Sunday, January 05, 2014








For those to foolish to grasp that US forces remain in Iraq -- as trainers, the US Army Special-Ops sent back into Iraq in the fall of 2012 by US President Barack Obama, etc -- check out Australia ABC's report on the Defense Dept cuts on combat pay in many locations around the world and pay attention to this:  "Military personnel will continue to receive imminent danger pay for serving in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where the US fought wars over the past decade."

Now we're moving to a lengthy section of today's State Dept press briefing.  After this morning's "Oh, look, it's al Qaeda! Oh, no, it's not! It's sometimes al Qaeda!," some may think spokesperson Marie Harf's saying what I want heard so we're including all of this!  No.  Although quickly, better eye glasses, Marie, they fit your face (her new eye glasses are better).  We're noting this because of the December 27th snapshot where I asked, "So before the year ends is anyone going to call the press on their b.s.?"  You can't say al Qaeda's increasing in Iraq and also applaud Barack's position.  There's an inconsistency there.  This was explored in the exchange that follows.  Lucas Tomlinson is with Fox News, Matthew Lee is with the Associated Press and Said Arikat is with Al Quds.

Lucas Tomlinson: Do you have an update on the violence in Iraq?

MS. HARF: Not an update from yesterday. I know we talked about this a little bit. Let me see what I have in here. Obviously, as I said yesterday, a number of our folks on the ground and in Washington remain in touch with all of the different parties in Iraq. I think I’d make the points I made yesterday that our overall point is to encourage moderates on all sides and isolate extremists on all sides, support the government in our fight against al-Qaida – a fight, as you know, we share – and help them learn from the lessons that we learned from fighting this. Obviously, we know the situation is very serious. No update on that today, but it’s something we’re very concerned about.

Lucas Tomlinson: Yesterday, you indicated that Syria was to blame for the increase in violence.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

Lucas Tomlinson: Do you stand by those comments?

MS. HARF: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, largely to blame. Obviously, there’s a lot of factors at play here. We know some of the recent history in Iraq with some of the sectarian tensions. I’d note that we are pleased that different political leaders have called for calm and have taken steps to try to move away from this kind of violence. But Syria obviously is an incredibly destabilizing force, not just in Iraq but elsewhere.

Lucas Tomlinson: Would you say al-Qaida is a part of this destabilizing force?

MS. HARF: Well, again, I think it’s sort of what you asked yesterday. There are different either affiliated groups with al-Qaida in the region or groups that might take ideology from al-Qaida that aren’t official affiliates. Certainly, we’re concerned about that. We have been in Iraq for a long time, as you know, with the al-Qaida affiliate there. But I’d say there are extremists on both sides here, and there are moderates on both sides, and that’s why we’re encouraging the moderates to step up increasingly and show these extremists that that’s not the way forward for Iraq.

Lucas Tomlinson: How would you define al-Qaida?

MS. HARF: In general, or in Iraq?

Lucas Tomlinson: Just in general.

MS. HARF: Okay. Well, what we’ve talked a lot about, I think, is – we talk a lot about al-Qaida core in here, right, and the success we’ve had in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the al-Qaida core group, which, quite frankly, is today a shadow of what it was, certainly on 9/11 but even after. At the same time, over the past few years, we’ve made it clear that we’re increasingly concerned about either official affiliates like AQAP or al-Shabaab, AQ in Somalia or elsewhere, but also concerned with extremist groups who may claim ideology with al-Qaida but aren’t official affiliates, and also concerned with sort of the lone wolves that are out there that may go on the internet and see extremist ideology and want to act on it.  So that’s why I think you’ve heard the President speak about this most recently at NDU, when he talked about the way forward and the threat we face and how we’re going to fight it.

Lucas Tomlinson: There was a UN report that was just released that said there were over 8,000 civilians killed in Iraq over the last year --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

Lucas Tomlinson: -- the most deadly year in Iraq since 2008. And critics of the Administration’s policies would say their policy in – your policy in Iraq would say that we abandoned the country. Can you respond to that?

