Wednesday, October 12, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, US House Rep Jason Chaffetz declares, "When President Obama tells the American people that forces will be out of Iraq, I'm not sure the average American understands that the troops will be replaced with a private army of security contractors," State Dept testimony today may mean State Dept employees refuse to go to Iraq, Baghdad is slammed with bombings, Turkey thinks they have a say in disputed Kirkuk, and more.
"I'd like to begin this hearing by stating the Oversight Committee's mission statement," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz this morning. "We exist to secure two fundamental principles. 'First, Americans have the right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second, Americans deserve an efficient and effective government that works for them. Our duty on the Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee is to respect these rights'." Chaffetz is the Chair of the
Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations which heard from the State Dept's Patrick F. Kennedy and DoD's Alexander Vershbow and Alan F. Estevez this morning on the topic of Iraq and the US presence beyond 2011.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: To fill the void left by the Defense Department, the State Department will hire thousands of private contractors to complete the mission. In all, the State Department's footprint will balloon to approximately 17,000 personnel. And, according to the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, nearly 14,000 will be private contractors. These contractors will perform a wide range of tasks including life support services and logistics. They will also recover downed aircraft and personnel, dispose of ordnance and tranport personnel. State Department will also hire a private army of nearly 7500 security contractors to do everything from guarding the walls and gates to guarding VIP convoys and flying UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]. While they will have the abilities of sense and warn of incoming ordnance, they will not have the ability to shoot it down. I find this puzzling. I'd like to discuss this further. So as the Defense Department winds down, the State Department is ramping up in what may be more of a political shell game than a drawdown of forces. When President Obama tells the American people that forces will be out of Iraq, I'm not sure the average American understands that the troops will be replaced with a private army of security contractors.
That was some of Chaffetz' opening remarks regarding the State Dept and now will note some of his comments with regards to the Defense Dept.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: On a related manner, I'd appreciate it if the Defense Department would clear up some of the confusion surrounding it's drawdown. There have been numerous reports that President Obama may order thousands of combat troops to remain in Iraq at the Iraq government's request to conduct training of Iraqi military. While I understand negotiations are ongoing with the Iraqi government, I believe the American people have the right to additional clarity on how many troops will remain and what their mission and legal status will be?
John Tierney is the Ranking Member and a public embarrassment. Wally's covering Tierney's nonsense at Rebecca's site tonight. Wait. Kat's grabbing it at her sight. Wally's going to rank Chaffetz as a chair in his post at Rebecca's site. Opening (prepared remarks) by the witnesses aren't worth noting. And Kennedy's remarks sounded exactly like they did in February when he was appearing before the Senate. There were two key exchanges in the hearing. I'll note one and if Ava doesn't grab the other at Trina's tonight, I'll note it here tomorrow.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Mr. Ambassador, first of all, I'd like to start with you. McClatchy Newspapers in an article that came out yesterday [Sahar Issa's article] in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the headline is "US Military Trainers Can Stay, Leaders Say." But I'm troubled by what President [Jalal] Talabani said. "We have agreed to retain more than 5,000 trainers without giving them immunity. We have sent them our agreement to retain this number and are awaiting their response: Yes or no." I find it deeply troubling that there's the prospect of our troops being in Iraq without immunity. I think this is totally unacceptable Can you please give us an update on the situation?
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: Yes, Mr. Chairman, I'd be happy to, uh, to respond. Uh, indeed there's some important issues raised by that article. First of all, Iraq's political leadership has indicated that they are interested in a training relationship with the United States after 2011 and we very much want to have an enduring partnership with the Iraqi government and people and a relationship with the Iraqi security forces would be a very important part of that relationship. I think, as you know, we have long been planning to have the Office of Security Cooperation Iraq -- OSCI -- which would be under chief admission authority -- serve as the cornerstone of a chief security partnership and it would be the hub for a range of security assistance and security cooperation activities. So that, of course, is the baseline. We've been reviewing the official statement issued by Iraqi leaders on training assistance on October 4th and discussing with them how this fits into the principle of security cooperation under the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement. Uh, I should add that we appreciate the democratic spirit represented by Iraqi leaders in debating this important subject and we will continue our discussions with our Iraqi counterparts in the days ahead. So these negotiations are ongoing and it's, uh, premature to discuss what any --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: What --
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: -- potential training relationship will look like --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Well will our troops have immunity, yes or no?
