Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Benghazi addressed in Congress

This morning the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee held a hearing.  Thank you to C.I. for the heads up Sunday and for putting me up at her DC home.  She was attending because she thought Iraq would be discussed (it was) and she wanted me to know about it because she thought Benghazi would be mentioned (it was).

A few basic facts.  September 11, 2012, there was an attack in Benghazi which left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith dead.

The Committee Chair is Michael McCaul and the Ranking Member is Bennie G. Thompson.  Republicans control the House so Mr. McCaul is a Republican and Mr. Thompson is a Democrat.

The Committee heard from four witnesses.  From the RAND Corporation, there was Dr. Seth Jones.  Retired Army General Jack Keane was another witness.  The other two were former members of Congress: Senator Joe Lieberman and U.S. House Representative Jane Harman.  Ms. Harman was a Democrat her entire time in Congress.  Mr. Lieberman was a Democrat (and the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee on the Gore-Lieberman ticket) until he lost a 2006 primary challenge (to Ned Lamont).  He then became an independent and held his seat in the re-election.  He was up for election in 2012 but decided not to run for re-election.  Why?

Because he would have lost.  His popularity slipped tremendously as an independent.  He was one of my two senators (Richard Blumenthal now holds his seat) and it was amazing to see how quickly Mr. Lieberman tanked in his last six years.  I could go into this in great detail but I will focus instead on the hearing.

The New York Times did a lousy report (C.I. refuted it in the January 2nd Iraq snapshot) insisting that Benghazi was the result of a YouTube video and not a terrorist attack.  Senator Dianne Feinstein has stated -- since the paper published their story -- that she does not believe, based on the briefings she has been given -- that the attack was anything but terrorism and she also does not buy the notion that it was motivated by a YouTube video.  She also rejected the paper's assertion that al Qaeda was not involved in the attack.  If you missed that -- I believe many did -- click here for The Hill's report on that (text and video).

Committee Chair Michael McCaul: Senator Lieberman, last week the House Armed Services Committee declassified testimony after months of hearing and General Carter Hamm, AfriCom Commander during the attack, he testified, "To me, it started to become pretty clear quickly that this was certainly a terrorist attack and not just something sporadic."  And I believe Leon Panetta was a part of this as well.  Do you believe that -- Again -- The response though was not that this was an al Qaeda attack but blamed on some video -- in protest over some video. What do you make of that?

Former Senator Joe Lieberman: Well a couple of things.  And the first is that it was obviously a terrorist attack -- by any generally held definition of terrorism which is the use of violence to achieve a political end or convey a political message.  I mean, these are people who were attacking the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and they obviously weren't there just to have a good time or because they didn't like that the Consulate was there.  They were there to make a statement against America.  So it was classic terrorism.  And why there was hesitancy at the beginning?  Frankly, even if it was in some way effected by the video which was -- I ended up concluding that if it was, it was only that the terrorists saw this as a moment of opportunity to strike -- still it was terrorism. It's not as if you were effected by an awful, grotesque anti-Muslim video and your response to that is to attack the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and burn it down and kill the U.S. Ambassador, that's not terrorism.  The other thing I want to say, and this based on an unfortunately quick -- because the [2012 Congressional] session was ending -- the investigation that Senator Susan Collins and I did of Benghazi in the last few months of 2012.  One of the things we concluded -- And I'll say first, for myself, I think some of the terrorists involved were either inspired or loosely connected to al Qaeda.  But a lot of them were indigenous and separate.  And part of the problem when you limit the enemy to al Qaeda and affiliates and not to the broader category of Islamist extremists and terrorists is that you miss part of the enemy.  And part of our conclusions, Senator Collins and mine, was that we don't have adequate intelligence -- at least, we didn't at that point -- on non-al Qaeda, clearly violent extremists.  Incidentally in the last month, Ansar al-Sharia was finally put on the foreign terrorist list bring about many things including, I'm sure, increased intelligence and oversight of those groups.

A little while after that, former U.S. House Representative Jane Harman spoke and she started with, "I do think it was a terrorist attack in Benghazi, just to go with that.  And I do think we were underprepared."

