Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ani DiFranco's lost her base

There were a number of things I wanted to write about but I'm just going to focus on one.  At a campus, I had a long talk with four young women regarding Ani DiFranco.

For those who don't know her, she was an important figure in the 90s, a singer-songwriter, with her own unique style of playing guitar.

And she wrote some classic songs during that period.

I don't mean to imply that her talent died in the 90s.

"Half-Assed" is among the strong contributions that came after.

But these days, her talent is dead and so is her following.

The young women I spoke to were 11, 12 and 13-year-old girls when they got into Ani.

The Iraq War was going on (as it is today) and Bully Boy Bush was in the White House (thankfully no more) and there was brave Ani.

All she had was a guitar and the truth.

And she inspired them.

And they thought this was a model for who they could become.

But she's dead them today.

Which I do understand.

She's dead to me as well.

I even understand their reason -- again, I feel the same way.

They thought she was strong, brave and independent and yet she lost her voice, she surrendered it, when Barack became president.

She became just another whore willing to look the other way.

And she has no one.

See, I knew people like me were walking away -- hell, we ran.

Those of us who listened to Ani back in the day, we bought her self-presentation.

She wasn't a Democrat, she wasn't a Republican, she was a truth teller.

That was, after all, the point of "Fuel" on Little Plastic Castles.

But then Ani decided, in 2008, to be a whore.

And she's had nothing to offer.

I walked away as did many others.

But I didn't realize she'd also lost her young listeners.

She has.

That's why the last album, which came out in November, made no splash at all.

She's not selling at all beyond her initial week of release.

1998's Little Plastic Castle's made it all the way to 22.

Last November's new album Allergic to Water?

It's highest position was 155 on Billboard's Album charts.

Do we get that it's over for the old whore?

That she betrayed her beliefs and lost her fan base in the process.

The 'protest' singer did a protest album (2012's hideous Which Side Are You On?) that 'protested' those who were against Barack Obama.

Barack who declared war on Libya.

Barack who runs The Drone War.

Barack who continues the Iraq War.

Barack who continues the Afghanistan War.

Barack who continues Guantanamo.

Barack who is calling Venezuela a threat.

How is any of this different than what Ani slammed Bully Boy Bush for?

It's not.

But Ani's fine with it.

She's fine with whoring.

Thankfully, her fan base is not.

It's a case where the audience had far more taste (and courage) than the artist ever did.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Saturday, March 21, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, a court rules the US government must release Abu Ghraib images, Barack continues to refuse working towards a political solution in Iraq, and more.

June 20, 2003, Amnesty International announced, "The notorious Abu Ghraib Prison, centere of torture and mass executions under Saddam Hussein, is yet again a prison cut off from the outside world."  To what degree may still be unknown because, despite documented proof of the abuses, the US government -- under Bully Boy Bush and under President Barack Obama -- has refused to release the evidence which might illuminate.

That may be changing,  Mark Hensch (The Hill) notes, "The Associated Press reported Saturday that U.S. district judge Alvin Hellerstein made the ruling in New York after more than a decade of litigation. The Defense Department has two months to appeal the decision before potentially making any images public."  RT reminds:

The photographs first received attention in late 2003 by Amnesty International, which provided shocking proof that members of the US Army and the Central Intelligence Agency carried out so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The photographs pointed to gross physical and sexual abuse, including torture, rape and murder. The report opened up a debate in the United States as to the definition of torture and if it is applicable in a time of war

In 2004, Seymour Hersh (The New Yorker) reported:

A fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, was completed in late February. Its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system were devastating. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. This systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, Taguba reported, was perpetrated by soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, and also by members of the American intelligence community. (The 372nd was attached to the 320th M.P. Battalion, which reported to Karpinski’s brigade headquarters.) Taguba’s report listed some of the wrongdoing:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

There was stunning evidence to support the allegations, Taguba added—“detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” Photographs and videos taken by the soldiers as the abuses were happening were not included in his report, Taguba said, because of their “extremely sensitive nature.”

Today, Telesur quotes the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer stating, "The Obama administration’s rationale for suppressing the photos is both illegitimate and dangerous … To allow the government to suppress any image that might provoke someone, somewhere, to violence would be to give the government sweeping power to suppress evidence of its own agents' misconduct."

Lynndie England became the poster girl of the crimes.  Despite being convicted in court, the woman -- who is not very bright to begin with, granted -- still thinks she can minimize the torture.  She's not faced the crimes she committed and there are a number of Americans who share her denial.

Photographic proof won't end the lying but it will make it more clear to those in the world with sanity just how desperately deluded those who lie and minimize the crime are.

There are some who oppose the release and may do so for genuine concerns.  But those in the military brass who've fought the release?  They should be ashamed of themselves.  There is nothing in the military code which allows them to cover up or lie.  They apparently either forgot or decided to forsake their officer training.

The honorable thing to do was always to own up to what took place.

Refusing to do so has been ridiculous.

And apparently, there's this thing called 'instant redemption.'

David Petraeus apparently enrolled in that program.  Sharing classified information with his mistress while he led the CIA forced him out of that post and resulted in criminal charges but, in the blink of an eye, he's back as a national security advisor to Barack.

In the blink of an eye from turning over classified information to your sex partner -- not to be a whistle blower and inform the people, but so she'll write a book praising you (apparently Petreaus is so bad in the sack he has to bribe even his mistress) -- to national security advisor.

Barack redeemed him.

So it's only fitting that Barack be the first person bit in the ass by Petraeus.

Liz Sly (Washington Post) interviewed Petreaues in writing and this is what he wrote in response to one of her questions:

Yet despite that history and the legacy it has left, I think Iraq and the coalition forces are making considerable progress against the Islamic State. In fact, 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.

These militia returned to the streets of Iraq in response to a fatwa by Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Sistani at a moment of extreme danger.  And they prevented the Islamic State from continuing its offensive into Baghdad. Nonetheless, they have, in some cases, cleared not only Sunni extremists but also Sunni civilians and committed atrocities against them.  Thus, they have, to a degree, been both part of Iraq's salvation but also the most serious threat to the all-important effort of once again getting the Sunni Arab population in Iraq to feel that it has a stake in the success of Iraq rather than a stake in its failure.  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.

I happen to agree with Petraeus' assessment.

But let's all realize that the remarks are a slap to Barack's efforts.

Barack's stupidly agreed as usual to bend over and take anything.  He's not a smart man.

He got it right in June when he said only a political solution could solve Iraq's crises.

But he made that statement and then avoided everything but a political solution.

That's where the focus should have been, on the politics.

