Thursday, July 24, 2014

Iraq

Joshua Keating (Slate) notes how a number of stories are resulting in Americans ignoring Iraq:


Meanwhile, Iraq’s political leaders have so far been unable to agree on the kind of power-sharing agreement likely necessary to confront the insurgency. Iraqi security forces, meanwhile, have been accused of killing civilians with barrel bombs, the same crude and brutal weapon favored by Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria.
One big problem with the now prevalent “arc of global instability” narrative is that it lumps together short-lived flare-ups of long-running local conflicts with much larger and more transformative events. Sooner or later, the violence in Gaza will be resolved by a cease-fire, though the question is how many more people will die before it happens. The violence in eastern Ukraine flares up and dies down, but despite the understandable wariness in Eastern Europe, it seems unlikely to spread beyond its immediate region.
The twin civil wars in Iraq and Syria are another story: a long-running and increasingly chaotic situation without an obvious political solution, even a short term one. The violence challenges long-standing borders in the region and could increase the risk of international terrorism, and the refugee crisis it has created will continue to place strain on surrounding countries. Given the Iraq war and the deepening U.S. involvement in Syria, I would also argue that it’s the crisis the U.S. bears the most direct responsibility for.


I'd argue the ignoring of Iraq has a lot to do with the reality that "the US bears the most direct responsibility for" it.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

 
Thursday, July 24, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq gets a 'new' president, Brett McGurk appears before Congress again and is grilled by Senator Robert Menendez, US House Rep Frank Wolf notes the plight of Iraqi Christians, and much more.



Yesterday morning, the State Dept's Brett McGurk and the Defense Dept's Elissa Slotkin appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Today, they appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  They were the first panel.  The second panel was former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey, retired Lt Gen Michael D. Barbero and Brookings Institute's Kenneth Pollack.

Americans remain in Iraq, including many working out of the US Embassy in Baghdad.  After Iranians repelled the US-installed Shah of Iran in 1979, they then seized the US Embassy in Tehran. A similar event in Iraq is one of the big fears in Congress and in the White House.

Senator Barbara Boxer raised the issue in the hearing.

Senator Barbara Boxer: Last question is: Are you confident we have adequate personnel on the ground to truly protect our embassy and the Americans in Baghdad?

Brett McGurk: Uh, Senator, yes.  We have moved in substantial assets both into the airport and also into the embassy.  Uhm, I was just there as late as [last] Thursday and we're confident that our defensive parameters and everything -- that our people will be safe.  Our Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security just visited Baghdad last week to do his own assessment.  We've also had teams on the ground from Centcom and this is an ongoing assessment.  And our intelligence assets have the entire everything all around the parameter of Baghdad, the airport and our embassy, very well covered so we're 

Senator Barbara Boxer: Okay.  Can you tell us how many people we have at the embassy or is that something that you don't want to discuss in open --

Brett McGurk:  We have total in Baghdad about-about 2500 now.

As with yesterday's hearing, the administration's view/spin was noted because no one knows how safe it is or isn't for diplomatic staff in Iraq.

Senator Marco Rubio also raised the issue in the hearing.  And pointed out that Shi'ite militias could be as dangerous to the US embassy staff as IS.  McGurk rushed to disagree, insisting that "since 2011," there have been no attacks on the US Embassy or its staff by Shi'ite militias.


A State Dept friend lamented today that I never say anything "nice" about Brett.

So let's note, he managed to keep it in his pants.  Of course, the hearing was in DC, so maybe that had something to do with it?

I'll also give him credit for grasping how the process of forming a government in Iraq is supposed to work.  He knows how it is supposed to work and he can outline it very clearly.  That's not sarcasm on my part, the western press struggles to grasp these basic facts.  Brett had them down pat.

He also played with his watch far less while speaking than he did the day before when appearing in front of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

So that's the "nice."

It's also worth noting that Brett was still spinning like crazy.  His catch phrase appeared to be:  "We have been embraced."  He said it repeatedly when asked how the Iraqis were responding to the beefed up American presence.

He delivered his catch phrase with such gusto, a few probably almost forgot that it was the book end to Donald Rumsfeld's (false) claim that US troops would "be greeted as liberators" (then-President of Vice Dick Cheney)  -- with roses strewn in their path.


Senator Robert Menendez is the Chair of the Committee and he wasn't in the mood for spin.  Nor was he in the mood for prettying up tyrant Nouri al-Maliki.  What happens, he wanted to know, if Nouri doesn't go but gets a third term as prime minister.


Chair Robert Menendez:  Now if it ends up being Prime Minister Maliki, how do you think that you keep this government together, this nation together?

Brett McGurk: Uhm, as I mentioned in my statement,  as the president has said, it is not our job to pick the leaders but our leaders do have to have a very inclusive agenda and pull the country together. 

Chair Robert Menendez:  I'm not asking you to pick.  Nor do I suggest we should.  The question is that if that is the result, by their own choice, it seems to me that it was very difficult -- based upon what has happened so far, based upon Sunni responses to ISIS at least in response to their grievances with the current national government -- that isn't the likely outcome of that to be more possible to see a divided Iraq?

Brett McGurk:  Uh, the prime minister will be chosen from the Shia political blocs.  And Grand Ayatollah [Ali al-] Sistani, interestingly, over the last  month, he has been very active and he has laid down some guideposts for how to form the next government.  First, it has to correct the mistakes of the past meaning it can't look anything like the current government.  Second, you need new leaders that reflect a national consensus.  We've had that now with the Speaker and the President, and so the prime minister will also have to reflect that emerging national consensus.  It remains to be seen whether the existing prime minister could build such a consensus but that remains very much in question.

Chair Robert Menendez:  You commented in the House hearing yesterday that options being developed for the President are more concrete and specific as a result of the US military advisors on the ground in Iraq and increased intelligence collection.  What guidance have you received in terms of timing for these decisions and how will the political insecurity conditions on the ground influence the president's decisions?


Elissa Slotkin: Well, as I said, the assessments came in last week. Uhm, they're dense, they're significant and so we're still working through those.  After we've done that, the President -- I'm sorry, the Secretary and the Chairman will make informed recommendations to the President.  Uhm --

Chair Robert Menendez:  Are you going to be able to tell us anything more than I read in the New York Times

Elissa Slotkin:  I would --

Chair Robert Menendez:  Which was more than I knew before you came here.

Elissa Slotkin:  I would -- I understand.  I would caution against using a leaked, half-report in the New York Times as your basis  for that --

Chair Robert Menendez:  Well the absence of having information leads me to only publicly reported resources.  So when do you intend to come to us in whatever setting to advise the Congress?  You know, this Committee has the jurisdiction over arm sales.  And my reticence to arms sales to Iraq has in some respects been proven true when in fact we've had much of our equipment abandoned and now in the hands of ISIS.  So unless you're going to give us a sense of where the security forces are at, moving forward, this Chair is not going to be willing to approve more arm sales so that they can be abandoned to go to the hands of those who we are seriously concerned about in terms of our own national security interests. 

Elissa Slotkin:  Sir, I understand and our intent is to come and brief Congress at the time when we've piled through it ourselves.  We've kept the Congress very informed.  I know I've been up at least twice a week for our Committees.  We are committed to remaining in close contact with you and there is no attempt to hide it from you.

Brett McGurk: And I would just add, Mr. Chairman, I think we're in a race against time there's no question -- 

Chair Robert Menendez: Well that's my point.

Brett McGurk: And  one thing that we have found, by surging special forces, by surging intelligence assets, as you mentioned, we do know an awful lot more than we knew, uh, uh, even six weeks ago.  Security forces in Baghdad, particularly north of Baghdad -- I describe  some of this in my written testimony -- are trying to do some things to fight back.  They have taken nearly a thousand casualties in the last month.  These units, particularly units that we have relationships with, they  are fighting, they are capable.  And those are the type of units that we're looking at to assist. But, again, this is all being discussed by the national security team as we --


That's enough of that exchange.

There were practical moments as well -- or possibly just 'practical.'

Why should the US spend almost half-a-million dollars on the military request DoD has for Iraq operations?

McGurk was given the chance to explain that.

Who had "ninety minutes in"?  In the pool for how long before an administration official mentioned oil, who had 90 minutes?

Let's note an exchange that came up almost 90 minutes into the hearing.

