Saturday, July 11, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, July 11, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Congress and Gen Dempsey discuss more US troops in Iraq,  Senator Tim Kaine ignores the topic of troops in Iraq, Haider al-Abadi talks 'success,' War Crimes continue against the civilians in Falluja, and much more.

US Senator Tim Kaine led a delegation to Iraq last week and today he offers a column at the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the trip at which includes:

The next two days were in Iraq, beginning in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government. President Masoud Barzani, whose Kurdish peshmerga fighters have battled valiantly against ISIL and achieved significant success, thanked us for strong American support, saying, “If your president had not started a bombing campaign against ISIL last August in our region, we might not be here today.”
Local forces are the best “boots on the ground” we have against ISIL and the close coordination of our airstrikes with Kurdish ground activity has dramatically reversed ISIL’s gains.
But the progress in Kurdistan is not seen everywhere in Iraq. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is still struggling to build confidence among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds after former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s disastrous course that marginalized Sunnis and Kurds. The divisions were so sharp that when ISIL began gaining traction in 2014, Sunni areas in western Iraq would not join the government to battle the threat because of past mistreatment.

Abadi has gotten high marks in his first year, but his good intent remains to be translated into real unification of the country, which is ultimately critical to military success against ISIL. Thus in Iraq, the progress against ISIL is mixed — with notable successes in the northern Kurdish areas and eastern communities such as Diyala and Tikrit, but much less success in Sunni regions. This includes on the governance front, where greater reconciliation with Sunnis is necessary.

In his column, he argues for Congress authorizing Barack's latest stage of war on Iraq and authorizing the payment for it.

He doesn't say much more though, does he?

He doesn't talk about US forces on the ground in Iraq.

In fact, he doesn't even note them in his column even though the delegation met with US forces.  How very sad and sick of Tim Kaine.

But he doesn't want you to think about them or think about step two that would follow the authorization he wants: Even more boots on the ground.

Kaine serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Tuesday's the Committee held a hearing on Iraq.  The Committee Chair is Senator John McCain and the Ranking Member is Senator Jack Reed.  Appearing before the Committee were Gen Martin Dempsey (Chair of the Joint Chiefs) and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

We've noted Senators Joe Donnelly, Kelly Ayotte and Joe Manchin in Wednesday's snapshot.   In Friday's snapshot, we noted questioning from Senator Martin Heinrich and Joni Ernst.

We're going to note a key exchange today.

Senator Mike Rounds: You know, General, we pride ourselves and we point out fthe fact  that we truly do have the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen and yet right now we find ourselves -- as the President stated sometime ago, he called ISIS the jv [junior varsity] team.  Clearly, I do not think that's the position the administration would take today.  We've identified that they are clearly a threat.  We've identified a nine point plan, Mr. Secretary, in which you've identified all the things that have to happen including the defense of our country from these individuals.

There have been a number of plans regarding the Islamic State.  I'm unaware of what 9 point plan Rounds is speaking of but in his Monday speech, US President Barack Obama was emphasizing what the White House has dubbed "the four pillars" for the fight against the Islamic State.

  The Four Pillars of the U.S Strategy Against ISIL

1. A systematic campaign of airstrikes against ISIL
Working with the Iraqi government, the U.S. is expanding our efforts beyond protecting Americans and humanitarian missions, so that we're hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on the offense. We are pursuing terrorists wherever they are, which means the President will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq. As he has said, "If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven." As of today, we've launched more than 5,000 airstrikes against ISIL. 
2. Increased support to forces fighting ISIL on the ground
The U.S. has sent a small contingent of service members to support Iraqi forces, including Kurdish fighters, with training, intelligence, and equipment. These American forces do not have a combat mission, but are providing the support needed for Iraqi forces to go on the offense. In Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria's crisis once and for all. 
3. Drawing on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks
Working with our partners, we are redoubling our efforts to cut off ISIL's funding, improve our intelligence, strengthen our defenses, counter ISIL's warped ideology, and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East. 
4. Providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians displaced by ISIL

We cannot allow innocent communities to be driven from their homelands. The U.S. continues to provide much-needed assistance to Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities.

Back to the hearing.

Senator Mike Rounds: At what point during this three year time frame or what is the possibility during this three year time frame that the patience that you've shown, General, and that the Secretary has alluded to here to build this up, what is the probability that this -- that this time frame gets away from us?  What -- Are we in a position to make this thing last for three years without literally upping on our own point to defend ourselves?  At what point does it look like we're going to have to amp this thing up  using our own resources to a greater degree than we have today?

