Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, February 26, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's assault on Anbar continues, Osama al-Nujaifi says Anbar requires a political solution, new rumor is Moqtada al-Sadr has left Iraq, American business is going into Iraq -- northern Iraq -- specifically the KRG, Nouri continues to attempt to blackmail the Kurds with the national budget, and much more.

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                            CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014                                                                           202-224-2834
Senator Murray Strongly Denounces Republican Efforts to Continue Ban on In Vitro Fertilization for Veterans

Republican bill would leave in place “absurd and antiquated” ban that prevents catastrophically wounded veterans from starting their own families using VA services

Young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with reproductive injuries from combat wounds would continue to be forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket cost under Republican bill

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and author of legislation to overturn a ban on providing in-vitro fertilization services as part of VA medical care, denounced Senate Republicans for leaving that provision out of their own veterans’ legislation that they are introducing on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Murray’s provision to overturn the ban is included in The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 which was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and is currently being considered on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Senator Murray told the personal story of one family forced to pay thousands out-of-pocket because of the ban on the Senate floor yesterday.
“I’m stunned that Senate Republicans are indicating that they will not join us in overturning this absurd and antiquated ban,” said Senator Murray. “The catastrophic wounds we have seen from injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant that our veterans’ dreams to start a family have been put on hold because of the tremendous cost of IVF services. We believe that’s a cost of war that the VA absolutely should cover and that it’s unacceptable to let politics stand in the way. I truly hope that Republicans will reconsider opposing this common-sense step that will give those who have sacrificed everything the reproductive treatments they need to start a family.”
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

Senator Patty Murray's office
RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office

Why are we opening with that?

Since we opened with a hearing on veterans yesterday, I planned to include the above statement at the end of the snapshot.  But a writer whose work does not get noted here because he is attack, attack Republicans objected.

I need to make this point clear (I think Shirley did in an e-mail reply six weeks ago to this same writer).  I'm not interested in your partisan b.s. to win elections.  I'm not interested in demonizing one half of the country. When Republicans were in power, I called them out.  By contrast, a lot of writers have spent the last years zooming in on Republicans to avoid holding Barack Obama accountable. So they, as the writer in question does, churn out 'scandals' to try to whip up a frenzy.  I don't have time for that nonsense or that distraction.

Senator Murray is a Democrat, I think she has a strong voting record with much to applaud.  I also know that she reaches across the aisle repeatedly.

When she issues a statement calling out obstruction -- by anyone -- we will note it.

In terms of the topic itself?

We've covered that topic repeatedly here.  Time permitting, we'll go into this topic again this week.  It's one that seriously matters.

The Kurds.  The peaceful area, the non-squeaky wheel.  I'm as guilty as anyone else of putting the KRG off to another day due to more dramatic events in central Iraq.  So let's move over to Iraq and start with the Kurds.

February 15th, in DC, Peter Galbraith did a presentation the Kurds.  Mutlu Civiroglu (Rudaw) reported on it last week noting:

Speaking about the current situation in the Kurdistan Region, and contrasting it with the rest of Iraq, Galbraith noted that American citizens needed a visa to travel to Iraq, but not to the Kurdistan Region. 
He noted that many international airlines do not fly to Baghdad, but they do to Erbil. 
Talking about his most recent visit to Kurdistan, Galbraith said each time he goes to Erbil he cannot recognize the city because of the rapid development.

The success of the KRG -- especially when compared to other parts of Iraq -- really inflame Iraq's chief thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Eight years, Nouri's had to bring peace to Iraq but he's failed.  He's failed so poorly that his actions only encourage more violence.  And yet, in the north, it's a completely different story for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Monday, the US Consulate in Erbil issued the following:

Deputy Principal Officer Stephen Gee and Consulate General Erbil staff joined businesspeople, members of the diplomatic community and friends from around the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to attend the opening of well-known U.S. franchise Pizza Hut on February 18 in Erbil.
Kuwait-based Kout Food Group  plans to open a second Pizza Hut restaurant in Erbil, provide a pizza delivery service and expand to Dahuk and Sulaimaniyah.

