Tony Blair could face contempt of parliament motion over Iraq war

The Guardian reports: Tony Blair could face a motion of contempt in the House of Commons over the 2003 invasion of Iraq – a motion that Jeremy Corbyn has said he would probably support.

The Conservative MP David Davis, backed by the SNP’s Alex Salmond, has said he will present on Thursday the motion accusing the former prime minister of misleading parliament. MPs could debate the issue before the summer if it is accepted by the Commons Speaker, John Bercow.

Sir John Chilcot said in his long-awaited report on the Iraq invasion that the legal basis for the war was reached in a way that was “far from satisfactory”, but he did not explicitly say the war was illegal.

Davis told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the motion would say Blair held the house in contempt over the 2003 invasion. He said that if his motion was accepted by Bercow it could be debated before parliament’s summer recess.

Davis said: “It’s a bit like contempt of court, essentially by deceit. If you look just at the debate alone, on five different grounds the house was misled – three in terms of the weapons of mass destruction, one in terms of the UN votes were going, and one in terms of the threat, the risks. He might have done one of those accidentally, but five?”

Salmond said he believed Corbyn’s support would mean the motion had enough cross-party support. “No parliament worth its salt tolerates being misled,” Scotland’s former first minister told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.

He said Blair’s promise to George Bush that he would be “with you, whatever” meant Blair had been “saying one thing to George W Bush in private, and a totally different thing to parliament and people in public”. He said Blair’s actions were “a parliamentary crime, and it’s time for parliament to deliver the verdict”. [Continue reading…]

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Take it from a whistleblower: Chilcot’s jigsaw puzzle is missing a few pieces

Katharine Gun writes: Following the damning Chilcot report, much will be said about the decision to go to war in Iraq. But one thing will be missing: the information I leaked in the runup to the war. It won’t get an airing because I was never questioned or asked to participate in the Chilcot inquiry.

Back in early 2003, Tony Blair was keen to secure UN backing for a resolution that would authorise the use of force against Iraq. I was a linguist and analyst at GCHQ when, on 31 Jan 2003, I, along with dozens of others in GCHQ, received an email from a senior official at the National Security Agency. It said the agency was “mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN security council (UNSC) members”, and that it wanted “the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises”.

In other words, the US planned to use intercepted communications of the security council delegates. The focus of the “surge” was principally directed at the six swing nations then on the UNSC: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan. The Chilcot report has eliminated any doubt that the goal of the war was regime change by military means. But that is what many people already suspected in 2003.

I was furious when I read that email and leaked it. Soon afterwards, when the Observer ran a front-page story: “US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war”, I confessed to the leak and was arrested on suspicion of the breach of section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. I pleaded not guilty and, assisted by Liberty and Ben Emmerson QC, offered a defence of necessity – in other words, a breach of the law in order to prevent imminent loss of human life. This defence had not and, to my knowledge, has still not, been tested in a court of law.

I believed that on receiving the email, UK parliamentary members might question the urgency and motives of the war hawks, and demand further deliberations and scrutiny. I thought it might delay or perhaps even halt the march towards a war that would devastate Iraqi lives and infrastructure already crushed by a decade of unrelenting sanctions. A war that would send UK and US service men and women into harm’s way, leaving hundreds of them dead, disfigured and traumatised. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It couldn’t, for now we know via Chilcot that Blair promised George W Bush he would be “with him, whatever”. [Continue reading…]

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Chilcot condemns Blair’s behaviour, but declines to accuse him of lying

By Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

Seven years after it was commissioned and 13 years after the Iraq War began, the Iraq Inquiry’s report on Britain’s part in the invasion has been published – and the fallout has begun.

The headlines are already an excoriating verdict on Tony Blair’s actions before, during, and after the invasion: Crushing Verdict on Blair and the Iraq War, Iraq Invasion “Not Last Resort”. And yet, in a most British way, an upper limit has still been imposed on the criticism, first and foremost by Sir John Chilcot and his committee.

