Monday, September 30, 2013

Iraq snapshot

Monday, September 30, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the US State Dept notes the violence, even the KRG is targeted with a bombing, the results of the KRG elections are in, the First Lady of the KRG will remain First Lady (for now) but the PUK's awful showing in the elections means she's had to give up her position in the PUK political party (we warned you, day before the elections), the international (especially US) press continues to fail Iraq, and more.

Today, Baghdad was slammed with violence.  As Prensa Latina points out, "Iraq is still plunged into a spiral of violence."   While there were attacks elsewhere in Iraq today, it was nothing like Sunday when violence was spread out across the country.  How bad was the violence Sunday and today?

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks against Kurdish security forces in Erbil and inside a mosque in Babil Province yesterday. In addition, we have seen a horrific wave of car bombings across Baghdad today that has taken numerous innocent lives. These attacks, especially an attack inside a place of worship, are detestable and disgraceful and expose the nature of those perpetuating these attacks.   The terrorists who committed these attacks are a shared enemy of the United States, Iraq, and the international community. We stand with the Iraqi people against this violence and in our commitment to support efforts to bring those responsible for these attacks to justice. Our condolences go out to the families of the victims of these attacks.

That's State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki speaking at today's press briefing.  If you can get over your shock, Iraq is so rarely raised in the State Dept press briefings despite the fact that the State Dept is over the US mission in Iraq, get ready for another shock.

Psaki was not responding to a question.  She made the statement as part of an announcement before she took questions.  And from surprising, let's to go the ugly reality.  With Psaki making those opening remarks, the press in attendance asked . . . zero questions about Iraq.  They didn't have one single question about Iraq.  Can't blame the lack of interest on the State Dept this time.

Noting today's violence, Neil Clark (RT) observes:

The same elite figures in the West who couldn't stop writing or talking about Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, telling us what a terrible threat Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ were to us all, and how we needed to go to war with Iraq not only to disarm its evil dictator but to 'liberate' its people, are now silent in the light of the continuing bloodshed and havoc that the illegal invasion caused. In the run up to the invasion of March 2003, you couldn’t switch on a television news program in Britain or America without seeing a neo-con or ‘liberal interventionist’ obsessing about Iraq. In the lead-up to war, these great ‘humanitarians’ feigned concern for the plight of Iraqis living under Saddam’s dictatorship - but today show little or no concern for the plight of Iraqis being blown to pieces by bombs on a regular, almost daily basis. There are no calls from the ‘usual suspects’ for a Western ‘humanitarian’ intervention to stop the killing in Iraq. For these serial interventionists, Iraq, post-invasion, has become the greatest ‘non-story’ of the modern era. Instead, the same people who couldn’t stop talking about Iraq in 2002-2003 now can’t stop talking about Syria - feigning concern over the plight of Syrians in the same way they shed crocodile tears over Iraqis in early 2003.
It’s interesting that when it comes to casualty tolls, pro-war politicians can tell us exactly how many people have died in Syria since the violence started there in 2011, (and of course for them, all the deaths are the personal responsibility of President Assad), whereas when it comes to Iraq and the number of people who have been killed there since March 2003, there’s a great deal more vagueness. “We don’t do body counts on other people” Donald Rumsfeld famously declared in November 2003. The Iraqis killed since March 2003 (and casualty figures vary from around 174,000 to well over one million) are, for our political elite, ‘non-people.’ In 2013, it’s only dead Syrians (and Syrians whose deaths can be blamed on Syrian government forces) that matter - not dead Iraqis.
Because Iraq is deemed a ’non-story’ and our leaders never talk about the situation there, it’s no surprise to see that public perceptions of the death toll are way below even the most conservative estimates. Sixty-six percent of Britons in a poll earlier this year estimated that 20,000 or fewer Iraqis had died since the invasion of 2003. Donald Rumsfeld would no doubt be delighted to hear that.

I agree with Clark, he's 100% right.  But today, myself, I'd focus a lot more attention on the press today.  The UK's Foreign & Common Wealth Office issued the following:

The British Government utterly condemns the increasing cycle of violence in Iraq, including bomb attacks in Baghdad this morning and in Erbil on 29 September. The attacks in Erbil, a normally peaceful city, were particularly shocking. There should be no place for violence and terrorism in Iraq’s future and we support the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in their efforts to bring those responsible to justice.

These are just statements, granted, but they're really more than the bulk of the US media is doing.  And for the press at the State Dept today to be read the statement by Jen Pskai and then for her to open the floor for questions and then to ask nothing?  With today's mass deaths and yesterdays (78 is the death toll Iraq Body Count gives for Sunday)?   Not one question?

