Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Maliki to step down; Administration's Sinjar Surprise; Kerry forced onto commercial flight; Sinclair's PR firm up for an award; Kirby won't do happy dance; and a bit more.


By Gordon Lubold

Maliki to step down in Iraq. For weeks, the Obama administration had been not-so-quietly pushing for a coalition government in Iraq - pinning efforts to reverse the worsening security situation there on that change - and that meant Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would have to go. After a brief period in which it looked as if Maliki could become the new Bashar al-Assad, the recalcitrant Syrian president who refuses to leave office, Maliki saw the writing on the Iraqi wall and agreed to step down. While a positive sign for Iraq, it remains unclear how a new government will translate to security anytime soon. FP's Yochi Dreazen on Maliki's decision: "...Just four days after deploying loyalist troops around Baghdad and signaling that he was prepared to use force to hold onto his premiership, Maliki used an unscheduled appearance on Iraqi state-run television Thursday to announce that he was resigning from the post and handing the reins of power to Haider al-Abadi, the moderate Shiite whom Iraq's president has picked to form a new government. Abadi has 26 days to do so, and officials from the United States and across the Middle East will be watching closely to see if the new premier gives key security posts to Sunni leaders as part of a broader outreach effort to the minority group."

Maliki, on Iraq's state-run television: "I announce before you today, to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government, the withdrawal of my candidacy in favor of brother Dr. Haider al-Abadi." More here.

The top Iraqi cleric backs new premier and calls for unity, Reuters this hour, here.

Meantime, the Sinjar Surprise: why were the estimates of how many Iraqis were stranded on that mountain so off? FP's Kate Brannen and Lubold: "...But then came a surprise: After inserting a small military reconnaissance team atop the mountain, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said late Wednesday that the situation was no longer as bad as anyone thought. There are now only about 5,000 civilians on the mountain, and they are in "better condition than previously believed," according to Hagel's statement. For roughly 2,000 of those civilians, mostly from the minority Yazidi religious sect, Mount Sinjar is home and they do not intend to leave. Now it seems the dire situation has improved and that focus is shifting to refugee camps in Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.

"The question now becomes how the Pentagon's expansive, weeklong surveillance mission over northern Iraq -- as many as 60 manned and unmanned air 'sorties' per day -- apparently gave the United States government highly inaccurate information.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby: "It's very difficult to do nose counts from the air.... I mean, it's just an imperfect science."

Dave Deptula, the former ISR chief for the Air Force: "It's pretty straightforward: You survey the region that you're interested in over a period of time, then you count the number of people who are there... It's not rocket science." Read the rest of Brannen and Lubold's story, here.

And the crisis atop Sinjar so seemed to animate the Obama Administration's efforts there over the last week - now that the crisis is over, what now? Administration officials say they will suspend humanitarian operations for now - launching them once again as needed - and will continue airstrikes as needed. But it remains unclear just how far the administration wants to go in Iraq. As it welcomes a new prime minister, most experts believe the country's security - and that of the region - is still a problem the U.S. can't ignore.

U.S. intelligence officials say the Islamic State is working to establish cells outside of Iraq and Syria. The WaPo's Greg Miller: "The radical Islamist State terrorist group has pushed to establish cells outside Iraq and Syria, including in Europe, as it expands its campaign beyond the Middle East, U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday. The group's efforts to position operatives in Western countries is considered evidence of the al-Qaeda offshoot's determination to mount terrorist plots against the United States and its allies.

"...the officials' characterization of the group represents the clearest indication to date that U.S. counterterrorism analysts consider it a direct and growing threat to the country." More here.

More on Iraq below.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report where our favorite headline this morning, apropos of nothing, comes from the WSJ's Money and Investing section: "Orange is the New Bleak." (It's about shrinking orange crop profits in Florida). 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 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.

"No, I don't think I will," Pentagon Press Secretary Kirby, to reporters yesterday, after he was asked jokingly if he would demonstrate a "happy dance" after saying no one in the Pentagon was dancing or giving each other high-fives because there were fewer refugees on Mount Sinjar. "There's no happy dances here because we think the situation is better there on the mountain. We understand that there continues to be human suffering in Iraq, and we continue to assess and monitor that," he said. Full DoD transcript of yesterday's press briefing on Iraq, India, Asia and a couple other things, here.

Situation Report corrects - Yesterday we included a line from Jim Dubik, the retired Army three-star, in a story about the Obama administration's pledge to keep combat troops out of Iraq. In our haste, we said Dubik used to command troops in Mosul. Of course he didn't. He was the head of the training command in Baghdad (though once, years ago, we travelled with him to Mosul, but that doesn't count). Our apologies for incorrectly identifying his job at the time. That story from yesterday, here.

American weapons for Israel come with strings attached. An analysis in Haaretz with this subhed: "The move to review arms exports to Israel makes it clear that the Americans support Israel's right of self-defense, but not at any price." Read that here.

