Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, August 12, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, US Gen Ray Odierno talks about more US troops being sent into Iraq, Haider al-Abadi's reforms or 'reforms' continue to be greeted with giddy hype as opposed to actual analysis, and much more.

Gen Ray Odierno is the Army Chief of Staff.  He was also the top US commander in Iraq from September 2008 through September 2010.  He retires as the Army Chief of Staff at the end of the week.  He held a press conference today and Barbara Starr and Jim Sciutto (CNN) report:

"If we find in the next several months that we aren't making progress, we should absolutely consider embedding some soldiers (in Iraq)," Gen. Raymond Odierno, outgoing Army chief of staff, said in response to a CNN question about putting troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria at his final press conference. He called it an "option we should present to the President."

David Alexander and Bill Rigby (Reuters) add:

Odierno, the outgoing Army chief of staff, backed the current strategy against Islamic State, telling his last Pentagon news conference that while U.S. troops could defeat the militants, they could not solve the broader political and economic problems besetting Iraq and Syria.
"We could probably go in there with a certain amount of American force and ... defeat ISIL. The problem is we would be right back where we are today six months later," he told reporters, using an acronym for Islamic State.

"For me it's about changing the dynamics, the political dynamics, the economic dynamics, and it has to be done by those in the region," he said.

Lolita C. Baldor (AP) quotes Odierno stating, "The U.S. cannot solve this problem for the region."  Dan Lamothe covers the press conference for the Washington Post and AFP covers it here.

Odierno's remarks come as there is an increasing refusal to pretend that US President Barack Obama's plan or 'plan' for Iraq is working.

For those who may not remember, June 19, 2014, Barack spoke of Iraq.  It was the first time in months that he had noted the topic as anything other than a passing aside.

Iraq had descended into one crises after another and the biggest news for those paying only fleeting attention was that the Islamic State had taken control of the major city of Mosul.

Barack noted at the time that the only answer for Iraq would be a political one, that the country needed a government that was inclusive and that didn't target any segment of the population.

Somehow this goal of a political solution fell by the wayside and Barack began bombing and sending more US troops into Iraq.

How bombs dropped from war planes flying over Iraq were to bring about peace was never explained and never really questioned.

The State Dept dropped any pretense of diplomacy in Iraq and instead focused on gathering foreign countries to take part in a bombing Iraq.

For over a year now, these bombings have taken place and the Islamic State still controls Mosul, still terrorizes Iraq, still does what it was dong before the bombings started.

Other than destroying Iraq -- homes, businesses, leaving civilians wounded and dead -- there is nothing the bombings have accomplished.

We spent the bulk of the July 18th snapshot noting the failure that is Barack's plan or 'plan' with regards to combating the Islamic State in Iraq.  Saturday, Trevor Timm (Guardian) observed the failures:

This Saturday marks one full year since the US military began its still-undeclared war against Islamic State that the government officials openly acknowledge will last indefinitely. What do we have to show for it? So far, billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of bombs have been dropped, hundreds of civilians have been killed and Isis is no weaker than it was last August, when the airstrikes began.
But don’t take it from me – that’s the conclusion of the US intelligence community itself. As the Associated Press reported a few days ago, the consensus view of the US intelligence agencies is that Isis is just as powerful as it was a year ago, and they can replace fighters faster than they are getting killed.

It is in that context that Odierno made his remarks today.

If you're opposed to war -- or further war -- on Iraq (and I am), it's really not enough to point out the failure of the bombing campaign.

You need to be underscoring that the political solution Barack claimed was the only answer for Iraq's crises has not been worked, that there has been no serious effort by the US government to aid and assist on that.

You need to decry the use of the State Dept for a militarization campaign and Secretary of State John Kerry's absurd war posturing.

You need to be demanding that all the US government's efforts stop being focused on bombings and troops being sent into Iraq and instead that some actual diplomatic work be done.

I like General Ray Odierno.

He wasn't David Petraeus.

Petraues and his groupies have a long history with this site where they attempted first to curry favor, then to launch non-stop attacks.

This included Petraues himself -- a man whose devotion to his own ego brought him down.

Had he not been so concerned about shaping the way the world saw him, he never would have passed classified documents to his mistress who was also his court biographer.

Petraeus was a nightmare in Iraq for US troops due to his diva like ways.

The press looked the other way but we frequently didn't.

Which led to his attempts -- and the attempts of those serving under him -- to take control of the way he was portrayed at this site.