MS. HARF: Well, a few points. Obviously, we’ve condemned this violence in the absolute strongest terms. But let’s be clear who’s responsible for the violence. It’s the terrorists who were behind it. That’s why we are partnering with the Iraqi Government very closely to fight this shared threat, because at the end of the day we can certainly help them fight it, but we also want to help them build their own capability to do so themselves, because ultimately that’s the best way forward for Iraq. So I don’t think we need to relitigate policy decisions that were made however many months ago. But today, what we’re focused on is the relationship, how we work together very closely on this issue, and fighting this challenge, certainly, together.

Lucas Tomlinson: Bottom line, would you say the threat of al-Qaida is increased in Iraq and Syria?

MS. HARF: Well, I think I would say both in Syria and Iraq – well, certainly – let’s start with Syria. I think the threat of terrorism and extremism has increased as a direct result of the atmosphere the Assad regime has created in Syria, the fact that they have decided to engage in violence against their own people and really create a security vacuum has led to a very serious situation where terrorists like al-Qaida affiliated or people that claim ideology with al-Qaida can flourish. Obviously, that’s why we’ve said that we need to move quickly to end the civil war there even though it’s very, very complicated and hard to do.

Lucas Tomlinson: Doesn’t the al-Qaida threat in Syria, the al-Qaida presence, come from Anbar province in Iraq?

MS. HARF: Well, I think that’s an oversimplification of sort of the al-Qaida picture in the region. I think that there are extremists and terrorists operating in both. I don’t know what the flowchart looks like necessarily or where all the fighters are coming from when we look at Syria. I’m happy to check with our experts and see, certainly, where they come from and how they get to Syria. But we’re concerned about it in both places, quite frankly, and that’s we are encouraging moderates within Iraq – in the government, in Anbar, and elsewhere – to step up and say this is not what we want for our country, to learn some of the lessons we learned, and to move forward, hopefully, with a less violent future.

Lucas Tomlinson: Can we agree that the threat of al-Qaida has increased in the Middle East?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t – when you say “the threat from al-Qaida,” that’s sort of an overly vague and broad and almost without-meaning term.

Lucas Tomlinson: Well, the source of these attacks --

MS. HARF: Well --

Lucas Tomlinson: -- in Iraq came from al-Qaida.

MS. HARF: I think in some places, the terrorist threat has gotten worse. Like I said, in Syria, certainly as a direct result of what the Assad regime has done, the security situation, certainly the threat of either al-Qaida affiliated or ideologically affiliated groups has gotten worse. But when we take about, quote, “al-Qaida,” I’m not sure if you’re referring to al-Qaida core, which actually we don’t think has the reach into these places that it did in the past or that some people might think. It doesn’t mean they’re less dangerous, but when you’re talking about how to confront these groups, it matters where they take their direction from, quite frankly. And when you use the term al-Qaida, it matters what that means.

Lucas Tomlinson: Well, from the podium you’ve mentioned foreign fighters --

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

Lucas Tomlinson:  -- and having – going towards Syria responsible for attacks against the Assad regime. Part of these flood of foreign fighters do come from Iraq --

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

Lucas Tomlinson: -- and from Anbar province.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

Lucas Tomlinson: And over the last year in Iraq, we’ve seen 8,000 civilians killed. I think it’s fairly self-evident that violence has increased and the cause of that increase in violence is the al-Qaida franchise.

MS. HARF: Well, I think the use of “franchise” is a helpful caveat. But again, who’s giving direction, operational direction, operational planning to the folks that are perpetrating this violence in Iraq? I’m happy to check in with our folks and see specifically what part of the terrorist org chart that is. Because again, it matters not just in the words you use but in how you fight it, something we’re working with the Iraqi Government to do all the time, and the Lebanese Government, as we talked a lot about, and others in the region as well.

Lucas Tomlinson: So lastly, you will not say from that podium that the threat of – from al-Qaida is increasing in the Middle East?

MS. HARF: Well, I would say the threat from al-Qaida core has significantly decreased because of our efforts over the past several years. The threat of – from al-Qaida affiliates in some places has increased, certainly in Syria – we’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about that in Yemen. Each country is different, each group is different, and we will evaluate the threat each place differently. It’s just a little more complicated than that.

