Monday, September 21, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Monday, September 21, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, another journalist is killed in Iraq, Human Rights Watch reveals the truth about the 'liberation' of Tikrit, Haider al-Abadi continues living in a fantasy world, and much more.

Human Rights Watch's Letta Tayler Tweets:

  • Same militias that ravaged Tikrit now fighting IS in Anbar. US, this abuse unlawful & costs you hearts, minds:

  • And she's right.

    But more than losing hearts and minds, it's also about losing any credibility the US government may have at all.

    They have no credibility when they stand with thugs.

    Saturday's snapshot ended noting  Human Rights Watch's latest press release:

    (Washington) – Iraqi government-backed militias carried out widespread destruction of homes and shops around the city of Tikrit in March and April 2015 in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Militiamen deliberately destroyed several hundred civilian buildings with no apparent military reason after the withdrawal of the extremist armed group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the area.
    The 60-page report, “Ruinous Aftermath: Militia Abuses Following Iraq’s Recapture of Tikrit,” uses satellite imagery to corroborate accounts of witnesses that the damage to homes and shops in Tikrit, and the towns of al-Bu ‘Ajil, al-Alam, and al-Dur covered entire neighborhoods. After ISIS fled, Hizbollah Battalions and League of Righteous forces, two of the largely Shia pro-government militias, abducted more than 200 Sunni residents, including children, near al-Dur, south of Tikrit. At least 160 of those abducted remain unaccounted for.
    “Iraqi authorities need to discipline and hold accountable the out-of-control militias laying waste to Sunni homes and shops after driving ISIS out,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Abusive militias and their commanders acting with impunity undermine the campaign against ISIS and put all civilians at greater risk.”
    Ahead of the campaign, Shia militia leaders had promised revenge for the June 2014 massacre by ISIS of at least 770 Shia military cadets from the Camp Speicher facility, near Tikrit. In videos of home demolitions, Shia militiamen curse Sunni residents and invoke Shia slogans.
    The militias are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, consisting of several dozen Shia militias, which the government created in response to the rapid ISIS advance across Nineveh and Salah al-Din provinces in June 2014.
    The militias receive government salaries and weaponry but act in loose coordination with one another and with the Iraqi army and other security forces. On April 7, the Iraqi cabinet recognized the Popular Mobilization Forces as a distinct security force under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s command.

    From the report:

    In the aftermath of the fighting, militia forces looted, torched, and blew up hundreds of civilian houses and buildings in Tikrit and the neighboring towns of al-Dur, al-Bu ‘Ajil and al-Alam along the Tigris River, in violation of the laws of war. They also unlawfully detained some 200 men and boys, at least 160 of whom remain unaccounted for and are feared to have been forcibly disappeared.
    The largely Shia militias responsible for the brutal aftermath to the fighting included the Badr Brigades, the Ali Akbar Brigades, the League of the Righteous (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq), the Hizbollah Battalions (Kata’ib Hizbollah), the Khorasan Companies (Saraya Khorasan), and the Soldier of the Imam (Jund al-Imam). In the town of al-Alam, local Sunni volunteer forces carried out the destruction. Together, these militia forces make up the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces (al-Hashd al-Sha’bi), created in response to ISIS’s takeover of the northern city of Mosul on June 10, 2014.
    The pattern of unlawful destruction is similar to that carried out by some of the same militias around the town of Amerli in Salah al-Din governorate during a three-month period from September to December 2014, after breaking the ISIS siege of Amerli.
    Human Rights Watch investigations found no lawful military justification for the mass destruction of houses in Tikrit and surrounding areas. Before the operations, in February 2015, Qais al-Khaz’ali, leader of the Shia League of the Righteous, told a large crowd that he “promises victory in the battles [in Salah al-Din,] to take revenge and establish justice.” Some prominent Shia Iraqis alleged that many Sunni residents had made common cause with ISIS forces that had taken over their region and therefore shared responsibility for the June 2015 massacre by ISIS of up to 1,700 Shia military cadets from Camp Speicher, just north of Tikrit.

    In December 2014, following international criticism of militia abuses during the operations to retake the town of Amerli, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi promised to bring the militias—formally part of the Popular Mobilization Forces but in practice independent actors—under state control. The massive unlawful destruction of houses following the recapture of Tikrit shows that reining in the militias and holding accountable those responsible for crimes remains an urgent priority.

    The Huffington Post, Vice News, AFP, Sputnik, the Ledger Gazette, and Rudaw are among the outlets that have covered the report.

    And Tikrit is what Iraqi and US officials have held up as 'success' in Iraq.

    There's the months long battle to liberate or 'liberate' Ramadi, for example -- a battle going nowhere.

    The lack of momentum is why the foreign press long ago lost interest in it.

    Today, Jim Michaels (USA Today) reports:

    Political disarray in Iraq appears to be undermining a critical offensive to retake Ramadi, a key city in Iraq’s Sunni heartland that was seized by Islamic State militants nearly four months ago.
    Iraq’s government is relying on a patchwork of militias and government forces, some with competing loyalties, to conduct military operations, making it nearly impossible to achieve a unified effort, analysts and Iraqi officials said.

    How off track is the liberation or 'liberation'?

    Missy Ryan and Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) report, "With the offensive to reclaim territory from the Islamic State largely stalled in Iraq, the Obama administration is laying plans for a more aggressive military campaign in Syria, where U.S.-backed Kurdish forces have made surprising gains in recent months."

    This move comes despite the delusions of Iraq's prime minister Haider al-Abadi who met with US Gen Lloyd Austin over the weekend.  National Iraqi News Agency reports of the meet up:

    Abadi said that our heroes on the battlefield are making great victories over the enemy and we are determined to liberate every inch of the land of Iraq, there is a need for the international community support for Iraq in this war. "

    Only Haider's seeing "great victories" in the over-a-year-long battle to achieve nothing.

    Meanwhile, Haider has additional troubles.  Ashar Al-Awsat reports:

    Iraq’s former vice president Iyad Allawi, whose post was canceled by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, has called for Iraqi MPs to remove the PM.
    Abadi canceled Iraq’s three vice president posts in August as part of a drive to weed out corruption and trim a bloated governmental apparatus. The move, part of a response to growing discontent on the Iraqi street and ongoing protests, has now met with opposition from the three former post-holders, Allawi, Nuri Maliki and Osama Al-Nujaifi, with the latter two declaring the move unconstitutional.
    On Friday Allawi publicly called on the National Alliance bloc in the Iraqi parliament, which includes the ruling Islamic Da’wa Party headed by Abadi, to remove the PM from power and pave the way for fresh elections to decide on a replacement.
    A day later Allawi released a statement criticizing some of Abadi’s reforms, including a recent decision to remove politicians’ immunity from prosecution—a move he said would prove to be a “death knell” for the premier.

    Allawi said Abadi’s policies were “not in the spirit of reform as [the premier] claimed, and instead pave the way for . . . the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] in the country.”

    Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki already wanted Haider gone.  Now Allawi does as well.

    Returning to the topic of violence . . .

  • The press continues to be under assault in Haider al-Abadi's Iraq.  IANS notes journalist Qahttan Salaman was kidnapped by the Islamic State on Friday and his corpse has since been found.  He worked for a Mosul TV station.

    In addition, Reuters notes a Baghdad car bombing left 12 people dead and forty-two more injured.  All Iraq News explains Baghdad's Airport was the target of  5 rocket attacks.

  • Press TV adds:

    Earlier in the day, a bomb detonated near an Iraqi army patrol in Taji, killing three soldiers.
    A police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 12 people were killed and 42 injured when a car rigged with explosives exploded in the al-Amin al-Thaniyah neighborhood of eastern Baghdad.
    In addition, two civilians lost their lives and five others sustained injuries when an improvised explosive device was set off near a popular market in the town of Yusufiyah, situated 40 kilometers (24 miles) south of Baghdad.

    Though the election isn't until November 2016, around the world eyes remain fixed on the US and who is running for the presidency or who might run for it.  Xinhua reports:

    Just three weeks before the first Democratic primary debate, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Monday he would not "rush" in his decision to run for presidency in 2016.
    In an interview with U.S. news organization America Media aired on Monday, Biden said the impact of a presidential campaign on his family played a decisive role in his decision.
    "Your whole family is engaged, so for us, it's a family decision," said Biden. "I just have to be comfortable that this will be good for the family."

    "It's not like I can rush it (the decision)," he added.

    Speculation about Biden running dominates the Democratic Party's side of the conversation while news that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has dropped out of the GOP race for the presidential nomination dominates the Republican side.

    usa today