Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pat Smith on unanswered questions

Pat Smith was on Fox News tonight.  My neighbor Cory called me and said, "Turn on your TV!"

I turned on the TV and it was Greta's show and here is the clip, it is already online.

My friend knows of Pat Smith from my site and from C.I.'s as well.  But she had never seen her on TV.  So she was excited to catch Greta Van Susteren's show.

For those who do not know, Pat Smith's son was Sean Smith.  Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, Glen Doherty, and Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed in the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi.

As you may know, someone has finally been arrested ("almost two years later," is how Greta Van Susteren put it).  She wanted to know if the arrest provided any comfort to Ms. Smith?

Pat Smith:  Not a bit. Not a bit.  There were quite a few people that stormed that compound and there was an awful lot of information that came to them before it happened.  This guy that stood around and drank his lattes or whatever?  I'm not so sure he was even involved in anything.  And that's only one guy of many.  What happened to the rest of them?  How come it took so long to find one guy that says, "Here I am!"

Greta Van Susteren: What could relieve some of the agony?  We can't take it all away but is there something that could remove just a little bit?

Pat Smith:  Oh, sure.  There's one thing in particular.  Tell me the truth.  Tell me what happened.

Greta Van Susteren:  Who can tell you that?

Pat Smith: Hillary.

Greta Van Susteren:  And what specific questions would you lay out to her?  Give me an idea, sort of the questions you need answered.

Pat Smith: I want to know why she did not give security when it was called upon for so many times -- at least eight that I know of -- that they needed more security.  She refused to do it. She's blaming everybody else even though it was her territory, it was her department, and she's the one that has the answers.  Why did she do that?  Why did she not give security when she put people in harms way?  As they say, you don't ever leave someone behind.  But they do.  They left him behind.  He got the telephone call that said, 'Sorry about that.  You're on your own, there's no help coming.'  Now tell me how that's leaving nobody behind.

Pat Smith deserves answers.  C.I. has done a really great job of keeping this non-partisan and explaining that if you felt Cindy Sheehan deserved answers, you should be supporting Ms. Smith's pursuit of answers about what happened to her son.

I did support Cindy.  And I will support Pat.

Both mothers saw their sons sent to foreign countries

They died in foreign countries.

The mothers wanted to know why and they have every right to ask that question and to expect the question to be answered.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's War Crimes continue, the refugee crisis increases, more criticism of Nouri including calls for him to step aside, and much more.

Michael S. Smith: Michael, the Sunni Muslims in Iraq were defeated during the course of the American war against Iraq and now there's been a tremendous development in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq.  Tell us about it.

Michael Ratner:  You know, as we've covered on this show many times, I mean probably the most upsetting event of the last was the United States going to war in Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein.  Without discussing Saddam Hussein -- good guy, bad guy, mixed guy -- it was a completely illegal war, a war of aggression killed perhaps a million people.  And while the US has supposedly pulled out, they've left complete chaos.  And the war's created, you know, complete and utter chaos in Iraq.  The place is clearly falling apart at this point. And the latest news is remarkable.  The latest news is on the back of the Sunnis taking over over Falluja -- and remember Falluja, that was taken over about six months ago by the Sunnis, but particularly the group is called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- an organization that supposedly was once part of al Qaeda.  And Falluja is now under their control -- under Sunnis control.  But it wasn't a major city.  And it also, you have to recall, Americans -- many Americans were killed in Falluja.  US put in a huge amount of money and forces to take it back years ago, they did and now it's gone again.  But the big news today which I think is actually shocking and just tells us we have a real problem in the Middle East right now is now the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has taken over the city of Mosul.  They came in from Syria -- and remember, these are people who want to put together caliphate [an Islamic state]  -- made up at this point of Syria and Iraq -- or at least parts of those two countries. They came over and they've taken over the city of Mosul which is the second biggest city in Iraq, 1.4 million people.  And the Iraqi forces, mostly Shi'ite, who were, you know, supporting the government, have fled the city. And so now you're seeing a situation where Iraq not only has the Kurdish part in the north -- which is practically a separate state or is a separate state.  Now you have the Sunnis taking over Mosul and Falluja.  And the question is what's going to happen now.  But I can tell you now, you got chaos.  And so when all of you out there think about getting a woman president and Hillary Clinton?  Just think this: This is the person who voted for the Iraq War and for what we're seeing in front of us.  And this is the person who did it not because she believed in it but because of political expediency.  Her expediency has cost a million lives and caused the situation today -- along with many others who voted for this, the media who went for it -- from the New York Times to the Washington Post, etc.  This is what the United States has wrought in Iraq.

