Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, July 9, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Americans don't feel the Iraq War was a war "worth fighting," Nouri al-Maliki tries to censor the press, Joe Biden talks to the Kurds, and much more.

In a [PDF format warning] press release noting that they were now partnering with NBC News and the Wall St. Journal for the 2014 election polling, Annenberg Public Policy Center noted the latest poll found:

71 percent of Americans said that the conflict in Iraq was not worth fighting, and 49 percent said that Washington does not have a responsibility to help the Iraqi government fight off insurgent groups.

49% is a very high number when you consider that they are opposing US President Barack Obama's so-called 'plan' for Iraq.  It's not even been a month since Barack drew vague outlines in a June 19th speech.  Yet 49% are already opposed to it.

And for good reason, it's not a plan and it backs Nouri al-Maliki -- the man whose destroyed Iraq over two terms and wants a third one.

Josh Rogin (Daily Beast) speaks with Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi:

ISIS is only one small part of a larger Sunni revolt in Iraq that sectarian groups have been preparing for years, according to Iraq’s exiled Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi. And defeating ISIS won’t stop the greater battle.
“We shouldn’t look at this development of ISIS as apart from the uprising of the Arab Sunni provinces over two years,” Hashimi told The Daily Beast in an interview from Turkey, where he has been living since the government of Nouri al-Maliki purged him in 2012 by indicting him on murder charges, then convicting him in abstentia.
“The provinces have done a peaceful Sunni revolt against the oppression, the injustice, the inhuman conditions the Arab Sunnis have been suffering for years,” he said.

The issue of 'advisors' came up in today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jen Psaki:

QUESTION: Okay. And let me just follow up on the advisors on the ground. Their first assessment last week was that the Iraqis may be able to defend Baghdad but are unable to sort of retake territory already conquered by the Islamic State. Has there been any update to the situation? Are they doing anything other than assessment and perhaps talking to --

MS. PSAKI: Well, assessing is certainly a part of --


MS. PSAKI: -- what their mandate is. But I would refer you to DOD for any updates on their work on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. But the fact that al-Baghdadi so boldly goes to a mosque that is a well-known mosque in Mosul and within – knowing exactly where he is, his location was well known and so on, is the United States or would the United States be willing to engage militarily to ensure that, like they did back in 2004 and ’05 and ’06 when they targeted Zawahiri, that they would actually target al-Baghdadi?

MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with the options that we always have and the President always has at his disposal, but as has consistently been the case, our focus is on the political process and encouraging that to move forward. And again, we have 300 advisors on the ground. They’re in the process of assessing, but I would refer you to DOD for any more specifics on their work.

Advisors were raised by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.  Kristina Wong (The Hill) reports:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday the Sunni fundamentalist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses a threat not just to the government in Baghdad, but to the United States as well.
"This country should not make any mistake on this, nor anyone in Congress — this is a threat to our country," Hagel said while meeting with troops at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia.
"This is a force that is sophisticated. It's dynamic, it's strong, it's organized, it's well-financed, it's competent, [ISIS]. And it is a threat to our allies all over the Middle East. It's a threat to Europe. It's a threat to every stabilized country on Earth, and it's a threat to us," Hagel said.


Ramzy Baroud ( offers this take:

Not only is Obama failing to accept even a level of moral responsibility over the current plight of Iraqis, but he is haggling to achieve some political gains from Iraq’s misery. Hundreds of US troops have been ordered back to Iraq to "assess" the fighting capabilities of the Iraqi army, and a cautious attempt at intervention is building up slowly in Washington.
Interventionism is once more permeating American foreign policy thinking; this time around, however, it is ‘soft’ intervention, although it is laden with the same kind of language and misleading references. It seems that the American government has learned so very little since the last botched effort, championed by Perle’s neocons at remaking the Middle East to its liking. 

Nouri is the problem in Iraq and he cannot bring the country together.

He is inept and he is corrupt.

If you're not grasping it, right now, while Barack's insisting the country needs a "political solution," Nouri's yet again attacking political rivals.  Rudaw reports:

Hours after Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the Kurds of harboring insurgents, the Kurdistan Region decided that Kurdish ministers appointed to the Iraqi cabinet will not be going to Baghdad.
“As a first response to Maliki’s threats, the Kurdish leadership has decided that our ministers will not attend any meetings of the Iraqi cabinet,” said an official from the dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). 
The official said that there is a consensus among all Kurdish political parties, including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to boycott Baghdad.

