Friday, March 27, 2015

Arrow (the Atom)

First up, we got to see the Atom.

On the latest episode of "Arrow" (The CW), Brandon Routh suited up to go after Oliver (Arrow) because he thought Oliver was evil.

He figured out that Oliver was the Arrow.

Felicity begged him not to go to the police but he felt she betrayed him.

Laurel keeps him from moving forward legally.

So he suits up and goes after Arrow (and forgotten Roy).

He doesn't shrink down.

I hope he will at some point.

So he knocks Roy out with an electric blast but Arrow overpowers him.

He waits for Arrow to kill him but he doesn't (of course).

And Oliver tells him he needs to trust Felicity.

And he does and argues that Arrow is innocent just as the mayor gets shot and killed by . . . an arrow.

One beef, why does Oliver walk off after talking to the Atom following their fight?

Roy was knocked to the ground and knocked out.

He didn't even go pick up Roy?

Now last time I wrote about "Arrow," I got an e-mail asking why I hated Stephen Amell?

I've never written anything bad about him.

I do criticize the writing.

But I've never slammed Amell.

I think he's done a great job playing the role.

He's frequently undermined by the scrips (and, in flashbacks, the bad wigs) but I don't think anyone else could have played the part and pulled it off.

That said, I'm glad Routh's on the show. 

He's adding some new elements and letting Felicity have an active storyline.

Diggel.

He got married and he and his wife ended up almost dying.

For their daughter, Sara, he's thinking of leaving the Arrow team.



Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"


 
Thursday, March 26, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, US President Barack Obama's Envoy John Allen testifies that there is no exit strategy, some Shi'ite militias leave the Tikrit assault (or were pushed out) and much more.


 "Is it in the United States interest to save what I would call a failing Iranian strategy?  And I worry about Iran's role in Iraqi military operations because what does that portend for the political future of Iraq?" these were straight forward questions from US House Rep Eliot Engel.

Sadly, there were no straight forward answers in reply.



This morning, the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony from the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL John Allen as well as Brig Gen Michael Fantini and Brig Gen Gregg Olson.


Allen was the one skirting the issues Engel raised.  Engel is the Ranking Member of the Committee, US House Rep Ed Royce is the Committee Chair.  We'll note some of his opening remarks.



Chair Ed Royce:  Adding to the problem, the regional forces on the ground these airstrikes are supposed to be supporting are badly undersupplied.  After seven months of fighting, the Committee is still receiving troubling reports that the Kurdish Peshmerga are outgunned on the front lines.  This morning, Ranking Member Engel and I are re-introducing legislation to allow US arms to be sent directly to the Kurds.  These brave fighters need the better equipment to defeat ISIS.  And the Sunni tribal fighters, who will be central to this fight, are yet to trust Baghdad.  Strong local police and provincial national guard forces are desperately needed to protect Sunnis in Anbar Province and elsewhere.  Into the void on the ground in Iraq have stepped Iranian-backed Shi'ite fighters, the leading force behind the recent Tikrit offensive.  Senior US officials have put this development in positive terms.  And reports indicate that US intelligence and air power will now support this Iranian-backed mission.  The Washington Post wisely cautioned in an editorial this week, "The growing power of the militias, with their brutal tactics, sectarian ideology and allegiance to Iran's most militant faction, has become as large an impediment to the goal of stabilizing Iraq" as ISIS.  Shi'ite militias taking on ISIS may serve the immediate interest of killing jihadis but it is hard to see how empowering Iran's proxies is in the short, medium or long term interests of an inclusive Iraq or a stable Middle East.  The fear that many of us have is that Sunni Iraqis, who have been tortured by ISIS, will get the same brutal treatment by their Shi'ite militia 'liberators.'  That would fuel endless conflict.  Political reconciliation in Baghdad must be central to US policy.  The Committee will be interested to learn what the administration is doing to press Prime Minister [Hadier al-] Abadi to ensure he doesn't become former Prime Minister [Nouri al-] Maliki, a disastrous sectarian.  


Wait.

Didn't the administration just send witnesses to happy talk how supplying the Peshmerga was no longer a problem?


Why, yes, they did.



Wednesday, March 11th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held an important hearing on Iraq.
We covered it in the  March 11th and March 12th and March 13th snapshots.

Here's a key exchange from that earlier hearing.



Senator Cory Gardner:  . .  . what weight of effort would you say that the Peshmerga or other fighting in the region are pursuing against ISIL?

Gen Martin Dempsey:  The early successes against ISIL were largely through the Peshmerga.  And that will evolve over time but they've been carrying the majority of the effort thus far.

Senator Cory Gardner:  And by majority of effort, is there a weight?  Like they're carrying out a third?   Three-quarters?  Ninety percent?

Gen Martin Dempsey:  No, Senator, I can't actually put

Senator Cory Gardner:  -- the weight of effort on it?

Gen Martin Depmsey:  -- but the early, uh, the early effort to blunt ISIL's momentum were north and therefore with the Peshmerga

Senator Cory Gardner:  And reports in the news and other places have stated the Peshmerga are only getting about 10% of the arms that have routed through -- that have been routed through Baghdad.  Is that correct?

Gen Martin Dempsey:  Uh, again, I don't have the percentage but I can certainly take it for the record.  But there were some friction early on with the willingness of the government of Iraq to provide weapons to the Peshmerga but we think we've-we've managed our way through that.

Senator Cory Gardner:  And so right now you feel confident that the process by which arms will reach Erbil have now been settled or resolved?

Gen Martin Dempsey:  I am confident that we've broke through the initial friction but it doesn't mean it won't return.


There are other exchanges in other hearings that took place this month where other officials insisted the Peshmerga was being armed.

But they're not.

They're not getting what they need.

And so a bi-partisan bill is being re-introduced by Chair Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel to ensure that this problem gets solved.

Today's hearing took place a day after the announcement that the US would begin aiding the Baghdad-Tehran assault on Tikrit by dropping bombs from war planes at the request of Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

State Dept spokesperson Jeff Rathke was asked about the airstrikes at today's press briefing:

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On the airstrikes in Tikrit, first of all, why did these airstrikes come so late?


MR. RATHKE:  Well, the decision by the United States to conduct airstrikes was a decision we reached after consultation with the Iraqi authorities and in response to an Iraqi request.  These strikes are designed to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision.  And we are trying to minimize damage and enable Iraqi forces, under Iraqi command, to continue their operations – offensive operations against ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit.  And so that’s – and we’ve gone through a careful process of coordinating those strikes through our Joint Operation Center in Baghdad with Iraqi authorities.


QUESTION:  Are you saying that you haven’t carried out airstrikes for three weeks because the Iraqis didn’t want it themselves so far?


MR. RATHKE:  Well, I’m not going to get into our exchanges –


QUESTION:  But you said (inaudible) just came now.


