Monday, July 27, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Monday, July 27, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq objects to Turkey bombing it, the State Dept's John Kirby can't stop defending Turkey, Patrick Cockburn argues that Turkey's US government encouraged efforts may be the "biggest mistake in the Middle East since it invaded Iraq," and much more.

We devoted Saturday's snapshot to the Turkish government's efforts to use war against the Islamic State as a pretext to bomb northern Iraq in the supposed effort to defeat the PKK -- a group that they had entered into an armistice with.

The United States government appears to have given a nod of approval on the attacks in exchange for the right to use Turkish air bases.  Tian Shaohui (Xinhua) observes, "Critics, including opposition politicians, have accused President Tayyip Erdogan of trying to use the campaign against the Islamic State as an excuse to crack down on Kurds."

Patrick Cockburn (the Independent) observes:

The result is that the US may find it has helped to destabilise Turkey by involving it in the war in both Iraq and Syria, yet without coming much closer to defeating Isis in either country. If so, America will have committed its biggest mistake in the Middle East since it invaded Iraq in 2003, believing it could overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a pro-American government. 

At today's State Dept press briefing, spokesperson John Kirby attempted to spin what is taking place.

QUESTION: Can we start with – not the trip, although – you have any questions – about the – what’s going on right now with the Turks? And it seems like a really bizarre situation has unfolded over the course of the past week with them joining the air strikes against ISIS, but at the same time also bombing PKK positions. And there’s been some pushback on the suggestion – I noticed that Brett McGurk tweeted about it – that these are related, and that the United States – he saying that there was no deal done with the Turks, in other words. A lot of people find that really hard to believe. So what exactly is going on here, and doesn’t this just make an even bigger mess out of the situation then you had originally?

MR KIRBY: I think – so let’s unpack. There’s an awful lot there, so let’s just unpack that. I don’t think that I could say it any better than Ambassador McGurk did. We are grateful for Turkey’s cooperation against ISIL to include now use of some of their bases for coalition aircraft to go against targets – ISIL targets, particularly in Syria. So we’re grateful for that support. The – so separate and distinct from that, Turkey has continued to come under attack by PKK terrorists, and we recognize their right to defend themselves against those attacks. And it was in retaliation for recent attacks by the PKK that Turkey conducted these most recent strikes.
As for ISIL in Syria, we continue to discuss with Turkey ways at which we can go after this particular threat. Again, we value their cooperation thus far. They have a vested interest, obviously, because of its – it’s their border. And while there’s nothing new to announce with respect to what kind of cooperation may come in the future, we’re going to continue to talk to them about that.
I understand the coincidence of all of this, but it is just that. The attacks against the PKK were in retaliations for attacks they, the Turks, endured, and what they’re doing against ISIL in Syria I’ll let them speak to. But obviously, we welcome all coalition members’ efforts against ISIL, particularly in Syria.

QUESTION: All right, well, one: Are you suggesting then that the Turks – the attacks on the PKK are going to – are over now and that the Turks have retaliated enough for the attacks on them? And secondly, are you not concerned that these attacks, while they are directed against a group that you have designated a terrorist organization – the Turks certainly believe are a terrorist organization – and I’m talking about the PKK – are you not concerned that that is going to hinder or hurt the fight against ISIS/ISIL?

MR KIRBY: I understand the second one. Am I concerned that their attacks against the PKK will detract from the fight against ISIL? Is that --

QUESTION: Yeah. They’re killing people that are killing ISIL.

MR KIRBY: The attacks against the PKK.



QUESTION: Right? I mean, am I wrong?

QUESTION: I mean, the PKK has been very effective against ISIL. They helped rescue Yezidis on Mount Sinjar. They’ve been fighting ISIS in Syria --

MR KIRBY: Yeah. No. I think I got it.

QUESTION: So there’s two in there.

MR KIRBY: Is it over now?

QUESTION: Have you been assured – or have you been told by the Turks that they’re – that this against the – the strikes against the PKK are limited duration and solely in retaliation for the attacks on them, and are going to stop?

