Saturday, December 05, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, December 5, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Turkey invades Iraq (but says it's there to help), the US government continues to 'help' by bombing Iraq, public radio has a serious discussion about these efforts, Sunnis continue to be persecuted, and much more.

Today, the US Defense Dept announced:

Strikes in Iraq
Bomber, fighter, ground attack and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 12 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of Iraq’s government:

-- Near Habbaniyah, one strike suppressed an ISIL tactical unit.

-- Near Kisik, one strike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

-- Near Mosul, two strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL heavy machine gun and two ISIL fighting positions.

-- Near Ramadi, seven strikes struck five separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL heavy machine gun, an ISIL bunker, two ISIL vehicle bombs, 15 ISIL fighting positions, 12 ISIL buildings, three ISIL light machine guns, three ISIL rocket-propelled grenades, an ISIL anti-air artillery piece, an ISIL assembly area, five ISIL staging areas, an ISIL weapons cache, and denied ISIL access to terrain.

-- Near Sinjar, one strike destroyed an ISIL vehicle bomb and an ISIL fighting position.

Task force officials define a strike as one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative, effect. Therefore, officials explained, a single aircraft delivering a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against buildings, vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making those targets harder or impossible for ISIL to use. Accordingly, officials said, they do not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.

US President Barack Obama began these bombings in August of 2014.  Fifteen months later and there's no progress.

Imagine that, bombs don't stop violence.

Let's drop in on THE DIANE REHM SHOW's first hour (international roundtable) from Friday:

Diane Rehm:  Indeed we had this e-mail from Marsha in Indianapolis, "Please discuss how our bombing in Syria and Iraq is contributing to radicalization, especially in our country."

Jonathan Tepperman:  This is something that the Obama administration is very concerned about and is one of the reason that the US effort has been -- the bombing effort has been much less effective than it could have been precisely because ISIS is no dummy -- are no dummies.  They know that if they position their forces within urband centers, which they do, it makes it much harder for us to attack them without causing massive civilian casualties, which is what has been happening.

And later, Nancy Youssef observed, "Lander is I think really getting at, you know, we hear from the U.S. and European officials all the time that there's no military solution to defeating ISIS, that it has to be a political defeat, and yet the primary approach is a military one, and that in tackling al-Qaeda with a military approach, it led to a something more grotesque ISIS. And this fear that with every sort of military campaign, rather than eliminating an idea, which of course Obama cannot, it is just fueling the next iteration of terror groups."

All these months later,  Barack is 'fine tuning' his plan or 'plan.'

Which, of course, means more military, not more diplomacy.

At Tuesday's US House Armed Services Committee hearing, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter declared:

 Next, in full coordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialized, expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and put even more pressure on ISIL.  These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders.   

With all the hours and hours of Pacifica Radio -- all the time they use of the public airwaves, only SOJOURNER TRUTH WITH MARGARET PRESCOD devoted a segment to it -- we noted this in Thursday's snapshot (the Tuesday broadcast) and that Friday's show would also feature the topic.

Friday, Margaret Prescod was joined for her news roundtable by University of Houston's Dr. Gerald Horne, activist and politician Jackie Goldberg and Tom Hayden.

At the top of the show, Margaret Prescod observed, "The US is increasing special operations forces on the ground in Iraq which would also be that would also be involved in raids in Syria."

Tom Hayden shared his belief that 2016 would result in a war president -- and said that would be true if it was Senator Marc Rubio or Senator Bernie Sanders or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

We'll note this section of the exchange.

Jackie Goldberg:  I think at some point or another, we have to see the situation in the Middle East as a battle between Sunni and Shia, not our battle, not the United States' battle.  And we should be working very hard, I believe, to get the nations of the Middle East who have a stake in this -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Republic, Turkey, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq -- all of them -- all of them, Iran, they all have -- Hezbollah -- they all have a stake in the outcome of this.  And in my view, I think we should be backing away from the war that Tom was talking about rather than continuing it and, instead, pushing very hard internationally to say to the folks that are involved in this that this is a struggle that you have over territory.  It's not too different from the Christians and the Muslims and the Crusades.  This is between two versions of-of Islam but they are mostly about the issues of power and control of resources and control of oil and control of government.  And those are issues that, in my opinion, should be settled amongst themselves.  If the United States does not wish to continue to be attacked, it has to look at its own policies.  It has to look at why - why would we be seen as an enemy of one side or the other?  And that is because we arm everybody, we make it possible for these wars to go on by selling arms to everybody.  And who we don't sell arms to, the Russians sell arms to.  So, at some point or another, if there is no possibility that those who are arming all of the sides don't disengage from the possibility of arming all the sides, I don't see an end to this.  And I don't see a role for the United States, to be very honest.  I know I'm probably very unique in all of this, but I don't think our role is to be there.   This is a fight -- it's an age old fight.  It's not new, it's thousands of years old and it is not, in my opinion, a fight that we should be taking on.

