Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, July 8, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the Iraqi government sentences more people to executions, the Senate explores what's going on in Iraq, this includes starving civilians in Haditha, and much more.

Senator Joe Donnelly: I just got back from Iraq with Senator [Tim] Kaine who led our trip and one of the meetings we had was with a number of the Sunni tribal leaders and some of them were from the Haditha area and in talking to them they have said, "We have stood with you. We have faith with you.  But we have people who are now eating grass in our town.  We have no food.  We have no supplies.  And we have been told that the only airlifts that can come in would be on military transport.  Is there anything you can do to help feed our people?"  And so, I wanted to put that before you to see if there's something we can do to be of aid to these individuals.

Donnelly was speaking Tuesday at the Senate Armed Services Committee.  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.

Donnelly states that he was told, in Haditha, food resources were so low that civilians were eating grass.

Though only in his second year in the US Senate, Donnelly has not racked up  a reputation for lying or misleading.

So it's fairly safe to assume this is what he was told.

Where's the outcry?

We drive our Bitch Moan and Whine vehicles all over the globe over this or that artifact destroyed in Iraq but you have civilians forced to eat grass and no one cares enough to make this a lead story?

Secretary Ash Carter: Well, uh, I'll say something about that and ask the Chairman if he wants to add.  First of all, I want to thank you, Senator Donnelly, also Senator Kaine for traveling there.  We appreciate it.  And on behalf of the 3,550 members of our armed forces that are in Iraq conducting this fight, thank you for taking the time to go visit them this Fourth of July weekend.  The humanitarian situation is yet another tragic consequence of what is going on with ISIL.  It remains one of the coalition's, uhm, uh, uh, efforts as I indicated in my opening statement.  To relieve the humanitarian, that's very difficult to do when there is not order and control on the ground.  And so, uh, this is why we need to get a security situation that's stable, ground forces that are capable of hol- seizing territory, holding territory and governing.  That's the only way to get the humanitarian situation turned around -- either in Iraq or in Syria.  It's very sad.  It's tragic.  And, uh, in the case of Iraq -- as has been noted --  uh, something brought about by the re-emergence of sectarianism in a really tragic way.  Chairman, you want to add anything?

Gen Martin Dempsey:  One of the reasons we went to [al-] Taqaddum Air Base [in Anbar Province] -- also locally called Habbaniyah -- is to advise and assist in the Anbar operations center which is where these kind of issues should actually migrate through.  And it's -- You should be interested to know the Iraqis have the capabilities to address that.  They have C-130J [Lockheed Martin transport aircraft], you know state of the art, uhm-uhm -- 

Senator Joe Donnelly:  I know they do, but they're not.

Gen Martin Dempsey:  Yeah, well we'll pass it to the guy who's embedded with -- 

Senator Joe Donnelly:  And you know, when you're hungry?  You're stomach doesn't tell you you want Iraqi food or US food, you just want help.  And one of the bonds created with these tribal leaders is they said, "We've always felt that we could count on you."  

Dempsey was a bit of a smart ass and there's no way to pretty that up.

If you caught the tone of, "Yeah, well we'll pass it to the guy," you grasped what a smart ass what he was being.

How nice for him that hearing of the starvation of others is so removed from anything he's ever experienced that he can make light of it, that he can mock it.

How very nice for him.

For those who don't remember how Barack kicked off the latest stage of the never-ending Iraq War, the Yazidis were trapped on Mount Sinjar and without food.

An air drop of humanitarian items was something we advocated for here.

Some people thought that the anti-war thing to do was to ridicule the trapped Yazidis.

All that did was drive people away.

It's not funny when people are in need, when they're starving.

Unless you're Dempsey or some other smart ass.

But with the Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar, Barack didn't just do air drops, he used it to further the Iraq War.

There's no reason that the US can't do an air drop.

Dempsey is correct that the Baghdad-based government could help.

While Haditha is frequently under attack (and, in fact, faced vehicle bombings earlier this week), it is not under the control of the Islamic State currently.

Dempsey could have cut the smarm and instead explored the lack of compassion on the part of the Iraqi government -- the Shi'ite led Iraqi government -- out of Baghdad with regards to the suffering of Sunnis (Haditha is a Sunni town).

Clearly, Iraq's (Shi'ite) Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi feels no pressure to send food.

(The State Dept had to strong arm him in to visiting a refugee camp last week.)

With them not willing to do so, the US military -- which all over Iraqi air space -- should immediately be dropping food over Haditha.

Is it hard to do?

Because the way I remember it, the Pentagon and the White House repeatedly insist that, when dropping bombs on Iraq, these are precision exercises.