MR KIRBY: Right.

QUESTION: And secondly, I mean, how does this not make it a big – it’s – how does this not hurt the fight against ISIS/ISIL?

MR KIRBY: Okay, so two questions. First of all, is it over now? I don’t know. That’s a question that you have to ask Turkish officials. They retaliated against the PKK for strikes that they received from PKK terrorists. We have long recognized the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization, and we recognize Turkey’s ability – or, I’m sorry, Turkey’s right – to defend itself against this group. So is it over now? I don’t know. And that’s really not a question that we can answer from this podium.
Two, does it hinder the fight against ISIL? What we’re trying to focus on here is a coalition to go after ISIL, counter ISIL. I recognize that, in some cases, the PKK have fought against ISIL. But they are a foreign terrorist organization. We designated them that, as an FTO. And our fight against ISIL is not in cooperation with, coordination with, or communication with the PKK. Our fight against ISIL is with 62 other nations in this coalition who are helping us go after these guys, and in Syria specifically. And again, DOD is working a train and equip program to get a moderate opposition capable enough to go after ISIL inside Syria.
So the fight against ISIL will continue. We are grateful for the contributions of Turkey and other coalition members. And the pressure that we are going to put on them, regardless of what Turkey is doing against the PKK or will do in the future, that’s not going to diminish.

Turkey's right to defend itself?

Kirby's just another flapping gum US official who has no interest in helping Iraq or what happens to Iraq.

Turkey is bombing northern Iraq.

John Kirby can dress that up in all the endless words he wants but that's what's happening.

And we remember what happened last time -- it outraged the Iraqi people.

That was then.


Not so different.

National Iraqi News Agency reports:

The Vice President of the House of Representatives, Aram Sheikh Mohammed condemned the Turkish indiscriminate shelling on border areas in the Kurdistan region, stressing that the security of Turkey does not take place through the bypassing and breach Iraqi sovereignty and killing innocent civilians and burning and damaging farms without any justification.

He called on Ankara, in a statement today, not to fail the peace process in Turkey, saying unfortunately the Turkish government again deliberately violated Iraqi sovereignty and bombed Iraqi territory under the pretext of keeping its security and began random and intensified aerial bombardment on the border areas in the Kurdistan region, and as a result of this bombing, a number of innocent citizens were killed and this heinous and provocative act is unacceptable and we condemn that strongly

And NINA reports:

MP, of the Iraqi Forces Coalition, Dhafer al-Ani called on Turkey to open a dialogue with the federal government and coordinate with the Ministry of Defence on the subject of bombing PKK's positions.

Al-Ani said in a statement that there is no doubt that the security of Turkish and its friendly people and its stability concerns us and we are keen on its security and stability as we concern about ours and peace in all countries around us, and it is essential that there should be a regional security effort to hunt down terrorist organizations that infiltrate between the border, but this effort has to be conditional within the official coordination.

He added that the justifications provided by Turkish officials about their understandings with the Kurdistan Regional Government on the entry of their jets into Iraqi airspace and carry out military strikes to armed groups inside Iraqi territory are not sufficient justifications, as we were waiting for understandings with Baghdad government and coordination with the Ministry of Defense in accordance with the known official formats in order to preserve national sovereignty

Please note that Kirby could talk endlessly of Turkey's right to do whatever the hell it wanted but he seemed to think Iraq had no right to object to another country bombing it.

QUESTION: Are you telling the Turks --

QUESTION: Well, wait, wait. I’ve got just one.

QUESTION: Are you telling the Turks not to go after PKK in Syria?

QUESTION: I have – hold on Ros, Ros. Ros, I have one more here. So you’re saying that it doesn’t trouble you at all that the Turks are going after people who have been very – perhaps the most effective on the ground against ISIS/ISIL? You don’t have a problem with that --

MR KIRBY: First of all, I think I would –

QUESTION: -- and there’s no coordination, but there – so you’re more comfortable with working alongside Iran in Iraq than you are with the Kurds. And don’t – is that correct?

