipped and are part of an Iraqi command and control structure, that they have fought well. That’s – I think there’s been a lot of discussion of the situation in Ramadi and how that differed. I don’t have anything to add to those discussions, but I think that’s certainly been our view of things and I think that’s shared by others in the U.S. Government.

    The White House has bigger problems than the State Dept's spin being refuted as it's being spun.  There's also the issue of the Sunnis in Iraq.  Yerevan Saeed (Rudaw) explains:

    US diplomats have been talking to Sunni leaders, trying to convince them to join the fight against ISIS. But they have failed to talk to the real influential Sunni leaders who enjoy greater trust in their communities. Instead, the Americans have depended on elected officials, or tribal leaders who are seen as pawns of the Baghdad government. This has amounted to a major blunder in the US strategy to bring the Sunni tribes on board against ISIS. When Anbar’s capital Ramadi fell last month, the Iraqi army abandoned large numbers of weapons of all types, including tanks, Humvees and munitions, which were seized by ISIS. Meanwhile, the Sunnis had been begging Baghdad for months for enough weapons to push back ISIS from Anbar.  To the Sunnis, it appears as if the government prefers the weapons to fall into ISIS hands than to be given to their own fighters. This has angered many Sunni tribal sheikhs, who have accused Baghdad of backstabbing.  

    At last, US diplomatic efforts in Iraq!

    . . . to build the military.

    The State Dept's Brett McGurk gets all giddy and wet over the actions of the military.

    1. 87 airstrikes against terrorists in & over last 72 hours including , , , , & across .

    At what point does Barack intend to turn the focus on the needed political solution which he swore was the only answer this time last year?  (June 19, 2014 is when he made those statements.)

    Lara Jakes (Foreign Policy) reports that Salim al-Jabouri, Speaker of Parliament, is in DC and arguing for the White House to directly arm the Sunnis in Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State.  In addition, Lara Jakes outlines how the big face-to-face Iraq's prime minister had with Barack on Monday didn't go that well:

    Perhaps it is little wonder that Iraq feels its fight against the Islamic State does not have the West’s full support. For all the tough talk this week at the G-7 summit in Germany about defeating the extremists, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi left with little more than securing new help from 125 British troops and a lecture from U.S. President Barack Obama about how Baghdad has hindered a strategy for the war.
    And then, of course, there was this: A video of Obama seemingly oblivious to Abadi patiently waiting to talk to him before giving up and walking away as the American president happily chats with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.
    “I have to look at this as the Iraqi people would see it,” Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said Tuesday, watching a clip of the video during an interview in Washington with Foreign Policy. He smiled ruefully and shook his head. “Ignoring us and our problem — it is very clear,” he said, as translated by a State Department contractor. “It’s really as if the United States is not really looking at our problems or not paying attention to us.”

    Lara Jakes is being rather kind by only noting the video which has Barack upright with his back to Haider as Haider and his translator are trying to get a word in.

    That's not the only time Barack was caught ignoring Haider.

    There's also this now infamous photo.

  • The picture captures something more than accidentally not seeing Haider.  This is an active decision to ignore as evidenced by the position of the spine (Barack's) and the use of the hand.

    Meanwhile,  Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 141 violent deaths across Iraq and notes, "In Mosul, 20 civilians were killed, including children, and 13 more were wounded in a coalition airstrike. An airstrike left 18 militants dead."