So a bomb can be dropped precisely but there's some confusion over whether food and rations can be dropped precisely?

Again, the Baghdad-based government knows what's happening and has refused to step in.

US President Barack Obama repeatedly insists 'we're not taking sides.'

If you're looking the other way while a town of Sunnis are starving to the point that they're eating grass, if you're not rushing aid to them, you are taking sides, you are taking sides against Sunni civilians.

And with Barack, Dempsey and countless others insisting this is a 'generational battle,' I don't know that the citizens of Haditha can wait a "generation" for food.  (And Dempsey, in this hearing, defined "generational" as 20 years.)

We're going to note Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Kelly Ayotte for several reasons but chief among them after last moth's House Armed Services Committe hearing.

We covered that hearing and we were at it.  (See the June 18th "Iraq snapshot," "Barack wants Gulf states to send ground troops int...," and the June 17th "Iraq snapshot.")

But people who didn't bother to attend read a press report that inflated what Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said, stripped of its context and insisted Carter used his time before the House Armed Services Committee to either argue that Iraq needed to be split up into thirds or that splitting Iraq up into thirds was the goal of the White House.

This non-issue is what trickled down to the so-called independent media coverage.

The hearing had many disclosures and one of the big ones was that the White House felt they had enough foreign war planes in their 'coalition' but they wanted foreign countries to send more ground forces into Iraq so that they could assist the Iraqi forces with combat.

Instead of that being a lead headline or main point, we had to endure nonsense.

Nonsense may come about again.

But please note what Carter is saying in his exchange with Manchin and with Ayotte on the subject -- note it before it again gets distorted.

Senator Joe Manchin: As I go around the state of West Virginia, my little state, you know it's a very hawkish state and a very patriotic state and a lot of veterans.  Speak to all of them, they're confused right now, they really are. What -- and you [gestures to Senator Pete Sessions] you heard the frustration coming out.  But  basically, Iraq is not a united country.  You have the Sunnis, the Shi'ites and the Kurds.  And I think, Secretary Carter, that you've said until they have the will [Carter stated May 24th, of the fall of Ramadi to the Islamic State, "the Iraqi forces  just showed no will to fight"]  -- and I think, Gen Dempsey, you also said the same thing -- until Iraq has the will to fight -- but which group has the will to fight to defend the other group?  And that's where we're having a problem.  And I think it's been said, 'Well if you have a group that's fighting" and the Kurds want to fight "why do we still have to make them go through the Baghdad centralized government in order for them to get the weapons they need to defend themselves and be aggressive?" So they're confused about that, they're confused about, in Syria, trying to  spend the money trying to find  people to train when you acknowledge that we only had sixty of them successful right now with the amount of effort we're spending there.  But yet at that, I think you said you had the Kurds -- Syrian Kurds -- that were fighting. And some things of that sort.  I don't know.  And then I'm asked the question, they said, "We continue to keep trying to train and arm the Iraqis and it seems like all they're doing is supplying the ISIL with the equipment that the Americans are giving them and, you know, when are we ever going to stop giving equipment to the people who won't defend it and fight for it?  So, I guess, are we talking -- at your level, are you talking to the White House about rethinking the whole Iraqi position as far as one centralized government, one Iraq, or maybe a separated Iraq?

Secretary Ash Carter: I-I-I think we're all aware that it is very difficult to, uhm, govern Iraq in a multi-sectarian manner and so we thought about the alternatives to that.  I think we all have actually for years and I'm sure all of you have as well.  Uh, we are trying to assist Prime Minister Abadi in governing in a different way from the way [Nouri al-] Maliki governed which, as Senator Sessions noted, led to the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, the sectarian coloration of them, and that's what ultimately led to their collapse in Sunni territory -- 

Senator Joe Manchin: [Overlapping] Secretary Carter, I think --

Secretary Ash Carter (Con't):  -- didn't fight for it.

Senator Joe Manchin (Con't): -- a question also along those lines, they -- I've been asked the question, you just remind me, they said, "Didn't we see signs that Maliki was incompetent, that he would have gone strictly to a sectarian position -- as he did -- not for a strong united Iraq?"  Did we not, with all of the people we've had there, did we not see that coming and could not have averted that from happening?

