Saturday, March 28, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, March 28, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, John Allen spins fantasies for Congress, how firing Allen could buy Barack some time, "excesses" and much more.

Egypt announced its support for UN efforts to seek a political solution to the conflict in Libya, yet warned of the possible ‘lengthy’ time period needed for peaceful negotiations to conclude.

The Libyan people shouldn't have to, no.  But haven't the Iraqi people been forced to?

And not just for a few months or even for a year but for years -- plural.

The US government (under Bully Boy Bush) demanded in 2006 that Nouri al-Maliki be made prime minister.  From 2006 through 2010, he accomplished nothing and his failures were somewhat hidden by the fact that US boots were on the ground.  They were misused, to be sure.  They were used to provide stability for a government that was non-inclusive and that was accomplishing nothing.  The 'surge,' you may remember, was supposed to be the US troops providing stability and security which would free up the Iraqi government to focus on the political process.  While the US military carried out their task, Nouri failed at his.

By 2010, Nouri was a divisive figure whose failures were welol known -- as were his secret prisons where he torured people.  In March 2010, the Iraqi people voted for Iraqiya ahead of Nouri's State of Law.  This was the Iraqi voters choosing a national unity and a national identity and rising above thug Nouri's sectarian policies.  Iraqiya was welcoming to all Iraqis, representing men and women, Shi'ites, Sunnis, Kurds and various religious and ethnic minorities.

Even the Bully Boy Bush administration -- one not known for keen insights or even basic smarts -- would have realized this was a move to be backed up and endorsed.

But they didn't promise to pull out all troops from Iraq.  Barack had.

And Samantha Power and others insisted that the deal they wanted (which was already a plan to keep a few thousand troops in Iraq) could only be pulled off with the support of Nouri.

The CIA profile on Nouri in February of 2006 had noted Nouri's intense paranoia and this was seen as an asset, a way that the US government could control him.

In 2010, Samantha Power made a similar argument: Barack should back Nouri because Nouri was so divisive and unpopular and he would need American support to remain in office so they could leverage that support to get what they wanted from Nouri.  

So instead of supporting the Iraqi people, Barack backed Nouri.  And he had US officials in Iraq negotiate a contract -- The Erbil Agreement -- to give Nouri a second term.

The contract was nicely known as a power-sharing agreement.  And while that was one aspect of it, there was also the fact that that it was a bribe list.

Political leaders agreed to give Nouri a second term as prime minister and, in exchange, Nouri agreed to give them various things.  Ayad Allawi, leader of Iraqiya, would be put in charge of a national security commission, the Kurds would finally see Article 150 of the Iraqi Constitution implemented, etc.

And Nouri embraced the contract and was all for it.  To get his second term.

But he got named prime minister (designate) and said the contract would have to wait a bit -- the rest of it -- to be implemented.

That was November 2010.

He never implemented it.

He never honored the promises he made in that contract.

And as political parties demanded the contract be honored, the tensions grew and grew.

From 2010 through 2014, there was little concern about the terrorism the Iraqi people were living under.  The world turned a blind eye with few exceptions.  

When it became undeniable, the world paid attention long enough to see Barack finally pull the rug out from under despot Nouri al-Maliki and begin (publicly) sending US troops back into Iraq. 

Stepping onto the global stage last June, addressing the world, Barack declared that the only answer to Iraq's various crises was a political solution.

Where's that political solution?

Nearly a year later, where's that political solution?

Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing.  We covered some of it in that day's snapshot.  Today, we're focusing on the key concern of how the operation against the Islamic State is failing.  

Appearing before the Committee were the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen as well as Brig Gen Michael Fantini and Brig Gen Gregg Olson.

John Allen is a retired general who, despite having taken a job of envoy which is under the State Dept, insists upon being called "General."  As a general rule, we go by what people call themselves here.

General rule.

There was a Rolling Stone employee who created a title for himself. 

The title didn't exist.

The New York Times ran with that title.

We did not.

When we gave his title, we gave the title that he actually had.  (And I told Jann Wenner what was going on and the employee was told to stick to the title he had which finally led the Times to use the correct title.  I also ratted out the stooge who went along with the RS employee -- NYT stooge who was the employee's friend -- to the paper and got the stooge packing.  Facts are facts, I don't tolerate lies and I don't tolerate them when press outlets try to claim "it's just entertainment coverage."  If it matters enough for you to cover it, it matters enough for you to cover it correctly.)

Allen is an envoy.  He is under the State Dept.  He is supposed to be heading Barack's diplomatic effort.

That makes him an envoy.

If that title is beneath him, and he acts as though it is, too bad.

John Allen has done an awful job as an envoy and possibly Barack, years from now, will be able to point to Allen's disaster moves to mitigate the blame he (Barack) faces for Iraq.

A diplomat was needed to work towards a political solution.

Instead of a diplomat, Barack appointed a retired general and one who has no sense of history or perspective on Iraq beyond bombs and guns.

John Allen started out an embarrassment, he's become an impediment.

Barack should find someone quickly to replace Allen and use it to create a "restart."  The latter would be especially helpful to him politically since June is approaching and his remarks from last year will be revisited then.

From Thursday's hearing, we'll note this exchange.

US House Rep Ted Deutch  I want to actually start with the news about our strikes in Tikrit.  The coverage in the New York Times today  included a paragraph which  said, "If the Americans did not engage they feared becoming marginalized by Tehran  in a country where they had spilled much blood in the last decade, the official said speaking on the condition of anonymity."  Is -- If you could speak to the strikes in Tikrit, the air support that the United States is providing, is it different than the support we've had in the past? And is it being offered in part because  there were concerns about being marginalized by the Iranians?  And in answering that question, it gets to the broader point of, again the same article "the preponderance of 30,000 fighters on the Iraqi side had been members of the militias fighting alongside the Iraqi military and police men.  Of those 30,000, how do we -- Gen Allen, following your last response -- how do we view it in a nuanced way to distinguish between the Iranian-backed militias and Sistani's popular mobilization forces?