That discussion is from this week's Law and Disorder Radio,  an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week and is hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights).  For any offended by Michael's remarks regarding Hillary, two things.

A) The comments are more accurate than what Stephanie Cutter offered last week on CNN's Crossfire.  As Ava and I noted Sunday, it was disgraceful for her to pretend all Congressional Democrats opposed the Iraq War.  She had been Ted Kennedy's assistant.  The late senator took a brave stand and a public stand against war on Iraq.  When Cutter lies and deceives, she cheapens what one of Ted Kennedy's great moments.

B) He could have held her more responsible.  Here, we noted repeatedly Hillary wasn't over Iraq when she headed the State Dept.  Others didn't make that distinction -- others include Hillary.  But I bet, if pressed on it now, as she gears up for a presidential run, she'll make clear she wasn't over Iraq.  Until she does, anyone who wants to blame her for the current crises in Iraq can do so.  Again, I'm surprised the media hasn't been running with that already.

Actually, there's a third item.  She sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008 and may seek it out in 2016.  With Iraq being such a tragedy and such a crime, anyone who's run for president or might run for president needs to be asked in depth questions about Iraq.  The way Terry Gross probed Hillary on marriage equality is the way Hillary should be probed on Iraq -- the way anyone floating a run for the presidency should be probed.

There are a lot of different takes about the current crises in Iraq so let's move over to noting a few.  Mark Thompson (Time magazine) notes:

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may be so brutal it gets kicked out of al-Qaeda, but Maliki is no prize. He has repressed the Sunnis and Kurds, promoted Shi’ite officers in the Iraq military who didn’t warrant higher rank, and refused to share power. He used Iraqi security forces to attack peaceful Sunni protests and sidelined the Sunni Sons of Iraq that played an important role in bringing peace to Anbar province.
“Maliki was primarily concerned not with the military situation, but with his own political power,” says Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “He was deeply concerned that if we had stayed he wouldn’t be able to hold together what he thought he had done during 2010 and 2011, which was put virtually all of the instruments of state power under the authority of the prime minister’s office.”

Also weighing in this week,  Iraq War veteran Ross Caputi (ZNet) whose analysis opens:

This week Iraq emerged from the recesses of American memory and became a hot topic of conversation. Alarming headlines about ISIS’s “takeover” of Mosul and their march towards Baghdad have elicited a number of reactions: The most conservative call for direct US military action against ISIS to ensure that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki remains stable in Baghdad. The most liberal lament the ongoing violence and divisions in Iraqi society caused by the US occupation; though they make no attempt distinguish between the violence of ISIS and the violence of the Maliki government.
This range of ideas and perspectives is fascinating, and it says much about American war culture, but mostly for the ideas and perspectives that are omitted from this debate. Entirely absent is the perspective of Iraqis and the issues that are important to them: accountability, independence, and resistance. Moreover, the real complexities of this issue have been lost in a number of the Western media’s favorite binaries: terrorism vs. counterterrorism, good vs. evil, and insurgency vs. stability.
If we dare to take Iraqi voices seriously and think outside of the dominant framework presented to us by the mainstream media, a very different picture of the violence in Iraq emerges and a whole new range of options open up for achieving peace and justice.

On The Reid Report today (MSNBC -- link is video), Joy Reid spoke with NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin and with the Center for a New American Security's Michele Flournoy.  Flournoy served in the Defense Dept during Barack's first term.

Michele Flournoy:  I actually think the administration is focused on the most important thing which is to engage with all the political parties in Iraq: Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurd -- trying to get to a more inclusive government situation.  Remember why this is happening.  This is -- this crisis on the ground -- because Prime Minister Maliki has taken a very sectarian approach to government, marginalizing the Sunni population and basically creating a situation where they are turning to and welcoming in Sunni terrorist groups like ISIS.  So the core driver of this is political and that's where the first area of focus needs to be and I think the administration is rightly focused there.

Joy Reid: And to your point, this is a problem that has a solution that needs to be noted in Prime Minister Maliki's governance.  The Washington Post reports today that the hope for a political solution, essentially what you've just described, are actually dimming.  And the Post reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is actually "tightening his hold on power in response to the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq. Negotiations on a new government have been suspended, and instead, Shiite factions who had sought to prevent Maliki from securing a third term in office by aligning with Sunni and Kurdish politicians have thrown their support behind him."  That sounds like a devolving situation, not an improving one.

Michele Flournoy:  I don't think it's moving in the right direction but I think it's important for the United States and, frankly, all of the neighboring states and the broader international community to say either you come up with a more inclusive approach to government or you're not going to last.  I mean, this is something that has to be fundamentally changed at the political level.  I think the other thing that we need to be doing is engaging the countries on the periphery, particularly Iran, to exercise restraint, not to pour fuel on the fire by sending in their proxies and sort of simply inflaming what could become a civil war. 

