Iraq goes even more nuts
As if things weren’t bad enough in Barack Obama’s Iraq, the central government in Baghdad is tottering on the verge of collapse. Fox News writes of soldiers prowling the streets, which has got to be less stressful for the unit commanders than rolling into battle against the head-chopping maniacs of ISIS:
As Iraq’s government forces continue to battle Sunni militants in the country’s north and west with the help of American airstrikes, the country’s parallel political crises deepened Sunday as embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki resisted calls to step down and accused the new president of violating Iraq’s constitution.
In a nationally televised speech Sunday evening, al-Maliki said he would file a legal complaint against the new president, Fouad Massoum, for neglecting to name a prime minister from Maliki’s Shiite-dominated political bloc, which won the most seats in this past April’s election.
At around the same time as al-Maliki’s speech Sunday evening, the Wall Street Journal reported that security forces had deployed in unusually large numbers across Baghdad. The soldiers were particularly prominent in the so-called Green Zone, which includes the prime minister’s home as well as the parliament building, crucial government offices and many embassies.
Al-Maliki is seeking a third term as prime minister, but the latest crisis has prompted even his closest allies to call for his resignation. A parliament session scheduled for Monday to discuss the election and who might lead the next Iraqi government was postponed until Aug. 19.
Maliki claims the effort to oust him is tantamount to a “coup on the constitution and the political process in a country that is governed by a democratic and federal system.” Oddly enough, President Massoum’s current stance is that he will put Maliki back in the PM’s office, unless his party puts forth a different candidate on Monday. This is the weirdest coup ever.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration abruptly reversed its long-standing policy of providing direct assistance only to the Iraqi central government, and has begun arming the Kurds:
The move to directly aid the Kurds underscores the level of U.S. concern about the Islamic State militants’ gains in the north, and reflects the persistent administration view that the Iraqis must take the necessary steps to solve their own security problems.
Kurdish forces have proven to be the most effective fighters against the Islamic State (IS), the militant group formerly known as ISIS. On Sunday, with the help of U.S. airstrikes, Kurdish forces pushed the militants out of the northern Iraq villages of Makhmour and al-Gweir, some 27 miles from Irbil. President Obama authorized the airstrikes to protect U.S. interests and personnel in the region, including at facilities in Irbil, as well as Yazidi refugees fleeing militants.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters in Sydney, said the airstrikes “have been very effective from all the reports that we’ve received on the ground.” He declined to detail how or when the U.S. might expand its assistance to Iraq, or if military assessment teams currently in Baghdad would be moving to a more active role advising the Iraqi forces.
“We’re going to continue to support the Iraqi security forces in every way that we can as they request assistance there,” Hagel said during a press conference with Australian Defense Minister David Johnston. Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry are in Sydney for an annual meeting with Australian defense and diplomatic leaders.
Whether or not the existing pinprick air attacks have halted ISIS’ advance on the Kurds is highly debatable - Time magazine, for one, said they “continued their violent advance across Iraq Sunday as the humanitarian crisis escalated over the weekend, despite military action by the U.S.” The odds of eventually stalemating ISIS in Kurdistan through some combination of airstrikes and resupply for the generally effective Kurdish fighting forces are decent. However, shifting attention to the Kurds in this way is another step toward the dissolution of Iraq, which might be inevitable at this point, but is not the optimum outcome from the standpoint of long-term U.S. interests. The Kurds are the best American bet in the region, but we really can’t afford to write the rest of the country off to Iran and the new ISIS terror state.
Also, it’s been glaringly obvious for a while now that the Kurds represented the most effective resistance to the Islamic State. Allowing them to run low enough on weapons to put their capital of Irbil in serious jeopardy was foolish and short-sighted. It’s obvious that Obama and his brain trust figured the Kurds could hold ISIS at bay without any help; when that didn’t work out, they panicked and started using U.S. muscle to keep the Kurds in the game, a panic deepened by Obama’s fervent desire to avoid being seen as the guy who went golfing while genocide was perpetrated. Policy by panic – a reactive foreign policy that only moves when Obama’s poll numbers dip into the red – is not going to prevail against a determined enemy that knows exactly what it wants.