Over fifty minutes.  That's how long the press briefing lasted.  Nearly an hour.  And despite Psaki's statement at the top, despite the massive today and yesterday in Iraq, the assembled press did not ask one question about Iraq.   Shameful.

I've called out Psaki and Marie Harf (another spokesperson) this year for ignoring the violence.  This time Psaki raised it herself.  And it didn't mean a damn thing to the press present.

Today's chief focal point for violence in Iraq was Baghdad.   Kareem Raheem (Reuters) reports 14 car bombs have resulted in "at least 54" deaths in the capital.  RTT explains the "bombings took place during busy morning hours in New Baghdad, Sadr, Sabaa al-Bour, Habibiya, Ur, Shaab, Shula, Jamiaa, Kadhimiya and Ghazaliah" districts of Baghdad. BBC informs, "Groups of labourers gathering ahead of the working day were among the bombers' targets."  EFE adds, "155 were wounded Monday in a new wave of attacks mainly targeting Shi’ite neighborhoods in Baghdad, an Iraqi police source told Efe."  World Bulletin notes, "Death toll from Monday's multiple bombings in Iraq's capital rose to 65 people while more than 200 others were wounded, security officials said."

Pravda has a photo essay of the violence here.  Al Bawaba offers a photo of the damage here.   AFP notes,   "The bombings on Monday were the latest in a string of sectarian attacks in central Iraq that have raised the spectre of a return to the intense Sunni-Shi'ite violence that peaked in 2006-2007 and killed tens of thousands of people.  The car bombs struck nine different areas, six of them Shi'ite-majority, one confessionally mixed and two Sunni-majority, also wounding more than 140 people."  Catherine Philp (Times of London) also notes the "fears that Iraq is sliding rapidly into the same all-out sectarian war engulfing next door Syria."   WG Dunlop (AFP) Tweets that the Iraqi government is insisting that only 10 people died.  DL Chandler (HipHopWired) notes, "Although no group has taken credit for the bombings, tensions between Sunni Muslim militants and Shiites have been growing." No one taking credit hasn't stopped the Iraqi government from laying blame.  The Voice of Russia reports, "According to the Iraqi Interior Ministry statement, al-Qaeda linked rebels are linked to the attacks. The ministry also noted that the terrorist organization is exploiting political divisions and regional conflicts to sow violence."

 Fu Peng (Xinhua) reminds, "The attacks came a day after a wave of insurgent attacks killed 55 people and wounded some 135 others across Iraq."   Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) offers this context, "More than 5,000 civiilans have died and 12,000 have been wounded in terrorist attacks and other violence in Iraq in 2013, the United Nations Mission in Iraq reported this month. The region around Baghdad has been the hardest-hit, the agency said."  Arthur Bright (Christian Science Monitor) reminds, "The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that many Iraqis feel the civil war never really ended, and that the recent surge in violence is evidence of the sectarian divide still plaguing the country – as well as the government's inability to unite Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites."

While the vast majority of deaths are taking place in Baghdad today, the last day of the month, violence also took place across Iraq.  National Iraqi News Agency reports a Rakatil-Haj village bombing claimed 1 life and left five more people injured, a Diyala Province sticky bombing claimed the life of Mehdi al-Sumaidaie (Assistan Director of the Eductation Directorate for the province),  a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 3 lives and left three more people injured,  a Zawbaa roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa and left three more injured, a Tikrit roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers and left three more injured, a Baquba sticky bombing injured one police officer,  and, dropping back to late last night, a Baquba roadside bombing left three Iraqi soldiers injured.   That's 8 deaths and 18 injured outside of Baghdad.  Adding that to the 54 deaths reported in Bahgdad leaves us with at least 62 deaths so far today from violence.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count registers 1151 violent deaths for the month thus far. Press TV (link is video and text) notes "bombs and gunfire attacks" have resulted in "over 800" deaths this month.   Today is the last day of the month so the IBC total for September (issued tomorrow) will be over 1,200 deaths. 

Baraa Afif (Press TV -- link is text and video) notes, "A day after the explosions in Erbil, a series of car bombs rocked Baghdad."  What's she talking about?