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, rebels seize more territory in Anbar, Nouri orders a newspaper shut down, Nineveh wants to become semi-autonomous, Nouri ticks off the Kurds again, Iraq is noted in a US Congressional hearing today, an investigation is launched to determine whether US service members disrespected Iraqi corpses in Falluja in 2004, and more.

TMZ announces today:

The United States military is conducting a formal investigation into American soldiers burning the dead bodies of what appear to be Iraqi insurgents.
TMZ obtained 41 pictures that we're told were shot in Fallujah in 2004.  Two pictures show a Marine appearing to pour gasoline or some other flammable on the remains of what officials believe are 2 insurgents.  Two other photos show the bodies on fire.  You then see charred remains.
Another photo shows a Marine crouched down next to a dead body and mugging for the camera.
Still another pic shows a Marine rifling through the pocket of the pants on a corpse.
We have not included all of the photos.  Many are just too gruesome.  There are well over a dozen bodies in the pics and some are covered with flies and one is being eaten by a dog.
We turned them all over to the Pentagon last week, and a Pentagon official tells us the pics have triggered a Marine Corps investigation.

ABC News Radio explains, "The defiling of remains is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice but the photos may also be a violation of U.S. Central Command’s General Order Number One, which provides the guidelines for how American troops serving in the Middle East should conduct themselves."  The issue was raised at today's State Dept press briefing delivered by spokesperson Marie Harf:


MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you could say something about these pictures that were released about military soldiers pouring gasoline on the bodies of Iraqis in Fallujah in 2004. I understand there’s an investigation going on.

MS. HARF: I have not seen those. I’m sorry. I would point you to DOD. They probably have the lead on this. I’m happy to check with our folks. I just haven’t.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering. I mean, right now as you are trying to work with the Iraqis on countering what’s going on, the violence on the ground, if this kind of damages your credibility in terms of someone that can be helpful right now.

MS. HARF: Well, we’re certainly extremely committed to working with Iraq in a variety of ways to counter this threat together. We’ve talked a lot about that in the past few weeks in a combination of political and counterterrorism support. I’m not familiar with the specifics about these photos, but we certainly are very committed to the relationship and have no indication that the Iraqis aren’t as well.

This comes as Michael Lipkin (Law360) reports, "The American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights organizations renewed their attempts on Wednesday to force the U.S. Department of Defense to release photos of prisoner abuse in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, arguing conditions had changed since the DOD last rejected their requests."  And as the US Air Force is rocked by a test cheating and drug scandal.  At the Pentagon today, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James took questions about the investigation.  Those alleged to have been involved are members of the ICBM force -- the intercontinental ballistic missile force.  Phil Stewart (Reuters) reports, "The Air Force has suspended security clearances for 34 officers and is re-testing the entire forces overseeing America's nuclear-armed missiles after uncovering widespread cheating on a key proficiency exam."  Secretary James declared at the press conference, "I've directed that the OSI put full resources against this investigation so that we get to the bottom of exactly what happened, who was involved, and the extent of this so that we can hold people appropriately accountable for this."

Former US Senator Joe Lieberman:  Yet increasingly we hear voices -- on both sides of the political spectrum -- who say that the threat from terrorism is receding, the end of this conflict is here or near, and therefore that we can withdraw from much of the rest of the world. This narrative is badly and dangerously mistaken. There is no question, the United States -- under President Bush and President Obama -- has inflicted severe damage to 'core' al Qaeda, the senior leadership that reconstituted itself in the mid-2000s in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan, after being driven by the American military from neighboring Afghanistan after 9/11. To borrow a phrase from General David Petraeus, while the progress we have achieved against core al Qaeda is real and significant it is also fragile and reversible . What has degraded core al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan has been the persistent, targeted application of military force against these indi viduals and networks. The precondition for these operations, and the intelligence that enables them , has been our presence in Afghanistan. If the United States withdraws all of our military forces from Afghanistan at the end of this year -- the so-called "zero option," which some now advocate -- you can be sure that al Qaeda will regenerate, eventually on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. If you doubt this, I urge you to look at what is now happening in western Iraq, where just a few years ago, during the US-led surge, al Qaeda was dealt an even more crippling blow than core al Qaeda has suffered in Pakistan. Yet now it is al Qaeda that is surging back in Iraq, hoisting its black flag over cities like Falluja and Ramadi, murdering hundreds of innocent Iraqis this year, with violence surging back to 2008 levels. 