The Washington Post report Joy referred to is Liz Sly's "Iraqi premier Maliki gaining strength as Shiites rally behind him."  Sly's covered Iraq for many years and for many outlets.  She knows the civil war (ethnic cleansing) that gripped Iraq.  So there's something we need to note from Sly's article that didn't get mentioned on air:

Sunnis shuddered Tuesday at the news that the body of a Sunni imam and two of his assistants had been discovered in Baghdad’s morgue, four days after they were detained by men wearing government uniforms. The episode echoed the sectarian bloodletting that raged in the middle of the last decade, and it reinforced fears that a new round of killings could be imminent.

In light of that, we'll note Flournoy's closing remarks, "And, again, the message to Maliki has to be either you govern in an inclusive way that's truly representative of the population of Iraq or you need to step aside and let someone else step in who can do that because you're risking renewed civil war if you don't."

Another view?  Harlan Ullman (Pakistan's Daily Times) argues things are not at the breaking point in Iraq yet:

 First, Iraqi parliamentary elections, held on April 30, have not yet led to the formation of a new government. Maliki’s Dawa Party took a real pasting. Hence, a new government could easily have a more moderate and secular prime minister who could actively reconcile with Sunni and Kurdish moderates.
Second, Iraq’s most powerful politician, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, has called upon all Iraqis to rise to the defence of their country. Even if the ISIS insurgents collect a number of Sunni insurgents and past supporters of Saddam Hussein, they are not a well-equipped fighting force. The balance will shift to government forces now that the initial shock of the onslaught has been digested. Third, if the US is smart, bold and courageous, the threat of ISIS/ISIL, which is real, offers new opportunities in the region. More will shortly follow on that.

She's worked for the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor and much more.  Today, Robin Wright (New Yorker) offers:

Iraqis must become invested in their own political order and risk putting their lives on the line to secure it. Unfortunately, Maliki may not be willing to either cede the powers required for a just resolution or to step aside. His intransigence has sabotaged Iraqi nationalism -- though others share in the blame -- and simply propping him up could eventually be costly. On Tuesday, Maliki defied international appeals for political outreach. Instead, he declared a boycott of a Sunni political bloc and put the blame for Iraq’s disintegration on Saudi Arabia. “We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that -- which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites,” his government said in a statement. So Washington will have to be bold and blunt with him -- and even consider withdrawing support. 

Can Nouri pull together Iraq?  Can he reach out to the Sunnis and/or the Kurds?  Reuters notes, "Washington and other Western capitals are trying to save Iraq as a united country by leaning hard on Prime Minister to reach out to Sunnis. Maliki met Sunni and Kurdish political opponents overnight, concluding with a frosty, carefully staged joint appearance at which an appeal for national unity was read out."

And that minor moment came about only after days of pressure from the White House.

Things remain fluid in Iraq, Rod Nordland (New York Times) reports that rebels have seized the oil refinery in Baiji. Jessica Michele Herring (Latin Post) explains, "Keeping control of the oil refinery is of paramount importance to the Iraqi government, as Iraq gains most of its revenue from the refinery's production of oil. Iraq has the world's fourth-largest crude oil reserves, and produces 3.3 million barrels of oil each day." Martin Chulov and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) add, "Losing control of Baiji would be a critical blow to Iraqi forces still reeling from the capitulation of close to 50,000 troops last week, many of whom have since been replaced by militias raised from the country's majority Shia population."  Laura Smith-Spark, Ashley Fantz and Nic Robertson (CNN) note, "That apparently included 50 Siemens employees, including eight Germans, who were holed up in a power station in Baiji but have been freed, according to German officials. The employees are safe and well, CNN was told.  According to German diplomats, around 8,000 German nationals are currently in Iraq."  While Germans were freed, National Iraqi News Agency reports "three Turks engineers" were kidnapped to the south of Kirkuk along "with their Iraqi driver."  Bill Chappell (The Two-Way, NPR) adds, "As we've reported, ISIS has , less than an hour's drive from Baghdad. It has already taken the large city of Mosul, along with Tikrit. Other cities are being fiercely contested."