Faced with the politics as well as the evidence – dare anyone put Blair in a position to face war crimes charges, or even dare to accuse him of abusing his power? – Chilcot steered clear of the L-word.

In fact, the word “lie” does not appear once in the Executive Summary. The only time that “lying” is used refers not to Blair, but to Saddam Hussein: “When Iraq denied that it had retained any WMD capabilities, the UK Government accused it of lying.” Nowhere does the report invoke a more colourful, if politer, formulation of the conclusion: that the intelligence for the invasion was “sexed up” on the orders of the prime minister’s office.

As David Cameron said of the report after its release: “Deliberate deceit? I can’t find a reference to it.”

So how does Chilcot manage to pull off this balancing act, going just far enough in the criticism to chide Blair while not opening up the full extent of the former prime minister’s actions?

[Read more…]

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The view of Chilcot from Iraq as it still reels from the upheaval unleashed by the war

The Guardian reports: Across the Iraqi capital, there is little sense that the long-delayed Chilcot report into Britain’s decision to go to war will change anything. Thirteen years after the invasion, the country is still reeling from the upheaval unleashed by the war. What was envisaged by planners in London and Washington to be a seamless transition from dictatorship to democracy has proved to be anything but.

A tussle for control of post-Saddam Iraq has barely relented, and continues to ravage the country’s finances, communities and social fabric. Citizens say the relentless grind has become a “forever war” that could rumble on over decades, ensuring that communities torn apart by sectarianism remain at odds for generations.

“Nothing Britain could say or do can address this, or make up for it,” said Safa Gilbert, a Christian who returned to her home city on Monday from exile in Lebanon. “Even if they wanted to help, they did not. And all they needed to do is understand the society first.”

Up the road from the cemetery, Saleh Mehdi Saleh was engraving tombstones for Sunni Muslims. He plied his trade throughout the invasion, then the eight-year occupation and the five years of chaos that followed. In that time he lost three brothers, four nephews and a sister to violence. He also carved the epitaphs for thousands more and seemed numbed by his unique perspective on Iraq’s suffering.

“This was a deliberate mistake,” he said of the decision to invade.

Like many in Iraq, Saleh would not accept Tony Blair’s claim that the war was planned in order to liberate Iraq from the tyranny of despotism. “They intended this,” he countered. “Bush and Blair conspired to destroy the most ancient civilisation in the world. They targeted us because we are rich in prophets and holy men. The beginning of creation was in Iraq and the end of creation will be here as well.

“They did not take away Saddam Hussein for the benefit of Iraqis. Britain was seeking revenge because it was driven out in 1921. There is now absolute authority for Shias to kill Sunnis in the name of the state.” [Continue reading…]

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Unconditional commitment to war in Iraq: ‘I will be with you whatever,’ Blair told Bush

The Associated Press reports: Letters published by the U.K.’s Iraq War Inquiry show that then-Prime Minister Tony Blair assured U.S. President George W. Bush of his support for regime change in Iraq eight months before the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003.

The report by retired civil servant John Chilcot offered a sweeping condemnation of Britain’s preparations for the war and its aftermath. The newly published documents offer one side of the vital relationship between Bush and Blair — Blair’s letters to Bush are published, but Bush’s responses are not.

In a six-page “Secret Personal” memo to Bush written July 28, 2002, Blair says he would do “whatever” with regards to removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain from power. Blair says toppling Saddam is “the right thing to do” adding that the important question is “not when, but how.”

At the time, Blair was telling the British public and Parliament that no decision to go to war against Iraq had been made.

“I will be with you whatever,” Blair wrote to his U.S. counterpart. [Continue reading…]

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Tony Blair demonstrates once again how he took Britain to war in Iraq

Anne Perkins writes: Prime ministers blamed for catastrophic diplomatic failure tend to go quietly to their country houses to grow roses. Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, paralysed by fear of the cost of war then blamed for failing to rearm in the 1930s, Anthony Eden for the lying deception of Suez in the 1950s, retreated entirely from public life.