Senator Marco Rubio:  But here's the question that we get from people -- and that is that people are outraged about what is happening and that is especially the different reports that are coming out about what ILIS is doing.  And by no means is this a group that's popular and Americans understand that this is a terrible, radical group of individuals.  That being said, public opinion polls and just from the phone calls we get in our offices, the attitude of much of the American public is: "It's a mess but it's their problem, let them figure it out."  And I have personally said this isn't even about Iraq at this point, it's about the longterm security of the United States and the threat that ISIL poses to the United States, especially if they're able to establish a safe haven of operations -- similar to what al Qaeda did.  In fact, it was even worse than what al Qaeda was able to do in Afghanistan.  But I was hoping from the administration's point of view and from the State Dept and the Defense Dept's point of view, you could perhaps use this as an opportunity to explain to my constituents in Florida why this matters to America?  Why something happening half-way round the world in a country that people quite frankly think increasingly perhaps we shouldn't have gotten involved in, why does this matter?  Why should people care about what's happening in Iraq given the problems that are happening here at home?

Brett McGurk:  Thank you, Senator.  I'll say a couple of things.  You know, of course, I address the ISIL threat in my opening statement and that is a very serious counterterrorism threat and that is, number one.  But these are vital-vital US interests in Iraq. Number one, the counterterrorism, the al Qaeda threat.  Number two, just the supply of energy resources to the global markets.  Iraq through 2035 will-will account for 45% in all of the growth in energy exports.  If Iraq were to collapse and a major civil war -- sectarian war, the-the effects to our economy here at home would be -- would be quite serious.  


Oil -- a national security issue?  But, of course, it had nothing to do with the reasons why the US government declared war on Iraq.

Crazy.


You shouldn't call the Iraqi people 'crazy,' but you can certainly apply that term to the Kurdish officials who picked the nominee for President of Iraq.  Fouad Massoum.  76-year-old Fouad Massoum.  The president is limited to two terms.  Prior to today, the post has been held by only one person since the US invasion: Jalal Talabani.

When he began his second term, Jalal was 76-years-old.  Fouad Massoum?

76-years-old.

He should be in a retirement home, not presiding over Iraq.

How stupid are Kurdish officials?  Fouad Massoum isn't as overweight as Jalal but few people are.

The world remembers what happened the last time an unhealthy, elderly and obese man was installed as President of Iraq, right?

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 remained in Germany until July 19, 2014.  That's one day shy of 19 months -- 19 months, Jalal spent out of the country.  19 months, his family refused to allow the Speaker of Parliament to see him, refused to allow PUK officials to see him, refused to allow anyone to see him.

19 months Iraq suffered without a president.

The PUK is Fouad Massoum's party as well.  The PUK should have had the decency to step aside on this round having deprived the country of a president for 19 months and refused to call for the Constitution to be followed and Jalal to be replaced for failure to perform his duties due to being incapacitated.

The illegal war (and the US-imposed sanctions prior) helped ensure that Iraq is a young country -- the median age, per the CIA, is 21.3 years-old.

But they're stuck with a 76-year-old as president?

Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) notes:

While many politicians had warm words for Massoum, a respected Kurdistan analyst cautioned that the longtime opponent of ousted leader Saddam Hussein is widely viewed as weak. "He’s a compromise candidate in Irbil," said Hiwa Osman, referring to the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government. "If people want a compromise, they use him."


The new president was a topic in today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Marie Harf:

QUESTION: Iraq. Yeah. Today, the parliament elected –

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: -- Fuad Masum, a man of solid political credentials. But he’s also a communist. So do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: That he’s a communist?

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

MS. HARF: We congratulate the Iraqi people on the election of a new president. This is a crucial step in the formation of a new government. Obviously, we’ve said this needs to happen as soon as possible. The next slip is a prime minister designate must be named within 15 days. They will then have 30 days to form a government with parliamentary approval.

QUESTION: Okay. And the general feeling in Iraq that Maliki’s fortunes are receding, is that your assessment? Do you have anyone in mind that you might like to support, like (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: As we’ve always said, we do not support any one person or any one party. We have been very clear about that from the beginning of this process.

QUESTION: But you would like to see Maliki or the Maliki era end?

MS. HARF: I don’t think I said that, Said.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I said we don’t support any one person. And we’ve also said – and you’ve heard Brett McGurk speak about this a little bit yesterday – that we have had concerns with some of the ways the Maliki government has governed and how they have not always governed inclusively. But we are not endorsing any party or any person, period, to be the next prime minister of Iraq.

QUESTION: And lastly, the Maliki government announced that they are receiving Russian equipment or Russian military equipment. Do you have any comment on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen this specific announcement, but – the last few times I’ve been asked about this. If it’s done through the proper channels –

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that, but the last few times I’ve talked about this, look, there’s a way that Iraq can get weapons from other countries. There’s a proper channel to do this. And if it’s through that channel, then I don’t think we have a big problem with it. We know there’s a big threat there that they need a lot of help to fight.

Iraq may have a new president but it shows little success at shaking the prime minister who won't fade away.  Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Vivian Salama (AP) report, "Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected an attempt by Iran to persuade him to step down, senior Iraqi politicians said Wednesday, underlining his determination to defy even his top ally to push for a third term in office and further exacerbating the country's political crisis."

In other news, Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) report an attack on a Taji prison convoy has left at least 60 people dead.  On the topic of violence in Iraq, US House Rep Frank Wolf addressed it today.  His office issued the following:



     Jul 24, 2014
Washington, D.C. – For the second time this week, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) took to the House floor to alert his colleagues – and the world – of the genocide he believes is taking place in Iraq.
“Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out,” Wolf said. 
Wolf began today’s speech by reading the first two paragraphs of a Wall Street Journal editorial from earlier in the week:  “Mr. Speaker: Imagine if a fundamentalist Christian sect captured the French city of Lyon and began a systematic purge of Muslims.  Their mosques were destroyed, their crescents defaced, the Koran burned and then all Muslims forced to flee or face execution.  Such an event would be unthinkable today, and if it did occur Pope Francis and all other Christian leaders would denounce it and support efforts by governments to stop it.
“Yet that is essentially what is happening in reverse now in Mosul, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham drives all signs of Christianity from the ancient city.  Christians have lived in Mosul for nearly 2,000 years, but today they are reliving the Muslim religious wars of the Middle Ages.”
Wolf then read parts of an e-mail he received form someone on the ground in Iraq who painted a very dire situation:  “All Mosul churches and monasteries are seized by ISIS.  There are around 30.  The cross has been removed from all of them.  Many of them are burned, destroyed and looted.   Many others are being used as ISIS centers.  The religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs are destroyed in Mosul.  This destruction is endangering very ancient sites, such as prophet Jonah’s tomb, which was broken last week, according to many reporters.” 
Wolf then asked: “Where is the West?  Where is the Obama Administration?  Where is the Congress? The silence is deafening.”
Wolf ended his remarks by quoting William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian who, in making the case against slavery in 1789, told his colleagues, “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Below is the complete text of Wolf’s remarks: 
“‘Imagine if a fundamentalist Christian sect captured the French city of Lyon and began a systematic purge of Muslims.  Their mosques were destroyed, their crescents defaced, the Koran burned and then all Muslims forced to flee or face execution.  Such an event would be unthinkable today, and if it did occur Pope Francis and all other Christian leaders would denounce it and support efforts by governments to stop it.
“Yet that is essentially what is happening in reverse now in Mosul, as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham drives all signs of Christianity from the ancient city.  Christians have lived in Mosul for nearly 2,000 years, but today they are reliving the Muslim religious wars of the Middle Ages.’
“These are not my words.  They are the first two paragraphs of a Wall Street Journal editorial published earlier this week.
“Now I want to read parts of an e-mail I received yesterday from someone in the ground in Iraq: ‘All Mosul churches and monasteries are seized by ISIS.  There are around 30.  The cross has been removed from all of them.  Many of them are burned, destroyed and looted.   Many others are being  used as ISIS centers.  The religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs are destroyed in Mosul.  This destruction is endangering very ancient sites, such as prophet Jonah’s tomb, which was broken last week, according to many reporters.’ 
“It has been widely reported that ISIS soldiers have painted ‘N’ on the doors of Christians to signify that they are ‘Nasara,’ the word for Christian.  Shiite homes were painted with the letter ‘R’ for “Rawafidh,’ meaning rejectors or protestants.
“Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out. 
“With the exception of Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country. 
“I believe what is happening to the Christian community in Iraq is genocide.  I also believe it is a crime against humanity.
“Where is the West?  Where is the Obama Administration?  Where is the Congress? The silence is deafening.
“The West, particularly the church, needs to speak out.
“The Obama Administration needs to make protecting this ancient community a priority.  President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry need to have the same courage as President Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell when they said genocide was taking place in Darfur.
“The Congress needs to hold this administration accountable for its  failure to act.
“The United Nations has a role, too.  It should immediately initiate proceedings in the International Criminal Court against ISIS for crimes against humanity.
“I will close today by reading the final two paragraphs of The Wall Street Journal editorial I began my statement with:  ‘Today's religious extremism is almost entirely Islamic. While ISIS's purge may be the most brutal, Islamists in Egypt have driven thousands of Coptic Christians from homes they've occupied for centuries. The same is true across the Muslim parts of Africa. This does not mean that all Muslims are extremists, but it does mean that all Muslims have an obligation to denounce and resist the extremists who murder or subjugate in the name of Allah. Too few imams living in the tolerant West will speak up against it.
“As for the post-Christian West, most elites may now be nonbelievers. But a culture that fails to protect believers may eventually find that it lacks the self-belief to protect itself.’
“As William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian and abolitionist, famously told his colleagues, ‘Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.’”