Bill Van Auken (WSWS) weighs in with:

There is already a sizable Marine contingent at the embassy, not to mention large numbers of heavily armed military contractors, making it highly likely that the troops are being deployed for other purposes. This includes organizing a defense of the Iraqi capital under conditions in which Iraqi government security forces have repeatedly collapsed in the face of an onslaught by Islamist fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other Sunni insurgents.
Washington has insisted that the forces it is sending in are not combat troops, while acknowledging that they are nonetheless “equipped for combat.”
Meanwhile, the White House has organized a meeting with the top Democratic and Republican leaders of both the House and Senate today for consultations on Iraq. The private meeting between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (Republican-Ohio), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat-Nevada) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) is likely in preparation for a more aggressive US intervention.
Despite ruling out any US “boots on the ground,” there is increasing discussion of dispatching Special Forces units to Iraq—who again would be equipped for combat but would not be “combat troops” by Washington’s definition.

Where does Congress stand?  On Andrea Mitchell Reports (MSNBC -- link is video), Andrea noted the sharp division of lawmakers on Iraq and she spoke with Senator Joe Manchin.

Andrea Mitchell:  Our reporting is that the President has decided against air strikes other than what Predator Drones could do with Hellfire Missiles perhaps because the intelligence just isn't good enough.  You've heard what Lindsey Graham said and John McCain.  I gather that you are against taking strong military action today in what is evolving into a civil war.

Senator Joe Manchin:  Definitely the President recieves more information than I do or than anyone in Congress does.  But the bottom line is, if you don't have good intel, if you don't have good ground support, you can't be as effective as you want to be without collateral damage.  So I understand that from that standpoint.  I understand also that we're protecting our embassy and I think that's a responsibility that we all have and that the president definitely has.  I am not, I am not under any way, shape or form supportive -- and, Andrea, I think you know that -- of putting troops in there.  I think that basically this is a sectarian war.  We're not going to prevent that from happening.  This is something that's been going on for centuries and all of the sudden we want to basically come in there and say "Kumbaya" and "peace to all" and I don't know if that's going to happen.  I don't think we can.  If money or military might   would change that part of the world, Andrea, we'd  have done it by now.  We have given an awful  lot in sacrifices of our young men and women and basically in resources that are needed back home.  I think enough is enough.

Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Last week, his office issued this statement on the situation in Iraq:
WASHINGTON – Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued the following statement today after a classified committee briefing on the security situation in Iraq:

“We got into Iraq without adequate consideration for the consequences. What is required now is thoughtful consideration of our options, none of which, typically for the Middle East, is obvious or easy. It’s important to keep in mind that a major source of Iraq’s problems has been the refusal of the Maliki government, despite persistent U.S. encouragement, to reach out to its Sunni citizens to forge a unified and inclusive Iraq. No action on our part can resolve that disunity. It’s unclear how air strikes on our part can succeed unless the Iraqi army is willing to fight, and that’s uncertain given the fact that several Iraqi army divisions have melted away. While all options should be considered, the problem in Iraq has not been so much a lack of direct U.S. military involvement, but a lack of reconciliation on the part of Iraqi leaders.”


While Carl spoke clearly, Senator Barbara Boxer issued a statement that read like a rant:

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement today on the crisis in Iraq: “The current crisis in Iraq has its roots in an ill-conceived war that helped to fuel sectarian violence and an Iraqi government that has excluded minority populations from governing.  
“Much American blood was spilled during the Iraq War and while I believe we should go after ISIS—which poses a threat to the entire world—any U.S. action must be well-considered and well-executed in coordination with our allies and the Iraqi government and military, which we helped train and arm. Iraq should know that it needs a unity government now or its future will be bleak.  
“Some of the biggest GOP cheerleaders for the disastrous war in Iraq are now joining the blame-America-first crowd rather than working with our Commander-in-Chief to confront this crisis.”  

Where does Barbara stand?  As usual, her constituents (I am one) have no idea.  She favors something.  She's not sure what.  But she's going to take swipes at the Republicans instead of take the time to figure out what she thinks needs to happen.  The 'blame-American-first crowd'?  Yes, she actually issued a statement with that phrase in it.  No one's more of a jingoist than Boxer when a Democrat's in the White House.

Senator Bill Nelson's office issued the following:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) has been asked to comment on the situation in Iraq – specifically, on the decision to send 275 additional troops to the region.  Here’s what he had to say:
“We’re sending an additional 275 troops to Baghdad to protect our embassy.  That’s a good thing.  We’re going to send a carrier and an amphibious transport ship into the Persian Gulf in case we have to evacuate those Americans.  And in the meantime, we’re going to try to work with our allies to stop the sectarian violence that’s about to blow Iraq apart.”

I like Bill Nelson and can even respect his opinion above but I'm not glad that 275 troops -- who the White House noted would be combat ready -- are being sent to Iraq.  I agree with Bill Auken that there are areas of concern.  I also wonder how any troops -- those 275 or more -- can do any operations in Iraq.

