Saturday, July 25, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, July 25, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Turkey renews bombing Iraq and the PKK,  the US government looks the other way having gotten what it wanted from Turkey, and much more.

Holy war
Hate and cruelty...
How can this be holy?
If I had a heart I'd cry.

These ancient tales...
The good go to heaven
And the wicked ones burn in hell...
Ring the funeral bells!
If I had a heart I'd cry.
-- "If I Had A Heart," written by Joni Mitchell first appears on her Shine

DEBAKA reports:

The Middle East woke up Friday, July 24, to two new full-fledged wars launched by Jordan and Turkey for cutting down the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as is forces advanced on their borders. The United States and Israel are involved in both campaigns. Jordanian armored, commando and air forces are already operating deep inside Iraq, while Friday morning, Turkey conducted its first cross-border air strike against ISIS targets in Syria. Clashes between Turkish troops and Islamic fighters erupted at several points along the border. Both governments also conducted mass arrests of suspected Islamists. The Jordanian police picked up ISIS adherents, while 5,000 Turkish police detained 250 Islamist and outlawed Kurdish PKK suspects in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Saniurta. Jordan Friday shut down its only border crossing with Iraq.

But Turkey's not trying to cut down the Islamic State with these attacks.

It's using the threat or 'threat' of the Islamic State to advance their own interests which is to yet again re-start the war between Turkey and the PKK -- Kurdish fighters who have fought for an independent Kurdish homeland (fought via armed violence) for decades now, since 1984.

Contanze Letsch (Guardian) points out:

Turkey launched overnight airstrikes against several positions of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s party (PKK) in northern Iraq for the first time in four years, the country’s government has said.
The air raids put an end to a two-year ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK, severely endangering the already fragile peace process started in 2012 in an attempt to end a bloody conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people over 30 years.

ITV adds, "The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has said its 2013 truce with Turkey 'has no meaning anymore'."  AP explains, "The strikes in Iraq targeted the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, whose affiliates have been effective in battling the Islamic State group. The strikes further complicate the U.S.-led war against the extremists, which has relied on Kurdish ground forces making gains in Iraq and Syria."  Zia Weise and Chris Stevenson (Independent) note the shift in their report which includes:

“With the bombardment, Turkey has ended the ceasefire,” said Zagros Hiwa, a spokesman for the PKK and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) based in the Qandil mountains, told The Independent on Sunday. “It ended the ceasefire and it ended the peace process unilaterally. From now on, we will continue our struggle against all odds.”

The action of the Turkish government should be immediately and universally called out.

This is not helping anything.

The Turkish government -- probably like many others -- is using the pretext of the Islamic State to attack Iraq.

In doing so, it is violating Iraq's sovereignty yet again.

This didn't work out well before, for any who paid attention.

The Turkish warplanes, announcements swore, killed 'terrorists.'  Reality, they bombed farming communities and killed civilians.

This didn't endear them to the Iraqi people.

There was outrage, naturally.

Now the Turkish government uses the threat or 'threat' of the Islamic State to overturn a peace initiative that they clearly never supported and were only waiting for the first chance to void.

In terms of Turkey, this means the PKK is now engaged in war with them which will mean on the outskirts of Turkey as well as inside.

This was a stupid decision by the Turkish government.

The question right now is whether or not the White House approved this assault.

Did the White House know about it and is that why there's been no major public condemnation of the assaults on northern Iraq from the White House?

The best they can offer, as the BBC notes, is a minor player with minor words:

US White House spokesman Alistair Baskey said Turkey had the right to defend itself against terrorist attacks by Kurdish rebels and urged the PKK to renounce terrorism.
But he said that Ankara should also avoid violence towards the PKK and seek to de-escalate the conflict.

Jacques Brinon (AP) notes that meek and weak wasn't the response in France where at least a thousand "Kurds and leftist Turks" took the streets of Paris to register their objections to Turkish warplanes bombing northern Iraq with banners decrying the action and some accusing the Turkish government of assisting the Islamic State.

The bombing raises many questions -- such as did the White House agree to look the other way as part of a deal with Turkey to use a Turkish base?

Friday on NPR's Morning Edition (link is audio and text), Steve Inskeep discussed the White House's latest arrangement with Deborah Amos:

INSKEEP: So why is it a big deal the U.S. can use Turkey as a base?

AMOS: Steve, this is a real estate question. It's all about location. This airbase, Incirlik, is about 200 miles from Syria and ISIS targets. Now coalition jets are taking off from bases in the Gulf. They're flying more than a thousand miles. So what this means is less refueling, more time in the air. And that's a big change. Turkey signing on is also a game changer. Turkey's been frustrated with Washington policy on fighting ISIS. They say that you have to fight Bashar al-Assad in Syria at the same time, but Turkey has been increasingly threatened by ISIS.

Xinhua offers "Ankara is concerned that Kurds, emboldened by gains in Iraq and Syria, may have an incentive now to ask for a greater autonomy and even independence that risks the unitary structure of Turkish state."

AFP notes:

The leadership of Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has condemned Turkish air strikes against positions of Kurdish fighters in its autonomous region, echoing the remarks of the leadership earlier.
Masoud Barzani, president of KRG, spoke to Ahmed Dayutoglu, Turkey's prime minister, over telephone on Saturday and "expressed his displeasure with the dangersou level the situation has reached", according to a KRG statement.
"He requested that the issue not be escataled to that level because peace is the only way to solve problems and years of negotiations are beter than one hour of war," the statement said.