Matthew Lee: Without relitigating the decisions that were made in the last term or over the past couple years, can you just address the suggestion in one of the earlier questions that the United States abandoned Iraq?

MS. HARF: Well, I would fundamentally disagree with it. Just because we don’t have troops on the ground doesn’t mean we don’t have a continuing close partnership with the Iraqi Government. You see that all the time from the assistance we give them. We talked a little bit about it over the Christmas holiday, I think, some of the additional military assistance we’ve given them. So we don’t define a relationship with a country based on boots on the ground. In fact, it’s the opposite. We very much have a close and continuing partnership and we’ll keep working with them on this joint threat.

Matthew Lee: Was it not the Administration’s preference to keep a number of troops on the ground in Iraq?

MS. HARF: I’m really not going to relitigate the --

Matthew Lee: I’m not asking you to relitigate it; I’m just --

MS. HARF: Can I finish?

Matthew Lee: Yes.

MS. HARF: Thank you. I’m not going to go back into internal deliberations about whether we were going to and wanted to put a new SOFA in place, something that happened, what, two years ago now, two and a half years ago now? I just don’t think that’s a beneficial discussion to have from this podium. The President was very clear when he came into office that our goal was to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home. I just don’t think it serves any purpose to re-litigate those discussions from, what, 2011, in 2014.

Matthew Lee: I’m not asking you to relitigate it. Was the Administration not interested in concluding a SOFA with the Iraqi Government?

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to go back down that road. I don’t --

Matthew Lee: Well, the answer is yes, okay? And I don’t see why you can’t say --

MS. HARF: Do you want my job, then? You want to answer?

Matthew Lee: No, but I would prefer that you not try to sidestep. I mean, it’s a pretty --

MS. HARF: I’m not trying to sidestep it.

Matthew Lee: Yeah, you --

MS. HARF: We’re focused on 2014 and where we go from here. A discussion or debate about what we may or may not have --

Matthew Lee: His question was, “How do you respond --

MS. HARF: -- about what we may or not have wanted in 2011 --

Matthew Lee: Hold --

MS. HARF: -- is not relevant to the discussion today, Matt.

Matthew Lee: It’s completely relevant --

MS. HARF: It’s just not.

Matthew Lee: -- to the question that he asked --

MS. HARF: I disagree.

Matthew Lee: -- which was that critics– his question was critics suggest or say, claim, accuse the Administration of abandoning Iraq. And --

MS. HARF: And I disagreed with the premise.

Matthew Lee: Okay. And I’m asking you --

MS. HARF: Because I said --

Matthew Lee: Was the Administration interested in concluding a SOFA with the Iraqi Government or not back several years ago?

MS. HARF: I’m just not going to – I’m not going to go back down that road. What I’ve said is that you don’t define being --

Matthew Lee: Okay. You’re looking for a – you think that I’m trying to set a trap for you, and I’m not. I’m just trying to get a straight answer, and it’s a historical fact that you were involved in negotiations with the Iraq --

MS. HARF: Absolutely. I’m not saying we weren’t involved in them.

Matthew Lee: Okay. Well, then, what’s wrong?

MS. HARF: But you were asking what we wanted, what we didn’t want, what the content of the discussions were.

Matthew Lee: The whole point of the SOFA was the same point as the BSA in Afghanistan, which was to allow --

MS. HARF: They’re actually quite different.

Matthew Lee: I understand that, but it was to keep some presence --

MS. HARF: So don’t make that comparison.

Matthew Lee: -- to keep some presence on the ground in Iraq.

MS. HARF: Again, they’re very different situations.

Matthew Lee: Yes.

MS. HARF: Very different situations.

Matthew Lee: They are. But the suggestion if you deny that the U.S. abandoned Iraq --

MS. HARF: Absolutely. Because I don’t think it’s defined --

Matthew Lee: -- then you might want to explain --

MS. HARF: -- by boots on the ground.