MR. RATHKE:  Well, no.  I said that we have gone through a careful process of determining targets and determining the capabilities that we could bring to bear and we’ve acted in response to an Iraqi sovereign government request.


QUESTION:  And one more quick question.  There are a lot of concerns that with having so many Shia militias around Tikrit, and as the U.S. officials, including General John Allen have said it, most of the Iraqi forces are also Shias.  So aren’t you worried that your airstrikes could be seen as taking sides with those Shia militias who are mostly backed by Iran?


MR. RATHKE:  Well, no, because again, the – Prime Minister Abadi as well as other authorities in Iraq have been quite clear about their efforts to generate cross-sect and inter-ethnic agreement on the way forward, and they’re acting on that basis and we’re acting in support of the Iraqi authorities.


[. . .]


QUESTION:  And on a separate topic on Tikrit, the State Department has no concerns at all that U.S. will become Iran’s air force in Iraq?  I mean, basically, hasn’t the U.S. become a functional ally of Iran since we’re providing air support?


MR. RATHKE:  Well, no.  That’s the short answer.  We are acting in Tikrit at the response of Iraqi Government request.  We are – we are focused on supporting the Iraqi Central Government.  We’re working with them.  We’re working through our established Joint Operations Center, and this is a step we’ve taken after careful consideration and careful planning with the Iraqi partners.


Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) reports one reaction to the bombings, "Iraqi Shiite Muslim militias, angry that the government of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has asked for American help in ejecting Islamic State fighters from the central Iraqi city of Tikrit, began Thursday withdrawing their forces from the battle, the first major break between the Iranian-trained militias and Iraq’s military establishment since the Islamic State advance last year."  Noah Rayman (Time magazine) notes that the alleged pull-out accounts for "roughly a third of the 30,000-strong government-led forces."

But did they walk or were they pushed?

Saif Hameed, Ahmed Rasheed, Isabel Coles and Mark Trevelyan (Reuters) report that "a senior U.S. general said Washington had demanded the withdrawal of Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias fighting alongside Iraq's government before agreeing to take part."





While confusion reigns on that aspect, Mark Mazetti and David D, Kirpatrick (New York Times) attempt to explain the White House's many varying positions in the region:


In Yemen, the Obama administration is supporting a Saudi-led military campaign to dislodge Iranian-backed Houthi rebels despite the risks of an escalating regional fight with Iran.
But in Iraq and Syria, the United States is on the same side as Iran in the fight against the Islamic State, contributing airstrikes to an Iranian-supported offensive on Tikrit on Thursday even while jostling with Iran for position in leading the operation.

All that, while the Obama administration is racing to close a deal with Iran to remove economic sanctions in exchange for restraints on its nuclear program, alarming Saudi Arabia and Israel.


While the world tries to make sense of the 'plan' the White House has for the Middle East, US House Rep Alan Grayson attempted to do the same in today's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with regards to Barack's 'plan' for Iraq.


US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Gen Olson, trying to piece together information from public sources, it appears to me that we're spending roughly a million dollars for every ISIS fighter that the US military kills.  Does that sound right to you?

Brig Gen Gregg Olson: The figure that we understand for the operation cost per day is about 8.5 million dollars.  

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But am I right to think that we're spending approximately a million dollars for every single ISIS fighter that US forces kill?

Brig Gen Gregg Olson:  I-I haven't done the math, sir.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Alright let's assume for the sake of the argument that that's correct.  Does it make sense for us to be deploying the most powerful military force that the world has ever seen and spend one million dollars to kill some man standing in the desert, 6,000 miles from the closest American shore, holding a 40-year-old weapon?  Does that make sense?

Brig Gen Gregg Olson: The military strategy as designed provides US support to a coalition that will degrade, dismantle and ultimately defeat ISIL.

US House Rep Alan Grayson: What about you, Gen Fantini? Can you think of ways that we could spend less than a million dollars and still keep America safe for every gentleman standing in a desert, 6,000 miles away, whom we kill?

Brig Gen Michael Fantini:  Congressman, I-I can't address the math that you're presenting.  I don't know whether that's accurate or not.  Uh, from the perspective of continuing with the strategy of developing local forces, to enable those local forces with coalition support to degrade and defeat ISIL, I would submit that is a worthy expenditure of resources. 

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Well let's talk about that.  You of course are very, very familiar with what Gen Powell said about what makes for a good effective war and what doesn't.  Gen Powell said that we need a vital national security interest that's pursued by a clear strategy, we need overwhelming force and we need an exit strategy. So let's start with you on that, Gen Allen, what is our exit strategy?

Envoy John Allen:  The exit strategy is an Iraq that ultimately is territorial secure, sovereign, an ISIL that has been denied safe haven ultimately has been disrupted to the point where it has no capacity to threaten at an existential level the government of Iraq and the nation of the Iraqi people and ulitmatly ends up in a state that does not permit it to threaten the United States or our homeland.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  General Allen, that doesn't sound like a strategy to me.  That sounds like a wish list.

Envoy John Allen:  You know --

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  You certainly understand the difference between a strategy and a wish list.

Envoy John Allen:   And-and I do.  And this strategy, in fact, has a whole series of lines of effort that converge on Da'ash to prevent it from doing the very things that I just mentioned. 

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But what is our strategy?

Envoy John Allen:  The strategy is to pursue a series of lines of effort from defense of the homeland to stabilization of the Iraqi government to the countering of the Da'ash message, to the disruption of its finances, to the -- uh -- impediment of the foreign fighters to the empowerment of our allies to the le-leadership of a coalition ultimately aimed to the defeat of Da'ash.  That's a strategy.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But none of those are exit strategies, right?


Envoy John Allen:  There is no exit strategy for this.  This is about dealing with Da'ash.  This is about defeating Da'ash.  The success of the strategy is not about exit.  The secees -- success of the strategy is about empowering our partners so that they can ultimately restore the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of a country and deny Da'ash the ability  ultimately to, uh, to do that.  If you're looking for an exit strategy with respect to our presence in Iraq when we have successfully concluded that strategy.  We have said from the beginning that our forces will redeploy.  The coalition has said from the beginning that our forces will redeploy.  So if that's the term that you are seeking in terms of an exit strategy then-then I would say that is the mechanism by which we redeploy our  forces from Iraq.  But the strategy is oriented on an effect that we hope to achieve with respect to Da'ash. 

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Gen Olson, you will agree that we're not using what Colin Powell would have considered to be overwhelming force, correct? 

Brig Gen Gregg Olson:  We're using an appropriate level of force to --

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Which isn't overwhelming force, right?  Not as -- not as Colin Powell would see it, right?

Brig Gen Gregg Olson:   Uh, I don't want to speak for Gen Powell.  I believe that the resources that we're applying to the in our ends -- to achieve our ends through matching ways and means are appropriate for the strategy as designed.

