Saturday, April 11, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, April 11, 2015. Chaos and violence continue, the Anbar assault struggles, US Vice President Joe Biden's Iraq speech meets with criticism from the Middle East, Tareq al-Hashemi is back in the news, and much more.

With a lot of news out of Iraq, the item that might have the biggest impact is regarding Tareq al-Hashemi.   Karzan Sabah Hawrami (Bas News) reports the Sunni politician is said to be planning "a new political party headquartered in the Kurdistan Region."  This, Bas News states, would set him up as the voice of the Sunnis in Iraq because he believes that brothers Osama al-Nujaifi and Atheel al-Nujaifi have lost the support of Sunnis.  Atheel is the Governor of Nineveh Province (whose capital Mosul remains under the control of the Islamic State) and Osama is the former Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament who is currently one of Iraq's three vice presidents.

Tareq al-Hasehmi served two terms as vice president of Iraq.  During his first term, he incurred the wrath of thug and then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a number of reasons including noting the living conditions in Iraqi prisons and the fact that those in prison either had long waits before they appeared in court or had never appeared in a court before.  And he didn't just speak out about this, he toured the prisons, inviting the press to accompany him.

He also spoke out about the torture and abuse taking place under Nouri al-Maliki.

And he noted that the Iraqi government had a financial responsibility to help neighboring countries -- Jordan, Lebanon and Syria -- who were taking in the bulk of Iraqi refugees.

Nouri's first term was followed by a political stalemate which lasted over eight months.  The 2010 elections saw Nouri's State of Law lose to Iraqiya -- which was led by Shi'ite Ayad Allawi and which Tareq was apart of (as were the al-Nujaifi brothers, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and many more). Nouri refused to step down.  For over eight months.

And during this period, he had the nerve to accuse Tareq of acting illegally.

Tareq was carrying out plans from 2009 to visit neighboring countries.

Nouri declared these visits were illegal and that Tareq was not a vice president (which would mean Jalal Talabani wasn't president either nor was Iraq's other vice president -- we'll get to him in a moment).  Nouri made this claim as his own term was over -- expired, yes, but also over due to the election results.

The western press chose to deal with this drama by ignoring it.

So they also missed out on Adil Abdul-Mahdi declaring Nouri's remarks ridiculous.  Adil Abdul-Mahdi had served as Iraq's other vice president since 2006 along with Tareq (Adil is a Shi'ite).  It was left to Adil to point out (without naming Nouri) that, due to the political stalemate,  the Parliament was not meeting and therefore could not name a new president or new vice presidents and that, for stability purposes, he, Tareq and Jalal would have to continue in their roles until the Parliament named successors.

Iraqiya itself spoke to the illegitimacy of Nouri's second term.

Its very existence was a reminder that the voters had not chosen Nouri. Nouri got a second term via a contract the US government brokered which was The Erbil Agreement -- it went around the voters and the Iraqi constitution to deliver Nouri a second term.

When Nouri used the contract to get his second term but refused to honor the promises he made in that same contract, Tareq was one of the first to call Nouri out and demand that contract be honored.  He was joined by Ayad Allawi, Shi'ite cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr, KRG President Massoud Barzani, and many others.

As summer (2011) turned to fall, the demands grew louder.

December 2011, saw a drawdown where most US troops left Iraq (many -- over 15,000 -- to go to Kuwait).  The drawdown was completed December 15th and Nouri began going after his political rivals.  Two days later, December 17th, Liz Sly (Washington Post) was reporting that Iraq was "unraveling faster than had been anticipated Saturday." Adding, "In recent days, the homes of top Sunni politicians in the fortified Green Zone have been ringed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, and rumors are flying that arrest warrants will be issued for other Sunni leaders."

Tareq al-Hashemi, many outlets wrongly reported, fled Iraq and fled because he was going to be arrested.

That's what happens when you drop in on Iraq and drop out.

You miss the time line because you weren't paying attention.

Sunday December 18, 2011, Tareq al-Hashemi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, along with bodyguards, attempted to leave out of Baghdad International Airport for the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government -- three semi-autonomous provinces in Iraq). Nouri's forces pulled all off the plane and detained them for approximately an hour before allowing some bodyguards and al-Hashemi and al-Mutlaq to reboard.

From that day's "And the war drags on . . .:"

AFP reports, "Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and several of his bodyguards were escorted off a plane at Baghdad airport on Sunday because two of the guards were wanted on 'terrorism charges,' officials said, the latest step in a deepening political crisis." Also on the plane was Saleh al-Mutlaq, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister whom Nouri has asked Parliament to strip the powers of. al-Mutlaq was also forced off the plane. 

After being detained, the two were allowed to re-board the plane and travel to the KRG.

 The next day, December 19th, Nouri issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi whom he charged with 'terrorism.'  From that day's snapshot:

CNN reported this afternoon that an arrest warrant had been issued for Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi by the Judicial Commitee with the charge of terrorism.  Omar al-Saleh (Al Jazeera) terms it a "poltical crisis" and states, "The government says this has nothing to do with the US withdrawal, that this has nothing to do with the prime minister consolidating his grip on power.  However, members of al-Iraqiya bloc, which Hashimis is a member of, say 'No, [Maliki] is trying to be a dictator."  Sam Dagher (Wall St. Journal) observes, "The arrest warrant puts Mr. Maliki on a possible collision course with the Kurds, who run their own semiautonomous region in the north and participate in the central government but have longstanding disputes with Baghdad over oil and land; and with Sunni Arabs in provinces like Anbar, Diyala, Nineveh and Salahuddin who have pressed in recent weeks for more autonomy from Baghdad with the backing of the Kurds."

Tareq was already in the KRG when the arrest warrant was issued.

al-Hashemi did not 'flee' to the KRG. He went there on business and could have been stopped if Nouri wanted tos top him. A day after he arrived, an arrest warrant was issued and he elected to remain in the KRG. He was  the guest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and KRG President Massoud Barzani.

Because Jalal is spineless, Talabani quickly caved and withdrew his support.  Massoud Barzani has a spine and he never caved and stated that the KRG would host Tareq and would not turn him over to Baghdad.

