Friday, June 08, 2012









"At the very top of my mind is the safety of all Americans serving in Iraq.  I track this extremely closely.  Over the course of this year, we have had on average zero to three attacks a week on the overall US presence. Almost entirely 170 mm rockets from the Naqshbandia group which is the rememnants of the Ba'athists Party. Fortunately, we've had no casualties from those attacks," declared Brett McGurk testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.  Did the press rush to report that the US was still under attack in Iraq?  Nope.  Senator Robest Casey was the Acting Committee Chair at the hearing (filling in for Senator John Kerry).  We covered some of this yesterday.  We'll cover some today and try to wrap it up tomorrow.
Peter Van Buren is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, about his work for the State Dept in Iraq.  For that book, the State Dept has attempted to destroy his career.  At his website, he shares his impressions of the hearing and concludes:
What once had been labeled America's most important foreign policy issue, what still is the world's largest embassy, what was a crusade that killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands Iraqis, a failed policy that is still sending waves through the volatile Middle East, is now so unimportant that it is lopped together with the Maldives as another bit of perfunctory business for the Senate to rap out before summer recess.
Nobody cares anymore.
It really did seem that way in the hearing.
McGurk, responding to questions by Senator Tom Udall, began discussing groups in Iraq he saw as a problem.  He started with al Qaeda in Iraq and this was interesting.  al Qaeda in Iraq (also known as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia) was created by the Iraq War.  Prior to 2003, there was no al Qaeda presence in Iraq.  It is largely homegrown.
Like too many people, McGurk used "al Qaeda in Iraq" as a catch all for any attack taking place in Iraq.  This did not speak to an awareness.  That wasn't his biggest problem when discussing al Qaeda in Iraq.
McGurk declared that they were striking at a similar rate in Iraq this year as they had last year.  That is remains a significant threat.
That's really interesting.  Dropping back to the June 9, 2011 snapshot, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta (now Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta) was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
CIA Director Leon Panetta: Senator, I have to tell you, there are a thousand al Qaeda that are still in Iraq. We saw the attack that was made just the other day.  It too continues to be a fragile situation.  And I believe that uh we-we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we've made there.
It was treated as big news in real time.  Missy Ryan (Reuters) live Tweeted the hearing and to her this was significant (more so than anything else) resulting in many Tweets including the following:
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
missy_ryan Missy Ryan
So by the summer of 2011, per the current Secretary of Defense, testifying before Congress, there were less than 1,000 al Qaeda in Iraq . . . in Iraq.   That alone is troublesome considering McGurk's testimony.
Now what about the fact that most observers have declared that the bulk of the (small) al Qaeda in Iraq had gone on to Syria due to the turmoil there?  Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported in February of this year:
The departure of al Qaida-affiliated fighters from Iraq to join the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria has had one benefit, Iraqi officials say:
[. . .]
Iraqi officials declined to provide precise figures for the drop-off or to estimate how many al Qaida-affiliated fighters have left the country for Syria. But the impact of the departure, they said, has been especially apparent in Ninewah province, which borders Syria and has long been the scene of some of al Qaida in Iraq's most violent bombings and assassinations.