Lieberman went on to advocate for "a small number of embedded [US] advisors on the ground" in Iraq as well as for the US to provide "airpower."  He was testifying today before the House Homeland Security Committee -- US House Rep Michael McCaul is Committee Chair and US House Rep Bennie G. Thompson is the Ranking Member.  Also testifying were former US House Rep Jane Harman, retired General Jack Keane and the RAND Corporation's Dr. Seth Jones.

Gen Jack Keane:  After the strategic blunder of leaving no residual force in Iraq -- and immunity for US troops was a false issue -- equally damaging was distancing ourselves from a long term strategic partnership between the US and Iraq leaving the al Qaeda to have re-emerged and the level of violence today is as high as it was in 2008 and destined to get higher.  The al Qaeda are quickly taking control of western Iraq while they have seized control of northern Syria.

Harman had nothing to offer on Iraq -- possibly because she was still focused on the Defense Policy Board briefing on South Asia that  "I've just come from" -- a briefing which she described as "bone chilling."  (What was she referring to?  US assessments on where nuclear war stands currently between Pakistan and India.)

We'll note this exchange.  It's typical of the hearing -- talking down to Americans, preaching war and death and destruction.

Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson:  A lot of us our faced, when we go into our districts, with an effort that's gone on a long time.  The people are becoming weary -- not defeated, but weary. And they say, "Why don't you do something to bring this to an end?" If we had a magic wand, we could do that. So, listening to some of our constituents who talk about the 6,000 people who died and the enormous costs so far, and I'll go, because I've heard it -- what would you suggest as a response to those constituents going forward, as to what members of Congress, the House and the Senate should do to bring that to an end? I'll start with you, Senator.

Former Senator Joe Lieberman:  Thanks, Congressman Thompson, that's a -- that's a really important question.  I'm glad you asked it because that's the reality.  And I know that's what you face and what members of both parties probably face -- when you go home.  So here's the point at which -- I mean one first reaction I have, which won't really convince people, but it - but it's an important one.  I will tell you that every time I went to a funeral of a soldier from Connecticut who was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, I was amazed and moved by the families saying, 'Please make sure that our son/daughter/husband/whatever didn't die in vain.'  So there is that element.  I mean, if we just, we learned some lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, that if we just walk away, we do risk saying to those families whose family members gave their lives because we ordered them to go there in our defense that they did die in vain.  I don't think we ever want that to happen.  Second thing, I want to go back to and, in some ways, I want to make this personal about President Obama. Put it in this context, President Obama ran for office in 2008 and again in 2012 with one of the basic themes -- in addition to all the change and dealing with domestic problems -- was that he was going to get us out of the wars that we were in and not get us into additional wars around the world/  And, uhm, you know, fair enough.  But sometimes the world doesn't cooperate with a presidential narrative and I think that's where we are in the countries that I've talked about: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya.  Which, if we don't do something more than we're doing now, they're going to tip over.  So, I say this personally, I'm not here just to criticize what the Obama administration has done.  In some sense, I'm here to appeal to the Obama administration -- which, after all, the president's going to be our president for three more years and a lot that could be good or bad for our security couldan happen.  I repeat, what's a lesson learned that's consistent with the message that the president -- the policy that the president has adopted?  We're not going to send tens of thousands of troops on the ground to any of these countries.  But there's something in between that and just pulling out.  And I think what we've all , in different ways, tried to argue today, both militarily and in other ways in terms of aid and support where if we don't -- and this is what I'd say to the constituents -- if we don't at least maintain a presence, if we don't help the freedom fighters in Syria, the non-extremists, anti-Assad people, if we don't build up the Libyan military to maintain order against the militias, if we don't make the kind of agreement and support the government in Iraq, then we're going to get attacked again. Same from Afghanistan.  And, uh, then we're going to have to go back in there and have to spend more, risk more American lives.  It's not an easy argument to make -- and particularly, not in tough economic times.  But so I think, bottom line, we've learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's not going to be hundreds of thousands of troops but if we just turn away we're going to suffer and, therefore, we need your support, Mr. and Mrs. Constituent, to help us do that. 