Secretary Ash Carter: Uh, I can only speak for myself in that regard and I was not closely involved in it in the time, I certainly had that concern about Mr. Maliki.  And I know that many of you met with him.  I met with him several times and it was quite apparent to me.  Nor Prime Minister Abadi says he has  a different intention which is to govern Iraq from the center but in a decentralized enough way that the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shia each have enough space to-to, uh, uhm, carry on their own welfare in the way that they wish but there is a center, integral Iraqi state.  The -- Uh -- And that is what he says he's working towards and we're supporting him in that regard.  That's why, for example, when we provide arms to the Kurds, we do it with, uh, consent of the Iraqi government in order to indicate that we support the idea of a single Iraqi government in Baghdad but we also want the Kurds in the fight and armed.  And that has not delayed our arming of the Kurds --

Senator Joe Manchin:  It seems like the biggest problem we have is with the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and then -- .

Secretary Ash Carter: And the Sunnis and the Shi'ites.  And this is why the -- It's so important to take the time to train a truly multi-sectarian Iraqi force.  There are elements of the Iraqi forces that have that right character.  For example, there's CTS --

Senator Joe Manchin:  General --

Secretary Ash Carter:  And-and so our strategy, just to go to the beginning, is to uh-uh-uh train and equip those local forces, they're essential.  Then we can help them -- and it is a "chicken and egg" thing [to Senator Pete Sessions who had raised the chicken and egg issue] -- except that you need to have the capable and motivated ground force -- then we can enable it, rather than to substitute for it --

Senator Joe Manchin:  Well --

Secretary Ash Carter (Con't):  -- which doesn't lead to a lasting resort.

Senator Joe Manchin (Con't):  -- I would think, General Dempsey, it's been pointed out here that we've spent multiple years, ten years plus, a trillion dollars, lost a lot of lives in Iraq  and we had 100,000 troops there at one time trying to train and defend and get them motivated and that didn't work.  And so that's the hard question.  How do you go home and answer that?  How do I go home and answer that we're going to try this over again and maybe we'll do a better job of retraining?  I think that was the frustration you were seeing coming out of Senator Sessions. 

Gen Martin Dempsey:  Well sure.  I think it's probably worth mentioning that my judgment about how this will evolve over time is that it is a generational issue.  It is transregional, Senator.  You know it is elements of it in Afghanistan, we see it in Iraq and Syria, we see it in the Sinai, we see it in Libya and we can't just focus like a laser beam on one part of it, it has to be pressured across it and so what we're trying to do is achieve a, uh, enduring defeat which means we gotta' work it through partners because they own the -- they have more to gain and more to lose.  And, finally, we've got to find a sustainable level of efforts since I do believe this is a generational level challenge. 

Senator Joe Manchin:  I just think that-that basically my question would be that, overall, are we trying to defend the British lines that were drawn over 100 years and putting people in a territory that they don't believe that's their country?  I mean, why are we forcing something on people that don't want to accept -- 

Gen Martin Dempsey:  Well, I'll just follow up with you.  I also share that concern, that the Mid East will never be the Mid East again.

Senator Joe Manchin:  Yeah.

Gen Martin Dempsey:  And so everything that I recommend to the Secretary and to the President is recommended with the intention of being flexible enough that we can -- we can build upon it if we do find that inclusive, national unity government in Iraq or not.

Chair John McCain: I can't help but mention the situation was stabilized after the surge and we had won and we predicted if everybody was pulled out that the situation would descend into chaos.  It is a fact that thanks to Gen [David] Petraeus, the surge and great sacrifice, the Iraq War was won.  And to ignore that in that conversation, Gen Dempesy, is to me intellectually dishonest. 

Ash Carter is not Robert Gates.

Former Secretary of Defense Gates was a more clipped type speaker -- Dempsey without the snide.

He's also not Leon Panetta who is a conversationalist able to discuss any topic freely, off the top of his head without notes.

Then came Chuck Hagel who was ground down by the military brass and learned CYA -- cover your own ass.

That explains both how, as senator, he went from supporting whistle blower Sibel Edmonds to silence when it became too controversial.

It's also how he could depart from his position and the administration with most people unaware of how unhappy and disgusted he was with the aims and focus of the White House.

If Barack feels Gates and Panetta wrote books that weren't kind to his abilities and leadership, he better prepare himself for Hagel who's the type who sits there and says "Yes, sir" but banks each and every disagreement for a later retelling.

Ash Carter is not like any of the ones back to Gates.

He's not a comfortable speaker.

The easy out on that is you stick to the script (as Hagel did).

Carter refuse to do that.

He tries to answer in his own words.

I grit my teeth every time he says "multi-sectarian government" -- a phrase he's been using since his confirmation hearing (we covered it in the February 4, 2015 snapshot) -- because why would you want that?  Dempsey uses terms like a "unified" government, etc.

But Carter's creating his own phrases and doing so as he tries to avoid stock answers or scripted replies.

This means he can be easily distorted.

That's especially true since he's considering as he speaks and can drop a line of thought mid-point and pick up on another one instead.