Liz Sly (Washington Post) explains, "The targeting of Kurdish militants will also complicate the United States’ air war against the Islamic State, which has relied heavily on a PKK-allied group of Syrian Kurds to make advances in northern Syria."

And it will complicate things within Turkey.  WSWS offers:

Originally, Ankara, Washington and its Arab allies worked closely together in undermining the Syrian regime and arming Islamist groups opposed to Damascus. But when ISIS expanded into Iraq and endangered the regime in Baghdad, Washington made a political turn. It bombed ISIS and, much to the dismay of Ankara, aligned itself with Iraqi Kurdish groups. The recent agreement between Iran and the US further undermines the rapidly declining influence of Ankara.
By joining the war against ISIS and simultaneously escalating the confrontation with the Kurdish nationalist groups, Ankara is trying to win back some influence over the course of events. By doing so, it is escalating the ethnic and sectarian tensions in Syria, Turkey and the entire region, posing a deadly danger for the working class.

A second, no less important, reason for Ankara’s warmongering is escalating social and political tensions at home. The massacre in Suruç has triggered a wave of terrorist attacks for revenge, in which the PKK killed three police officers and a soldier and two alleged ISIS members. A member of the HDP was killed by an “unidentified murderer.” The Turkish Prime Minister’s Office stated that the government would take “any necessary measures to protect public order and national security.”

In the US, Senator Johnny Isakson is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  His office issued the following on Friday:

Friday, July 24, 2015
Contact: Amanda Maddox, 202-224-7777

Isakson: We Owe Our Veterans 'Nothing Less' than to Hold VA Accountable
Joins colleagues in highlighting committee action on sweeping VA accountability legislation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, spoke on the floor of the Senate regarding the recent committee passage of legislation aimed at increasing accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He was joined on the floor by fellow committee members Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., as well as Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
At a markup held Wednesday, the committee approved both the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act of 2015 (S.1082), which gives the VA Secretary greater firing authority over bad actors in the department, and S.627, a bill that prohibits the VA from granting bonuses to underperforming employees. 
            Isakson delivered the following remarks on the floor of the Senate:
“As chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the United States Senate, I'm proud to be joined by other members of the committee for a colloquy and a report to the American people on the progress we're making to hold the VA accountable for our veterans and for the taxpayers.
“As all will remember, Phoenix, Ariz., had a terrible tragedy at the VA Hospital in Phoenix last year. Because of missed appointments, erased records and consults that were removed, veterans waiting for services never got them and, in three cases, they died. That was malfeasance in office and brought a great scandal to the VA.
“In January when our committee took hold, we decided to go to the Justice Department and the VA’s Inspector General and say, ‘Go into the VA. Investigate these incidents taking place and if we find criminal wrongdoing or civil wrongdoing we should prosecute these people to make sure it doesn't happen again.’
“Now I'm never happy when anybody is indicted, but I was satisfied that last Friday the first indictment came down from the Justice Department against a VA employee. Unfortunately in my state of Georgia at the VA hospital in Augusta for 50 counts of falsifying medical records, the results of which ended up benefiting the employee and hurting veterans.
“And I promise the American people and the members of the Senate that’s not going to be the last indictment. We're going to see to it that people are held accountable for their actions. We owe nothing less to our veterans than that type of treatment.
“Wednesday, the VA committee met in the Senate and we approved two great bills on our effort to bring about greater accountability. One of those bills was the Rubio-Johnson bill which allows the firing and the holding accountable of VA employees for malfeasance, misconduct in office, or for cause.
“As many people know the VA oftentimes in disciplining people just moves them to another job at the same pay but they can't move them out of the system, so the accountability system never takes place. There is no sense of accountability and veterans are not well served. Thanks to the Rubio-Johnson bill, people who are terminated for cause will have a brief hearing and a chance to justify their case. And if their case is not justified they will be removed from the veterans’ administration health services agency and they will be fired. That's the type of accountability every American who is employed in their job at home has. We think it's the same accountability every Department of Veterans Affairs employee ought to have.
“After that we passed the Ayotte-Cassidy bill, a bill that I was really proud of because Senator Cassidy and Senator Ayotte said the following: ‘You know, it's just not right for somebody who's not doing their job to get a bonus.’ As many people know, bonuses were paid in the VA last year to employees that were in fact being reprimanded for misconduct and bad behavior. You cannot take away a benefit retroactively and this bill does not do that but it says to the VA prospectively, rewards cannot be earned and bonuses cannot be earned for those not conducting their job in the way they should.
“These are the type of accountability measures the people of the United States expect. As chairman of the committee, I always want to brag about the good things our VA employees do and they do a lot of good things. For every one scandal you hear about, there are hundreds of thousands of benefits veterans are receiving because of good, loyal employees. But the best employees in the world are brought down a notch when those who are not good are allowed to continue to stay on the job even if they’re not performing or get bonuses when they're not performing.
“I'm so proud of the Ayotte-Cassidy bill and the Rubio-Johnson bill which say to the American people we're going to have accountability. We're going to pay bonuses for good behavior, not for bad behavior. And if somebody doesn't do their job, they'll be held accountable and they'll lose their job if they're fired for cause and that cause is justified. That's what the American people expect of the Senate. That's what they expect of our committee and I'm proud to report to the Senate today that started.”
            You can watch Senator Isakson’s remarks here.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.

Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.

the washington post
liz sly