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: Yeah, well I'll get to that issue, Mr. Chairman. As we work to define the parameters of what it will look like uh-uh the issues raised yet again in this article regarding status protections will of course be important issue. And again I don't want to get into the specifics of the negotiations but we will always ensure that our forces have the appropriate protections that they need when they're deployed overseas. There's a number of different --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: When you say appropriate protections is that -- is that immunity?
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: [Long intake of breath] I think there's different terminology.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: That's why I'm seeking a little clarification here. I'm not feeling too comfortable at the moment. Will our troops have immunity?
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow: They will -- we-we --They will have status protection which has been defined under the Strategic Framework -- under the security agreement, excuse me, the Status Of Forces Agreement that now applies as indicating that our forces would be subject to US law rather than Iraqi law. So we'll be looking for something going forward that provides the comparable level of protection. Exactly how that will be achieved again is a subject of ongoing negotiations. Some of the personnel as I mentioned under the OSCI will be covered under chief admission authority. The question that's still being asked whether any additional personnel would be involved and how they would -- how they would be protected. We certainly take very seriously the concerns that you have expressed.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Let me move on. I think that this is the major, major point of concern. It's obviously a major point of difference. It's something that obviously must be resolved. And it's totally unacceptable to think that our troops would be there without immunity as they've enjoyed currently. Ambassdor Kennedy, let me go back to these loss functionalities. Last time we gathered together, we were referred to this July 12, 2010 Commission on Wartime Contracting special report. It talked about the loss functionalities. This is on page four of that report. There were fourteen specific security-related tasks now performed by Department of Defense that State must provide as the military draws down. I know there's been progress on at least seven of those but could you give me an update as to those fourteen specific ones, what are you not prepared to take care of? [Kennedy's speaking. Microphone's not on.] If you could hit that [button].
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: My apologies. Mr. Chairman, as we outline in my -- in my June 8th letter, to, uh, to the Committee, we believe that we have covered the functions that are absolutely essential to our operations there. We will have the abilitiy through the --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Would that be all fourteen of these?
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: I think -- I think you can say we will have the ability to do everything except, for example, the recovery of downed aircraft. Should an aircraft go down, we will be able to move to recover the personnel from those aircraft but but whether -- because we don't have quite the heavy lift as the Department of Defense, we might not be able to recover the airframe itself.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: So of the fourteen, that's the only one that you're concerned about?
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: I am concerned about everything possibly go wrong.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Right.
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: I cannot -- I cannot --
Chair Jason Cahffetz: But functionality?
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: But functionality, going if I could, Mr. Chairman, to your earlier, in your opening statement, you asked about counter-battery neutralization. We will have the-the ability thanks to my colleagues in the Pent -- the Defense Department with the system that is called GIRAFFE [Radar] which is an [air defense] early warning system that tracks incoming rockets or mortars, give us sufficient warning to deal with that, we'll be able to sound the alarm. And in the construction activities that we are undertaking and all the sites that our personnel will both work and live. We are constructing overhead cover that means should one of the, uh -- those missiles or mortars strike our facilities -- and this has happened in Baghdad and the construction techniques we've been using in Baghdad have proven very, very effective -- There is no penetration of the building itself. The, uh, the --
Chair Jason Chaffetz: But can we or will we fire back?
Ambassador Patrick Kennedy: We will not -- Sir, the State Dept has no howitzers and no counter-rocket fire. We will not fire back. That is not a diplomatic activity. We're not of a diplomatic mission in Iraq, not a military mission but -- if I might add -- we are partnered extensively with the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police who have been assisting us during the last few months. We have been without such a -- such a counter-battery fire ability and the Iraqi police and the Iraqi military have been great assistants of disrupting the attempts of uh, uh, forces to attack our, uh, our, uh, facilities via rockets and mortars.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Well God bless the men and women who are going to be there because if it's the policy of the United States not to fire back I have -- I have deep concerns.
Again, that was one of the two key exchanges. In addition to possibly noting another exchange here tomorrow (if Ava doesn't grab it -- she's welcome to it, by the way), I've also got to talk late tonight to a friend who attended the hearing and I'll check with him to see if something different stood out. If so, we'll note that.
