Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Assisted suicide?






The tensions between Erbil and Baghdad continue.  Nouri al-Maliki turned a tense situation into a crisis by sending forces (Tigris Operation Command) into the disputed areas in northern Iraq.  The Kurds see this as an attempt by Nouri to seize control of the areas.  Due to Nouri's past record and his refusal to honor the Constitution he took an oath to (specifically to implement Article 140 of the Constitution to resolve disputed areas), they're wise to see this as yet another power grab on Nouri's part.   The World Tribune observes today, "Over the last 10 days, KRG and the Iraq Army have been in a standoff for control of a disputed town of Tuz Khurmatu." 
Zaydan al-Rabii (Al-Monitor translating Al-Khallej) reported this morning that despite the fact that "a Kurdish military delegation is arriving in Baghdad on Monday [Nov. 26] to meet officials from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, news indicates that additional Kurdish soldiers and armored vehicles are moving towards disputed areas."
In a development everyone is trumpeting, representatives from the KRG and the central Iraqi government met in Baghdad today.  KUNA notes, "Iraq's federal government and provincial government of Iraq's Kurdistan region reached an agreement in principle stipulating return of all military foces to their previous locations."  In principal?  And that's the more upbeat version.  Isabel Coles and Alison Williams (Reuters) lead with, "Iraqi military leaders agreed on Monday with commanders from the Kurdistan region to defuse tension and discuss pulling their troops back from an area over which they both claim jurisdiction."  That's not quite the same thing and when you include a quote from Iraq's "commander in chief of the Iraqi armed forces" (that would be Nouri) that states the two sides will "discuss a mechanism to return the forces which were deployed after the crisis to their previous positions."  So they're going to discuss that.  And even less has been accomplished according to Almanar, "Top federal and Kurdish security officials agreed in Baghdad on Monday to 'activate' coordinating committees between their forces and work to calm the situation in northern Iraq, a statement said."  Almanar also notes that those attending the meeting including US Lt Gen Robert Caslen.
Let's take a little side trip since a US military officer is attending meetings in Iraq.  Last night,  Xinhua reported on US efforts to beef up their presence in Iraq, US military efforts.  They note Independent Press Agency has quoted an Iraqi government source stating, "Dozens of giant U.S. airplanes C-130 Hercules had carried out successive flights to the once second largest U.S. military airbase al-Asad in Iraq's western province of Anbar."  They include the official government denial.  While Buratha News Agency has noted a Special Ops unit has come into Iraq in recent weeks and that there are negotiations going on to send more in.  Then the report notes:

On Sept. 24, the New York Times newspaper quoted Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., an American commander in charge of speeding up weapons sales to Iraq, as saying that Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions.
According to Caslen, "A unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence," the newspaper.

Back in September,  Tim Arango (New York Times) reported:

Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

That's the New York Times report Xinhua is referring to.  And please note, 'fact checker' and corpulent TV personality Candy Crowley felt no need to tell debate watchers that very real fact.  But China's Xinhua can note what NBC News, CBS News and ABC News all ignored.  But it wasn't just television news that was ignorant of Tim Arango's report.  Mere weeks ago the editorial board of the New York Times wrote an editorial on Iraq that made clear they hadn't read what one of their own reporters had written.  And when 'fact checking' the presidential debates, the New York Times team repeatedly came up stupid when it had to do with the US government in negotiations to send more US troops into Iraq. 
The Chinese may end up better informed about what the US is working on in Iraq than the American people.   Back to the current standoff in Iraq.
Kelly McEvers has a major report on the conflict today for NPR's All Things Considered (link is audio right now -- transcript will go up at link tomorrow).  McEvers notes the history of the conflict and the recent skirmish in Tuz Khormato. Calling it the best US broadcast report on the conflict really isn't a compliment becuase it's also the only in depth broadcast report in the US so far. That said, it's a very strong report. We're going to stay with today's 'big news' and note this from her report.
Kelly McEvers: Kurdish and Arab military leaders tentatively agreed today to pull their troops back to previous positions but the restaurant owner back in Tuz Khormato is not optimstic. "It's not the politicians in high place who suffer from this war of words," he told us. "It's us. The people on the ground."