Brig Gen Fat : Congressman, so I think the answer to your question is "no." We work by, with and through the Iraqi government.  And so through the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces, the-the, uh, the Iraqis came back and asked for support and we adjudicated that decision to the highest levels and decided to engage there.  It's within the Iraqi interest and the coalition's interest to be successful in Tikrit cause we don't want to have another success for Da'ash or ISIL. And, uh, we anticipate that the, uh, support that we're providing the Iraqi security forces with the Ministry of Defense, uh, in -- with the Ministry of Defense in in charge of the command and control of, uh, that operation that we're in a position where we can provide that support to be successful. 

US House Rep Ted Deutch: General Allen?

Envoy John Allen:  With regard to the command and control the, uh -- There's a difference between, uh, the role of the, uh, the traditional Shia elements that are aligned directly with Iraq and support directly with Iraq and those elements of the PMF that have provided, uh, uh, a larger force posture and a larger force generation capability, uh, they are not -- They don't intend to be or -- are not intended to be a permanent part of the Iraqi security force entity.  They are -- They are viewed as a temporary organization that have played the role ultimately of blunting and halting, uh, the forward progress of Da'ash.  And as we continue to build out the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces across the board and, uhm, we can provide you, I think, significant detail about the forces that are engaged right now in Tikrit.  It's-it's-it's actually quite encouraging.  Uhhhhh, to give you a sense of when the PMF elements are going to be in play and when they won't be in play -- and as we continue to force generate the regular forces they will play an increasing role ultimately in the counter-offensive to liberate the populations.

US House Rep Ted Deutch: General Allen, are you -- are you confident that the Iraqi people view this action in Tikrit as one taking place against ISIS by the United States through air strikes and Iraqi security forces or is it viewed as one that is a combination of US air strikes and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias?

Envoy John Allen: Uh, that's a good question.  Uh, we've -- again from my time on the ground just last week there, uh, I made a point to meet with the provincial leadership in Salahuddin Province in which Tikrit is the largest population center.  Uh, at the time, the leadership in Salahuddin and-and even recently have talked about focusing on the liberation of Tikrit, uh, and have applauded the role of American forces in supporting the central government and the Iraqi security forces in liberating Tikrit from Da'ash.  So my sense is that on the ground in Salahuddin, their view is that the United States as we have done in other places, multiple other places in Iraq, are providing the kinds of both enabling to the use of information to command and control -- support to command and control -- and ultimately fire power that will facilitate the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces in accomplishing the mission of defeating Da'ash and liberating this population center.  So my sense is that at least the Sunni leadership -- key Sunni leadership -- the Speaker, the Vice President and others but also the Sunni leadership of Salahhudin have been clear that they support the role of the United States in this particular fight, sir.

Mr. Chairman, I just hope then that that translates down to the Iraqi people as well and I yield back.

We'll note another exchange from the hearing in a moment.

But first off, that's Speaker of Parliament who would be Salim al-Jabouri and Vice President Osama al-Nujafi.

As the chief US diplomat, Allen should know those names and titles.

Allen doesn't have a clue.

(That's the generous view.  The harsher view is that he's a natural born liar whose every word is a fabrication and falsehood.)

While a few Sunni political leaders did support the thousands of Sunnis who took part in a protest that lasted over a year (December 2012 through January 2014), the bulk did not.  (Most did not oppose the protests, they just didn't go out of there way to support them.)

The most infamous incident would be when Sunni politician -- and professional caver -- Saleh al-Mutlaq  attempted to use the protests as a photo op and was pelted with garbage and rocks by the protesters.  Mutlaq, at the time, was the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq (he still holds that position today).

In addition, there's Salahuddin Province itself.

Is it in their longterm interests to sit at the table right now and agree with anything with regards to Baghdad and US officials?

Yes, it is.

Because in 2011, the province declared it was semi-autonomous.  The Kurdish Regional Government is semi-autonomous.  This is the model Salahuddin is going for and declared itself to be in 2011.  Yes, the government will gladly take a seat at any table and weigh in.  It has little to do with the wants and needs with regards to ISIS and everything to do with shoring up proof that they are independent.  And should they oppose the US or Baghdad plan?  

They would be dismissed which would prove that they were not semi-autonomous.

And it is this group -- this powerless group -- of officials that Allen uses to back up his claims.

He should have been asked why, if Salahuddin Province supported the assault on Tikrit (which is in the province), they were not sending Sunni brigades in to assist with the operation?

The answer to that question would have been awkward (for Allen) but illuminating.

Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent (Foreign Policy) have an important article published today entitled "The U.S. Is Providing Air Cover for Ethnic Cleansing in Iraq: Iran's Shi'ite militias aren't a whole lot better than the Islamic State."  From the article:

On March 10, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a comprehensive study of human rights violations committed by both IS and pro-Iraqi forces. The Islamic State, OHCHR concluded, has likely committed genocide against the Yazidis, a ethno-religious minority in Iraq, in a catalogue of war crimes and crimes against humanity that include gang-rape and sexual slavery. But OHCHR’s language is equally unambiguous in condemning the other side on the battlefield: “Throughout the summer of 2014,” the report noted, “[PMUs], other volunteers and [Shiite] militia moved from their southern heartlands towards [Islamic State]-controlled areas in central and northern Iraq. While their military campaign against the group gained ground, the militias seem to operate with total impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.” [Italics added.]
Sunni villages in Amerli and Suleiman Bek, in the Salah ad-Din province, have been looted or destroyed by militiamen operating on the specious assumption that all inhabitants once ruled by IS must be IS sympathizers or collaborators. Human Rights Watch has also lately discovered that the “liberation” of Amerli last October — another PMU/Iranian-led endeavor, only this one abetted by U.S. airstrikes in the early stages — was characterized by wide-scale abuses including the looting and burning of homes and business of Sunni residents of villages surrounding Amerli.  The apparent aim was ethnic cleansing. Human Rights Watch concluded, from witness accounts, that “building destruction in at least 47 predominantly Sunni villages was methodical and driven by revenge and intended to alter the demographic composition of Iraq’s traditionally diverse provinces of Salah al-Din and Kirkuk.”
Sunnis weren’t the only demographic subjected to collective punishment. A 21-year-old Shiite Turkmen from the Yengija village was “burned with cigarettes and tied to a ceiling fan” by militants of Saraya Tala’a al-Khorasani, another Iran-backed militia. He told Human Rights Watch: “They kept saying, ‘You are ISIS,’ and I kept denying it. They were beating me randomly on my face, head, shoulders using water pipes and the butts of their weapons…. They went to have lunch and then came back and beat us for an hour and half. Later that night they asked me if I was Shia or Sunni. I told them I was Shia Turkoman and they ordered me to prove it by praying the Shia way…. They kept me for nine days.”

AFP today quotes an unnamed Iraqi military officer stating, "The task of liberating Tikrit requires major sacrifices and street fighting, and our forces are ready for these sacrifices."   


Because the biggest sacrifice required is for everyone to let go of petty grudges and the past and work together.  That means a Shi'ite dominant government needs to be making real efforts to work with Sunnis and with Kurds.

When will that 'sacrifice' take place?

After two days of U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi forces are resuming their stalled offensive to rout Islamic State fighters from Tikrit without the help of Iran-backed fighters once at the forefront of the battle.
As Iran-backed Shiite militiamen sat on the sidelines, thousands of Iraqi government forces sought to capitalize on the new American airstrikes to dislodge hundreds of Islamic State fighters hunkered down in the heart of the city.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, Tikrit could be liberated or 'liberated' tomorrow and it wouldn't mean a damn thing if nothing else changed in Iraq.

There is no movement on the political front.  Nearly a year after Barack called for a political solution, there is none.

Holly Williams (CBS News -- link is text and video) reports on the claim that the US government insisted that Shi'ite militias depart before any strikes took place:

A condition of the U.S. strikes is that the militias go home. Just outside Tikrit two weeks ago an Iraqi general -- Bahaa al-Azawi -- confidently told us that victory was days away.
"We got the ability, we got the capability to defeat terrorism, and push them away from Iraq," al-Azawi said at the time.
But the Tikrit offensive stalled -- even though one senior Iraqi politician told us ISIS may have only 20 fighters left in the city.
"There are very few. They're using snipers, and booby trapped buildings," said Saad al-Muttalibi.
Al-Muttalibi admits that Iraq's army is feeble - despite the $20 billion spent by America to train and equip it.

At The Atlantic, Noah Gordon speaks to Stephen Biddle about ISIS, Tkrit and US and Iran jockeying efforts:

Gordon: Bigger picture: American airstrikes against ISIS started in the summer. Has ISIS lost territory? Are the Kurds and the Iraqi government making gains?

Biddle: They’ve lost some territory. I think, to a first approximation, the best characterization of the war is a stalemate: ISIS has gained a bit of ground in some places; they’ve lost some ground in other places. Most of the areas in which they’ve lost ground have been areas of mixed sectarian demography. ISIS has shown very little ability to take and hold Shiite-populated areas.
Their expansion in June was very, very rapid—and then it ground to a halt at more or less the geographic limits of Sunni Iraq. Since mid-summer, certainly, the battle lines have not changed radically. Places like Baiji [an Iraqi city taken back from ISIS in June] have changed hands several times, but in spite of some degree of dynamic change in particular locations the larger context of the war hasn’t changed very much. You’ve got, to a first approximation, deadlock.

Biddle goes on to offer his take that if the airstrikes do not lead to a major advance in the assault on Tikrit, the Iraqi government will have less reason and inclination to side with the US over Iran.

Back to Thursday's hearing.

US House Rep David Cicilline: General according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, a Shia militia destroyed a Sunni village they had retaken from ISIS. which was methodical and driven by revenge according to the report.  It indicated that dozens of other villages were similarly targeted and considering the increasing efforts to combat ISIS by Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias, sort of building on Congressman Deutch's question,  how can we -- how can we monitor Iranian retaliatory actions?  And will the Shia militias punitive actions cause Iraq's disenfranchised Sunnis to view ISIS as really their only protectors?  And what are we doing to mitigate that?  And also what are the implications for fostering reconciliation between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities in Iraq because of Iran's involvement?

Envoy John Allen:  It's an extraordinarily important question -- both yours and Congressman Deutch's.  Uh, there have been excesses, they've been horrible.  Uh, I think we saw very quickly that the Iraqi government contemed -- condemned those excesses.  And the Iraqi government has initiated investigations into those excesses -- ultimately to hold those who perpetrated them to be accountable.  That's an important first point. Those excesses have been condemned by the Iraqi government, those excesses have actually been condemned by the Grand Ayatollah [Ali al-] Sistani.  And it was part of  -- because of that,  it was part of the reason for his issuance of the 20-point code of ethics -- the code of conduct which would be recognizable to all of us in uniform.

I can't take that idiot for very long.

Thursday was not a good morning for choice.  We could attend a hearing with known liar Lloyd Austin -- a liar I avoid at all costs -- or we could try our luck with John Allen.

John Allen is not "in uniform."

He's retired from the military and looks like an old fart trying to relive tired glory days of the past at the expense of the realities of the present.


Human rights abuses is what some call them.  I call them War Crimes.  Because they meet the legal definition of War Crimes.