The US should have acted -- or tried -- as mediators between the factions.

They did so before under Barack, remember?

Barack didn't like the 2010 election results so he overturned them with The Erbil Agreement -- a US brokered contract that gave Nouri al-Maliki a second term as prime minister (after his State of Law had lost to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya).

Now granted, it's probably hard to come back from that.

Because Nouri used the contract to get his second term but then refused to honor the promises he made in the contract -- the promises he made in exchange for a second term.

And when Nouri refused to honor those promises, the White House played dumb.

The same White House that swore the contract had their full backing.

The same Barack Obama who told that over the phone to Ayad Allawi to get him to end Iraqiya's walk out of Parliament.

Did we forget that?

The Erbil Agreement's signed and, finally, after 8 months of a political stalemate, the Parliament is finally allowed to meet.  From the November 11, 2010 snapshot:

Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports one hiccup in the process today involved Ayad Allawi who US President Barack Obama phoned asking/pleading that he accept the deal because "his rejection of post would be a vote of no confidence". Ben Lando, Sam Dagher and Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) confirm the phone call via two sources and state Allawi will take the post -- newly created -- of chair of the National Council On Higher Policy: "Mr. Obama, in his phone call to Mr. Allawi on Thursday, promised to throw U.S. weight behind the process and guarantee that the council would retain meaningful and legal power, according to the two officials with knowledge of the phone call."

I falsely state over and over that Barack never mentioned it again, The Erbil Agreement.

That's incorrect.

He did it mention it November 12, 2010 and then he ignored it.

Before I discuss the G20, I want to briefly comment on the agreement in Iraq that's taken place on the framework for a new government.  There's still challenges to overcome, but all indications are that the government will be representative, inclusive, and reflect the will of the Iraqi people who cast their ballots in the last election. This agreement marks another milestone in the history of modern Iraq.  Once again, Iraqis are showing their determination to unify Iraq and build its future and that those impulses are far stronger than those who want Iraq to descend into sectarian war and terror. For the last several months, the United States has worked closely with our Iraqi partners to promote a broad-based government -- one whose leaders share a commitment to serving all Iraqis as equal citizens.

The Erbil Agreement.

That he walked away from.

Do we all get how awful that was?

It was awful to overturn the Iraqi's people's vote.

But to do so with a contract and swear you're going to support this contract but then not do it?

Pushing Baghdad into Iran's lap has a lot to do with Barack's empty promises.

If you broker a contract and you say you will stand by it and then don't, why should anyone ever trust you again?

Much was made of Barack declaring a line in the sand on Syria and then wiping it away with his foot.  While that was damaging, so was breaking the promise on backing The Erbil Agreement.

To be very clear, Barack should have never labeled a red line (Syria) and he should never of overturned the will of the people (Iraq).  Those were huge mistakes.

But they go to Barack forever making statements he can't or won't back up.

And with that reputation, maybe it's impossible to work towards a political solution in Iraq.

But the White House doesn't even try.

They do bombings from the air.

They think that's an answer.

And with the focus solely on assault and kill, Baghdad moves even closer to Tehran.

Petraeus is correct, the Islamic State is not the biggest threat.  

His remarks go to Barack's failure in Iraq from this summer to right now.

At CNN, Rula Jebreal offers an analysis which includes:

The reality is that short-term tactical victories won't be enough to defeat ISIS, especially as the reliance on Iran-backed Shiite militias is only likely to exacerbate tensions with the largely local Sunni population. Indeed, the crucial ground war component of the campaign has so far been heavily reliant on the Shiite militias, whose track record of sectarian violence is well-documented, and their involvement threatens to drive more Iraqi Sunnis into the arms of ISIS.  
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the involvement of these groups "will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism." But based on past experience, many locals are understandably more frightened by their designated "liberators" than they are of the vicious extremists of ISIS who have ruled their towns over the past eight months.

There are no plans beyond drop bombs, kill people.

Barack has nothing.

We're three months away from the one-year mark on his Iraq requires a political solution remarks and he has failed to focus on those efforts.

Those efforts include encouragement and discouragement.

The diplomatic tool box is not filled with roses.

There are rewards, yes.

There is also the ability to take away.

Haider al-Abadi has offered nothing but empty words since becoming prime minister in August.

The diplomatic tool box does allow the US government to say, "You get X done by Y or we pull the funding for _____."

Or, "You get your forces to stop slaughtering Sunni civilians or we cut off the weapons supply to your country."

Barack didn't have anything under his belt when he became president.

From 2005 to the end of 2006, he served in the Senate.

Starting in 2007, he was all over the country campaigning for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and then campaigning to be the president.

He knows nothing and that becomes more and more clear with each year of his presidency as he stumbles from crisis to crisis, never solving anything.

A further confirmation of Barack's failure came Monday when Barbara Plett Usher (BBC News -- link is video) interviewed Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal today:

Prince Turki al-Faisal:  Iran is already a disruptive player in various scenes in the Arab world -- whether in Yemen, in Syria and Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine, in Bahrain.  And so ending the fear of Iran developing weapons of mass destruction is not going to be the end of the troubles that we're having with Iran.

Barbara Plett Usher:  Speaking of those troubles, the Americans seem to be accepting Iranian backing for the Iraqi ground forces fighting ISIS.  Is there an alternative?

Prince Turki al-Faisal:  There is.  The Iraqi people. There is a record of that, of course, when al Qaeda was the main enemy during the occupation of Iraq.  It was the Arab tribes -- Sunni tribes --  that managed to get rid of al Qaeda so that's where it should be going.

Barbara Plett Usher:  But do you think more should be done to get Iran out of the picture in terms of the fight against ISIS.

Prince Turki al-Faisal: Now it seems that Iran is expanding its occupation of Iraq. And that is unacceptable.

From 2010 to 2014, Nouri al-Maliki attacked the neighbors in the region.

He accused all -- except Iran -- of being out to get Iraq.

Nouri was paranoid -- that was known by the US government before they installed him as prime minister in 2006, that's why the Bully Boy Bush White House installed him.

But Nouri's paranoia caused a lot of damage.

Haider's not repaired anything.

His recruitment of Tehran to help fight in Iraq has actually harmed Iraq's relations with Arab states.

King Abdullah II of Jordan has also expressed public concerns.

Haider's good about hitting up the region for help but what has he done to improve relations?


And he's from Nouri's Dawa party and he's very close to Nouri.

All of which means doubt in the region when it comes to trusting Haider.

That's one of those things that the US could have provided diplomatic help on.

But again, Barack spent all the time on bombing and on using the State Dept to go around begging countries to send forces to Iraq.

