Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Support for Maliki crumbles; Pentagon sends 130 more troops into Iraq; Building a coalition of the willing; Is Putin's convoy a Trojan Horse?; Williams was a true friend to the troops; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Support for Maliki is crumbling and that may open the door for broader coalition support for an effort to counter the Islamic State in Iraq - and for greater U.S. intervention. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, ensconced inside Baghdad's Green Zone, is watching as his Iranian backers, political leaders and even his own military are backing away. Maliki appears to have no choice but to go, but in the coming days the question will become how he'll do it, under what terms and how ugly it will be.

FP's Yochi Dreazen on Maliki's diminishing support: "Washington and Tehran don't see eye to eye on many things, but they paved the way for Nouri al-Maliki to become Iraq's prime minister eight years ago and have helped him keep the job ever since. With Iran now joining the United States in calling for Maliki's departure, the embattled Iraqi leader faces a historic choice: peacefully hand the reins to a successor or buck his closest allies and use force to stay in power.

"Maliki was an accidental prime minister from the start, with both Washington and Tehran seeing him, in essence, as the best out of an uninspiring field of Shiite candidates for Iraq's top job. Once in office, Maliki skillfully satisfied both of his patrons, impressing many in the United States by using his military to crush one of Iraq's most powerful anti-government militias while simultaneously building goodwill in Iran by consolidating power in Shiite hands at the expense of the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities." More here.

Maliki won't go easily. AP this hour: [Maliki] said Wednesday he will not relinquish power until a federal court rules on what he called a 'constitutional violation' by the president to replace him with a member of his own party. The embattled premier has grown increasingly isolated, with Iraqi politicians and much of the international community lining up behind Haider al-Abadi, a fellow member of his Shiite Dawa party tasked by the president with forming a new government that can unite the country in the face of an onslaught by Sunni militants.

Maliki in his weekly televised address to the nation: "Holding on (to the premiership) is an ethical and patriotic duty to defend the rights of voters...The insistence on this until the end is to protect the state." More here.

Late yesterday, the Pentagon announced that it was sending an additional 130 troops into Iraq. Amid a continuing series of humanitarian airdrops for the Iraqis stuck atop Mount Sinjar, the U.S. is contemplating a rescue mission for those civilians, which number in the tens of thousands. That prompted the Defense Department to announce that it had sent an additional 130 military personnel - including Marines and U.S. Special Forces - to "assess the scope of the humanitarian mission" and essentially plan such an operation.

From a defense official: "These forces will not be engaged in a combat role.  They will work closely with representatives from the U.S. Department of State and USAID to coordinate plans with international partners and non-government organizations committed to helping the Yazidi people."

The WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum: "The proposal is still under development and hasn't been approved by [Obama.] U.S. officials said the rescue mission is one of many options the U.S. military is weighing after dropping food and water to dying refugees over the past six days. 'People are looking at ways to do something more than just drop water and supplies,' one senior U.S. official said. 'You can only do that for so long.'" More on that Page Oner here.

And although President Barack Obama has pledged no "boots on the ground," sending these forces into Iraq to do such planning could put them in direct contact with fighters from the Islamic State, or IS.

The number of U.S. troops in Iraq is now nearing 1,000 if not more. Before yesterday's announcement of the additional troops, there were more than 800 known military personnel inside Iraq, with additional forces and other personnel the U.S. hasn't acknowledged publicly. Now, there are about 1,000 troops on the books.

Meantime, the U.S. is scrambling to build a coalition of the willing. FP's Lubold, John Hudson and David Francis: "In his multiple press briefings since authorizing airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq, President Barack Obama has yet to make a vocal public case for allies to join the fight. But as the White House sets the stage for a drawn-out campaign against the Islamic State in northern Iraq, the president is quietly asking the leaders of other nations to stand with him. Obama and members of his cabinet, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have been holding a flurry of phone calls and visits to drum up support for help in Iraq, not only for the humanitarian mission but, more quietly, for the military's lethal one.