Isn't a SOFA required for that?  Oh, wait, there's something better.  Let's drop back to the April 30, 2013 Iraq snapshot:

December 6, 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department Defense of the United States of America was signed.  We covered it in the December 10th and December 11th snapshots -- lots of luck finding coverage elsewhere including in media outlets -- apparently there was some unstated agreement that everyone would look the other way.  It was similar to the silence that greeted Tim Arango's September 25th New York Times report which noted, "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 [US] General [Robert L.] Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence."

What does the Memorandum of Understanding cover?

Section two outlines that the two sides have agreed on: the US providing instructors and training personnel and Iraq providing students, Iraqi forces and American forces will work together on counterterrorism and on joint exercises.   The tasks we just listed go to the US military being in Iraq in larger numbers.  Obviously the two cannot do joint exercises or work together on counterterrorism without US military present in Iraq.

On The Lead with Jake Tapper (CNN -- link is video), they played a clip of Senator Dianne Feinstein stating, "It seems to me that Maliki has to be convinced that it's in the greater interest of his country for him to retire and for this newly elected government to put together a new government."  Jake asked Dartmouth's Daniel Benjamin, "Is that what needs to happen?"

Daniel Benjamin: Well there needs to be a change at the top in Iraq but we've have had changes at the top before and we've also got sectarian.  So I'm not sure that we're going to get much better. Maliki has strong support in his Shia constituency, has strong support in Iran and frankly I fear that we don't have the  leverage to get the kind of government we'd like to see in Iraq. 

Robin Wright also appeared in the segment and she echoed the opinions we've already quoted earlier in the snapshot from her New Yorker piece.

Also weighing in this week, Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America issued the following:

Washington, DC – The Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV) demands that no troops be put on the ground in Iraq to combat its widening civil war. We are not Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s private army to be turned on and off when Iraqi troops desert the defense of their own nation.
Militant forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda which has been exerting influence and have been victorious in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, by driving Iraq into sectarian chaos and war based on religious differences. This week, they took over Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, with minimal opposition and have now set their sights on the capital of Baghdad.
JWV fully supports the Obama Administration’s decision to provide assistance to Iraq’s government as they work to stop the insurgency, but that support must not include sending our servicemembers back on the ground into Iraq. We must also evaluate and possibly enhance the Kurds or other possible potential allies in stabilizing the Middle East.
Of equal and sometimes even more prominent concern must be Pakistan with its nuclear capability. At this point, the entire Middle East is in a state of flux, not just Iraq, and our reaction must be reevaluated to encompass that concern.
When the U.S. left the region in 2011, it was clear that the Iraqis had no political interest in maintaining an American presence in the region. Now is definitely not the time to reenter the fray. If the Iraqi people won’t defend themselves, then we must consider the needs and the results of any intervention and the how and where of it. We must act with responsibility to America’s global security interests.
Further, given the problems currently facing the Department of Veterans Affairs it is clear that our government is and has not been prepared to properly aid the men and women who risk their lives in service to our nation, and instead lets them return to a nation which unintentionally or otherwise is unwilling to heal their wounds.
As Secretary of State John Kerry said back in January, “this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis.” The United States should fully support any military aid that can help the Iraqis fight off ISIS, but ultimately and actually it is their fight to maintain control over their country.

About Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America
Founded in 1896, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America is one of oldest active veterans’ organizations in America. JWV is dedicated to upholding America’s democratic traditions and fighting bigotry, prejudice, injustice, and discrimination of all kinds. As a national organization, JWV represents the voice of America’s Jewish veterans on issues related to veterans’ benefits, foreign policy, and national security. JWV also commits itself to the assistance of oppressed Jews worldwide.

# # #

Those favoring US military support for Nouri should be asked where they stand on Nouri's War Crimes. NINA notes the bombing of Falluja's residential neighborhoods have left 4 people dead (1 was a child) and fifteen more injured. Yesterday, it was 2 children. The bombing of Falluja's residential neighborhoods claimed the lives of 6 civilians -- two of whom were children -- with sixteen more civilians injured.

These are War Crimes, legally defined as such.

Nouri has been doing this since the start of the year.

This is a crime that is known as "collective punishment."  The State of Palestine, Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations notes:

“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidations or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.” Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention.
Forms of collective punishment against all or parts of the population have included, inter alia, the imposition of curfews and sieges on entire villages or urban centers, often for prolonged periods of time, raids, home demolitions, blanket closures of schools and universities, and the destruction and confiscation of property, including agricultural and private lands and the uprooting of trees and crops.