No time for the political solution, not for Barack.

Earlier this week, Mosul had leaflets dropped on it from planes announcing that an assault would be forthcoming.  Deborah Amos (NPR) reports:

The Iraqi army is far from ready for an assault on Iraqi's second largest city. The first assault on ISIS in Tikrit has stalled for more than a week. The forces leading that military campaign are primarily Iraq's Shiite militias, backed and trained by Iran.
And if they succeed?
"You bring in the military force, and you fight the terrorist there, you evict them. And then what?" asks Qubad Talabani, vice president of the Kurdish regional government.
In other words, Iraq's militia may be able to take Tikrit, but it's unclear they will be able to hold it.
Mosul will be even a more difficult and sensitive operation, Talabani says. The city is five times larger than Tikrit, with more than 1 million civilians, mostly Sunni Arabs, who welcomed ISIS when they first arrived, relieved to be rid of an oppressive Shiite-dominated government and army. Now, the Sunnis of Mosul are watching Shiite forces battling ISIS in Tikrit.
"That's the problem with the Tikrit operation, that it is a purely Shiite-led military operation against a heavily Sunni place of the country," Talabani says. "This is Saddam's birthplace here, with no political endgame anywhere in sight. Not for the people of Tikrit, not for the Sunnis of Iraq."

Deborah Amos  is the author of  Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East.

Meanwhile Al-Arabiya (via NCRI) reports:

Mr. Masrour Barzani, National Security Advisor for Iraqi Kurdistan Region, warned on the role of Shiite militias supported by Iran in the battle against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, to retake Tikrit.
In an interview with BBC’s HARDTalk program he noted that using the assistance of the militias by Government of Iraq can lead to a problem greater than ISIS since their presence will up the sectarian tensions between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq.

As the NSA for the KRG, Barzani's remarks matter.  They matter also because of who his father: KRG President Massoud Barzani.

If you've noticed, the White House has had a flurry of remarks about the Iran 'treaty' that may or may not come to be -- a flurry in the last 72 hours.  It's because Democratic leadership in Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, made it clear to Barack that this never-ending negotiation needs to wrap up one way or the other.

Barack's stupid.

There's no way to pretty that up.

But so is the administration.

They made too much of a deal too early.

Worse than that, they brought Barack in too soon.

You bring in the president at the end of negotiations, just in time for the victory lap.

Bring him (or her) in sooner risks the loss of prestige should a deal fail.

I thought the White House learned that back when they failed to get the Olympics in Chicago.

Remember that?

They sent the President of the United States to lobby for that (along with Oprah).

And they failed.

That's how cheapen the office.

That's how you tarnish it.  (You also do that by making the late night talk show rounds like you're the braless starlet determined to kick-start her career someway somehwo.)

I get that Barack is probably going to lose face on this deal.

Well he needs to suck it up and wrap it up.

If there's a deal, stop being held hostage by Tehran, make the deal.

Congress is tired of it, the American people are growing tired of it.

And Iraq is suffering because of it.

Margaret Griffis ( reports at least 47 people died of violence on Friday in Iraq and:

According to unofficial reports, the battle for Tikrit has already cost 1,000 militiamen their lives. The number remains unconfirmed by the government, which has been very tight with any casualty figures. The large number of dead may explain why forces paused their advance last weekend. The pause was to have lasted only two days while reinforcements arrived, but it was extended and continues into this weekend. Even during the pause an anonymous source at a Samarra hospital says the 100 security members are brought in each day, either wounded or dead, from the battlefield. 

Sunday, 60 Minutes (CBS) reports on Iraq:

The leader of one of Christianity's oldest communities reluctantly says that waging war against ISIS - killing their fighters - is the only way to stop the radical Islamists from destroying Christianity in Iraq. Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil speaks to Lara Logan for her report on the plight of thousands of Christians forced to flee ancestral homes from ISIS. Her story will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, March 22 AT 7 p.m. ET/PT.


the washington post
liz sly

60 minutes
cbs news

Friday, March 20, 2015

Hillary should testify before Congress

The Irish Independent notes:

More than half of Americans - and 41pc of Democrats - said they supported the Republican-controlled congressional committee's effort to require Mrs Clinton to testify about the emails, the Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.

Of course they do.

People don't like liars.

They don't like being lied to.

And Hillary's earned an image that makes her statements suspect.

Hillary needs to answer questions about her e-mails.

Not in a semi-staged press conference (like the one she held) but in a public hearing.

Nothing she's said about the e-mail scandal thus far rings true.

Maybe if she'd been up front in her press conference, people wouldn't need more answers.

But she thought she could play the people and the people aren't going to go along with that.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, March 19, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, stupidity helped create the illegal war, stupidity also helped continue it, we look at Patrick Cockburn and other stupid people, we explore the concept of 'original sin' with regards to Iraq, and much more.

March 19, 2003, the Iraq War began as this ABC News report noted:

World News Videos | US News Videos

Chris Bury: At 9:33 [p.m.] Eastern Time, just about an hour and a half after the president's deadline, the first reports came in of explosions in Baghdad.  US Central Command here in Doha [Qatar] confirmed an operation was underway aimed at specific targets of Saddam Hussein's regime.  The early stages of war had begun.  Just over 48 hours ago, President Bush issued that ultimatum to Saddam Hussein: Step down or face the consequences. That deadline came and went tonight.  And less than two hours after that 8:00 pm deadline passed, the White House press corps was told that the president would be making a statement to the nation.  A statement that everyone knew eventually was coming. 

The Iraq War is criminal, to be sure.

Starting it was also stupid.

This snapshot, we salute the stupid.

Today is a solemn day for us. Twelve years ago the Bush administration launched the illegal invasion of Iraq, forever altering millions of lives.
As an organization made up of veterans who have seen firsthand the impacts of war and who have also been deeply implicated in it, we know that this day must be seared into our collective conscience. Forgetting can not be an option.

Was it a fateful day?

Seems there were a lot of fateful days.

Seems like IVAW stopped being against the war when Barack got into office.

My personal favorite moment with IVAW is laughing at them in Denver in the summer of 2008.

Ava and I were there for the DNC Convention.  IVAW was there to whore.

Oh, they pretended otherwise.

They had a tantrum they tried to pass off as a protest.

And Barack's campaign was genuinely worried.

And the press was interested.

But Barack sent out a flunky to talk to them and they fell for it.

They stopped their tantrum and got Punk'd.

They've been useless pretty much ever since.

They've been silent as Barack's sent more troops into Iraq in the last months.