This does not make for smooth 'pull quotes' or partial quotes.

And he can be easily misconstrued.

He has never advocated, as Secretary of Defense, in a Congressional hearing for splitting up Iraq.

Asked about it, he will consider it and will sometimes offer pros and cons.

That's all he's really done.

His manner of speaking means you need to pay closer attention.

And, as someone attending the hearings, I do appreciate the fact that Ash Carter is not sticking to a script and appears to be considering and responding off the cuff.

Let's move to  some of Ayotte's line of questioning.

Senator Kelly Ayotte: I wanted to ask you, Secretary Carter, you had said in answer to Senator Manchin that in fact that the arms that we're providing to the Kurds, we're doing so with the consent of  the Iraqi central government.  Does that mean we're doing it directly or we're going still through the Iraqi central government?

Secretary Ash Carter:  Well, first of all, we're not the only ones.  But we and others basically convey the weapons directly to the Kurds.  But we inform the Iraqi government and get their formal consent to it.

Senator Kelly Ayotte: So --

Senator Ash Carter:  So it doesn't delay the arming of the Kurds.

Senator Kelly Ayotte:  So right now --

Secretary Ash Carter (Con't): try to stick up basically for the central Iraqi government.

Senator Kelly Ayotte:  Previously we had heard complaints about it originally going through the Iraqi central government and then to the Kurds so I'm glad to hear that we're directly providing it to the Kurds, letting the Iraqi central government know what we're providing. 

Secretary Ash Carter:  Mr. [Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud] Barzani was here in town, you may have met with him, a few weeks ago.  And, he, uh, was grateful for what was being provided and he noted that, uh, the delays which is the principle problem that were experienced early on are not being experienced now -- either in the shipment of our equipment or that of others, for example the Germans providing anti-tank munitions which they value very much.  But we are trying to stick up for the principle that Iraq is a single unitary, multi-sectarian state.  And difficult as that may be, that is much preferred to the alternative which is the sectarian disintegration of Iraq.

Senator Kelly Ayotte:  Let me follow up. So clearly the Kurds are capable and motivated and, at this point, are they receiving all of the weapons that they've asked for?  Because, as I understood it, ISIS at one -- Certainly, unfortunately, ISIS has captured some of the armaments that we left in Iraq -- and some of them heavy armaments.  The Kurds are quite effective but it's hard if you're out-armed.  And are they now receiving -- What have they requested that we're not providing?  And, if so, why?

Secretary Ash Carter:  I'll let Chairman Dempsey answer that but with -- again, to say, it's not just us.  There are more than 12 nations over all arming the Kurds.  And-and I noted I was with the German Defense Minister [Ursula von der Leyen] over in Germany last week and she, uh-uh, was providing to the Kurds these critical anti-tank weapons -- a kind the Germans make that is especially effective.  So it's not just us.  And the Kurds are an example of what we're looking for -- which is an effective ground force that will stick up for itself, hold together, take and hold territory, and that's why we're providing them with support.

Senator Kelly Ayotte: So we agree with that.  I think that there's been broad agreement on that.  I just want to make sure that they have what they need.

Gen Martin Dempsey:  Senator, I'm not aware of anything that they've asked for that we haven't provided.  We probably haven't provided in the quantity that they may have desired -- MRAPs [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles]  for example and we're working to address those short -- those quantity issues.

"By, with and through the government of Iraq" is how Ash Carter described the process for arming the Kurds in an exchange later in the hearing with Senator Joni Ernst.

We'll cover the hearing again in the next snapshot.

Meanwhile, AP notes that 24 people have been sentenced to death by an Iraqi court for the killing of Shi'ite soldiers dating back to June of 2014.

AP fails to note that there have been no arrests in any of the murders of Iraqi journalists throughout the Iraq War.

AFP notes all 24 deny they took part in the killings and:

 Some defendants swore they were not even close to Tikrit on June 11 last year, others that they never saw a lawyer.
"We are still looking at the full details of the case, but the Speicher trial bears the hallmark of unfair trials that have seen thousands of those accused of terrorism in Iraq sentenced to long prison terms or to death," Amnesty International said in a statement to AFP. 

Margaret Griffis ( counts  175 violent deaths across Iraq today.

Community posts on movies, Stan's "Pee Wee," Rebecca's on a Prince Charming movie "well it's about damn time!," Elaine's "Why Indie?," Ann's "Goodbye Kitty," Mike's "Ted 2." Trina on Nicholas Cage almost playing Superman "Super Cage?," Kat's "Film nightmare," Marcia's "Jaws," Betty's "Diane Keaton"  and Ruth's "How do you watch?"