Gen Martin Dempsey:  I said three years for Iraq.  ISIL -- and I've also described ISIL in general as a "generational problem." because of it's allure in notably the Sunni sect of Islam.  Look, we just have to have a Sunni partner in order to address this challenge of ISIL.  And so, although I've said three years for Iraq, it's more like a generation which I suppose is loosely defined as 20 years to address the violent extremist allure of ISIL in the Sunni world. And that allure will only be stripped away when someone takes care of them and governs them. But to your question.  Are there points at which we would and should consider the introduction of US military combat capabilities?  The answer is yes   I think you've seen us do that in the -- in the raid that we conducted into Syria to capture and kill the group associated with Abu Sayyaf -- the financial network of ISIL.  And I think we're always on the alert or on the lookout for those opportunities and can use our capabilities as necessary to deal with those.

Senator Mike Rounds: You feel that you're in a politically appropriate position that you would have the backing to step in when needed to take care of the problem when the time is right?  

Gen Martin Dempsey:  I -- If you're asking -- I can't answer what answer I would receive.  I have the confidence that my recommendation would be accepted and uh-uh debated in the context of everything else we're doing.

Secretary Ash Carter (stepping over Rounds): Senator, let me step in here and help out if I may.  Senator, I-I think that part of our strategy is to look for opportunities to do more in the sense of creating capable ground forces that we can --

And we'll stop there.  Before Carter jumped in -- and spoke over Rounds -- Dempsey and Rounds were talking about US forces and their being sent into fighting in Iraq.

That is what was taking place.

It may have been a little too vague for some to follow.

Clearly, the press appeared to miss it.

But that's what Rounds was calling for, what Dempsey was more or less agreeing to and what Ash Carter rushed in to divert attention from.

If you doubt that, Rounds made it very clear after Carter's long and distracting response.

Senator Mike Rounds:   Mr. Chairman, my time has expired, but I would make one comment and that is that it appears to me that if our strategy is waiting on other people to get their stuff in order, it doesn't seem to be as practical as taking advantage of and literally going out and proactively taking care of the problem if need be.  And we've got the greatest fighting force in the world and the last thing in the world I want to see is to have them engage boots on the ground but if it means boots on the ground or additional folks there fighting there as opposed to having a successful attack on this homeland then I think we all agree on what we ought to be doing. And I just hope that this strategy includes that as a possibility.

Again, that is what was being discussed.

On the boots on the ground issue (which we oppose), Senator John McCain feels that forward air controllers on the ground are needed.

We're opposed to boots on the ground.  That doesn't mean we don't note Senate or House discussions on the topic.  I was asked if I was going to note McCain's exchange with Carter?

No.  That sentence above is about it.

Not because I disagree with him but because it was too technical.  He and Carter were both hiding behind jargon.

But I will note McCain's opening statement in full.