They were silent about Nouri al-Maliki and his reign of terror.

They're useless.

Once upon a time, they pushed their way to the front of the peace movement.  They knew, they insisted, because they were there.

Apparently, they left their spines there.

Because they couldn't call out Barack.

Not when he went after Libya, not with his Drone War and not even with regards to Iraq.

Iraq Veterans Against the War?

The reality was many weren't Iraq veterans.

Turns out the larger reality is that many weren't even against war.  They were just against Bully Boy Bush.

Their statement comes close to 'original sin' -- arguing that today is a reflection of March 19, 2003.  US President Barack Obama tried to pass the Islamic State off as that this week.

In fairness, it was a rejection of the ridiculous origin tale John Kerry offered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 11th.

Pravda covered Barack's statements:

US President Barack Obama, talking to Vice News, spoke about his vision of the US role in the formation of the Islamic State terrorist group. Obama said bluntly that the United States was involved in the creation of the group.
"ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is An example of unintended consequences, which is why we should generally aim before we shoot," Obama said.

The US president said later that the US actions in Iraq after the 9/11 attacks were unintentional and added that he did not expect they would cause such aggression on the part of local militants that it would lead to the creation of new armed groups, Pravda.Ru reports. 

Should we generally aim before we shoot?


Possibly, we might also try respecting election results.

Today, there is massive whining -- Andrea Mitchell's one of the worst -- about the election of the leader . . . of Israel.

I don't understand where you get off, as a non-Israeli, being so outraged by the results.

What gives you the right to stick your damn nose everywhere?

Do you ever think maybe you should close your mouth?

This attitude is the same attitude Barack had in 2010.

The Islamic State came to prominence because of Barack.

He refused to honor the election results which saw Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya beat Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law.

When Nouri refused to step down and honor the election results, he created an eight month political stalemate where nothing happened.

And the White House backed him.

They even had US officials negotiate a legal contract, The Erbil Agreement,

Having voided the votes of the Iraqi people with this contract, the White House then refused to honor their promise to Iraqi politicians.

To get the blocks to agree to a second term for loser Nouri, the US officials insisted that the other political blocs could list their priorities in the contract (i.e. the Kurds had the implementation of Article 150 of the Iraqi Constitution as one of their items put into the contract) and that this was a legally binding contract with the full backing of the White House.

The day after it was signed, Parliament finally had their first really meeting, eight months after the elections.

And Nouri refused to honor the agreement, said he needed time, and Iraqiya walked out.

And Barack did what?

Called Ayad Allawi and asked him (begged) to send Iraqiya back into Parliament, insisting (yet again) that The Erbil Agreement had the full support and backing of the White House.

But when Nouri never implemented his part of The Erbil Agreement, when he just used it to get a second term and then ignored the promises he made?

The White House did nothing.

Acted like they knew nothing about the contract.

The 2010 elections let the Iraqi people see their votes overturned.

Now their leaders were protesting Nouri's refusal to implement The Erbil Agreement.  By the summer of 2011, the Kurds, Iraqiya and cleric and movement leader (Shi'ite) Moqtada al-Sadr were calling for Nouri to implement The Erbil Agreement.

When he continued to refuse, they attempted to work within the Constitution and go for a recall vote.  But the US government wouldn't let that happen either.  They pressured the always willing to fold Jalal Talabani to invent an excuse to stop the Constitutional process and he did.

So now you have the voters stripped of their vote, their leaders stripped of their rights of Constitutional redress.

This is when Iraqis take to the street and begin what is over a year of protests.

Let's bring another idiot in real quick.

Today, Patrick Cockburn  offered more of his one-sided reporting:

The fact that so many Sunnis are alienated from or terrified by Isis should present an opportunity for Baghdad, since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government is meant to be more inclusive than that of his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki. Increasingly aggressive sectarian policies pursued by Mr Maliki during his eight years in power are now blamed for turning peaceful protests by Sunnis into armed resistance and pushing the Sunni community into the arms of Isis. This is an over-simplified version of recent history, but with the new government lauded internationally for its non-sectarian stance, the Sunni hoped they would face less day-to-day repression. “Isis has shocked many Sunni by its actions,” says Mahmoud. “But instead of the government treating us better to win us over, they are treating us even worse.”

Noam Chomsky likes to praise Cockburn.

Probably because they both share that paternalistic nature when it comes to Arabs, that attitude of they know better than Arabs, that condescending nature that allows them to act like they're smarter than the Palestinians, etc.

Cockburn 'reports' on Iraq for the Independent.

He ignored the protests.

They lasted over a year.

And he ignored them.

He was far from alone in ignoring the protests.

To give you an idea of the protests, lets's drop back to the October 25, 2013 snapshot:

Iraqi Spring MC notes protests took place in Baquba, Samarra, Falluja, Mosul, Rawa, and Ramadi.  National Iraqi News Agency reports thousands turned out in Falluja and Ramadi for the Anbar sit-ins and quote Shiekh Mohammed Fayyad declaring, "The citizens participated in the prayers that held in the courtyard northern Ramadi and eastern Fallujah cities , stressing that the goal of this trickle is to send one again a message to the governing in Baghdad that our demonstrations are peaceful and backed by citizens deep conviction."  Al Mada reports organizers distributed forms in Ramadi and Falluja for families of the detained to fill out in the hopes that they can locate their loved one and determine the status.  Many are held without charges.  Many have been thrown in detention centers, jails and prisons for no reason -- they are accused of no crimes but are related to a suspect the police could not find so family members were knowing rounded up even though they were not suspects.  In Samaeea Sheikh Ziad Madhi noted that the protests are not about political parties but our about justice -- first and foremost, a call to release the innocent detainees.  In Baquba Shebab al-Badri echoed the emphasis on detainees and stated they would continue to demand the release of the detainees and continue to call for an end to the raids (mass arrests) that continue to target Sunni communities.  Kitabat reports on Sheikh Ziad Mahdi in Samarra who noted the detainees remain imprisoned and remain a priority of protesters.  The Sheikh noted the demands for the release of the innocent detainees continue because they have not been released so the sit-ins continue. He noted that Nouri al-Maliki is responsible for the continued deterioration of security in Iraq.  Iraqi Spring MC notes there were calls for the United Nations and others to witness what it really taking place in Iraq, calls for an end to Iranian interference in Iraq, Falluja speakers called for an end to injustice and the flowing of blood in the streets, and Nouri al-Maliki was denounced for using militias to stay in power.  Kitabat also reports on Sheikh Humam Kubaisi in Ramadi and how he noted ten months have passed and still the demands are not met.