Margaret Prescod:  Yeah.  And, Jackie Goldberg, I think there are quite a lot of people that will agree with you.  I mean, there was a contentious debate that happened in the British Parliament just a couple of days ago on a vote on the UK joining the bombing of ISIS.  And Jeremy Corbyn, who is the new leader of the Labour Party, put himself out there and totally opposed the bombing.  A number of the more mainstream members of the Labour Party rebelled against Corbyn and went along with Cameron -- the Conservative, Tory government.  So now the UK has in fact already be bombing and Germany is apparently now in on the act, you know, France has been in it for a very long time. There has been a very strong moment, Jackie, in the UK 

Jackie Goldberg:  Oh, yeah.

Margaret Prescod (Con't):  -- opposed to this bombing.

Jackie Goldberg:  Oh, yeah.  And there's a peace movement in the United States opposed to our continued involvement with drones and strikings and all of this.  You know, if you are a young man living in San Bernardino and you are Pakistani and you see the United States continuously using drones on somebody who is "a target" but also other folks who get caught up in this -- civilians who had no role in this -- you begin to, you know, think, 'Well if civilians there are going to be targeted, then civilians here ought to be targeted.'  That's how you get to where we are in the United States today -- our policy has to change and if it doesn't change, well the war will come home.

Margaret Prescod:  Yeah.

Jackie Goldberg:  And it has.

Margaret Prescod:  Yeah.

Jackie Goldberg:  And it will continue to come home. 

Margaret Prescod:  Right and we are going to be talking, a little later on, after our station break, about that San Bernardino shooting and the various implications.  What I would like to do now -- because I am assured that the sound is back -- and I'd really like to play this clip, it is from a PBS NEWSHOUR, Dr. Horn, before we go to you.  And it gives some reaction to the reality of the US increasing special operations on the ground in Iraq and also some more about what is happening in the region, reaction to that.  Let's go to that clip now.

Gwen Ifill: Many Iraqis -- led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi didn’t appear to welcome the news that U.S. is sending additional special ops forces in an effort to root out ISIS strongholds.

Salah al-Rikabi, Baghdad resident (through interpreter): We do not need any foreign forces, whether they are American, Danish, Italian or French ones. The Iraqi people are capable.

Fadhil Abu Firas, Baghdad resident (through interpreter): U.S. forces have no credibility and no good intentions. I consider this a new invasion.

Gwen Ifill: At NATO headquarters in Brussels, Secretary of State John Kerry denied that Iraqi leaders were not briefed about the new force in advance.

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State: We will continue to work very, very closely with our Iraqi partners on exactly who would be deployed, where they would be deployed, what kinds of missions people would undertake, how they would support Iraqi efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL.

Gwen Ifill: In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron made his final appeal in Parliament to expand the current British air campaign in Iraq to Syria.

[. . . edit from PBS broadcast made by Prescod's show]

Gwen Ifill:  Separately, Russia released satellite imagery purporting to show trucks delivering Islamic State oil in Turkey and accused Turkish leaders of profiting from the illicit trade. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the claims as slander.
Later in the day, an Islamic State video appeared to show the beheading of another hostage. The militants said he had spied for Russia in Syria and Iraq.

Margaret Prescod: Alright, so there you go, Dr. Horn. I mean apparently these new forces, at least the some that we heard in that clip, not welcome.  We heard from people in Iraq and, of course, there's the growing mentions over the shoot downs by Turkey of the Russian military jet.  And everybody pretty much knows that Turkey wouldn't have shot down the Russian military jet without a heads up from the United States -- even though there's that and on the other hand analysts are saying, 'Well the Obama administration really doesn't want to ramp it up any further -- from where I sit, it seems, "Okay, go ahead and do the shoot down but then let's try to dampen it down."  Dr. Horn, give us your view on what's happening in all of that.