"...In the debate in Britain, Cameron took fire from members of his own Conservative Party for his reluctance to intervene. "It's immoral that the only thing we are doing is dropping food and water and leaving these people in the firing line of slaughter," said Conservative MP Conor Burns on Monday.

"The German and French governments have expressed support for U.S. airstrikes as the only way to stop IS and open humanitarian corridors for the Yazidi community trapped on Mount Sinjar. So far, neither government has committed to direct, lethal assistance for the effort. On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on members of the European Union to return from vacation to discuss arming the Kurds.

Jim Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe when an international coalition was assembled for airstrikes in Libya in 2011 and now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts, to Situation Report: "NATO should recognize that the overflow of two or three different civil wars in Syria and Iraq should ultimately mean violent extremists coming back to Europe, and that means a threat to the alliance...As much as we don't want to be involved in this, we have a job to do here." Read our bit about how the U.S. is building a coalition of the willing here.

Welcome to Wednesday's tardy edition of Situation Report, where we had a few more problems in the cockpit - the $%&$ computer wouldn't turn on, seriously! Apologies for the lateness this morning. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Name that op! Yesterday we noted that the current U.S. military airstrike mission over northern Iraq did not have a name - which is odd since the military loves to name its missions. Over the transom, we have begun to hear from folks who want to name it.

Not sure how excited anyone else will be about this, but of course we'll accept other noms at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. This is not meant to be some kind of jingoistic endeavor, by the way, but we find it remarkable that the military hasn't come up with anything as of yet.  A name will undoubtedly come shortly, we're sure, but again - to name something is to define it, and the Obama administration isn't quite there yet. In the meanwhile, this one from reader Brian Brunner:  "Operation ByeSIS." Another from CrazyCrazyLarry, "Operation Dessert Bombing," which we assume is a play on words in some way.

Good point! We used odd wording to introduce a headline yesterday for a Bloomberg piece about the number of sorties flying over Iraq: "The U.S. is almost flying 100 sorties over Iraq each day, Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio reports." That prompted one reader to rightly write: "Enjoy reading your reports, but in all my years on the military, I never almost flew on a mission. :)"

Awkward: HRC calls Obama to clarify her comments. USA Today's David Jackson: "Hillary Rodham Clinton called President Obama on Tuesday to try and clear the air over some foreign policy criticism the former secretary of State made in a recent magazine article, aides said. 'Secretary Clinton was proud to serve with President Obama,' said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. 'She was proud to be his partner in the project of restoring American leadership and advancing America's interests and values in a fast changing world.'" More here.

Is Putin's convoy into Ukraine a Trojan horse? Hard to say. Here's Michael Weiss for FP: "A convoy of 280 Russian Kamaz military vehicles -- all painted a nice, soothing white, absent any license plates, and brandishing flags of the Red Cross -- are en route from the Moscow suburbs to a relatively peaceful border crossing just north of Kharkiv, Ukraine. If the Russian state-controlled media is to be believed, they are collectively transporting around 2,000 tons of baby food, grain, bottled water, sleeping bags, sugar, and medicine to a war-ravaged nation next door.

"Of course, if you believe the Russian media, eastern Ukraine's desperate state of affairs has nothing to do with the fact that for the last several months Moscow has underwritten, encouraged, and armed disparate factions of pro-Russian separatists -- many of them Russian nationals, intelligence agents, and even soldiers posting to Instagram photos of themselves driving Russian anti-aircraft missile systems." Read the rest of his story here.

Ukraine says Russian convoy won't be let in, Reuters this hour, here.

Public interest groups are calling for John Brennan's head over at CIA. FP's Andrew Weiner: "A coalition of public service groups released a letter Tuesday calling for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan in the ongoing fallout of revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency snooped on Senate staffers working on a report on President George W. Bush-era interrogation practices. The letter to President Barack Obama was signed by 20 groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, Public Citizen, and the Project on Government Oversight. The groups' call for Brennan to step down echoes Congressional calls that came in late July from Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, both Democrats." More here.