And this week, more business news for the KRG, not for Nouri.  First off, let's note Joseph Pennington:

Joseph Pennington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Counselor, assumed his duties as Consul General in Erbil in July 2013.  Prior to his arrival in Erbil, Mr. Pennington served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic (2010-13) and held the same position in Yerevan, Armenia (2007-10).

Here's a photo of Pennihgton:

On February 15, Consul General Joseph Pennington attended the grand opening of U.S. franchise Cinnabon/Carvel Ice Cream's first shop in Iraq, in Erbil. Storeowners plan to expand to Dahuk, Sulaimaniyah, Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf. 

Judit Neurink (Rudaw) reports Ace Hardware, Marriot and Hyatt Hotels are among those "setting up shop in Kurdistan" and a reception Pennington attended to note continued interest on the part of American businesses.  Neurick reports:

American companies in Kurdistan are mainly active in oil and gas, security and building. Pennington expects these activities to broaden in the future. “There is a lot of interest in the States for doing business here. But as it is Iraq, security plays a role and companies are cautious. Of course, here are fewer attacks than elsewhere in Iraq, but there still are threats.”
The reception was held at a moment of diplomatic tension between the US and Kurdistan, with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani cancelling a visit to the White House over the fact that Kurdistan’s two main political parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- still feature on a terrorism blacklist from the days they resisted Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Kurdish politicians have shown frustration over the lack of support from Washington in their conflict with Baghdad over oil revenues, which has recently led to Baghdad withholding Kurdistan’s constitutional part of the national budget.
Although none of the diplomats at the reception wanted to comment on this hot issue, Qubad Talabani, the KRG Minister for Coordination and Follow Up, voiced some frustration. Until a year-and-a-half ago he was the KRG representative in Washington, where he set up the business council.
“I’d like the United States to see us as an asset, but they still see us through the Iraqi lens,” he said when asked for his dearest wish for the relations with the US. “What we do here has implications in Turkey, in Syria and on the oil markets. Our relationship should reflect that.”

Qubad Talabani's words matter.  Not just due to his position, but especially due to his family.  Those are stronger words than his father's ever managed.  He is the second son of Iraq's First Lady Hero Ibrahim Ahmed  and Iraq's President Jalal Talabani.  In recent weeks, Hero has spent her time in dialogue with the Iranian government (primarily reassuring them that a government would be formed in the KRG following last fall's elections).  Jalal?  December 2012,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17, 2012 following Jalal's argument with Iraq's prime minister and chief thug Nouri al-Maliki (see the December 18, 2012 snapshot).  Jalal was admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20, 2012, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently.

Qubad is correct, there are regional implications and the US government needs to see the KRG through its own lens, not as it seen by Baghdad.

As the business continues to pour into the KRG, it must be very humiliating for Nouri.  The security levels in the KRG, contrasted with the non-stop violence in the rest of Iraq, must leave Nouri feeling small and impotent.  And that must mix with his own greed leading him to rage against the KRG and attempt to destroy its efforts to transport oil to Turkey via a pipeline.  Nouri's government repeatedly insisted last week that Turkey had agreed not to provide Turkey with oil via a KRG and Turkey pipeline but would instead provide crude oil only via Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation.  Business Day Online notes that KRG spokesperson Safeen Dizayee disagrees and states, "Absolutely we have not reached any agreement to export oil via SOMO. The dialogue and discussions are still underway."
Nidal al-Leithi (Al-Monitor) reports:

Former Iraqi Oil Minister Issam al-Chalabi revealed that a latent crisis is brewing between Iraq’s Oil Ministry and the largest oil companies in Iraq.
In a statement to Azzaman, Chalabi, who is now serving as an international adviser for energy affairs, held the Ministry of Oil responsible for this crisis, saying that it will affect oil production in the long run.
Chalabi criticized the role Turkey played in the oil crisis between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). He told Azzaman that Turkey would have to terminate its contract with the KRG and go back to its previous policy, which is contracting with the federal government in terms of oil investments and pipeline extensions.

