Thursday, January 07, 2010










Starting in London where the Iraq Inquiry continued public hearings. Today the committee heard from Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner, Nigel Haywood and Keith Mackiggan (link goes to video and transcript options). The news came during White-Spunner's testimony. He focused on Nouri al-Maliki's assault on Basra (which began in March 2008) and, as has previously been noted (including by Gen David Petraeus to the US Congress), Nouri gave the US and the UK little-to-no heads up when he started the assault. The British call the assault the Charge of the Knights. He testified that, as was reported in real time, many Iraqi security forces ended up fighting with militias (not against them). White-Spunner stated that, prior to the assault, Moqtada al-Sadr's influence was declining (and that he believed al-Sadr was in Iran during this time). He estimated that "the population of Basra is but 2.5 probably 3 million" -- an important point to remember. White-Spunner declared at one point, "Now, far be it for me to divine Prime Minister's Maliki's motives, but I have described the political situation in Basra at the beginning" -- and he did. The governor of the province was of another party and was of the opinion (a popular opinion in the province) that the province should split away (in a way similar to the KRG and less under the control of Baghdad). Nouri jumped the timeline for the assault and it was likely due to political reasonings on his part.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Let's just pause and be clear where we are. What you have described is a situation in which there was evident tension between Baghdad and Basra politically --

Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: Yes.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: -- and a degree of urgency, therefore, that attached to that situation with Prime Minister Maliki.

Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: Yes.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: That the Americans were -- had different priorites elsewhere still, that they were looking at Mosul and Baghdad and that the general agreement, which included the Iraqi military contingent or military leadership was for June.

Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: Yes.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: So that was the assumptions. So now, all of a sudden, Prime Minister Maliki decides that this timetable is presumably too relaxed, too gradual.

Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: Yes.

The US-installed thug Nouri likely jumped an attack by months due to political reasoning, in an effort to quash a political rival. That's especially pertinent today when Nouri's launched an assault on political rivals. What else did Nouri do in that assault?

Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: We were asked at time in those very chaotic early days to do some things by the Iraqis, which, if we had agreed to, I would be sitting in front of a very different tribunal now, and the American -- American rules of engagement were slightly easier, not hugely, slightly, which meant they were able to do some things that we weren't. I have to say which I think quite correctly we weren't.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: I think it would be helpful to have some examples of what you are talking about, I think we can guess.

Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: We were invited to drop aerial ordnance on areas which we considered not to have been throroughly enough vetted and which could have caused considerable civilian casualties.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: This was both from the Iraqi commanders, but the Americans somewhere in between where we --

Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: No, it is too far to say the Americans somewhere in between. This is the lack of planning, because you know, we had done the planning throroughly for this. If we had had the time, we would have known what the targets were, we would have studied them and we had very clear rules as to the amount of acceptable damage. They are very, as you would expect, in an operation like that, extremely restrictive in a city like Basra. But it is inaccurate to say the Americans were somewhere in the middle. The American rules were very similar to ours. There were occasions when they could use aerial weapon systems when we could not, but it would be going too far to say --

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: This was quite an important issue in terms of the potential tensions, going back to what I was asking before about civil/military relations. In all Multi-National operations these issues arise, but we have encouraged the Iraqis to be in the lead and in control, but that you don't -- you don't want to be seen to be attacking civilians. So how do you handle these releations with the Iraqis?

Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner: It causes some misunderstanding and there are some -- there are some moments when the Iraqis are irritated with us because we haven't done exactly what they ask, but, as we got this [. . . C.I. note: He does not finish that thought and we're jumping ahead in the testimony, still on this topic] There was no western media in Basra at the time. Indeed, there wasn't for some months afterwards. There was the odd -- one visit. But there was very -- we were aware that the Iraqis were asking us to do some things, as I have described, we didn't want to do and wouldn't do, but generally, on the ground, the sort of -- the relationship between us and the corps and General Mohan's headquarters was incredibly close, as indeed it had to be, because we were prosecuting daily operations with all our soldiers in danger.

Nouri is being allowed to stockpile weapons -- spending billions on them while doing nothing to improve Iraqi lives -- and the Inquiry is informed he wanted areas of Basra targeted and was not concerned with civilian deaths? That was probably the most important revelation because Nouri has no plans to step down as prime minister and today began outlawing various political parites prior to the expected elections.

Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger gives a preview of tomorrow's hearings:

Tomorrow's the last day of the 'narrative' session of the Inquiry, wherein the panel have tried to patch together what happened. From Monday we move onto why -- the then-PM, his inner ring and the upper echelons who actually formulated the policies these soldiers, diplomats and civil servants then had to enact. Chilcot's team took a knocking back at the start for being insufficiently inquisitorial (I mentioned in the Tweets but spotted a particularly good piece yesterday by top barrister Michael Mansfield QC on this). It'll be interesting to see if there's a change of style with with the new witnesses.

From Michael Mansfield's "Iraq inquiry: we have every right to know why we went to war" (Times of London) referred to above:

The Iraq inquiry has resumed this week, promising crucial witnesses -- Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Lord Goldsmith and possibly Gordon Brown.We have been told repeatedly what it is not: a trial, an inquest, an inquisition, a court, a statutory inquiry. Nevertheless, however its investigative format is described, none of this fancy terminological footwork can evade the central expectation for a thorough, transparent and impartial quest for the truth about the way decisions and actions were carried out. What remains is not clear. Neither a judge nor a lawyer is on the panel, which is bizarre given that one of the main questions raised by most victims and their families relates to the illegality of the war.

In Iraq, Nada Barki (New York Times) reports an al-Anbar Province bombing which has claimed multiple lives and "struck the houses of an anti-terrorism official and his relatives" -- with three being planted in around the homes and a fourth hitting "a police convoy" attempting to take the wounded to a hospital. Hamid Ahmed (AP) identifies the official as Lt Col Walid Sulaiman al-Hiti (his father's home was also targeted). BBC News counts 8 dead and six wounded in four exposions. Fadhel al-Badrani, Ali al-Mashhdani, Jim Loney and Andrew Dobbie (Reuters) count seven dead including the father and mother of Waleed al-Hiti, his two sisters, 1 brother and sister-in-law and attorney Qais Hamoodi. Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 8 dead and identifies them as Lt Col Waleed "Hammoudi's wife, children, his brother (and his wife), sister and other members of the family". Anne Tang (Xinhua) informs, "Authorities in the town imposed traffic ban and blocked the entrances of the town, as dozens of Iraqi security forces were deployed on main streets and intersections while dozens others were carrying out search operations in the town, he added. " From yesterday's snapshot:Meanwhile Uthman al-Mukhtar (Asia Times) reports that al Anbar Province residents are "alarmed" by the recent increase in violence in the province and quotes Noor Saadi stating, "The police can't even protect themselves." The violence is causing her to keep her son at home and not let him attend school while other people are refusing "to return to their businesses or open their shops."

Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) notes last week's bombing in Ramadi resulted in at least 23 deaths. Leila Fadel and Uthman al-Mokhtar (Washington Post) explain, "After last week's bombings, police chief Tariq al-Aasal -- widely viewed as incompetent -- was forced out and replaced with a temporary commander from the Iraqi Army in Baghdad. The appointment of Bahaa al-Azzawi was made directly by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, angering tribal chiefs who saw the move as an affront to their power." Karadsheh, Fadel, al-Mokhtar as well as BBC New's Jim Muir note that violence in Anbar really only decreased when the Sahwa movement took hold "Sahwa" also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq" -- Sunnis put on the US payroll so they would stop attacking US military equipment and US service members. In 2008, Nouri was supposed to take over the monthly payments (US tax payers were paying approximately 92,000 Sahwas $300 a month) but he couldn't get it together. Still couldn't in Februrary. In the summer he reported finally managed to absorb all the payments (unless the rumors are true that CERP funds have been partially paying for Sahwa). In addition, Arab media last month was reporting Nouri planned to drop Sahwa from the payroll in the new year. Michael Gisick (Stars and Stripes) reported attacks on Sahwa are on the rise with the US military estimating an average of ten attacks a week in the last two months which "has underscored the increasing weakness of groups widely credited with helping turn the tide of the Iraq war." Monday Karim Zair (Azzaman) reported mass arrests were taking place "in Sunni Muslim-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad and towns and cities to the north and west of the capital".

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