Monday, August 11, 2014

Marie Harf briefs on Iraq today



This is the Iraq section of Monday's State Dept press briefing.  Spokesperson Marie Harf (pictured above at Thursday's briefing) fielded the questions. 

2:09 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the briefing and sorry for the delay today. A couple items at the top and then, Lara, I will turn it over to you. I will also endeavor to have your name spelled right in the transcript this week.

QUESTION: I’ve been called worse.

MS. HARF: I know. Okay. So first, just a quick Iraq update. As you know, over the weekend the U.S. military undertook several more humanitarian air drops. That brings the total to four. They also undertook a number of kinetic action against ISIL targets. Just a planning note, at 2:30 today, Lieutenant General Bill Mayville of the J-3 staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be doing an operational briefing. You can watch it online at It’s not anything new. It’s to go over both on the humanitarian side and the operational side, more of the details on some of what they’ve been doing. So if folks are interested in that, I just wanted to make sure people knew about that. I’m guessing I’ll still be briefing at 2:30, but here’s to hoping.
In terms of the political side of Iraq, as you saw today, there’s been a new prime minister-designate nominated. The Vice President, Vice President Biden, has spoken with the Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi. He’s also spoken with the Iraqi president as well. We’ve congratulated Dr. Abadi on his nomination to form a new government and to develop a national program pursuant to Iraq’s constitutional process. There is a process that we’ve all talked about a lot. This is the latest step in it and one that we welcome.
And with that, Lara, kick us off. Actually, wait – I have one more quick thing at the top. Sorry about that. I got ahead of myself.
On Iran, on behalf of the U.S. Government, we wish to extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives on a Sepahan air flight, which crashed shortly after takeoff outside of Tehran, Iran yesterday. There are no reports of any U.S. citizens on the flight. We are aware of reports that Iranian authorities are investigating the crash, and again wanted to extend our since condolences as well.
Also on Iran, on a happier note, we want to welcome the Iranian men’s national volleyball team to the U.S. to wish them well on their series of friendly matches against the U.S. national team. The Iranian team arrived in the U.S. late last week. They’ve already played one in a series of four matches against the U.S. team. On Saturday night, the teams played to a full crowd at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California. The match was close, but the U.S. team won three games to one. The remaining matches will take place on the 13th, 15th, and 16th of August all in southern California. They’re being broadcast live into Iran via Voice of America’s Persian Service. They’re also available livestream on the VOA Persian website and the Team USA site. We’ve talked a lot in this room about sports diplomacy and how important we think it is, and this is just another example of that.
Lara, now you can kick us off.

QUESTION: Thank you. So I’d like to go back to kind of getting in the weeds of Iraqi politics and the constitutional process.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yep.

QUESTION: By your statement, do I understand that the United States is recognizing Dr. Abadi as the --

MS. HARF: Nominee.

QUESTION: -- the nominee, or do you think he is going to be the next prime minister?

MS. HARF: Well, he’s the prime – prime minister-designate, excuse me. There’s a – Prime Minister Maliki is still the prime minister, as of right now. He is still legally the prime minister. I know there’s a lot of confusion about this. The President charged the prime minister nominee to form a new cabinet. The nominee now has 30 days to present a new government and national program to parliament for approval that will address the needs and aspirations of all of Iraq’s diverse communities. So there’s still a process here, but this is an important step in the process, one that we absolutely welcome.

QUESTION: So what would hold up Dr. Abadi from becoming the fully recognized prime minister at this point?

MS. HARF: Well, he now has 30 days to present a new government. There’s a process, an internal Iraqi process there.

QUESTION: Okay. Does the United States believe that the Iraqi National Alliance has the authority to nominate Dr. Abadi even though the Dawa party has not?

MS. HARF: Well, without going too deep in the weeds of Iraqi constitutional politics --

QUESTION: But it’s so fun.

MS. HARF: Isn’t it though? We can leave that up to them to talk about. But in general, look, the Shia bloc nominated Dr. Abadi, a bloc that includes Prime Minister Maliki’s party. There was overwhelming support for Dr. Abadi. We think this is part of the process as it has played out under the constitution. I don’t have any reason to believe otherwise.

QUESTION: Has any senior U.S. official in the last 24 hours spoken to Prime Minister Maliki?

MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know the answer to that.


QUESTION: Vice President Biden.

MS. HARF: To Prime Minister Maliki?


MS. HARF: Okay. I can --

QUESTION: Not Maliki. To – sorry.