These protests were ignored.

Nouri's attacks on the protesters were ignored.

January 7, 2013, Nouri's forces assaulted four protesters in Mosul,  January 24, 2013,  Nouri's forces sent two protesters (and one reporter) to the hospital,  and March 8, 2013, Nouri's force fired on protesters in Mosul killing three.

And then came the April 23rd massacre of a peaceful sit-in in Hawija which resulted from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.   AFP reported the death toll rose to 53 dead.  UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

Finally, Patrick Cockburn was interested.

Not interested enough to note what UNICEF did.

To this day, Cockburn has never reported that 8 children were killed by Nouri's forces or that twelve more were wounded.

To this day.

But today he shows up to offer:

The fact that so many Sunnis are alienated from or terrified by Isis should present an opportunity for Baghdad, since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government is meant to be more inclusive than that of his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki. Increasingly aggressive sectarian policies pursued by Mr Maliki during his eight years in power are now blamed for turning peaceful protests by Sunnis into armed resistance and pushing the Sunni community into the arms of Isis. This is an over-simplified version of recent history, but with the new government lauded internationally for its non-sectarian stance, the Sunni hoped they would face less day-to-day repression. “Isis has shocked many Sunni by its actions,” says Mahmoud. “But instead of the government treating us better to win us over, they are treating us even worse.”

The peaceful protests were not turned into armed resistance.

That's a lie.

It echoes Nouri's lie that the protesters were "terrorists."

As they reached the one year mark, Nouri announced he would burn down the protest sites and the people protesting.

He said that publicly on Iraqi television.

The Iraqi press reported it but Cockburn and the western press ignored it.

But now, he shows up to offer that the peaceful protesters took up arms.

That's the sort of crap that the State Dept offered when the Hawija slaughter took place with spokesperson Jen Psaki declaring the US government called for both sides to be rational.

The 8 children killed had been irrational?

It's suddenly okay to kill unarmed civilians including children?

And Jen Psaki could caution children that they needed to be rational and not so threatening to the poor little Iraqi forces.

The people were denied their vote, they were denied their officials seeking redress and now they were being attacked for exercising their right to peacefully assemble and protest.

This is the climate in which the Islamic State took hold.

Original sin?

On this 12th anniversary of the Iraq War, some are trying to pretend that today is all the result of March 19, 2003 (or March 20, 2003 since it was the 20th in most of the rest of the world when the bombings began).

It is really is about stupidity, isn't it?

Americans protested against the ongoing war.

They demonstrated.

If all was set in motion on March 19, 2003, we wasted our time.

We wasted our energy.

If you believe in this concept of 'original sin' with regard to the Iraq War.

This wasn't all set in motion.

If we'd had the power in 2004 to stop the illegal war, for example, things would be different today.

If we'd protested Barack's refusing to respect the vote of the Iraqi people, things would be different today.

If we'd protested Iraqi forces killing children?

Things would be different today.

'Original sin' with regards to the Iraq War is nonsense.

Yes, it's illegal.  Yes, it's unethical.

But if we had no power to mitigate it or lessen the pain, then we never should have protested.

If all the damage was done on that day, then what was the point of protesting?

I believe in protesting.

I believe in speaking out.

I also believe that the 'original sin' argument is the argument of the spineless.

They can't protest Barack.  They don't have the guts too -- even now.

The 'original sin' lie excuses their doing nothing year after year once Barack was sworn in as President of the United States.

It excuses the western press' repeated failures to report what was taking place in Iraq from 2010 to 2014.

In Iraq today, the Tikrit assault has revealed how weak the Baghdad - Tehran plan is and was.  Matt Bradley (Wall St. Journal) reports:

Iraqi security forces’ fight to liberate the city of Tikrit from Islamic State has slowed as the battle nears the end of its third week, dimming hopes that the extremist Sunni insurgency is on the retreat.
Iraqi security officials say their force of more than 20,000 fighters—mostly Shiite militiamen—has succeeded in forcing Islamic State from towns and villages to the south and east of the city, which lies about 87 miles northwest of Baghdad.

But the militias and soldiers have been unable to uproot the militants from the city center, where a few hundred Islamic State insurgents have been holed up for the past week protected by landmines, suicide bombers and snipers.

Dan Lamothe (Washington Post) adds:

The Pentagon warned on Thursday that Iraqi forces battling to reclaim the city of Tikrit are facing a tougher fight against the Islamic State than previously described.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren, speaking to reporters, said that Iraqi forces were now encircling the city of Tikrit, whose capture is seen as a key test of Iraq’s ability to defeat the Islamic State. Warren said the battles lines were now “static” and that Iraqi forces, which include government and militia fighters, had not yet moved into the city proper.

This was supposed to be the morale builder.

The battle that showed what the forces could do.

But let's again note  what Loveday Morris (Washington Post) reported yeserday:

Meanwhile, the pause in fighting in Tikrit has stirred doubts about whether pro-government forces can beat the Islamic State in street battles. Karim said the military decided to stall its advance to put in place a plan that would “guarantee fewer casualties.”
Workers in a cemetery in the southern city of Najaf, where many pro-government Shiite fighters are taken for burial, have said that as many as 60 fighters were dying a day at the peak of operations in Tikrit.
The pro-government forces are yet to enter the city center, but they have reclaimed a string of towns and villages in Salahuddin province, buoying morale among the about 20,000 militiamen who have joined the fight. A few hundred Sunni tribesmen also participated.

Three weeks in on their assault of Tikrit and they've still not made it to the center of the city.

Hundreds of Islamic State fighters are able to fight off over 20,000 Baghdad - Tehran forces.

No, it's not inspiring confidence.

Meanwhile, Margaret Griffis ( reports at least 79 people were killed in violence across Iraq today.