How hard are Iraqis supposed to fight when they’ve got ISIS in front of them – gleefully using severed heads as props, raping and pillaging, burying women and children alive – and Barack Obama behind them? Way behind them, in Martha’s Vineyard, taking his umpteenth luxury vacation while the world burns down? Not only is ISIS breaking the morale of its opponents with their savage tactics – with only a very muted response from the civilized world thus far – but as CNN reports, they’re enjoying a recruiting bonanza:
Abu Raad pleaded with his son not to volunteer.
But there was nothing he says he could say to talk his 19-year-old son out of joining ISIS, which refers to itself as the Islamic State and is formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“I don’t know what they told him,” Abu Raad told CNN by telephone from his home in Mosul. “Last week, my son came home and told me that he is leaving home and joining the Islamic State.”
And then, the teenager packed a bag and left.
“We have heard nothing from him,” said Abu Raad, who asked to be identified by his Arab nickname out of fear of retaliation by ISIS for speaking out.
His son is now believed to be one of hundreds of young Sunni men who, two Iraqi senior defense officials tell CNN, have joined ISIS in recent weeks in the Iraqi provinces of Nineveh, Salaheddin and Anbar.
Analysts and U.S. officials estimate ISIS has as many as 10,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, including those who were freed from prisons by ISIS and Sunni loyalists who have joined the fight as the group advanced.
But that number likely doesn’t include these latest recruits, mostly young men between the ages of 16 and 25 who are primarily poor, unemployed and lack an education, the two Iraqi senior defense officials told CNN.
Add to that a disenfranchisement felt by Iraq’s Sunni minority, who have bitterly complained of being marginalized and cut out of the political process by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government.
The height of that disenfranchisement coincided with ISIS routing Iraqi security forces in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June.
Abu Raad blames al-Maliki’s government for what happened with his son.
“He allowed those (ISIS) thugs” to take hold in the country, he said.
All of this evidently came as a stunning surprise to President Obama, who didn’t take the prudent precaution of leaving an American force in place to thwart that morale-crushing invasion of Mosul, say much about Maliki’s governing style until the first cities had fallen to ISIS, or preserve the kind of leverage in Iraq that would make him look like anything but a distant, disconnected spectator today.
Another big problem contributing to the cascading disaster in Iraq was Obama’s studied blindness toward the nature of the Syrian opposition. While dictator Bashad Assad is unquestionably a monster, Obama has always seemed painfully naive about believing that everyone fighting against him was essentially heroic, or that the “moderate” elements of the Syrian resistance could overpower the bad guys once Assad was taken care of. Remember, if Obama had gotten his way last year, American air power would have been helping ISIS in Syria, all because Obama shot his mouth off about “red lines” and chemical weapons. Also, recall that Obama and his loyalists were absolutely convinced that the moderate Syrian rebels would be able to defeat the al-Qaeda forces that joined the fight against Assad. Can anyone now doubt that ISIS would have plucked American hardware from the hands of those “moderates” like it was taking candy from a baby?
Foreign policy is all about making the right moves at the right time. Obama has never done that, anywhere in the world, not even once. Sometimes he gets dragged kicking and screaming to seeing a situation clearly, but it’s always long after the time for effective action has passed. He doesn’t do anything right until each cascading crisis has turned into an avalanche. At this point, the savages from ISIS (would the media please stop referring to them as “militants,” for God’s sake?) have an easy time selling Osama bin Laden’s narrative about people preferring strong horses to weak horses, with themselves as the strong horse. Their brutal ideology has become a contagion, spreading through the weakened immune system of the Middle East, where American leadership was withdrawn in favor of prattle about “inclusiveness” that sounds like something out of a human-resources seminar. There is no sense of momentum turning against the terror state – on the contrary, the U.S. is scrambling to prop up the Kurds and rescue 50,000 Yazidis from a genocidal massacre, while the government in Baghdad looks to be cracking under the stress.