Wednesday, July 23, 2014

All American Boy

Steve Grand was an internet sensation last summer.

"All American Boy" was the best song so many missed but it's had over 3 million streams on YouTube.


Kat  noted it at her site and cross-posted to The Common Ills July 8, 2013. 


Here's a sample of the lyrics:


Ripped jeans, tight shirt 
he lights a cigarette you know I'm glad that she can't stand it, ohh 
I drink the moonlight from his eyes 

Now hold there, just a moment 
I want to take this in now we don't need no photo of it, no 
we should go this road tonight 

PRECHURS 2 
now I know that that's your girl, and I don't give a damn 
she's been cusin and cryin, she don't know what she has 
so I'll be, sittin here, tryin hold down my whiskey, 
you tell your girl good night cause somebody'd like to kiss me, ohh 

CHORUS 
Be my All-American boy tonight 
where everyday's the 4th of July 
and its alright, alright 
And we can keep this up till the morning light 
and you can hold me deep in your eyes 
and its alright, alright 
be my, be my 
my All-American boy



Steve had a huge hit and had it by singing about something people could relate to: Love.

It wasn't, "Ew, he's singing about loving a boy!"

He came along at the right time with the right song to be a breakthrough.





If you never caught it, that's the video above.  Make a point to stream it.

This is a theme post.  We're each writing tonight about a song that we think will be a classic -- a song from the last ten years.  I pick Steve Grand and his "All American Boy."


Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

 
Wednesday, July 23, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes get called out, the US government's decision to supply Nouri with weapons he can use on the Iraqi people gets noted, Brett McGurk's spin to Congress falls flat, and much more.



US House Rep Ed Royce: Never has a terrorist organization itself controlled such a large, resource-rich safe haven as ISIS does today. Never has a terrorist organization possessed the heavy weaponry, cash and personnel that ISIS does today -- which includes thousands of western passport holders. The Iraqi population is terrorized; they have suffered mass executions and harsh sharia law. Last week, the remaining members of the ancient Christian community in Mosul fled on foot in face of ISIS demands that they convert or face death. To be clear, ISIS's take-over has been aided by Prime Minister Maliki’s malfeasance and incompetence. Maliki has disastrously failed to reconcile with key Sunni groups. Many -- including myself and Ranking Member Engel -- urged him to form a more inclusive government so that ISIS could not exploit legitimate Sunni grievances. Maliki has only proven himself to be a committed sectarian; certainly no statesman. It is time for Iraqis to move forward in forming a government that serves the interests of all Iraqis.

Royce was speaking at today's House Foreign Affairs Committee.  He is the Chair of the Committee, US House Rep Eliot Engel is the Ranking Member.  Appearing before the Committee were the Defense Dept's Elissa Slotkin and the State Dept's Brett McGurk.

We're going to start with Elissa Slotkin:

First, we have added forces to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq. The safety of U.S. citizens and personnel in Baghdad and throughout Iraq is our highest priority. The Department of Defense is meeting all requests from the Department of State for security support to US Embassy Baghdad. As described in the War Powers notifications we transmitted to Congress on June 16 and 26, DoD has sent a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST ), a Crisis Response Element (CRE), and additional military assets and personnel to reinforce security at our diplomatic facilities in Baghdad and the Baghdad International Airport.

That's from Slotkin's opening remarks and we're going with the written version and not the oral version because that was more clear in writing.

Should something go wrong with regards to US diplomatic staff in Iraq, people will be asking what was going on?  Was there a plan?  Already, the issue of the safety of the diplomatic staff has been an issue.  Speaking on behalf of DoD today. Slotkin conveyed the government's position.

Whether that's enough or not is something events will most likely determine.

Something that can be determined right now?

That the administration was doing enough or not?  That can be judged right now. Here's Brett McGurk speaking of the days after rebels took Mosul.


Brett McGurk:  Over the next three days, in meetings with our embassy team and video conferences with President Obama and the National Security Council, we immediately prepared and executed our crisis response. We also worked closely with Iraqi officials to organize the defenses of Baghdad and restore some of the confidence that had been battered. Our response to the immediate crisis proceeded along three parallel tracks. First, and most importantly, we worked to ensure the security of our own personnel and facilities. Second, in parallel, we both relocated and surged U.S. diplomatic, intelligence, and military resources to develop strategic options for the President with real-time and accurate information. Third, we worked with Iraqi officials to strengthen their defenses of strategic locations, and set the political process on track, with a focus on forming a new government following national elections.


Everything the administration has done since 2010 has pretty much been wrong.  That includes US President Barack Obama's weasel words when running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2007 and 2008.  He did not face cheering crowds and garner applause and shouts of joy for declaring, "I will withdraw some troops from Iraq in 16 months, in fact, let's call them 'combat troops,' while I keep many more on the ground in Iraq."

No, what got cheers were his claims that "we" wanted to get the US troops out of Iraq -- all.  16 months was the promise he gave the public. He should have kept it.  He should have ordered an immediate departure from Iraq of all US troops upon being sworn in back in January 2009.  If he'd done that, it would be Bully Boy Bush's (illegal) war.  BBB started it, the American people wanted it ended, Barack could have done that and then, if anything bad happened, he could say, "All I did was end the war."

But he's not very bright nor are his advisers -- and, even worse, than not being very bright?  Being not very bright and falsely assuming you're a genius.  Instead of leaving it Bully Boy Bush's war, Barack wanted to toy with it, wanted to f**k with it, wanted to put his stamp on it.

And he did.  And he owns the illegal war the same as BBB.

No one knows what would have happened if Iraq had been left to move forward on its own at the start of 2009.  But what is known now is that installing Nouri al-Maliki for a second term -- after voters rejected him --  guaranteed Iraq would take the path it currently is on.p

And now Nouri wants a third term.

Grasp that Barack never anticipated that happening.  He's unable to forsee the most basic possibilities.

Remember that, following the 2005 parliamentary elections, Iraq waited several months for a prime minister.  What was the hold up?

Not the Parliament.  They wanted to name Ibrahim al-Jafaari.  He's been the prime minister, then Ayad Allawi.  But the Bully Boy Bush administration -- not one noted for wisdom -- managed to grasp that Iraq -- ruled by a strongman -- could quickly fall back to that pattern.  They nixed al-Jafaari.  But in the next election, even with Nouri losing, Barack and his administration weren't smart enough to grasp that giving Nouri a second term could lead to all the problems Iraq now faces.

They're not very smart and really struggle to anticipate much of anything.  The gang that supposedly moved on three dimensional chess levels?  Turns out they can't even handle tic-tac-toe.

From the hearing . . .