Former US House Rep Jane Harman: I can think of five things -- some of which I've already mentioned, but I'll tick them off.  One, honor the service of those who followed orders and went to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Tens of thousands grievously wounded.  Many came home in decent shape.  Honor their service.  Make sure we have in place a welcome mat that includes all the benefits they're entitled to but also hopefully efforts to build good jobs for them -- the unemployment rate among returning vets is disproportionate to the unemployment rate of others.  Second, engage in a whole of government approach to solve this problem.  We've discussed that at length, I won't go into it again.  Third, continue the counter-terrorism mission in not just the Middle East but around the world.  The US has interests in other places other than our own country but we surely don't want training grounds to develop again in pick a place.  And we know that some are and we need to be active there using all the tools that we have. Fourth, continue our surveillance system although I think some reforms are in order.  The president will speak on Friday.  I was quite impressed with the report that was presented to him.  It's not clear exactly what he'll adopt but we need to have an effective system that can spot bad guys and prevent and disrupt plots against us.  And finally, enact cyber security legislation so that we are protected against what is a growing threat and could in the end be a more -- many predict -- a much more severe threat than some other form of terror threat against the homeland.

Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson:  General?

Retired General Jack Keane: Yes, I would first say to them that never before in the history of the country have so few sacrificed so much for so many and have done it for so long.  And the fact of the matter is that the reason why it has been so long is because of the mistakes that we made and be honest about it.  The fact of the matter is that our strategy initially in Afghanistan -- military strategy I'm talking about here -- and our military strategy in Iraq after we liberated Iraq was flawed  And that led to protracted wars.  And we should have an honest discussion with the American people and with your constituents. Now the fact of the matter is that if you know America's military -- and I can say this with some knowledge -- is that we normally get off on the wrong foot and we have throughout our history with some rare exceptions.  But because we're reflections of the American people, the American society, we're intellectually flexible and operationally adoptable.  And we sort of get to the answer faster than other people would when we're on a much larger war than what we're dealing with here.  And we did figure it out eventually in Iraq and we have figured it out in Afghanistan as well.  And the sacrifice is definitely worth it to protect the American people.  I mean, when you talk to the troops we deployed in the 90s and we were all over the world doing things in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Herzegovina, you name the place, there were problems and we were there.  Not necessarily fighting to the degree that we've done post-9/11 but nonetheless deployments and some fighting.  From 9-11 on, and we have a 9-11 generation in the military, we have a 9-11 generation in the Central Intelligence Agency -- The fact of the matter is when you talk to these troops, it's all about the American people.  Before it was about helping others.  This is about protecting the American people and they get it.  That's why they willingly go back and do four, five, six tours.  We have generals that have been away from their families for 8 out of 10 years.  I mean it's quite extraordinary the sacrifice that is willingly be made. Tell that story.  It's extraordinary because they are protecting the American people and our way of life.  And they're willing to do something that most of the American people cannot do and that is die for that.  And that is really quite extraordinary.  So I say be honest with them.  And then, in terms of this troublesome area, I know intellectually we like to talk about we're pivoting to the east because of the emergence of China.  Does anyone in this room believe that in any near term we're going to go to war with China? Not that we shouldn't be vigilant about them.  We can't be serious about that.  The fact of the matter is we have huge problems in the Middle East that threaten the United States.  And we have to stay engaged, Mr. Congressman, that is the word that we need to use.  We partner with our allies in that region and we support people who want to overthrow dictatorial regimes -- like in Libya, like in Tunisia, like in Syria.  In Libya and Syria, they just want us to help them.  They don't want our troops. And in Iraq, where we did help them, we walked away and look at the mess we have as a result.  That should inform us of how dangerous this situation is and how important American commitment is to stay engaged.  And we have to do that if we're going to protect the American people. 

Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson:  Dr. Jones?

Dr. Seth Jones:  I would say three things that are worth reminding constituents and all Americans that we talk to.  One is, as much as we would like this war and this struggle to end, there are organizations committed to fighting Americans and conducting attacks overseas that will not end.  They don't have a desire to end this and the struggle on their part will continue.  Therefore, the struggle continues.  As much as we want to end it, the terrorists we've talked about today are committed to continuing this struggle.  Second, I would say, as everybody here has noted, the days of large numbers of American forces targeting terrorists overseas -- particularly conventional forces -- are over.  And I think that as we have seen over the past several years, they have tended to radicalize populations rather than to facilitate.  So what that does leave us is, I would say, a third point.  There is a more modest approach.  I think we have learned we're talking about smaller number of forces, lethal ones overseas -- as well as civilians; we're talking about smaller amounts of American dollars that are being sent.  There is a need for direct action -- some direct action activity.  We have stopped plots targeting the US homeland from overseas because of this action.  We also have an interest in building some of the local partnership capacity so that we don't have to do all of this -- so that we don't have to do all the fighting and dying and that locals can do it.  This is the direction we've moved on in several fronts.  So I would say there has been a learning process.  But let me just conclude by again just reminding constituents and Americans, that from the al Qaeda and jihadists perspective, the war continues and, in that sense, we cannot retreat. 

Some quick take aways.  Joe Lieberman has never understood 9-11, not even the official story.  If you examine his claims about how inaction will cause another 9-11, you should realize quickly that the only inaction in the official story is the failure to heed warnings.  The reasons given for the attack are not reasons calling for more US troops stationed around the world. In fact, one reason given for the attacks was US troops stationed in the Middle East.  Second, it's really sad that two people who voted for the Iraq War -- Lieberman and Harman -- can do nothing to justify the war but hide behind dead soldiers.  Contrary to their embarrassing remarks, you don't continue insanity because some people died.  You learn from your mistakes.  Or, in Lieberman and Harman's case, you never learn.  Last main point we'll make: only a smaller number of forces will be used.

That's what the War Hawks said.  And that can be seen as a victory.  The force size -- even at its largest -- in Iraq was never as great in number as what the US sent to Vietnam.  So it's worth noting that the Iraq Wae which was supposed to bury memory and fact (more popularly known as "the Vietnam syndrome") didn't work.  And even War Hawks have to face that in the next go rounds the numbers sent will be even smaller.

Lieberman and others, of course, say send advisers so we should probably point out that this is the way they birth wars -- start it with advisers and kick it up to something greater.

I'll probably come back to the hearing tomorrow to note one more thing regarding Iraq.  Also in today's State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: Marie --

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yep.

QUESTION: I have one more – Iraqi members of parliament are in town. Have they met anyone from the State Department?

MS. HARF: Members of parliament?


MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t know. I’ll check.

That's what we need to cover and I'll kick that back to tomorrow.  This is about the DC event that we covered in yesterday's snapshot.  We'll try to pick up the Iraq from the hearing and one of the MPs from yesterday.  Also Ruth and Kat were at this morning's hearing and plan to write about it at their sites tonight focusing on Benghazi.  Ava and Wally were at the hearing and are debating if they've got anything else they can cover.

Yesterday, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq began a visit to DC.  Speaking to  Eli Lake (Daily Beast) al-Mutlaq called for the US to send election monitors to Iraq.   He made his call for election monitors on the same day as a Nineveh Electoral Commission official was assassinated in Mosul.  Today, National Iraqi News Agency reports, "Unknown gunmen assassinated on Wednesday 15, Jan. an employee at Nineveh Elections Office, near his home in eastern Mosul."