It's really not pretty to me to see a grown adult acting like a starlet desperate for copy to advance her career.

But that was Petraeus.

When Odierno took control, the diva theatrics ended.

And that was noticed not just by those paying attention (he immediately told the press it was just "Ray," not "Raymond") but also by those serving immediately under him.

The same people who regularly lodged objections to me about Petraeus now felt respected by Odierno and felt that the general in charge had a purpose that went beyond shaping his own image for the world.

From near daily e-mail efforts by Petraeus and company, we saw only one e-mail regarding the portrayal of Odierno here from anyone serving under him (Odierno has never contacted this site himself).

My dictated e-mail in response to that noted that (a) Odierno was not being raked over the coals the way Petraeus was because (b) I was not hearing complaints of diva like behavior, (c) he had raised morale, (c) he seemed more responsive to the press (whereas Petraeus was 'expansive' to the press -- about himself) and that (d) Odierno's role and my role (critic of the illegal war) would always be at odds but if he continued to focus on the work and not his own ego he would not be receiving the treatment Petraeus did here.

And Odierno then and to now has done that.

I completely disagree with him on US troops in Iraq.

I understand why he's saying it.

I understand he's sincere on it.

He may eve be right about it.

I don't know.

I'm not stupid enough to pretend I know everything.

Nor am I stupid enough to accuse everyone I disagree with of being either 'for us or against us' or 'wrong on this like they were wrong on that.'

Odierno may very well be right that US troops need to be on the ground in Iraq in large numbers in the near future to turn the tide in Iraq.

I don't agree.

And I think before that's even considered, there need to be demands made on the US government assisting with diplomacy first.

(And, please note, Odierno's call for US troops comes with the acknowledgment that US troops alone will not work.)

It's really sad that we're back to considering sending even more US troops into Iraq when the diplomatic effort has never been launched by the White House despite Barack's own words on June 19, 2014.

The violence continues in Iraq as RT notes, "A powerful truck bomb blast has reportedly killed dozens of people and injured about 200 in Baghdad, reports say. The blast hit the Shia-dominated Sadr-City district of the Iraqi capital. "  The truck is said to be a "refrigerated truck packed with explosives."  AP counts 58 dead with over sixty more people left injured.

In addition to that violence, Margaret Griffis ( counts 74 violent deaths in Iraq today.

Meanwhile, did everyone just get played?

Iraqi protests resumed recently over the lack of public services and objecting to the current corruption.

Near immediately there was a 'response' from that great saint Haider al-Abadi.

Before that happened, oh, the press, the great western press, couldn't stop celebrating how the protesters were being treated.

Unlike past protests when Nouri al-Maliki was prime minister, this go round the security forces didn't attack the protesters.

It was a sea of change.

And Haider was responding.

Strangely, the response wasn't about what he claimed he was doing.

He asked for no mandate to go after corruption.

He initiated no task force.

But he did manage to hijack the political process, didn't he?

He did manage to use these protests to destroy any real opposition to him or anyone else in the post of prime minister.

He initiated a series of changes that did away with quotas which means no real minority voice in Iraq and certainly no power-sharing agreement.

He did away with the checks and balances on his own position.

He did so with no objection.

Yesterday, UNAMI joined the praise circle as they rushed to announce  their pleasure with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's proposed reforms or 'reforms.'  They did so via  a statement from Deputy Special Envoy Gyorgy Busztin.  Since Jan Kubis is the Special Representative to Iraq for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, some on Arabic social media are wondering why Busztin made the announcement and where Kubis is?  Today is International Youth Day and, in Iraq, Busztin also delivered a speech for that occasion.

Along with wondering where Kubis is, Arabic social media is abuzz with questions over Haider's reforms or 'reforms' -- and with good reason.

No one knows what is taking place but everyone's treating the proposals as a good thing.

  • We welcome PM Abadi's sweeping initiative to improve government services & combat corruption, now endorsed unanimously by Iraq's parliament.

  • Are they a good thing?

    The US Congress has been repeatedly told this year that Haider was giving more power to local areas and how important this was and how it demonstrated that he was not another Nouri al-Maliki but someone who wanted to share power.  Despite this repeated claim, Al Mada notes the reforms or 'reforms' will give Haider the power to fire the local heads of government.

    This is a power the prime minister has not had previously.

    In addition, Alsumaria reports that he's now declaring he next plans to alter Iraq's Constitution.