Dr. Gerald Horne: Well during the war in Vietnam, there was a very useful debate as to whether or not that war was a blunder by Washington or whether it flowed illogically from US imperialism. And I think we need to have a sort of similar debate today. Particularly in light of the fact that the NEW YORK TIMES reported just a few days ago that Sirte which under Col [Muammar] Gaddafi [the late leader of Libya] was slated to be the capital of the African Union is now the capital of ISIS in Africa. And we need to ask some very difficult questions as to whether or not this is just another blunder by Washington or whether this flows illogically from a certain assumption and a certain kind of logic, particularly given that Barack Obama was elected in 2008 on the premise that he would not allow another type of an Iraqi fiasco to take place and yet he's presided over a similar fiasco in Libya, in north Africa, which has given a shot in the arm to ISIS.  I think we need to recognize that it's very difficult for the United States, which is now in relative decline, to buck it's so-called allies, particularly Saudi Arabia which it is dependent upon both for oil and capital flows.  And Saudi nationals, as we know, are major supporters of ISIS and, somewhat oddly, it's difficult for it to buck Turkey which, as you know, is in bed with ISIS as we speak. I think we should also recognize that with the close relationship with Israel, it's very hard for the United States to align with Iran against ISIS.  And we also know that with this anti Moscow sentiment in Washington -- which is a hangover from the Cold War period -- and it is difficult to engage in what President Putin has called for -- which is a United Nations international alliance against ISIS.  In fact, we know that just a few days ago the United States helped to twist the arm of Montenegro and entice it to enter the anti-Moscow alliance that is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- that is to say that NATO is expanding at the same time that NATO should be shrinking because the United States should be allied with Moscow against ISIS if it is sincere in its anti-ISIS thesis. So this is the problem we face and I don't think we can get out of this problem until we have an honest, far reaching debate as to whether or not these so-called blunders are not blunders but flow from a certain kind of illogic,

Staying with the issue of Turkey and Iraq, we'll drop back to THE DIANE REHM SHOW where Diane spoke with THE DAILY BEAST's Nancy A. Youssef, FOREIGN AFFAIRS' Jonathan Tepperman and the FINANCIAL TIMES' Edward Luce.

Nancy Youssef: But it was a week of vitriolic language. My goodness. We started on Wednesday with the defense minister, in an unusual move, calling reporters in and showing them satellite photographs of ISIS oil tankers crossing the border and saying that the Turkish president was personally benefiting from ISIS. And then we saw, the next day, Putin essentially condoning this. Russia demanding an apology for the shoot-down of its aircraft. The Turks expressing condolences and stopping short of that. And Putin promising that there was going to be repercussions, without offering any specifics outside of these sanctions.  And so you're right, the result was not real progress. But the language that we saw this week was quite a step up from what we had seen even last week.

Edward Luce:  Yeah. And Nancy's right, there's been a lot of invective on both sides. I think that one piece of the invective that the Russians have been very pointed in their accusations that the Turkish have been buying ISIS oil is not fire without -- is not smoke without fire. There is something to this. President Erdogan has imprisoned journalists in Turkey who've written about this. The fact that his son-in-law, Bilal Erdogan -- and this has been reported in some detail by my newspaper, the Financial Times -- his son-in-law is part of a company, BMZ, that buys oil. And that this used to go through from Mosul, controlled by Kurdish groups, through various networks to a Turkish port, and was then exported in tankers there.  Now, of course, that territory -- formerly controlled by Kurds -- around Mosul, is ISIS controlled. And the oil production is ISIS controlled. But the network remains. So Erdogan is absolutely neuralgic on this point. He imprisons anybody who whispers it and the Russians know that full well. They are striking him rhetorically, where it hurts. 