US House Rep Alan Grayson:  Gen Fantini, yes or no, are we using what you would consider to be overwhelming military force?

Brig Gen Michael Fantini:  Congressman, uh, I-I would submit that, uh, American air power against an AK47 could be construed as overwhelming.  I, uh, agree with, uh, Gen Olson that the-the use of the resources and the force applied to support our coalition partners to enable these ground operations are appropriate for the strategy and for the strategy and for success in this fight that will take a clear eyed and long term commitment and, we have stated, at least three years. 



There were many key moments in this morning's hearing but that was the most notable.

Not only did Grayson put an understandable dollar amount on the financial cost (paid for by US tax payers) he also got a grand admission from Envoy Barry Allen.


US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But none of those are exit strategies, right?


Envoy John Allen:  There is no exit strategy for this. 


"There is no exit strategy for this."


Barack's begun an action with no exit strategy.


And the way Allen ranted on, it was like an Aaron Sorkin moment.


US House Rep Alan Grayson:  But none of those are exit strategies, right?


Envoy John Allen:  There is no exit strategy for this.  This is about dealing with Da'ash.  This is about defeating Da'ash.  The success of the strategy is not about exit.  


Maybe when you select an envoy, you don't go with some retired general who doesn't grasp diplomacy and thinks sticking to scripted lines makes him sound smart?

Existential?

What is this with the administration's speech writers and the term existential?

It's not like any of them grasp Jean-Paul Sarte but they sure do love to (mis)use the term existential.

They also love "degrade and destroy."

They use these terms far too often.

And, by the way, they and the nonsense of "holistic" all supposedly come from the State Dept's Brett McGurk -- or that's what he's been bragging to others.


There is no exit strategy.

Which shouldn't be all that surprising.

The whole point of endless war is that it's . . . endless.


In the hearing, there were attempts like Alan Grayson's to provide perspective.

US House Rep Lois Frankel attempted to do that during part of her questioning round.


US House Rep Lois Frankel:  I have a couple of questions.  First relates to underlying conditions that led to the rise of ISIL.  Would you -- would you agree that ISIL is not the cause of the turmoil in the region but a symptom of a deeper problems?  And I'd like to get your opinion is it unstable governments, poverty, desperation, radical religion, what?  I'd like to get your take on that.  And secondly, I think the American public somehow thinks that you can simply get rid of ISIL by bombs or dropping -- or drones.  Could you just explain the difficulty of -- of their assimilation into the population, and so forth, the terrain.

Envoy John Allen: One of the, I think, real benefits of the counter-ISIL coalition which numbers at 62 entities right now -- countries and entities -- is the recognition that Da'ash is in fact not the disease, it's a symptom of something bigger.  And that broad recognition includes the base societal factors that have given rise to, uh, the attractiveness of an organization like this.  And it's -- there are societal issues, there are political issues, inclusiveness, participation -- uh, social issues associated with economic opportunity, the ability ultimately to have the opportunity to put food on the table for families. And often the result of the absence of all of those or some of those in these countries and among these populations have created the conditions of despair and desperation which has made those populations susceptible to radicalization and then recruitment

US House Rep Lois Frankel:  Excuse me general, I assume there are efforts being done to try to respond to those conditions

Envoy John Allen:  I-I-I think so.  Uh, we've just had this week -- In fact, we ate dinner together the other night, uh, with the president of Afghanistan [. . .]

Bore us some more, Allen.

You just wanted to snooze.

He was either heavily scripted or fumbling for a response -- one or the other throughout the hearing.

Mainly though, he was just unimpressive -- grossly unimpressive.

He appears to believe he's above questioning and he also appears beyond actual thought.

It's hard to believe that he comes alive outside of hearings.

Part of the non-progress towards a political solution in Iraq may be Allen who seems woefully unsuited for the post of diplomatic envoy.



On the issue of ways to address the Islamic State, to counter it, Mercy Corps Kari Diener offers suggestions in a column for The Hill which includes:

Mercy Corps recently released a report, Beyond Humanitarian Relief: Strengthening the Foundation for a More Stable Iraq, highlighting the fact that by relying on programs that only address the symptoms of the conflict there is the real potential to create dependencies and sideline the voices of Iraq’s fledgling civil society, which is trying to address the underlying drivers of this conflict: poor governance and political grievances.
It is US-supported civil society initiatives that are encouraging Sunnis, Shiites and Christians alike to feel they have a real stake in their own future. Initial investments of $4.1 million by the State Department in the Iraqi Center for Negotiation Skills and Conflict Management between 2008-2013 allowed the Center to blossom into an Iraqi-led NGO and network of 350 highly influential men and women, Ala Kamal among them, from a broad swath of sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, including religious leaders, tribal elders as well as seven newly elected members of Iraq’s Parliament. The Center has formally negotiated peaceful solutions to over 1,000 conflicts.
If the US genuinely hopes to responsibly scale back its engagement in Iraq, Congress must work with the Administration to support Iraq’s fledgling civil society to prepare for a more stable future. The president’s FY 2016 budget request rightly called out the need to invest Economic Support Funds (ESF) in areas liberated from ISIL control. But investments should not be limited to those areas alone, as many of the factors driving conflict in Iraq pre-date ISIL’s presence. Congress should fully fund the FY 2016 request of no less than $72.5 million in ESF and broaden its focus to support good governance, conflict resolution and civil society programming in all areas of the country. Congress should also ensure that the FY15 funding allocation of $25 million for conflict response programming in Iraq is fully implemented.



The administration's repeated problems in the Middle East are really beginning to register.  The editorial board of Virginia's Daily Press notes:


The White House is no place for on-the-job training, and the president's growing pains have been troubling to watch.
After withdrawing troops from Iraq, the United States again has boots on the ground to battle the growing menace of the Islamic State. We find ourselves on the same side of the battle as Iran, which is trying to turn Iraq into a proxy state under Tehran's control.



We were talking about the Peshmerga earlier.

Quick, when was the last time a US official -- past or present -- told Congress the truth about the Peshmerga?

February.

And the official was former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey who noted that Baghdad wasn't overly fond of arming the Peshmerga.


Jeffrey is part of Michael Crowley's examination (for POLITICO) of Barack's efforts in the region:

“We’re in a g**damn free fall here,” said James Jeffrey, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Iraq and was a top national security aide in the George W. Bush White House.
For years, members of the Obama team has grappled with the chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring. But of late they have been repeatedly caught off-guard, raising new questions about America’s ability to manage the dangerous region.
Obama officials were surprised earlier this month, for instance, when the Iraqi government joined with Iranian-backed militias to mount a sudden offensive aimed at freeing the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Nor did they foresee the swift rise of the Iranian-backed rebels who toppled Yemen’s U.S.-friendly government and disrupted a crucial U.S. counterterrorism mission against Al Qaeda there.

 

Lastly, Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 209 violent deaths today across Iraq.























Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This bothers me

I did not like "50 Shades of Grey."

That said, the film made money -- an amazing amount.

So the news that Sam Taylor-Johnson will not be directing the follow up ticks me off.

Maybe it was her decision.

Maybe it was one she was forced to make.

I'm reminded of what Goldie Hawn recently said.

"First Wives Club" was a huge blockbuster.

And she, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler were looking forward to doing another film together.

But the studio didn't want to give them the money.

They wanted them to work on what they'd been paid for "First Wives Club" and they'd taken a cut on that to get the film made.

But now that they'd proven to be a box office draw as a trio, the studio didn't want to give them a pay bump the way they would any male actors in a film that made even half as much.

So maybe Taylor-Johnson is walking because of money, maybe she's not getting the bump that a male director would in salary.

Or maybe she's just being forced out.

The whole thing reminds me of how a woman director created the blockbuster that was "Twilight" but when the film was a clear franchise, it was time to ditch the woman and put a man in charge of directing.

So this really bothers me.

Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

 
Wednesday, March 25, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the US government authorizes airstrikes on Tikrit, which means the US is now working with a designated terrorist (designated such by the US government), fears emerge that Iranian forces in Iraq may attack US forces, and much more.


The biggest news out of Iraq today?


Dana Ford (CNN) announces, "Airstrikes started Wednesday in Tikrit, where Iraqi and coalition forces are battling to wrest control from ISIS."  Robert Burns (AP) explains, " The U.S. initially did not provide air support in Tikrit because Baghdad pointedly chose instead to partner with Iran in a battle it predicted would yield a quick victory."  Nasdaq spins, "The U.S. intervention is a blow to Iran, which has played a major role in commanding the Shiite militias and has also supplied weapons."

Also spinning was US State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki who appeared to believe that she could bomb reality with excessive wordage:



These strikes were designed to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision -- protecting innocent Iraqis by minimizing damage to infrastructure, and enabling Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to continue offensive operations against ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit. All strikes were coordinated with the Government of Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces through our Joint Operation Center in Baghdad.
Before today, the Coalition has conducted 2,967 airstrikes against ISIL terrorists, 1,678 in Iraq and 1,289 in Syria.  These airstrikes have had a significant impact on ISIL -- taking out thousands of fighters, numerous commanders, nearly 1,500 vehicles and tanks, over 100 artillery and mortar positions, and nearly 3,400 fighting positions, training camps, and bunkers in Iraq and Syria.  Airstrikes have also damaged close to 200 oil and gas facilities -- infrastructure that in part funds ISIL’s terror.  In addition, Coalition trainers have begun training Iraqi Army brigades at four sites in Iraq, and Coalition advisors have helped enable more than two dozen ground operations against ISIL strongholds across Iraq.
The cumulative effect of these actions has been enormous.  ISIL can no longer operate freely in roughly 25 percent of populated areas of Iraqi territory where they once could.  Its momentum has been blunted, its ability to mass and maneuver forces degraded, its leadership cells eliminated or pressured, and its supply lines severed.  ISIL is now on the defensive in Iraq and the lives of innocent Iraqis of all faiths and ethnicity have been saved.  As Iraqi forces increasingly mount offensive operations, they must do so under Iraqi command, with concerted efforts to protect local populations, and secure the human rights of all Iraqi citizens as mandated under the Iraqi constitution and as Prime Minister Abadi and other Iraq leaders have pledged.
 The United States and the Iraqi Government will continue to work together on our shared goal of defeating ISIL and training a professional national security force that can protect all the Iraqi people against extremist threats.




Of course, for a number of Iraqis, the "extremist threats" include Shi'ite militias who terrorize and kill Sunni civilians.  This reality was noted on Tuesday's Democracy Now! (link is text, video and audio):


AARON MATÉ: So, Erin, thank you for joining us. As we talk about your report on the rise of militias in Iraq, we’re joined by Erin Evers, Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch. She co-wrote the new report, "After Liberation Came Destruction: Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli," on the ground in Iraq with HRW since September 2012. Also joined by Matt Aikins, award-winning foreign correspondent. His latest piece for Rolling Stone is "Inside Baghdad’s Brutal Battle Against ISIS." He joins us by video stream from Karachi, Pakistan.
Erin Evers, thank you for joining us, as I said. Talk about what you found in Iraq.


ERIN EVERS: Well, we essentially documented that after U.S. coalition strikes in the town of Amerli, in Salahuddin province, routed ISIS from the town of Amerli, along with—along with militias and security forces fighting on the ground—


AMY GOODMAN: And describe where Amerli is.


ERIN EVERS: Amerli is in Salahuddin, which is north of Baghdad. It’s the same province that Tikrit is in. And the town itself is kind of the northeast of the province. So, ISIS had been laying siege to this town for two months. The ground forces alone were unable to route ISIS from the town, but then, after the U.S. airstrikes on August 31st, they cleared ISIS from the town, then proceeded to spread out throughout Salahuddin province and neighboring Kirkuk province, and attacked the Sunni villages in those provinces. So they essentially laid siege to all of the Sunni villages in a pretty broad area, set homes on fire, looted them, in some cases destroyed them with explosives and earth-moving equipment.
We used satellite imagery. We were on the ground, obviously, and saw some of the destruction with our own eyes, spoke to about 30 persons who were displaced as a result of—as a result of this clearing operation. And then we used satellite imagery in order to determine that the damage that we saw was in fact caused by militias and not in the course of fighting or by ISIS. So we had determined the timeline, essentially, of when what we saw happened, so that we could be clear that those areas were under the control of militias and not under the control of ISIS or not, you know—not engaging in battle at the time.


AMY GOODMAN: Why are the militias doing this? And what is their relationship to the Iraqi army?


ERIN EVERS: So, the militias are not under any formal chain of command. They are leading the fight against ISIS, and they are responsible, essentially, to themselves.
Why they’re doing this, I think, is really anybody’s guess. But from statements that—you know, statements that we’ve heard from militia leaders and from what people on the ground have told us that militia—you know, militia fighters were saying to them when they were on the ground, it seems like they were essentially trying to clear the area of Sunnis.
And after this campaign, several months afterwards, in January, the same militias went through Diyala province, which is a province neighboring Iran, and essentially carried out the same kinds of operations, except at an even more extreme kind of level. So, whereas in this report we documented militias kidnapping people and torturing people, in Diyala we documented the same militias carrying out summary executions of Sunni civilians and even a large massacre of 72 civilians in one town in Diyala in the course of their fighting.


AARON MATÉ: Is there any evidence they’ve been doing this with U.S. weapons?


ERIN EVERS: We’ve seen them with U.S. weapons. We don’t know exactly how they’ve gotten their hands on these weapons, you know, so there’s a lot of speculation as to how they’re getting the weapons. Some people say that they’re getting them through the Iraqi army, which is the official recipient of the weapons. And other people—you know, other people are saying that they’re getting them from ISIS, which obviously is also getting the weapons in the course of their fight on the ground.