Last week, Senator Robert Menendez (see yesterday's snapshot) raised the issue of barrel bombs with Ambassador Stuart Jones.  (Jones is US Ambassador to Jordan, he appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because US President Barack Obama has nominated him to be the next Ambassador to Iraq).

Chair Robert Menendez:  Ambassador Jones, you know, we had Prime Minister Maliki here last year.  It was a difficult meeting.  I don't know whether or not he will actually, uh, be the prime minister again.  I guess by many accounts, he may very well ultimately build the coalition necessary to do that. But, as I said to Ambassador Beecroft as it relates to our relationship with the Egyptian government, in this case, the Iraqis must understand that the use of barrel bombs, that the overflights and the transiting of airspace by Iran sending troops and military equipment into Syria with impunity, and the lives of the people at Camp Liberty until they are resettled is going to be part of what this Committee judges as it relates to future arm sales, as it relates to our relationship.  So I would like to hear from you.  We understand the importance, we honor the lives of those who were lost in pursuit of a more democratic Iraq from the United States and an enormous national treasure.  But there has to be some change in the course of events here including having a government that is more inclusive, in which every Sunnis isn't an 'enemy' of the state.  There are many Sunnis who want to be part of Iraq as a nation but they have to be included as well.  Can you tell me about what you'll be messaging there as it relates to these issues?

Ambassador Stuart Jones: [. . .]  In regards to the use of barrel bombs, the use of barrel bombs is completely unacceptable.  It's an indiscriminate weapon against civilians and it cannot be tolerated.  This is something that my colleague, Steve Beecroft has raised with the senior levels of the Iraqi government.  There has been an instruction handed down through the military that barrel bombs will not be used.  And we've also heard from military contacts that they recognize that instruction. 

Human Rights Watch noted barrel bombs in their May 27th report:

Iraqi government forces battling armed groups in the western province of Anbar since January 2014 have repeatedly struck Fallujah General Hospital with mortar shells and other munitions, Human Rights Watch said today. The recurring strikes on the main hospital, including with direct fire weapons, strongly suggest that Iraqi forces have targeted it, which would constitute a serious violation of the laws of war.
Since early May, government forces have also dropped barrel bombs on residential neighborhoods of Fallujah and surrounding areas, part of an intensified campaign against armed opposition groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS). These indiscriminate attacks have caused civilian casualties and forced thousands of residents to flee.

“The government has been firing wildly into Fallujah’s residential neighborhoods for more than four months, and ramped up its attacks in May,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch. “This reckless disregard for civilians is deadly for people caught between government forces and opposition groups.”

Ask yourself why the US government should even consider helping Nouri?  He's a War Criminal using collective punishment.  In addition, he's also broken the law by using barrel bombs.

Exactly why does the US government need to prop Nouri up?

Let's move over to today's US State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jen Psaki:

QUESTION: Okay. Did you get an answer to the question that was posed yesterday about whose authority or under whose authority the additional security troops that went to Iraq are under, under chief of mission or under some other agreement with the Iraqis?
MS. PSAKI: I – as I said yesterday, certainly understand your interest. I’m still working through the final details of that and we’ll venture to get you all an answer by the end of the day.
As I mentioned yesterday, the Department’s – and I don’t know if I did, so maybe this is new information. The RSO, of course, in the Embassy Baghdad is charged with the security and protection of mission personnel and facilities, and the DOD security teams have been integrated with the State security team. But we will get you a final answer on that by the end of the day, Matt.