Nouri is begging the US for help and US President Barack Obama has provided him with weapons and now with US troops.  And Nouri says "thank you" by attacking the Kurds?

If you're not getting how offensive Nouri's remarks are, how destructive they are, note the lukewarm reception they received in today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by Jen Psaki.

QUESTION: Yes. Prime Minister Maliki in a TV address today, he accused the Kurdistan Regional Government of allowing Erbil to become a base for the ISIS and the al-Qaida and terrorists. And he also kind of confirmed that he will not allow them to take over disputed areas like Kirkuk. Do you have any reaction to this kind of a --

MS. PSAKI: Well, without seeing the full context of his comments, let me just reiterate that our view is that the focus in Iraq right now should be on taking steps to urgently move forward with government formation. There have been – there’s a long history here of a lack of inclusivity, and at this pivotal point in time, it’s important for all leaders, including Prime Minister Maliki, to act in a way that welcomes in and unites leaders in the country instead of dividing.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that Erbil might become a hotbed for extremists?

MS. PSAKI: Erbil?


MS. PSAKI: I think we’re concerned about any threat that ISIL poses to citizens and communities in Iraq.

For those unfamiliar with the State Dept press briefings, Jen Psaki not rushing to defend Nouri and his comments is a major shift.

Iraq is a powder keg and Nouri's lighting matches.

The Tehran Times notes, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday the Kurdish-controlled city of Arbil was becoming an operations base for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group that seized swath of northern and western Iraq last month."  AP observes, "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's allegations are likely to worsen Baghdad's already thorny relationship with the Kurds."  Al Arabiya News quotes Nouri declaring, "They (militant groups) will lose and so will their hosts, because they failed to provide an example of patriotic partnership."  AFP points out, "The incumbent on Wednesday appeared to damage his efforts to retain his post by turning on Kurdish leaders whose support he needs, accusing them of hosting militant groups behind the onslaught."

Back to today's State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: How realistic to – is it to assume that if Prime Minister Maliki started acting in a more inclusive way and if the Sunnis and Kurds bought into this inclusive policy of governance, that this would neutralize the threat from the Islamic State group. How realistic is this?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, I think I’m not going to speculate on that. I think there’s no question in anyone’s mind that a unified Iraq and one that – where the leaders are moving forward toward a government formation would strengthen Iraq and strengthen the case and the fight against ISIL and the threat it poses.
Do we have more on --

QUESTION: But does that mean – I mean, it just seems as if the Administration has been creating this impression that if the political climate will change, then magically this threat from the Islamic State group will just --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think --

QUESTION: -- will just be eradicated. And it seems as if, given --

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all – let me stop you there. That’s not at all the impression we’re sending or we’re intending to send, or I don’t think anyone thinks we’re sending. We’re – our focus here is on the reality on the ground, which is that this is – there’s a grave security situation on the ground. There’s a threat that’s being posed to all Iraqi people, as well as to leaders in the region, and right now the focus should not be on political disagreements. It should be on unifying against the threat that they all face. And so what we’re talking about is how to strengthen the Iraqi leadership, Iraqi security forces, in order to take on the threat they face. And I think there’s no question that in order to work towards a long-term sustainable Iraq, that that is an essential step toward that process.

QUESTION: But given the widespread criticism of Maliki’s leadership in the past eight years, it’s going to take time to build trust among Sunnis and among Kurds. And so it just seems as if it’s going to take a while to get that political structure right-sized. In the meantime, Islamic State is going to be doing what it’s doing.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, they’re meeting – let me disagree with you. They’re meeting on Sunday, as you know, to move forward with the political process. We’re encouraging them to do that rapidly. It’s up to the Iraqi people to determine who their future leadership will be, but there’s no question they have it in their capacity to move forward. And once they’ve put a new parliament – speaker of the parliament, a new president, a new prime minister in place, that will begin the path, or – be an important step on the path towards unity and towards strengthening their fight on the ground.

Nouri is a complete and utter failure.  So he attacks the Kurds to distract from his failures.

His failures are immense and the list keeps growing.

Insurgents in Iraq have seized nuclear materials used for scientific research at a university in the country's north, Iraq told the United Nations in a letter appealing for help to "stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad."
Nearly 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were kept at Mosul University, Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the July 8 letter obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.

Militants -- insurgents, resistance fighters, ISIS, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, what have you -- now can make a dirty bomb?