AMY GOODMAN: I want to read to you a quote from the former CIA director, David Petraeus, former—he’s also a general. He told The Washington Post, quote, "I would argue that the foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by—and some guided by—Iran," Petraeus said. He went on to say, quote, "Longer term, Iranian-backed Shia militia could emerge as the preeminent power in the country, one that is outside the control of the government and instead answerable to Tehran." Your response to this, Erin?


ERIN EVERS: I think, unfortunately, that that’s a correct evaluation of where Iraq is headed.


But don't expect those realities from the US government.  And don't expect spokespeople like Jen Psaki to be forthcoming when asked direct questions.  For example, at the State Dept press briefing today, she was far less of a Chatty Cathy than she had been in her written statement.


QUESTION: We heard different, like, responses from Pentagon and then yesterday, I think, from the Iraqi President Masum, he said that the U.S. will help Iraqi Government in the operations – Iraqi army, of course – around Tikrit. What is the latest update on that?


MS. PSAKI: Well, the latest – and I can confirm – is that the Government of Iraq has formally requested, as I think many of you have seen, ISR support for their operations in Tikrit, and the U.S. is now providing ISR support. On airstrikes, as you know, the coalition has continued to provide air support in the fight against ISIL with multiple airstrikes on ISIL targets in various locations. I would note multiple airstrikes in the last several days, but I’m not going to speak more specifically to tactical or strategic operational decisions or actions beyond that.


QUESTION: There are airstrike support for the Iraqi army in Tikrit. That’s what you are --


MS. PSAKI: I’m referring to around Iraq. I can confirm the ISR support. I’m not going to predict additional action.


QUESTION: But I think that so far it hasn’t been done, any, like, effort – airstrikes around Tikrit, so --



MS. PSAKI: Well again, I’m not going to predict, and I think the Department of Defense would be the appropriate agency to speak to that.


The Defense Dept issued their own statement:


March 25, 2015
Release # 20150325.2

At the request of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi,
Coalition Operations commence in Tikrit

SOUTHWEST ASIA – CJTF-OIR operations to support Iraqi Security Forces in Tikrit have commenced after a request from the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi. The Coalition is now providing direct support to Iraqi Security Forces conducting operations to expel ISIL from the city. CJTF-OIR is providing air strikes, airborne intelligence capabilities, and Advise and Assist support to Iraqi Security Force headquarters elements in order to enhance their ability to defeat ISIL.
"These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure,” said Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, CJTF-OIR commanding general. “This will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat ISIL in the vicinity of Tikrit."
Iraqi Security Forces have ISIL in Tikrit encircled. Renewed efforts on the ground, supported by the Coalition are aimed at dislodging ISIL fighting elements from Tikrit and once again placing the town under the Government of Iraq’s control. The CJTF-OIR Coalition will continue to support the Iraqi Security Forces and the GoI to degrade and defeat ISIL.
-30-
For additional information contact:
CJTF-OIRmedia@mail.mil
COM: U.S. 1-803-885-8265 or in Southwest Asia
COM: 00-965-2221-6340, then dial 430-6419# or 430-5129#
https://twitter.com/CJTFOIR
https://www.facebook.com/CJTFOIR



So Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi requested it.  And Haider spoke in Iraq today . . . but 'forgot' -- when speaking of Tikrit -- to note the new US involvement.


Loveday Morris, Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan (Washington Post) ignore Haider's US admission but do note his public remarks:

Abadi announced the new push for Tikrit in a televised address Wednesday night, saying that the city’s “hour of salvation” had come. He did not specifically mention coalition airstrikes, but he said, “We will liberate each inch of Iraq. The victory of Iraq is being achieved by Iraqis, hero Iraqis . . . with support from friendly countries and the international coalition.”




    1. | Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in televised speech on US Airstrikes in "Hour of victory has arrived"











  • While ignoring the issue of US airstrikes in his public remarks, Haider did address the issue with the Shi'ite forces.  Salahuddin Province council member Jassem Atiya tells Mark Seibel (McClatchy Newspapers) about how that went:



    In a phone interview, Atiya said Abadi told the militias that he was authorizing the American participation “because the Tikrit battle needed to be completed so that security forces could move on to Anbar and Mosul,” two other Islamic State strongholds.
    The operation to take Tikrit was announced with great fanfare March 2, with an estimated 20,000 Shiite militia fighters advised by Iranian military commanders taking the lead in the fighting. But after initial success in capturing towns outside Tikrit, the effort stalled 10 days ago, hindered by heavy government casualties and a disagreement over what tactics to follow.

    Read more here: http://www.macon.com/2015/03/25/3660237_us-jets-strike-tikrit-to-help.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy


    The battle has underscored how weak Tehran is militarily with the few hundred estimated Islamic State fighters being able to outstrategize Tehran and Baghdad.


     Michael Hess (UK Blasting News) puts it this way:

    The US military is providing aerial intelligence to Iranian forces working against Islamic State (IS) in Tikrit, Iraq in a bid to break the hold on the besieged city. Tikrit was overrun by IS which on June 14th, 2014 committed atrocities, including the massacre of at least 800, on Iraqi Air Force trainees at the former U.S. base Speicher, converted into an air force training college. Tikrit was the site of Saddam Hussein's tomb but it has since been destroyed in the fighting.  


    The Tehran alliance was supposed to provide Baghdad with a decisive victory which could be used to rally the military.  That's why Tikrit was chosen in the first place.  It was to be the red flag waved before the charging bull.  But the 'bull' lumbered towards the city for days and, when it finally got outside the city, the bull took a long, long nap.

    Nancy A. Youssef (Daily Beast) offers, "The Tikrit campaign was launched with a patchwork force of 20,000 Shiite militiamen, 3,000 Iraqi troops, and a bevy of Iranian troops, tanks, weapons and missile strikes. And in the early days of the campaign, Gen. Qassem Suleiman, leader of the Iranian Quds force, was on the ground in Tikrit."

    Pete D'Amato (Daily Mail) offers:

    Iran has provided artillery and other weaponry for the Tikrit battle, and senior Iranian advisers have helped Iraq coordinate the offensive. 
    Iraq pointedly did not request US air support when it launched the offensive in early March and recently, the offensive has lost momentum. 
    Col Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday the Iraqi forces have encircled Tikrit but not yet made significant inroads into the heavily defended city limits.
    'They are stalled,' he said.


    Before today's announcement was made, Michael B. Kelley (Business Insider) noted:



    "There's just no way that the US military can actively support an offensive led by Suleimani," Christopher Harmer, a former aviator in the United States Navy in the Persian Gulf who is now an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, told Helene Cooper of The New York Times recently. "He's a more stately version of Osama bin Laden."
    Suleimani's Iraqi allies — such as the powerful Badr militia — are known for allegedly burning down Sunni villages and using power drills on enemies.
    "It's a little hard for us to be allied on the battlefield with groups of individuals who are unrepentantly covered in American blood," Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat who served as the US ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, told US News.

