Friday, July 06, 2012

Change would do the world good





First thing that always pops into my head regarding our president is that all of the people who are setting up this barrier for him … they just conveniently forget that Barack had a mama, and she was white — very white American, Kansas, middle of America…There was no argument about who he is or what he is. America’s first black president hasn’t arisen yet. He’s not America’s first black president — he’s America’s first mixed-race president.


Today is only the fifth day of the new month yet Iraq Body Count tabulates 88 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month -- and that's just July 1st through the 4th.  And the violence continued today.  Alsumaria reports a suicide bomber went into a Mosul shopping mall and blew himself up also killing 4 other people and leaving twelve more injured.  As ambulances rushed the injured to the hospital, security forces closed down the area. In addition, Trend News Agency reports a car bombing in Baghdad which left four people injured. Bushra Juhi (AP) reports that local government official Ali Abdul-Amir's Baghdad home has bombed resulting in the deaths of his wife and their two daughters while he and two sons were left injured.  Alsumaria notes a Diayala Province bombing (near Baquba) which claimed 1 life, also in Diyala (Tahrir) 1 Sawha was killed and three of other Sahwa were injured by a bombing, and a Tirkit suicide car bomber took their own life and left three people injured.  Wednesday saw violence as well.  Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) noted 3 "Iraqi officials" were shot dead today and a Taji roadside bombing left six people injured while a Zubaidiya car bombing claimed 8 lives and left twenty-five people injured.  AFP added the 3 shot dead in Baghdad: "policewoman Ibtisam Ibrahim[, . . .] police First Lt Ahmed Swadi [and] employee at Iraq's parliament, Farhan Kadhim Mussa."  Alsumaria noted a Baquba roadside bombing injured three people.   Margaret Griffis ( counted 63 dead and 152 injured on Tuesday.  This week has seen attacks on Shi'ites making a holy pilgrimage.  Jaber Ali (Middle East Confidential) explains, "There are fears that the trend will continue, especially on Friday. Analysts believe that the Shiite pilgrims will be the principal targets of bombings and security is being beefed up around Karbala." Press TV reports that 40,000 security forces will provide security within Karbala and that security forces are also deployed "around the central city."
Yesterday, Alsumaria reported that Nouri has ordered raids and arrests in Diyala Province.  Baquba is the capital and it borders Iran in the north.  It is predominately Sunni with a signficiant number of Shi'ites Kurds and Turkmen.  "Home to every major sect and ethnicity of Iraq," the Institute for the Study of War has noted.  The organization also noted:

Shia and Kurdish power blocs saw the organization of the Sunnis into legitimized security forces in Diyala as a threat to their strategic interests within a critical province. In response to the IIPs growing power, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki created the Diyala Support Council (DSC) in mid-2007 in an attempt to influence Diyala from Baghdad. Further, Maliki employed the ISF to reduce the strength of Sunni power bloc in Diyala by arresting hundreds of Sunni fighters and ejecting Popular Committee leaders from their offices. Lastly, in February of 2008, Prime Minister Maliki won the approval of the Government of Iraq to form Tribal Support Councils (TSC) throughout Iraq. The Diyala TSCs allowed Maliki to check growing Sunni influence within the province and play one Sunni group off another, effectively preventing the Sunnis from creating a single, consolidated political bloc.
With at least 13 arrested in Diyala Wednesday and security sources telling Alsumaria that 20 more have been arrested in Diyala already this month, chances are the arrests will be seen as part of Nouri al-Maliki's continued attack on Iraq's Sunni population.  Today, Bryar Mohammed (AK News) reports Iraqiya's Suhad al-Hayali is stating that police are stating, "You are Sunnis and are behind the terrorist attacks. The Security forces coming from Baghdad to Baquba attack people in violation of the human rights and speak sectarian slogans and remarks."
In addition, Iraq's Journalists Freedom Observatory noted yesterday that when journalists attempted to cover Minister of Electricity Abdul Karim Aftan's appearance at the opening of a new power plant in Baghdad July 2nd (Monday) they witnessed the minister's security guards begin beating people -- including journalists -- to clear a route for the minister's departure. 
As the violence continues, Kay Johnson and Lara Jakes (AP) observe, "Part of the problem is the dysfunctional Iraqi government that, so far this year, has failed to protect its public or settle internal power squabbles."  Michael Knights (Foreign Policy) weighed in today on the violence and shifting landscape:
But just as Iraqi politics heats up, the United States is rapidly losing its ability to decipher events in the country. "Half of our situational awareness is gone," an unnamed U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal in June. "More than half," a serving U.S. military officer told me when I asked about the accuracy of that statement.
To Iraq experts, these statements ring true: At the height of the "surge," the United States collected fine-grain data from the 166,000 U.S. troops and 700 CIA personnel in Iraq, as well as a network of 31 Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Now, U.S. embassy staff enjoy very limited freedom of movement -- hemmed in by a suspicious government in Baghdad and a still-dangerous security situation. According to the Journal, the CIA station in Iraq may be reduced to 40 percent of its peak levels because the Iraqi government is extremely sensitive about its intelligence work with the Iraqi security forces.
The concerns come at a time when the US government continues to spend massive amounts of taxpayer money in Iraq despite the decreased US oversight.  Joshua Altman (The Hill -- link has text and video) reports US House Rep Jason Chaffetz was on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzter Tuesday and declared, "The degree in which our assets are being treated in very troublesome.  There's some 50 billion dollars worth of projects that the American taxpayers have footed ... yet when we try to go through checkpoints and try to travel through the country and do other types of things we're having a very difficult time."

Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations held a hearing on Iraq.  Committee Chair Chaffetz heard many disturbing reports from the various governmental IG (inspector generals) about what was taking place in Iraq.

Chair Jason Chaffetz: The State Dept has greatly expanded its footprint in Iraq. 
 There are approximately 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors -- roughly a seven-to-one ratio.  This includes 7,000 private security contractors to guard our facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq.  Leading up to the withdrawal, the State Dept's mission seemed clear.  Ambassador Patrick Kennedy testified that the diplomatic mission was "designed to maximize influence in key locations."  And later said, "State will continue the police development programs moving beyond basic policing skills to provide police forces with the capabilities to uphold the rule of law.  
The Office of Security Cooperation will help close gaps in Iraq's security forces 
capabilities through security assistance and cooperation."  This is an unprecedented mission for the State Dept. Nonetheless, our diplomatic corps has functioned without  the protections of  a typical host nation.  It's also carried on without troop support that  many believed it would have. As a result, the Embassy spends roughly 93% of its budget  on security alone.  Without a doubt, this is an enormously complex and difficult mission.  Six months into the transition, the Congress must assess whether the administration 
is accomplishing its mission?  While the State Dept has made progress, it appears to be facing difficult challenges in a number of areas. The Oversight Committee has offered some criticism based on their testimony today.  Including the Government Accountability Office noting that the State and Defense Dept's security capabilities are not finalized.  
The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction states that, "Thousands of projects completed by the United States and transferred to the government of Iraq will not be sustained and thus will fail to meet their intended purposes."  The Defense Dept's Inspector General's Office explains that the lack of Status of Forces Agreement has impacted land use agreements, force protection, passport visa requirements, air and ground movement and our foreign military sales program.  And the US AID Inspector General's office testifies, "According to US AID mission, the security situation has hampered its ability to monitor programs. Mission personnel are only occassionally able to travel to the field for site visits."  Embassy personnel have also told Committee staff that the United States government has difficulty registering its vehicles with the
 Iraqi government and Iraqis have stood up checkpoints along supply lines.  According to one embassy official, the team must dispatch a liason to "have tea and figure out how we're going to get our trucks through."  These are just some of the challenges the State Dept is facing in Iraq today.  Perhaps as a result of these conditions, Mission Iraq appears to be evolving.  In an effort to be more efficient, the State Dept is evaluating its footprint, reducing personnel and identifying possible reductions.  This rapid change in strategy, however, raises a number of questions. Are we on the right track?  Are we redefining the mission?  What should we expect in the coming months?  And, in hindsight,  was this a well managed withdrawal?

The Subcommittee heard about it being impossible for Americans to check on the various costly projects the US taxpayers continue paying for (so there is no direct US supervision) and that there was a failure to get lease agreements so that most of the facilities could be lost.  (Only 5 of 14 have land lease agreements, as the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Courts testified.)) This matters because?  It matters because of the money the US government is spending -- taxpayer money -- in Iraq. US House Rep Blake Farenthold conveyed his displeasure to the State Dept's Patrick Kennedy over the fact that the Police College Annex in Baghdad was a US facility that cost US taxpayers "more than $100 million in improvements to the site" only to "be turned over to Iraq for free" as a result of the US not securing a land lease.  And don't forget that last week, Walter Pincus (Washington Post via Stars and  Stripes) reported, "The State Department is planning to spend as much as $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month.  Remember, it has been 3 1/2 years since American diplomats moved into the 104-acre, $700 million facility and only four months after State Department officials in February talked about trying to cut back the U.S. presence there."
US officials had no trouble visiting the KRG today.  All Iraqi News reports they met with KRG President Massoud Barzani and discussed the ongoing political crisis as well as the US relationship with the KRG.  The article notes that Barzani also attended the July 4th celebration held by the US Consulate in Erbil and spoke there with remarks which included a reminder to the "US leadership" of the obligations they have to the Kurds as a result of promises and he noted the Kurds aren't a threat to unity, that the Kurds support unity and freedom and that they do not and will not support a dictatorship. The article gets the titles wrong of the two US officials.  One is Alex Laskaris is the Counsul General for the Erbil consulate and he is expected to leave shortly (US President Barack Obama has nominated Laskaris to be the US Ambassador to Guinea).   The other official is Robert Stephen Beecroft who is the Charge d'affaires and running the US mission in Iraq since the US Ambassador James Jeffrey stepped down from his post last month.  If you click here (KRG official government website), you can see a photo of President Massoud Barzani receiving the US officials. At a time when the US government has less and less eyes in Iraq, it's worth nothing that among the 'missing' eyes is a US Ambassador to Iraq.  Laura Rozen scooped everyone (by weeks) with the news that Brett McGurk would be Barack Obama's third nominee for the post.  Unlike the other two (Jeffrey and, before him, Chris Hill), McGurk did not make it through the confirmation process.  Last week at Al-Monitor, Laura Rozen shared:
In the wake of Obama's nominee for Iraq ambassador withdrawing his name from consideration last week after an unusually bruising ordeal, it's a fair bet the Obama administration is inclined to go with a safe, more easily confirm-able pick for its next nominee for the post.
Washington Iraq experts say they expect the new nominee to be announced in the next couple weeks, and have offered a somewhat lengthy list of diplomats they have heard are in the mix for the post overseeing the largest US embassy in the world.
She goes on to note the names she's hearing for the post including Robert Stephen Beecroft, Stuart Jones (US Ambassador to Jordan) and Robert Ford (former US Ambassador to Syria).  As with Barack's previous three nominees for US Ambassador to Iraq -- and all the ones under Bush -- they're all male.

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