For all the lazy and useless who weren't paying attention, we'll drop back to December 24, 2011 for this:

Mustafa Habib (Al Mada) notes that Nouri al-Maliki's targeting Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with terrorism charges and calling for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq [to be stripped of his office] have many noticing that both are members of Iraqiya and political opponents of Nouri and that while the political crisis has revealed a diminished role for the US it has underscored that the Kurds remain the heart of the country's political process. Dar Addustour reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi announced the postponement of the scheduled meeting yesterday of the political blocs while Nouri's spokesperson floated the notion that there are other charges waiting in the wings. Reportedly this includes charging the Minister of Finance, Rafie al-Issawi, with terrorism, specifically with killings in Falluja back in 2006. Like Tareq al-Hashemi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, Rafie al-Issawi is a member of Iraqiya. Dar Addustour also notes Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Minister, issued a statement declaring the matter should have been resolved by the political blocs but has instead played out in the press. Al Mada adds that Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani and US Ambassador James Jeffrey spoke yesterday and are calling for a meeting among the political blocs and that State of Law was whining about the Friday meet-up, whining that Iraqiya is boycotting Parliament but they want to attend the meet-up. Aswat al-Iraq notes, "Iraqiya bloc leader Iyad Alawi described recent events in Iraq as 'liquidation of differences', warning an explosive era waiting Iraq in the coming days, according to an interview with Arabia TV late yesterday (Friday)."

So the liars, whores and idiots, please stop your nonsense about today's issues in Iraq all being the fault of Bully Boy Bush.  BBB is a War Criminal.  He is responsible for an illegal war being started. He is not, however, responsible for the current crises in Iraq -- all of which were public for years and festered while Barack chose to look the other way (and to continue to arm Nouri al-Maliki -- against international law as well as US law).

Thursday, February 16th 2012, an incredible act of judicial abuse took place as the 'independent' Supreme Court in Baghdad issued a finding of guilt against Tareq al-Hashemi. Was a trial held? Because Article 19 of Iraq's Constitution is very clear that the accused will not be guilty until convicted in a court of law. No. There was no trial held. But members of the judiciary -- who should damn well know the Constitution -- took it upon themselves not only to form an investigative panel -- extra-judicial -- but also to hold a press conference and issue their findings. At the press conference, a judge who is a well known Sunni hater, one with prominent family members who have demonized all Sunnis as Ba'athists, one who is currently demanding that a member of Iraqiya in Parliament be stripped of his immunity so that the judge can sue him, felt the need to go to the microphone and insist he was receiving threats and this was because of Tareq al-Hashemi, that al-Hashemi was a threat to his family.

Having already demonstrated that they will NOT obey the Constitution, the judiciary then indicated -- via the judge's statement -- a personal dislike of Tareq al-Hashemi. What they did that Thursday was demonstrate that Tareq al-Hashemi had always been correct in his fear that he would not receive a fair trial in Baghdad.

Nouri's regime kidnapped Tareq al-Hashemi  bodyguards as well as at least two other employees.  In February 2012, Tareq noted that his bodyguards had been tortured  and that he was in possession of photos demonstrating the torture. Al Jazeera quoted him stating, "We have pictures of bruises on their faces and bodies." AFP quoted him in full, "All the arrested people from my bodyguards and the employees of my office are being held in secret prisons over which the ministry of justice has no authority, and confessions are being taken from them through torture. We have pictures and evidence proving that the bodyguards were tortured, physically and psychologically." CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq reported:

Al-Hashimi criticized the investigation, saying, "How come they finished investigating 150 cases against me and my bodyguards within a few days?
"Where did my bodyguards plan for these 150 attacks? On the surface of the moon?" he asked.

Only AFP noted that employees of Tareq al-Hashemi, besides bodyguards, are also being held. January 30th, Amnesty International issued a call for "Iraqi authorities to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president. Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January. Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi" and quoted Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, declaring, "The Iraqi authorities must immediately disclose the whereabouts of Rasha al-Hussain and Bassima Kiryakos. At the very minimum they should have immediate access to their family and a lawyer." The alert noted that, in the middle of the month, Bassima Saleem Kiryakos phoned her husband to say she was being released, but she was not heard from again and that, in December, she was also taken by Iraqi security forces and beaten.

Moving on to the March 22, 2012 snapshot:

Since December, those working for Tareq al-Hashemi have been rounded up by Nouri's forces.  At the end of January, Amnesty International was calling for the Baghdad government "to reveal the whereabouts of two women arrested earlier this month, apparently for their connection to the country's vice-president.  Rasha Nameer Jaafer al-Hussain and Bassima Saleem Kiryakos were arrested by security forces at their homes on 1 January.  Both women work in the media team of Iraqi Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, who is wanted by the Iraqi authorities on terrorism-related charges."  Yesterday, al-Hashemi noted that his bodyguard had died and stated that it appeared he had died as a result of torture.
 Alsumaria notes Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is calling for the international community to call out the death of his bodyguard, Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi, who died after being imprisoned for three months. al-Hashemi has stated the man was tortured to death. The photo Alsumaria runs of the man's legs (only the man's legs) appear to indicate he was tortured, welts and bruises and scars.  They also report that the Baghdad Operations Command issued a statement today insisting that they had not tortured al-Batawi and that he died of chronic renal.  They also insist that he was taken to the hospital for medical treamtent on March 7th and died March 15th. Renal failure would be kidney failure.  And that's supposed to prove it wasn't torture?
If you work for an outlet that just spits out what you are told and didn't actually learn a profession, yes.  Anyone with half a brain, however, apparently that's half more than the average journalist possess today knows to go to science.  The Oxford Journal is scientific. This is from the Abstract for GH Malik, AR Reshi, MS Najar, A Ahmad and T Masood's "Further observations on acute renal failure following physical torture" from 1994:
Thirty-four males aged 16–40 (mean 25) years in the period from August 1991 to February 1993 presented in acute renal failure (ARF), 3–14 (mean 5) days after they had been apprehended and allegedly tortured in Police interrogation centres in Kashmir. All were beaten involving muscles of the body, in addition 13 were beaten on soles, 11 were trampled over and 10 had received repeated electric shocks.
Out of that group? 29 did live. Five died.  I don't think the Baghdad Command Operations created any space between them and the charge with their announcement of renal failure as the cause of death.  But, hey, I went to college and studied real topics -- like the law and political science and sociology and philosophy -- and got real degrees not glorified versions of a general studies degree with the word "journalism" slapped on it.  So what do I know?

Tareq never should have been tried.  Any trial was illegal.  Until 2014, he remained one of Iraq's vice presidents.  Nouri tried to get the Parliament to strip him of his role but they refused.  He could not legally been put on trial while in office unless he was stripped of his office per the Iraqi Constitution. He was tried in absentia.  His attorneys request that Jalal Talabani testify (and Talabani agreed to testify) was refused by the prejudiced judiciary which had already announced his guilt months before the trial began.

Tareq may very well become the Sunni leader of Iraqi Sunnis.  And he could do so with or without stepping into Iraq proper.

The two most prominent Sunnis today are Osama and Atheel -- the brothers power is symbiotic -- feeding off one another.

