Friday, September 18, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Friday, September 18, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the League of Righteous blames Turkey (while an outlet refuses to call them the League or to acknowledge their past history), the Senate has serious concerns about the battle to defeat the Islamic State, and much more.

Senator Claire McCaskill: I'm worried like the rest of my colleagues and there have been a number of questions on this already -- about the train and equip mission. And there's good news and there's bad news about the American military.  The good news is that if you give them a job, they figure out a way to get it done.  The bad news is that sometimes you give them a job and they are not willing to say when it's not going to work.  At what point in time, General Austin, do you envision us admitting that while all good intentions and on paper all of the work was done but the job of finding willing fighters that can be screened appropriately when you have the vast majority who feel victimized by the current situation in Syria are running for the exits?  At what point and time and what is the discussion ongoing about the $600,000,000 you're requesting for next year?  That seems very unrealistic to me in terms of a request.  If at this juncture, we've successfully completed five to six [trainees]?  And if that last information you said you had, Ms.[Christine] Wormuth, was a hundred -- you said "more than a hundred" -- what is the number?

Under Secretary Christine Wormuth: Senator McCaskill, it's between a hundred and a hundred-and-twenty.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  Okay.

Under Secretary Christine Wormuth:  Basically.

Senator Claire McCaskill: So we're counting on our fingers and toes at this point when we had envisioned 5400 by the end of the year.  And I -- I'm just worried that this is one of those instances where the good news about our military is dominating -- 'we can do this, we can do this' -- and the practical realities of this strategy aren't being fully embraced. 

Gen Lloyd Austin: Uh, thank you, uh, Senator. Uhm, you know, I-I absolutely agree with you, we have the finest troops in the world and they will figure out a way to get the job done one way or another.  And-and again, what our Special Operations Forces have done in-in northern Syria is -- They didn't wait for the uh-uh-uh new Syrian force program -- our train and equip program -- to fully develop.  At the very outset, they began to engage uh elements like the YPG and-and-and-and enable those elements.  And they are making a difference on the battlefield.  So-so -- And there are tens of thousands of the - of the YPG out there that are right now fighting ISIL.  So because the -- uh, the new Syria train and equip program is slower getting started than we'd like for it to be, that doesn't mean that we're not creating effective fighters on the battlefield.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  I just want to make clear, Gen Austin, I mean, I know the Chairman [Senator John McCain] feels strongly about the [2007 Iraq] surge and there were a lot of tremendous American heroes that were part of that surge but the other part of the surge we don't talk about as frequently is that we paid a lot of people.  We paid a lot of people to help us during the surge.  Is this money that we're setting aside for train and equip, would it be better off in direct compensation to some of that YPG force? 

Under Secretary Christine Wormuth: Senator McCaskill, can I try to address this a little bit?  As-as Gen Austin said, we are -- we are reviewing the program and we are looking at a range of options.  Our train and equip program is part of a broader effort that we're prosecuting with the YPG, with the Syrian-Arab coalition and so on.  And-and we're looking at how to have our train and equip program, uh, effectively enable those other efforts.  And I think as we go forward and look at what our options are, we'll absolutely want to look at the resources we've requested for the next year and how that fits in. But the forces that we are training while right now are small in number and clearly are not going to reach the numbers that we had planned for are nevertheless getting terrific training and very good equipment and as such be able to be force multipliers of those other, uh, groups on the ground that have been very effective like the Syrian-Arab coalition --

Senator Claire McCaskill:  I just -- If we end up at the end of the year with us bragging about the difference between 100 and 120 [trainees], it's time for a new plan.

Under Secretary Christine Wormuth: And I certainly do not mean to be bragging.  We-we -- The program is very much smaller than we hoped.

Senator Claire McCaskill:  Yeah.

Under Secretary Christine Wormuth:  We're not bragging. 

As noted in Thursday's snapshot, Wednesday saw Gen Lloyd Austin and DoD's Under Secretary Christine Wormuth appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  The Committee Chair is Senator John McCain and the Ranking Member is Jack Reed.

Many observations were noted throughout the hearing -- such as this:

Senator Jeff Sessions:  We have to acknowledge this is a total failure. It's just a failure and I wish it weren't so  But that's the fact.  And so it is time to -- way past time to -- react to that failure.  I just would say the whole idea that we've got to wait for the locals to take ownership and to take the lead and do this kind of activity without any leadership, support sufficient from the United States or our allies is also a failure.  They're not able to organize well.  Mosul has fallen. There are divisions in Iraq that make it very difficult.  So I just wish it weren't so but I'm afraid that's the reality we are dealing with.  We now have, I believe the UN says, 4 million refugees, 7 million displaced persons. It's obvious to me that this is a humanitarian catastrophe.

Whether or not Iraqis can lead (I would suspect that they can), the splits are real and getting worse.