In contrast, Tony Blair, although no longer the representative of the Middle East quartet, has a sports foundation, a faith foundation, an Africa governance initiative, a climate change initiative, and of course Tony Blair Associates, whose earnings fund them all.

The criticisms of the Chilcot report were familiar to him from the privileged access given months ago so that he could challenge the conclusions. They had been trawled over by him and, no doubt, his lawyers. Thus, soon after Chilcot had made his statement, at about the time Rose Gentle was accusing him of murdering her son at the press conference for the families, Blair’s office was ready with a rebuttal, insisting the report had exonerated him of all charges of falsification, deception and a secret war pact with George W Bush.

A couple of hours later, in the mid-afternoon, Blair himself launched his press conference with an expression of responsibility for the Iraq war, for which he felt “more sorrow and regret and apology … than you can ever believe”. He looked, and sounded, utterly stricken.

It feels cheap at such a time to doubt someone’s sincerity. But I have seen him look stricken before – and like millions of other voters, I don’t trust him any more. [Continue reading…]

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Chilcot’s judgment is utterly damning — but it’s still not justice

George Monbiot writes: Little is more corrosive of democracy than impunity. When politicians do terrible things and suffer no consequences, people lose trust in both politics and justice. They see them, correctly, as instruments deployed by the strong against the weak.

Since the first world war, no British prime minister has done anything as terrible as Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq. This unprovoked war caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the mutilation of hundreds of thousands more. It flung the whole region into chaos, which has been skillfully exploited by terror groups. Today, three million people in Iraq are internally displaced, and an estimated 10 million need humanitarian assistance.

Yet Blair, the co-author of these crimes, whose lethal combination of appalling judgment and tremendous powers of persuasion made the Iraq war possible, saunters the world, picking up prizes and massive fees, regally granting interviews, cloaked in a forcefield of denial and legal impunity. If this is what politics looks like, is it any wonder that so many people have given up on it?

The crucial issue – the legality of the war – was, of course, beyond Sir John Chilcot’s remit. A government whose members were complicit in the matter under investigation (Gordon Brown financed and supported the Iraq war) defined his terms of reference. This is a fundamental flaw in the way inquiries are established in this country: it’s as if a defendant in a criminal case were able to appoint his own judge, choose the charge on which he is to be tried and have the hearing conducted in his own home. [Continue reading…]

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I governed in Iraq, and saw the lack of postwar planning first-hand

Emma Sky writes: Although I opposed the Iraq war, I went on to serve in Iraq longer than any other British military or civilian official. When I testified before the Iraq inquiry on 14 January 2011, I explained how in 2003 I had responded to the government’s request for volunteers to administer Iraq for three months before we handed the country back to the Iraqis.

I felt I had useful skills to contribute, after a decade in Palestine working on capacity building and conflict mediation. And I did not want the only westerner Iraqis would meet to be a man with a gun.

Before I went out to Iraq I was not briefed, and had no idea what my job was going to be. I received a phone call from someone in the British government telling me to make my way to RAF Brize Norton, jump on a military plane and fly to Basra, where I would be met by someone carrying a sign with my name on it and taken to the nearest hotel.

It sounded plausible. It was June 2003. The invasion was three months previous. The war was apparently over. I assumed the British government knew what it was doing – it had just not told me. So I followed the instructions. But I arrived in Basra airport to find no one expecting me, no sign with my name. [Continue reading…]

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Tony Blair took Britain to war in 2003 — but most of Fleet Street marched with him

By John Jewell, Cardiff University

When, in October 2015, Tony Blair apologised for the use of “wrong” intelligence in the run up to the 2003 Iraq war, his contrition was qualified. Speaking to Fareed Zakaria on CNN, the former prime minister also said:

I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.

Blair’s belated regret for how events transpired cut little ice with the British press. Writing in The Guardian, Roy Greenslade expertly discussed editorial responses which ranged from the scathing: “Blair’s weasel words insult Iraq war dead” in the Daily Mail – to the rather more considered. The Independent, which had offered qualified support for the invasion of Iraq, stated that the apology represented progress in coming to some sort of understanding about that ill-starred adventure and its longer-term consequences.