Palestinians are mulling the Egyptian proposal for a Gaza truce. AP's Mohammed Daraghmeh in Cairo: "...Since the truce went into effect Sunday, Israel has halted military operations in the coastal territory and Gaza militants have stopped firing rockets. The cease-fire was meant to give the two sides time to negotiate a more sustainable truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory. A member of the Palestinian delegation to Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo said Wednesday that his team was considering an Egyptian proposal, which was tabled on Tuesday. Egyptian mediators have been were ferrying between the Palestinians and their Israeli counterparts in an attempt overcome the differences between the sides." More here.

Hagel changes the hair policy for military personnel. Military Times' Andrew Tilghman: "Dreadlocks, cornrows, twisted braids and other hairstyles popular among African American women will be more accepted across the military after a forcewide review of hairstyle policies prompted several changes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. The three-month review came after a spate of complaints that service-level grooming policies were racially biased against black women who choose to wear their hair naturally curly rather than use heat or chemicals to straighten it." More here.

There are some folks who think the Obama administration is cutting too deep when it comes to nukes. A new report published by the Belfer Center of Harvard's Kennedy School is out called "Cutting Too Deep: The Obama Administration's Proposals for Nuclear Security Spending Reductions," by Matthew Bunn, Nickolas Roth and William Tobey, here. The NYT piece by them on their bit, here.

There's been a leadership shake-up at United Launch Alliance. Defense News' Aaron Mehta: " The United Launch Alliance has a new leader for the first time in its nine-year history. Michael Gass, who has led the company as president and CEO since its founding in 2006, will be stepping down, the company announced Tuesday. His replacement is Tory Bruno, most recently vice president and general manager of Strategic and Missile Defense Systems at Lockheed Martin. Bruno's appointment is effective immediately, although a company announcement notes Gass will "work collaboratively to ensure a smooth leadership transition and continued commitment to mission success" through the end of the year." More here.

Adrian Cronauer, the inspiration for the main character in Good Morning Vietnam, remembers Robin Williams. Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "...Cronauer, who left the Air Force as a sergeant in 1966, said he has no issues with Williams' performance in the movie. 'It was never intended to be a point-by point accurate biography,' he told Military Times on Tuesday. 'It was intended to be a piece of entertainment, and it certainly was that. It was nominated for an Academy Award and you don't get much better than that.' In an interview on Tuesday, Cronauer reflected on his memories of the late actor and the movie that made Williams a bona fide movie star." Click here for the Q&A with Schogol and Cronauer, who inspired the character Williams played.

How Williams was a "true friend" to the troops, travelling to 13 countries as part of six USO tours: Frank Thorpe of the USO: "It's an understatement to say he's the Bob Hope of our generation." Read the WSJ bit, here.

Williams fought demons for years but always showed up for work on time and never missed a line; the NYT, here.

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Pentagon to arm the Kurds; Are the pesh up to it?; Mayville: not trying to give anyone the wrong idea; AI accuses Obama Pentagon of war crimes in Afg.; Operation No Name; New DBB members; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Pentagon is going to arm the Kurdish peshmerga directly. The Obama administration on Monday made clear that U.S. airstrikes against the Islamist militants sweeping toward the capital of Iraq's quasi-independent Kurdistan were meant to blunt their advance while giving the Kurds' vaunted Peshmerga fighters, who have not easily dispatched with the Sunni guerillas, time to regroup. But as the Islamic State gains ground, the question is whether these storied Kurdish fighters are up to the task.