QUESTION: No. I’m asking about Maliki.

MS. HARF: Right. She’s asking about Maliki. But thank you for trying to help me out though. I’ll check on Prime Minister Maliki. I don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay. I wonder if there’s any intent to at this point.

MS. HARF: I can check.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: Could I just phrase it a different way?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: What do you consider Prime Minister Maliki now? You say he’s still the prime minister, but --

MS. HARF: He’s still the prime minister legally under the Iraqi constitution.

QUESTION: But do you consider him a lame duck? Do you consider him on his way out? Do you consider him still a person you would work with?

MS. HARF: Well, certainly we will continue working and engaging with him given that he’s still the prime minister of Iraq, absolutely. And Iraq is facing a very dire situation right now. But we’ve said that in order for Iraq to better confront ISIL going forward, they need an inclusive government in place as soon as possible. There’s a process for that government to be in place, and what you saw today was just another step in that process.

QUESTION: Would you say he has a mandate democratically to still make decisions?

MS. HARF: Prime Minister Maliki?


MS. HARF: He’s still the prime minister legally under the constitution.

QUESTION: Marie --

QUESTION: So Marie --

MS. HARF: Yeah, Said, then we’ll go around.

QUESTION: Marie, what is happening now? You probably addressed this before I came. I’m sorry I was late.

MS. HARF: That’s okay.

QUESTION: Now that he’s deploying tanks and security forces and so on, you don’t think that’s in a way some sort of a coup?

MS. HARF: Well, how can it be a coup if he’s still the prime minister? That seems a strange word to use.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, he’s deploying --

MS. HARF: But he’s still the prime minister.

QUESTION: He’s still the prime minister but he’s --

MS. HARF: So by definition, coup would not be --

QUESTION: Yeah, but he’s --

QUESTION: He’s protecting against a coup, no?

QUESTION: He’s using these forces to consolidate his power and sort of disenfranchise others.

MS. HARF: I think that’s making a number of assumptions about Prime Minister Maliki’s intentions. I don’t want to speak for him. I would note (a) that there’s a huge security threat right now from ISIL even in Baghdad, so (a); but (b), look, there’s a process in place here. Prime Minister Maliki’s party, which is part of this bloc, nominated someone new to be prime minister.


MS. HARF: And it’s the Iraqi people speaking up and choosing their own future. So let’s – we’re watching the situation on the ground, but there’s been no, in our view, discernible change in the security picture in terms of the kind of resources you’re talking about him deploying.

QUESTION: Okay. So are you supporting Haider al-Abadi as a prime minister? Is he someone that is known to you?

MS. HARF: Vice President Biden spoke with him today.


MS. HARF: Congratulated him on his nomination and called to – call on him for very quickly, as soon as possible, to form a new government and develop a national program. The prime minister-designate expressed his intent to move expeditiously to do so, and the Vice President and he had a conversation today. Obviously, we support the process. We have never supported any one person or one party here.

QUESTION: Okay. But you know the fact that the Vice President spoke to him, that’s like a ringing endorsement, isn’t it?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s not about who we speak to on the phone. It’s about who the Iraqis choose through their process, which they’ve done today, to be their next prime minister. That’s how this gets chosen here.

QUESTION: Marie --
MS. HARF: Yeah, Arshad, go ahead. And then Michel.

QUESTION: It’s real simple. Did the U.S. Government at any level play any role whatsoever in the selection of Prime Minister-designate al-Abadi to his current position?

MS. HARF: No, this is a decision that has a constitutional process in Iraq, and that is the process that happened here.

QUESTION: But Prime Minister Maliki has rejected the nomination of Mr. al-Abadi as the prime minister, and some of --

MS. HARF: I haven’t actually seen him make public comments today.

QUESTION: Some members of his bloc --

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, I haven’t seen him --

QUESTION: -- made the comments.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: He was standing next to him, though.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, he hasn’t, to my knowledge, made comments today. And again, I’m sure people have a variety of opinions, but the way their constitutional process works is the bloc puts forward a candidate, which they did. This bloc, by the way, includes Prime Minister Maliki’s party, a number of whose members voted for the new prime minister-designate in this process. So this is how it works. Some people may not agree with it, but it’s how the process works constitutionally. That’s what we think is important.

QUESTION: And do you expect this rejection will affect the process of the formation of the new government?

MS. HARF: No, we think the process should move forward as it’s laid out in the constitution, as it has until this point. Look, we never expected this would be easy or without bumps in the road here. We know this is complicated and we know there are a lot of tensions here among certain blocs, certain people, certain parties, certain groups. So we didn’t think it would be easy, but it’s proceeding, actually, along the path that the constitution sets forward.