Extreme violence in Iraq Sunday which  was spread out across the country including in Erbil.  National Iraqi News Agency reported 2 Mansouriya car bombings left 3 people dead and another twenty injured, a Muqdadiya roadside bombing left three Iraqi soldiers injured, an armed attack in Kirkuk's Rashad district left 2 Iraqi soldiers dead and three more injured, a Sada bombing (near Baquba) left one civilian injured, a Mosul roadside bombing left military officer Haider Sami injured as well as injuring a person traveling with him in his convoy, in Baghdad security forces state they killed 1 man and injured another -- both were wearing "Afghan uniform,"  an armed attack on a Hashimiat check point (Diyala Province) left two Sahwa injured,  a Mosul bombing near a military checkpoint left 2 Iraqi soldiers dead and a third injured1 mayor was shot dead in Mosul as he left his home, in the nearby village of Geleo Khan, Mayor Dawood Yassin was also assassinated, Mayor Khalil Ibrahim was shot dead outside his home (NINA states he was the 5th mayor shot dead today in Iraq),  a Baghdad car bombing killed 2 people and left eight injured, a  Baghdad teacher was shot dead in a primary school, a Muqdadiya bombing injured three police officers, a Jawad village bombing left two police officers injured, a car bombing near a Musayyab mosque left 10 people dead and another twenty injured, a Tikrit roadside bombing left 1 police officer dead and three more injured, a Mansouriya car bombing left five members of one family injured, and there was an attack on the Asayis Headquarters in Erbil (think military intelligence) with 2 car bombs and 4 suicide bombers attempt to storm the building -- along with the 4 suicide bombers, the dead includes 6 Asayish and the injured includes forty-two Asayhish and one police officer.

Erbil is the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government.  Tim Arango (New York Times) notes:

The attackers hit a building that houses the regional Kurdish government’s security service, and the scenes that unfolded -- terrified people fleeing black plumes of smoke, the charred and smoking husks of vehicles in the streets -- were extraordinary for a region that has largely been spared the violence that for years has plagued the rest of Iraq. 

All Iraq News said it was 6 suicide bombers (not four) and that all 6 were killed by security forces.  They get six because the 2 car bombs were actually being driven by bombers.   The outlet added strict measures were quickly put in place.  They mean a clamp down.  They don't note it but this included shutting down the Erbil Airport.   Arango notes, "In the aftermath, Iraqi forces swept across Erbil, and Sulaimaniya, another major Kurdish city, setting up checkpoints and other security measures familiar to residents of other Iraqi cities." Within hours of the attack, NINA notes, the "so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)" issued a statement claiming they were behind the Erbil attack.  The statement doesn't appear to have resolved the issue of who attacked.    Wladimir van Wilgenburg (Al-Monitor) reports today:

There are several organizations that could be behind the attack. A large number of Islamist organizations have emerged in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region since the 1980s. Some of them carried out attacks, but the majority decided to participate in the electoral system after Kurdistan became de-facto autonomous in 1991.
Ansar al-Islam, formed by the merger of several insurgent groups in December 2001, has in the past carried out attacks and assassinations in the area, but in 2003, US Special Forces and fighters from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) destroyed the group's bases in Halabja. Taka Kamran, a former leading member of Ansar al-Islam, told Al Arabiya on July 22, 2011, “After the US forces entered the country in 2003 and bombed us for 13 days running, we went to Iran and then returned to Baghdad.” 

After 2003, Ansar al-Islam, changed its name to Ansar al-Sunna and became one of the main Iraqi insurgent groups in the country, competing with but also cooperating with al-Qaeda. In 2007, the group reverted back to Ansar al-Islam. In February 2004, it killed 105 people in simultaneous suicide attacks in Erbil.
Another group, the al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions, which swore allegiance to al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in Iraq, carried out several attacks after its inception in 2007. A
Stanford University profile says of the organization, “Considered weak in number and capability, the group has not carried out an attack since late September 2010, when a bomb went off while being defused in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, wounding two police officers.” 
The al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions were designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department in January 2012. It was responsible for truck bombing the building housing the Ministries of Interior and Security in Erbil in May 2007 in which 19 people were killed.

KUNA notes that 2007 attack was the KRG last "major bombing."  Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) adds, "Sunday's attack was only the third major foray into the area by insurgents since a 2007 suicide truck bomb hit the Interior Ministry, killing 14 people, and a 2004 twin suicide attack killed 109."  

Hiwa Osman (Rudaw) weighs in with his opinion on the attack:

Sunday’s attack against the Asayish building in Erbil was not a normal terrorist operation. It serves as a reminder of the threats against the Kurdistan Region and its establishments. The operation carries many clues to the nature of the threat, and a simple reading shows that the attack has two aspects, one internal and the other external.
The preparations for such an operation, the number of weapons and explosives used and the knowledge of the area all hint at a strong local organization: The planners had enough time and space to bring in the instruments and prepare for the attack.