[Read more…]

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‘Saddam has gone, and we have one thousand Saddams now’

Jeremy Bowen reports: Many people I have spoken to have already made up their minds about the impact of the invasion on Iraq. One of these is Kadhim al-Jabbouri, a man who became a symbol of the Iraqi peoples’ rejection and hatred of Saddam Hussein.

On 9 April 2003, the American spearhead reached central Baghdad. Hours before they arrived, Kadhim, who was a champion weightlifter, decided to bring down the big bronze statue of Saddam Hussein that stood on a plinth in Firdous Square.

Kadhim owned a popular motorcycle shop and was a Harley-Davidson expert. For a while he fixed Saddam’s bikes, but after the regime executed 14 members of his family he refused any more work. The regime’s response to his effrontery was to put him in jail for two years on trumped-up charges.

Kadhim is a survivor. In prison, he started a gym and a weight-lifting club, and was eventually released in one of Saddam’s periodic amnesties.

But on the morning of 9 April, Kadhim wanted his own personal moment of liberation and revenge. He took his sledgehammer and began to swing it at the plinth beneath the towering bronze dictator.

Journalists came out of the Palestine Hotel on the square and started broadcasting and taking pictures. Kadhim says their presence protected him from Saddam’s secret policemen, who melted away as the sound of American guns came closer.

When the Americans arrived they looped a steel cable round the bronze Saddam’s head and used a winch to help Kadhim finish the job. It all happened live on international TV. The image of furious and delighted Iraqis slapping the fallen statue with their shoes went around the world.

Kadhim said his story was told to President George W Bush in the Oval Office. But he now wishes he had left his sledgehammer at home.

Kadhim, like many Iraqis, blames the invaders for starting a chain of events that destroyed the country. He longs for the certainties and stability of Saddam’s time.

First, he says, he realised it was not going to be liberation, but occupation. Then he hated the corruption, mismanagement and violence in the new Iraq. Most of all he despises Iraq’s new leaders.

“Saddam has gone, and we have one thousand Saddams now,” he says. “It wasn’t like this under Saddam. There was a system. There were ways. We didn’t like him, but he was better than those people.” [Continue reading…]

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As PM orders removal of British-made fake bomb detectors, Iraqis say ‘corruption is the greatest threat we face’

The Guardian reports: For the past nine years, Iraq’s security forces have tried to stop car bombs with a British-made bomb detector wand that was long ago proven to be fake. A day after a car bomb killed at least 149 people in central Baghdad, the country’s prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, has demanded their withdrawal.

After the single deadliest attack in Iraq this year, Abadi also ordered a renewed corruption investigation into the sale of the devices from 2007-10, which cost Iraq more than £53m and netted the Somerset businessman James McCormick enormous profits, as well as a 10-year jail sentence for fraud.

The cost to the Iraqi public will remain incalculable: the vast majority of the bombs that have killed and maimed at least 4,000 people since 2007 have been driven straight past police or soldiers using the devices at checkpoints.

Their withdrawal follows years of insistence by interior ministry officials, who bought the wands at vastly inflated fees, that they were effective in sensing odours from explosive components.

Near the scene of Sunday’s bomb attack in the suburb of Karrada, which was claimed by Islamic State, Iraqis reacted with derision at the ban, which follows years of complaints from citizens and warnings by both the British government and US military that the wands have no scientific value.

“This should have happened a long time ago,” said Sheikh Qadhim al-Sayyed, standing near the scorched remains of a shopping district in Karrada, just south of the Tigris River. “There isn’t a person in the country who thinks they work. No one here is responsible for what they do. It should be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Corruption is the greatest threat we face.” [Continue reading…]

On JANUARY 23, 2010, the New York Times reported: The director of a British company that supplies bomb detectors to Iraq has been arrested on fraud charges, and the export of the devices has been banned, British government officials confirmed Saturday.