QUESTION: And the last question for me: Is the U.S. and Iran or are the U.S. and Iran on the same page regarding the formation of the new government and the nomination of al-Abadi?

MS. HARF: Well, you’d have to ask Iran what their position is. We have not spoken to them about it, so I don’t know what their position is on this new decision.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: There was a major protest today in Baghdad. Thousands of people were reportedly attending the protest objecting the nomination of al-Abadi. They were supporting Prime Minister Maliki. I would like to ask you a broader question on whether – how democratic do you think that this is? While many people know that people voted for Maliki’s coalition mainly because of Maliki, because of him, because he was --

MS. HARF: Well, that’s the way coalition politics works in this kind of parliamentary system. In the constitutional system the Iraqis have laid out, you vote for a bloc and the bloc chooses their prime minister candidate based on their internal voting. So that’s the way the process works. There’s a reason it’s outlined in the constitution, and they’ve stuck to that process. So again, there are still some steps that need to go, but we’ve seen progress today with the new prime minister-designate.

QUESTION: So I just want to understand. You do support President Masum and he has that authority according to the constitution --

MS. HARF: That is true, as the guarantor of the constitution.

QUESTION: Right, right – to name the prime minister.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: So you support this process?

MS. HARF: We support the process.

QUESTION: And you don’t agree – you don’t – I mean, the – he picked a candidate for the premiership, correct?

MS. HARF: That was put forward by the Shia bloc.

QUESTION: Right, that was put forward. So when Maliki claims that there was a miscarriage of constitutional authority, you disagree with that notion?

MS. HARF: We absolutely disagree with that, yes.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Iraq?

QUESTION: Should Prime Minister Maliki refuse to accept the nomination or designation of Mr. Abadi and should try to remain in power by force, what would the United States reaction to that situation be?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t want to venture a guess on that hypothetical. I think you’re getting a few steps down the road here. If that were to come to pass, obviously we could have that conversation then. But what we’re focused on is the process that’s moving forward, and that’s what we’ll keep focusing on in the coming days.

QUESTION: Isn’t in any way your intervention in Iraq and with the latest decision that President Obama to launch airstrikes on ISIL to prevent their advance through the Kurdistan region, didn’t that help in any way sideline Prime Minister Maliki?

MS. HARF: Not at all. It’s totally separate from the --

QUESTION: Because politically it showed that America is supporting Kurdistan, kind of.

MS. HARF: Well, we did this working very closely with Prime Minister Maliki and after he had asked for our assistance specifically, as had a number of other leaders. So this is a totally separate process from the political process that’s been going on, and we have been working with Prime Minister Maliki to determine more ways that we could help here.

QUESTION: But what can – what one in Iraq could also think that with the United States full support to the Kurdistan Regional Government and its intervention to stop the advance of ISIS, while it kind of remained virtually silent about its advances in other parts of Iraq --

MS. HARF: That’s absolutely incorrect that we remain virtually silent.

QUESTION: Action-wise. Actions --

MS. HARF: Well, actually, we took a number of actions, particularly several months ago. We opened joint operations centers, intelligence-sharing centers in Baghdad and in Erbil, so in both places, so we could share increasing information with the Iraqi security forces, particularly. We also increased our surveillance and reconnaissance coverage over Iraq – again, to share intelligence with the Iraqi security forces.

QUESTION: But can --

MS. HARF: So this is not just about Erbil. Obviously, there was a discrete, limited objective here, particularly with our consulate and ISIL’s rapid advance towards Erbil. But we have been working for months now with the Iraqis from all different parts of Iraq to fight this threat together. This is not just limited to Erbil.

QUESTION: But we can say that you were increasingly frustrated with Maliki and then these actions also show that, right?

MS. HARF: I don’t think so. These actions in Erbil, around Erbil, and with Mount Sinjar were based solely on how we could bring capabilities, unique capabilities, to bear in terms of the humanitarian situation and also the security situation. They’re divorced from that.
Yep, Said.

QUESTION: Quick question: Did you address the issue of arming the Peshmerga?

MS. HARF: We have not talked about that yet.

QUESTION: Okay. The United States decided to directly arm the Peshmerga. How does that work in terms of arming the central army or the central government?