Atheel's power was slipping when he had the fortune of Nouri al-Maliki calling for him to step down as governor of Nineveh Province.  When Nouri made that demand the Sunni response was to close ranks around Atheel and this solidified not only Atheel but also Osama (who was Speaker of Parliament at the time). Saleh al-Mutlaq is a Sunni leader in disgrace with repeated calls for him to appear before Parliament on corruption charges.  The only real Sunni leader in Iraq today is the combination of the al-Nujaifi brothers.

Tareq's trial means guilt and innocence aren't even an issue.  The trial itself should not have happened.  Sunnis are aware of that.  The smartest thing 'new' prime minister Haider al-Abadi could have done was asked the judiciary to toss aside the verdict (actually verdicts -- the court got a bit excessive and sentenced Tareq to death -- sentenced him to death several times -- at last count, he was sentenced to death five times by the court) or else issue a pardon.

He did neither.

He failed to address the issue.

And now Tareq is taking his own steps.

Hawrami notes, "Al-Hashemi recently criticized PM al-Abadi for taking the Shiite militia groups under his authority as he believes that they cannot protect all the Iraqis, indicating the necessity of forming a Sunni force in Iraq to protect the Sunnis."

And that sort of criticism will resonate with the Sunni community.

From Iraq's former vice president to the United States' current one Joe Biden.  Joe gave a speech on Thursday -- here for the full text, here for our criticism of some of it.

Yasmeen Sami Alamiri (Al Arabiya News) weighs in on the speech:

Last week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that while facing the ongoing threats of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the only way forward is with a strong, united Iraqi government, free of factions and sectarian divisions. The sentiment is not a new one—in fact, it is the cornerstone of the administration’s policy on Iraq—keep Iraq united to keep Iraq strong. However, for Biden personally, the policy which he now champions is a far cry from his push for the federalization of an Iraq broken into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish zones.
Biden’s speech Thursday at National Defense University in Washington DC, framed itself as almost a parting address on the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies on Iraq, as the administration enters the final phase of its term. The farewell speech on Iraq is likely not nearly as romantic or optimistic as either Obama or Biden would have hoped—both now say they opposed the initial war in Iraq and both were eager to see it end.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that nearly 13 years into the conflict; the United States is still needed in Iraq—now more than ever because of the grave threat that ISIS poses in the oil-rich country. In his remarks, Biden assures “for all the years I spent in dealing with Iraqi public officials in the Iraqi Government, we knew for certain without a united Iraqi Government, there was no possibility, none, of defeating ISIL [another abbreviation for ISIS].”

The rave endorsement for a united Iraqi government came just days before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi makes his first visit to the White House in his current capacity.  

Yerevan Saeed (Rudaw) notes Kurdish reaction has been mixed between ridiculing Biden over his comments regarding one-united Iraq and bemoaning Joe walking away from his 2006 plan for a federation in Iraq composes of three regions:

“Shia don't want to be ruled by Sunnis, Sunnis don't want to be ruled by Shia, Kurds don't want to be ruled by Arabs. Iraq unity is a joke,” was the online response Biden received from one Kurd. 
“We want what Iraqis want: a united, federal and democratic Iraq that is defined by its own constitution, where power is shared among all Iraqi communities, where a sovereign government exercises command and control over the forces in the field,” Biden said in his remarks at the National Defense University in Washington.
In 2006 when he was Senator, Biden proposed a bill asking for the creation of three regions in Iraq, divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, as solution for the continued bloodshed in the country. The plan called for three Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions.
[. . .]
Another twitter user named Andrew Thiel reminded Biden of his 2006 plan: “When Joe Biden said we should split Iraq into 3 countries, sunni, shiite, and kurd, I said it was an idea worth exploring.”

Of Joe's Thursday speech, Xinhau reports:

Vice President Joseph Biden said on Thursday that U.S.-led airstrikes have helped Iraqi forces halt the offensive by the extremist Islamic State (IS) group in the Arab country, with its "aura of invincibility" pierced.
"The jury's still out," Biden said at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. "It's not over yet, but the momentum is in the right direction."

The right direction?

IANS reports the Islamic State executed 33 people in Ramadi. and that:

Meanwhile, the Iraqi forces and allied militias, known as Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation, withdrew from the al-Sajariyah area, just east of Ramadi, and entered the nearby Habbaniyah airbase, the source said, adding that the move was apparently to let the international coalition aircraft carry out airstrikes on the IS positions at the scene.
The withdrawal came three days after the security forces backed by thousands of allied Shia and Sunni militias took control of Sajariyah after fierce clashes.

ANI adds, "An Iraqi provincial officer has claimed that the Islamic State (IS) has captured several districts in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, in a recent hour-long attack, killing 10 Iraqi troops and wounding Genneral Qassim al-Muhammadi, the head of the Iraqi military operation in Anbar province."  Anadolu Agency reports the Islamic State has blown up Albu Farraj Bridge which "connects Ramadi city with the international highway."

It was all supposed to be so different.  Erin Cunningham and Mustafa Salim (Washington Post via Stars and Stripes) report:

In a visit to Habbaniyah air base in Anbar on Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had vowed to defeat Islamic State militants in the province. Pro-government forces claimed victory over the jihadists in the northern city of Tikrit last month. It marked a serious blow to the group, which seeks to capture and hold territory to build its version of an Islamic caliphate.
But in Ramadi, the battle raged on at least two fronts on Friday — and the government was losing ground, officials said. The militants already control most of the province.

The battle over whether or not Ramadi and Anbar Province should have been the next target continues despite the start of operations in Anbar, Nancy A. Youssef (Daily Beast) notes:

There is a split between U.S. and Iraqi officials about which city to take next in the campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, with the divide running along Iraq’s two historically important rivers—the Tigris and Euphrates.
U.S. officials are urging Iraqi forces to keeping fighting north along the Tigris River and while Iraqis want to shift toward the Euphrates, two military officials told the Daily Beast. At issue is what is more important—going after a major Islamic State stronghold or expanding the security buffer around the capital, the nation’s economic and political keystone.
The decision over which target to attack has deep implications in Washington and Baghdad. Attacking to the north, towards oil-rich Baiji, could keep the hard-won momentum against ISIS rolling, but any setback could be crushing for the still weak Iraqi forces. It would also leave Baghdad’s western flank exposed. Attacking Anbar instead would secure that flank, but could also stall the larger campaign, leave Kurdish troops and American fighter jets battling ISIS practically alone, while strengthening Iranian-backed militias’ influence in Baghdad.