    While we cautioned here and noted that the political system was going to immediately change to one in which the prime minister was basically a president with sole control of everything, Brookings gushed and issued p.r. copy.

    More and more, it's looking like the protests and the protesters were used by Haider and others to push through changes in the political system that do create a more responsive and accountable government.

    Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports:

    At the end of July thousands of locals took to the streets of Baghdad to protest against the lack of state services – and especially the breakdown in electricity supply, which was making their lives very difficult in summer temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius. Most of the organisers of these demonstrations were civil society activists and other prominent local personalities and their aims were clearly stated. They wanted the Ministry of Electricity reformed and an end to corruption there.
    The demonstrations took place peacefully and there were no clashes with police or military on site; these forces actually distributed water bottles to the demonstrators.
    Two days after the first demonstrations, Qais al-Khazali, head of the League of the Righteous militia group, appeared on television proclaiming his support of the demonstrators. The League of the Righteous is one of a dozen or so unofficial armed groups, made up mostly of local Shiite Muslims, that have played an essential role in fighting against the extremist Islamic State group in Iraq. However the League of the Righteous is also known as one of the more extreme of these groups. And most recently the militia has also become known for its support of, and patronage from, former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
    On television, al-Khazali announced the creation of civilian units associated with the Shiite Muslim militias. “The demonstrators should set firm goals,” al-Khazali said, “because the problems in Iraq are not only about the Ministry of Electricity. The problems are part of the whole political system.”
    Once again al-Khazali then recommended that Iraq's political system be changed from a parliamentary one to a presidential one. This would in effect give al-Maliki, one of the League of the Righteous' sponsors, more power again; al-Maliki tried to hang onto power after the last elections but was denied by other Iraqi politicians and he has been seen as trying to undermine his successor, current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, ever since.
    Some of the civil society activists who had first organised the popular protests in Baghdad were upset at al-Khazali's statements. They felt he was trying to hijack the protests to push his own agenda and as a result, some said they would boycott the next lot of protests.
    Three days before the second demonstration, which was to take place on August 7, supporters of the League of Righteous in Baghdad began to prepare to take part in the protests.

    “A formal letter from the League’s head office was sent to all of our offices,” Karim al-Lami, one of the militia's members based in the Sadr City neighbourhood in Baghdad, told NIQASH by phone. “The letters emphasised the importance of all members and employees participating. Additionally, al-Lami explains, the letter said that militia members shouldn't carry banners or clothing or badges that indicated they were militia members. “They should only use anti-government and anti-Parliament slogans and condemn the poor services,” al-Lami says.

    A Shi'ite dominant government led by a Shi'ite prime minister spent the last days eliminating the roles of minorities in the government -- roles the Constitution guaranteed.

    The president of Iraq, a Kurd, objected and said what was taking place was unconstitutional.

    We noted that here.

    Surprisingly, western news outlets ignored such criticism.

    Breaking the silence today, Noah Feldman (Bloomberg) offers:

    The problem is that there’s no plan to substitute some new guarantor of national cohesion or at least something less than civil war. With Sunni Arabs largely out of the political picture in Baghdad, and the Kurds satisfied for the moment with their de facto autonomy and gradual expansion, there’s no one to tell the Shiite majority that it better find some way to bring the country together again.
    One possibility is that, at this point, the Shiites just don’t care. The area controlled by Islamic State doesn’t have significant oil reserves. For the moment, the militant group isn’t immediately threatening Baghdad. From the Shiite perspective, the status quo perhaps doesn’t look so bad. A Shiite statelet in the rump of the former Iraq would include Baghdad as well as the Persian Gulf refineries and ports.
    But if Abadi is thinking that he doesn’t need to give Iraqi Sunnis any incentive to take part in a unified Iraq, he’s making a big mistake. Islamic State won’t be satisfied in the long run with a desert enclave. It’ll eventually make a play for Baghdad, with its significant Sunni population. If Baghdad’s Sunnis see no future in a Shiite Iraq, they’ll side with Islamic State when that day comes. That could turn Baghdad into Beirut circa 1975.

    What happens now that Haider has what Nouri always wanted?

    The representation is no longer what it was.  Minority rights are no longer guaranteed.

    Haider is firing people that he really doesn't have the legal right to fire.

    Today, it was a cabinet secretary.

    What about when he fires a Cabinet member?

    Because the Constitution specifically forbids this but it's the exact direction that a giddy western press is urging him to move towards.