But John Allen is such a liar or so stupid he's calls them excesses.

And they're over, he insists!  These were last fall and they're over because al-Sistani issued a code of conduct.!

From the March 4th snapshot:

Al Arabiya News reports, "A video posted on the internet on Wednesday showed Iraqi soldiers shooting to death at close range a captured child suspected to have fought with militants in the Diyala Province. The director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, Mustafa Saadoun, in an interview with Al Hadath News Channel, condemned 'the barbaric treatment' of the child, believed to be 11-years old."

Allen's in bed and putting out for these groups.

Which was always going to be a problem when the State Dept's Brett McGurk was allowed a say in picking an envoy.  Brett, you may remember, failed to become the US Ambassador to Iraq because he couldn't keep in his pants and also because the Sunni community lodged an official and public complaint about how one-sided Brett was, how he bent over backward for Nouri and the Shi'ite community.

The Sunnis no more trust John Allen than they trusted Nouri al-Maliki.

The Iraqi government has not condemned the March 4th atrocity caught on camera.

Nor has John Allen.

In fact, John Allen has condemned nothing.

He has lied.

Repeatedly he has lied.

He was lying about the government of Iraq.

The government of Iraq has not condemned the human rights abuses.

There's a supposed investigation -- we'll get to that -- but there's been no condemnation.

They did condemn one thing -- Human Rights Watch.

They condemned them and the report HRW issued.

In the last two weeks, everyone's stepped forward -- including the Minister of Defense -- to insist that Iraqi forces are being smeared with lies.

So maybe John Allen could address that?

Or why these 'excesses' have led the Pentagon to refuse to train certain segments of the Iraqi forces?

Maybe he could get honest about that.

Or maybe he could explain why he trusts any government investigation taking place in Iraq to begin with?

Aren't we all still waiting on the investigation of another public incident?

That would be the April 23, 2013 massacre of a sit-in in Hawija resulting from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.   AFP reported the death toll eventually (as some wounded died) rose to 53 dead.   UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

And when's that investigation going to issue its findings?

Oh, that's right.

In Iraq, you just say you'll do an investigation while knowing the world press and world government will never, ever hold you accountable.

May John Allen be haunted by the "excesses" in Iraq and never have another night's restful sleep.

Allen insisted to US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher, "It is not an intention, sir, that these groups remain permanently established and it is the intention ultimately of the Iraqi government that elements would be subsumed under the national guard concept or they would be disbanded and go home."

John Allen thinks he can flap his gums and we all have to believe the gas that comes flying out.

No, we don't.

He needs to start backing up his claims.

Actually, he needs to step down.

June looms.

It will not be pretty for Barack.

The smartest thing to do is immediately replace John Allen and then use Allen as the fall guy for why, a year after Barack insisted the only answer was a political solution, there is still no political solution.

At one point in the hearing, the ridiculous John Allen was talking up the national guard in Iraq.

Yes, the US has been stressing that since last summer.

The need for one.

But there's not one.

There's not even a law passed by the Parliament authorizing one.

Margaret Griffis ( counts 142 violent deaths in Iraq on Friday.

By June, some publications may be preparing to pair Barack's remarks from last year (about a "political solution") with the number of deaths reported in Iraq since that speech and how there is still no political solution.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

Community wide, we're opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.  A friend in Congress asked if we would note a column by US House Rep David Cicilline on the topic.  This is from Cicilline's column "A bad deal for American workers" for the Providence Journal:

Twenty one years ago, the proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement argued it would create 200,000 American jobs in two years, open new markets for American goods, and at the same time, lift the standard of living in Mexico. Opponents of NAFTA warned that if the deal was approved we would hear “a giant sucking sound going south.”
At the time those words were hard to believe, but today they don’t sound so crazy. In the last two decades, as a result of this trade deal, over a half a million jobs in the U.S. have vanished because of growing trade deficits with Mexico, with a majority of those losses felt in our nation’s manufacturing sector.
Two decades later, as the United States considers the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, we are again faced with the same arguments. As with NAFTA, proponents of this latest trade deal are promising it will be the rising tide that lifts all boats. For hard-working Americans, there is, and should be, a great deal of concern that the TPP will destroy the manufacturing industry we have managed to retain in the United States and severely damage our growing sector of advanced manufacturing. We should not enter into another poorly negotiated and lopsided trade deal that will send more American jobs overseas.

Read the column in full and, please note, the member of Congress that asked me to note Cicilline's column is opposed to Hillary for president and thinks this issue could force a real contest for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Media Advisory: IAVA Builds Community at Boston VetTogether

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following today:

Vets welcomed to join CEO and Founder at District Hall on Monday

Boston, MA (March 27, 2015) – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will showcase its new data visualization tool The Wait We Carry 2.0 and share the experiences of Boston veterans using the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system and disability claims process at a VetTogether on Monday, March 30, at District Hall. At the event, IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff and attendees will also learn about the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial, a project that honors fallen servicemembers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Who: IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff, and Boston-area veterans

When: Monday, March 30, 12:30-2:30 pm

Where: District Hall, 75 Northern Avenue, Boston

For more info, visit:

Prior to the VetTogether, Rieckhoff will attend the opening gala and dedication for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for The United States Senate on Sunday and Monday. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the dedication.

Two weeks ago IAVA launched The Wait We Carry 2.0 at SXSW in Austin and TED Talks in Vancouver. Created with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the cutting-edge data visualization tool offers users a candid understanding of the veteran health care experience.

“IAVA is honored to be a part of the opening gala and dedication ceremonies for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. For decades the Kennedy family has been a strong supporter of the veteran community and we are grateful to have advocates like Patrick Kennedy in our corner,” said Rieckhoff. “Boston continues to be a national leader in promoting solutions for its veterans, and we look forward to joining area veterans in honoring those who will be recognized by the Massachusetts Iraq and Afghanistan Fallen Heroes Memorial. We’re excited that Executive Director Dan Magoon will be on-hand to share the vision and progress of this important memorial project with our attendees.”