Iraqi officials reacted with fury to the news, noting a series of horrific bombings in the past six months despite the widespread use of the bomb detectors at hundreds of checkpoints in the capital.

“This company not only caused grave and massive losses of funds, but it has caused grave and massive losses of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, by the hundreds and thousands, from attacks that we thought we were immune to because we have this device,” said Ammar Tuma, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee.

But the Ministry of the Interior has not withdrawn the device from duty, and police officers continue to use them. [Continue reading…]

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The graves of the Marines I lost

J. Kael Weston writes: Created after the Civil War, Memorial Day is an odd holiday, at once a solemn commemoration of those killed in war and a day of beach outings and backyard barbecues celebrating the start of summer. Rarely does it serve as a time to reflect on the policies that led to all those deaths.

While in Iraq and Afghanistan, I witnessed military officers and enlisted soldiers, at all ranks, being held accountable for their decisions. I have yet to see that happen with Washington policy makers who, far removed from the battlefields, benefit from our collective amnesia about past military and foreign policy failures.

The commander in chief and the senior military brass should leave the manicured grounds of Arlington and visit some of those places where most of America’s war dead are buried: farm towns, immigrant neighborhoods and working-class suburbs. At a time when fewer and fewer of us have any real ties to the military, how better to remind the nation that our troops are not just faceless volunteers, but people who live next door? [Continue reading…]

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The citizen soldier

Phil Klay writes: I can’t say that I joined the military because of 9/11. Not exactly. By the time I got around to it the main U.S. military effort had shifted to Iraq, a war I’d supported though one which I never associated with al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden. But without 9/11, we might not have been at war there, and if we hadn’t been at war, I wouldn’t have joined.

It was a strange time to make the decision, or at least, it seemed strange to many of my classmates and professors. I raised my hand and swore my oath of office on May 11, 2005. It was a year and a half after Saddam Hussein’s capture. The weapons of mass destruction had not been found. The insurgency was growing. It wasn’t just the wisdom of the invasion that was in doubt, but also the competence of the policymakers. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had been proven wrong about almost every major post-invasion decision, from troop levels to post-war reconstruction funds. Anybody paying close attention could tell that Iraq was spiraling into chaos, and the once jubilant public mood about our involvement in the war, with over 70 percent of Americans in 2003 nodding along in approval, was souring. But the potential for failure, and the horrific cost in terms of human lives that failure would entail, only underscored for me why I should do my part. This was my grand cause, my test of citizenship.

The highly professional all-volunteer force I joined, though, wouldn’t have fit with the Founding Fathers’ conception of citizen-soldiers. They distrusted standing armies: Alexander Hamilton thought Congress should vote every two years “upon the propriety of keeping a military force on foot”; James Madison claimed “armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people”; and Thomas Jefferson suggested the Greeks and Romans were wise “to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army.”

They wanted to rely on “the people,” not on professionals. According to the historian Thomas Flexner, at the outset of the Revolutionary War George Washington had grounded his military thinking on the notion that “his virtuous citizen-soldiers would prove in combat superior, or at least equal, to the hireling invaders.” This was an understandably attractive belief for a group of rebellious colonists with little military experience. The historian David McCullough tells us that the average American Continental soldier viewed the British troops as “hardened, battle-scarred veterans, the sweepings of the London and Liverpool slums, debtors, drunks, common criminals and the like, who had been bullied and beaten into mindless obedience.” [Continue reading…]

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The pendulum of American power

Having been exercised with the imperial hubris of the neoconservatives, American power thereby overextended was inevitably going to swing in the opposite direction. What was not inevitable was that an administration when forced to deal with current events would cling so persistently to the past.

Through the frequent use of a number of catch phrases — “we need to look forward,” his promise “to end the mindset that got us into war,” and so forth — Barack Obama presented his administration as one that would unshackle the U.S. from the misadventures of his predecessor.

Nevertheless, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s closest adviser helping him craft this message, has a mindset in 2016 that shows no signs of having evolved in any significant way since he was on the 2008 campaign trail. As one of the lead authors of the 2006 Iraq Study Group report, Rhodes became and remains fixated on his notion of Iraq.