MR KIRBY: Matt, we’re not working alongside Iran in Iraq against ISIL. We’ve made it clear there is no coordination on the ground in Iraq with Iran. I would take issue with your characterization that the PKK has been the most effective force against ISIL in Iraq.

No coordination on the ground in Iraq with Iran?

That's not true.

Andrew Tilghman (Military Times) explained today, "The steady growth of Shiite militias in Iraq is making it increasingly difficult for American forces deployed there to determine exactly which Iraqi forces they are supporting, experts say."

In addition, Iraqi Spring MC notes that the Bard militia grabbed/kidnapped/arrested civilian Hamid al-Samarri in Baquba yesterday and his corpse was discovered today.

It would benefit Iraq tremendously if the US government could stop supporting the militias terrorizing the Iraqi people.

Meanwhile John Kirby can take issue all he wants and he can intentionally confuse the issue but the Kurds have been the most effective fighters against the Islamic State.

It's a point of reality AP's Vivian Salama notes today:

With the help of U.S. airstrikes, the Kurds have proven to be among the most effective ground forces against the IS group. But their advance across northeastern Syria in recent months has alarmed Ankara, which fears they could revive a decades-long insurgency in pursuit of statehood.

Again, Kirby can play word games all he wants, reality is reality.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on the effectiveness of the Turkish participation in the fight against ISIL and so on. It seems that it has been scaled back tremendously today, because they are going after PKK positions and villages and so on inside Turkey. They are devoting a great deal of resources and assets to do that, and consequently they scaled back. Do you have any comment on that?

MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, this is – we’ve said that Turkey has a right to defend itself against terrorists and we recognize that – as do we, as does any country. And I’ll let the Turks speak to how they’re going to go after terrorists inside their borders. I’m loath to give battlefield assessments even of U.S. military. I’m certainly not going to do that for the Turks.

QUESTION: So you deny the allegation that Turkey basically used its part in fighting ISIS as a ploy just to go after the Kurds?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to characterize Turkish motives. We don’t observe a connection between what they did about going after PKK and what we’re trying to do as a coalition against ISIL.

QUESTION: Then you remain the only one.

QUESTION: And finally, today there is --

MR KIRBY: Okay. I’m comfortable with that.

[. . .]

QUESTION: John, you said that Turkey’s response to the – Turkey’s bombardment of the PKK hideouts in northern Iraq --


QUESTION: -- are retaliatory, are in retaliation to what PKK had done. But now there are two questions. First, ISIS – the PKK attack killed only two Turkish officers, but you’ve seen two major ISIS attacks inside Syria. Why haven’t we seen such a retaliation against ISIS from the Turks? Secondly, and the Turkey had --

MR KIRBY: Before you get to the second one let me just kill the first one.


MR KIRBY: You’ve got to talk to the Turks. I cannot speak for another nation --

QUESTION: Well, but because I’m saying --

MR KIRBY: -- or the decisions that they’re making.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the Turkish position that it’s in retaliation? One could ask why would you agree with that, with the Turkish assessment that it’s in retaliation to PKK, while ISIS has been killing many more Turkish citizens and that Turkey has done pretty much nothing to --

MR KIRBY: I think I would – so I’m not going to characterize Turkish motives. They suffered an attack by the PKK; they retaliated. What comes next? That’s for them to talk to. As for ISIL, one of the reasons why we continue to have discussions with the Turks is to explore ways that we can work together with them through the coalition to go after ISIL. This is a country that has a border they’re concerned about, they’ve got 2 million refugees, they’ve allowed – they’ve agreed to host a train and equip site inside Turkey, and now they’ve allowed us to have access to some of their bases to conduct airstrikes and missions against ISIL inside Syria. It’s not like they’re not doing anything, and your question almost implies that they’re just sitting on the sidelines, and that is not at all our assessment.