The history of the dirty bomb has yet to be written, because fortunately no one to date has ever deployed a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material. However, a slew of worrisome incidents in several countries involving loose or orphaned radioactive devices forms a chilling chronology and a stark reminder that a dirty bomb could explode tomorrow anywhere in the world. Terrorist groups are actively pursuing unsecured radiological material, and several of them may already possess dirty-bomb capabilities. In this timeline, review the past 15 years of news-making incidents involving unprotected radioactive materials worldwide, including many occurrences of accidental encounters that prove just how easy it is to acquire these dangerous substances.

RT zooms in on this, "The stolen materials are not believed to be enriched uranium, which would make it difficult for them to be made into weapons, a government source told Reuters."  Let's hope that's correct, that claim that can't be verified.

Regardless, this is a huge failure.  And, with regards to weapons, it just gets worse.  RT reports:

The Iraqi government has informed the United Nations that it has lost control of a former chemical weapons depot to Islamist insurgents affiliated with ISIS, or IS, and cannot carry out its obligations to destroy what’s stored in the compound.
In a letter penned by Iraq’s UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim, it was revealed that “armed terrorist groups” took over the Muthanna complex on June 11. Located north of Baghdad, the facility was the main center for chemical weapons production prior to the 1991 Gulf War, and is still home to 2,500 rockets containing the lethal nerve agent sarin.
Edith M. Lederer (AP) notes, "U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki expressed concern on June 20 about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seizing the complex, but played down the importance of the two bunkers with 'degraded chemical remnants,' saying the material dates back to the 1980s and was stored after being dismantled by U.N. inspectors in the 1990s."  BBC News adds, "It is believed that some 2,500 rockets filled with nerve agents - including sarin and mustard gas - are stored at Muthanna."

Still not getting the damage despot Nouri is doing? 

How Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki plans to defeat the horribly abusive Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and other Sunni groups that have seized control of large swathes of Iraq remains unclear. And under his government’s new media regulations, the Iraqi public isn’t likely to find out.
The new guidelines, issued on June 18 by the state media commission to remain in effect “during the war on terror,” in effect require local and international media to cheer on the government. For example, the rules forbid media from reporting information from insurgent forces and compel coverage of government forces in only glowing terms.
As one Iraqi journalist put it, the guidelines “basically ban journalists from covering war activities, because whatever you report about terrorists could be considered support for them.”

When not verbally attacking Kurds, Nouri encourages his flunkies to attack them.  Bas News reports:

Asaib ahl-Haq militias supported by Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki have created a checkpoint on Erbil–Baghdad Road that insults and tortures Kurdish Taxi drivers.
Kurdish taxi driver Abu Walid who works along Erbil-Baghdad Road told BasNews that “due to Asaib Ahl-Haq threats, I have stayed here for a month with no work. On the road, whoever is Kurdish will be captured and tortured.”
Walid stated that they are 510 taxi drivers working on Erbil-Baghdad Road but only 17-20 drivers have shown their readiness to work lately faced with the danger.

Readout of Vice President Biden's Conversation with President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani

This morning, Vice President Biden spoke with Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. The Vice President underscored the United States’ support for Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The Vice President expressed his condolences for all Iraqis who have lost their lives defending their land against ISIL including members of the Kurdish Peshmerga. Vice President Biden and President Barzani also agreed on the need to accelerate the government formation process pursuant to the time-lines set forth in the Iraqi constitution.

Violence continues in Iraq.  WG Dunlop (AFP) Tweets:

Margaret Griffis ( notes, "At least 145 people were killed and 74 were wounded in the latest reports."  Some of today's reported violence?   National Iraqi News Agency reports Peshmerga "killed Mufti of Daash in Jalawla," a Saidiya sticky bombing left one police member injured, 2 Babil car bombings left 4 people dead and eight more injured, 50 corpses were found dumped north of Babylon, a Tuz Khurmato shooting left four "Turkmen youths" injured, 2 Kirkuk roadside bombings left three people injured,  and 1 corpse was discovered dumped to the "north east of Baghdad," and, dropping back to late last night, 1 military officer was shot dead in Jurf al-Sakar.  All Iraq News notes 2 corpses were discovered dumped "to the east of Baquba," 1 corpse was found dumped in Saydiya ("southwestern Baghdad") a Baquba sniper shot dead 1 police member and left another injured, and 2 bombings in "southwestern Baghdad" left five people injured.  On the fifty corpses, Sinan Salaheddin and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) explain, "The dead were men between the ages of 25 and 40, and it appeared they had been killed days earlier and then dumped in the remote area, said a police officer and a medical official."  Most outlets say it's an area X from this or that town.  Hamdi Alkhshali and Holly Yan (CNN) say the corpses were discovered in Alexandria and, "The bodies of two children were among the dozens found in different parts of the town."  Raheem Salman and Isra'a al-Rubei'i (Reuters) quote Babil Province Governor Sadeq Madloul stating, "Fifty-three unidentified corpses were found, all of them blindfolded and handcuffed."