    In addition, Michael Crowley (POLITICO) explains US officials are nervous about two potential scenarios in Iraq which, "[i]n either case, U.S. officials fear, Iran could direct the Iraqi Shiite militias under its control to attack U.S. troops aiding the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant."

    That fear may make Barack Obama's decision even more controversial.  But the decision to drop bombs and assist the  Baghdad-Tehran alliance -- led by Iranian general Qassem Soleimani (identified by the US government as a terrorist) -- was already controversial and questionable due to Soleimani's presence.


    Deep consternation exists in Washington, among both political parties, over the appearance of US warplanes providing close air support for Shia militias and their Iranian sponsors. Some US-trained Iraqi military units and Shia militias are under investigation for committing atrocities, similar to those of Isis. The Iranian general Qassem Suleimani is believed to be playing a leadership role in what has devolved into a grinding fight to recapture Saddam Hussein’s birthplace from Isis.
    “There’s going to be some tightrope-walking in saying this is an Iraqi security forces offensive and not an Iranian militia offensive,” said Christopher Harmer, a retired US navy officer and analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, who said he was “astonished” at the development.



    Since 2001, the US government has identified Suleimani as a terrorist.

    Brookings Institution's Mike Doran Tweets it this way:




  • Michael Weiss Tweets:





  • Some are trying to spin the move as a plus.  Greg Jaffe (Washington Post) offers:



    The U.S. airstrikes, if successful in breaking the bloody stalemate, would make clear to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his commanders that they need U.S. military power to defeat Sunni extremists. “We can use the Iraqis’ failure in Tikrit to show what happens if you stiff-arm the U.S. in favor of Iran,” said Stephen Biddle, a frequent adviser to the Pentagon and a professor at George Washington University. “The message is that if you really want a better partner, stick with us and not the Iranians.”





    Finally, Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 109 violent deaths across Iraq today.
























    Arrow disappoints

    The CW's "Arrow" airs on Wednesday nights.

    Last week's episode did not thrill me.

    Among other things, the police station was attacked with criminals using diamond tipped bullets.

    Laurel was there trying to get her father to forgive her for concealing Sarah's death from him (Sarah's Laurel's sister, Laurel was afraid it was too much for her father to handle at that time).

    She ends up in the fight and holds her own.  What really turns things around is not the arrival of Oliver, Diggel and Junior Roy but Nyssa.

    She's furious that her father offered Oliver the shot at heading The League of the Assassins.  She feels that was her legacy and that he stole it from her.  She says this is about her loving Sarah.

    He says that love made her weak.

    Nyssa ends up saving things and then some.

    But Oliver turns down her father.

    And he tells Felicity why.

    At the police station, he says, he realized the police officers and their family were counting on him, Diggle and Roy.

    Huh?

    He gives no credit to Laurel or Nyssa.

    This show is so deeply sexist.

    And, let's be clear, Laurel and Nyssa weren't outside shooting arrows from above.

    They were in the police station, in hand-to-hand combat with the bad guys.

    A detail Oliver's sexist remarks ignore.

    Oh, flashback (those awful flashbacks), Shadow's alive.

    Yawn.



    Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

     
    Tuesday, March 24, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the US shares intel with Iraq (and Iran), this sharing includes a man designated as a terrorist by the US government, Atheel al-Nujaifi contacts Congress, the Tikrit assault remains stalled, and much more.



    Starting with the day's big news, Dion Nissenbaum and Julian E. Barnes (Wall St. Journal) report:


    The U.S. has started providing Iraq with aerial intelligence in the stalled battle to oust Islamic State from Tikrit, drawing the American military into closer coordination with Iranian-backed militias spearheading the offensive.

    Military officials said they aren’t working directly with Iran. But the intelligence will be used to help some 20,000 Iranian-backed Shiite militia fighters who make up the bulk of the force that has been struggling for weeks to retake the strategic city. 



    Al Quds' Said Arikat asked US State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki about this topic at today's press briefing.


    QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Iraq?


    MS. PSAKI: On Iraq? Sure.


    QUESTION: Very quickly. It says that the American forces are going to be aiding the Iraqi forces in Tikrit. Do you know anything about this?




    MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, the coalition, as you know, has continued to provide air support in the fight against ISIL with multiple airstrikes on ISIL targets in various locations. Twenty, I think, is the number we’ve talked about in terms of areas we’re assisting in. With numerous strikes occurring in the last couple of days, we’ve made clear that we stand ready to support Iraqi-led operations. I’m not going to go farther than that, though, in speaking to tactical or operational decisions or actions, and obviously, DOD would naturally have the lead on any military steps.




    Jen Psaki was spinning for many reasons, most obviously because the US government is not yet ready to announce the policy shift.  Jack Moore (Newsday) offers:


    It appears that U.S. reservations over cooperation with Iran, while both conduct crucial nuclear negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programme, have resided after the offensive to recapture the city stalled, says Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University and member at the Council on Foreign Relations.
    ”There seems to be an inverse relationship between the roles of Iran versus the U.S. in terms of taking the lead in the fight against the Islamic State,” he noted. “In Tikrit, the Iranians and the Shiite militias are playing a central role and Washington had been saying that it was standing on the sidelines so as not to collaborate with this questionable ally. Now, we see no such reservation.”

    AFP reminds, "The Iraqi military had lobbied for US-led coalition air strikes while paramilitary forces opposed such a move. One militia leader, Hadi Al Amiri, boasted three weeks ago that his men had been making advances for months without relying on US air power."


    Why now?  Among other reasons, the Tehran-Baghdad alliance attacking Tikrit has been a failure.  Over three weeks after the mission to retake the city of Tikrit began, it's still not finished and the fighters still haven't made it into the center of Tikrit.  What has been described as a few hundred Islamic State fighters have managed to hold off thousands of forces under the command of Tehran and Baghdad.

    Vivian Salama and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) point out that "the offensive has stalled in recent weeks, with Iraqi officials saying they will not rush a final assault."   That is what the Iraqi officials say.  I'm unconvinced that AP is required to offer that spin.  Last Friday, Mitchell Prothero (McClatchy Newspapers) reported:


    The much ballyhooed Iraqi government operation to capture the central city of Tikrit from the Islamic State has stalled three weeks after it began, amid widespread reports that Shiite Muslim militias and the government are badly divided over tactics and roiled by claims that the militias have engaged in war crimes against the local Sunni Muslim population.
    It's a failure.

    The assault is a failure.  And with MP Shakhawan Abdullah telling Rudaw reports, "At least 30,000 soldiers and military experts from the Islamic Republic of Iran are fighting ISIS militants in Iraq"?