More than 340,000 veterans reside in Massachusetts, including more than 32,000 who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Boston-area veterans face a number of critical challenges: more than 200,000 veterans are stuck in the VA backlog, including more than 2,500 in the Boston regional office, who are waiting more than 125 days for a claim. The average wait time in Boston is 157.9 days.

Note to media: Email or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or IAVA leadership.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has nearly 300,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, IAVA recently received the highest rating - four-stars - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.

Boasts can set one up for failure

AP reports Iraqi Lt Gen Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi is stating that the "final phase" of the assault on Tikrit has been launched.  The operation, to take a city, began at the start of the month.  The "final phase" should have come long ago.

The US government wants it to wrap up quickly having made a big show of joining the battle on Wednesday.  Jacob Siegel and Nancy A. Youssef (Daily Beast) report:

Before Wednesday, the U.S. had been largely sitting out the battle, Iraq’s biggest anti-ISIS operation to date, because of the leading role played by Iranian-backed militia forces and military advisers. At the start of the offensive, U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey estimated that the balance of Iraq’s 24,000 forces included 20,000 “Iranian-trained and somewhat Iranian-equipped” Shia militiamen.
But as the militia-led effort bogged down last week, Baghdad asked for American assistance. The U.S. agreed—but with conditions.
The Shia militiamen “pulled back” east of the central Iraqi city of Tikrit once the U.S. began conducting airstrikes, General Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Central Command commander, told Congress on Thursday.

So the militias were pushed out.


But the most detailed reports on Thursday had only a third of them leaving.

Is the US not powerful enough to get all to respond to a demand?

Supposedly there was only one demand.

; Recent pic of Qassim Soleimani with Hadi al-Amiri and Mamouri al-Mousawi on the front line.

  • Supposedly, the US government only made one demand: That the Iranian in the photo above, Qassim Soeimani, leave.  He's been designated as a terrorist by the US government since 2001.

    This was the demand, the condition, the US government made.

    If that's the only demand, why the pull out of the Shi'ite militias -- of some of the Shi'ite militias?

    Opticals work both ways.

    The US government was more than happy to watch the Baghdad-Tehran alliance stumble and falter repeatedly in their attempt to retake Tikrit.

    It was telegraphing to the world how weak Iran was.

    Now the hope is to use war planes dropping bombs to end the assault quickly.  And that such a quick end will demonstrate not just that the Iraqi government needs the US but also the power and might of the US government.

    And, again, opticals work both ways.

    Just as the US was happy to sit it out to allow the Tikrit assault to falter, Soeimani's alleged message was for Shi'ite militias to stand down to demonstrate (Iran hopes) that the assault isn't so easy and that the US might will face the same slog Tehran did throughout most of March.

    (If those rumors are true, it would suggest Soeimani and Tehran have far less influence on Shi'ite militias than they would claim to have since, again, all Shi'ite militias are not thought to have pulled out.)

    Barack probably should have cracked down on the White House sanctioned leaks to the press because they have set expectations for a decisive turn in the battle and, should that prediction not bear out, he could find himself not only embarrassed but having squandered the reputation of the US military.

    But, hey, lofty expectations have never been a problem for Barack Obama, right?

    It's not like he ever promised the moon and then failed to deliver, right?

    I mean, he wasn't the one who once proclaimed that "we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. "

    Oh, wait.

    That was him.

    The following community sites -- plus, War News Radio and KPFK -- updated:

  •  The e-mail address for this site is

    Thursday, March 26, 2015

    Iraq snapshot

    Thursday, March 26, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, US President Barack Obama's Envoy John Allen testifies that there is no exit strategy, some Shi'ite militias leave the Tikrit assault (or were pushed out) and much more.

     "Is it in the United States interest to save what I would call a failing Iranian strategy?  And I worry about Iran's role in Iraqi military operations because what does that portend for the political future of Iraq?" these were straight forward questions from US House Rep Eliot Engel.

    Sadly, there were no straight forward answers in reply.

    This morning, the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony from the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen as well as Brig Gen Michael Fantini and Brig Gen Gregg Olson.

    Allen was the one skirting the issues Engel raised.  Engel is the Ranking Member of the Committee, US House Rep Ed Royce is the Committee Chair.  We'll note some of his opening remarks.

    Chair Ed Royce:  Adding to the problem, the regional forces on the ground these airstrikes are supposed to be supporting are badly undersupplied.  After seven months of fighting, the Committee is still receiving troubling reports that the Kurdish Peshmerga are outgunned on the front lines.  This morning, Ranking Member Engel and I are re-introducing legislation to allow US arms to be sent directly to the Kurds.  These brave fighters need the better equipment to defeat ISIS.  And the Sunni tribal fighters, who will be central to this fight, are yet to trust Baghdad.  Strong local police and provincial national guard forces are desperately needed to protect Sunnis in Anbar Province and elsewhere.  Into the void on the ground in Iraq have stepped Iranian-backed Shi'ite fighters, the leading force behind the recent Tikrit offensive.  Senior US officials have put this development in positive terms.  And reports indicate that US intelligence and air power will now support this Iranian-backed mission.  The Washington Post wisely cautioned in an editorial this week, "The growing power of the militias, with their brutal tactics, sectarian ideology and allegiance to Iran's most militant faction, has become as large an impediment to the goal of stabilizing Iraq" as ISIS.  Shi'ite militias taking on ISIS may serve the immediate interest of killing jihadis but it is hard to see how empowering Iran's proxies is in the short, medium or long term interests of an inclusive Iraq or a stable Middle East.  The fear that many of us have is that Sunni Iraqis, who have been tortured by ISIS, will get the same brutal treatment by their Shi'ite militia 'liberators.'  That would fuel endless conflict.  Political reconciliation in Baghdad must be central to US policy.  The Committee will be interested to learn what the administration is doing to press Prime Minister [Hadier al-] Abadi to ensure he doesn't become former Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki, a disastrous sectarian.  