Even these rudimentary observations show that the attack could not have been carried out by external elements only. There is an internal human element that contributed to this attack and which needs to be tackled by the security and political personnel.

UNAMI issued the following statement:

Baghdad, 29 September 2013 – In the aftermath of a series of car bomb explosions that hit the city of Erbil today and caused a number of casualties, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, said: "I am shocked and concerned by this daring attack in Erbil today. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed, the Kurdistan Region Government and the Government of Iraq. For many years, the city Erbil has benefited from peace and security and I urge the regional and national authorities to work together to ensure that calm and tranquility will continue to prevail and that those responsible for the attack are brought to justice."

There was more violence on Sunday but let's pick up one incident already noted.  This one:  "a car bombing near a Musayyab mosque left 10 people dead and another twenty injured."  NINA reported a car bombing near a Musayyab mosque left 10 people dead and another twenty injured.  In an update, they reported that the attack was done by a suicide bomber in an explosive vest, that it targeted a funeral and that the death toll had risen to 15 with the number injured rising to 32. In a second update, they noted the number dead increased to 30 and the number injured to forty-three.  The death toll there continued to increase and it was a bombing targeting a funeral.  Arab Times reports:

At least 40 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shi-ite Muslim funeral in a southern Iraqi town on Sunday. The blast brought down the ceiling of the mosque in Mussayab, 60 kms (40 miles) south of the capital Baghdad. Police said some bodies were still trapped beneath the debris. At least 50 people were wounded. Those inside had been mourning the death of a man killed a day earlier by militants. “Until now, we are trying to retrieve bodies from under the debris. Most of the bodies were torn to pieces. Legs and hands were scattered on ground,” said a policeman at the scene. It was not immediately clear who was behind the bombing, which is the latest in a spate of attacks targeting both Sunni and Shi’ite places of worship, particularly during funerals.

AFP quotes eye witness Hamza Habib stating, "The collapse of the mosque roof killed many of those who were present.  Blood was everywhere in the mosque, and I saw some body parts of the victim."

In September, no one has been safe in Iraq.  The attack on the KRG yesterday made that clear.  Security forces -- including Peshmerga, police, Sahwa, Nouri's federal police, the military, security guards -- have been targeted, teachers have been targeted, medical professionals, men, women, children, appointed officials, elected officials, and activists.  September also saw repeated bombings of funerals.   Last Wednesday saw another peaceful activist assassinated.  As we noted at Third yesterday in "Editorial: The assassination of Ammar Jassam Theyabi:"

Ammar Jassam Theyabi, a peaceful protester, a student leader, was assassinated in Iraq on Wednesday.  You didn't read his name in the few reports that made the news on Wednesday or the following day Thursday.  When Iraqis exercise their right to protest and are attacked and/or killed, the US media doesn't want to 'embarrass' Barack by reporting it.

The the April 23rd massacre of a sit-in in Hawija resulted from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  And that's been largely ignored by the press as well.  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).  When the international press does manage to briefly mention the incident, they lower the death toll and they completely ignore UNICEF's revelations.  The US press is guilty of many things.  Lisa O'Carroll (Guardian) noted journalist Seymour Hersh's press evaluation last week:

Do you think Obama's been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What's going on [with journalists]?

In other news, the KRG held provincial elections Saturday, September 21st.  Iraq has 18 provinces.  Three of them are in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.  As of last week 17 of the provinces had voted.  Only disputed Kirkuk was prevented from voting.   The exit polling for last week's elections predicted an upset for second place.  Early counts indicate that is correct.  Kamal Chomani (Foreign Policy) notes:

On September 21, Iraqi Kurdistan held [provincial] elections, which for the first time in 22 years, have fundamentally altered the region's political landscape. Almost 3 million voters participated in the elections, with a total of 1,129 candidates competing for 111 parliamentary seats. While official results have been delayed by allegations of fraud, what the elections have made abundantly clear is the sweeping dissatisfaction with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
From its emergence in 1991, the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq has been ruled by an alliance of two parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Iraq's ailing President Jalal Talabani. This duopoly was broken on September 21, when Talabani's party appeared to hemmorage votes to the Gorran (Change) Movement, which split from the PUK in 2009. Preliminary results announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission on Sunday in which the KDP got 71,9004 votes, Gorran 44,6095 votes, PUK 33,2386 votes, Islamic Union 17,8681 votes, and Islamic Group 11,3260 votes. Eleven seats are reserved for minorities and religious sects. Gorran's jump to the second-biggest party in the parliament marks a new era in Kurdish politics. 