    It really doesn't make Iran look very powerful or able to carry out a ground war.

    And what does it say about thug Hadi al-Ameri?

    Thug?

    He commands the Badr militia.

    But the Shi'ites also an MP and Minister of Transportation.

    Which is confusing because to run for office, political entities in Iraq were supposed to give up their militias.

    But the Badr brigade is run by al-Ameri who somehow (illegally) serves in the Iraqi government.

    Days ago, Ammar Karim (AFP) quoted Ameri on the topic of US air strikes, "Some of the weaklings in the army... say we need the Americans, while we say we do not need the Americans."

    The loquacious Hadi al-Ameri also told AFP that Iranian Qassem Soleimani (identified by the US government as a terrorist) who is there, in Iraq, "whenever we need him,"   Jim Michaels (USA Today) notes, "The Tikrit offensive has placed the United States in an awkward position. The battle is waged largely by Shiite militias with backing from Iran. The commander of Iran's elite al-Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, has played an active role in Iraq, CIA Director John Brennan told Fox News recently."

    Hmmm.

    2001?  US Treasury Department noted Executive Order 13224 by "publishing the names of five individuals whose property and interests in property are blocked."  Let's note some of it:




    On September 23, 2001, the President issued Executive Order 13224 (the “Order”) pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. 1701-1706, and the United Nations Participation Act of 1945, 22 U.S.C. 287c. In the Order, the President declared a national emergency to address grave acts of terrorism and threats of terrorism committed by foreign terrorists, including the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. The Order imposes economic sanctions on persons who have committed, pose a significant risk of committing, or support acts of terrorism. The President identified in the Annex to the Order, as amended by Executive Order 13268 of July 2, 2002, 13 individuals and 16 entities as subject to the economic sanctions. The Order was further amended by Executive Order 13284 of January 23, 2003, to reflect the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
    Section 1 of the Order blocks, with certain exceptions, all property and interests in property that are in or hereafter come within the United States or the possession or control of United States persons, of: (1) Foreign persons listed in the Annex to the Order; (2) foreign persons determined by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States; (3) persons determined by the Director of OFAC, in consultation with the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Justice, to be owned or controlled by, or to act for or on behalf of those persons listed in the Annex to the Order or those persons determined to be subject to subsection 1(b), 1(c), or 1(d)(i) of the Order; and (4) except as provided in section 5 of the Order and after such consultation, if any, with foreign authorities as the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, deems appropriate in the exercise of his discretion, persons determined by the Director of OFAC, in consultation with the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Justice, to assist in, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, such acts of terrorism or those persons listed in the Annex to the Order or determined to be subject to the Order or to be otherwise associated with those persons listed in the Annex to the Order or those persons determined to be subject to subsection 1(b), 1(c), or 1(d)(i) of the Order.
    On October 11, 2011, the Director of OFAC, in consultation with the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice and other relevant agencies, designated, pursuant to one or more of the criteria set forth in subsections 1(b), 1(c) or 1(d) of the Order, five individuals whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to Executive Order 13224.
    The listings for the five individuals on OFAC's list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons appear as follows:

    Individuals

    ABDOLLAHI, Hamed (a.k.a. ABDULLAHI, Mustafa); DOB 11 Aug 1960; citizen Iran; Passport D9004878 (individual) [SDGT] [IRGC].
    ARBABSIAR, Manssor (a.k.a. ARBABSIAR, Mansour), 805 Cisco Valley CV, Round Rock, TX 78664; 5403 Everhardt Road, Corpus Christi, TX 78411; DOB 15 Mar 1955; alt. DOB 6 Mar 1955; POB Iran; citizen United States; Driver's License No. 07442833 (United States) expires 15 Mar 2016; Passport C2002515 (Iran); alt. Passport 477845448 (United States); Driver's License is issued by the State of Texas (individual) [SDGT] [IRGC].
    SHAHLAI, Abdul Reza (a.k.a. SHAHLAEE, Abdul-Reza; a.k.a. SHAHLAI, Abdol Reza; a.k.a. SHAHLA'I, Abdolreza; a.k.a. SHAHLAI, 'Abdorreza; a.k.a. SHALAI, 'Abd-al Reza; a.k.a. SHALA'I, Abdul Reza; a.k.a. “ABU-AL-KARKH', 'Yusuf”; a.k.a. “YASIR, Hajji”; a.k.a. “YUSEF, Hajj”; a.k.a. “YUSIF, Haji”; a.k.a. “YUSIF, Hajji”), Kermanshah, Iran; Mehran Military Base, Ilam Province, Iran; DOB circa 1957 (individual) [SDGT] [IRAQ3] [IRGC].
    SHAKURI, Gholam, Tehran, Iran; DOB 1964; alt. DOB 1965; alt. DOB 1966 (individual) [SDGT] [IRGC].
    SOLEIMANI, Qasem (a.k.a. SALIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLAIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLEMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLEYMANI, Ghasem; a.k.a. SOLEYMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SULAIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SULAYMAN, Qasim; a.k.a. SULEMANI, Qasem); DOB 11 Mar 1957; POB Qom, Iran; citizen Iran; nationality Iran; Diplomatic Passport 008827 (Iran) issued 1999 (individual) [SDGT] [SYRIA] [NPWMD] [IRGC].
    Dated: October 11, 2011. Adam J. Szubin,
    Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control.



    Did you catch the last one?




    SOLEIMANI, Qasem (a.k.a. SALIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLAIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLEMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SOLEYMANI, Ghasem; a.k.a. SOLEYMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SULAIMANI, Qasem; a.k.a. SULAYMAN, Qasim; a.k.a. SULEMANI, Qasem); DOB 11 Mar 1957; POB Qom, Iran; citizen Iran; nationality Iran; Diplomatic Passport 008827 (Iran) issued 1999 (individual) [SDGT] [SYRIA] [NPWMD] [IRGC].





    The US government labels him as a terrorist.

    But US President Barack Obama is now going to let him have access to US intelligence and will apparently be announcing air strikes in support of the terrorist.


    Samia Nakhoul (Dawn) reports:

    Iran may be serious about a nuclear deal that ends its pariah status and the crippling sanctions. But it has been maximising its strength across the Middle East and, because Iranian forces and allied militias are spearheading the fight against IS in Iraq and Syria, Sunni Arab leaders believe the United States will do nothing to stop this.
    This month, US Secretary of State John Kerry assured Saudi leaders there would be no “grand bargain” with Tehran attached to any deal. Yet in a news conference at which Kerry acknowledged that Soleimani was involved in Tikrit, his host, Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, almost exploded.
    “The situation in Tikrit is a prime example of what we’re worried about,” said Prince Saud. “Iran is taking over Iraq.” That is why, regional analysts say, it is not so much the prospective nuclear deal that is panicking the Gulf and its Sunni allies such as Egypt, but what a US-Iran rapprochement may bring.
    Sultan al-Qassemi, a commentator in the United Arab Emirates, says: “The Iranian deal is a game-changer for the region and I think it is going to encourage Iran to pursue an even more assertive foreign policy.
    “This deal is the grand bargain Kerry is denying it is. It is giving Iran carte blanche in exchange for empty promises. Iran is on the ascendant. Iran has the winning hand in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.” Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based INEGMA think tank, warned of “all-out sectarian war” between Sunnis and Shias.