I'm not really sure why his opinion is worth quoting.  He was an Oil Minister.  Decades ago.  March 1987 to October 1990.  (He then fled Iraq.)  And he's been making this argument for years.  Not really sure why anyone cares.  There is no oil law.  Nouri  swore to the US government in 2007 that he'd get the oil and gas law passed, he never did. Chalabi insists this means Saddam's oil law is in place.

That's really not how it works.  And the KRG has more rights -- and has since 2003 -- than it did under Sadam Hussein's presidency.  Kirkuk Now notes, "On Sunday, Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of the KRG, held talks in Baghdad with the Kurdish ministers and the members of the Iraqi Parliament concerning the continuing disagreements between the two governments."  On that Sunday meeting, the Kurdistan Regional Government notes:

Several viewpoints were exchanged regarding recent developments throughout the course of the meeting. A four-point declaration was unanimously adopted outlining the Kurdistan Region’s position:

  1.    Iraqi Kurdistan is part of Iraq according to the Constitution and is therefore entitled to all rights and authorities granted to it as stipulated by the Constitution. This includes its share of the budget derived from the national income. The central government cannot cut salaries under any pretext to use as leverage against the KRG.
  2. Although the KRG has other options at its disposal to provide salaries and meet other needs of its people, negotiations should continue between the Iraqi Federal Government and the KRG based on the fulfillment of the Kurdistan Region’s constitutional rights.
  3. We call upon the Iraqi Prime Minister to rescind this illegal and unconstitutional policy. The Kurdistan Region’s share of the budget and salaries is a constitutional right and should be disbursed. Pending issues with the KRG should be resolved through dialogue and negotiation.
  4. We call upon respected religious authorities, the United Nations, governments of countries with relations with Iraq, member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and member states of the Arab League to take responsibility by using their influence to end the policy of economic sanctions levied against the people and the government of the Kurdistan Region. This policy is unjustified in its entirety, blatantly violates constitutional law, and stands against international accords and the basic principles of human rights.  

NINA reports that the Patriotic Unionf of Kurdistan's Deputy Chair, Barham Salih, met with representatives from Turkey to discuss developments:

The Web site of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said that Saleh received the new Turkish Ambassador Farouk Qamakja , and the Turkish Consul in the Kurdistan region Mohammed Akef, and discussed with them the latest developments of the situation in Iraq and the region , in addition to the problems between the province and the federal government .

Over the weekend,  Press TV reported:

Baghdad is withholding wages for hundreds of thousands of Kurdish employees in an attempt to apparently punish the semi-autonomous Kurdish region over its controversial oil exports.
“There is this mindset and now a continuation of this mindset whereby the central government does not believe in the existence of Kurdistan region. If we look back their opposition was contained to the parliament and the government but now we see that their opposition is directly towards the income of the people, which is the wages,” said Kurdish MP Umed Khoshnaw from the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Last week, Iraq's Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Roj Nuri Shawais called on Kurdish ministers in the Iraqi cabinet to resign if Baghdad refused to solve the problem.

Aswat al-Iraq notes the KRG is calling for the international community and religious clerics within Iraq to call on "Baghdad to end the economic blockade and negligence policies against the Kurdish people and government."  NINA adds that MP Ashwaq Aljaf of the Kurdistan Alliance joined that call today:

She said in a statement today : "The logic of humanitarian , legal, constitutional and religious criteria do not give the right to Baghdad to fight the sons of the region using of employees' salaries as a lever to force the region to succumb to the policies of Baghdad , adding that the region is seeking by Constitutional and Legal means to resolve the outstanding problems with Baghdad , but did not think one day that central government of Baghdad use the employees' salaries as leverage to impose the will of political conflicts as doing Baghdad government.

At Rudaw, Yerevan Saeed weighs in with his opinion:

When it comes to oil, for me it’s a matter of survival or death. It’s about whether KRG has to give the sharpest ever sword to Baghdad to slaughter us or keep it and leverage it to ensure its political and economic survival.
Indeed, it’s just unthinkable that the KRG should grant Baghdad authority over its oil to fund the central government’s multi-billion dollar arm deals. These could potentially be used against Kurdistan once more, even as Baghdad refuses to compensate thousands of Kurdish victims due from the genocidal campaigns in Kurdistan.
How can the KRG trust Baghdad? What guarantee that, if KRG gives up its right to export oil, Iraq will not come up with more excuses? Oil is the biggest card KRG currently holds. If it loses, the next thing to expect could be the dispatching of the Iraqi army to Kurdistan under different pretexts.

The US government has verbally insisted they are staying out of the matter but if they were staying out of the matter, they'd stop backing Nouri and quit pressuring the Kurds to agree to what Nouri wants.

Cleric and movement Moqtada al-Sadr announced his political retirement February 15th.  February 18th, he delivered a speech --  CounterPunch posted the speech in full  -- emphasizing his decision.  NINA notes the rumors that Moqtada left Iraq today, "The sources noted in a press statement that Mr. Muqtada al-Sadr left today's afternoon the city of Najaf heading to the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to complete his religious studies and stay away from the political scene as he officially announced for all Iraqis."

MondayAhmed Rasheed (Reuters) reported, "Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by Reuters - a move that would break a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran."  The Tower points out, "The Obama administration, which has been criticized for allowing Iraq to slip into Iran’s orbit even as the U.S. continued supplying Baghdad with Hellfire missiles and small arms, assured journalists that American officials were pressing for answers at the highest levels." Reuters adds, "Some in Washington worry about providing sensitive U.S. military equipment to a country they worry is becoming too close to Iran."

There are humanitarian issues and concerns to the US government arming Nouri.  Human Rights Watch's Erin Evers has a column at Huffington Post detailing the many abuses of Nouri al-Maliki's government and concluding:

The government failed to protect its citizens, instead further entrenching abuses and giving further momentum to Iraq's cruel cycle of instability. The United States government should be taking every possible step to ensure that its weapons are not going to be used for further abuses.
In contrast, the administration's concern about the possibility of Iran's arms sale to Iraq seems disappointingly misplaced in light of the overwhelming evidence of abusive and illegal techniques by SWAT, the federal police, and the army -- strong evidence that the weapons being supplied would be used for further abuse. With Congress too having missed the boat on its responsibility to make decisions in line with the US's human rights obligations, the inevitable result is that the US becomes complicit in the rapidly devolving situation in Iraq. 

At least someone remembers the Iraqi people when having this discussion. Monday,  The Hill published a column by retired General Ron Griffith and retired Lt Gen Jay Garner who argue:

The latest rise in violence and increasing crackdowns on al-Maliki’s political opponents should raise concerns about the Iraqi government’s use of U.S.-provided weapons, and the conditions under which the United States should allow more weapons to Iraq.   
Iraq’s recent budget, which passed with no Kurds represented, combined with al-Maliki’s threat to cancel the KRG budget predicts the length to which he may go to inflict his political will. This has heightened Kurdish and Sunni concerns about al-Maliki's ability to buy advanced weapons to punish political disagreement with Baghdad.  
The January 15, 2014 U.S. Presidential Policy Directive unequivocally mandates that U.S. arms transfers not violate human rights or any international humanitarian law.  Thus, it is imperative that if the United States is to continue providing arms to Iraq, then, at a minimum, conditions and monitoring mechanisms should be imposed to prevent either deliberate or unwitting misuse of those weapons (for example, against Iraqis who oppose the government).   