The elections are the parliamentary elections which are supposed to take place April 30th.
Some have argued that Nouri al-Maliki's current assault on Anbar Province is a campaign move as he seeks a third term as prime minister.  Others have argued Nouri's assault is an attempt to delay the elections.
Alistair Lyon and Yara Bayoumy (Reuters) provide an analysis of Nouri's rule and we'll note this part on the 2010 parliamentary elections where Nouri's State of Law was beaten by Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya but the White House insisted Nouri be given a second term:

A former senior adviser to Maliki is cited by Iraq expert Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics as saying the prime minister began keeping decision-making far more to himself after the formation of his government in 2010.
"Maliki's paranoia went stratospheric and he wouldn't listen to any advice," Dodge quoted the adviser as saying.
The election also discouraged Sunnis who, after boycotting earlier U.S.-sponsored elections, had put their faith in the ballot box and supported Iraqiya - only to see it stymied after its success. "It's against that background that violence and alienation has flourished in Anbar," Dodge said.
In 2010, the Iraqi people voted and the White House stripped them of their votes.  Since then things have gotten progressively worse each year in Iraq leading up to the just finished 2013 which Prensa Latina describes as follows: "The city [Baghdad] is sunken in a wave of violence that left a death toll of 9 500 people last year, caused by the resurgence of the conflict between the Sunni Muslim Community, which feels discriminated, and the Shiite-led government."

Nouri's assualt on Anbar continues.  Colin Freeman (Telegraph of London) reports that, "in the town of Saqlawiyah, west of Fallujah, Iraqi police fled their station after being outgunned by militiamen, who used a mosque’s loudspeakers to urge them to leave. "   AFP notes that "militants took more territory from security forces in crisis-hit Anbar province.  The twin setbacks for authorities, grappling with Iraq’s worst period of unrest since the country emerged from a sectarian war that killed tens of thousands, come just months before parliamentary elections." F. Brinley Bruton (NBC News) reminds, "Sunni militants took over the city of Fallujah west of Baghdad two weeks ago, in a direct challenge to the rule of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki."   Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) report:

The World Health Organization said the few health facilities in the province were no longer able to provide even lifesaving interventions and residents in Ramadi and Fallujah face acute health needs due to the conflict. The organization said it has dispatched 2 tons of medicine and supplies.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has delivered food and essential supplies over the past few days to nearly 12,000 displaced people in Anbar and several other mainly Sunni areas. It warned the families "are enduring considerable hardship," and their situation has shown no signs of improvement.

Iraq Body Count counts 52 dead from Tuesday's violence and, through yesterday, 458 violent deaths for the month so far.

Sky News counts at least 75 dead today as does Alistair Lyon (Reuters) while EFE notes at least 152 people were left injured.   NINA reports 1 Shabak was shot dead in Mosul, an eastern Baghdad car bombing (Palestine Street) left twelve people injured, a northeastern Baghdad car bombing claimed 5 lives and left twelve people injured, 2 people were shot dead in Baghdad, Baghdad Operations Command announced they shot dead 1 suspect, an armed clash in Jlami-dor left 3 fighters dead, an Alhamrah Village roadside bombing left 3 police members dead and two more injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing killed 1 police officer, an eastern Baghdad roadside bombing (al-Obeidi area) left 2 people dead and five more injured, a Jalawla sticky bombing left 1 person dead, a Baghdad sticky bombing (Sadr City) left 1 person dead and two more injured, 4 corpses (1 woman, 3 men) were discovered dumped in the streets of Baghdad, a Mosul bridge bombing left 7 Iraqi soldiers dead and nine more injured, Anbar security announced they killed "11 members of Daash when military helicopters bombed" Saqlawiyah, an Ein al-Jahash roadside bombing left Ismail al-Jubouri wounded (he's the Director of Nineveh Operations Command), a south Baghdad roadside bombing (Zafaraniyah) claimed 2 lives, a western Baghdad car bombing (Shu'la) claimed 2 lives and left ten people injured, a south Buhruz funeral bombing left 13 people dead and twenty-one more injured, and a central Baghdad car bombing (Sena'ah Street) left 1 person dead and nine more injured. Sky News notes of the funeral bombing "In the deadliest single incident, a bomb blew up in a funeral tent in Buhriz - 35 miles north of Baghdad - where mourners were marking the death of a Sunni Muslim pro-government fighter."  All Iraq News notes 1 corpse was discovered dumped northwest of Mosul (gunshots to the chest).