US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: In your excellent opening statement, Mr. Chairman, you had said -- about Mr. McGurk -- that in February you [McGurk] said that we must ensure that ISIL can't gain safe haven in western Iraq and that you were confident that Iraq would deny them this.  We all know how that turned out.  Just a few months later, ISIL took over most of western Iraq.  How could your assessment have been so far off?  How could Iraq lose this territory?  Why didn't we respond to their calls for help?  Your testimony from February shows that there's some serious disconnect within the administration and the reality of the threat in Iraq.  Or we've just been completely failing in addressing it.  You said in February, that the US began to accelerate some of our foreign military assistance programs and information sharing to get a better intelligence picture of Iraq. Last month, Secretary [of State John] Kerry said nobody expected ISIL to capture Mosul.  Even if  our foreign military assistance had not  quite kicked in yet, shouldn't our information and intelligence gathering efforts have been able to get a better assessment, a more accurate assessment, of Samarra and Mosul?  And it has been widely reported that while taking control of Mosul, ISIL seized rather large quantities of US supplied foreign military assistance and made off with nearly half a billion dollars from the local banks -- in addition to tanks and humvees that were taken.  US officials were quick to deny the claims of ISIL-- that they captured advance weaponry such as Black Hawk helicopters.  Did they capture any caravan aircraft with advanced weapon platforms?  And did they take any other advanced weaponry like MPADS [Man-portable air-defense systems]?  US military equipment and hundreds of millions of dollars aren't the only items that ISIL has seized. The Iraqi government confirmed that ISIL took uranium from Mosul University.  What is the status of that uranium?  What could ISIL use that for?  And on the Christian community, we've seen that the ancient Christian community in Iraq is under seige by these Islamist militants.  Once a vibrant and sizable community, now over 1 million Christians have been forced to flee their homes  and communities or be killed.  Their homes are being marked by ISIL and they are being given an ultimatum to flee, to convert or to be murdered.  In February, you said, Mr. McGurk, that the Christian community had the resources to protect itself and that we had actually made progress.  It's clear that we haven't made any progress.  We cannot protect them.  So what are we doing now to protect the few remaining Christians and their religious sites and artifacts?  As Ranking Member Engel had pointed out,  are we -- on any level -- coordinating with Iran on the -- or Syria -- over our Iraq policy or ISIL and does the administration believe that Maliki must go?  Yes or no?  Thank you, sir, gentle lady.


Brett McGurk:  Let me -- Let me try to address some of these in order.  First, uhm, the discussion we had -- the very good discussion we had back in February was focused on Anbar Province and I'll just bring you up to speed on-on where we are Anbar Province.  At the time, Falluja was in control of ISIL, Fallua's still in control of ISIL.  I made clear then that our advice was 'not to move into Falluja, that it was to set up a coordinate' -- and that coordinate remains in place although it is fairly loose.  Second, we wanted them to hold the provincial capitol of Ramadi.  So far, they are still holding the provincial capitol of Ramadi.  What has changed significantly in Anbar is a very sophisticated attack what happened late last month with an attack on al Qaim the strategic border crossing in Iraq -- which again proves that ISIL is really an army, it's a military capable force, it was a multiple day assault. 



al Qaim?  In June, in two days in June, al Qaim, Rutba, Rawa and Anah were taken by rebels -- all in Anbar.

Other aspects of Brett's testimony registered as well as evidenced by today's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Marie Harf.



QUESTION: Very quickly, the parliament failed today to choose a president. Now the problem if they don’t do it tomorrow, then they will miss the deadline, because next week is the (inaudible).

MS. HARF: Well, they’ve said they will meet tomorrow and will vote tomorrow.

QUESTION: Could you very quickly tell us what Mr. McGurk is doing now?

MS. HARF: Brett McGurk?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: He’s back in the United States.

QUESTION: He’s back in the --

MS. HARF: He was testifying on Capitol Hill today.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan?

QUESTION: (Off-mike) McGurk.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: He said that ISIS is not just a terrorist organization, but a full army and is more powerful than al-Qaida. Can you comment on that?


MS. HARF: I haven’t seen – I didn’t watch his entire hearing this morning. Let me take a look at what he said. Clearly, they have significant military capabilities, though. That is true.


We'll return to the hearing to note this exchange.



US House Rep Albio Sires: Ms. Slotkin, I have been here since 2006 and I have come to hate the words "assess" and "train."  We seem to be assessing and training Iraqi soldiers, assessing the situation in Iraq and I think the situation is worse than ever.  After spending billions of dollars, we train an army, someone shoots at them, they run for the hills.  Where did we go wrong with these people?  That we put all this money into this training and they can't even defend a section of their own country?  And I just -- it's mind boggling to me.  Now we have this situation where we have ISIL moving in all sorts of directions and I'm concerned that -- in Jordan, for example -- we have 2 million refugees and if we have a situation where they destabilize Jordan, the whole area -- It's just -- It's just a big mess.  What did we do with all that money that we paid to train those people?  Where are these trained people?  And I've been here since 2006 -- and not just this administration.  I'm talking from 2006 on.  Can you just -- Mr. McGurk, could you also assist me in understanding this?

Elissa Slotkin: Sir, let me address the issue of the training.  I think anyone who has watched the news or been part of our efforts in Iraq was disappointed by what we saw in Mosul.  And I think the biggest thing that we looked at and that we were surprised by was the disolving of frankly four Iraqi divisions up and around that area -- and some areas where they did not fight, in contrast to western Iraq where they did put up a fight.  And rather than a lack of capability, I think what we believe happened is that they just lacked either the will or the direction to fight.  So either they saw a snowballing effect, out of fear, stripped off their uniform and turned or they waited for direction from Baghdad that did not come and therefore departed.  We don't believe that they lacked a basic capability.  It's that, at the end of the day, they did not have the will or direction to fight in that part of the area. 


Slotkin may or may not have been truthful (I have no reason to doubt her) but it is her area of expertise.  It is not, however, Brett McGurk's area of expertise.

It was hilarious to watch Brett bluster on about the Iraqi military and how it was stronger now and it was this and it was that.

Uh, Brett, you're State Dept.  You don't know a damn thing about the military.  If you did, you'd be the 'trainer' doing the 'assessment.'

In addition, it is widely known that Brett is cozy with Nouri and has skewed reports in the past to make Nouri look better to the administration.  Sort of like he attempted to do with the Congressional Committee today.  Too bad for Brett that so few were willing to indulge him this go round.


Telling aside of the hearing?  When Royce pointed out, "The performance on the battlefield of certain Iraqi units was abysmal.  That's to be expected when you put your son in charge and you sack the officer corps and replace them with cronies.  But anyway . . ."

Runner up?  US House Rep Brad Sherman: "Maliki is not a good guy just because we installed him."

On the topic of Nouri, Sinan Antoon and Zaid Al-Ali address him and other topics in a column for the Washington Post:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been the target of choice. He is certainly responsible for the deterioration of the situation in Iraq, and there is much to fault and criticize in his policies. However, to understand the current situation’s genealogy one ought to look beyond individuals and consider dynamics and trends that predate the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Focusing on Maliki alone obscures the real culprit of Iraq’s woes: The pure and undiluted self-interest of long-standing U.S. policy toward the country, and the contempt for the right of Iraqis to live in their own country with dignity. In fact, that disregard runs so deep that U.S. policymakers have for decades failed to engage in adequate planning with regards to Iraq and to admit to any form of culpability when their actions on the ground destroyed countless lives.
[. . .]
Appointing Maliki in 2006 and reappointing him in 2010 was merely a continuation of decades of U.S. policy, and attempts by current and former U.S. officials to create a distinction between his first and second terms in office are designed to obfuscate that truth. Maliki was openly sectarian and conspiratorial in his methods from the start. On Jan. 25, 2007, in what was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated initial attempt at national reconciliation in parliament, Maliki launched a sectarian outburst on live television at the first hint of criticism. Rather than address concerns relating to abuses by the security services (which were in any event not fully under his control at the time), he accused a member of parliament, without evidence, of engaging in genocidal acts, bringing the session to an early close.

Just a few months later, Maliki commenced a military operation to bring the Mehdi Army, an illegal militia that was loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, to heel (he was only successful after the U.S. army intervened). Although many Iraqis were rightly satisfied to be rid of the militiamen, Maliki’s actions were wrongly interpreted at the time as evidence of his non-sectarian credentials. In fact, they were merely additional evidence of his cracking down on opponents regardless of their identity, at a time when he felt strong enough to do so. Maliki also wasted no time in cultivating and protecting ties with corrupt officials, culminating in his attempts to immunize Faleh al-Sudani, a close collaborator who had been minister of trade until 2009 and who was the focus of unending accusations of corruption, from prosecution.



We will note the hearing in another snapshot this week -- hopefully tomorrow.



Seven months and he still can't get it together because he refuses to initiate a political system that values and includes people not part of his State of Law political coalition.

National Iraqi News Agency reports the Iraqi military says they killed 15 suspects in Jurf al-Sakar (all burned alive in air strikes),  they also brag about burning to death 23 other suspects in an aerial bombing of Rawa, and 3 Peshmerga were kidnapped north of Mosul.

The Iraqi military claim they killed a commander here and another there.  These are suspects, they don't know who they're killing, they lack the intelligence and equipment to pull off even the grotesque air targeting the US government could (so-called 'precision strikes' which still kill multiple innocents).  The lack of intelligence is one of the reasons the White House was reluctant to allow Nouri to have US air strikes -- they didn't trust what US troops could not verify.  Another reason was that the fear was Nouri would use the US military to target his political rivals -- he has a long history of targeting his political rivals including having tanks surround their homes or invade their homes in the middle of the night.