As chaos in Iraq continues, hostages have been taken.  Saturday, Alsumaria reported over 40 boarded a plane to India.  Belfast Telegraph added, "The 46 nurses had been holed up for more than a week in Tikrit, where fighters of the Islamic State group have taken over."  Indian Express notes, "Nearly 600 more Indian nationals will return home from the conflict-hit Iraq over the next two days, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Saturday. It said 200 of them will return by an Iraqi Airways special chartered flight from Najaf to Delhi late Saturday night itself." The Times of India spoke with 25-year-old nurse P Lesima Jerose Monisha who went to work in Iraq in hopes of paying off her student loans:

Though the insurgents assured them they would not be harmed, there was always a fear that a bomb would land on the hospital, she said.
She said the scariest moment was when the militants gave them just two hours to get ready and leave the hospital on July 2. "Indian embassy officials told us over phone to follow the gunmen's instructions for our own safety." Monisha said they were taken in a bus to Mosul where they were detained in a jail-like building. Finally on Friday they were onceagain told to pack up their belongings and board a bus. "Only then we realized we are being released. The insurgents released us on the outskirts of Mosul from where Indian embassy officials took care of us," she said.

While the nurses have returned to their homes, not all hostages have been as fortunate.  Sevil Erkus (Hurriyet Daily News) reports, "Some 49 Turkish consulate staff members in Iraq are entering their second month in captivity with uncertainty surrounding their fate despite the release of Turkish truck drivers last week." Today's Zaman notes that Tuesday was day 27 of the hostage crisis  and that, "The Turkish government imposed a gag order on reports of the ISIL hostage crisis, immediately after the hostage-taking at the Mosul Consulate General. Critics see this as a way to prevent criticism of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's handling of foreign policy, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses the opposition parties and the media of trying to provoke the government to say negative things about ISIL and of putting the lives of hostages in danger."

The Turkish hostages were noted in today's US State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: It has been about a month now there are 49 Turkish consulate staff and diplomats still being held hostage by the ISIS. Do you have any update on any of those?

MS. PSAKI: I do not have an update. We remain in regular touch through our team on the ground with Turkish officials, and of course, we remain concerned about those who are being held, as we do about Americans who have been held, as we do about any international citizens who are being held by ISIL.

QUESTION: Have Turkish officials asked you any kind of help to --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update to offer for you on this case.

QUESTION: Last time you said that a door is – door remains open if there is any need by Ankara. The door is still open?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly. And we are engaged in continued discussions.

Turning to veterans issues, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the following:

On Eve of HVAC Testimony, Texas Family Urges Lawmakers to Combat Veteran Suicide

CONTACT: Gretchen Andersen (212) 982-9699 or

Washington DC (July 9, 2014) – Today, Susan and Richard Selke – parents of Marine veteran Clay Hunt who died by suicide in 2011 – met with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator John Walsh (D-MT) on Capitol Hill about combating veteran suicide and addressing access to mental health care. The Selkes met with the Senators ahead of their testimony tomorrow morning at a hearing on access to mental health care. IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff and Legislative Director Alex Nicholson were also present at the meetings. 
During IAVA’s 10th annual Storm the Hill in late March, Sen. John Walsh introduced the Suicide Prevention For America’s Veterans Act (SAV Act), S.B. 2182. Tomorrow, House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) will introduce the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention For American Veterans Act (Clay Hunt SAV), named after the Selke’s son, at a 2:30 p.m. press conference at the House Triangle. 
“Had this bill been passed a few years ago, I do believe we would still have Clay today,” said Susan Selke, mother of Clay Hunt. “Our country is losing 22 veterans to suicide a day – about 600 veterans a month. It is so difficult for one to grasp that number. These losses don’t take into account the impact of family members and loved ones and how their lives are changed. We thank Chairman Sanders and Sen. Walsh for hearing our story and for pressing their colleagues to address veteran suicide.” 
Combating veteran suicide and improving access to mental health care has been IAVA’s top priority for 2014. According to IAVA’s 2014 Member Survey, 40% of respondents said they know at least one Iraq or Afghanistan veteran that has died by suicide. 
“Susan and Richard have shown so much strength as they continue to advocate on behalf of veterans,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “We thank Chairman Sanders and Sen. Walsh for meeting with us today and continuing to support our community. The Selkes are here because they personally know this is an urgent fight. The first step in reversing the suicide trend among veterans is to pass the Clay Hunt SAV Act. We want members of Congress to know this is an important, nonpartisan issue that will change the life path for thousands of veterans and their families.”
The Campaign to Combat Suicide was designed to raise public awareness of the suicide crisis, demand Congressional action and a Presidential Executive Order to start to reverse the suicide trend.
As part of its Campaign to Combat Suicide, all year long IAVA will activate every element of its membership, programs and partners – both on-the-ground and online. IAVA will incorporate this effort into everything we do from our monthly VetTogethers to our over 500,000-person strong social media community. We will empower our almost 300,000 members and supporters to serve as a ground force for outreach, support and advocacy. And we will travel the country, turning public attention to the issue of veteran suicide and promoting solutions.
IAVA connects veterans to mental health services, including partnering with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line to ensure that every servicemember, veteran, family member and provider knows that there is free and confidential help available 24 hours a day through phone, text and online. Veterans, or those concerned about veterans, can call 800-273-8255 and press 1 to be directly connected to qualified responders.
Note to media: Please contact to schedule an interview with IAVA leadership or Susan and Richard Selke. 
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the nation's first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 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. 

IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff Tweeted the following today:

Sloan Gibson is the acting Secretary of the VA.  Still on veterans, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following yesterday:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                         CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Tuesday, July 08, 2014                                                      (202) 224-2834
Murray Delivers Remarks on VA Reform, Secretary and Conference Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), senior member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding reform at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), the VA Secretary nominee, and the ongoing conference committee.  

Full remarks as prepared:

“M. President, I believe that when it comes to caring for our nation’s heroes, we cannot accept anything less than excellence. Like many of my colleagues I have been very troubled by the most recent allegations of VA failing to provide veterans with timely health care. VA generally offers very high quality health care and does many things as well as -- or better than -- the private sector. But when you are caring for the nation’s heroes, and you have the backing of the full resources of the Federal government, ‘just as good’ is not enough – we expect more.  

“So I am very frustrated to be here again talking about these deeply disturbing issues, and the Department’s repeated failures to change. GAO and the Inspector General have reported on these problems many times over the years. And last Congress we did a great deal of work around wait times, particularly for mental health care. I think VA is starting to see that business as usual is not acceptable. 

“The Administration has taken steps to begin addressing some of the major, system-wide problems -- but much more needs to be done. Tomorrow, when I meet with the President’s nominee for VA Secretary, I will ask him about how he plans to make these changes. And that is why I am very glad to be serving on the veterans conference committee – because Congress needs to act as well.

“The most important thing we can do right now is to pass responsible and effective legislation to bring much needed reforms to VA. And we need to do it soon.

“There have been major bipartisan efforts in both the House and the Senate to move legislation addressing these problems. Many Members have been part of those efforts and I commend them all for their commitment to bipartisanship and for putting the needs of our veterans first. 

“Now it is vital that we continue to build on this bipartisan momentum – and continue making progress if we are going to address some of the immediate accountability and transparency concerns plaguing the VA, and to fix its deep-seated structural and cultural challenges.

“I know Members have a wide range of concerns with the bills. And I believe we can address these concerns responsibly and in a way that puts our veterans first and gives the VA the tools they need to address the challenges they face. That means building and strengthening the VA system so it delivers the best care over the long term.

“But it is important for us to act quickly to start making these changes.  We cannot allow this process to break down. Veterans are still waiting to get the care they need. Many of us were rightly outraged that VA did not act to help veterans – because the Department ignored all the information and did nothing. 

“This Congress must not do the same thing and fail veterans by not acting. I urge all of my colleagues to work as hard and as quickly as possible to finalize an agreement and get it to the President.

“As more problems will be uncovered, and the investigations will proceed, and we will need even more action from VA, the Administration, and Congress.

“Because the nation made a promise to the men and women who answered the call of duty—and one of the most important ways we uphold that is by making sure our veterans can access the health care they need and deserve – no matter what it takes.”

Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

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