Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, January 12, 2016.  Chaos and violence continue, Congress talks the Islamic State, Barack Obama offers more generalities, Human Rights Watch calls out abuses, and much more.

"ISIS has gained affiliates faster than al Qaeda ever did," Mike Morell declared today.  "From nothing a year ago, there are militant groups in nearly 20 countries that has sworn allegiance to ISIS."

The former CIA deputy director was speaking before the House Armed Services Committee.  

The Committee Chair is US House Rep Mac Thornberry and US House Rep Loretta Sanchez was the Acting Ranking Member for the hearing.  Along with Morell, also appearing before the Committee was the former Under Secretary of Defense Michael Vickers and former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford.

The focus of the hearing?

Acting Ranking Member Loretta Sanchez; The influence of ISIL is spreading.  I think we have to -- we have to get our heads around that and we also see other extremist groups that are beginning to align or coordinate with ISIL from North Africa and that is a problem.  So in general, I would say that the international community, the US, Democrats, Republicans, we're trying to really grapple with how we define, how we handle, what is the best way in which we defeat this evolving situation of ISIL and aligned groups.

Sanchez repeatedly stressed the need for a strategy to confront the Islamic State -- a clearly defined one.

In plain speak: Where's the plan?

Today, the US Defense Dept announced:

Strikes in Iraq
Fighter and bomber aircraft conducted 19 strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of Iraq’s government:

-- Near Baghdadi, one strike cratered three ISIL-used roads.

-- Near Habbaniyah, one strike destroyed an ISIL bridge and denied ISIL access to terrain.

-- Near Mosul, eight strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and an ISIL cash distribution center and destroyed two ISIL command-and-control nodes, an ISIL tactical vehicle, and 20 ISIL fighting positions.

-- Near Qayyarah, one strike destroyed an ISIL command-and-control node and destroyed six ISIL staging areas.

-- Near Huwayjah, one strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL vehicle.

-- Near Kisik, three strikes struck three separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL light machine gun, two ISIL fighting positions, an ISIL vehicle, and an ISIL assembly area.

-- Near Ramadi, two strikes destroyed an ISIL vehicle bomb, two ISIL front end loaders, and denied ISIL access to terrain.

-- Near Sultan Abdallah, one strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position.

-- Near Tal Afar, one strike destroyed an ISIL-used bridge.

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.

Since August 2014, US President Barack Obama's answer has been?

To drop bombs on Iraq.

Two months prior, he had insisted publicly that the only answer to Iraq's crises was a political solution.

But he quickly shoved that aside.

His focus has been on bombing and more bombing.

Tonight, he delivered his final State of the Union Address.  The Islamic State did come up.

US President Barack Obama:  Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.
But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  We just need to call them what they are – killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.
That’s exactly what we are doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons.  We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 
If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment – or mine – to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden.  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.

Our foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world – in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks; others will fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

Where's that political solution, Barack?

It's not even mentioned.

Last week, at CNN, analyst Peter Bergen covered the topic of the Islamic State and its rise and noted:

The third factor was the feckless and incompetent rule of then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who marginalized Sunnis and disenfranchised them from Iraq's political process to the point that many Sunnis preferred the rule of the Islamist militants in ISIS to that of the "Shia" government in Baghdad. Inexplicably, the Obama White House kept backing Maliki despite his manifest flaws as a leader.

You'd think that responsibility would, if nothing else, prompt Barack to focus on a political solution.

You want to defeat the Islamic State?

Strip away the reason they ever had support.

You do that by stopping the persecution of the Sunnis.

At today's hearing, former Dept of Defense Under Secretary Michael Vickers declared that "time is not on our side" in the fight against the Islamic State.

So if time isn't on our side, why is Barack doing the same damn thing day after day with no real results?

Mike Morell insisted at today's hearing that what was needed was "a political solution in Iraq to the problem of the disenfranchisement of the Sunnis there."

When does that get addressed?

At today's hearing?


But never by the White House.

And maybe that's why US House Rep Loretta Sanchez asked repeatedly today -- as she had last month in an Armed Services Committee hearing -- where is the plan for addressing the Islamic State?


Let's note some remarks from Robert Ford.

Former Ambassador Robert Ford:  But it build support. It recruits.  It replaces fighters who are killed.  It even trains little children.  And so, confronting something like that, we need to think about what is a sustainable solution over time.  And therefore I'm going to talk about resources and the politics of national reconciliation.  First, Iraq.  I visited Iraq a couple of months ago.  It was my first time on the ground in five years.  I was there in Iraq for five years with the American embassy and before that with the Coalition Provisional Authority.  My sense is that, in Iraq, on the military side, there is progress.  But there are too big challenges. Two big challenges.  First, on the resource side, both the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government in Erbil -- both are heavily dependent on oil and oil sales.  And low oil prices are really crunching their ability to mobilize resources against the fight against the Islamic State.  It was very noticeable to me that the Kurdish leadership, who I have known since 2004, were generally concerned about their budget  abilities to sustain the fight against the Islamic State.  Some of the Peshmerga fighters had not been paid for three months.  But even in Baghdad, the authorities were concerned about the resources.  Second issue on Iraq, the politics of national reconciliation.  Mike Vickers just mentioned the importance of devolution and decentralization.  I certainly agree with that and I'm hopeful on that because the Sunni Arab leaders -- again, whom I have known since 2004 -- have really come around 180 degrees. They used to be in favor of a tight, strong central government. And now they are arguing for devolution of power.  That is what the Shia and the Kurds always wanted ten years ago.  For the first time, I have actually seen the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds in Iraq all talking about the same form of government.  That's new and that's hopeful. But at the same time, as events in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, yesterday  showed, there is serious sectarian tension. The Islamic State yesterday exploded several car bombs in the weary city of Baquba and there was immediate concern among the local Sunni population that Shia -- irregular Shia militia -- would retaliate.  There was actually fear that they would attack Sunni Arab mosques. In order to mobilize Sunni Arabs to contain the Islamic State there must be efforts at national reconciliation.  And this is important because we don't want the Islamic State to be put down militarily and then revive as happened between 2011 and 2013.  I really don't want to see an Islamic State version 2.0.  It is important for the Americans to therefore maintain pressure on the Shia militia problem in Iraq.  There are Iraqis such as prime minister [Haider al-] Abadi,Ayatollah [Ali al-] Sistani -- a superb religious leader in the Shia community -- people like, on the Sunni side, Speaker [of Parliament Salim al-] Jabbouri who are all working or national reconciliation.  And so, in Iraq, we need to help mobilize resources for both the central authorities in Iraq, Baghdad, for the Kurdish regional government in Erbil.  And we have to be engaged on the national reconciliation, working with the gentlemen I have pointed out.

National reconciliation was supposed to take place in 2007 -- per the promise Nouri al-Maliki (forever thug and then prime minister) made Bully Boy Bush in order to continue receiving US tax dollars.  It didn't happen in 2007 or 2008 or 2009 or 2010 or 2011 or 2012 or 2013 or 2014 or 2015.

Will it happen in 2016?

Will Barack ever demand that it happen?

Former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is none too pleased with the do-nothing Iraqi government.  Aaron Mehta (DEFENSE NEWS) reports Hagel called out the wasted time in the five year period of 2008 through 2013 by the Iraqi government and argued it squandered real opportunities:

“The breakdown in the Sunni-Shia relationship, the breakdown of the Shia-Kurd relationship, [the] prime minister [Nouri al-Maliki] did not fulfill any of the constitutional requirements and the promises he had made to bring Iraq together,” Hagel continued. “I don’t blame all that on him – there were forces that were probably bigger than he was able to deal with – but in my opinion, that’s what happened in Iraq. The five years were squandered, were wasted, and that’s what’s led to so much of the turmoil, the trouble, the chaos, the slaughter and the killing in Iraq today.”

Kristina Wong (THE HILL) largely avoids Iraq (and then gets it wrong) in her report.

But if Hagel believes Nouri al-Maliki's second term sewed the current problems (an opinion most analysts share), he is speaking out against the administration.

Nouri did not win a second term as prime minister in the 2010 elections.

He lost to Ayad Allawi.

Barack had US officials in Iraq broker an agreement (The Erbil Agreement) which gave Nouri a second term after the voters said "no."

In his remarks on Monday, Hagel also declared the most important thing a president could do was "listen" to military leadership.

Who didn't get listened to on Nouri?

The then-top US commander in Iraq: Gen Ray Odierno.

Ahead of the 2010 elections, Odierno saw a scenario where Nouri could lose the popular vote but refuse to step down.  He argued that the White House needed to be prepared for that possibility.

He was iced out of the process by US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill (the great failure Hill).

And when it came to pass, when Odierno's nightmare scenario came to pass?

It took the intervention of then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Barack to listen to Odierno.

If you actually connect Hagel's remarks with reality from that time period, he offered a blistering critique of the administration.

Today, Human Rights Watch issued an alert which opened:

Kurdish and Shia Turkmen armed groups have repeatedly harmed and endangered civilians in clashes in Iraq’s Tuz Khurmatu district, in Salah al-Din province, since October 2015. The armed groups have killed, wounded, and abducted civilians and destroyed scores, if not hundreds, of homes and shops.
“Some of those involved in the conflict in Tuz Khurmatu appear to be targeting civilians on the basis of their ethnicity,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “They have been carrying out killings, abductions, and widespread property destruction with complete impunity.”

They also noted:

 Willful killing of captured fighters and detained civilians; torture and other ill-treatment of people in custody; and looting and unjustified destruction of civilian property are serious violations of international humanitarian law, which is applicable to all parties fighting in Iraq.
On April 7, 2015, the Iraqi cabinet formally included the Popular Mobilization Forces among the state forces under the command of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as commander-in-chief. In doing so, the government has legitimized these forces as a matter of law and became responsible for their actions.
[. . .]
Human Rights Watch reiterates its recommendation that the Iraqi government take immediate steps to establish effective command and control over the Popular Mobilization Forces and other pro-government militias and disband those that resist government control. The government should also ensure that militia members implicated in violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are fairly and appropriately disciplined or prosecuted. This includes military and civilian officials responsible for abuses as a matter of command responsibility.

When does Barack plan to address this?

We'll again note two Tweets from Monday:

  • Militias tell residents by sound amplifiers attached to cars "Sunnis should leave Muqdadya-Diyala".

  • Crowd popular Shia executed innocent citizens in Diyala

  • When will this be addressed?

    Dropping back to Sunday:

    Though many Americans have tuned out since 2009, they need to be paying attention.

  • And it is graphic.

    And guess what?

    You don't have the right to look away.

    militiamen cut off captive's ear                                                                                                          
    Embedded image permalink

    When Iraqis don't have the right to safety in their country because thugs were put in charge by the US government and thugs continued to be backed by the US government, you don't have the luxury of looking away.


    That's outrageous.

    There's no legal justification for it.

    Not even in the joke that is the Iraqi legal system.

    What happened should result in immediate prosecution.

    Those are War Crimes.

    The prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, should be denouncing the crimes.

    Any refusal to do so should result in the US Congress exploring whether or not they should continue their support of Haider's government.

    When these crimes and attacks are not addressed, support for the Islamic State is fueled.  Is again fueled.  To destroy ISIL, you have to destroy the reasons it has support.  The persecution of Sunnis has fueled support for the Islamic State.