Everything Obama does sends a message of weakness and disconnect – a man who doesn’t know how to win, and doesn’t really want to play the game. Taking a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard while the world burns down is another hideous mistake, no matter how hard Obama dead-enders try to spin it as well-deserved down time (after what – a tough schedule of fundraisers?) and claim the President is still “monitoring” world events from poolside. The world sees the President of the United States not giving a damn, and it matters. They also see his idea of “smart power” as literally phoning it in, hectoring the people still willing to take his calls while ignoring or excusing the bad guys, as with Israel vs. Hamas in Gaza. They well remember the Administration’s deafening silence while jihad was waged against Iraqi Christians – a silence broken only when TV sets around the globe lit up with images of the Yazidis dying of exposure on the side of a mountain.
Everything about Obama screams that he’s the classic example of a dangerous ally and irrelevant adversary. He’s incapable of seizing the initiative. Everything he does is reactive, and his reflexes are painfully slow. He won’t fully commit to supporting his allies, while ISIS has gigabytes of blood-splattered propaganda photos to illustrate how serious they are about destroying their enemies. We say, “oppose us and die in agony.” The Americans say, “oppose us and we’ll pressure our allies to make a deal with you.”
Chaos will continue running wild in Iraq, because its masters can easily convince recruits that nobody is really all that interested in stopping it. At this point, the Kurds will be lucky to survive it.
Update: While Chuck Hagel says ISIS is getting “pushed back” after airstrikes, the Brits just had to abort a drop of humanitarian supplies in northern Iraq due to safety concerns. According to the BBC, they were concerned about the safety of people on the ground. Some in the British government are also expressing concerns about the wisdom of going on vacation while a horde of savages litters Iraq with severed heads:
Conservative MP Conor Burns has urged a recall of Parliament, saying he did not know whether the Commons would support military action in Iraq but it was “worth trying”.
“These are brother and sister Christians and this is happening to them in no small part because of our record in Iraq,” said the MP for Bournemouth West.
“I feel very strongly that the government’s response is not hard enough or strong enough.
“These people are being beheaded by people from IS, and our only response is to drop some food or water on them.
“I think the US and UK should be involved in air strikes. I am not by any means advocating a ground war but I think we should put our special forces in there.”
Ex-army chief Lord Dannatt also backed a recall of Parliament, saying “this is not the moment for decision-makers to be on holiday”.
He said UK troops might be needed on the ground to help support US military air strikes.
He said the West could not watch a genocide take place: “If we do nothing and wring our hands later and say once again, ‘We shouldn’t have let that happen,’ then I think we have all let ourselves down.”
There’s no way this is going to end without Western boots on the ground.
Update: The UK Telegraph paints a much more stark picture of the Yazidi relief effort than anything you’ll hear in US media. It does not at all sound like American and Iraqi forces have the situation under control.
Mount Sinjar stinks of death. The few Yazidis who have managed to escape its clutches can tell you why. “Dogs were eating the bodies of the dead,” said Haji Khedev Haydev, 65, who ran through the lines of Islamic State jihadists surrounding it.
On Sunday night, I became the first western journalist to reach the mountains where tens of thousands of Yazidis, a previously obscure Middle Eastern sect, have been taking refuge from the Islamic State forces that seized their largest town, Sinjar.
I was on board an Iraqi Army helicopter, and watched as hundreds of refugees ran towards it to receive one of the few deliveries of aid to make it to the mountain. The helicopter dropped water and food from its open gun bays to them as they waited below. General Ahmed Ithwany, who led the mission, told me: “It is death valley. Up to 70 per cent of them are dead.”
The article includes a stunning allegation from Iraqi officials that I desperately hope is not true:
Two American aid flights have also made it to the mountain, where they have dropped off more than 36,000 meals and 7,000 gallons of drinking water to help the refugees, and last night two RAF C-130 transport planes were also on the way.
However, Iraqi officials said that much of the US aid had been “useless” because it was dropped from 15,000ft without parachutes and exploded on impact.
Progress on the evacuation effort has been minimal so far:
The Iraqi Army is running several aid missions every day, bringing supplies including water, flour, bread and shoes.
The helicopter flights aim to airlift out refugees on each flight, but the mountains are sometimes too rocky to land on, meaning they return empty.
Even when it can land, the single helicopter can take just over a dozen refugees at a time, and then only from the highest point of the mountain where it is out of range of jihadist missiles. Barely 100 have been rescued in this way.
We’ll know ISIS has been “rolled back” when more than a hundred people have been rescued from Mount Sinjar.