Read more here:
So Panetta says it's less than 1,000 in July 2011 and by February 2012 a significant number of that less than 1,000 are in Syria -- a claim that the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also asserted last February.
No one noticed.  No one questioned.  It just sailed right past.  In complete conflict with Panetta and Clapper but no one objected.
McGurk declared that Naqshbania predominately focuses their attacks on the US and that there were three militant Shi'ite groups:  "Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and The Promise Day Brigades.  The  Jaish al-Mahdi which you might remember is Sadr's army, has pretty much -- is now part of the political process."  Asaib Ahl al-Haq has been welcomed into the political process by Nouri al-Maliki.  They are more popularly known as the League of the Righteous or the League of Righteous.  They are the group responsible for, among other violence, killing 5 US soldiers: "Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama."  Is McGurk aware that Nouri welcomed the League of Righteous into the process last fall?  Nothing he said in the hearing indicated he was.
He also asserted, "In terms of internal security and the Iraqis being able to secure their country, they're not doing a bad job.  Uh, they secure the capital to host the Arab League Summit, they secured the capital to host the P5+1 talks.  That would have been unheard of three to five years ago.  So they're doing very good internal security."
That's such a bold faced lie. Baghdad's never had a big problem with bombings or shootings if they went into crackdown mode.  Shortly after Nouri first became prime minister, fighters almost breached the Green Zone.  What followed was Nouri's first crackdown.
So doing the same for the summit and +1 was nothing.  It's equally true that it's a lie that Iraq did that.  Take the Arab League Summit.  When US President Barack Obama goes somewhere he goes with his own security detail.  Do you really think that doesn't happen with other countries' leaders as well?  It does happen.  And just as the Secret Service preceeds a US president to any city days ahead of time to secure the visit, the same thing happened there.  Iraq got a ton of help from Arab countries for the Summit and from the west and Iran for the P5+1. 
In the 2010 parliamentary elections, violence within Baghdad was very minimal.  And during the summit, there were mortar attacks on the Green Zone.
Is McGurk unaware of that?  Is he unaware that any foreign leader has a security detail?  He gave no indication that he was.  And the elected officials had no interest in asking.
They had no interest in the 2008 Baghdad e-mails (we covered them in "Iraq snapshot" and "'Blue Balls' McGurk faces Senate Foreign Relations..." and "Iraq snapshot") which document McGurk -- who was married -- in a sexual relationship with Wall St. Journal reporter Gina Chon -- a relationship he attempts to conceal from the then-US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.  Gina Chon is now the second wife so will she be accompanying him to Iraq?  I'll give her the same advice I gave Elizabeth Edwards in 2002, "Put him on a leash, a very short one."  Just as Mr. Grabby Hands was notorious for coming on to women and sleeping around, Chon should realize the man who cheated on wife number one while he was in Iraq will likely repeat the act.  I have no interest in Chon's e-mail side of the conversation.  But I will offer that warning.
The Committee also tended to avoid the issue that has gripped Iraq for over a year now: the political crisis.  Senator Lugar tip-toed up to it as his first round of questioning was coming to a close.
Ranking Member Richard Lugar:  Let me ask, how are you going to advise Prime Minister Maliki under the current circumstances in which where he's not getting along well with the opposition to say the least and the Kurds are drifting off by themselves?  What are the challenges for our diplomacy here?
Brett McGurk: Thank you, Senator.  It's a really critically, critically important point.  I have worked with Prime Minister Maliki for a number of years and all the Iraqi leaders and I've worked with him in his capacity as the prime minister.  As I said in my written statement, I would try to focus now on dealing with the Iraqis in an institutional way.  So dealing with Malliki as the prime minister now, if there was a new prime minister tomorrow, I would have the same close working relationship with him.   I've worked with four Speakers of the Parliament, for example.  You need to focus on the institution.  When you're in Iraq and dealing with all sides, there are different narratives to the political proces.  The government that was put in place in 2010, as you know, took eight months to put in place.  When it finally came together, it represents 98% of the Council of Representatives.
Let's stop him for a moment.  What is "it"?  He's referring to the Cabinet.  The Council of Representatives is the Parliament and he clearly doesn't see them as the government.  He sees the Cabinet as the government and is saying the Cabinet represents 98% of the Parliament.  He's referring to the various blocs in the Parliament. 
Brett McGurk:  They're represented in the Cabinet.  That naturally leads to a lot of inefficienies, a lot of rivalries, a lot of intrigue and that is certainly going on now.  Uhm, Maliki will say that his opposition figures who are in his  Cabinet won't share responsibility for governing.  The opposition figures say Maliki is consolidating power.   They're all right.  And we need to work with all of them to live up to their prior agreements and to work within the Constitutional system to change the process.  You mentioned the Kurds and this is critically important and I would plan to visit the Kurdistan Region as much as possible.  I'd like to be up there, if I'm confirmed, at least once a week because it's the personal interaction between the ambassador and the Iraqi leaders that's so important for keeping everything stable and for bridging areas of disagreement.   The Kurds are having some difficulties with the Baghdad government right now, the Baghdad government's having difficulties with the Kurds.  The real rivalry is [KRG President] Massoud Barzani and Prime Minister Maliki.  Uh, we have to play an important role in mediating that effort.  Uh, I would just leave it at there's a Constitutional system in place now.  This is the third Iraqi government, the second Parliament, The Iraqis are going to fight through their politics under the Constitutional rules they themselves have devised.  We cannot direct outcomes through that process.  When we try to do that, the unintended consequences are quite enormous.  But we can help bridge differences. We can mediate back and forth and be constantly, actively engaged and that's what I intend to do if I'm confirmed.
Well if Iraq consisted solely of the Nouri and his supporters on the one hand and the Kurds on the other hand, that answer might be a good one.  Lugar didn't notice and didn't care.  He just gaped at McGurk in slack-jawed wonder, making cow eyes at him.  

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"