Isabel Coles and Sonya Hepinstall (Reuters) observed Saturday, "With 95 percent of the votes from the September 21 election counted, the KDP had 719,004 votes, Gorran had 446,095 and the PUK was in third place with 323,827.  Two Islamic parties placed fourth and fifth, with nearly 300,000 votes between them, followed by more than a dozen smaller groups."

Let's note two tweets:

  • With regard to & Hero Ibrahim's resignation, we are already witnessing the changing political landscape of .

  • Hero Ibrahim, Iraq's first lady, resigns from her post within PUK after a major loss in the . NRT to announce more info soon.

  • Oh my goodness.  I am shocked.

    Are you shocked too?

    Who could have ever seen that?

    Hero being blamed for the PUK loss?

    Who could have seen that coming?

    Oh, wait.  We did.

    Dropping back to the September 20th snapshot:

    If the PUK does less well than in 2009, there will be complaining.  If the PUK does really bad, there will be outrage.   The one who will face the most criticism may be First Lady of Iraq Hero Ibrahim Ahmed who has been reluctant to heed the advice of PUK leaders and assume the presidency in her husband's absence.  Could she?  Yes.  In the plan they outlined, Hero would not be "President Hero," she would be carrying out the will of her husband while he remains in Germany.  She would be voting by proxy.  She has refused that (just as she refused to take over the position outright) arguing that to do so would leave the impression that Jalal was unable to do his job.
    She's correct people would assume that.  But Jalal has now been out of the country for nine months.  Iraq's been without a president for nine months.  Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's recent revelation that he was refused when he attempted to visit Jalal in the hospital last April does not bode well for Jalal's health or his stature.  And it really makes the point for the posters in Arabic social media who compared the
    May 18th photos of 'healthy' Jalal to Weekend At Bernies. (In Weekend At Bernies, two men use Bernie's corpse to pretend Bernie's still alive.)
    If  Hero has the most to lose in tomorrow's vote, the one with the most to gain from the PUK suffering a big loss is Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari who has wanted to grab the Iraqi presidency for some time and attempted a move right after Jalal's stroke but was rebuffed by those in party leadership loyal to Jalal and Hero.
    Credit to Prashant Rao for covering the fact that Jalal's absence may negatively impact the PUK vote tomorrow but is no one going to run through what that means?  Probably not.  It appears AFP is the only western media outlet that's going to report on the KRG elections from inside the Kurdistan Region.

    And Hoshyar?  We didn't have time in Friday's snapshot to note it but Hoshyar broke with Nouri al-Maliki on an issue.  Stop the presses.  What was the issue?  Syria.  While Nouri and every other Iraqi figure note that a military strike is not the answer, Zebari floated otherwise.  Why was that?

    To shore up support from the US government.  He wants to be president of Iraq.  Hero stripped of her position in the PUK makes that a lot easier.  For those late to the party, yes, Iraq already has a president, Hero's husband.  But?    Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.  With October starting tomorrow?  He's one month shy of a full year of being unable to perform his duties.  With Hero pushed out of her position in the PUK, those eyeing Jalal's job just got a big boost.

    Finally, Marc Lynch has long offered analysis on Iraq.  At Foreign Policy, he notes an event taking place this week:

    The absence of Iraqi voices from American discussions about Iraq over the last decade has long been a major shortcoming. The bookshelf of English-language books about the decade of war with Iraq overflows with accounts of Washington inter-agency battles, General David Petraeus, American soldiers in the field, General David Petraeus, and General David Petraeus. Some are excellent, some less excellent.  But very few of them seriously incorporate the experiences, views, or memories of Iraqis themselves -- a problem of American-centric analysis which I termed "strategic narcissism."

    And so, on Thursday, October 3, I'm proud to be hosting a really fascinating and hopefully important conference at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University called "The Encounter." Each panel at the full-day event will include both Iraqi students who lived in Iraq during some of the years of the war and American students who served those same years in the U.S. military in Iraq (including several Tillman Military Scholars). The keynote lunch session will feature a discussion about American policy and the Iraqi experience between me, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl and the Iraqi historian Abbas Kadhim. The agenda is open-ended, and the discussions about how Americans and Iraqis viewed one another should be extremely frank and direct.

    If you're in the Washington DC area, I hope that you'll be able to join us for all or part of this event at GW on October 3.

    qassim abdul-zahra