MS. HARF: Well, I think there’s been a little bit of, sort of, I should say breathless reporting on this, so let’s just talk through this a little bit. The Government of Iraq has made deliveries from its own stocks to the Kurds, and we are working to do the same in coordination with all the relevant parties. We said this last week. I said it from the podium. I think Ben Rhodes and others said it on TV. ISIL’s obtained some heavy weaponry; the Kurds need additional arms. We are providing those and working to provide additional. Obviously, we’re – all of this is done in coordination with the central Government of Iraq.
And look, I think another key point here, Said, is that we’ve seen a really unprecedented level of cooperation between the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga and the Kurds that we really hadn’t seen before, including the ISF providing, I think, air support and ammo to the Kurds. So it’s really a team effort here. We’re all helping out. We’re seeing what more ways we could expedite their request.

QUESTION: Would you still arm the Peshmerga if Baghdad refused to cooperate, to agree to that --

MS. HARF: I’m not going to venture to guess on hypotheticals here.

QUESTION: A similar question: Did you get the explicit consent of the Iraqi Government in Baghdad for you to provide arms directly to the Peshmerga?

MS. HARF: Everything we’re doing we’re working very closely with the central Government in Iraq, yes.

QUESTION: But that – so yes is the answer? You did get their --

MS. HARF: Arshad, everything we are doing is in close coordination with the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: But actually --

QUESTION: Can we clarify that?

QUESTION: Why can’t you just --

QUESTION: Right, yes. Can you just clarify that? I mean, did you just say that the U.S. is directly arming the Peshmerga or the Kurdish forces with the consent of the Government in Baghdad?

MS. HARF: I said what – what I said, I can repeat it again: We are working with the Government of Iraq to accelerate deliveries of badly needed arms to Kurdish forces in the north. The GOI has made deliveries from its own stocks, and we are working to do the same, deliveries from our own stocks, in coordination with all the relevant parties.

QUESTION: But your own stocks --

MS. HARF: So that conversation is ongoing. We’re not going to detail every single way we provide support, as we don’t many places, but in general we are working together to provide the Kurds with arms.


MS. HARF: This isn’t anything new. We talked about this last week.

QUESTION: The Kurdish Government --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) consent?

QUESTION: The Kurdish Government is saying --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- that it’s directly receiving arms from the United States.

MS. HARF: And I just said we are actively working to do that. But just because we can talk directly to the Kurds or work directly with them doesn’t mean it’s all not in coordination with the Government of Iraq.

QUESTION: Could you --

QUESTION: But there’s a difference between asking – or letting the Baghdad – the government in Baghdad know that this happening and actually funneling the arms and the ammo through the government in Baghdad and letting them do the delivery. So which is it?

MS. HARF: Again, we’re not going to detail specifically how all of this takes place. We’re just not going to do that from the podium. We are having ongoing conversations with all of the parties about how we can all get arms to the Kurds as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Who’s supplying, the Pentagon?

QUESTION: But do you – wait a second.


QUESTION: But do you have the Iraqi Government’s consent for you to directly arm the Kurds?

MS. HARF: As I said, we are working with the Government of Iraq very closely on all – I’m not going to detail everything for you.

QUESTION: You can’t say whether you have their consent, which I find very odd, given that you’re --

MS. HARF: I find it’s an odd question that you keep asking when I said I’m not going to detail all the specifics here.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MS. HARF: But we are working very closely with them and we are all doing this in coordination with each other.

QUESTION: This is not a highly specific question, and it’s a relevant question because your guidance, including from the podium up until, I think, last Wednesday was that you don’t do any arming of the Kurds without doing it with the consent of the Iraqi Government.

MS. HARF: I would go back and look at what I said from the podium over the past few weeks, Arshad, before you make those generalizations. As I said, this is being done in full coordination and cooperation with the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Who’s supplying the arms? I mean, the Pentagon or --

MS. HARF: I don’t have more details for you than that, Said. We’re always not going to outline where those – where that – how that happens.

QUESTION: Is it possible that it is being supplied by the CIA?

MS. HARF: I just said I’m not going to detail any of that for you, Said.

QUESTION: Let me ask – not in a different way, but a slightly different question that gets at the same issue. Assuming that there is U.S. aid going to the Kurds, whether it’s directly --

MS. HARF: Which I talked about last week very openly, as did others as well.

QUESTION: Fine. How long might we expect this to endure? Is this as long as ISIS is a threat? As the President said, this could take not weeks but months. Or is this just for a finite limited period of time with a finite limited amount of arms?

MS. HARF: It’s an ongoing conversation about what the needs are.

