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الثلاثاء، 25 نوفمبر، 2014

Iraq snapshot Monday, November 24, 2104

Iraq snapshot Monday, November 24, 2104

The Common Ills
Monday, November 24, 2104.  Chaos and violence continue,  Chuck Hagel is out as Secretary of Defense, Nouri al-Maliki continues to attempt to sew unrest in Iraq by attacking a deal between Baghdad and Erbil and by going to Shi'ite strongholds and saying Sunnis in Mosul's government plotted to take down the city, a former Sunni MP  faces execution,  Senators Patty Murray and Johnny Isakson call out efforts by the government to steal retirement benefits from veterans, and much more.

Chuck Hagel is now the departing Secretary of Defense. His rumored resignation is now official andAP notes that the resignation "comes as the president's national security team has been battered by crises including the rise of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and Russia's provocations in Ukraine."

This afternoon at the White House, US President Barack Obama and Hagel announced the Secretary of Defense's resignation.  We'll skip Barack's repeated use of "Chuck" and instead note Hagel's words:


Mr. President, thank you -– thank you for your generous words, for your friendship, for your support which I have always valued and will continue to value. And to my not old, but my longtime, dear friend Vice President Biden, who I have always admired and respected, and both the President and I have learned an awful lot from the Vice President over the years -– thank you. And I want to thank the Deputy Secretary of Defense who is here, Bob Work, and the Chairman and Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Marty Dempsey, who also is here. I want to thank them for being here this morning.
I also want to thank you both for your tremendous leadership of the Defense Department and what you mean to our men and women and their families all over the world; and for the honor I’ve had to serve with each of you and the privilege it’s been in every way.
And I want to thank the entire leadership team at the Pentagon. Without their support and wise counsel over the last couple of years our many accomplishments, and the President noted some, I have been part of that -– but it’s a team. It’s all these tremendous men and women, as you know Mr. President, that make this happen and I couldn’t be prouder of them and what we have accomplished over the almost two years that I’ve had the honor of serving in this position.
And as the President noted I have today submitted my resignation as Secretary of Defense. It’s been the greatest privilege of my life; the greatest privilege of my life to lead and most important, to serve -- to serve with the men and women of the Defense Department and support their families. I am immensely proud of what we’ve accomplished during this time. We have prepared ourselves, as the President has noted, our allies and Afghan National Security Forces for a successful transition in Afghanistan. We bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships while successfully responding to crises around the world.
And we’ve launched important reforms that the President noted -- reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges facing us in decades to come. I believe we have set not only this department –- the Department of Defense -– but the nation on the stronger course toward security, stability and prosperity. If I didn’t believe that, I would not have done this job.
As our country prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving I want to –- you, Mr. President, and you, Vice President Biden, -– acknowledge what you have done and how grateful I am to both of you for your leadership and your friendship and for giving me this opportunity to serve our country once again.
I will continue to support you, Mr. President, and the men and women who defend this country every day so unselfishly; and their families, what they do for our country, so unselfishly. And as I have said –- and as the President noted –- I will stay on this job and work just as hard as I have over the last couple of years, every day, every moment, until my successor is confirmed by the United States Senate.
I’d also like to express my gratitude to our colleagues on Capitol Hill -- my gratitude to them for their support of me, but more importantly their support of our troops and their families and their continued commitment to our National Security.
I also want to thank my international counterparts for their friendship and their partnership and their advice during my time as Secretary of Defense. Their involvement with me and their partnership with me -- in so many of these important areas as we build these coalitions of common interests as you have noted, Mr. President –- are so critically important and to them, I am grateful I will be forever grateful.
And finally I’d like to thank my family. My wife Lilibet, who you have mentioned, Mr. President, who was with me this morning as she has been with me throughout so many years, and during so many tremendous experiences. And this experience and opportunity and privilege to serve as Secretary of Defense has been one of those; and to my daughter Allyn and my son Ziller.