In a New York Times magazine profile of Rhodes, David Samuels writes:

What has interested me most about watching him and his cohort in the White House over the past seven years, I tell him, is the evolution of their ability to get comfortable with tragedy. I am thinking specifically about Syria, I add, where more than 450,000 people have been slaughtered.

“Yeah, I admit very much to that reality,” he says. “There’s a numbing element to Syria in particular. But I will tell you this,” he continues. “I profoundly do not believe that the United States could make things better in Syria by being there. And we have an evidentiary record of what happens when we’re there — nearly a decade in Iraq.”

Iraq is his one-word answer to any and all criticism. I was against the Iraq war from the beginning, I tell Rhodes, so I understand why he perpetually returns to it. I also understand why Obama pulled the plug on America’s engagement with the Middle East, I say, but it was also true as a result that more people are dying there on his watch than died during the Bush presidency, even if very few of them are Americans. What I don’t understand is why, if America is getting out of the Middle East, we are apparently spending so much time and energy trying to strong-arm Syrian rebels into surrendering to the dictator who murdered their families, or why it is so important for Iran to maintain its supply lines to Hezbollah. He mutters something about John Kerry, and then goes off the record, to suggest, in effect, that the world of the Sunni Arabs that the American establishment built has collapsed. The buck stops with the establishment, not with Obama, who was left to clean up their mess.

In this regard — “their ability to get comfortable with tragedy” — Rhodes and Obama mirror mainstream America which views the mess in the Middle East as being beyond America’s power to repair.

The fact that the U.S. bears a major portion of the blame in precipitating the region’s unraveling, is perversely presented as the reason the U.S. should now limit its involvement.

What, it’s reasonable to ask, does Iraq actually represent from this vantage point?

Wasted American lives? Wasted U.S. dollars? The destructive effect of American imperial power?

Is Iraq just a prism through which Americans look at America?

Is Iraq merely America’s shadow, or is there room for Iraqis anywhere in this picture?

What Samuel’s describes as this administration’s willingness to accept tragedy can also be seen as the required measure of indifference that makes it possible to look the other way.

The desire to make things better in Syria and Iraq is not contingent solely on an assessment of U.S. capabilities; it is more importantly a reflection of the degree to which Syrian and Iraqi lives matter to Americans.

The evidentiary record clearly shows that the scale of this tragedy all too accurately reflects the breadth of American indifference.

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How the ‘Green Zone’ helped destroy Iraq

Emma Sky writes: While the United States has been fixated on the Islamic State and the liberation of Mosul, the attention of ordinary Iraqis has been on the political unraveling of their own country. This culminated on Saturday when hundreds of protesters breached the U.S.-installed “Green Zone” at the heart of Baghdad for the first time and stormed the Iraqi parliament while Iraqi security forces stood back and watched. The demonstrators, supporters of radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, toppled blast walls, sat in the vacated seats of the parliamentarians who had fled and shouted out demands for the government to be replaced. A state of emergency was declared.

This incident should be a jarring alarm bell to Washington, which can no longer ignore the disintegration of the post-Saddam system it put in place 13 years ago. The sad reality is that Iraq has become ungovernable, more a state of militias than a state of institutions. As long as that state of affairs continues, even a weakened Islamic State, which has been losing territory and support, will find a home in Iraq, drawing on Sunni fears of corruption and incompetence by the Shia-dominated government.

The greatest threat to Iraq thus comes not from the Islamic State but from broken politics, catastrophic corruption, and mismanagement. Indeed there is a symbiotic relationship between terrorists and corrupt politicians: They feed off each other and justify each other’s existence. The post-2003 system of parceling out ministries to political parties has created a kleptocratic political class that lives in comfort in the Green Zone, detached from the long-suffering population, which still lacks basic services. There is no translation into Arabic of the term kleptocracy. But judging by the protesters chanting “you are all thieves,” they know exactly what it means. [Continue reading…]

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With Iraq mired in turmoil, some call for partition

The New York Times reports: With tens of thousands of protesters marching in the streets of Baghdad to demand changes in government, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, appeared before Parliament this week hoping to speed the process by introducing a slate of new ministers. He was greeted by lawmakers who tossed water bottles at him, banged on tables and chanted for his ouster.