From Biden to Barack, Tariq Alhomayed (Asharq al-Awsat) offers:

The reality is that Obama has an incorrect view of the region, and this is something that has become increasingly clear since he took office. He is always wrong on our region, and has made the biggest mistakes here, and these mistakes have had major consequences.
Obama rushed to withdraw from Iraq, and now here we see him returning once again. He played down the Syrian revolution and Assad’s crimes. He talked about “red lines” but Assad has crossed each and every one of these, while Obama has done nothing. He played down the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) only to subsequently be forced to acknowledge the reality of the situation, although he still had enough time to blame his country’s intelligence services for failing to realize this earlier.
[. . .]
So, Obama thinks that the threat to the region is not Iran, but rather an absence of internal reform. This is simply wrong, and demonstrates worrying double standards.

In 2009, when Obama was already in office, the “Green Movement” broke out in Iran. The Iranian authorities violently suppressed the protests, including through the force of arms. Many protesters were killed, and many more arrested. All the while, Obama looked on and did nothing. Indeed, some leading members of this revolt remain behind bars until today. Since then, Iran has not carried out any significant internal reform. During the same period, Gulf states—and particularly Saudi Arabia—have moved forward with the internal reform process. 

There is no deal with Iran yet.  There is a framework for a possible deal which might (or might not) be reached in June.

Supposed 'internationalists' like Medea I Need Attention Benjamin have, in the past, called out US dominance in the region but today these same Medea Benjamins rush to applaud US dominance and ignore the Arabic reaction.

See people like Medea, they don't really oppose imperialism.

They want it.

They want to harness it.

They applaud it when it's done their way.

They aren't really for democracy, they just want their way.

They're spoiled brats who could care less about the wants or desires of others.

Noah Browning (Reuters) notes the discontent with Barack in the region and that even Arab Spring activists are criticizing Barack.  From his report:

The tentative rapprochement between Tehran and Washington has convinced many Gulf Arabs that a new regional axis is taking shape that will make them vulnerable to Iranian intrigue.
Saudi Arabia's leadership and many of its people have taken heart from its military campaign in neighbouring Yemen. Its air strikes, mounted with Arab allies, has targeted the Iran-allied Houthi militia which controls most of Yemen - and received U.S. approval.
"The public demand in Saudi Arabia right now is not for more democracy, but to handle the external threats," Saudi commentator Jamal Khashoggi said.
"The Saudis feel more assured since they took matters into their own hands. The issue that was bothering Saudi Arabia linked to the (nuclear) deal was that it was going to leave the Iranians unchecked in the region - that part is being handled today, not by the Americans, but by the Saudis." 

As Barack fumbles and tumbles in the Arab region, the battle for who will replace him in January 2017 moves forward.  Reportedly, Hillary Clinton will announce she is running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination on Sunday.  Hillary thinks she's the answer but there are those who disagree. Philip Rucker (Washington Post) reports:

On the eve of her presidential campaign launch, Lincoln Chafee, a former U.S. senator and governor from Rhode Island, announced Thursday that he is exploring a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. And unlike other potential Clinton challengers, Chafee appears to be spoiling for a fight.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, Chafee did not mince words when he said Clinton's 2002 Senate vote to authorize military action in Iraq should disqualify her from becoming commander in chief.

"I don't think anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake," Chafee said. "It's a huge mistake and we live with broad, broad ramifications today — of instability not only in the Middle East but far beyond and the loss of American credibility. There were no weapons of mass destruction."

Hillary's vote for the war cost her in the nomination in 2008.  But she honestly thinks, eight years later, she deserves it?

Based on what?

What amazing accomplishment -- or even realization -- can tired, Cranky Clinton (as Cedric and Wally have dubbed her) point to?


She can point to increased secrecy as Secretary of State -- refusing accountability via an IG, refusing to provide Congress with answers regarding the State Dept's plans for Iraq and of course her infamous (and ongoing) e-mail scandal.

Dan Merica (CNN) reports:

"Considering the premise for invading Iraq was based on falsehoods and considering the ramifications we live with now from that mistake, I would argue that anybody who voted for the Iraq War should not be president and certainly should not be leading the Democratic Party," Chafee said in a phone interview with CNN.
"Yes," Chafee said when asked if he plans on making the Iraq War central to his campaign against Clinton. "That's one of our big differences."
Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq War in 2002, a vote that haunted and helped sink her 2008 presidential campaign against President Barack Obama. At the time a Republican senator, Chafee was the only member of his party to vote against the Iraq War in 2002.

What has Cranky done to wipe that away or to wipe away her support, as a US Senator for the PATRIOT Act?


She spent four years as Secretary of State traveling from one photo op to another, she just didn't accomplish anything to be proud of.

Hell, she didn't even lead on marriage equality.

But she's supposed to announce her presidential run tomorrow.

Eight years after she was denied the nomination, she has nothing to show for those eight years, but somehow she's supposed to be our choice for top of the ticket?

al mada 
the wall street journal
sam dagher 
aswat al-iraq
to the point

Friday, April 10, 2015

As Unacceptably-long Wait Times for Veterans Persist, Isakson, Blumenthal Call on VA Secretary to Provide Detailed Plan on Use, Integration of Care Outside VA System

Senator Johnny Isakson is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Today, his office issued this joint-statement he and Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal have made:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                    
Contact: Amanda Maddox (Isakson), 202-224-7777
Josh Zembik (Blumenthal), 202-224-6452

As Unacceptably-long Wait Times for Veterans Persist, Isakson, Blumenthal Call on VA Secretary to Provide Detailed Plan on Use, Integration of Care Outside VA System
Senators Urge VA To Do Everything Possible To Ensure Veterans Are Aware Of All Health Care Options Available, Inside and Outside VA Health System