Lastly, Senator Patty Murray serves on the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (and she has previously served as the Chair of both of those Committee).  Today, her office issued the following:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                 CONTACT: Murray's Press Office
Thursday, March 19, 2015                                          (202) 224-2834
BUDGET/SEQUESTRATION: Murray Introduces Amendment to Replace Automatic Budget Cuts for Two More Years, Build on Bipartisan Budget Deal
Murray amendment to GOP budget would roll back sequestration for defense and non-defense investments
Murray: “Democrats and Republicans across the country have said that the across-the-board cuts to both defense and non-defense investments are terrible policy…need to be replaced”
MURRAY AMENDMENT BLOCKED BY COMMITTEE REPUBLICANS: Murray to continue fighting to replace automatic cuts, urges Republicans to work with her
Washington, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, introduced and called for a Budget Committee vote on her amendment to the Senate Republican Budget that would replace sequestration evenly across defense and non-defense investments for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Republicans voted Murray’s amendment down in the Committee, but she plans to continue fighting in the Committee and on the floor to build on the bipartisan budget deal and roll back the automatic cuts that are hurting families, communities, and the economy in Washington state and across the country.
“Democrats and Republicans across the country have said that the across-the-board cuts to both defense and non-defense investments are terrible policy, an absurd way to reduce the deficit, and need to be replaced,” said Murray while introducing her amendment. “I urge my colleagues to support this amendment so we can agree on responsible and realistic topline spending numbers for this year and allow the Appropriations Committees to do their work without waiting for another crisis…if my Republican colleagues have any other ideas for how we get this done—my door is open, and I am ready to get to work.”
At the end of 2013, Senator Murray and Representative Paul Ryan worked with their colleagues to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act, which prevented another government shutdown, rolled back sequestration evenly across defense and non-defense discretionary spending for two years, and moved Congress away from the constant crises.
The full text of Murray’s remarks introducing the bill follows:
Chairman Enzi, Ranking Member Sanders, I offer my amendment to build on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 and extend the replacement of sequestration through fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
I don’t have to explain to most members of this committee why we need to replace the senseless automatic cuts with more responsible savings—I know almost all of you agree.
Democrats and Republicans across the country have said that the across-the-board cuts to both defense and non-defense investments are terrible policy, an absurd way to reduce the deficit, and need to be replaced.
There are Republicans on this Committee who have been very vocal about the need to roll back the cuts—and have even expressed openness to using revenue from the tax code to get this done.
Last year Democrats and Republicans were able to reach an agreement that rolled back the worst of these automatic cuts for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
Our deal prevented another government shutdown, moved us away from the constant crises, and restored critical investments in research, education, defense jobs, and more, and helped get the economy going again.
So this amendment builds on that deal and extends it for two more years.
It maintains the principle that Democrats will not abandon—that sequestration should be replaced evenly across defense and non-defense investments.
And it replaces the automatic cuts with new revenue from closing tax loopholes used by the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations, which, since this budget already contains massive spending cuts but no new revenue, would maintain the principle that sequestration should be replaced with a mix of responsible spending cuts and new revenue from those who can afford it most.
Finally, it includes language to automatically release the additional defense and nondefense funding to the Appropriations Committee upon the increase in the statutory caps, similar to language passed in the previous Senate Budget.  
So I urge my colleagues to support this amendment so we can agree on responsible and realistic topline spending numbers for this year and allow the Appropriations Committees to do their work without waiting for another crisis.
And if my Republican colleagues have any other ideas for how we get this done—my door is open—and I am ready to get to work.
Eli Zupnick
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
(202) 224-2834



Thursday, March 19, 2015

NBC needs to stick with Lester Holt

Nightly News on NBC has not seen a fallout since Lester Holt took over as anchor for the scandal ridden Brian Williams.

In further proof that Holt needs to stay in the chair . . .

was shot at while flying over Iraq in a Blackhawk helicopter 

was shot at while flying over Iraq in a Blackhawk helicopter

Williams is the go-to now for any mockery effort.

He's disgraced himself.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Wednesday, March 18, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Tikrit remains on hold, Mosul gets leafleted about an upcoming assault, no progress on Iraq's political front, some attention is focused on Human Rights Watch's report on the human rights abuses (War Crimes) carried out by Iraqi forces, and much more.

Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth Tweets:

  • As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Human Rights Watch has issued a new report entitled "After Liberation Came Destruction: Iraqi Militias and the Aftermath of Amerli" which documents the abuse of human rights (War Crimes) being carried out in Iraq by security forces.  From the report:

    Peshmerga officers told Human Rights Watch they saw 47 villages in which militias had destroyed and ransacked homes, businesses, mosques, and public buildings. Residents told Human Rights Watch that the militias included the Badr Brigades, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, Kita’ib Hezbollah, and Saraya Tala’a al-Khorasani, and that they destroyed numerous villages between the towns of al-Khales, in southern Diyala province, and Amerli, about 50 kilometers to the north in Salah al-Din province.
    Satellite imagery corroborates witness accounts that in many cases Iraqi government forces and militias targeted the same villages and towns in which, supported by coalition air strikes, they had fought ISIS in the weeks before they lifted ISIS’s siege of Amerli. Satellite imagery showed that most of the damage they inflicted on these towns and villages after they lifted the siege resulted from arson and building demolition.
    On the basis of field visits, interviews with more than 30 witnesses, and analysis of photographs and satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch found that an area that included 35 villages and towns showed extensive destruction caused by fire, explosives and heavy earth moving equipment. The evidence showed that most of the damage occurred between early September and mid-November 2014. Using satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch identified over 3,800 destroyed buildings in 30 towns and villages, including 2,600 buildings likely destroyed by fire and a further 1,200 buildings likely demolished with heavy machinery and the uncontrolled detonation of high explosives. This destruction was distinct from damages resulting from air strikes and heavy artillery and mortar fire prior to ISIS’s retreat from Amerli, which Human Rights Watch separately identified using the satellite imagery. Human Rights Watch’s field research together with the satellite imagery analysis indicates that militias engaged in deliberate and wanton destruction of civilian property after the retreat of ISIS and the end of fighting in the area.

    In the four towns and villages that Human Rights Watch visited, researchers found evidence of extensive fire damage limited to the interior of buildings that would not be detectable in satellite imagery, indicating actual fire-related building damages are likely to be substantially higher than 2,600 in the affected 30 towns and villages assessed. On the basis of witness statements and analysis of satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch believes this damage was likely the result of arson perpetrated by pro-government forces.

    For a change, an HRW report on Iraq is getting serious media attention.  For example,  Missy Ryan (Washington Post) notes the report:

    Shiite militias and Iraqi government forces burned and looted dozens of villages, abducting at least 11 local residents, in the wake of a U.S.-supported operation against the Islamic State last year, a human rights group has charged in a new report.

    Kareem Shaheen (Guardian) includes these comments:

    “Iraq can’t win the fight against Isis’s atrocities with attacks on civilians that violate the laws of war and fly in the face of human decency,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.
    “Militia abuses are wreaking havoc among some of Iraq’s most vulnerable people and exacerbating sectarian hostilities.”

    Of the Shi'ite forces doing the terrorizing, AFP observes, "The units have played a key role in the fight to drive IS back, but relying on such groups further entrenches them in Iraq, giving them an expanded power base that will be difficult to dislodge."