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on U.S. strategy to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL):
“The Senate Armed Services Committee meets today to receive testimony on U.S. strategy to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. I am grateful to our distinguished witnesses for appearing before us today.
“The risk posed by ISIL must be seen in the context of what many of America’s most accomplished leaders and foreign policy experts have described as the most complex and uncertain international environment since the end of World War II. All across the globe, America’s interests in security and stability are at risk. 
“As part of a broader strategy to dominate eastern Europe, Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues its onslaught in Ukraine, with Russian troops and equipment leading an asymmetric campaign to undermine Ukraine’s government and independence as the United States has refused weapons for its defense.
“China’s destabilizing behavior also poses a growing challenge to U.S. national interests—its reclamation and militarization of vast land features in the South China Sea, its continued military build-up, and of course, its blatant and undeterred cyber-attacks against the United States.
“Iran is expanding its malign activities and hegemonic ambitions across the Middle East—as we see clearly in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and elsewhere—and yet some in the Administration seem to be operating under the delusion that a nuclear agreement could lead to a new modus vivendi with the Islamic Republic.
“And in Syria, Bashar Assad’s slaughter of his own people, which has been the single greatest contributor to the rise and continued success of ISIL, goes on, and on, and on—aided by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. For four years, the President has said Assad must go as part of a political transition in Syria, but conditions on the ground have never allowed it. Tragically, that remains true today.
“What each of these growing threats has in common is a failure of deterrence, brought on by a dangerous perception of American weakness and lack of resolve, which our adversaries have taken as a provocative invitation for hostility.
“When it comes to ISIL, President Obama’s comments yesterday at the Pentagon reveal the disturbing degree of self-delusion that characterizes the Administration’s thinking. It is right but ultimately irrelevant to point out, as the President did, that we have conducted thousands of air strikes, taken out many ISIL fighters and much equipment, and pushed it out of some territory. None of the so-called progress that the President cited suggests that we are on a path to success.
“Since U.S. and coalition airstrikes began last year, ISIL has continued to enjoy battlefield successes, including taking Ramadi and other key terrain in Iraq, holding over half the territory in Syria, and controlling every border post between Iraq and Syria.  Moreover, the longer ISIL remains undefeated in Iraq and Syria, the more potent its message is to those around the world who may be radicalized and inspired to join the group and spread violence and mayhem on its behalf. 
“It is not that we are doing nothing; it is that there is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to achieve the President’s stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL—either in the short-term or the long-term. Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends. That suggests we are not winning, and when you are not winning in war, you are losing.
“The reality today is that ISIL continues to gain territory in Iraq and Syria, while expanding its influence and presence across the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. There is no responsible ground force in either Iraq or Syria that is both willing and able to take territory away from ISIL and hold it, and none of our current training efforts of moderate Syrians, Sunni tribes, or Iraqi Security Forces are as yet capable of producing such a ground force. It is unclear why the latest gradual escalation of effort, the deployment of a few hundred additional advisers to Anbar, will make the difference that our previous efforts failed to achieve.
“While our coalition may own the skies, as the President said yesterday, our air campaign against ISIL continues to be limited significantly by overly restrictive rules of engagement and a lack of ground intelligence, which only gets worse as ISIL moves into urban areas to avoid coalition bombing. Pilots will tell you that they are only as good as the targets they receive, and when three-quarters of our air missions against ISIL still return to base without dropping weapons, that is indicative of a fundamental problem with our air campaign.
“What’s worse, none of our efforts against ISIL in Iraq can succeed while the conflict in Syria continues, and with it the conditions for ISIL’s continued growth, recruitment, and radicalization of Muslims across the world. As published media reports indicate, our Syrian train and equip program is anemic and struggling because our stated goal does not include going after Assad and his regime forces, and we still do not provide the forces we are training with the enabling capabilities to succeed in any engagement they may face inside Syria.
“Given the poor numbers of recruited and trained Syrian fighters thus far, I am doubtful we can achieve our goal of training a few thousand this year.  But even if the program achieves its goal, it is doubtful that it will make a strategic difference on the battlefield. Yes, we need a political solution in Syria. But no such solution is possible with Bashar Assad still in power. Unless and until the United States leads a coalition effort to put far greater battlefield pressure on Assad, a political solution will never be within reach, the conflict will grind on, and ISIL will thrive.
“The lack of a coherent strategy has resulted in the spread of ISIL around the world—to Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and even to Afghanistan, where I visited last weekend. Afghanistan is certainly not Iraq, but the parallels are eerily familiar. As in Iraq, the United States is contemplating a drastic reduction in force presence that places at risk the hard-won gains of the last decade. While Afghanistan’s security forces are improving in quality, they are still missing the same set of key capabilities the Iraqis were missing when the U.S. withdrew in 2011, including intelligence, aviation, special operations, and logistics capabilities.  At the current pace, our military commanders know these capabilities will remain critically underdeveloped at the end of 2016, when President Obama has announced that U.S. and coalition forces will dramatically downsize to a presence solely in Kabul.
“We have seen this movie before. And if we make the same mistakes, we should expect similarly tragic results. I do not want to attend another hearing like this with your successors trying to figure out a strategy to clean up after avoidable mistakes.  What that means is that the President must provide our commanders on the ground with necessary forces, capabilities, and the authorities to help our Afghan partners in continuing to secure their country and defeat our terrorist enemies together.
“ISIL is not ten feet tall. It can be, and must be, defeated. But that will never happen if we continue to delude ourselves about our current campaign. The President is fond of the truism that there is no military solution to ISIL or any other problem. What he has so often failed to realize is that there is sometimes a major military dimension to achieving a political solution. This was the critical lesson that the United States learned in the Iraq surge, and we must learn again: security on the ground is a precondition to political reconciliation, not the other way around.
“The unfortunate irony is that a president elected in opposition to the war in Iraq is repeating some of its worst strategic mistakes. And what’s worse, despite obvious indications that the current strategy against ISIL is failing, he has yet to find the courage of his predecessor to admit mistakes and choose a new direction. This needs to happen sooner rather than later, or the disaster the next president will inherit—in the Middle East, but also far beyond it—will be overwhelming.
“It is clear we are living in a time of unprecedented turmoil.  We see it on our television screens everyday:  ISIL’s spread across the Middle East, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and China’s maritime expansion in Asia. 
“Once again I thank our witnesses and look forward to your testimony.”