What's really going on is that the bulk of the 'brags' Nouri's forces have on killings are from air bombings.  It's as though Iraq has no ground forces at all -- or none that will go out on missions.

Human Rights Watch issued a press release today which included:


“The Iraqi government may be fighting a vicious insurgency, but that’s no license to kill civilians anywhere they think ISIS might be lurking,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s airstrikes are wreaking an awful toll on ordinary residents.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 30 witnesses, victims, medical staff, and family members of those killed by airstrikes in Fallujah, Beiji, Mosul, Tikrit and al-Sherqat. Of the 75 deaths in the attacks Human Rights Watch investigated, 17, including 7 women and 2 children, were a result of barrel bombs.

There was a consistent pattern of aerial bombardments in residential areas by government forces using helicopters, jets, and other aircraft. The attacks hit areas surrounding mosques, government buildings, hospitals, and power and water stations. Residents in Mosul, al-Sherqat, and the oil-refinery town of Beiji described a pattern of intensifying strikes throughout the first half of July in areas where groups of civilians had gathered.
The Iraqi government should immediately stop all indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas. Foreign governments providing military support and assistance should continue support only on the condition that the armed forces obey international humanitarian law and halt actions that disregard the consequences for civilians caught up in the conflict.
The United States has sent Iraq military aid, including Hellfire missiles, ammunition, and surveillance drones, since the Anbar conflict began in January and is debating other military initiatives in Iraq. In accordance with US law, though, it should immediately end its military assistance until the government of Iraq complies with international law, Human Rights Watch said. The Iraqi government’s continued unlawful attacks, despite its denials of such attacks, indicates that Iraq may continue to use military assistance in ways that violate international law and harm Iraqi civilians who are trapped between the government forces and insurgents.



Human Rights Watch has spoken out loudly and clearly while Amnesty International has been a grave disappointment.

Briefly back to today's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Brett McGurk testified, "The Kurds are now, for example, are choosing their nominee to be the next president of Iraq. And we hope to have that sorted out over the coming days."

The coming days?  The plan was to choose a president today.  This morning, All Iraq News noted former Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is vying for the post of President of Iraq.  There are many reasons that qualifies as news -- the main one most likely being that al-Mutlaq is a Sunni and Kurds feel they have the right to the post of President -- they feel only they have that right.  (And Sunnis did claim the post of Speaker of Parliament already this month.)


Another reason it's news is that there's hope (misguided or valid) that a president might be picked today.  NINA explains, "A special session held by the House of Representatives for the election of the president of the republic with presence of 236 deputies this afternoon.  It is scheduled that during this hearing the election of the president and his two deputies would take place."

Yesterday, there were thought to be as many as 100 people who would be vying for the post.  All Iraq News explains this morning that 8 candidates have already been tossed by the so-called Justice and Accountability Commission and that Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's Ammar al-Hakim has declared, "I call all the nominees of the non-Kurdish community to reconsider or cancel their nomination for the President Post in order to avoid any surprises that might accompany the nomination process because this post is a merit for the Kurds."  Sinan Salaheddin (AP) notes that  two Kurds are considered front runners for the post "former deputy prime minister Barham Saleh and the Kirkuk provincial governor Najimaldin Karim."

But though there were plenty of people who wanted the job, in the end, no one was selected.  Isra' al-Rubei'i and Maggie Fick (Reuters) report, "Iraq's parliament, which had been due to elect the country's president on Wednesday, postponed the vote by a day, delaying the formation of a power-sharing government urgently needed to confront a Sunni Muslim insurgency."












Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's science, Chuck

I found this NPR story to be very interesting.

It opens:

Ormia ochracea is not a very likeable creature, even by fly standards.
This parasitic fly likes to leave its larvae on the backs of crickets. The larvae burrow inside the cricket and then proceed to eat the cricket alive.
But humans who have struggled with hearing loss might soon be thankful for at least one small part of this fly — its ears.
Ormia ochracea has developed very specialized ears that let it locate crickets by following the sound of their chirp. Scientists are using these ears as inspiration in developing microphones for the next generation of directional hearing aids.

I don't think NPR offers enough science reports. 

They used to have a focus on science.  But then they wanted to do away with it in favor of the same garbage NPR never stops offering.



Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


 
Tuesday, July 22, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes continue, Jalal Talabani returns with zero impact, and much more.


First up, there was a hearing in the US on Robert McDonald who US President Barack Obama has nominated to be the Secretary of  Veterans Affairs.  Senator Patty Murray serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (and is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee).  Her office issued the following:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Tuesday, July 22, 2014                                                         (202) 224-2834
 
 
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee attended a committee hearing on the nomination of Robert A. McDonald to be Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. At the hearing, Murray delivered remarks and questioned McDonald on how he would improve trust and transparency at the VA, and how he would provide oversight of VA facilities in Washington state.
 
WATCH Murray’s Opening Remarks and Questions
 
Transcript of Murray questioning McDonald on VA facilities in Washington state:
MURRAY: “You know I’ve talked with prior VA leaders about concerns with some of the facilities in my home state of Washington.  The VA’s Access Audit flagged many of those facilities for some further investigation, and the most recent wait time and quality data that VA released shows shortcomings at Washington medical facilities. And I have raised in particular some concerns about what’s happening with the Spokane Medical Center, including whether staffing and budget shortfalls are hurting health care for veterans. If you’re confirmed… how are you going to provide oversight of these facilities and make sure that the resources are getting to the places where it’s needed?”
 
MCDONALD: “I think that’s part of the forecasting and projecting that I was talking about in conjunction with the strategic plan. What I heard from Secretary Gibson last week during his testimony was that the VA had not done a bottoms-up forecast before and that he was having some trouble getting that done. We’ve got to do a better job of that. We’ve got to be very open and transparent with all of you, and all of our constituencies as to what we’re forecasting, and then we have to put the systems in place that can make sure our veterans are getting the appropriate care. We’ve got to be able to have the doctors, the nurses, the clinicians, on the ground to be able to do that. I think digital technology will also play a role because it will help us…VA is known for a very good electronic medical record, and if we can get a scheduling system that is equally world class – and there’s no reason we can’t – I think we’ll be able to use that to better care for the veterans.”
 
Full text of Senator Murray’s Remarks:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.
 
“Just last week, we heard about the current state of VA health care and the Department’s efforts to address its numerous and diverse challenges.
 
“I’d like to take this moment to thank Acting Secretary Gibson for stepping up during this crisis and for taking immediate action to increase transparency around wait times, plan an external audit of VHA’s scheduling practices, and begin the procurement of a modern scheduling system.
 
“As Acting Secretary, he also identified $17.6 billion in critical funding needs to help increase veterans access to care, including10,000 more medical providers and support staff, improved IT systems, and additional clinic space for patients to receive care.
 
“The actions that he laid out before this Committee are important first steps.
 
“But even with some of these policy changes and additional funding, it will take time to see improvement and veterans will still be waiting far too long for care.
 
“And the Department’s ability to carry out its mission will remain hampered as long as a number of key leadership vacancies go unfilled.
 
“Even while we work to bring down wait times and improve accountability, there are still many other serious challenges VA must address: Twenty-two veterans still take their own lives each day. Thousands of veterans are alone, coping with their sexual assault. And while the Department has made commendable progress, it will be an uphill battle as we work to eliminate veterans homelessness and the claims backlog.
 
“The next Secretary will have to grapple with these, and many more issues, all on day one.
 
“Mr. McDonald, thank you for accepting this call to serve your fellow veterans
 
“You are faced with a truly monumental task.
 
“If confirmed, you will be responsible for the Department’s $163 billion budget, its 310,00 employees, and most importantly – the care of over 9 million veterans.
 
“The next Secretary must build a VA that can meet the needs of veterans today, while planning for the needs of millions of veterans in the decades to come.
 
“And in doing so, the next Secretary must overcome and transform a corrosive culture, unworthy of the Department’s dedicated and talented medical providers, who only want to help veterans.
 
“The next Secretary must also reform the poor management and communication structures that currently exist at all levels of VHA.
 
“Mr. McDonald, when we met in my office two weeks ago, you told me you were one of the veterans lost in the system during your transition from the military to civilian life. 
 
“I trust you understand what a critical moment this is for VA and why we must finally fix many of these systemic and cultural challenges.
 
“So I look forward to hearing your plans for addressing these, and many other, problems that will be discussed today, and how you will finally strengthen the VA for generations to come.
 