Mr. President, again, thank you. To you and to all of our team everywhere, as we know Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, it is a team effort. And that’s part of the fun of it, to help build teams and to work together to make things happen for the good of the country and make a better world. For all of that I am immensely grateful. And to all of you, your families, happy Thanksgiving. Thank you very much.

The repeated use of "Chuck" in Barack's remarks were most likely an effort to make shoving Hagel out of a moving car seem far kinder than it was.

Selena Hill (Latin Post) notes:

[. . .] inside sources say that the former Nebraska senator was forced out by the president,CNN reports. According to officials, the White House lost confidence in Hagel's ability to effectively lead in the Pentagon. Plus, the former Republican senator faced pressure as criticism of the president's national security team on a series of global issues mounted, including the threat of the Islamic State.
NBC News correspondent and MSNBC talk show host Andrea Mitchell Tweeted the following:
  • Truth is  brought in to manage troop draw down from 2 wars now U.S. is extending combat role in Afghanistan and "advising" in Iraq


  • MONTAGNE: Well, get down to why Hagel is resigning right at this moment?

    LIASSON: Well, the president had conversations with Hagel in October about the final quarter of his presidency, and he essentially asked Hagel to step down. I think the biggest reason was that the mission has changed. When Chuck Hagel came in, his focus was on drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, shrinking the Pentagon, dealing with the sequester budget cuts. But now the world has changed. We're recommitting troops to Iraq to fight ISIS. In Afghanistan, we're going to be leaving some more troops behind. And the White House decided they needed a strategic thinker. And they've really struggled to stay one step ahead of all of these crises - Ebola, Ukraine, even conflicts in Asia. And I think the thinking was that they needed somebody else to run the Defense Department, more of a strategic thinker, in the remaining months of the president's term.

    MONTAGNE: And beyond that, were there problems with Hagel?


    LIASSON: Well, Chuck Hagel did occasionally seem not be on the same page as the White House. He famously said that ISIS was beyond anything we'd seen before. He was kind of out in front on that. He clashed with the national security advisor, Susan Rice, on Syria. And he never really made it into that very small insular inner circle at the White House.

    For all the lies and pretense, this was not a happy exit.  Early this morning, Helene Cooper of theNew York Times attempted to spin pretty because she's honestly that useless.  She always has been and she always will be.   In 2006, Ava and I dubbed her the Bobble Head Pundit and nothing in all the years since has demonstrated that she has the skill or ability to actually report. 

    Helene had the story but she couldn't do a thing with it because she's never had the skill for context.

    After her embarrassing 'report' broke this morning, other outlets -- including the Associated Press -- brought the skill and context Helene was incapable of.  And the editorial board of the Contra Costa Times probably had the least stomach for spin of anyone working the story:

    The White House announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had submitted his resignation after he and President Obama "both determined that it was time for new leadership at the Pentagon."
    Time for new leadership? Really? Hagel's tenure is still being measured in months rather than years (18, to be exact), he has barely had time to locate all the elevators in the Pentagon. Yet it is somehow time for new leadership? This announcement is Washingtonspeak for "the guy we picked isn't working out." 


    TVNZ One News specifically notes,"Mr Hagel has had his own frustrations with the White House. In recent weeks, he sent a letter to national security adviser Susan Rice in which he said Mr Obama needed to articulate a clearer view of the administration's approach to dealing with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The letter is said to have angered White House officials."

    Aliyah Frumin (MSNBC) notes some Congressional reaction:

    “This announcement shows when you don’t have a strategy, it’s hard to come up w/a team to help you implement a strategy,” said GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri on Twitter. GOP Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland tweeted, “Pres Obama’s national security policy is failing & world is in turmoil. It will take more than changing the Sec of Defense to fix it.” Similarly, House Speaker John Boehner thanked Hagel for his service but added, “New #SecDef isn’t enough…” And in an expanded statement, Boehner said Hagel’s replacement must accompany a “larger re-thinking” of the America’s military strategy, suggesting GOP lawmakers will take a tough-as-nails approach during the next confirmation process.