    Anne Barnard (New York Times) uses the HRW findings as a jumping off point to note what's taken place during the current Tikrit offensive:

    During the current Tikrit offensive, video clips from the town of Albu Ajeel, where many militiamen believe villagers aided in the massacre, showed burning shops and buildings and a uniformed man declaring, “Burn them, burn them.” Few residents appear to have returned.

    And while that attention is needed, the world continues to look the other way as the Iraqi government continues to daily bomb the residential neighborhoods of Falluja.  This action is a legally defined War Crime (it's known as collective punishment).  Then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began the bombings in January of 2014.  In September of 2014, new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced he had stopped the bombings.

    But he hadn't and the bombings continued.

    Today, Iraqi Spring Media notes Falluja General Hospital received nine dead and wounded from the latest bombings by the Iraqi government.  They also note that the bombings have left dead at least 2399 people (332 children, 184 women among them) and at least 4080 injured (484 children and 381 women among them).

    The Human Rights Watch report did mean the State Dept's Jen Psaki was forced to mouth some meaningless words today.

    QUESTION:  There’s a report just came out today from the Human Rights Watch talking about the militia attacks destroyed villages.  It’s their reports about after liberation came destruction.  And I know that you’ve answered that question about that and the human rights abuse by the militias in Diyala and other areas, and U.S. sent delegations in the past to Baghdad and Erbil to check on that.  Have you got any result on those investigations that Prime Minister Abadi said he will conduct investigation on that?

    MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, one, we understand that the prime minister’s office has responded to the Human Rights Watch report, noting that the legal measures were taken against individuals who committed human rights abuses in Amirli such as the destruction and looting of civilian property as well as those accused of kidnapping civilians.  So there has been action taken in that regard.  Obviously, there are newer reports we’ve spoken to recently that they are certainly looking into.
    We can’t confirm the allegations in the Human Rights Watch report regarding potential abuses, but we agree that the long-term solution to the instability Iraq faces right now requires the political leadership to make the kinds of decision that’s – decisions that will unite the country and not promote sectarianism.

    Political leadership, Jen sputters.  She's attempting (and failing) to go with "political solutions" -- what US President Barack Obama declared was the only answer back in June.  Haider al-Abadi became prime minister in August.

    He's proven very good with words.

    But words are empty and meaningless when there's no follow through.

    That's true of his announcing the end of the government bombing Falluja's residential neighborhoods on September 13th when the bombings continued.

    It's true of his announcing an end to the oil dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

    Monday, Rudaw reported on how those words still haven't transferred into reality leading the KRG to issue a statement this week:

    Baghdad cut off the Kurdistan Region’s share of the federal budget in January last year, placing a severe strain on the Kurdish government that is at war with the Islamic State (ISIS) and is grappling with received 1.4 million refugees from Syia and the rest of Iraq.
    The deal signed in December – at a crucial time when both Baghdad and Erbil are at war with the Islamic State (ISIS) – was meant to have mended months of strained ties and disagreements over Kurdish oil exports. The 2015 federal budget had promised the resumption of payments to Erbil to turn the regional government.
    The KRG statement complained that Baghdad was not sticking to its end of the bargain.
    It noted that Erbil is “on track” with its promised delivery of Kurdish oil at Ceyhan, and was “also facilitating the export of otherwise stranded oil produced by the North Oil Company in Kirkuk.”
    The statement added that, in line with its commitment to the terms of the 2015 federal budget, the KRG had until the end of February met almost 97 percent of its agreed supply of crude oil to SOMO at the Turkish port.
    “The KRG in turn expects the federal government to honor its obligations under the budget law and to provide the KRG with its legal monthly entitlement to its share of the budget, including the agreed special allocation of funds for the Peshmerga forces,” the statement said.
    “To date, the federal government has provided the KRG with less than 20 percent of its share of the budget for January and nothing for February,” the statement noted.

    The oil deal has proven to be nothing but empty words -- something Jen Psaki knows a great deal about.

    Here she is prattling away about the oil deal on November 13th:

    QUESTION: Have you seen reports that the Kurds and the Iraqis – or the government in Baghdad have reached an oil agreement?

    MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes, I have.

    QUESTION: Do you have any response to that?

    MS. PSAKI: We welcome the announcement that an agreement has been reached between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to take initial steps at finding a fair and comprehensive solution on the management of Iraq’s hydrocarbon resources. We urge that these steps be taken as soon as possible to build trust as Iraqi leaders continue to discuss remaining issues in the coming days toward a just and constitutional solution that will allow all Iraqis to benefit fairly and equitably from Iraq’s hydrocarbon sector.
    We are encouraged by this development and the willingness of officials in Baghdad and Erbil to address these complex issues directly and earnestly. We understand that this is the first of many steps that will be required to reach a comprehensive agreement, and the United States will continue to serve as a neutral broker and facilitator to the extent desired by the leadership of both Iraq and the KRG.

    QUESTION: Do you know or can you speak to what the U.S. involvement as a neutral facilitator was in getting to this point? Do you know?

    MS. PSAKI: I – that’s a great question. I’d have to talk to our team about our involvement in the last couple of days. Obviously, we’ve been encouraging both sides for some time to resolve this issue, but I can see if there’s more on that front to report.

    QUESTION: Ambassador McGurk was in Iraq. Did he play any role to facilitate this agreement?

    MS. PSAKI: Say that one more time?

    QUESTION: Ambassador Brett McGurk was in Iraq a few days ago.

    MS. PSAKI: Yes, he was. It’s a great question. I don’t have any details on his involvement. Obviously, this was largely negotiated between the KRG and the Government of Iraq. We’ve certainly been encouraging them to resolve this for some time. I can see if there’s any more to read out about his involvement.

    And nothing's happened on that 'deal' since November.

    The White House has been pushing for a national guard for Iraq since last summer.  The basic notion would have the Kurds over the Kurdish area (they already are) and Shi'ite brigades over Shi'ite dominant areas and Sunni brigades over Sunni dominant areas.

    They've been pushing for that since last summer.


    Monday, All Iraq News noted the bill on the National Guard would be read (again) in Parliament.

    That's all that ever happens.

    It gets read in Parliament.

    Still not passed.

    Where's the progress?

    The political process, like the assault on Tikrit, is stalled.

    Having taken 12 days to reach Tikrit (and, turns out, just the edges of the city), the assault was quickly put on pause as officials began whining that (a) reinforcements were needed and (b) US air strikes were needed.

    Though the assault remains on hold, the propaganda never ends.