QUESTION: They have certainly poured more bombs over the past 24 hours on the PKK hideouts than on ISIS.

MR KIRBY: Well, look, every day is different in a war like this. I mean, there are some days where our pilots don’t drop all their bombs either. I mean, every day is different and every member of the coalition contributes what they can, when they can, where they can. It’s a coalition of the willing, we’re not mandating it, and the Turks are cooperating and they’re coordinating and they have agreed to do more. And we’re just going to have to see where this goes in the future. As I said at the outset, we’re going to continue to talk with them. We’re going to continue to try to explore areas where that cooperation can improve. And we’ll get there.

Kirby cannot speak for another nation -- except when he does.

He conveys the Turkish government's position of events and then, when pressed with an obvious example of the attacks against the Islamic State versus the attacks against the PKK, suddenly Kirby can't speak for another nation.

Deutsche Welle speaks with European Parliament member Kati Piri about Turkey's attacks:

So you believe that Turkey's response has been disproportionate?

It's not just an attack on an organization [the PKK] with, in this case, camps in another country, northern Iraq. We're also talking here about millions of Kurdish people living in Turkey, with whom there was a peace process, although very fragile, during the last two years. There was a truce, a ceasefire agreement between both the PKK and the government. In my view, if [the Turkish government] wants to keep the peace process with the Kurds alive, this full-size attack on the PKK looks a bit, to be honest, disproportionate. What's been happening over the last three days has once again put the peace process very much into question. Is it dead? I hope not, but it doesn't look very alive either. It's very damaging.

Did last week's attack in Suruc simply give Turkey an excuse to relaunch its campaign against the PKK?

Let's not forget: Turkey does have the right to self defense. When its officers are killed by an organization which is also included on the European terrorist list, this is totally unacceptable. No one is saying that Turkey should just leave this alone and pretend that nothing has happened. On the other hand, knowing that there is such a delicate peace process going on, then you need to have a proportionate response as well.

What is much more dangerous to me now is that some politicians from the [ruling Justice and Development party] AKP, along with some politicians from the more right-wing party, MHP, are framing this pro-Kurdish party HDP [People's Democratic Party] now as being directly linked to the PKK, which it is not. [The HDP] has also decried the violence, and [the government] is actually framing the 6 million people who voted for this party as potential terrorists, or terrorist supporters. And this rhetoric is very dangerous for a country which has gone through such a circle of violence.

Margaret Griffis ( counts 122 violent deaths across Iraq today.

Finally, today, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande issued a press release which includes:

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Ms. Lise Grande, confirmed today that 184 front line health services have been suspended because of the paralysing funding shortfall for humanitarian activities in Iraq. More than 80 per cent of general health programmes supported by humanitarian partners are now shut, directly impacting one million people. “At a time when the people of Iraq need us the most, we are letting them down,” Ms. Grande said.
The impact is immediate and enormous. Partners estimate that one million sick people, who would have sought primary medical care, will not receive help. Over half a million children will not be immunized, spreading the risk of a measles outbreak and the resumption of polio and contributing to morbidity amongst some of the most vulnerable children in the entire region.
The most recent cut-backs come on top of cascading closures. In May, food rations for over one million people were sharply reduced. Nearly 30 per cent of water, sanitation and hygiene programmes have closed due to lack of funding and more are set to close by the end of July leaving 1.78 million people without access to safe and sufficient water, sanitation and hygiene services. Other critical activities are at risk: specialized assistance programmes for one million women and more than 1.2 million girls, many of whom the survivors of brutality and sexual and gender-based violence, are closing. Half of the programmes providing shelter and household support that were providing life-saving help at the start of June will scale back unless additional funding is received.

“Less than two months ago, on 4 June, we urgently appealed for funding. Humanitarian partners presented the most highly prioritized, pared-to-the bone appeal ever launched in the region. Although some support is coming in, it’s devastating, inexplicable really, that we are being forced to shut-down programmes in a country where so much is at stake and where the international community is so involved,” said Ms. Grande.