What's the White House's main goal today?

Secretary Ash Cater:  What we need from the Iraqi government is the enrollment of Sunnis in the Iraq security forces and the commitment of the Iraqi government to pay them, to, uh, equip them with our help, which we provide, and then, to get back to the Chairman's question about direct support to them, when we have effective ground forces under the control of the Iraqi government, we are prepared to do more to support them but we need to have those effective ground forces because local forces on the ground, we know from experience, is the only way to create a lasting defeat of ISIL and that's what the strategy is all about. 

And the biggest understatement of the hearing probably came from Gen Martin Dempsey, "As the Secretary mentioned, the good intentions of Prime Minister Abadi have not always been met with activity in the echelons or bureaucracy beneath him."

And let's note the numbers.  During a tense exchange with Senator Jeff Sessions, Gen Dempsey declared, "We've got 1600 pilots flying over Iraq and Syria today.  We've got 3500 boots on the ground doing train and assist."

Moving over to the US State Dept, we'll note this from Friday's briefing moderated by Mark Toner:

QUESTION: One more on – there is a Stabilization Working Group – I believe Brett McGurk is part of that – to return the stability of the regions being liberated from ISIS in Iraq like Tikrit and Diyala. There are report talking about that only 20 percent of those people could – able to return to the area. Some of the problem is security issues; the others is because of the international coalition and the working – the Stabilization Working Group has not been able to provide the assistance they promised to do. Is there any update on that, on Tikrit --

MR TONER: Specifically what you’re – yeah, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. Especially on Tikrit and Diyala, that there is still problem that the people fled from Tikrit and from Diyala, they have not been able to go back to their cities. Some of them is because of the militias threatening them and the others is because of lack of service that this Stabilization Working Group, which Brett McGurk is part of that --

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: -- was meant to solve this problem.

MR TONER: I don’t have any updates on people returning to those cities today. I mean, I know that – I can just speak broadly about the efforts of the group and within – working in Iraq and Syria, but I don’t have any specifically thing to add to it.

QUESTION: But that’s still going on, these efforts, around the --

MR TONER: These (inaudible) efforts --


MR TONER: But specifically, what are you talking about? In terms of returning --

QUESTION: Returning the residents and also providing the security for them and handing over is what was part of the kind of the bible for the group.

MR TONER: Yeah, right, right.

QUESTION: That – returning that order.

MR TONER: Yeah, no, those efforts continue, absolutely. Yeah.

On the topic of refugees in Iraq, MWC reports:

Aid groups say dozens of families are stranded on the Anbar side of the Bzebiz bridge after Iraqi officials closed it.
Iraqi authorities have shut down a bridge between Anbar and Baghdad used by people displaced because of fighting between security forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Aid agencies said the Bzebiz bridge between the town of Amariyat al-Fallujah and the capital was shut down on Wednesday, leaving dozens of families stranded on the Anbar side and prompting demands from provincial officials to reopen the crossing.

As Kat noted earlier today:

Where does the voice of international community come in condemning this?
Haider al-Abadi is dooming thousands of Iraqis by closing this bridge.
Where's the outcry?

Meanwhile the Iraqi military continues its year and a half long bombing of civilians and civilian homes in Falluja.  Amre Sarhan (Iraqi News) reports a medical source told them that Saturday "Fallujah General Hospital received the bodies of 25 people, including three children and four women, and 23 wounded, including five women and six children, as victims after their homes were subjected to mortar fire in different areas of Fallujah."  In addition, Iraqi Spring MC reports that the Iraqi military bombed civilian areas of Ramadi today.

Lastly, we'll note this from the office of Iraq's Prime Minister.


استقبل السيد رئيس مجلس الوزراء الدكتور حيدر العبادي في مكتبه اليوم الخميس السيد بريت مكورك مساعد وزير الخارجية الامريكية.
وجرى خلال اللقاء الاشادة بالانتصارات المتحققة على عصابات داعش الارهابية وتدريب وتسليح القوات المسلحة العراقية واعادة النازحين والتحديات الاقتصادية التي تواجه البلد ومستجدات الاوضاع السياسية والامنية في العراق والمنطقة.
وثمن مكورك جهود الحكومة العراقية لاعادة النازحين في محافظة صلاح الدين وبقية المدن واعادة اعمار المناطق المحررة واستمرار الدعم الدولي للحكومة العراقية والقوات الامنية في مواجهة عصابات داعش الارهابية.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with Brett McGurk of the US State Dept on the 7th to
discuss Iraq's 'victories' in the battle against the Islamic State.  It must have been a very
brief meeting.