As for Kennedy's testimony? I think a lot of people are going to feel what the Chair did and I wonder if it will be a repeat of the second Bush term when Condi Rice had trouble repeatedly as she attempted to fill diplomatic slots in Iraq? In addition, to Kennedy's testimony about GIRAFFE, unless it's changed, that's a bit like connecting to the internet via a mobile attenna -- it'll work but if you're planning to use the internet consistently and from the same spot, why not just get DSL as opposed to something that's really designed as a temporary measure? GIRAFFE gets its name from the fact that the radar equipment is on the end of this long arm that rises in the air when in use and folds down when you don't feel the need to use the radar system. So where I'm confused is, GIRAFFE is really designed for temporary use. Why is the State Dept staking lives on the use of a temporary device as opposed to monitoring equipment that would sense incoming rockets or mortars? A wealth of military equipment is being handed over to the Iraqi military -- that's fine, it's really not worth the financial cost to carry it back to the US and it will soon be out of date. This was known and factored in long ago. But was there not better equipment protecting US military bases in Iraq -- radar equipment -- that could have been handed over to State at a time when the US military -- as planned -- is discarding equipment like crazy in anticipation of the re-ordering of equipment which was always planned? Seems there should be something better than GIRAFFE especially when you consider how long the State Dept intends to stay in Iraq.
Again, Chair Jason Chaffetz' concerns are going to be concerns a lot of people will have though, granted, some may not have them unless something horribly wrong takes place and a State Dept worker is injured or killed under this new program.
Injured or killed? Baghdad was slammed with bombings today. Muhaimen Mohammed and CNN report, "A string of six explosions killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 70 in Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraq's interior ministry said." Other reports count five bombings. However, Reuters gives a detailed rundown of each Baghdad bombing today and they also count six. Rebecca Santana and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) noted this morning that officials state the death toll has risen to 25 and that's the number most outlets run with this afternoon; however, AGI noted the death toll this morning had risen to 28. Global Post states officials are saying eighty-three were injured. BBC News notes their correspondent Rami Ruhayem says "The resurgence of suicide attacks inside the capital is a worrying development even by Iraqi standards." Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) notes that the dead and wounded include police officers and Iraqi soldiers. Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) adds, "Children at a school close to one of the police stations were injured by shattered glass." Reuters quotes police Lt Nadeer Adel stating, "A car approached... the driver smashed through the checkpoint and exploded the car when he hit a concrete barrier. Smoke was everywhere, we all took cover. Minutes later we found a crater and some of our police were dead."
Dan Zak and Asaad Majeed (Washington Post) state, "It was the bloodiest day in Baghdad since Aug. 28, when a suicide bomber killed 28 and injured 30 at the city's largest Sunni mosque." KUNA explains, "An Iraqi police source told KUNA here that the explosions targeted police stations in the towns of Al-Watheq Square, at the entrance of the Ministry of Interior's building, Al-Hurriya, and Al-Baya'a ." Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) adds, "Major General Adel Dahham, the spokesman of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, told reporters that guards of the attacked police stations had opened fire on the suicide car bombers and managed to blow up the car bombs at the concrete barricades and prevented them from entering the buildings of the police stations." EuroNews (link is video) states, "The police are a vulnerable taget for militants because they lack the sophisticated weaponry that the Iraqi army has. " Salam Faraj and Ammar Karim (AFP) report of the Alwiay station bombings, "Human remains and shrapnel from the bomb were scattered for about 100 metres (yards), and security forces cordoned off the scene, an AFP correspondent said. Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi condemned the attacks in a statement released by his office." The Washington Post has compiled several photos for an essay here.
Besides bombings in Baghdad, Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing left two people injured, a Kerbala drive-by claimed the life of Shiek Muhanned al-Meaamar and his driver (the Shiek was "a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani), an attack on a Mosul checkpoint which claimed the lives of 2 Iraqi soldiers, an attack on a Mosul real estate office in which 2 people died, an attack on a Baghdad police checkpoint (shooting attack) that left two police officers injured, 1 Diwaniyya city employee shot outside his home, and, dropping back to Tuesday night for all that follows, 1 Iraqi military colonel shot dead in Baghdad and a Daquq roadside bombing injured two Iraqi soldiers.