    NINA noted yesterday:

    Secretary General of al- Jihad and Construction Movement Hassan al-Sari stressed on Tuesday that the liberation of Tikrit operations are going on as planned and there is no pause in military operations.

    Also spinning madly is Haider al-Abadi.  All Iraq News notes today:

    he Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi assured that the security and military operations in Salah-il-Din province are going on according to set schedule.
    Statement by Abadi's office quoted him as saying while meeting several military commanders "Liberating Tikrit is possible now but we are keen in protecting the civilians and preparing for a perfect spread for the soldiers in the positions of the battle field."
    Abadi clarified "The changes of some security commands do not mean that those commands are not qualified but this is required in the military techniques in order to push new blood."

    Abadi warned from "listening to rumors of those who do not want good things for Iraq." 

    Is anyone taking Haider seriously?

    Has anyone taken him seriously since late last year when he visited the United States and declared publicly that there were plans to attack NYC's public transport?

    Loveday Morris (Washington Post) reports today:

    Meanwhile, the pause in fighting in Tikrit has stirred doubts about whether pro-government forces can beat the Islamic State in street battles. Karim said the military decided to stall its advance to put in place a plan that would “guarantee fewer casualties.”
    Workers in a cemetery in the southern city of Najaf, where many pro-government Shiite fighters are taken for burial, have said that as many as 60 fighters were dying a day at the peak of operations in Tikrit.

    The pro-government forces are yet to enter the city center, but they have reclaimed a string of towns and villages in Salahuddin province, buoying morale among the about 20,000 militiamen who have joined the fight. A few hundred Sunni tribesmen also participated.

    Yet to enter the city center.

    So 18 days after the assault on the city started, they've still not made it to the city center.

    This has not been a successful operation or anything to instill hope for future ones.

    Despite the fact that the Tikrit assault remains on hold, Haider's eager to start more assaults.

    All Iraq News reports that planes dropped leaflets on Nineveh Province today warning that combat will begin shortly.  Mosul's the key city in the province.  The Islamic State seized control of Mosul last June. Alsumaria publishes the actual memo dropped on Mosul which instructs residents to step forward and identify not only members of the Islamic State but also collaborators.  There are reports that trenches have been dug around Mosul by the Islamic State to ward off easy access to the city.

    Some of today's violence?  All Iraq News notes a Safwan car bombing left 3 people dead and five more injured.  NINA notes 1 person was shot dead west of Baghdad and 2 corpses were discovered in eastern Baghdad.  Margaret Griffis ( counts 79 violent deaths across Iraq today.

    We'll close with this from the UNHCR:

    ERBIL, Iraq, March 17 (UNHCR) Following last year's turmoil in northern and central Iraq, the political and security progress in Iraq remains positive, but UNHCR Representative in Iraq Neill Wright believes it will take many more months before this is reflected in an improvement in the daily lives of most Iraqi citizens. Meanwhile, the numbers and needs of Syrian refugees and Iraqis displaced within their country are expected to continue growing throughout 2015 as there is no solution to the Syria crisis in sight, and efforts to degrade the capacity of militant forces will take time. At the same time, Wright notes, the funding prospects for humanitarian programmes in 2015 are bleak. UNHCR and its partners will have to increasingly focus on protection and assistance only for the most vulnerable. Wright answered written questions about these and other issues. Excerpts:

    What are the greatest challenges UNHCR faces in helping the forcibly displaced in Iraq?

    In addition to the funding shortfalls, the main challenge is to obtain safe access to persons of concern who are living in areas under the control of the Islamic State and other armed groups. Nearly 50 per cent of the Iraqi IDPs [internally displaced people] live in such areas especially in the governorates of Anbar, Salah al Din and Ninewa.

    Winter is almost over; would you say UNHCR was well enough prepared to cope with the winter weather?

    Due to the existing refugee response capacities in early 2014, the UN was able to rapidly build its response to the massive internal displacement that took place last year. I would not say that UNHCR was well enough prepared for the 2014-2015 winter, but the weather was not as severe as had been expected, and there were no major crises amongst the refugees and IDPs, largely due to the extraordinary hard work that UNHCR and its partners were able to do between October and December. I have no doubt that the winterization programmes saved many lives.

    Fierce clashes are under way in the Salah el Din district, particularly around Tikrit. Has UNHCR been able to help those displaced by the fighting?

    UNHCR has already responded to the new displacement resulting from the military offensive to liberate Tikrit [launched on March 1], distributing non-food items from its Baghdad warehouse through its partner, Muslim Aid. UN sister agencies and NGOs will continue to work together in support of the government to provide protection and assistance.
    Protection needs assessments are still under way to more effectively identify the numbers of newly displaced and their particular vulnerabilities. Access from Baghdad to deliver relief items requires movement through several insecure areas. Close attention to mitigating the risks for our brave field staff and those of our partners will be needed in the days and weeks ahead.

    Is UNHCR prepared for a further escalation in the fighting and displacement?

    UNHCR has developed contingency plans for large-scale displacement when the Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga [fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan] start their offensive to liberate [the northern city of] Mosul. Given the current funding constraints, the in-country capacity is inadequate, and we will have to depend upon the rapid deployment of global contingency stocks and emergency response teams if we are to respond effectively to this contingency.

    Are you worried about access to Iraqi Kurdistan for newly displaced people?

    In my meetings with politicians from the Kurdistan Regional Government, I know that they are committed to the principle of freedom of movement for all Iraqi citizens. Nevertheless, there have been instances where security agencies have denied access to Kurdistan in the past few months. I see this both as a reflection of the generous hospitality in 2014 diminishing and of concerns about terrorist infiltration amongst the security agencies, and not as a change in political policy.

    Given your extensive experience, how does this operation compare to other assignments and missions that you have been on?

    I never cease to feel proud of the work that UNHCR colleagues achieve in the most difficult, insecure and unpredictable environments, and those achievements are evident to me here in Iraq on a daily basis. There are many political, security and economic aspects of building a better future for Iraqi citizens that UNHCR cannot directly influence, but the UNHCR team here should take great pride in all it is doing to improve protection and provide relief from suffering for some two-and-a-half million people of concern to the High Commissioner for Refugees.

    UNHCR in Iraq now has just over 400 international, national and affiliate workforce staff. While this is a huge number by UNHCR standards worldwide, the UN declared the situation in Iraq to be a Level 3 Emergency in August 2014, and UNHCR has stepped up to the mark in responding effectively to the growing needs. Given the present financial situation, the High Commissioner [for Refugees António Guterres] has had no choice but to decide to cut staffing worldwide in 2015, and the Iraq operation will be reducing its staffing by some 5 per cent this year.