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In Iraq, Turning from Sinjar to Anbar or Accepting Islamic State?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 14 -- US President Barack Obama's dual rationale for the campaign of airstrikes in Iraq has been the plight of the Yazikis on Mount Sinjar and the protection of US personnel in Erbil.

  Now with the US saying it has broken the siege of Mount Sinjar, whither the campaign?

 On August 14 the UN had at its noon briefing a call-in the spokesperson of its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Kieran Dwyer. Inner City Press asked Dwyer if airdrops now promised by Australia and Germany are still needed -- and about a UN map showing humanitarian problems and lack of access in Ninewa and Anbar provinces. Click here to view.

   Dwyer replied that bilateral requests are up to Iraqi authorities, and said, yes, there are problems and lack of access in Anbar and Ninewa (where ISIL held Mosul is).

  At the US State Department briefing less than an hour later, the Department's deputy spokesperson Marie Harf was asked if the US might now provided airstrikes or "assistance" in Anbar, and if this would be covered by the last War Powers notice Obama gave to Congress.

  I am not a lawyer, Harf said, adding in essence that the US acts when it can be useful with its "unique capabilities." She was asked why the US did not use military force to protect civilians in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Central African Republic -- Sri Lanka could be added -- and called each case unique.

  The line-of-the-briefing at the State Department was that seven airstrikes to prevent a genocide is not a bad deal. Indeed.

   Smaller gauge, Inner City Press is still asking how exactly the UN is "coordinating" aid, for example could he say why the UK had aborted an airdrop of aid as reported by BBC?

 OCHA's Dwyer on August 11 made various claims about coordinating then couldn't or wouldn't explain the UK's abortive aid delivery, telling Inner City Press to ask the UK or BBC. What kind of coordination is this?

 The US, and then the UN's Ban Ki-moon, welcomed “Iraqi President Fuad Massoum for having charged Dr. Haider al-Abbadi,  in accordance with the the Iraqi Constitution, with the formation of a new government.” This while Nouri al-Maliki deployed tanks - which US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf insisted cannot be called a coup. But some do.

  On August 10 the  US State Department's deputy spokesperson Harf announced:

"In light of the security situation in Iraq and as part of the State Department’s ongoing review of staffing requirements there, the process of adjusting our staffing to fit those requirements has continued to evolve. Our goal is to address our own security needs as we carry out our national security mission of supporting the government and people of Iraq as it addresses urgent political and security matters.

"Therefore, today we have temporarily relocated a limited number of staff from Consulate Erbil to our Consulate in Basrah and to the Iraq support unit in Amman.  Our staffing in Baghdad remains the same.  While security concerns remain extremely high in Iraq, this limited move today is out of an abundance of caution rather than any one specific threat.

"Overall, a majority of our personnel in Erbil remain in place and our Consulate is fully equipped to carry out its national security mission.  The U.S. Consulate in Erbil remains open and will continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders – supporting them as they strengthen Iraq’s constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats."

 In terms of Iraq's elected leaders, Maliki has refused to leave and there are tanks on the move in Baghdad. The US's Harf added:

"The United States is closely monitoring the situation in Iraq and is in touch with Iraqi leaders. The United States fully supports President Fuad Masum in his role as guarantor of the Iraqi Constitution. We reaffirm our support for a process to select a Prime Minister who can represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people by building a national consensus and governing in an inclusive manner. We reject any effort to achieve outcomes through coercion or manipulation of the constitutional or judicial process.

"The United States stands ready to support a new and inclusive government, particularly in the fight against ISIL. We believe such a new and inclusive government is the best way to unify the country against ISIL, and to enlist the support of other countries in the region and international community."

  After the US on August 8 announced completion of its second air-drop of aid to Sinjar Mountain in Iraq, President Barack Obama on August 9 said “I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks."

   Obama said that the Iraq military when far from Baghdad did not have the commitment to hold ground against an aggressive adversary: that is, ISIL.  So, Obama said, would move to "play some offense."

  So, the question arises, who else is going to play? Now, after the US was given first shot, France is mulling arming the Kurds.

 On August 9 Inner City Press was reliably and for then exclusively informed that Iraq had written to the UN Security Council invite any and all UN member states to deliver aid to areas controlled by Islamic State, with Iraq's agreement. [On August 9, the UK mission confirmed this to Inner City Press.]

  And so the question arises -- what about aid from Iran? From Russia? From China -- which has told the Press of $4.9 million in medical supplies to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone for ebola?

  At the US State Department's briefing on August 8, much as made of Iraq inviting the US, and only the US, in . But now, would others including Iran be welcome? Shouldn't they be?

  Aid is needed, and not only in Sinjar. We'll have more on this.

(Given the numbers cited on Sinjar mountain, Inner City Press couldn't help wondering about 2009 when 40,000 people were cornered & killed in Sri Lanka.)

On August 7 after 6:30 pm, Council president for August Mark Lyall Grant emerged to read a press statement, followed by question and answer stakeouts by French deputy Alexis Lamek and Iraqi Permanent Representative Alhakim.

  Inner City Press asked Lamek if France will take military action. While we'll await the French mission's transcript, Lamek eventually said "that needs to be done indeed."

  There is a draft resolution in the works, with UK Ambassador Lyall Grant saying that a new draft would be circulated later on August 7. The Security Council left on August 8 for a week-long trip to Europe and South Sudan and, it is now widely reported, Somalia. Now what?

On July 25 after the UN Security Council met behind closed doors with the Syria Commission of Inquiry's Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and Karen AbuZayd, the two Commissioners and UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant came to take questions from the press.

  Karen AbuZayd spoke of abuses not only by the government but also, in response to a question, by what she called the Islamic State of Iraq and [Syria], ISIL.

  Inner City Press when called on asked her about ISIS' takeover of border crossing, renaming as Islamic State and attacks on non-Sunni Muslims in Mosul.

In this context, what did she think of hers or another Commission of Inquiry covering the group's abuses in Iraq as well? Bigger picture, does the state by state focus of the UN make sense in this context?

  AbuZayd said she prefers not to call them “Islamic State,” it give them too much credit. Pinheiro resisted any talk of expanding his Commission's mandate -- Syria is enough.

  A US state media asked about foreign fighters, including pro-government; Pinheiro said that Hezbollah is the only group of foreign fighters he's away of.

 This is strange, given that the UN's own recent report on Syria humanitarian access notes that “on June 29, the Islamic State issued a statement announcing that the Caliphate included people from the following nationalities: Caucasian [sic], Indian, Chinese, Shami (Levantine), Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, North African, American, French, German, and Australians." Watch this site.

Footnote: one wanted to ask AbuZayd about developments -- to put it mildly -- in Gaza, where she used to head UNRWA, but this too was deemed beyond the scope of the stakeout. Another former Gaza hand, John Ging, has been speaking on the topic this week. Perhaps we'll hear from Ms. AbuZayd. We'll be watching.


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