    Didn't the administration just send witnesses to happy talk how supplying the Peshmerga was no longer a problem?

    Why, yes, they did.

    Wednesday, March 11th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held an important hearing on Iraq.
    We covered it in the  March 11th and March 12th and March 13th snapshots.

    Here's a key exchange from that earlier hearing.

    Senator Cory Gardner:  . .  . what weight of effort would you say that the Peshmerga or other fighting in the region are pursuing against ISIL?

    Gen Martin Dempsey:  The early successes against ISIL were largely through the Peshmerga.  And that will evolve over time but they've been carrying the majority of the effort thus far.

    Senator Cory Gardner:  And by majority of effort, is there a weight?  Like they're carrying out a third?   Three-quarters?  Ninety percent?

    Gen Martin Dempsey:  No, Senator, I can't actually put

    Senator Cory Gardner:  -- the weight of effort on it?

    Gen Martin Depmsey:  -- but the early, uh, the early effort to blunt ISIL's momentum were north and therefore with the Peshmerga

    Senator Cory Gardner:  And reports in the news and other places have stated the Peshmerga are only getting about 10% of the arms that have routed through -- that have been routed through Baghdad.  Is that correct?

    Gen Martin Dempsey:  Uh, again, I don't have the percentage but I can certainly take it for the record.  But there were some friction early on with the willingness of the government of Iraq to provide weapons to the Peshmerga but we think we've-we've managed our way through that.

    Senator Cory Gardner:  And so right now you feel confident that the process by which arms will reach Erbil have now been settled or resolved?

    Gen Martin Dempsey:  I am confident that we've broke through the initial friction but it doesn't mean it won't return.

    There are other exchanges in other hearings that took place this month where other officials insisted the Peshmerga was being armed.

    But they're not.

    They're not getting what they need.

    And so a bi-partisan bill is being re-introduced by Chair Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel to ensure that this problem gets solved.

    Today's hearing took place a day after the announcement that the US would begin aiding the Baghdad-Tehran assault on Tikrit by dropping bombs from war planes at the request of Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

    State Dept spokesperson Jeff Rathke was asked about the airstrikes at today's press briefing:

    QUESTION:  Thank you.  On the airstrikes in Tikrit, first of all, why did these airstrikes come so late?

    MR. RATHKE:  Well, the decision by the United States to conduct airstrikes was a decision we reached after consultation with the Iraqi authorities and in response to an Iraqi request.  These strikes are designed to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision.  And we are trying to minimize damage and enable Iraqi forces, under Iraqi command, to continue their operations – offensive operations against ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit.  And so that’s – and we’ve gone through a careful process of coordinating those strikes through our Joint Operation Center in Baghdad with Iraqi authorities.

    QUESTION:  Are you saying that you haven’t carried out airstrikes for three weeks because the Iraqis didn’t want it themselves so far?

    MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not going to get into our exchanges –

    QUESTION:  But you said (inaudible) just came now.

    MR. RATHKE:  Well, no.  I said that we have gone through a careful process of determining targets and determining the capabilities that we could bring to bear and we’ve acted in response to an Iraqi sovereign government request.

    QUESTION:  And one more quick question.  There are a lot of concerns that with having so many Shia militias around Tikrit, and as the U.S. officials, including General John Allen have said it, most of the Iraqi forces are also Shias.  So aren’t you worried that your airstrikes could be seen as taking sides with those Shia militias who are mostly backed by Iran?

    MR. RATHKE:  Well, no, because again, the – Prime Minister Abadi as well as other authorities in Iraq have been quite clear about their efforts to generate cross-sect and inter-ethnic agreement on the way forward, and they’re acting on that basis and we’re acting in support of the Iraqi authorities.

    [. . .]

    QUESTION:  And on a separate topic on Tikrit, the State Department has no concerns at all that U.S. will become Iran’s air force in Iraq?  I mean, basically, hasn’t the U.S. become a functional ally of Iran since we’re providing air support?

    MR. RATHKE:  Well, no.  That’s the short answer.  We are acting in Tikrit at the response of Iraqi Government request.  We are – we are focused on supporting the Iraqi Central Government.  We’re working with them.  We’re working through our established Joint Operations Center, and this is a step we’ve taken after careful consideration and careful planning with the Iraqi partners.

    Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) reports one reaction to the bombings, "Iraqi Shiite Muslim militias, angry that the government of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has asked for American help in ejecting Islamic State fighters from the central Iraqi city of Tikrit, began Thursday withdrawing their forces from the battle, the first major break between the Iranian-trained militias and Iraq’s military establishment since the Islamic State advance last year."  Noah Rayman (Time magazine) notes that the alleged pull-out accounts for "roughly a third of the 30,000-strong government-led forces."

    But did they walk or were they pushed?

    Saif Hameed, Ahmed Rasheed, Isabel Coles and Mark Trevelyan (Reuters) report that "a senior U.S. general said Washington had demanded the withdrawal of Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias fighting alongside Iraq's government before agreeing to take part."

    While confusion reigns on that aspect, Mark Mazetti and David D, Kirpatrick (New York Times) attempt to explain the White House's many varying positions in the region:

    In Yemen, the Obama administration is supporting a Saudi-led military campaign to dislodge Iranian-backed Houthi rebels despite the risks of an escalating regional fight with Iran.
    But in Iraq and Syria, the United States is on the same side as Iran in the fight against the Islamic State, contributing airstrikes to an Iranian-supported offensive on Tikrit on Thursday even while jostling with Iran for position in leading the operation.