“Because our men and women in uniform need -- and have earned – a VA that provides high quality benefits and services, when and where they need them.”
###
---
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834




I was at the hearing.  We may note it more in tomorrow's snapshot; however, there's a lot in Iraq today and Murray was the strongest in the hearing so that's enough for now.


Turning to the persecuted in Iraq, Adam Chandler (The Wire via MSN) notes, "ISIS, which recently rebranded as the Islamic State, has solidified its control over Iraq's second-largest city by imposing Sharia law and expelling Christians who won't convert to Islam. The end of last month marked the first time a mass wasn't held in the city in more than 1600 years."  While Catholic Online notes:

"You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately," a member of the Syriac clergy quoted the Sunni militants as telling the monastery's residents.
The monks reportedly pleaded to save some of the monastery's relics. The fighters refused and ordered them to leave on foot with nothing but their clothes on their backs.
Christian residents from the area say the monks walked several miles along a deserted road and were eventually picked up by Kurdish peshmerga fighters who drove them to Qaraqosh.
Five monks have been expelled from Mar Behnam. Christian families in the area said there may have been up to nine people living at the monastery.


Friday, the Islamic State informed the Christians of Mosul there were two choices if they wanted to go on living in Mosul: pay a tax or convert to Islam.  If they didn't want to do either and attempted to remain in Mosul, they would be killed.  The events and threats have been decried by many leaders including the Pope.  Independent Catholic News notes, "Pope Francis has reassured the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church Ignatius Youssef III Younan that he is following news out of Iraq with concern, particularly the dramatic situation of Christians in Mosul who have been threatened with death and seizure of their homes by Islamic militants demanding they leave or convert to their form of Islamic belief. Christians have lived in Iraq’s second largest city for nearly two thousand years; there are few, if any, left now in Mosul."  Also offering promises is the governor of Erbil Province.  AP notes that he (Nawzad Hadi) is promising "to protect fleeing Christians and other minority groups.  The territory is currently home to more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced people from Iraq and Syria, according to the United Nations."  Lebanon's Daily Star adds:

The Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order – a collection of former members of the Baath party said to be helping ISIS in its conquests – has disassociated itself from violence against minority groups.
“Our army is an extension of the former national Iraqi army and includes all the factions of the Iraqi people such as Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen as well as Christians, Yazdis and Sabeans who want to liberate Iraq and relieve it from subordination,” the group said in a message posted on its official website Tuesday.
“We don’t have any connection or coordination with any group ... which calls for dividing Iraq and its people on ethnic and sectarian basis.”
Of course, it's not just the city of Mosul being targeted, surrounding cities and towns have been targeted as well. Jason Motlagh (Bloomberg News) reports on the neighboring city of Qaraqosh where IS has limited the amount of water the city gets:

Outside one of the town’s 12 churches, people queue from 6 a.m. until midnight to get their daily rations from a well. Flatbed trucks are joined by children with pushcarts and riders on bicycles bearing empty jugs. “Our lives revolve around water,” says Laith, 28, a school teacher who returned with his family a day earlier from a suburb of Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, 45 miles away, to which thousands of threatened Christians have migrated. Though aid agencies have erected several water depots around town, supplies are limited, barely enough to sustain large families in the 100-degree-plus heat. Plans to dig new wells will take at least several months to fulfill.


The attacks come shortly after a major discovery.  Alexandra Di Stefano Pironti (Rudaw) points out:

While the history of civilization is being demolished by war and religious zealots in the rest of Iraq, in the Kurdistan Region archeologists are marveling at a stunning discovery: the remains of a long-lost temple from the biblical kingdom of Urartu, dating back to the 9th century BC.
Kurdish archaeologist Dlshad Marf Zamua, who has studied the columns and other artifacts at the find, told Rudaw these were unearthed piecemeal over the past four decades by villagers going about their lives, digging for cultivation or construction.  
But only recently, after the discovery of life-size human statues and the unearthed columns, Zamua realized that the villagers had stumbled upon the temple of Haldi. That was one of the most important gods of Urartu, an Iron-Age kingdom around Lake Van in the Armenian highlands.


When the Christians in Mosul were threatened, the US State Dept had nothing to say.  After-the-fact?  The State Dept's a non-stop Chatty Cathy as evidenced by spokesperson Marie Harf at today's press briefing.


QUESTION: And just to follow up on Samir’s question yesterday about ISIS in Iraq and persecuting Christians, is there any update from the podium about any special ambassador for international religious freedom that might be able to – better equipped to deal with this kind of issue?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re very well-equipped to deal with this kind of issue. We have a number of people working on it. I don’t have an update for you on that. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Would you agree that when President Obama goes to the Dutch embassy and signs a book of condolence – largely it’s a ceremonial gesture. Would a nomination – would you agree that a nomination of this position of international – ambassador of international religious freedom, it would set – it’d be better optics, given --

MS. HARF: Why is it related in any way to the President signing a ceremonial book? I don’t see the link, and obviously, we’re committed to religious freedom regardless of whether or not there’s someone in that position.

QUESTION: Because it’s a gesture that says that we care.

MS. HARF: Well, we do care. We care very deeply, and I will see if there’s an update on any sort of nominations for you.

That was it on the topic because the journalist who cooperated with the State Dept on Benghazi, who e-mailed about what questions he'd ask and shared what a waste he thought discussing the Benghazi attack was?  That journalist or 'journalist' wanted to derail the discussion of Iraq.  Who knows, maybe that was worked out in e-mails before the briefing?  Maybe not.


Listen to me, don't walk that street
There's always an end to it
Come and be free, you know who I am
We're just living people

We won't have a thing
So we got nothing to lose
We can all be free
Maybe not with words
Maybe not with a look
But with your mind

-- "Maybe Not," written by Chan Marshall (also known as Cat Power), first appears on Cat's You Are Free.


The issue came back up in the briefing.


QUESTION: Marie, could I go to the issue of the Mosul Christians?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I mean, this is – for the first time in 1,800 years, these people have been uprooted and thrown out of their home. I mean, are you just resigned to just issuing condemnations? I mean --


MS. HARF: Absolutely not, Said.


QUESTION: -- they appropriated their property --


MS. HARF: We take the humanitarian situation very seriously.


QUESTION: -- they are forcing people to convert to Islam. I mean, they have done some really horrible, brutal things.


MS. HARF: They have. And we have worked very closely with the United Nations and other NGOs about the humanitarian situation. Since June, we have announced a new $13.8 million in humanitarian assistance to international organization partners working to help displaced persons and conflict victims in Iraq. This is helping across the board – obviously, not just with Christians, but this is part of our ongoing humanitarian effort.


Also, on July 3rd, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne Richard met with officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government to discuss – to thank them for their hosting of IDPs, to discuss ways we can help with the displaced Iraqis. So we’re constantly engaged on the topic.


Does it really sound like the US government is doing anything?

No.



Turning to the topic of violence, Maria Caspani (Reuters) reports the findings of Maplecroft's latest Terrorism and Security Dashboard 'monitoring service' which ranks the violence in the world to determine the most violent countries in the world.  Topping the charts?  Nouri's Iraq.  "Iraq was rated the highest risk country for violence in the analysis with 3,158 attacks that resulted in 5,929 fatalities, an increase of 2,188 deaths from the previous year."

What an accomplishment for Nouri and you can't talk violence without talking thug Nouri who is responsible for so much of it.

Despite leading Iraq to the brink, thug Nouri al-Maliki thinks he deserves a third term as prime minister.

Some people think he deserves a third term.  Those people, however, are part of an ever shrinking minority.  Dow Jones Business News reports:

In recent days, high-level delegations of Iranian military officials and diplomats held a flurry of meetings in Baghdad and the Shiite religious capital Najaf, where they were told that Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, has lost the confidence of all but his most loyal inner circle, Iraqi officials with knowledge of the meetings said.
One Iraqi official briefed on the meetings said Iranian representatives signaled during their visit that Tehran has " really started to lean away from Maliki as a candidate."
Also critically, Mr. Maliki's bid to stay in office has, say prominent Shiite politicians, run into opposition from Iraq's top Shiite spiritual authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has become central to the grinding talks between political blocs to form a government.

With Iraq close to the breaking point, AFP notes that Nouri decided to again lash out at Jordan.
Nouri loves to lash out.  His lashing out and attacking may have resulted in Iraq being without a president for nearly two years.
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 remained in Germany until last weekend. 
He returned Saturday.  Asharq Al-Awsat reports:

Amid continuing political deadlock in Iraq, the selection of the country’s next president remains mired in confusion despite the return of incumbent president Jalal Talabani from medical treatment abroad on Saturday.
Reports say that Iraq’s Kurdish parties were unable to agree on the nomination of a single candidate for the presidency over the weekend, despite expectations that a parliamentary session to confirm the choice will take place on Wednesday.
The Iraqi presidency, a largely ceremonial post, is reserved for a member of the country’s Kurdish minority under an informal agreement that emerged during attempts to form a new government in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.

UNAMI issued the following today:

Baghdad, 22 July 2014 – The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG), Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, yesterday sent a letter to President Jalal Talabani, welcoming his return to his homeland Iraq and wishing him a full and speedy recovery.

“Your homecoming could not be timelier given the unprecedented challenges facing Iraq at this critical juncture”, Mr. Mladenov wrote. 
“Today, more than ever, Iraq needs your successor to take up the challenge of bridging the differences between communities with the same vigour and enthusiasm that you have shown throughout so many years”, Mr. Mladenov also stressed.  
The SRSG seizes the opportunity to urge the political blocs in the Council of Representatives to proceed without delay with the election of President Talabani’s successor during its scheduled session of Wednesday, 23 July.
“At a time when parts of the country are under the control of terrorist groups, over one million Iraqis have been displaced and minorities are being uprooted from their homes, Iraq needs to see its political leaders come together and compromise in the interest of all components of Iraq’s society”, Mr. Mladenov said.


  • If reaction to Jalal's return seems muted, so is he publicly.  The big return happens and does so without Jalal addressing a crowd.  The health?  Jalal's still not even up to 50% on his recovery.

    Staying with violence and Nouri,  National Iraqi News Agency reports Nouri bombed Mosul today resulting in 7 deaths -- suspects, Nouri's government insists -- and Nouri bombed Falluja resulting in the deaths of 14 suspects.  Kamal Namaa (Reuters) adds, "Ahmad al-Shami, spokesman for the Fallujah health office – the local arm of the national Health Ministry – said the 19 dead included women and children and that Fallujah hospital had also received 38 wounded people since Monday evening.

    BBC News notes a Baghdad suicide bombing left 21 people dead. IANS notes the death toll rose to 22 and that forty-five more were left injured.  Citing an Interior Ministry source, Xinhua also notes the same number of dead and wounded.

    NINA notes a Baquba roadside bombing left two people injured, a battle east of Ramadi left 7 rebels dead, and an Anna car bombing left one person injured.   All Iraq News adds that Imam Abdul Rahman al-Jobouri was shot dead in Baquba, the Islamic State executed five civilians in Jalawla, a Beiji mortar attack left 1 man dead and his wife injured, and the corpses of 6 taxi drivers were discovered dumped in Kirkuk.

    For those who feel Barack has been AWOL on Iraq, they may find confirmation in the latest from AP which reports Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated he and Barack no longer speak directly; however, he does discuss events in Iraq with US Vice President Joe Biden.

    Lastly,  Trina's "Victoria Grayson," Mike's "Jack Porter," Rebecca's "character i would be on abc's revenge," Elaine's "Faux-manda,"  Betty's "Ashley Davenport," Stan's "Conrad Grayson," Kat's "I choose Lydia," Ann's "Victoria," Marcia's "Mason" and Ruth's "Nolan Ross" were part of a theme post about the TV show Revenge.







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    Monday, July 21, 2014

    Mason

    On ABC's Revenge, Mason Treadwell is probably the biggest scum. And he's the season one character I would want to be.

    Mason was an investigative reporter who was going to prove David Clarke was framed for terrorism by the Graysons.  He finds out, from David, that Victoria's daughter Charlotte Grayson is not Conrad Grayson's daughter but David's daughter.

    When he confronts the Graysons, they offer him a dream career.

    He shows up years later, a successful writer thanks to the Graysons but he has no heart or soul.

    We'll learn that he's gotten back at the Graysons by prank mail among other things.

    Mason is scum and just what the show needs.


    Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

     
    Monday, July 21, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Christians were targeted last week, suddenly this week the United Nations and the US State Dept and Nouri al-Maliki notice, Nouri continues killing civilians, and much more.


    Yesterday at the Vatican, Pope Francis weighed in on the issue of the ongoing persecution of Iraqi Christians.  Linda Bordoni (Vatican Radio -- link is text and radio) reports the Pope's remarks included, "Today our brothers are persecuted, they are banished from their homes and forced to flee without even being able to take their belongings!"  The Pope declared that violence is not the way to end violence, that only peace could overcome and triumph over violence.

    What's going on?


    Catholic World News notes, "Following an ultimatum from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to leave Mosul, convert to Islam, or be killed, the city’s remaining Christians left for other parts of Iraq."  Dropping back to Friday's snapshot:


    Iraqi thug and prime minister Nouri al-Maliki repeatedly refused to provide Iraqi Christians in Baghdad with the security needed.  This was most obvious in the October 31, 2010 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad.  Many Iraqi Christians fled the country.  Many of those who stayed moved to northern Iraq which was considered to be more tolerant of and welcoming to Christians.
    BBC News reports Christians are now fleeing the northern city of Mosul because the Islamic State has declared that Christians have one of two choices -- "convert to Islam or pa[y] a 'protection tax'."  There is the third choice: Do neither and be slaughtered.  They have until Saturday afternoon to leave, convert or face "the sword."


    Christians are said to have now fled the city or to be in hiding in it.  AFP reported over the weekend on Fadi who had decided to remain in Mosul with his wife and their son because they lacked the money to relocate elsewhere.  As the bulk of Christians fled, landmarks were seized.  Mohammad Jamal (Al-Monitor) reports, "Crosses were replaced with IS banners, and all churches were either closed or burned down."  AFP adds, "ISIS militants have taken over a monastery in northern Iraq, one of the country’s best-known Christian landmarks, and expelled its resident monks, a cleric and residents said Monday. The fighters stormed Mar Behnam, a fourth-century monastery run by the Syriac Catholic Church near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, Sunday, the sources said."


    Rudaw adds, "According to information obtained from sources by Rudaw, only 200 of Mosul’s 5,000 Christians still remain in the city." And those who did leave?  Hamdi Alkhshali and Joshua Berlinger (CNN) explain, "Some of the families headed for Irbil -- which is currently controlled by Kurdish forces -- and others toward the Dohuk province. The majority went to Dohuk, which is 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Mosul."

    Nabih Bulos (Los Angeles Times) reports:

    "For the first time in Mosul's history, there are no services being held and the church bells are silent on Sunday," lamented William Wardeh, spokesman for the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, a watchdog group. "This is a crime in and of itself."
    In recent decades, clerics say, conflict, sectarian strife and other factors have more than halved an Iraqi Christian population that once exceeded 1 million, including various Eastern Rite sects, both Catholic and Orthodox. Many worshipers have immigrated to Europe, North America and Australia.

    AP reports thug Nouri issued a statement on Sunday which decried the targeting of Christians and "agression against the churches and houses of worship."  Someone's supposed to take Nouri seriously?  The man who did nothing to provide security for the Christians in Baghdad -- let alone in the rest of Iraq?

    Historically, Iraq has long been home to members of the Christian faith.  In fact, prior to the start of the Iraq War (March 2003), it was estimated that Christians accounted for at least two million Iraqis in the country.  Now the number tossed around is approximately 400,000.  Al Arabiya News notes specific figures with regards to Mosul, "Until their forced exodus over the weekend, Christians had been continuously present in Mosul for about 16 centuries."

    Open Doors USA issued the following statement today:


    SANTA ANA, Calif. (July 21, 2014) – Dr. David Curry, President/CEO of Open Doors USA, has condemned the latest action of Islamic State militants who ordered all Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul to leave the city over the weekend or face execution.
    "The persecution and treatment of Christians in Mosul is unprecedented in modern times,” he says. “This latest forced exodus of Christians further shows why Western governments and the people in the West need to cry out in support for religious freedom in the Middle East and elsewhere. If this does not move us concerning the near extinction of Christianity in the Middle East, it’s likely nothing else can."
    Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Director of Interfaith Affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, adds: “Too many of us thought that forced conversions and expulsions of entire religious communities were part of a distant, medieval past. There was little that we could do to stop this horrible episode.
    “It is not too late to realize that many others –  Christians today, but certainly Jews, Baha'i, Hindus, Muslims and others – are mortally endangered by a potent religious fanaticism that threatens tens of millions, and which still can be resisted.”
    According to Open Doors, the Islamic State gave Christians an ultimatum over the weekend – 1) stay and convert to Islam 2) pay Islamic tax (which is too much for most families to pay) 3) leave Mosul taking nothing but their clothes. Christians who stayed would be executed.
    Most Christians have left Mosul now. At the checkpoints of ISIS, Christians had to leave everything behind (cars, gold, money, mobile phones). The only possessions they could keep were their clothes. They had to walk to safer places, mostly in northern Iraq, while traveling in blistering heat.
    A World Watch Monitor source in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, said a Christian family in Mosul reported by phone that explosions were heard during the night last Thursday in Mosul. On Friday, as the family attempted to pass through a Mosul checkpoint, ISIS agents forced them out of their car and confiscated their belongings and put them in a separate vehicle. Then the militants drove them several minutes down the road, and ultimately forced them out to continue their journey on foot, according to the source.
    Open Doors reports that some churches, many in partnership with Open Doors, have been helping the Mosul refugees. An Open Doors field worker said: “The exodus has stopped. There are no more Christians in Mosul. We now need to pray that they might return one day.”
    Earlier last week, the Islamic State marked houses belonging to members of minority communities, including Christians, with the phrase "property of the Islamic State," including inhabited houses.
    Iraq is ranked No. 4 on the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians. For more information on the list, go to www.WorldWatchList.us.
    For almost 60 years Open Doors has worked in the world's most oppressive and restrictive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in these places. Open Doors empowers persecuted Christians in the areas of Bible and gospel development, women and children’s advancement and Christian community restoration. Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
    (To set up an interview or for more information, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email jerryd@odusa.org.)


    The first wave of ethnic cleansing took place in 2006 and 2007, as Nouri was beginning his first term as prime minister (spring 2006).  So the idea that Nouri's words were sincere?

    AP also notes, "The comments from Nouri al-Maliki come a day after the expiration of a deadline imposed by the Islamic State group calling on Christians in the militant-held city of Mosul to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death."

    An Iraqi leader speaking sincerely would be one who called out the threats before the deadline for Christians to exit Mosul expired.  A real leader would have stood with the threatened on Friday or Saturday.  Nouri waited to speak until after the bulk of Mosul's Christians had left the city.

    Also weighing in on the threats, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:


       
    20 July 2014 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today condemned in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of minorities in Mosul and other parts of northern Iraq as a reported deadline passed for individuals to convert to Islam, pay a tax, flee or face possible execution.
    In a statement from his spokesperson, Mr. Ban, who is currently in the Middle East, strongly denounced the actions of the group known as the Islamic State (IS) and its allies.
    “Equally repugnant are reports that Turkoman, Yazidis and Shabaks are facing abductions, killings or the destruction of their property,” Mr. Ban continued, “and that the homes of Christian, Shia and Shabak residents in Mosul have been marked.”
    He stressed that any systematic attack on the civilian population due to their ethnic background, religious beliefs or faith may constitute a crime against humanity, “All armed groups, including IS and associated formations, must abide by international humanitarian law and protect civilians living in areas they control.”
    Mr. Ban noted that recently “minority communities that have lived together for thousands of years” in Ninewa province, whose main city is Mosul, have come under direct attack and persecution by IS and associated armed groups.
    In the past few weeks, tens of thousands of members of ethnic and religious minority groups have been displaced or forced to flee and seek refuge, while many others have been executed and kidnapped.
    The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, who visited Iraq last week to see the conditions facing some of the displaced families, warned that Iraq risks “full-fledged sectarian war and complete fragmentation” as Iraqis continue to flee their homes and minority groups are targeted.
    The UN will continue to intensify its efforts, in cooperation with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, to address the urgent humanitarian needs, Mr. Ban said, including the minority groups displaced by terrorist threat.


    Al-Shorfa quotes the Baghdad scholars and preachers council spokesperson Sheikh Shaker al-Adhami stating, "ISIL is proving day after day that is has nothing to do with Islam, and that its terrorist leaders who are dreaming about power and are afflicted with the desire to spill blood and enjoy the killing of innocent people have exploited [Islam] in the most heinous way."

    A lot of people show up to make statements . . . days after the threat was made public.  After the Saturday deadline.

    And no one puffs their chests out more and struts around more than the US government.  Hence spokesperson Marie Harf's statements in today's State Dept press briefing:


    QUESTION: Iraq. Do you have anything to say about the ISIS campaign to take over churches and expel --

    MS. HARF: I do.

    QUESTION: -- monks and the priests from near Mosul and that region?

    MS. HARF: Yes. Let me see what I have on this. I think I have something. Let me just check. Yes. And I believe that Jen – we put out a statement on this late on Friday. But we condemn in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of ethnic and religious minorities by ISIL. We are particularly outraged by ISIL’s recent announcement that Christians in Mosul must either convert, pay a tax, leave, or face execution in the coming days. These are abominable acts. We are very clear that they only further demonstrate ISIL’s mission to divide and destroy Iraq, and they have absolutely no place in the future of Iraq. We could not be more clear.

    QUESTION: Just because that is the statement that was released on Friday --

    MS. HARF: Yeah.

    QUESTION: -- that you just read, there is no change to it since then?

    MS. HARF: No.

    QUESTION: The Kurdistan --

    MS. HARF: All about consistency here.

    QUESTION: The Kurdistan government is complaining that they can’t afford any more to host the displaced people. Is there any – anything the U.S. --

    MS. HARF: I can check on that. I hadn’t seen that. Let me check for you, Samir.

    QUESTION: Is the U.S. able to do anything to limit this ISIS campaign?

    MS. HARF: The persecution of Christians?

    QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, to take over the churches and the --

    MS. HARF: Well, in general, we’ve been very clear that we will help the Iraqi Government in its fight against ISIL writ large. This is one part of that fight, certainly. We are working with them now, but I don’t have anything specific on that for you.

    QUESTION: But you have --

    MS. HARF: We’ve also worked very closely with international organizations to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

    QUESTION: But currently you’re not doing anything?

    MS. HARF: I can check and see specifically. I just don’t know.

    QUESTION: Just a follow-up.

    MS. HARF: Yeah.

    QUESTION: Yesterday, Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings said that it’d be impossible to combat ISIS without a few more folks on the ground. Do you have a reaction to that?

    MS. HARF: Well, the United – you mean United States folks?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    MS. HARF: United States military assessment teams have provided a draft report. I know my colleagues at the Defense Department are looking at it to determine the best way to assist the Iraqi Government. We’re very committed to that. I would leave it to my colleagues there to talk in further detail about that.

    QUESTION: And can I ask a question on an unrelated topic?


    MS. HARF: Uh-huh.


    In  violence other than the targeting of Christians in Mosul?

    Let's start with the civilians Nouri killed and wounded today.

    National Iraqi News Agency reports Nouri's bombing of Falluja's residential neighborhoods left 3 people dead and thirteen more injured, his bombing of a home in Rawa left 2 women dead and thirteen more people (women and children) injured, and his aerial bombing of Hawija left 2 children and 5 women dead with ten more civilians left injured.  These are War Crimes.  Notice how little that appears to matter to the West. Staying with violence, All Iraq News notes that there have been approximately 125 violent deaths every day this month.  National Iraqi News Agency reports that military officials say they killed 38 suspects in Baaj in an aerial bombing of 18 vehicles, security sources state they killed 100 suspects in Hadeed al-Nasser, security officials issued a statement announcing they killed 6 suspects in Jurf al-Sakhar, Baghdad Operations Command announced they killed 30 suspects, military officials say they killed 50 suspects east of Falluja, a Jurf al-Sakhar battles left three federal police members injured, a battle north of Mosul left four Peshmerga injured, a Sabein car bombing left  1 person dead and five more injured, and 1 corpse ("handcuffed and bearing signs of torture and gunshots") was discovered in east Baghdad and another was found dumped in southern Baghdad.



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



    FOR PLANNING PURPOSES                                             CONTACT: Murray Press Office
    Monday, July 21, 2014                                                                               (202) 224-2834
     
    TOMORROW: Murray to Hear from VA Secretary Nominee Robert McDonald
     


    Washington, D.C. – Tomorrow, Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will attend a committee hearing on the nomination of Robert A. McDonald to be Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. At the hearing, Murray will deliver remarks and question McDonald on how he would improve trust and transparency at the VA, and how he would provide oversight of VA facilities in Washington state.
     


    WHO:             Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
     

    WHAT:          Remarks at Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing on VA nominee Robert A. McDonald
     

    WHEN:         TOMORROW, Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014,
                           3:00 PM ET/ 12:00 PM PST
     

    WHERE:       SD-G50
     

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








     
     
     
    RSS Feed for Senator Murray's office






    Lastly, new content at Third went up late, late Sunday:











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