    Hagel has agreed to hang on until his successor can be confirmed.  That person will be number four.  He or she will follow Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel.  Four.

    Since January 2009, Barack has required 4 US Ambassadors to Iraq as well: Chris Hill, James Jeffrey, Robert Steven Beecroft and Stuart Jones.   Four.

    When the US could have provided stability, it provided a non-stop state of flux.

    Mark Thompson (Time magazine) speaks with a wide range of observers and insiders.

    Retired Army general Jack Keane, who advocated for the surge in Iraq, says the White House has meddled with Pentagon prerogatives as the ISIS threat has grown over the past year, including videotaped beheadings of five Westerners, three of them American. “The policy is wrong and Hagel was pushing back on it,” Keane says, confirming what some Pentagon officials say privately.
    Defense officials say White House meetings on dealing with ISIS often ended without a decision, which would be made later by Obama, aided by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and her deputy, Ben Rhodes. “That’s very frustrating for a secretary of defense,” Keane adds, “who feels on the outside when it comes to issues that are in their domain.”


    Medea Benjamin (at Antiwar.com) offers:

    The talk about resetting President Obama’s security team is misplaced; we should be focusing instead on resetting his bellicose policies. Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation should be a time for the nation to step back and reexamine its violent approach to extremism, which has led to an expansion of terrorist groups, and inflated military spending. Let’s put more emphasis on the State Department and political solutions instead of continuing failed wars and starting new ones. We owe it to the youth of our nation who have never lived without war.

    Saturday, we did a mini-scorecard on new Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi which included this:

    In fairness, Haider al-Abadi can point to one bit of success.  AFP reports, "The Iraqi government transferred $500 million to the autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday as part of a deal aimed at ending long-running oil and budget disputes, the finance minister said."  Press TV explains:

    Hoshyar Zebari said in Baghdad on Wednesday that his ministry transferred the sum to the account of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) earlier in the day under the deal which requires Iraq to resume funding Kurdish civil servant salaries in return for a share of Kurdish oil exports.
    He said the KRG began supplying 150,000 barrels of crude oil per day to State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) storage tanks in the Turkish port city of Ceyhan on Tuesday.

    "This mutual implementation means that the two sides are ready to resolve all the other issues and all the issues are up for discussion," Zebari stated.



    That isn't minor.  For over a year now, the Kurds have been denied their part of the federal budget.  Nouri al-Maliki, the former prime minister and forever thug, attempted to use the federal budget to blackmail the Kurds.

    So resolving this isn't minor.


    What's that smell?

    Oh, thug and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki emerged from the sewer he thrives in.  Rudaw reports Nouri belched up a critique of the deal:

     Iraq’s vice president and former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has criticized a recent oil and budget agreement between Baghdad and Erbil, saying the deal “is merely a show of compassion.”

    Rudaw notes Nouri is also using his TV channel, Afaq TV, to attack the deal.

    Thug Nouri spent last week publicly meeting with various Shi'ite militias.

    Why he's being allowed to sew dissent is beyond me.  He needs to be kicked out of the prime minister's house because he's no longer prime minister and some of the laws he insisted upon should probably be applied to him and his actions -- if they are, he'll be behind bars.


    He's very fortunate that Haider al-Abadi seems to have more respect for freedoms -- including freedom of speech -- than Nouri himself did or does.
  • Free press is the hallmark of a free society. We have a collective responsibiity to preserve freedom in Iraq 

  • Maybe justice will come to Nouri in the form of a bullet?  Live by the sword and all of that.

    Nouri is a criminal, a War Criminal.  Let's drop back to the December 30, 2013 snapshot:


    Sunday, December 22nd, Nouri yet again called peaceful protesters 'terrorists' and announced he would stop the protests.