Let me point out what we said here before Nouri's assault on Al Anbar Province began -- it would not stop violence in Iraq and that previous assaults by Nouri only stirred up violence in the parts he wasn't attacking.  That has proven to be the case this go round as well.  Of today's violence, Lateef Mungin and Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) observe, "Much of the violence recorded Wednesday was in and around Baghdad."  Michael Holmes (CNN) has a strong look at Iraq today which includes:

Plenty has been reported about the violence in Ramadi and Fallujah and the resurgence of al-Qaeda linked radicals, but the killing is widespread -- from Mosul in the north to Baghdad to the south of the country.
Dr. Ayad Allawi was Iraq's first post-Saddam head of government, serving as interim Prime Minister in 2004 and 2005. Tough as nails, but a committed secularist, he looks at his country today with more than a dose of pessimism.
"Unfortunately the country is moving on a sectarian road now," he tells me as we sit in his office, hidden behind blast walls and protected by government and private security.
"It was very dangerous to start with, and I warned leaders in the region. (Now) Iraq has started a civil war -- it hasn't reached the point of no return, but if it does then the whole region will burn up."
He points the finger of blame in many directions, from Syria to the U.S. to Iran, but mainly at the man who now holds his old job -- Prime Minister al-Maliki.
"He doesn't believe in power sharing, he doesn't believe in reconciliation," Allawi says. "He promised to do these things once he became Prime Minister, but in effect he talks against this -- accusing everyone else of being a terrorist, or corrupt, or extremist and so on.

"Authoritarian regimes don't work in this country -- we tried this before and it didn't work. No one sect can rule, no one party can rule, no one man can rule -- we want a democratic country but this is not, unfortunately, what this government wants."

The Irish Mirror notes that Nouri made a high drama statement today, "If we keep silent it means the creation of evil statelets that would wreak havoc with security in the region and world."  Some assume he means Falluja and Ramadi.  He may just as well be talking about provinces that want to declare their own independence (as guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution).  Bassem Francis (Al-Monitor) speaks with Nineveh Province's Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi (brother of Iraq's Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi).  Atheel explains Nineveh is thinking about declaring its independence:

In a discussion with Al-Hayat, Nujaifi said: “The province is worried about the recent events in Anbar. Any conflict between the security forces and the Sunnis will be quickly reflected on the people in Ninevah. These events have made the people of Ninevah province despair that the conditions of the Sunnis in general, and the people of Ninevah province in particular, will be reformed any time soon. … Therefore, our only option to restore hope to the people of the province is to come out with a new project that has specific features. We have all agreed to request either the establishment of an [autonomous] Ninevah province or to demand the internationalization of the situation of the Sunnis in Iraq because of the injustice they are suffering.”
Nujaifi said: “[Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki wants to risk the security of Iraqi society for electoral purposes. He always uses the [recess periods] to make his moves. Every year during the Christmas period he provokes a major crisis, taking advantage of the world being on holiday. … In today’s case, his aim is the election. [He wants] to achieve a victory over his Shiite rivals and at the same time to push the Shiite extremism project a step forward.”
Ninevah’s government accuses Maliki of confiscating its authority over the deployment of the army in major cities, and for launching arrest campaigns by exploiting the laws of “accountability and justice” and “the fight against terrorism,” as well as for depriving the province of a budget that is commensurate with its population.

Nouri's also stirring up problems with the Kurds.  Kitabat reports Kurdish Cabinet members walked out of the meeting on the budget today due to Nouri's efforts to penalize the Kurdistan Regional Government for the KRG's oil deal with Turkey. This is the second year in a row where Nouri has failed to work out what the Kurds see as a fair budget.  Though the budget's been forwarded to Parliament, Baghdad residents won't read about that in the Middle East.  The Baghdad and Saudi Arabia daily newspaper has been shut down.  Kitabat reports that Nouri's forces stormed the paper's Baghdad offices and shut it down.  Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory has called for an explanation and cites journalist Hamza Mustafa explaining that the Ministry of the Interior forces stormed in late Tuesday, shut them down and told them they were no longer allowed to print a newspaper in Baghdad.

jomana karadsheh