David Enders: The situation In Iraq at the moment is that the Americans appear to be indeed withdrawing combat troops. I think that's a fact. It does not appear that there is anyway that the Iraqi government will approve a presence of combat troops following the end of the year. Obviously there will still be uh a military presence and a CIA presence. I mean the Americans are still very much involved in counter-terrorism on the ground here and that will probably continue to be the case. Uh we'll also be heavily involved in training uhm and supporting the Iraqi military which -- which is essentially, you know, become a client of the US. Uh the situation on the ground for the average Iraqi I think has changed very little. The government still remains essentially a dictatorship. Iraq still is a police state. I was arrested uh this afternoon or this morning rather for filming on the highway. I was actually filming a convoy of Americans sort of, you know, packing up to go. And I got arrested for filming on the highway. Uhm, I was detained for a few hours. Nothing-nothing serious. And let go. But that gives you an idea the amount of personal freedom one-one perhaps has in Iraq. Uh, electricity is still on 12 hours a day at best. Right now uh it's October. This is a -- This is a time where electricity demand is the lowest. It's before it gets cold and people turn on their heaters, it's after the, you know, super-hot summer months so people aren't running the ACs quite as much and I'm living a stone's throw from the presidential compound and this neighborhood has 12 hours of national power a day. Uh, so I think that gives an idea of-of how the quality of life has improved for the average Iraqi. Security is much better than it was. I-I haven't been here since 2009. Uhm, but that comes with-with a-a-a soldier-to-person ratio of -- that-that must be one of the highest in the world. I mean the-the number of check points, the number of -- Security presence on the streets is just kind of incredible. Uhm and that still does not mean that there's not violence. Uh but compared to 2007, 2008, it's considerably reduced. So that's the situation in Iraq.
Is it? It's certainly all the nonsense I can endure from David Enders who has to be the Baghdad correspondent we've noted least in all the time since 2004. (And noted him little for good reason. KPFA friends warned me off his reporting early in the war.)
"The situation In Iraq at the moment is that the Americans appear to be indeed withdrawing combat troops." Where does it seem that way? From the public baths?
US President Barack Obama claims combat troops were removed by August 31, 2010. September 1st, when the combat is over, according to Barack, the war is renamed "Operation New Dawn." Now the plan is for US soldiers to be called "trainers." Back before Thomas E. Ricks went nuts and became a counter-insurgency addict, he was fond of making the point that US soldiers are trained for combat. That is what they're trained for. Let's drop back to the March 10, 2009 snapshot to note Ricks and NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro on the day prior's Talk of the Nation (NPR).
Thomas E. Ricks: I think that Obama and the people around him are repeating the optimisim of the Bush administration. It's not a departure from Bush to say you want to get out of Iraq. George Bush didn't invade Iraq saying, "I have a great idea. Let's go get stuck in a quagmire for ten years." The original war plan had us down to 30,000 troops by September 2003. Well here we are seven years later. We have more than four times that number of troops and the new president is saying "I want to get us out of Iraq, out of fighting in Iraq by August of next year." Well just because you hang a "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner doesn't mean the war ends, just because you say it's a non-combat mission doesn't mean the war ends. The war ends when American troops stop dying. And I was over at the White House the day of the president's speech [Feb. 27th] and I said, "Does this mean American troops will stop dying in August of 2010?" And a military official there said, "No, it does not mean that."
[. . .]
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: I'd just like to speak to something that Thomas Ricks just said. Um, it's kind of interesting, the war ends when no US soldiers are killed here. You know, it's -- through all of this, you tend to forget the Iraqi narrative. We're talking about the Obama administration, what they think, what they believe. Of course there is a sovereign, now, Iraqi government who also has a say in what happens here and what kinds of, you know, US forces remain here and what the war will look like for them. It's not only US soldiers who die but of course Iraqi civilians, Iraqi army, Iraqi police and that also has a -- that characterizes what will happen here in the coming years and months.
Thomas E. Ricks: That's a good point. I should have said "our war ends when US troops stop dying." I think the war goes on for decades.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: It's just -- possibly. And it's certainly a sobering thought for the Iraqis I speak to here. I do spend -- you know, when you're living in Baghdad and covering it -- I've been covering this since 2002 actually -- we have to deal with the US military and, of course, the Iraqis as well. And we -- you know, it's a balancing act. And our staff monitors six [Iraqi] papers a day, three Iraqi channels, and, of course, we go out. Now the security situation is better, I travel all over the country. Tomorrow I'm going into Anbar Province, up near Haditha. I've been pretty much everywhere now days in Iraq and that, of course, allows you to do reporting as you would in any other country, which means getting on the ground, talking to people and seeing exactly what's going on for yourself. Before we had to rely on the US military. They're the ones that had to take us places, we had to embed, we had to see things through their prism. Now that has changed dramatically and we can really go out in a way that we've never been able to since the early days of the war to see for ourselves exactly what's going on.