    He wanted to attack last Tuesday but a last minute flurry of meetings by various officials and political blocs caused Nouri to withdraw the forces he had encircling the Ramadi protest square.  Then came Friday.  From that day's snapshot:

    Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports Nouri al-Maliki again threatened the protesters today.  He declared this will be their last Friday protest and that he will burn the tents in the protest squares down.  He declared that the protesters were guilty of sedition.  Sedition?  Nouri as William Bligh?  I can see it.  Kitabat notes that he made these remarks in a televised interview.  Kitabat also notes Nouri's been insisting 30 terrorist leaders are hiding in protest tents.  



    We still can't get to today yet.




    That's Falluja on Saturday as tons poured into the street to protest Nouri's latest stunt.


    They were protesting the Saturday dawn raid that Nouri's forces carried out on an MP.  MP Ahmed al-Alwani was illegally arrested.  But there's more.  Alsumaria reported that his home was stormed by Nouri's SWAT forces at dawn and that 5 people (bodyguards and family) were killed (this included his brother) while ten family members (including children) were left injured.

    By now, we all know the drill.

    What is al-Alwani?

    Yes, he's Sunni.

    And he's also, we all know this, a member of Iraqiya.

    If you're targeted by Nouri, then you are both things.

    Or, as conservative Max Boot (Commentary) put it today, "If it’s the end of December or the beginning of January, it must be time for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to arrest another prominent Sunni politician."

    The people of Anbar did not respond well to Nouri breaking the law and arresting an MP.


    Today,  All Iraq News reports it's been decided to put former MP Ahmed al-Alwani to death.  He was arrested December 29, 2013 the outlet notes.  His brother was killed in the arrest ordered by thug Nouri al-Maliki, an arrest that was actually a raid in the early, pre-dawn hours of the morning.

    This will have huge implications.

    For example, the tribe he belongs to is one of the key tribes in the fight against the Islamic State.  Equally true, his arrest (and the murder of his brother) outraged the Sunni community.

    This is the wrong time to be  executing a Sunni politician -- with the new prime minister Haider al-Abaidi having done nothing of significance to improve Sunni relations or to include them in the government.

    Salam Faraq and Ammar Karim (AFP) report:

    Sheikh Omar al-Alwani, a leader of the Albu Alwan, said that any decision about Alwani should be put on hold and that the verdict could harm the fight against IS.
    "All the Albu Alwan tribe is standing against (IS) on the side of the government," but "half of the Albu Alwan fighters will withdraw if they actually executed Alwani in these circumstances," the sheikh said, adding that even the former MP's guards were fighting against IS.

    He said the government should wait until the fighting is over and IS defeated, then "take any decision it considers appropriate."

    Back to Nouri.  NINA reports al-Abadia has dismissed Adman al-Asadi as Senior Under Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior.  al-Asadi is a Nouri cohort/crony. Nouri needs to be kicked out of the government himself that.  Throughout the weekend, he spoke in various parts of south Iraq and issued crackpot 'explanations' for the fall of Mosul that blamed the local government.  Nouri stated the local government allowed Mosul to fall in an attempt to destroy Iraq.  These baseless charges need to be called out and as Nouri continues to attempt to sew unrest in Iraq, his own post as vice president (he's one of three vice presidents) needs to be rethought.

    Senator Patty Murray serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and is the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Johnny Isakson is a member of the Senate Finance Committee and also serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Senator Murray's office issued the following today:
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                      CONTACT: Murray (202) 224-2834
    Monday, November 24, 2014                                                                                  Isakson (202) 224-7777

    Murray, Isakson Lead Bipartisan Letter Pressing Army Secretary on “Grave Concern” Over Retirement Benefits

    In letter to Army Secretary McHugh, Senators call for immediate reversal of policy forcing officers to retire at highest enlisted rank
    Current policy results in significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits, for some as much as $1,000 per month or more

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) led a bipartisan group of colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh over the Army’s treatment of a significant number of captains and majors who are former non-commissioned officers and are being forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank as a result of the Army’s use of Enhanced-Selective Early Retirement Boards (E-SERB). This will result in a significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits for the impacted soldiers, for some as much as $1,000 per month or more, or just over $1 million over a 40 year retirement in the case of a captain forced to retire as a sergeant first class.   