    Are you confused?  Maybe you're remembering that John Kerry testified before a Senate Committee on March 11th.  Maybe you're remembering Ava's report on the hearing:



    "I have nothing but respect for the Committee's prerogatives," he insisted at the hearing.
    He insisted at the hearing where he snarled at Senator Mark Rubio that he was flat out wrong.
    Rubio wasn't flat out wrong.
    Regional leaders in the Middle East are nervous about a possible treaty between the US and Iran.  That's not news.  Or it's not new news.  But Kerry wanted to lie and snarl at Rubio to get his facts.  Kerry's the one who needs to get his facts.
    Sunni leaders in the region have seen the persecution of Sunnis in Iraq.  They are concerned about what deal Shi'ite Iran could work out with the US.
    Are they opposed to any and all deals?
    I doubt it.
    But Rubio didn't claim they were.
    He only noted they were concerned.
    And Kerry snarled at him that he was flat out wrong.



    Who's flat out wrong today?

    Because it looks like John Kerry is flat out wrong.

    It looks like Senator Mark Rubio did know what he was talking about.


    And while Kerry spins and lies, others grow ever concerned about Iran's presence in Iraq.

    Eli Lake (Bloomberg News) reports:

    On Sunday, Nujaifi sent a letter to U.S. leaders warning that his country was at a tipping point with regard to Iranian influence. As U.S. forces wait on the sidelines in an Iranian-led campaign to liberate Tikrit, Nujaifi said he worried that his country was being lost to Iran.
    [. . .]
    Nujaifi, whose province includes Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul, addressed his letter to Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and asked that it be placed into the record for a hearing this week on the administration's strategy against the Islamic State. The Iraqi governor also sent copies to President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Secretary of State John Kerry and John Allen, the retired Marine general who is U.S. envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State.
    Royce told me that he agrees with Nujaifi that the administration has failed to challenge Iran's efforts to expand throughout the Middle East.  "The fact that the governor is compelled to reach out directly to us in Congress speaks volumes about the sway that Iran holds over critical positions in the government in Baghdad," he said. 

    Nujaifi wrote that Iran "has essentially taken over the fight in Iraq against ISIS." He added, "But the threat goes even deeper -- there is a grave and immediate threat that Iran is taking over decisive points in the government of Iraq itself."


    Atheel al-Nujaifi is the Governor of Nineveh Province.  He is also the brother of former Speaker of Parliament and current Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi.


    Atheel stood up to Nouri al-Maliki who launched one attack on him after another during Nouri's second term (2010 - 2014).  Nouri attempted to force him to resign at one point.

    If Atheel can stand up to Nouri, it's doubtful he's going to be 'managed' by the White House.  They might need to start paying attention right about now.




    Dispatches: Doomed to Repeat History on Iraq? by

    Dispatches: Doomed to Repeat History on Iraq? by


  •  





  • Turning to today's violence, Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports, "Separate clashes on Tuesday between Iraqi forces and Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq's western province of Anbar left a total of 55 people killed and 71 wounded, security and medical sources said."

    Senator Johnny Isakson is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Time permitting, we'll note the Committee's hearing later in the week but for now we'll note this statement his office issued today:


    Isakson to VA: Unacceptable to Tell Veteran ‘We Can’t Help’

    Calls on VA leaders to ‘stop making excuses,’ fully implement Veterans’ Choice reforms


    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to act quickly to implement a more sensible interpretation of the Veterans’ Choice distance criteria to allow veterans better access to health care.
     
    At a committee hearing held today, March 24, 2015, Isakson raised concerns over how the VA has implemented the distance criteria that was included in sweeping reforms passed last year in the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act. The distance criteria, known informally as the “40-mile rule,” requires the VA to allow a veteran to receive care outside the VA health system if the veteran resides more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical facility.
     
    Earlier today, VA Secretary Robert McDonald announced that the VA would change its interpretation of the Veterans’ Choice Program's “40-mile rule” in response to repeated calls from Isakson and other members of Congress to address these challenges and expand veterans’ ability to receive care.
     
    “This interpretation makes a lot of sense. What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that it took so long for VA to come to that decision, but I’m glad it finally did,” said Isakson. “I’d rather …see to it that our veterans are being helped instead of VA continuing to make excuses and telling a veteran who would risk his life for our country that we just can’t help him. That’s just not right.”
    Since the Veterans’ Choice Program began in November 2014, the VA has measured the 40-mile distance “as the crow flies,” or in a straight line on a map, as opposed to measuring the 40 miles in driving distance, thus disallowing veterans who live within the 40-mile radius of a facility but have to drive more than 40 miles to get there from benefiting from the Veterans’ Choice Program.
     
    At today’s hearing, Isakson called on VA Deputy Secretary Sloane Gibson to swiftly implement the changes in the VA’s interpretation of the distance criteria so that all veterans could receive the proper care they need, regardless of proximity to a VA facility.
     
    “The Senate VA Committee’s job, and the members of the Senate’s job, is to get more money if we need to; it is not to make excuses as to why we can’t do things for our veterans,” said Isakson. “The veterans expect us to deliver and Congress expects y’all to deliver… We’ll do it right the first time and we’ll be committed to providing funding to deliver care to our veterans. I appreciate very much the Secretary’s movement to address the issue with the 40-mile rule and I appreciate that the VA is now talking about what we can do rather than talking about what we can’t do.”
     
    Isakson also pointed to a second ongoing issue with the Veterans’ Choice Program’s distance criteria –veterans who live within 40 miles of a VA facility but are unable to receive the necessary treatment at that particular facility are currently ineligible to receive care outside the VA health system. Isakson indicated that he and Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the ranking Democrat on the Senate VA Committee, will work with VA on legislation to address this issue.
     
    “The faster we act on that the better off we will be. If there is a legislative impediment, let’s fix it, because our intent is to see to it that veterans get the service,” said Isakson.
     
    Isakson questioned Deputy Secretary Gibson about how the VA will properly communicate these changes to veterans. Isakson highlighted the lack of information available to veterans about the Veterans’ Choice Program, including information about the appeals process.
     
    “As long as the VA is doing everything it can do to see to it that veterans are not frustrated, but in fact are pleased with the communication they get, then I think we will all be better off,” said Isakson.
     
    View Isakson’s opening remarks from today’s hearing here.
     
    Video of today’s hearing is available online here
     
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    The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.

    Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.