“This session is illegal!” one of them shouted.

Leaving his squabbling opponents behind, Mr. Abadi moved to another meeting room, where supportive lawmakers declared a quorum and approved several new ministers — technocrats, not party apparatchiks — as a step to end sectarian politics and the corruption and patronage that support it.

But, like so much else in the Iraqi government, the effort fell short, with only a handful of new ministers installed and several major ministries, including oil, foreign and finance, remaining in limbo. A new session of Parliament on Thursday was canceled.

Almost two years after the Islamic State swept through northern Iraq, forcing the Obama administration to re-engage in a conflict it had celebrated as complete, Iraq’s political system is barely functioning, as the chaotic scenes in Parliament this week demonstrated. [Continue reading…]

Kevin Knodell writes: Iraqi security forces backed by the U.S.-led international coalition have launched a campaign to dislodge Islamic State militants from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

It’s an ambitious operation involving multiple factions — and one that could determine the country’s fate as it struggles to eject ISIS and hold itself together amid sectarian bickering.

For even as the anti-ISIS coalition wages this decisive battle, Kurdish troops are clashing with Shia militiamen in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Fighting erupted on the night of April 23 after Shia militiamen allegedly threw a grenade into the house of a Peshmerga commander in the town. Several Peshmerga and Shia fighters have died in the ensuing clashes.

Leaders from the two sides worked out a truce, but the peace is fragile. Such internal fighting is becoming a nearly monthly occurrence as the two groups in the town — ostensibly allies in the battle against Islamic State — fail to find common ground aside from their mutual enemy.

It’s a sobering reminder that even if the alliance manages to dislodge the Islamic State from Mosul, Iraq will continue to suffer sectarian violence. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s last chance to end the ‘forever war’

Jennifer Daskal writes: The United States is fighting an unauthorized war. Over the past 19 months, American forces have launched more than 8,800 strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and hit the group’s affiliate in Libya. The United States continues aerial assaults against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, is going after militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and killed more than 150 suspected Shabab fighters in Somalia just last month.

This war isn’t limited to drone strikes or aerial bombings. It includes Special Operations forces in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan — and possibly elsewhere. This past weekend, President Obama announced that he would send an additional 250 such troops to Syria.

The primary legal authority for these strikes and deployments comes from the 60-word Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed almost a decade and a half ago. In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush asked for an open-ended authorization to fight all future acts of terrorism. Wisely, Congress rejected that request, though it did give the president authority to use force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda, and those that harbored them, the Taliban.

Today, the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden has been killed and the other key participants in the Sept. 11 attacks are either locked up or dead. But the old authorization lives on. [Continue reading…]

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What cyberwar against ISIS should look like

Fred Kaplan writes: Pentagon officials have publicly said, in recent weeks, that they’re hitting ISIS not only with bullets and bombs but also with cyberoffensive operations. “We are dropping cyberbombs,” Robert Work, deputy secretary of defense, is quoted as proclaiming in Monday’s New York Times. Similar, if less colorful, statements have been made by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and,a week ago, President Obama.

What does it mean? And what effects are these new weapons having on the overall war? After dropping his “cyberbombs” bombshell, Work said, “We have never done that before.” But in fact, the United States has done it before, against Iraqi insurgents, including al-Qaida fighters, back in 2007. And, as I discovered while researching my book Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, the effects were devastating.

Standard accounts have credited President George W. Bush’s troop surge and Gen. David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy for turning the Iraq conflict in the coalition’s favor in 2007. These accounts aren’t wrong, as far as they go, but they leave out another crucial factor — cyberoffensive warfare, as conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command and the National Security Agency. [Continue reading…]

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