    All that, while the Obama administration is racing to close a deal with Iran to remove economic sanctions in exchange for restraints on its nuclear program, alarming Saudi Arabia and Israel.

    While the world tries to make sense of the 'plan' the White House has for the Middle East, US House Rep Alan Grayson attempted to do the same in today's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with regards to Barack's 'plan' for Iraq.

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Gen Olson, trying to piece together information from public sources, it appears to me that we're spending roughly a million dollars for every ISIS fighter that the US military kills.  Does that sound right to you?

    Brig Gen Gregg Olson: The figure that we understand for the operation cost per day is about 8.5 million dollars.  

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But am I right to think that we're spending approximately a million dollars for every single ISIS fighter that US forces kill?

    Brig Gen Gregg Olson:  I-I haven't done the math, sir.

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Alright let's assume for the sake of the argument that that's correct.  Does it make sense for us to be deploying the most powerful military force that the world has ever seen and spend one million dollars to kill some man standing in the desert, 6,000 miles from the closest American shore, holding a 40-year-old weapon?  Does that make sense?

    Brig Gen Gregg Olson: The military strategy as designed provides US support to a coalition that will degrade, dismantle and ultimately defeat ISIL.

    US House Rep Alan Grayson: What about you, Gen Fantini? Can you think of ways that we could spend less than a million dollars and still keep America safe for every gentleman standing in a desert, 6,000 miles away, whom we kill?

    Brig Gen Michael Fantini:  Congressman, I-I can't address the math that you're presenting.  I don't know whether that's accurate or not.  Uh, from the perspective of continuing with the strategy of developing local forces, to enable those local forces with coalition support to degrade and defeat ISIL, I would submit that is a worthy expenditure of resources. 

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Well let's talk about that.  You of course are very, very familiar with what Gen Powell said about what makes for a good effective war and what doesn't.  Gen Powell said that we need a vital national security interest that's pursued by a clear strategy, we need overwhelming force and we need an exit strategy. So let's start with you on that, Gen Allen, what is our exit strategy?

    Envoy John Allen:  The exit strategy is an Iraq that ultimately is territorial secure, sovereign, an ISIL that has been denied safe haven ultimately has been disrupted to the point where it has no capacity to threaten at an existential level the government of Iraq and the nation of the Iraqi people and ulitmatly ends up in a state that does not permit it to threaten the United States or our homeland.

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  General Allen, that doesn't sound like a strategy to me.  That sounds like a wish list.

    Envoy John Allen:  You know --

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  You certainly understand the difference between a strategy and a wish list.

    Envoy John Allen:   And-and I do.  And this strategy, in fact, has a whole series of lines of effort that converge on Da'ash to prevent it from doing the very things that I just mentioned. 

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But what is our strategy?

    Envoy John Allen:  The strategy is to pursue a series of lines of effort from defense of the homeland to stabilization of the Iraqi government to the countering of the Da'ash message, to the disruption of its finances, to the -- uh -- impediment of the foreign fighters to the empowerment of our allies to the le-leadership of a coalition ultimately aimed to the defeat of Da'ash.  That's a strategy.

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But none of those are exit strategies, right?

    Envoy John Allen:  There is no exit strategy for this.  This is about dealing with Da'ash.  This is about defeating Da'ash.  The success of the strategy is not about exit.  The secees -- success of the strategy is about empowering our partners so that they can ultimately restore the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of a country and deny Da'ash the ability  ultimately to, uh, to do that.  If you're looking for an exit strategy with respect to our presence in Iraq when we have successfully concluded that strategy.  We have said from the beginning that our forces will redeploy.  The coalition has said from the beginning that our forces will redeploy.  So if that's the term that you are seeking in terms of an exit strategy then-then I would say that is the mechanism by which we redeploy our  forces from Iraq.  But the strategy is oriented on an effect that we hope to achieve with respect to Da'ash. 

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Gen Olson, you will agree that we're not using what Colin Powell would have considered to be overwhelming force, correct? 

    Brig Gen Gregg Olson:  We're using an appropriate level of force to --

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Which isn't overwhelming force, right?  Not as -- not as Colin Powell would see it, right?

    Brig Gen Gregg Olson:   Uh, I don't want to speak for Gen Powell.  I believe that the resources that we're applying to the in our ends -- to achieve our ends through matching ways and means are appropriate for the strategy as designed.

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Gen Fantini, yes or no, are we using what you would consider to be overwhelming military force?

    Brig Gen Michael Fantini:  Congressman, uh, I-I would submit that, uh, American air power against an AK47 could be construed as overwhelming.  I, uh, agree with, uh, Gen Olson that the-the use of the resources and the force applied to support our coalition partners to enable these ground operations are appropriate for the strategy and for the strategy and for success in this fight that will take a clear eyed and long term commitment and, we have stated, at least three years. 

    There were many key moments in this morning's hearing but that was the most notable.

    Not only did Grayson put an understandable dollar amount on the financial cost (paid for by US tax payers) he also got a grand admission from Envoy Barry Allen.

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But none of those are exit strategies, right?

    Envoy John Allen:  There is no exit strategy for this. 

    "There is no exit strategy for this."

    Barack's begun an action with no exit strategy.

    And the way Allen ranted on, it was like an Aaron Sorkin moment.

    US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But none of those are exit strategies, right?

    Envoy John Allen:  There is no exit strategy for this.  This is about dealing with Da'ash.  This is about defeating Da'ash.  The success of the strategy is not about exit.  

    Maybe when you select an envoy, you don't go with some retired general who doesn't grasp diplomacy and thinks sticking to scripted lines makes him sound smart?


    What is this with the administration's speech writers and the term existential?