"...Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon would arm the Kurds directly -- assistance they've been requesting since the Islamic State turned its sights on Kurdistan -- with AK-47s, mortars, and ammunition. Before, all assistance flowed through Baghdad's Shiite-led government. When the Sunni fighters overran the Iraqi security forces earlier this summer, the government troops abandoned much of their equipment, including U.S.-provided tanks. The Islamic State then seized it. A Pentagon official wouldn't rule out providing anti-tank weapons and other materiel to the pesh. "The U.S. government is coordinating with the government of Iraq to help fill these [weapons] requests as quickly as possible," a State Department official told Situation Report in an email.

But at the same time, the Pentagon took pains yesterday to point out that the current airstrike operation over northern Iraq is only having a "very temporary" effect on ISIS. The airstrikes in and around Erbil and Sinjar Mountain have given ISIS pause - but hasn't deterred them in any way, a senior defense official said yesterday. It's hard to read between the lines of what the Pentagon is saying other than it's calling a spade a spade. So arming the peshmerga at the same time sends a strong signal to Iraq that squares with what the administration has been saying: it's on you.

Here's the key quote from Lt. Gen. William Mayville, the Pentagon's director of operations for the Joint Staff, who we don't think has ever briefed before but who wasn't so cautious that he wasn't candid: "In no way do I want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by" the Islamic State, Mayville told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday. More here.

Is there a Kurdish comeback? For years the Kurdish peshmerga were seen as a premier fighting force, but pesh fighters seemed to fold over recent weeks when they were confronted by ISIS. That might be because they enjoyed a great reputation for years, but actually hadn't fought hard in a decade, only to confront a "battle hardened" enemy in ISIS, which had been fighting next door in Syria, Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told Situation Report. "The conventional wisdom was outdated," Aliriza said of the Peshmerga's reputation as unbeatable. "We were all looking at the Peshmerga as the brave fighters of the mountain, and now we have more evidence that they've folded."

Mohammad Salih for FP on the fight ahead for the pesh: "...Abdullah and other Kurdish commanders say that despite recent defeats, they can stop the Islamic State. The successful campaign to take back Makhmour and Gwer may signal that Kurds are able to push the militants back. The Peshmerga are especially counting on U.S. assistance these days. Their morale got a boost after U.S. F/A-18 aircraft bombed Islamic State positions on Friday, Aug. 8. Repeated U.S. airstrikes since have targeted Islamic State positions and convoys around Erbil and in western Nineveh. In parallel, Kurds have been strengthening their positions, and Kurdish reinforcements are coming in from across the region to help." More here.

The U.S. is almost flying 100 sorties over Iraq each day, Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio reports: "...The flights have averaged 90 a day since Aug. 9, including as many as 30 by Air Force refueling tankers, according to the official, who asked not to be identified discussing the data. The sorties are mostly, but not exclusively, over northern Iraq. Since Aug. 8, U.S. aircraft have been attacking mortar positions, mobile artillery, convoy vehicles and armored personnel carriers under President Barack Obama's authorization for airstrikes against the militant Islamic State to protect religious minorities and American personnel in Erbil, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government." More here.

Remember when every little military mission had a name? This one ain't got one. In the early days of the Iraq was in 2003, there was Operation This and Operation That, always kinda crazy names like Operation Iron Bullet or Desert Scorpion or Desert Spartan Scorpion or even Sidewinder, White House or Tapeworm. But despite days of airstrikes over northern Iraq, the U.S. military has not named this mission, we're told. But when you name a problem, you begin to understand it, or so the thinking goes. Wiki-list of U.S. military operations since 2002 in Iraq, here.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report where the passing of Robin Williams makes the world a great bit sadder place today. Williams, unlike many other celebrities, was more than willing to entertain troops and to bring his great kind of crazy to warzones, and we're just sorry for the loss and for the depth of his own sorrow that apparently brought him to this.