Things are now so tense between the Kurdistan Regional Government out of Erbil and the Baghdad-based central government of Iraq that rumors usually used to justify the start of open war are flying around. Al Rafidayn reports rumors being spread that the Kurds are sending shooters into Kirkuk in plain clothes to kill people. This is the sort of thing the US government has repeatedly used to justify moving on the Syrian government. While rumors fly, Kitabat notes that efforts to de-escalate the situation and prevent armed conflict continue with talks continue.

But Nouri never plays fair. Alsumaria reports that Nouri has announced the issue is one for the federal courts. That would be the federal courts he controls.  All Iraq News notes that Jabbar Yawar, Secretary General of the Ministry of Peshmerga (Kurdish elite forces) has stated that their demand is that Nouri's forces leave the disputed areas. Alsumaria adds that Nouri has sent in six more additional military helicopters to the area.
This isn't surprising.  This has been building for years and there were many red flags raised in the process. 
KRG President Massoud Barzani: Iraq is facing a serious crisis today. Yesterday, we have discussed that very frankly with the President [Barack Obama], the Vice President [Joe Biden] and it's going to one-man rule. It's going towards control of all the establishments of state. So we have got a situation or we ended up having a situation in Baghdad where one individual is the Prime Minister and at the same time he's the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he's the Minister of Defense, he's the Minister of the Interior and the Chief of the Intelligence and lately he has sent a correspondence to the president of the Central Bank in Iraq that that establishment would also come under the Prime Minister. Where in the world would you find such an example? We as the people of Kurdistan, we believe that this government has come to be as a result of the blood that we have shed and as a result of the sacrifices that we have contributed. We are eager to see the situation reformed. Therefore, we will not leave Baghdad for others. So, therefore, we see the situation in Iraq that it requires to be ruled in partnership -- for that power-sharing and partnership to consist of the Kurds and the Arabs -- both the Shia Arabs and the Sunni Arabs.
Those words? Barzani delivered them when he spoke publicly in DC at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy April 5th. What's really changed since then? Nouri's gotten more aggressive and less interested in a power-sharing government. Days after that speech, Wladimir van Wilgenburg (Rudaw) reported:

After increased tensions between the Iraqi and the Kurdish governments, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani told Alhurra TV last Thursday that Baghdad is considering the use of F-16 fighter planes against the Kurds.
In the interview, Barzani says the issue with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is not personal, but it is about his dictatorial policies. "I still consider him a brother and a friend," he said. According to Barzani, division commanders in the Iraqi army are supposed to be approved by parliament, but this hasn't happened.
Barzani told Alhurra that he has confronted the Iraqi PM many times and been told by Maliki that he will act, but he hasn't, and suggested there is talk of a "military solution" to confront the Kurds in Baghdad. Barzani said that in an official meeting with Iraqi military commanders, it was stated that they should wait for F-16s to arrive to help push back the Kurds.
"Given the fact that the Maliki government doesn't represent a true coalition, won't this agreement [make it appear] we are taking sides in the civil war especially when most Iraqi Parliamentarians have called for the withdrawal of troops?"
That's an important question. Then-Senator Russ Feingold asked it in the April 10, 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing when the US was attempting to hand Nouri the moon and stars in contract form with the Status Of Forces Agreement.  He wasn't the only senator bothered by the US government getting into bed with Nouri and the issue of a civil war in Iraq. Another senator pointed out that this arrangement raised "many red flags with me and other Americans. We've pledged we're not only going to consult when there is an outside threat, but also when there is an inside threat. We've just witnessed when Mr. Maliki engaged in the use of force against another Shia group in the south, is this an inside threat?"
Good questions.  They deserved answers.
The person asking that question, like Russ Feingold, is no longer in the Senate. The person asking that question is Joe Biden, now the US Vice President.
It's a shame those questions weren't answered before Joe left the Senate. 


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