    It's not like any of them grasp Jean-Paul Sarte but they sure do love to (mis)use the term existential.

    They also love "degrade and destroy."

    They use these terms far too often.

    And, by the way, they and the nonsense of "holistic" all supposedly come from the State Dept's Brett McGurk -- or that's what he's been bragging to others.

    There is no exit strategy.

    Which shouldn't be all that surprising.

    The whole point of endless war is that it's . . . endless.

    In the hearing, there were attempts like Alan Grayson's to provide perspective.

    US House Rep Lois Frankel attempted to do that during part of her questioning round.

    US House Rep Lois Frankel:  I have a couple of questions.  First relates to underlying conditions that led to the rise of ISIL.  Would you -- would you agree that ISIL is not the cause of the turmoil in the region but a symptom of a deeper problems?  And I'd like to get your opinion is it unstable governments, poverty, desperation, radical religion, what?  I'd like to get your take on that.  And secondly, I think the American public somehow thinks that you can simply get rid of ISIL by bombs or dropping -- or drones.  Could you just explain the difficulty of -- of their assimilation into the population, and so forth, the terrain.

    Envoy John Allen: One of the, I think, real benefits of the counter-ISIL coalition which numbers at 62 entities right now -- countries and entities -- is the recognition that Da'ash is in fact not the disease, it's a symptom of something bigger.  And that broad recognition includes the base societal factors that have given rise to, uh, the attractiveness of an organization like this.  And it's -- there are societal issues, there are political issues, inclusiveness, participation -- uh, social issues associated with economic opportunity, the ability ultimately to have the opportunity to put food on the table for families. And often the result of the absence of all of those or some of those in these countries and among these populations have created the conditions of despair and desperation which has made those populations susceptible to radicalization and then recruitment

    US House Rep Lois Frankel:  Excuse me general, I assume there are efforts being done to try to respond to those conditions

    Envoy John Allen:  I-I-I think so.  Uh, we've just had this week -- In fact, we ate dinner together the other night, uh, with the president of Afghanistan [. . .]

    Bore us some more, Allen.

    You just wanted to snooze.

    He was either heavily scripted or fumbling for a response -- one or the other throughout the hearing.

    Mainly though, he was just unimpressive -- grossly unimpressive.

    He appears to believe he's above questioning and he also appears beyond actual thought.

    It's hard to believe that he comes alive outside of hearings.

    Part of the non-progress towards a political solution in Iraq may be Allen who seems woefully unsuited for the post of diplomatic envoy.

    On the issue of ways to address the Islamic State, to counter it, Mercy Corps Kari Diener offers suggestions in a column for The Hill which includes:

    Mercy Corps recently released a report, Beyond Humanitarian Relief: Strengthening the Foundation for a More Stable Iraq, highlighting the fact that by relying on programs that only address the symptoms of the conflict there is the real potential to create dependencies and sideline the voices of Iraq’s fledgling civil society, which is trying to address the underlying drivers of this conflict: poor governance and political grievances.
    It is US-supported civil society initiatives that are encouraging Sunnis, Shiites and Christians alike to feel they have a real stake in their own future. Initial investments of $4.1 million by the State Department in the Iraqi Center for Negotiation Skills and Conflict Management between 2008-2013 allowed the Center to blossom into an Iraqi-led NGO and network of 350 highly influential men and women, Ala Kamal among them, from a broad swath of sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, including religious leaders, tribal elders as well as seven newly elected members of Iraq’s Parliament. The Center has formally negotiated peaceful solutions to over 1,000 conflicts.
    If the US genuinely hopes to responsibly scale back its engagement in Iraq, Congress must work with the Administration to support Iraq’s fledgling civil society to prepare for a more stable future. The president’s FY 2016 budget request rightly called out the need to invest Economic Support Funds (ESF) in areas liberated from ISIL control. But investments should not be limited to those areas alone, as many of the factors driving conflict in Iraq pre-date ISIL’s presence. Congress should fully fund the FY 2016 request of no less than $72.5 million in ESF and broaden its focus to support good governance, conflict resolution and civil society programming in all areas of the country. Congress should also ensure that the FY15 funding allocation of $25 million for conflict response programming in Iraq is fully implemented.

    The administration's repeated problems in the Middle East are really beginning to register.  The editorial board of Virginia's Daily Press notes:

    The White House is no place for on-the-job training, and the president's growing pains have been troubling to watch.
    After withdrawing troops from Iraq, the United States again has boots on the ground to battle the growing menace of the Islamic State. We find ourselves on the same side of the battle as Iran, which is trying to turn Iraq into a proxy state under Tehran's control.

    We were talking about the Peshmerga earlier.

    Quick, when was the last time a US official -- past or present -- told Congress the truth about the Peshmerga?


    And the official was former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey who noted that Baghdad wasn't overly fond of arming the Peshmerga.

    Jeffrey is part of Michael Crowley's examination (for POLITICO) of Barack's efforts in the region:

    “We’re in a g**damn free fall here,” said James Jeffrey, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Iraq and was a top national security aide in the George W. Bush White House.
    For years, members of the Obama team has grappled with the chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring. But of late they have been repeatedly caught off-guard, raising new questions about America’s ability to manage the dangerous region.
    Obama officials were surprised earlier this month, for instance, when the Iraqi government joined with Iranian-backed militias to mount a sudden offensive aimed at freeing the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Nor did they foresee the swift rise of the Iranian-backed rebels who toppled Yemen’s U.S.-friendly government and disrupted a crucial U.S. counterterrorism mission against Al Qaeda there.


    Lastly, Margaret Griffis ( counts 209 violent deaths today across Iraq.

    Michigan Greens Renew Call to Decommission Line 5, Enbridge's 60-year-old Pipeline Through Mackinac Straights

    The Green Party of Michigan notes the following: