Saturday, March 12, 2016

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, March 12, 2016.  Chaos and violence continue, the daily bombings continuing, AIRWARS notes the civilian dead from the 'coalition' bombings, the Defense Dept wants to talk short term interrogations, the press doesn't want to address the issue, and much more.

Oh, how the US government manipulates information.

Wednesday, Cheryl Pellerin with DOD News or Propaganda, wrote the following:

Leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant who are captured by the Expeditionary Targeting Force and held for questioning will be detained by the force only for short periods of time and the detention will be coordinated with Iraqi authorities, a Pentagon spokesman said today.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told defense reporters here that ETF missions, first announced in October, are conducting operations as part of the coalition fight there against ISIL.

“One of the missions that we anticipate they will do is to capture a small number of ISIL leaders,” Davis said. “The detention of these [leaders] we anticipate will be very short-term [and] coordinated with Iraqi authorities.”

Well that's interesting where did it come from?

It came from the Defense Dept trying to seize the narrative.

Wednesday morning, they were still concerned that the US press might actually actually get off their lazy and useless asses and do their damn job.

The Defense Dept should never have sweated it because the US press never does their job.

Tuesday the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing which we covered in Tuesday's Iraq snapshot, "Magical Bernie trumps Tired Hillary" and in Thursday's Iraq snapshot.

Three generals testified before the Committee, Gen Lloyd Austin (CENTCOM),  Gen Joseph Vogel (Special Operations Command) and Gen David Rodriguez (US Africa Command).  The Chair of the Committee is Senator John McCain, the Ranking Member is Senator Jack Reed.

What had the Defense Dept sweating bullets was the following exchange from that hearing.

Senator Kelly Ayotte:  I wanted to follow up on an important question.  Both General Rodriquez and General Votel, this is something I've actually asked both your predecessors about and my concern is if we capture Ayman al-Zawahiri or Baghdadi -- [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi tomorrow where will we detain these individuals under long term law of war detention -- most importantly to interrogate them to find out all that we need to know about al Qaeda and ISIS?  And as I asked your predecessor going back to 2011, I asked -- I asked General [Carter] Hamm, your predecessor in AFRICOM, what would happen if tomorrow we captured a member of al Qaeda in Africa?  And you know what he told me?  He said I'm going to need some lawyerly help on answering that one.  I also asked the same of Admiral  [William] McRaven, your predecessor, General Votel.  And he said to me that it would be very helpful if there was actually a facility that was designated for long term, law of war detention and interrogation.  So I guess my question to both of you is tomorrow, if we capture these individuals, given the phenomenal work that the men and women who serve underneath you do ever day, where are we going to interrogate them?  Do you know that?  Do you know what you would do with them?  Especially if you wanted to have a long term interrogation of them?  

Gen Joseph Votel:  Senator, in my experiences, we've looked at operations where we're actually going to detains somebody we have had a plan in place before we actually conducted the operation for how we were going to potentially detain them and what their legal disposition would be -- whether that was back in the US courts --

Senator Kelly Ayotte:  No, General, we just recently captured someone in ISIS and as I understand it, they're not being -- they're being held short term and then they're going to be turned back to the Kurds.  So what about long term detention?  You would agree that long term interrogation is quite helpful, for example, in gathering the information that we needed to get [Osama] bin Laden.  That's what worries me

Gen Joseph Votel:  I --

Senator Kelly Ayotte: What do we do in a long term setting?  Do we know?

Gen Joseph Votel:  I--I would agree that there is a requirement for long term detention, Senator.

Senator Kelly Ayotte: And do we know where that would be now?

Gen Joseph Votel:  I-I don't know that.  That is a politica -- a policy decision that I think is being debated.

Senator Kelly Ayotte:  I think it's a policy decision that has basically never been made under this administration.  It's one that has been left up in the air which means it's left up in the air in a way I think undermines our national security interest.

So a captured member of the Islamic State can't be held and will be turned back over to the Kurds.

You'd think the CBS EVENING NEWS would open with that news or NBC NIGHTLY NEWS or . . .

No one wanted to touch it.

The news was, for those who can't catch it, in Iraq a member of the Islamic State was captured, the US briefly interrogated him and would now be handing him back to the Kurds.  This was due to not having a facility and this did not seem, to Gen Joseph Vogel, to be the appropriate thing to do.

You can disagree with him, agree with him or have no opinion on what should be done.

But it is news.

And news is what we're supposed to debate and discuss in a democracy in order to be informed citizens participating in our self-governance.

The day after the hearing, THE NEW YORK TIMES, for example, was front-paging 'news' like "Fasting Diets Are Gaining Acceptance" by Anahad O'Connor.

You know who does the most fasting in America?

The extreme poor.

It's not 'trendy' or 'buzz worthy,' so it doesn't make it onto the front page of THE NEW YORK TIMES -- or inside.

Nor does news that really matters like the Tuesday Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

The issue even arose Friday in a Defense Dept press briefing with Col Steve Warren (in Baghdad, briefing was via teleconference).

Q: Colonel Warren, what is the U.S. military's policy on detaining ISIS operatives?

COL. WARREN: Our -- our policy can -- I guess would best be summed up as short-term and case-by-case. So there's -- there hasn't -- there's only been two so far, and neither one has -- has been -- neither of those two have been the same. In the case of the first one, Umm Sayyaf, we held onto her for some time, and then eventually moved her over to the custody of the Iraqi government. In the second case, this -- the chemical guy, we only held onto him for a very short time, about two weeks, and then we moved him over.

So we're not equipped for long-term detention, we're not set up here for that, and so we're not in that business. But there's no real one-size-fits-all answer. As we take people off the battlefield, we're just going to have make, you know, the decisions as we go.

Q: And what is the definition of short-term detention, and is case-by-case, is that a -- the de facto policy?

COL. WARREN: Yeah. That is the policy, I think. That's -- at least that's how we're approaching it here at the CJTF. There isn't even a hard definition of short-term, 14 to 30 days is a ballpark figure. But even that is not really completely nailed down.

Q: How do I explain to my mother-in-law, Betty Harper, from Laurel, Mississippi and other Americans out there who are a little confused that if this war against ISIS is this comprehensive war, it's by all accounts going to take years to fight ISIS, how do you swear that with only holding a detainee for 14 to 30 days when there, I'm sure, a lot of information to glean from this person months down the road?

COL. WARREN: Well, I mean, this is not a catch-and-release program, Lucas. I mean, we've already captured them, and then we don't have the means to hold them. We just give them to the Iraqis to hold. You know, if we've got to go back and talk to them, we'll go back and talk to them. You know, if there's more information that comes, you know, if we have to confirm a piece of info or whatever the case, I mean, they're right -- they're still here in Iraq. We'll go get them and, you know, we'll interrogate them some more.

While the press wasn't interested in that, they did go overboard this week reporting on the capture of a major event -- according to the Defense Dept -- the capture of a big official in the Islamic State.

But, thing is, that story's already in doubt.

ALSUMARIA reports that the Chair of Parliament's Defense and Security Committee has announced that, despite us claims, there has been no chemical weapons officer of the Islamic State that has been captured.  These reports, he insists, are attempts to breed fear and terror.

On the Dept of MisInformation, US President Barack Obama said he would end the Iraq War.  He didn't.  He said he wouldn't put US troops back on the ground in Iraq again.  He did.  He said they wouldn't be in combat.  They are.

He recently sat down with fellow War Hawk Jeffrey Goldberg and the two talked war and more war for THE ATLANTIC.

At Brookings, Shadi Hamid offers a critique of A COUPLE OF WAR DICKS SITTING AROUND TALKING:

Obama’s tendency to distort beyond recognition the positions of his critics goes hand in hand with an apparent disdain for those critics and, perhaps more worryingly, an unwillingness to even so much as question his own decisions after he’s made them. Over the course of his conversations with Goldberg, the only thing he really blames himself for is having “more faith” in the Europeans than they apparently deserved. Elsewhere, he faults himself for underappreciating “the value of theater in political communications.” Of course, what Obama is faulting himself for is not clearly appreciating the faults of others.
It is jarring to hear, in such measured words, a president so confident in his own abilities (George W. Bush, contrary to popular perception, was willing to reassess his policies, shift direction, and accept outside counsel during his second term). The colorfully rendered Obama doctrine of “don’t do stupid s[**]t,” itself a phrase dripping with disdain, is little more than a reaction to critics who Obama thinks, presumably, support doing stupid s[**]t.
As troubling as all of these things are, especially in a president, they are not the most troubling thing that emerges from Goldberg’s interviews. As much as he himself might insist otherwise, Obama is basically a Huntingtonian at heart. I had seen flashes of a “clash of civilizations” in Obama’s various speeches, but these usually seemed like momentary lapses rather than omens of a more coherent philosophy. I think about Obama’s universally panned and seemingly non-representative endorsement of the “ancient hatreds” thesis to explain Middle Eastern conflicts (something I argued against in these pages). I think about his remarks from the Oval Office just a month prior, where he suggested that Muslims had some communal responsibility—just by virtue of them being Muslim—to do more to condemn and confront extremism.

I am not against the notion that Islam is in some way different than other faith traditions. I argue in my new book that Islam is “exceptional” in how it relates to politics, and that this has profound implications for the future of the Middle East. But this is not quite the same thing as viewing “Islamic exceptionalism” as something bad, unusual, or at odds with history. Being the liberal determinist that he is, Obama, like so many others, seems frustrated by both Islam and Muslims. Why can’t they just get their act together and stop being such a nuisance, distracting me from dealing with “emotionally contained” technocrats in Asia? This was a sentiment I noticed more and more after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January 2015: the desire, sometimes a demand, to see Muslims embrace liberalism, and an anger that many simply won’t. Too many Muslims, it seemed, were intent on defying the arc of history.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, life is getting even worse for refugees.  Friday, UNHCR issued the following alert:

The UN Refugee Agency is concerned about a rising trend of newly-displaced Iraqis being forcibly transferred to camps where restrictions on their freedom of movement are imposed in a manner disproportionate to any legitimate concern, including those related to security.
"While recognizing the responsibility of authorities to undertake security screening of people fleeing territory controlled by extremist groups, we urge the government to set up clear procedures and facilities for this purpose that are separate from camps established to provide shelter and other humanitarian assistance to displaced Iraqis," UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday (March 11).
Nazrawa camp, in Kirkuk Governorate, was opened by UNHCR in November 2015 for internally displaced Iraqis seeking safety from conflict and severe human rights abuses, thanks to flexible funding from over ten donor countries.
It was opened in response to a long-standing request by the Kirkuk authorities for more support from the humanitarian community in their efforts to provide protection and assistance to large numbers of internally-displaced persons, or IDPs, in the governorate currently numbering nearly 400,000.
Approximately 2,000 displaced Iraqis are currently residing in Nazrawa camp. However, authorities have progressively imposed movement restrictions on residents of the camp. Since February 22 all residents have been confined to the camp, irrespective of whether or not they have completed security screening procedures.
Instances of forcible relocation of Iraqis into camps, as well as disproportionate restrictions on their freedom of movement, have also been recorded by protection partners elsewhere in Iraq.
In Garmawa camp in northern Iraq, Iraqis who were forcibly relocated to the camp from villages in Tilkaif District in 2015 continue to face restrictions on their freedom of movement. Similar concerns are also emerging in Salah Al Din and Anbar Governorates.
"We are concerned about this developing trend as freedom of movement is key to displaced people being able to exercise other rights, such as access to work, food, healthcare and legal assistance," Rummery told reporters.
"With the prospect of further displacement as military operations against extremist groups escalate, it is becoming increasingly urgent for the authorities to ensure both that IDPs are granted access to safety in a timely manner, and that camps maintain their humanitarian character," she added.

In addition to nearly one million Iraqis displaced since 2006-7, there are more than 3.3 million people in Iraq who have been displaced since January 2014. The displaced in Iraq continue to face challenges, including exposure to violence, disproportionate restrictions on access to safety and freedom of movement, forced encampment, and constrained access to basic services.

The continued suffering also includes living  in a country where bombs are dropped daily by planes flying overhead.  Today, the US Defense Dept announced/claimed/bragged:

Strikes in Iraq
Attack and fighter aircraft conducted nine strikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of Iraq’s government:

-- Near Baghdadi, a strike destroyed an ISIL heavy machine gun position.

-- Near Hit, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

-- Near Ramadi, five strikes struck three separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL rocket position, two ISIL vehicles, an ISIL fighting position and three ISIL tunnel systems and denied ISIL access to terrain.

-- Near Sinjar, two strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units and destroyed two ISIL fighting positions and an ISIL weapons cache.

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.

This week, Chris Woods, Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Alex Hopkins and Basile Simon (AIRWARS) noted the civilian deaths:

Latest assessments suggest more than 1,000 civilians may now have died in 18 months of Coalition airstrikes across Iraq and Syria. The estimate is fifty times greater than the number of civilian deaths so far admitted by the US-led alliance.
Airwars researchers have so far identified 352 reported civilian casualty events, in which Coalition aircraft allegedly killed between 2,232 and 2,961 non-combatants in the war against so-called Islamic State.

Based on credible public reports and confirmed Coalition strikes in the vicinity, some 166 of these incidents are currently assessed as having likely led to civilian deaths – with a reported range of 1,004 to 1,419 killed.