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, today wrote to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to request he provide clear guidance to local VA medical centers and their patients regarding options for veterans to receive health care from local, community-based providers outside of VA hospitals and facilities.
"Non-VA care is used by VA to reduce and end unacceptably long wait times, to provide services when there is a lack of available VA specialists, and to decrease excessive travel distances for treatment,” the senators wrote. "We believe that it is vitally important veterans and providers receive accurate information on care available at the local Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMC) and in the community in order to understand the care options feasible. All too often, veterans and providers are unaware of these options and local facilities offering or approving non-VA care seems to vary arbitrarily from one VAMC to the next.”
The letter requests that Secretary McDonald and VA provide a detailed plan for correcting inconsistencies and underutilization of health care options for veterans when they receive that care outside of VA facilities. This plan should include next steps for disseminating information to third-party administrators and local VAMC’s to ensure that veterans and providers are aware of all options available, utilizing data about increases or decreases in outside spending, conducting a review and making a recommendation regarding consolidating all programs that VA uses to provide veterans with care in their community in the future.
The full text of letter can be downloaded as a PDF here, and is included below:
April 10, 2015
Dear Secretary McDonald:
We write to ask that you promptly provide clear guidance to both local VA Medical Centers (VAMC) and their patients on using medical care and services provided in the community, known as “non-VA care”. As spending on non-VA care surged forty-six percent to over $7 billion in the last fiscal year, we are concerned VA has yet to set forth a consistent and sustainable policy for this program.
As you are aware, non-VA care is used by VA to reduce and end unacceptably long wait times, to provide services when there is a lack of available VA specialists, and to decrease excessive travel distances for treatment. We believe it is vitally important veterans and providers receive accurate information on care available at the local VAMC and in the community in order to understand the care options feasible. All too often, veterans and providers are unaware of these options and local facilities offering or approving non-VA care seems to vary arbitrarily from one VAMC to the next.   We have heard from veterans across the country that have tried to utilize non-VA care and were turned away with no explanation of other options that might be available. The recent hearing on March 24th before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has confirmed and dramatized these failings, which are unfortunate and unacceptable.
Therefore, we ask you to provide us with a detailed plan for improving and integrating all non-VA care options used by VA not later than May 20, 2015. The plan should include VA’s proposed or planned action to:
1.   Correct inconsistencies and underutilization of different care options available to veterans, particularly when a veteran may be eligible for more than one care option and costs of such options based on utilization rates of Choice, Patient Centered Community Care (PC3), Individual Agreements, and Project ARCH over the next three fiscal years.
2.   Disseminate information to the third party administrators and local VAMCs to ensure that veterans and providers are aware of all options available to produce a plan for utilizing each program efficiently and effectively.
3.   Utilize data about increases or decreases in spending on non-VA care options to make decisions about internal staffing needs.
4.  Conduct a review of all traditional non-VA care programs (PC3, Individual Agreements, Fee-basis, etc.) and make recommendations about the program best suited to provide veterans with care in the community in the future.  This review should include the rates VA pays non-VA providers, utilization of the programs, and identify a manner to communicate to VAMCs the non-VA care programs available to provide veterans care in the community.
Reforms will help improve veterans care options. We hope for a plan by May 20, 2015. We look forward to working with you to bring consistency to utilization of the various non-VA care programs authorized by Congress. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Johnny Isakson
Richard Blumenthal
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.

Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.


Freedom In A Time Of Mental Slavery (David DeGraw)

David DeGraw addresses the societal inequalities:

Difficult times led to a major breakthrough. All the work I have done in life has led to this...



This is the first in a series of adapted excerpts from my new book... +Read More

It's time to dismantle the illusion!!

Anti-Gay Ugandan Extremist Martin Ssempa is U.S. Citizen; Testimony Sought in U.S. Court Case

The Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following Thursday:

April 9, 2015, New York, NY – The Center for Constitutional Rights asked a court to issue a subpoena to Martin Ssempa, a prominent anti-gay crusader in Uganda, to testify in a case brought on behalf of the Ugandan LGBTI rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda against U.S.-based anti-gay extremist Scott Lively. The Center issued the following statement on today’s motion

The Center for Constitutional Rights has learned that Martin Ssempa, a leading and notorious figure in the persecution of the LGBTI community in Uganda, is in fact a U.S. citizen. Ssempa is not himself a target of the lawsuit, but as a close ally of Scott Lively he has intimate knowledge of key facts in the case. As a witness who is a U.S. citizen, he is subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. court presiding over the case brought on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda against Lively for the role he has played in the persecution of LGBTI people and organizations in Uganda.

The Center for Constitutional Rights represents Sexual Minorities Uganda in the case against Scott Lively for his efforts to strip away fundamental rights from LGBTI persons in Uganda. See Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively for more information.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Look how they try to use Iraq again.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution.

And a public debate requires real debate and as many voices and views as possible.

The Cult of St. Barack -- a tattered band of do-nothings -- got their marching orders to sell the Iran deal that Barack Obama may be able to come up with in June.  There is no deal currently though the Cult of St. Barack loves to lie.

In fact, I believe lying was St. Barack's first documented miracle.

So they're lying and one of the ways for them to lie is to insist that the right is against the 'deal' and the left is for it.


Because in the busy day to day life that so many live, those are the facts or 'facts' by which they determine their position on an issue.

They do this all the time -- it's not just the Cult of St. Barack.  It predates the Cult of St. Barack -- a shocking realization for those who believe the world came into being on November 4, 2008 when the Christ-child was elected president.

I generally roll my eyes at these efforts -- which also took place to mitigate the disaster that was Barack's solar policy plan (solar power is a good thing, Barack's just an idiot who didn't know how to govern) -- but when they try to use Iraq?

Then they fall under our scope.

Ari Rabin-Havt can't resist lying, he works for Media Matters after all -- an outlet that's done more to damage our discourse on the left than any other outlet in the United States.

Ari wants you to know that where people stand on the issue of the deal is . . . well it's like Iraq!

He whines and bullies throughout a column which includes the following in the attacks on Senator Chuck Schumer:

Thus in his first major public act following the announcement of his presumed ascension to the top Democratic position in the Senate, Schumer undermined the views of the overwhelming majority of Democrats across the country, in particular the left flank of the party, whose activism (and online contributions) he will in part rely on to recapture the majority in the 2016 congressional elections.
Progressive groups, including MoveOn, CREDO, Democracy for America, Daily Kos and USAction, have already lined up to warn of severe consequences to those who oppose the president’s Iran policy writing in an open letter to Democratic leaders, as reported Wednesday by Politico:
A historic vote on a nuclear deal with Iran is coming. Like the 2002 vote to give President George W. Bush authorization to invade Iraq, Democrats who end up on the wrong side of it will have to answer for their decision for the rest of their careers.
The question is not whether Bob Corker’s bill will receive 60 votes in the Senate; that is all but certain. At issue is whether Republicans can build enough Democratic support to override the president’s veto.

Senators with a D after their names should take heed of the warning progressive groups sent and look to history, aware that this vote, if successful, will become a critical demarcation point in their careers, equivalent to the October, 2002, vote to authorize war in Iraq. Twelve and a half years later, the ramifications of that vote are still echoing in the Democratic Party.

Progressive groups?

CREDO does nothing but sale its mobile plan -- does it still even do that?  I heard there were so many problems with it that they were thinking of giving it up.  The Great Satan that is Daily Kos -- a ridiculous outlet by a ridiculous man -- does it matter to anyone?  It's 'mighty' numbers long ago fell and its audience moved on to The Huffington Post.  MoveOn?  A group who counts every person who ever signed even one petition as a "member"?  When you can't even get honest about your membership . . .