Jonathan Tepperman:  Looking forward, there are tensions or pressures that are pointing in opposite directions. On the one hand, both countries have good reason to deescalate. They have a very close and long-standing trade relationship. Russia is Turkey's number-two trading partner. Total trade figures are something like $30 billion a year. The two countries have a huge tourism industry, lots of connections. On the other hand, there is a problem, right? Which is that Erdogan and Putin are similar, very similar, in a bad way. Both are strongman leaders with weak economies, limited domestic legitimacy, and both rely on nationalism to bolster their domestic credentials.

Diane Rehm:  Hmm. 

Jonathan Tepperman:  And that means that they have political reasons to keep ratcheting things up.


The Islamic State seized it in June of 2014 and they continue to control the northern Iraq city -- home to around 2.5 million people.

Mosul is a hot point.  BBC News reports today:

The Iraqi foreign ministry has summoned the Turkish ambassador to demand that Turkey withdraw troops it sent to an area near the northern city of Mosul.
It said the troops had entered Iraq without Baghdad's consent and that Iraq considered it "a hostile act".
Turkey says it deployed 150 soldiers in the town of Bashiqa year to train Iraqi Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) group.

Was the deployment a surprise?  From statements, it would appear it might have been -- at least for the Iraqi government . . . if not for the US.  Ahmed Rasheed and Ayla Jean Yackley (Reuters) add:

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum earlier described the deployment as "a violation of international norms and law" and called on Turkey to withdraw, echoing a statement from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's media office a day earlier.
[. . .]
The United States was aware of Turkey's deployment of Turkish soldiers to northern Iraq but the move is not part of the U.S.-led coalition's activities, according to defense officials in Washington.

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan, reporting from the Kurdish region capital Erbil, also said it appeared the Turkish troops were in Iraq at the invitation of the governor of Mosul, Atheel Nujaifi.
"It seems like the government of Mosul has told Baghdad: 'We need more help with fighting ISIL, and if the Turks are willing to offer that help, we will take them up on that'," Khan said.

But just because a government official makes a statement doesn't mean that they're telling the truth.  So while Iraqi officials publicly insist that this was a surprise, HURRIYET DAILY NEWS maintains:

Turkey will have a permanent military base in the Bashiqa region of Mosul as the Turkish forces in the region training the Peshmerga forces have been reinforced, Hürriyet reported.
The deal regarding the base was signed between Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani and Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu, during the latter’s visit to northern Iraq on Nov. 4. 

So who's telling the truth?

Which government?

Expecting honesty in a government is a rather futile exercise.  

And the Iraqi government lies as much as any other one.

For example, it tries to pretend that the persecution of the Sunni population ended when Nouri al-Maliki was forced out as prime minister (August 2014) and replaced with Haider al-Abadi.  However, Friday morning in Geneva, the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights addressed the issue.

Cecile Pouilly:   We are concerned at reports of increasing human rights violations and abuses committed against Sunni Arab communities in parts of Iraq that have been reclaimed from ISIL.
Reports indicate that Iraqi security forces, Kurdish security forces and their respective affiliated militias have been responsible for looting and destruction of property belonging to the Sunni Arab communities, forced evictions, abductions, illegal detention and, in some cases, extra-judicial killings.
Sunni Arab communities have also faced increasing discrimination, harassment and violence from other ethnic and religious groups who accuse them of supporting ISIL.
We have received reports as well about their limited access to basic services and essential goods, such as water, food, shelter and medical care.
We are particularly concerned about the situation of some 1,300 Sunni Arab Iraqis stuck near Sinjar in the no-man's-land between Kurdish security forces and ISIL.
Meanwhile, gross human rights violations continue to be documented in ISIL-controlled areas. Individuals suspected of disloyalty or of not conforming to the ideology of the group continue to be targeted, and there are reports of kidnappings and the burning and beheading of civilians. We have received reports that some 16 mass graves containing the bodies of individuals murdered by ISIL have been discovered in Sinjar.
We urge the Government of Iraq to investigate all human rights violations and abuses, including those committed against the Arab Sunni communities, to bring the perpetrators to justice and to ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.
We also call upon the Iraqi authorities to ensure that the return of internally displaced people to their places of origin is carried out in accordance with humanitarian principles i.e. voluntarily, in dignity and safety without coercion or harassment of any kind, and that they are guaranteed access to essential services such as shelter, water, food, sanitation, and health services.

And a specific example of the above persecution can be found in the following Tweet.