    “These former non-commissioned officers answered the Army’s call for volunteers to attend Officer Candidate School as the Army expanded its officer corps to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now, despite having served for years as commissioned officers and rising through the ranks to become captains and majors, these dedicated soldiers will soon be forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service and will materially disadvantage them and their families for the rest of their lives… We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation in order to allow these soldiers to retire at the rank they have earned and appropriately honor their service to our nation.”

    Under current law a soldier must serve at least 8 years of active service as a commissioned officer in order to retire as a commissioned officer.  Soldiers who serve 20 years total, but less than 8 years as commissioned officers are retired at their highest enlisted rank.  During the “Grow the Army” effort the Army dramatically increased the number of officers commissioned via its Officer Candidate School (OCS).  The Army expanded to a post 9-11 peak of 570,000 soldiers in 2010 and is currently executing an aggressive end strength reduction designed to shrink the Army to 450,000 soldiers.  Many of those OCS graduates are now being forced to retire through the E-SERB process as the Army shrinks.  Officers with more than 18 years active service are screened by E-SERB and those selected will be forced to retire on the first day of the month following the month they reach 20 years of service. These former non-commissioned officers stepped up and volunteered for OCS at a time the Army badly needed officers and served honorably for between 6 and 7 years.  Now, many are being retired at enlisted ranks they have not held in years.  This is particularly disturbing because had they ignored the Army’s call for officers most would have been promoted at least once more and been eligible to retire at a higher enlisted rank.

    Senators Murray and Isakson were joined in sending the letter by: Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Bernard Sanders (D-VT) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

    Read a one-page summary of the issue here.

    The full text of the letter is as follows:

    November 19, 2014

    The Honorable John McHugh
    Secretary of the Army
    101 Army Pentagon
    Washington, DC 20301-0101

    Dear Secretary McHugh:

    We write to express our grave concern over the Army’s treatment of a significant number of Army captains and majors who are former non-commissioned officers.   These former non-commissioned officers answered the Army’s call for volunteers to attend Officer Candidate School as the Army expanded its officer corps to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now, despite having served for years as commissioned officers and rising through the ranks to become captains and majors, these dedicated soldiers will soon be forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank.  This will result in a significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits for the impacted soldiers, approximately $1,000 per month or just over $1 million over a 40 year retirement in the case of a captain forced to retire as a sergeant first class.  This is simply unacceptable. 

    These former non-commissioned officers have been placed in this untenable position as a result of the Army’s use of Enhanced-Selective Early Retirement Boards (E-SERB).  Officers selected by the boards are forced to retire as soon as they reach 20 years of service. Unfortunately, under current law a soldier must serve at least 8 years of active service as a commissioned officer in order to retire as a commissioned officer.  Soldiers who serve 20 years total, but less than 8 years as commissioned officers are retired at their highest enlisted rank.  While this requirement makes sense in the case of soldiers who choose to retire, are passed over for multiple promotions, or are forced to retire due to misconduct, none of those cases applies to the soldiers in question.  On the contrary, Army Human Resources Command has explicitly acknowledged that E-SERB will separate fully qualified officers “who have rendered quality service to the nation.”  To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service and will materially disadvantage them and their families for the rest of their lives.

    Rather than forcing these officers to retire as soon as they reach 20 years of service, the Army could modify its E-SERB policy to delay the mandatory retirement date of affected soldiers until the first month after they become eligible to retire as commissioned officers.  For many of the affected soldiers this would extend their time in service by only a few months.  We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation in order to allow these soldiers to retire at the rank they have earned and appropriately honor their service to our nation. 

    Sincerely,
                                                               
    Patty Murray                                                              
    United States Senator                                                 

    Johnny Isakson
    United States Senator

    ###
    ---
    Meghan Roh
    Press Secretary
    Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
    Mobile: (202) 365-1235
    Office: (202) 224-2834

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