We could go on and on.

But let's note this lie:

Schumer undermined the views of the overwhelming majority of Democrats across the country, in particular the left flank of the party, whose activism (and online contributions) he will in part rely on to recapture the majority in the 2016 congressional elections.

Most Americans -- check the surveys -- are troubled by the 'deal.'  That's in part because there are no concrete details and because whores like Ari can't argue for a deal so they slime and slam Chuck.

But "the overwhelming majority of Democrats across the country" -- what is the idiot saying?  Does he not know how to communicate clearly?

It appears he's saying that the deal is supported by the large number of Democrats in this country who outnumber other groups.

If so, that's just another lie in his long series of lies.

Democrats do not make up the majority in the US.  Nor do Republicans.

The petty wars of both parties has led to The Great American Apathy.

The biggest lie of the piece is probably insisting that this vote must be done this way.

That nonsense was what the GOP pulled with regards to Iraq.

Yes, it's what the little liar's doing today.

It's the same tactic.

Reality: In 2002, you could have voted any way on the resolution for war with Iraq and been okay if you voted your conviction.

You can defend your conviction.

Doesn't matter if you're right or wrong.

Hillary just can't say publicly, "I voted for it because all the 'smart' advisors -- like John Podesta -- told us we had to vote for it or we'd be harming the party."

The following community sites -- plus the Independent and War News Radio -- updated:

  • The e-mail address for this site is


  • Joe Biden spins on Iraq

    Below is US Vice President Joe Biden's speech on Iraq at the National Defense University on April 9th (as prepared for delivery -- and we noted the reality on the 'progress' in Iraq in the earlier snapshot).