QUESTION: All right. And then just back to the broader picture for a second. Are you familiar or have you seen the comments that Mr. Jarba made today in Jeddah?
MS. PSAKI: I have not seen those comments, but I’m sure you can inform me of them.
QUESTION: Well, I can tell you a little bit what I’ve seen. That he basically accused everyone in the room – this was at an Organization of the Islamic Conference. It used to be conference. It is still conference?
QUESTION: Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
QUESTION: Basically accused everyone in the room of being responsible for – everyone else in the room of being responsible for the situation not just in Syria but in Iraq. Would you have any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without knowing the details of who else was in the room, we --
QUESTION: Well, it’s 57 countries that are all predominantly Islamic nations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, you are familiar with our view, which is that all of the countries in the region and their leaders need to focus on supporting Iraq and the Iraqi Government and the broad range of Iraqi officials at this difficult time, and it’s not a time for a blame game. We are certainly concerned about the events in Syria and the overflow of violence that has – we feel is a predominant factor that’s led us to where we are in Iraq.
QUESTION: At the same conference, Foreign Minister Zebari said that they have submitted a official request to the United States to actually commence strikes, airstrikes against ISIL. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I believe that Chairman Dempsey also spoke about this during his testimony today, and I would point you to his comments.
QUESTION: But as far as you know, are we about to take a decision in that direction?
MS. PSAKI: There --
QUESTION: Is that something that the Secretary supports?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Said, I know you’re aware – as you’re aware, there are a range of options the President is considering, not all military options. At this stage, the only thing that the President has ruled out is sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq. But as we’ve noted many times, the solution is not – needed is not an Iraqi one – is an Iraqi one – I’m sorry – and any U.S. action, including any possible military action, would be in support of a comprehensive strategy to build the capacity of the Iraqis. So I have no new update to provide to you at this point in terms of the President’s decision making.
QUESTION: Any more discussions planned with the Iranians about Iraq? Because they are – I know you said no yesterday, but I was wondering whether things have changed because they are today making noises about the fact that they’re willing to discuss Iraq with you and help if they get to a nuclear deal. So it sounds like they have quite a bit of leverage at the moment. Who wants the nuclear deal more?
MS. PSAKI: I would dispute that. There are still no more discussions planned in Vienna, as I mentioned yesterday. Further discussions would likely take place at a lower level, but I don’t have any update on that front. Our view is that any discussion with Iran regarding Iraq would be entirely separate from the P5+1 negotiations, and any effort to connect the two is a nonstarter for the United States.
QUESTION: But it sounds as though they’re going to play even more hardball in the nuclear negotiations to get you to talk to them about Iraq.
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s no plans to have further conversations about Iraq at the P5+1 negotiations.
QUESTION: And that’s what I want to follow-up. You say there’s no more discussions in Vienna, but what about elsewhere?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned yesterday, we are open to engagement or discussions on these issues. I don't have anything to predict for you, but it would happen at a lower level.
QUESTION: But – and not in Vienna, but could be in --
MS. PSAKI: Correct. That hasn’t changed since yesterday.
QUESTION: And then I have a follow-up. Do you still have confidence in Maliki as the head of state in Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Lesley, as you know, he’s the democratically elected leader of Iraq. Obviously, they’re working through their elections process now. It’s up to the people of Iraq to determine who their leadership is. We have expressed and continue to have concerns about the lack of inclusivity and the way of governing in a sectarian manner. There have been some steps taken over the last couple of days that have been encouraging, but clearly there’s more that needs to be done, and we certainly don’t expect that a couple of steps will solve months, if not years, of concern.
QUESTION: And then today they called for – they’ve asked the U.S. for airstrikes to occur, to – kind of formally. Was that done to the White House? Was Secretary Kerry involved in that? When was it done? How was it done?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details to share. Again, Chairman Dempsey spoke to this today during his testimony, so I would point – certainly point you to that. Obviously, military requests typically go through the military channels.
QUESTION: Did you see the prime minister was on the major televised appeal with Sunni and Kurdish leaders for unity?
MS. PSAKI: I did. There were actually a range of steps, so let me go through a couple of them. Yesterday, there was a national unity meeting in Baghdad at the initiative of former Prime Minister Jafari. We were encouraged to see that Iraqi leaders from all across the political and ethno-sectarian spectrum were a part of that. They met and issued a statement, including a joint call to defend the state of Iraq and protect its sovereignty and dignity. We also welcome, as I have before, but worth noting again, the Iraqi federal supreme court’s ratification of the April 30th election results, and we support Iraqi political and religious leaders’ call for national unity to confront the ISIL terrorist threat. I would also note that Iraqi national security advisor has announced the formation of a public mobilization effort to regulate the thousands of volunteers who have stepped forward to assist Iraq’s security forces. And Prime Minister Maliki also announced that he had dismissed four senior military commanders as they continue to address issues that led to a security breakdown. So these are a couple of steps. Obviously, there needs to be a continuity of this effort.
QUESTION: I just wonder if in this this building the thinking might be that these are steps that should’ve been taken perhaps months ago. As you said repeatedly, we’re calling for unity for the last few months. Is it a question that this is too late now to stop the march of ISIL as they try and capture more parts of Iraq?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view is that Iraq needs to be unified, including all of its political leaders across the spectrum in order to take on that fight. Whether that is efforts to take it on with – through the security forces and in coordination and cooperation that’s happening on that front, or the need to be more politically united over the long term. And as I mentioned a little bit earlier, even if there is assistance from the United States or other countries, this is up to the Iraqi leaders to take steps to make this sustainable over the long term.
QUESTION: But I guess the question is: Why would the Sunni Iraqis, who feel they’ve been so badly marginalized over the last few years, now trust a televised appeal and some of these steps that you’ve outlined to be reflective of what will happen going forward in the future? Why should they believe the message now coming from the Iraqi leadership?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly any leaders have to earn the trust of their people, but these are a range of steps that have been taken to show unity and the need to take on the threat of ISIL with a united front. And they have a common enemy, and that is these terrorists – this terrorist group that is killing and terrorizing people across the country. And that should be incentive.
QUESTION: And did you have anything to say about the reports of fighting around the oil refinery near Baghdad?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Any concerns about what would happen if that were to fall into ISIL’s hands?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the refinery produces for domestic consumption, and production had already stopped for several days due to a combination of technical and security reasons. Iraqi authorities may need to import domestic fuel from neighboring countries. There’s no impact on Iraq’s crude oil exports, and we haven’t seen any major disruptions in oil supplies in Iraq. But we’re certainly constantly monitoring the global oil supply and demand situation.
QUESTION: Have you – and I understand there seems to be maybe at even the White House that any intervention, any American intervention should be conditioned or predicated on Maliki having a more inclusive government. Does the Secretary also subscribe to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think you’ve heard the Secretary speak about the steps that we feel Prime Minister Maliki and other leaders in Iraq need to take. But this is not a quid pro quo. We’re talking about what is – what will – what – regardless of the decision made by the President, Prime Minister Maliki and other leaders in Iraq must take additional steps to unite the country and govern in a non-sectarian manner in order to be successful over the long term.
QUESTION: So you would discourage Maliki from taking the election results and feel free to form a government of his own coalition here?
MS. PSAKI: Well again, I think the process of forming a government will work itself through the natural process in Iraq.