Neal Conan: And let me quickly follow up again on something Tom Ricks said, decades, Tom?
Thomas E. Ricks: Yeah, I think there will be people fighting and dying in Iraq for decades.
Neal Conan: And Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, do you agree with that?
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro: Well, I think that may possibly be true. As I try and point out in many of my reports, I think the -- for many Americans, they believe that the war is over. I mean there's a lack of interest now that President Obama has said they will be withdrawing US forces in great numbers in the coming year -- not this year, but next year. I think people have sort of thought, 'Well, the war is over in Iraq.' But people die here every single day. There are many simmering conflicts. It might not look like the conflicts that we saw before during the sectarian violence but there are other things that are going on here that could presage many bad days to come. I don' t know, I'm not a prognosticator but certainly Iraq is not stable yet.
Thomas E. Ricks: I think it's a good point that the war has changed several times. It started as a blitzkrieg invasion, then it was a botched occupation, then it was a slow rising but durable insurgency, then it was an American counter-offensive. The war is changing again. It kind of feels like a lull right now. But just because it's changed doesn't mean it's ended and a lot of Americans have stopped paying attention because I think they wrongly think that it's over.
I would argue that David Enders comments also stripped Iraqis out of the equation. The war has not ended -- not for the Iraqis and not for the US. Just yesterday the most recent US soldier to die in combat in Iraq (Spc Adrian Mills) was buried. And for an Iraqi take on Enders claims regarding no more combat soldiers, let's go to the Great Iraqi Revolution commenting on an Al Jazeera article, "Extending the American occupation in Iraq under a new name i.e (NATO Trainers), and the "Trainers" have full immunidty despite all the untrue statements of the Green Zone Government!"
The Al Jazeera article (in Arabic) states Iraqi MPs are willing to consider allowing "trainers" to conduct their mission under NATO which would not only allow US soldiers to stay beyond 2011 but also provide "the legal protection Washington is seeking." Being under NATO, the article notes, would allow the US government to have jurisidiction over any crimes US soldiers committed in Iraq. State of Law (Nouri's political slate) pops up in the article via Sami al-Askari (State of Law MP) who says that option is being debated and that there is another one (getting trainers from other countries) but al-Askari says that it's better and more practical to rely on NATO due to the fact that there's already an agreement in place. That's what someone from Nouri's own political slate is stating publicly and on the record.
"I think that's a fact," Enders insists. Generally speaking, a fact is or isn't a fact. Opinion really doesn't have a lot to do with whether or not something's a fact. "It does not appear that there is anyway that the Iraqi government will approve a presence of combat troops following the end of the year." Really? Did you get the SOFA right? Was your analysis correct on that, David Enders? If he's too 'modest,' I'll answer for him: No, he was wrong on that. But we're supposed to believe his judgment now?
David Enders is not speaking to Nouri al-Maliki and, were he to do so tomorrow, he'd still be an American journalist and not anyone in Nouri's inner-circle. Nouri -- as with the UN mandate, as with the SOFA -- will make the decision on the Iraqi side. He may or may not toss any decision before Parliament. But he will be the one -- barring his being removed from the post -- who will make the decision.
Now maybe David Enders is sleeping with Nouri and privy to pillow talk? Were that the case then I would trust his unsourced and unreliable opinion a little more. Unless or until I learn that's the case, I'll continue to take him about as seriously as KPFA friends do. (In other words, not real much.)
"Obviously there will still be uh a military presence and a CIA presence." Special-Ops have never left Iraq and are not counted in the estimated 45,000 troops still in Iraq. (I believe that 47,000 is still tossed around by some outlets -- not all -- we're going with 45,000 because that's the number a friend at the State Dept was using when we spoke yesterday.) It would be interesting to know the plan for them. (It would be interesting for the press to explore what has legally allowed them to continue operating in Iraq since the end of 2008. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.)
"I mean the Americans are still very much involved in counter-terrorism on the ground here and that will probably continue to be the case." That may be Enders acknowledging Special-Ops. "I mean the Americans are still very much involved in counter-terrorism on the ground here and that will probably continue to be the case." Really? Americans on the ground in Iraq "very much involved in counter-terrorism" would sound to me like combat. I think it would strike many as combat. "Uh we'll also be heavily involved in training uhm and supporting the Iraqi military which -- which is essentially, you know, become a client of the US." Training and supporting the Iraqi military? Sounds again a lot like combat. We'll stop there to pick up from yesterday's snapshot. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) wrote, "The statement, which appeared in most Iraqi newspapers Tuesday, is the first by any American or Iraqi official to detail the size of the U.S. training contingent that the Iraqis have requested. It seemed to make clear that there were no further discussions likely on the thorny issue of immunity, something U.S. officials have always said was a non-negotiable condition of leaving American troops in Iraq."
For those who objected to Sahar being critiqued, first, if you missed it, that article was raised in today's Congressional hearing. It matters if it was reported incorrectly. Second, search the archives, she's never been critiqued before. Even if a co-writer on a story that got critiqued. I don't critique Laith Hammoudi or any of them. I applaud their work and all it takes is a call from a McClatchy friend to say, "___ has a story" that they wrote or co-wrote to get a link. If I disagree, I usually bite my tongue and have done that for how many years now? I have called out Leila Fadel (no longer with McClatchy), I've called out Roy Gutman and any number of others who were raised in the US and are Americans. I have walled off Issa, Hammoudi and the other Iraqi correspondents from criticism.
Yesterday was different. I'd already seen three of those articles on Jalal Talabani that morning -- over eight hours before I got the call about Sahar's piece -- and linked to one here. The articles I saw were in Arabic. There's probably some in Kurdish. I don't read Kurdish (nor do I speak it). A lot of people in the US can't read Arabic.
The Arabic article I linked to (like the other two I read) reviewed Jalal meeting with editorial boards and holding court -- holding court. Jalal's not only saying that it will be 5,000 US soldiers, he's declaring that the decision was arrived at after he, as High Commander of the Iraqi military, reviewed the situation and their capabilities and blah, blah, blah.
I don't like Nouri al-Maliki. He's a thug and he's a danger to the Iraqi people -- based upon his repeated use of secret prisons alone but it's so much more than that. And that is the opinion of the bulk of the Democrats in the Senate though they bite their tongues publicly now that a Democrats in the White House. It's also the opinion of several NGOs and if you've missed it, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has not been biting its tongue about Nouri this year.
But while I don't care for Nouri, I'm not going to lie about him. He's prime minister. I wish he wasn't. I think it slapped Iraqi people in the face after they turned out to vote in 2010 and, despite Nouri getting 'new votes' after the voting and despite his abuse of office during the elections, they voted for something other than Nouri. And yet their voices were ignored and the US government supported ignoring the voice of the Iraqi people. I think that decision did more than just harm for the next four years, I think it was a huge setback for Iraq's future.
Having said all of that, Nouri, as prime minister, is the commander of the military. Why would I deny that? Why I would pretend otherwise? And, as reported over and over in the Iraqi media (and we noted it in real time), the political blocs gave the negotiations over to Nouri (on US staying or going) and members of the Parliament repeatedly noted that they were waiting on Nouri's appraisal of the military which he was conducting as commander-in-chief. It is not Jalal Talabani's job or role. He has nothing to do beyond parade work and awards ceremonies. That's why I made a point to quote the Iraqi Constitution on the role of the president of Iraq with regards to the military, Chapter 2, Article 70, Section I, "Perform the duty of the Higher Command of the armed forces for ceremonial and honorary purposes."
So, as he entertained editorial boards, Jalal declared not only that 5,000 was the number but that, as the High Commander of the Iraqi military, he had conducted an extensive review of force strength and -- No, he hadn't. He was being a braggart yet again. Once again, he was inflating his role and purpose. Since he was doing that as he held court, that really made everything he said suspect including the 5,000 figure. Someone who feels the need to lie about their role to the press, someone who needs to paint themselves as having more power than they do, is generally someone who tends to inflate all their statements. Translation, everything he said while entertaining the press was worthy of skepticism.
Most US readers are not going to be able to read Iraqi media in Arabic. So when Sahar Issa reports that, in these reports, it 'seems' one way, yeah, I will slap it down. I'll do it again, I'll do it every day if necessary. Sahar Issa did not include Jalal's false claims about that military review he'd conducted (he conducted no review; Nouri al-Maliki conducted that review and did so due to his being the commander in chief of the Iraqi military). If that or any other fantastical claim Jalal had made had been included in Sahar Issa's report, I wouldn't have criticized it. But they didn't make the report. What made the report implied that Jalal Talabani was just talking and in the process -- No, he was bragging and on a mission to improve his own standing.
Also not in Sahar Issa's report -- though I don't believe any US outlet has covered it -- Jalal's facing strong criticism from Iraqis. That trip to the US last month cost the Iraqi government $2 million dollars. When The Great Iraqi Revolution got ahold of those documents and released them to the press, there was (and remains) real outrage. And since he returned, he's twice attempted to address the issue with the press and both times made it worse. So it's not at all surprising that someone prone to bragging in the best of circumstances would really go to town inflating their image at a time when they're under fire. We've noted that $2 million repeatedly (including in yesteray's snapshot) but let's turn to the Great Iraqi Revolution to get a take (not "the" take, a take) from Iraqis, "Now this is hilarious! Talabani confirms that he returned 500 thousand dollars of the cost of his trip to New York to Iraq budget, explaining that the plane fare to New York was one million dollars, while the delegation housing and transportation and gifts cost half a million dollars. Talabani added: The amount that was taken ONLY two million dollars. OMG! Is he serious? or does he think that we are naive? Or did Musailema the Liar i.e Maliki taught him this lie?" Is that really the same way Talabani was portrayed by Sahar Issa? No, not at all. Jalal's being publicly mocked for good reason and that's a detail that should have made the report. (And for an amusing illustration the Great Iraqi Revolution did of Nouri al-Maliki, click here. They don't have one of Allawi but they're not fond of him either.)
Moving on to Iraq and one of its neighbors, Aswat al-Iraq noted yesterday, "Turkish artillery resumed its bombing of Kurdish border areas in Seedkan, east Arbil, border control sources said today. [. . .] Kurdistan border areas are under periodical Turkish and Iranian shelling under the pretext of chasing PJAK and PKK parties member, which led to a number of killings and material damages."
The PKK is one of many Kurdish groups which supports and fights for a Kurdish homeland. Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described them in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has been a concern to Turkey because they fear that if it ever moves from semi-autonomous to fully independent -- such as if Iraq was to break up into three regions -- then that would encourage the Kurdish population in Turkey. For that reason, Turkey is overly interested in all things Iraq. So much so that they signed an agreement with the US government in 2007 to share intelligence which the Turkish military has been using when launching bomb raids. However, this has not prevented the loss of civilian life in northern Iraq. Aaron Hess noted, "The Turkish establishment sees growing Kurdish power in Iraq as one step down the road to a mass separatist movement of Kurds within Turkey itself, fighting to unify a greater Kurdistan. In late October 2007, Turkey's daily newspaper Hurriyet accused the prime minister of the KRG, Massoud Barzani, of turning the 'Kurdish dream' into a 'Turkish nightmare'."
And if you doubt the presumptions Turkey believes it can make regarding the KRG, Dar Addustour reports Turkish officials met in Baghdad with US officials (meet-up took place at the Turkish Embassy) to declare that they would not allow -- they would not allow -- Kirkuk to become part of Kurdistan and that they are alarmed by talk of implementing Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution (Article 140 outlines how the disputed area of Kirkuk will be resolved -- a census will be held, followed by a referendum, leaving the issue up to the inhabitants of Kirkuk). Trend News Agency reports Nouri announced yesterday that Iraq's forces should be used "in northern areas of Iraq." The Journal of Turkisk Weekly notes, "Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday that Turkey and Iran had extensive cooperation in combting terrorism." He is quoted stating of Nouri's announcement to send Iraqi troops to northern Iraq, "We have already demanded it. When Iraq preserves its own territories and borders, there is no need for Turkey to stage cross-border operation." AFP notes Iraq's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hoshyar Zebari, is in Turkey today for discussions with Turkish officials. Today's Zaman adds, "Turkey and Iraq have agreed to open two new gates along their common border to boost trade and accommodate increasing traffic between the two neighbors, Today's Zaman has learned. The issue was discussed during a two-day visit by Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Ankara on Wednesday. According to the information obtained by Today's Zaman from Customs and Trade Ministry officials, the formal agreement for the opening of the first border gate will be signed towards the end of the year, and the gate is expected to be in operation by the end of 2012." Hurriyet adds that "Zebari held meetings with President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu" and they note Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed "Abbawi said they would take extra measures against the alleged PKK presence at the Makhmour refugee camp, a United Nations-camp in northern Iraq that Ankara claims is a prime recruiting ground for the Kurdish militants."