    General Padilla, thank you very much for the introduction. And it is genuinely an honor to be here before such an incredibly distinguished audience. And, Ambassador Nesbitt, thank you. She is a senior vice president. I’m just a Vice President. These days I don’t like the word senior associated with my name. Provost Yaeger, and finally I’d like to say to Ambassador Failly, the -- Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States -- it’s an honor to have you here, as well today. Military officers, men and women, and Brian McKeon -- how you doing, Brian? Brian doesn’t want to tell anybody. He’s in the Defense Department now, but he worked with me since he got out of the University of Notre Dame, and that was 412 years ago.  But at any rate, it’s good to see you, Brian.
    Next week, Prime Minister Abadi will make his first visit to Washington, D.C. And this provides us with an opportunity to take stock of where things stand right now. And that’s going to be the focus, with your permission, of my remarks today.
    Critics have made a number of claims regarding our policy in Iraq and the state of affairs in Iraq today. They say that Iraq’s fight against ISIL -- under the command of the Iraqi government, backed by America and an international coalition -— has stalled, has been stalemated. We read that ISIL remains in a commanding position inside of Iraq; that Iran and its proxies are leading the fight against ISIL, and that they are dominating Iraq; and that Iraq itself is likely to be a thing of the past, doomed to split apart because of sectarian violence.
    There’s just one problem with these critiques: The claims do not reflect the circumstances on the ground. The claims do not respect and represent the circumstances on the ground.
    They don’t reflect Iraq’s progress against ISIL -– incomplete but significant and growing; Iraq’s resilience and unity in confronting the crisis many predicted would split them apart; or Iraq’s resolve to uphold their sovereignty and their independence -– even as they look to their neighbors in all directions for assistance.
    The jury is still out. That’s the truth. It’s not over yet. But the momentum is in the right direction. I’d like to speak about that for a few moment’s today.
    It is true that when ISIL swept into Ninewa last summer and took its capital, Mosul, we saw the collapse of the Iraqi army --we saw it melt away -- the horrific slaughter of innocent civilians; and the enslavement of women; ethnic cleansing of minority groups, including Christians who had lived in Mosul for over a thousand years.
    ISIL gained significant amounts of money from the banks that they robbed, significant and sophisticated military equipment left behind by Iraqi forces, and manpower from brutal conscription and foreign fighters, and maybe most dangerously a sense of momentum, even a sense of inevitability which seemed to attract more foreign fighters.
    That’s why, when Mosul fell, President Obama responded decisively. Within hours, he took steps with all of you, the military, to make sure that all our people in our embassy were secure. Within days, we put Special Forces into the field temporarily to better understand the battle space. We surged intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. And we set up a Joint Operations Center in both Baghdad and in Erbil -— all to prepare to help the Iraqis fight back.
    We knew though that the first order of business was to make sure that Iraq had a functioning, inclusive government. For all the years I spent in dealing with Iraqi public officials and the Iraqi government, we knew for certain without a united Iraqi government, there was no possibility -- none -- of defeating ISIL.
    When Mosul fell, Iraq had just held their national election. Fourteen million -- roughly 14 million Iraqis had shown up at the polls. But now they had to form a government in the middle of this chaos. And having been deeply, deeply involved, as Brian McKeon will tell you because he was with me, trying to help form the first government and being engaged, we knew this could be extremely difficult [sic].
    During the term of the last government, distrust had deepened so profoundly between Sunni, Shia, and Kurds -— creating serious obstacles to a unified effort against ISIL and a questioned willingness of whether they were willing to literally stay together.
    But the irony -- the irony of all ironies -- is that Iraq was actually -- helped form its government because of ISIL. ISIL the very outfit that intended to tear Iraq apart and establish a caliphate, it actually united Iraqis.
    The Sunnis realized they preferred a united, federal Iraq under a new government to being at the mercy of ISIL or dependent upon the other Sunni states. The Kurds realized that withdrawing from Iraq was not a viable option, and they did not want a terrorist state on their doorstep. I don’t know how many conversations I had with President Barzani relating to this. And the Shia, they realized they didn’t want to take on ISIL alone or become a vassal of a neighboring state. Consequently, they each concluded they were better off if they were in this together. And to quote a famous American politician in an early war of ours, we either hang together or hang separately.
    The Iraqis themselves recognized how badly the trust had been broken among them. Nothing less than a comprehensive change could deliver a united Iraqi government that could effectively take on ISIL, and many Iraqi leaders believed that the only way to do this, as I believed, was a wholesale change in leadership; that every interest in Iraq had to find different leaders this time to occupy the seats of power.
    I remember speaking to -- with Usama Nujayfi, a proud son of Mosul, who had been the speaker of Iraqi’s parliament, and him deciding that in order to make way for a new wave of leaders, it was very important -- which he thought was important as well -- that he would have to step down as speaker.
    And so there was a need, from the speaker to the Prime Minister to the president, to find new leaders. And the result was -- another widely respected Sunni, Salim Jabouri, became the new parliamentary speaker, and Iraq chose Fuad Masum, a well-respected Kurdish senior statesman, to be the new president. And he stuck to his convictions under enormous pressure -- because you know how the process works -- he, the president, is the one that then turns to one of the factions to form a government.
    There was an enormous amount of pressure, but he stuck to his guns. And he named Haider al-Abadi, the Prime Minister, a Shia leader who had built up majority support within the Shia National Alliance, which won a majority of the votes. There was a consensus among these leaders that Iraq would need a much greater measure of functioning federalism, which is called for in the constitution. They all agreed to that. That common understanding backed by genuine acts of statesmanship has led to significant progress. And the chance of a long-term unity government here.
    In just eight months, Prime Minister Abadi and other Iraqi leaders have formed an inclusive government, in record time, arrived at a national budget with equitable revenue sharing, forged an oil deal between Baghdad and Erbil. I don’t know how many times Brian and I sat there over the 23 visits into Iraq being told there’s an oil deal just over the horizon. Never occurred. But in the face of this crisis, they pulled that together.
    They built a consensus and began to mobilize thousands of Sunni fighters to fight against ISIL. And just this past week, Prime Minister Abadi visited Erbil, met with President Barzani to discuss cooperation with the Peshmerga forces in a plan, coordinated by General Austin in part, to help liberate Mosul. Yesterday, he was in Anbar Province announcing the delivery of over 1,000 weapons for Sunni tribes in preparation for the liberation of Anbar, in part, as part of his commitment that he made to Sunni leaders in the formation of the government.
    More efforts to organize, arm, and integrate the Sunnis willing to fight ISIL are going to be needed in the months ahead to liberate Anbar and Mosul. And the Prime Minister has also tried to improve relations with his Arab neighbors and Turkey. He’s visited Amman, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Ankara. And for the first time since 1990, Saudi Arabia has agreed to open an embassy in Baghdad at the invitation of a Shia Iraqi president.
    These are only initial, but these are very -- I promise you having done this for the last 12 years -- very promising, promising steps. Obviously a great deal of work remains, including moving forward on the national guard legislation, legislation designed to advance national reconciliation including de-Ba’athification, continuing to mobilize and integrate and arm and pay Sunni forces, further integrate the Pesh into the Iraqi national security force, bringing volunteer forces under the command and control of elected Iraqi governments, empowering local governance and planning for reconstruction in the liberated areas consistent with their notion of federalism.
    All of which, all of which we will be discussing with Prime Minister Abadi -- not that we haven’t discussed it a lot. He and I have probably spent more time on the phone than we have -- I have with my wife.
    The entire region -- the entire world -- but the entire region-- is watching this closely, and Iraqi leaders can’t afford to lose that sense of political urgency that brought them to this point.
    And much hinges on the Prime Minister, but not the Prime Minister alone. Ultimately, this is about all of Iraqi leaders pulling together and they must continue to compromise. And it is hard. It is hard. Thousands of bodies have been strewn and lost in the interim. But they’re doing it. We knew that in addition to forming a united Iraqi government, the next challenge would be to help them put back together an ability to be able to position itself and succeed on the battlefield.
    That started with helping Iraqis reorganize and reconstitute the security forces. For years, in the face of terrorism and insurgency, many Iraqis have fought bravely and given their lives. Thousands have given their lives in the fight against ISIL. That would challenge any army.
    But as we saw last summer, some units, including those in Mosul, had been hollowed out with corruption, questionable leadership appointments, a lack of discipline, sectarian in-fighting. And the collapse helped make the fall of Mosul possible.
    So we began to help Iraqi leaders rebuild their forces with hires based on competence, not on ethnicity. Abadi appointed a number of former military officers -- or, excuse me, relieved a number of former military officers, and appointed new officers. He appointed a Sunni from Mosul as Defense Minister. He replaced 36 commanders in November, and he continues to reform Iraq’s military leadership.
    We sent our Special Forces to assess which Iraqi units could actually be salvaged. And under the leadership of General Austin, we began working with the Iraqi military to reconstitute their divisions. We are now training and have continued to train Iraqi forces at four different sites across the country. Six thousand have already graduated; thousands more are in the pipeline.