Harvey Morris (Rudaw) notes the column and offers:

The territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government has been spared the turmoil that has engulfed other regions of Iraq. But General Griffith and General Garner said the KRG was being short-changed by Baghdad when it came to assisting its own measures to combat al-Qaeda infiltration.
They cited Mr. Maliki’s threat to cancel the KRG budget as indicative of the lengths he might go to impose his political will.
“The Kurdistan region also faces an al-Qaeda threat on its western border with Syria - the same threat facing the rest of Iraq,” they wrote.  “But, as the U.S. provides Baghdad with weapons to combat al-Qaeda, the Iraqi government refuses arms for the Kurdish Peshmarga to protect against the very same threat.”That amounted to Mr. Mailiki putting political considerations above national security requirements. “U.S. policy in this violence-plagued region should be that of an honest broker rather than an arms broker to an unstable government,” the retired generals concluded.Critics of the Obama administration’s policy towards the Maliki government include not only retired military men but also politicians concerned about Baghdad’s close ties with Iran.

Aref Youssef (Turkish Press) notes a statement from the Ministry of Defense insisting there is no deal and "MP Hassan al-Saneed, who is also head of the Iraqi parliament's security and defense committee, said Tuesday that Iraq had signed a deal to import light weapons from Iran."


In December of 2011, Michael Kamber (New York Times) described Hassan al-Saneed as "a close ally of the prime minister's" and, in July 2010, Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) described him as "a senior advisor to al-Maliki."

Danielle Wiener-Bronner (The Wire) hypothesizes about the alleged weapons deal, "Still, the Iranian arms contribution would be negligible compared to America's, suggesting that the deal is a political move for Maliki -- who would need Iranian support to win a third term in office."

Through Tuesday, Iraq Body Count counts 822 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month.

At least 35 are dead and forty-five injured in today's violence.

National Iraqi News Agency reports an east Kirkuk bombing left one police member injured, an armed battle in Albu Fashgah Village left 3 rebels dead, an al-Habbaniyah roadside bombing left 3 Iraqi soldiers dead, a Mosul grenade attack left four Department of Health employees injured, a second Mosul grenade attack (this one near the Kurdistan Democratic Party's headquarters) left six people injuredNouri's forces say they killed 8 militants in Ramadi, Nouri's forces say they killed 3 members of Da'ash, a Hermat car bombing left 2 Iraqi soldiers dead and five more injured, a Bani Saad car bombing left three people injured, a Kirkuk roadside bombing left two "protection team" members injured (the bomb apparently targeted an "office manager of fight against crime"), a Kanaan sticky bombing left 2 people dead and three more injured,  a Ramadi roadside bombing left 3 Iraqi soldiers dead and two more injured, a Kirkuk sticky bombing ("near the cotton gin") left 1 person dead, a western Baghdad sticky bombing (al-Ghazaliya district) left 1st Lieutenant Mohammed Abdul-Hussein dead, a western Baghdad roadside bombing left six people injured, 1 person was shot dead in Baghdad's Amil district, 1 person was shot dead in Baghdad's Shaab district, 1 person was shot dead in Baghdad's Zafaraniyah area, a southern Baghdad bombing (Abu Dshir) left two people injured, a Mosul suicide bomber took his own life and the lives of 2 other people while leaving six more injured, Nouri's military shelling of Falluja left five family members ("including two children") injured,
and late last night a bombing "between Amiriyat al-Fallujah and Jurf al-Sakar" left 1 military officer and 3 police members dead.

Nouri's assault on Anbar continues.  Aswat al-Iraq notes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi again this week pointed out Anbar requires a political solution, not a military one.  Hamza Mustafa (Asharq Al-Awsat) adds, "Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi echoed calls for a ceasefire in Fallujah earlier this week. Nujaifi, who heads the Sunni Arab Mutahidoun bloc, called for a suspension of military operations across Anbar during a press conference in Baghdad on Monday."

As Speaker al-Nujaifi pointed out, there is no military solution.  Not only is Nouri not going to find a solution via assaulting Anbar, he's inept even at the attack on Anbar.  Loveday Morris (Washington Post) reports on strategic problems with Nouri's assault on Anbar Province:

“There were no maps, there were no details,” he [Lt. Col. Ihab Hashem] said in an interview last month while on leave, recovering from an injury. The convoy lost eight Humvees after coming under fire and hitting a roadside bomb, he said, and at least one soldier was killed.
“We reached the bridge but it was a disaster,” he said, describing the purpose of the mission as “just to be there.”