If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

The U.K. - America's wingman when it comes to military affairs - faces pressure to enter the fray. The WaPo's Griff Witte and Karla Adam: "British Prime Minister David Cameron was under growing domestic pressure Monday to join the U.S. military intervention in Iraq as his government said it would continue to limit its involvement to humanitarian aid. Cameron has been adamant that the British armed forces stay out of the fight in Iraq and allow the U.S. military to go it alone more than a decade after the United States and Britain jointly led the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"But with reports of atrocities by Islamic State extremists continuing to emerge from northern Iraq's Kurdistan region, the prime minister faced demands from both his political right and left Monday to recall Parliament from its summer recess and consider a military response to protect Iraqi minorities." More here.

So Washington wants Maliki totally out, but if he refuses to go, what now? FP's Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson: "The Obama administration is welcoming the nomination of a new Iraqi prime minister while doing all it can to ease the current one out the door. With Nouri al-Maliki showing no signs of leaving, however, the White House will soon need to decide how hard it's willing to push.

"On a day of high drama and deep uncertainty for both Baghdad and Washington, Iraqi President Fouad Massoum tapped Haider al-Abadi, a prominent Shiite politician who serves as the deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, as the country's prime minister-designate. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden called Abadi to congratulate him and urge him to quickly form a new government of national unity. Obama said the United States was prepared to ramp up its military support for the battered Iraqi military if Abadi struck power-sharing deals with the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities." More here.

With a new prime minister-designate named, the political path is unclear for Maliki. Al Jazeera's Tom Kutsch, here.

Is Maliki opening the gates of hell? National Iraqi News Agency: "The head of the Civic Democratic Alliance, Mithal al- Alusi described Maliki's word last night as implementation for his threats to open the gates of hell. ??Alusi said in a statement to the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / that 'Maliki's attack against the president of the republic and raise a formal complaint against him in the Federal Supreme Court is clear evidence that al-Maliki is carrying out his threat to open the gates of hell if he is not assigned for a third term.' More here.

Iraq needs a new prime minister, by the NYT's editorial board, here.

The Slippery Slope of military intervention, by Micah Zenko for FP: "...The expansion of humanitarian interventions -- beyond what presidents initially claim will be the intended scope and time of military and diplomatic missions -- is completely normal. What is remarkable is how congressional members, media commentators, and citizens are newly surprised each time that this happens. In the near term, humanitarian interventions often save more lives than they cost: The University of Pittsburgh's Taylor Seybolt's 2008 review of 17 U.S.-led interventions found that nine had succeeded in saving lives. But they also potentially contain tremendous downsides -- as recent history demonstrates." More here.

HRC bluntly criticizes Obama's forpol: Hillary is totally going there. Hillary Clinton did that interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic the other day in which she made clear she thought Obama's failure overseas had contributed to the current forpol mess. Today the WaPo put on Page One a story that puts even more focus on the growing rift between the two Dems. The WaPo's Juliet Eilperin: "... n the spring, President Obama articulated a philosophy for avoiding dangerous entaglements overseas that was modest in its ambitions and focused on avoiding mistakes. Don't do stupid things, he said. Now Clinton is offering a blunt retort to that approach, telling an interviewer, 'Great nations need organizing principles - and ‘Don't do stupid stuff' is not an organizing principle.'" Clinton called that more political messaging than Obama's worldview. More here.

Talks in Cairo continue as the truce in Gaza holds for a second day. For now. AP this hour: "...A similar, three-day truce collapsed on Friday when militants resumed rocket fire on Israel after the sides were unable to make any headway in the Egypt-hosted talks. Hamas is seeking an end to an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade of the Gaza Strip while Israel wants Hamas to disarm. The Israeli military said no incidents between the two sides were registered overnight - neither Hamas rocket fire at Israel nor Israeli strikes in Gaza." More here.