    And we’re supplying weapons and critical equipment. Since the fall of 2014, the United States has delivered over 100 million rounds of ammunition; 62,000 small arms systems; 1,700 Hellfire missiles. Two hundred fifty mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles -- MRAPs -- were delivered in December that are now protecting Iraqi forces and Pesh forces from mines and homemade bombs. And 50 additional MRAPs with mine rollers will begin transfer to Iraq this week.
    At Al Asad Air Force Base that many of you served in and were part of securing, we’re training, advising, and assisting Iraqi army forces who, in turn, are training and mobilizing Sunni fighters; Iraqi National Security Forces training Sunni tribesmen.
    We also brought Iraqi pilots to the United States, who are in advanced stages of flight training in Arizona, to enhance their capacity to defend their country in the air.
    And we’re not doing it alone. We led and mobilized a massive international coalition of over 60 partners -- NATO allies, Arab nations, and many others -- to help take on ISIL. It’s not just a military coalition. It’s a global effort to weaken ISIS across the board, from undercutting its messaging to tracking its foreign fighters.
    And several nations are providing significant support in Iraq. Eight coalition partners have launched over 500 airstrikes in Iraq. The Spaniards, Australians, Danes, and others have provided trainers and advisors inside Iraq. The French, the Dutch, the U.K., Canada, Germany, Italy and others are working with us to train and resupply the Kurdish Peshmerga who have reclaimed a significant portion of the territory initially gained by ISIL. And several countries, including Japan and Saudi Arabia have also made significant non-military contributions in areas such as development assistance and humanitarian aid.
    A majority within each of the Iraqi constituencies and communities supports this U.S. effort and these coalition efforts. Leaders from across the Iraqi political spectrum have publicly asked for our help and our continued help.
    And we’re providing that help in a smarter way -- small numbers of advisors backed by a large coalition. And this large coalition is backed up by the most capable air force in the world. We are pounding ISIL from the sky, nearly 1,300 U.S. airstrikes alone. Thus far, thankfully, we have not lost -- knock on wood -- a single solitary U.S. serviceman to enemy fire, not one. But this is a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous place.
    With our assistance, Iraqis have made significant progress on the battlefield. Eight months ago, ISIL was on the offensive everywhere in Iraq. No force in Iraq or Syria had proven capable to defeating ISIL head on, but today in Iraq, ISIL has lost large areas it used to dominate, from Babil to Diyala, to Ninewa, to Salahadin -- excuse me -- Kirkuk Province. ISIL has been defeated at Mosul Dam, Mount Sinjar, and now Tikrit.
    ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed. Thousands of ISIL fighters have been removed from the battlefield. Their ability to mass and maneuver has been greatly degraded. Leaders have been eliminated. Supply lines have been severed. Weapons, check points, fighting positions, IED factories, safe houses have been destroyed. And reports of demoralization within ISIL ranks are rife. And some ISIL fighters refusing to fight; foreign fighters being killed by ISIL because they want to return home.
    There’s still a long fight ahead. I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture here. But the -- ISIL’s aura of invincibility has been pierced, and that’s important.
    Let me give you once recent example, where Iraqi’s military capability was tested, as well as, quite frankly, its political leadership was tested.
    Three weeks ago -- in every newspaper in the West and here in the United States and on the news -- the speculation was that the United States, the coalition, and Iraqi’s elected leaders had been sidelined in the fight against ISIL, particularly in Tikrit. Military forces backed primarily by Iran were running the show. And you saw pictures, and they made it clear, Soleimani made it clear that everybody would see he was there; the implication being, we now own Iraq.
    Then something changed. The attack stalled. And minister -- and Prime Minister Abadi stepped up. He courageously stepped in, making it absolutely clear that the Iraqi government, him, as Commander-in-Chief, was in charge of this operation. When I spoke with him, he made it clear to me that he wanted the United States and the coalition to engage all over Iraq, was his phrase. And explicitly, he wanted us engaged and requested support in Tikrit. His call was joined by that of Sunni leaders as well as the most senior religious leader in the country, Grand Ayatollah Sistani who declared that the Iraqi government had to be in the lead; that the units had to be directly under the command -- all units -- under the command of the Iraqi government; and that Sunnis had to be included in the liberation of their own communities.
    And we made clear-- General Austin -- that we were prepared to help in the battle with volunteers both Shia and Sunni fighting alongside Iraqi forces, but only if all elements in the fight operated strictly under the chain of command of the Iraqi military. Because that’s the only way we could ensure the safety of those on the ground and minimize the risk of friendly fire.
    Today, Iraq’s national flag -- not ISIL’s -- hangs over the city of Tikrit.
    But success brings new challenges: Holding liberated areas, policing them with forces that are trusted by the community in the community that they’re returning home to; transiting governing authority back to local officials, as envisioned in their federal system; restoring vital public services.
    And in the face of reports relating to Tikrit that there was mass looting and burning of homes, the Prime Minister stepped up, took swift action. He condemned the abuses, ordering the militia out of the city, ensuring regular forces are patrolling those seats, and frankly acknowledged the degree of loss that had occurred, hiding nothing.
    Once inside Tikrit, Iraqi soldiers uncovered execution grounds where ISIL murdered as many as 1,700 young men last summer and poured them into mass graves. And as I speak, mass graves are still being found, a stark reminder of the brutality of ISIL and the need for its defeat.
    While this battle continues inside Iraq, we’re also taking the fight to ISIL in Syria. The international coalition has now launched over 1,300 airstrikes against ISIL and other terrorists inside of Syria -- bombed refineries that have been taken over by ISIL, the oil both refined and crude being used to fund their operations, eliminating that as a source of revenue. We’ve embarked on a train and equip program under the Defense Department to take on ISIL and protect Syrian communities. In Kobane, killing thousands of its fighters and providing ISIL -- and proving ISIL can be beaten inside of Syria, as well.
    However, the regional challenge for Iraq extends beyond Syria. For years now, Iraq has risked being pulled apart by a wide range of sectarian competition internally and externally. But the reality is that Iraqis do not want to be drawn into regional conflicts. They don’t want to be owned by anybody. Everybody forgets there was a war not but a decade before where over 100,000 were killed, a war with Iran, their neighbor. They don’t want to be puppets dangling on a string of anyone’s puppeteering in the region.
    Don’t underestimate the power of Iraqi national pride, independence, and sovereignty. It’s only natural that Iraq will have relations with all of its neighbors, including Iran. The history is too long. The border is too long. And it’s a difficult neighborhood. But Iraq must be free to make its own sovereign choices under the authority of elected representatives of an Iraqi government.
    We want what Iraqis want: a united, federal, and democratic Iraq that is defined by its own constitution where power is shared among all Iraqi communities, where a sovereign government exercises command and control over the forces in the field. And that’s overwhelmingly what the Iraqis want.
    So I go back to the focus on, Mr. Ambassador, on the Iraqi government. When the three major constituencies -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd -- are united in wanting a whole and prosperous Iraq, the likelihood of being pulled into the orbit of any single nation in the region is diminished exponentially because this would represent the only -- the only government in the region that actually is not based on sectarian dominance.
    This is going to be a long haul. The ultimate success or failure is in the hands of the Iraqis. But as they stand up and stand together, this administration, this country, is committed to stand with them.
    I need not tell this audience since 2003 more than 1.5 million American women and men, including my son, have spent significant amounts of time on Iraqi soil. Every single morning since I have been Vice President, before as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, we contact the Defense Department, and I ask the same question. Give me the exact number of Americans who’ve given their lives on Iraqi soil and Afghan soil. Give me the exact number, not a generalization, exact number of those who have been wounded and are lost in Afghanistan. Because no audience knows more than this -- every one of those lives, every one of those brave women and men represents a community. Represents a family and a larger family.
    Only 1 percent of all Americans have waged these fights for us, but 99 percent of all America owes them support and recognition; 4,481 Americans have given their lives on Iraqi soil, including many who served alongside the people in this room. I’ll bet every one of you in uniform know somebody who was lost or wounded.
    And although our mission is significantly different today -- you may ask why am I focusing on this -- although our mission is significantly different today than it was during that period, there are still men and women in uniform in Iraq making sacrifices as I speak from protecting our embassy, to training and equipping Iraqis, to flying sorties.
    And all of you who wear the uniform know that one of the loneliest feelings for your family -- particularly if they don’t live on a base -- is while every other kid in school, while every other family at church, while every other family in the neighborhood thinks everything is fine, Dad or Mom is not home for that birthday. They’re missing that graduation. They’re not there for Christmas or to make a Thanksgiving toast.
    We have an obligation. We have an obligation. And just because we no longer have 160,000 troops there, it’s an obligation that’s intense and as real as it was when we had 160,000 troops there. They warrant our support. Their families warrant our deep gratitude.
    And so, folks, as a country, our one shared obligation is to give them what they need on the battlefield and care for them when they come home.
    Their blood and toil helped give Iraq another chance. Our mission now is to help the Iraqis themselves make the most of this.
    Thank you all for listening, but most of all, thank you for your service.
    May God bless the United States of America and may God protect our troops. Thank you.