That was a lengthy chunk but we've not noted the State Dept press briefings in a snapshot this week (we did note a Jay Carney White House briefing) and several State Dept friends have reminded me that Iraq is being covered and "you always complain it's not but you're not noting it."  So it's noted.


As Psaki mentioned, there's a request by Iraq for air bombings.  Matt Brown (Australia's ABC) reports that Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari states a formal request for airstrikes has been made by the Iraqi government to the US government and that Gen Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirms the request has been received.

One of the big stories right now -- one receiving little attention -- is the refugee crisis.  Today on Andrea Mitchell Reports (MSNBC -- link is video), Andrea spoke with the International Rescue Committee's Nora Love about the refugee crisis in Iraq.  Andrea noted that the last week alone has seen half a million Iraqis flee their homes and that many were fleeing to the northern Kurdistan region which was already dealing with a huge influx of Syrian refugees.  Love was speaking to Andrea from Erbil.

Andrea Mitchell: What are the numbers that you are seeing now and how are you managing the influx of people. 

Nora Love: I mean, I believe that the situation is unfolding each day.  The numbers that were reported coming across were 200,000 in Dohuk and another 100,000 in Erbil.  We're not seeing those numbers in the camps yet because most of those population has kind of been absorbed into the community.  But we feel that in a week or two, this will be unfolding and we'll see a greater need coming out.  We are concerned with what we'll happen not just with the IDPs on the resources but also what's happening in the ISIS's controlled territory. 

Andrea Mitchell:  What kind of resources do you have in terms of food and water and medical facilities for these people who have been internally displaced?

Nora Love:  Yeah, so we're starting up our programming working in seven communities in the Dohuk Province.  We'll be focusing on protection, health, women protection activities as well as cash assistance and water. [. . .]  So we're looking to work with both camp and non-camp beneficiaries of the IDPs and looking to target the most vulnerable of the vulnerables.

Andrea Mitchell:  Are many of these women and children?

Nora Love: Yes, there are many women and children. They seem to be the most at risk.  With the stories that we're hearing, some of the people left the Mosul area because they wanted to protect their daughters from -- [. . .] kidnapping, forced marriages or other things.

We need to close so we'll close with this from John Halle's "The 'Progressive' (aka, Liberal) Antiwar Movement" (CounterPunch):

That leaves the Democrats without any anti-Empire voice. Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) will not do the job of challenging Hillary.  From Norman Solomon to Medea Benjamin they are notorious by now for putting Party over principle.  Other progressives operating outside the Dem Party, and few in number, are well defended, claiming that elections are for naught.  But history argues against this.  Truman, the architect of the unpopular Korean War was defeated in the New Hampshire primary, paving the way for an Eisenhower victory due in part to a pledge to end the war, a pledge he kept promptly.  Lyndon Baynes Johnson, the inheritor of a very unpopular war from JFK was also undone in New Hampshire, by the principled Eugene McCarthy, not the most “liberal” Democrat and a bit of a libertarian.  From that point on despite the best efforts of both Humphrey and Nixon to prolong it, the Vietnam War was over.  Primary challenges have an effect.  Ron Paul built a very powerful movement, especially among the young, with his 2008 and 2012 runs.

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