So where is the Palestinian Ghandi? Jeff Stein for Newsweek: "Amid every cycle of violence and revenge in Israel over the past 60 years came the cry: "Where's the Palestinian Gandhi?" Not so much today. The answer has been blown away in the smoke and rubble of Gaza, where the idea of nonviolent protest seems as quaint as Peter, Paul and Mary. The Palestinians who preached nonviolence and led peaceful marches, boycotts, mass sit-downs and the like are mostly dead, in jail, marginalized or in exile." More here.

A Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid moved out for eastern Ukraine, but Kiev said it would not allow the vehicles to pass. Reuters this hour: "...Kiev and Western governments warned Moscow against any attempt to turn the operation into a military intervention by stealth in a region facing a humanitarian crisis after four months of warfare.

...Russian media said the column of 280 trucks had left from near Moscow and it would take a couple of days for it to make the 1,000 km (620 mile) journey to Ukraine's eastern regions where rebel fighters seek union with Russia. Western countries believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has whipped up nationalist fervor in Russia through the state-controlled media since annexing Crimea in March, might be spurred to fresh action since separatists in their main redoubt of Donetsk are now encircled by Kiev government forces." Read the rest here. 

The casualty report on the insider attack in Afghanistan that killed Maj. Gen. Harold Greene includes some details on the shooting. The WaPo's Thomas Gibbons-Neff: "... One of Greene's aides, a 31-year-old captain who volunteered for the deployment, was shot multiple times and is paralyzed below the waist. An Army major who has performed 11 years of service and was serving as a public affairs officer was also wounded. Married with two daughters, the major had completed four combat tours, three of them with an infantry unit. An Army captain and a Navy senior master chief were also injured." More here.

Killings rise in Pakistan as militants target police. The NYT's Zia ur-Rehman and Declan Walsh: Karachi's embattled police force recently passed a grim milestone - the killing of its 100th police officer this year, putting the force on track to exceed the 2013 toll of 166 police deaths, which was itself a record. Some killings stemmed from the factors that have roiled Karachi... for decades: ethnic politics, sectarian militancy and old-fashioned criminal gangs. But much of the toll came from the city's newest force for violent chaos, the Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban have been steadily expanding in Karachi for two years, running extortion rackets, killing political rivals and carrying out audacious attacks on prominent targets, including the city airport in June. More here.

A retired Pakistani police officer says elected leaders in Pakistan have gone too far to accommodate the needs of security agencies battling militants. Read Tariq Khosa's bit in Dawn, here.

Amnesty International accuses U.S. and NATO of abuses in Afghanistan. The Daily Beast's Nico Hines under the headline, "Obama's Pentagon Covered Up War Crimes in Afghanistan, [AI] Says." Read that bit here.

Philip Reiner started this week in his new gig. Reiner, who was a senior adviser at the National Security Council for Afghanistan and Pakistan, got a promotion and this week began in a new job as senior director for South Asia at the NSC. Reiner, to friends and colleagues: "First and foremost, I must thank my immediate teammates here at the NSC who continue to selflessly commit an inordinate amount of their lives to these complex and critical national security challenges... Thank you also to all of those who continue to slog away at this grueling problem set across departments and agencies, most particularly those out in the field every day, who together in the end are doing all we can to keep the homeland safe."

The Pentagon announced yesterday the appointment of eight new members to the Defense Business Board led by the board chair, Bobby Stein. The new members include: Taylor Glover, president and CEO, Turner Enterprises, Inc.; Nancy Killefer, former senior partner, McKinsey & Company, Inc.; Kenneth Klepper, former president and CEO, Medco Health Solutions; Shelly Lazarus, chairman emeritus, Ogilvy & Mather; Emil Michael, senior vice president of business, Uber Technologies, Inc.; Hon. Thomas Nides, managing director and vice chairman, Morgan Stanley; Nicholas Pinchuk, chairman and CEO, Snap-on Inc.; Daniel Werfel, director of public sector practice, The Boston Consulting Group. The DBB, the Pentagon said, is conducting a new study to provide recommendations on issues of science and technology, and will next meet Oct. 23. For current members, FYI, click here.