QUESTION: Could you bring us up to date on the status of the U.S. citizens and diplomatic personnel in Erbil and --

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- in Baghdad? Have more of them left?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah, it’s a good question. So over the weekend – look, basically what we’re doing is looking at our needs at all of our different locations in Iraq, so at Erbil, Basra, and Baghdad. We did – so basically what we’re doing is adjusting staffing where it’s needed. So we did move some folks out of Erbil, but we also deployed additional folks to Erbil as well.
So over the weekend, USAID deployed a disaster assistance response team to Iraq, which will be based out of Erbil, to work closely with local officials, the international community, and humanitarian relief agencies to identify needs and expedite lifesaving assistance to those caught in the middle of the violence. So we have – we’ve adjusted our staffing, so some people have gone to Baghdad or Basra and we’ve put some more people in Erbil. So we’ll constantly look at what the needs are, but we believe it’s very important to keep them all open.

QUESTION: But everyone there is considered essential personnel? It’s not the kind of thing that you would evacuate nonessentials?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s not – yeah, I mean, that’s not exactly a term that we tend to use from here. We – there’s no plans to change staffing at this point. We believe it’s important to have it open and running and helping with the Iraqis in this fight. So we’ll keep adjusting staffing as needed, but that’s a little different.

QUESTION: The Kurdish Government tried to order ammo and guns from a U.S. manufacturer last month, but it was allegedly blocked by the State Department. Now there seems to be a switch in U.S. policy towards this.

MS. HARF: I’m not familiar with that. I’m happy to check on it, but I’m not familiar with that.


QUESTION: Given that your position has consistently been that you support the integrity and the territorial sovereignty of a unified Iraq, are you concerned about sending mixed messages by directly funneling arms to a region of that country?

MS. HARF: Well, look, as I said, all of this is done in coordination with the central Government of Iraq. So we’re all – it really is a team effort here. The Government of Iraq has already provided the Kurdish Peshmerga with some weapons from its existing stockpiles. We are actively trying to do the same thing.

QUESTION: Still, it’s --

MS. HARF: So that’s what we’re talking about. But it’s – the Government of Iraq’s doing it. We are helping them as well. We know there’s an urgent need here. And again, this isn’t news. We’ve talked for a long time about the fact that we have been working with the Kurds, working with the Peshmerga in this fight. This is not in any way new.

QUESTION: Why don’t you leave the Iraqi Government to provide these arms to the Kurds?

MS. HARF: Well, we have some unique capabilities that we can bring to bear in this fight against ISIL, and we – when we can provide those, we believe it’s important to do so.

QUESTION: What capabilities are being provided, then? I mean, aside from airstrikes and some of that, what we’ve been told is it’s mostly small arms and ammunition. So this seems to be capabilities that could be delivered by Baghdad or even other places.

MS. HARF: Well, I would refer you to the Defense Department, I think, probably for specifics on kinds of weapons that we provide to our partners. But we’ve also provided intelligence – as I talked about, surveillance and reconnaissance – to our – all of our partners in Iraq through the joint operation centers in Baghdad and Erbil. That’s actually been a very key part of trying to fight ISIL. But again, I don’t have any more specifics to share with you than that.

QUESTION: But they also are receiving some armored personnel carriers from Pakistan. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more details to share with you guys on this.

QUESTION: President Barzani wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday saying that he has received no bullet from Baghdad. Is that – like, the fact that you are trying to arm them directly, is that a recognition that Baghdad has acted in a sectarian manner --

MS. HARF: As I just said --

QUESTION: -- refusing to provide arms?

MS. HARF: -- the Government of Iraq has provided the Kurds weapons from their existing stockpiles already.

QUESTION: They just did it when the ISIS tried to attack Kurdistan, but they had not provided a single bullet, as Barzani said.

MS. HARF: Well, they have – so let’s focus on what’s happened recently, and we have noted that there’s been a lot of cooperation between the Iraqi security forces and the Kurds recently, which we think is a very good thing. It’s all underneath sort of everyone trying to fight this threat together. Again, we’ve said for many, many months now that we’ll work with the Kurds. We said that we’re looking at a variety of ways to do so. So I know there’s, again, a lot of rumors out there about this, but we’ve made very clear that if we can help, we will. We know that we want to expedite requests here. Again, we’re trying to make weapons available through our existing stockpiles, which, obviously, would come out of Defense Department stockpiles. And that’s kind of the story here. So I’m a little bit perplexed by some of the coverage, but that would not be the first time.