Reuters quotes the leader of the League of Righteous, Qais al-Khazali, stating "The biggest enemy of Iraq now is Turkey, and this enemy is the first and one of the biggest benefactors of Iraq's riches."

He insists that his group had no part in kidnapping the 18 people from Sadr City earlier this month.

And Reuters -- which idiotically doesn't even call the group the League of Righteous -- goes along with that.

Despite the fact that the League kidnapped how many people during earlier phases of the Iraq War.

Despite the fact that US President Barack Obama made a deal with the League to release their leaders who were in US custody in exchange for the release of 5 British hostages (only one was released alive -- Peter Moore -- the four other British citizens kidnapped by the League of Righteous were dead when they were turned over: Jason Crewswell, Jason Swindelhurst, Alec Maclachlan and eventually Alan McMenemy.).

I'm missing that in Reuters' report.

That kidnapping was mentioned in the State Dept's "2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices:"

Five British men (a computer expert and four bodyguards) were kidnapped in 2007. Peter Moore, the computer expert, was released unharmed on December 30, while the bodies of three of the four bodyguards were returned on June 19 and September 3 to the United Kingdom. The whereabouts of the fifth man remained unknown at year's end. Fifteen Americans, four South Africans, four Russian diplomats, and one Japanese citizen who were abducted since 2003 remained missing. There was no further information on the 2007 kidnapping of the Ministry of Science and Technology acting undersecretary, Samir Salim al-Attar.

For more on the League, we'll drop back to the June 9th snapshot:

This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."

Considering the above, I'm confused as to why an article on kidnapping and the League would include the League's denial of involvement with the kidnapping but not note their past use of kidnapping.

I'm also confused as to why they aren't labeled "terrorists" by Reuters when the Islamic State so frequently does garner that label.  Kidnapping, extortion and murder sounds like terrorist tactics and if the label "terrorism" is going to be applied to one group, it needs to be applied to all groups acting in the same manner.

I also don't remember an earlier skittishness on the part of Reuters when it came to covering the League.

Maybe this new found skittishness to call out Shi'ite thugs goes a long way towards explaining why the Iraqi government can still not be inclusive towards Sunnis, can still not establish a National Guard, can still not include Sunnis in the security forces despite sorely needing them?

This was touched on in a roundabout way in Wednesday's hearing as Gen Lloyd Austin lamented to Senator Mike Rounds, "You're right, sir, we would like to see a lot more forces available to be trained.  And we're encouraging the government of Iraq to recruit those forces, bring them on board, so we can get them in the training centers.  And what we've discovered -- not discovered, we knew this going in -- is that those forces that have been trained by us are doing, uh, are doing pretty well on the -- on the battlefield."

AP's Sinan Salaheddin Tweets:

  • Describing fighting in 's Beiji, leader of AAH Shiite militia: "Real guerrilla war; from house to house, but even from room to room."

  • That's liberation?

    Because it reads like intimidation.

    And that's before you factor in the looting the Shi'ite militias do when 'liberating' an area.

    State of Iraq for Sunnis today?

    : Shiite militias kill a Sunni from Anbar displaced people in Baghdad .

    : Shiite militias kill a Sunni from Anbar displaced people in Baghdad .

    These are the actions that make so many question what the real purpose of the Iraq government is when it comes to the Sunni population.

  • We'll close with this from John R. Schindler's New York Observer essay entitled "Obama's Messy Iraq Intelligence Scandal:"

    It’s happening again. A White House fumbling with the violent mess of Iraq finds itself surrounded by mounting accusations that it’s played dirty games with intelligence. A Pentagon facing charges that its analysts have skewed assessments on Iraq to tell top policymakers what they want to hear, rather than what is really happening in that troubled country.
    If this sounds terribly familiar, it should. Only a dozen years after the George W. Bush White House was buffeted by allegations that it had “cherry-picked” intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq, Barack Obama is facing similar accusations. Intelligence Community analysts alleged that, in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, they were pressured to exaggerate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Now, analysts claim that they have been pushed to present Obama’s war against the Islamic State as more successful than it really is.

    Only the most optimistic Obama backers still portray that year-long air campaign (its proper name is Operation Inherent Resolve) as adequate, and most security experts agree that the Islamic State is winning the war on the ground, thanks in part to an American-led air war that is bombing too little and too cautiously. There is no indication that Western airpower is anywhere near inflicting decisive pain on the Islamic State, while our Iraqi partners, who serve as the ground anvil for the U.S. airborne hammer, increasingly feel left in the lurch by Obama.

    Schindler offers some observations regarding Wednesday's hearings.  (I agree with most including Gen Lloyd Austin.  We shared similar impressions the first time Austin testified to Congress after taking over from Gen Ray Odierno in Iraq.  Austin is a politician, not a general, and lying is his default setting.)