Matthew Lee: Then you might want to explain to people that the Administration did try to conclude a SOFA with the Iraqis that would have allowed --

MS. HARF: I just don’t think that’s a helpful discussion to have today.

Matthew Lee: It’s the answer to the question, though.

MS. HARF: I don’t think it’s a helpful discussion to have today --

Matthew Lee: And if you --

MS. HARF: -- and I think I would define our engagement with Iraq not by boots on the ground.

Matthew Lee: Fair enough.

Lucas Tomlinson: But after 8,000 people are killed, that’s also not a helpful way to define our involvement in the country.

MS. HARF: Well, certainly we’re doing what we can to help them build their capability. We have been very clear that we are partners with Iraq in this shared fight, but we also were very clear about – the President was when he came into office about ending the war there, about building a new relationship going forward, and focusing on other security threats going forward.  So again, this isn’t something we’re going to relitigate here, something that happened in 2011. What we’re focused on now is how we continue building the relationship and building their capabilities.

Lucas Tomlinson: But to Matt’s point in – for the Administration to end the war in Iraq, did you all perhaps forget to leave behind some tools that could aid them in defeating adversaries?

MS. HARF: Absolutely not. Again, you don’t define a relationship with a country by boots on the ground. That’s just ridiculous.

Lucas Tomlinson:  But some would define the relationship about peace, and they define the relationship --

MS. HARF: Well, again, we can’t impose peace on people. I think that’s --

Lucas Tomlinson:  But you give them tools to aid them.

MS. HARF: Which is exactly what we’re doing. But it’s a tough fight and it’s a hard challenge, and these issues aren’t easy. If they were easy they would have been dealt with years ago. So it’s not like if we just flipped a switch and did x, y, or z, the terrorist threat in Iraq would go away. That’s just not how the – that’s not how it works.
So we’re helping them build their capability. We’re helping provide them with the tools, the guidance, the assistance, as they fight this fight. But it’s really up to them, in conjunction with us helping them, to push out the extremists, to encourage moderates, to learn the lessons we all learned from the years we were there when we did have boots on the ground, and try and move the situation forward in a better way.
Said. I’ve missed you.

Said Arikat: Happy New Year.

MS. HARF: We’re going to go to Said next. Happy New Year.

Said Arikat: I just wanted to follow up – happy New Year to you. I wanted to follow up on Iraq. So you agree with the tactics that the Maliki government is using? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. HARF: That’s not what I’m saying --

Said Arikat: All right.

MS. HARF: -- at all. We’re obviously --

Said Arikat: But you said you’d leave it up to them how they want to conduct this operation.

MS. HARF: Well, that was a broad statement. So we’re obvious following – if you’re talking about Anbar --

Said Arikat:  Right.

MS. HARF: -- we’re obviously following the events in Anbar. We’ve been encouraged by efforts by several of Iraq’s political leaders to contain the crisis in Anbar and unite forces against extremists. Obviously, we’re in close contact from the ground by Ambassador Beecroft here, from Brett McGurk and others, with the Iraqi Government at all levels to discuss the way forward. We’re following the situation there and helping in any way we can.

Said Arikat: Now, seeing how the United States is also sending drones and so on to strike terrorist camps in Yemen and other places, why not do the same thing in Iraq?

MS. HARF: Each country is different. Each situation is different. And we provide assistance with counterterrorism in different ways everywhere. They’re just not always comparable situations.

Said Arikat: Is that because there is a lack of agreement on these things between you and the Iraqi Government?

MS. HARF: There’s just different situations. I would hesitate from making any generalizations or analysis of it. They’re just all different.

RECOMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"About the links to the side"
"Nouri's murdering children, western media is silen..."
"Oh, look, it's al Qaeda! Oh, no, it's not! It's so..."
"Iraq and the lies some tell"
"The ongoing tragedy in Iraq"
"American Hustle's racism"
"The Good Whitey"
"Phil Everly has passed away"
"WSWS needs to fire two writers"
"community returns to being a crappy tv show"
"My worst habit of 2013?"
"Why couldn't Streisand have shut her mouth?"
"What did Shia LaBoufe do?"
"Ani DiFranco regroups and rebooks"