Meantime, that Russian convoy is being checked, and vehicles amass at the border. Reuters this morning: "Dozens of heavy Russian military vehicles massed on Friday near the border with Ukraine, while Ukrainian border guards crossed the frontier to inspect a huge Russian aid convoy. Kiev has said the humanitarian aid might be used as cover for a Russian military intervention, and has insisted that its forces check the convoy before it moves across the border. Moscow has denied any ulterior motives, but has allowed Ukrainian border guards to enter Russia and look at the caravan of trucks in an area opposite the frontier town of Izvaryne." More here.

An Air Force jet fails, and John Kerry picks up some frequent flyer miles, finally. The WaPo's Anne Gearan: Secretary of State John F. Kerry flew around the world over the past week, zipping hither and yon for nine days on his Air Force jet till the plane broke down Thursday. Kerry was supposed to fly home to Washington from Hawaii early in the morning but instead took a commercial United Airlines flight hours later. The State Department official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record, said an electrical problem with the Air Force Boeing 757 forced it to remain on the ground at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii." Kerry has flown 519,136 miles to 51 countries logging 230 travel days, according to the NYT. Kerry, to staffers, upon learning he'd need to fly home commercially: "Finally, some frequent-flier miles." More here.

The PR firm that represented Jeffrey Sinclair, a.k.a. Poppa Panda Sexy Pants, the disgraced Army one-star, puts itself up for an award. The WaPo's Dan Lamothe: "Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair found himself under the bright lights of the national media after he was charged by Army authorities with forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct and other crimes in 2012... Five months later, a public relations firm that assisted the general in the case is in contention for a prestigious award. MWW, of East Rutherford, N.J., nominated itself in the crisis management category in the Platinum PR Awards, an MWW official confirmed. Doing so highlights their work in a case that confounded some legal experts who believe Sinclair got off lightly." More here.

Rob Richards, the Marine scout sniper who was in the controversial "urination video" and the center of that controversy, was found dead in his home in North Carolina. Marine Corps Times' Gina Harkins, here.

Shots fired at Imran Khan during protests in Pakistan, Reuters this morning, here.

Pakistani protest dusts off concerns about the role of the Pakistani military. The WSJ's Saeed Shah in Islamabad: "Thousands of protesters led by Pakistani cricketer-turned- politician Imran Khan set out on Thursday to march on Islamabad, aiming to bring down a government they accuse of stealing last year's election. The looming confrontation has renewed the political role of the military, casting some doubt on the strength of democratic institutions in a nuclear-armed nation that has seen several coups and has been ruled by the army for half its history.

"Mr. Khan's so-called Freedom March began on Thursday afternoon from the eastern city of Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab and the power base for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The march is being carried out in cars and buses. Mr. Khan's following was bolstered by cleric Tahir ul Qadri, who is leading thousands in a separate such march on the road from Lahore to Islamabad." Read the rest here.

Cybersecurity remains a gray area for NATO. U.S. News & World Report's Tom Risen reports, here.

Amid Ferguson criticism, the Pentagon denies "militarizing" domestic police. USNews& Report's Paul Shinkman, here.

A Congressman wants to curb military surplus program. AP's Matthew Daly this morning: "Images of police outfitted in paramilitary gear clashing with protesters in suburban St. Louis after the weekend shooting death of unarmed black teenager is giving new impetus to efforts to rein in a Pentagon program that provides free machine guns and other surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., says he plans to introduce legislation when Congress returns in September to curb what he describes as an increasing militarization of police agencies across the country." More here.

And more on Iraq...

Jim Jones, writing in the WSJ, about coulda shoulda woulda in Iraq - and what the U.S., Iraq and the international community must do now. Jones: "...Washington bears some blame for not taking timely action that could have limited this summer's chaos. The Obama administration could have maintained a limited military training presence in Iraq after 2011; could have acted in Syria last year when the chemical weapons "red line" was crossed; and could have insisted that Mr. Maliki arm the Kurds. But what matters more is what the U.S. can do now.

Then Jones, after prescribing specific recommendations, writes: "The crisis in Iraq is several orders of magnitude worse than those we faced in 1991 or at any time since the 2003 invasion. The U.S.-and our allies in Europe and the Middle East-must help Prime Minister-designate Abadi save Iraq. The consequences of failure are too great to opt out. For the Iraqi people who hope for peace, for all the U.S. service personnel who made such heroic sacrifices in Iraq over the past 23 years, and for U.S. national security, this is the right thing to do." More here.

The WaPo's editors on the editorial page (their BLUF): "If the Islamic State and the Assad regime can be defeated or at least placed on the defensive, political solutions that address the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq and Syria, Kurdish aspirations for self-determination and the protection of minority groups will come more easily. The idea that Iraqis will somehow solve these problems independently of Syria and with minimal U.S. support is a convenient but dangerous illusion." More here.

British spy Gertrude Bell's legacy in Iraq is unfulfilled. "Miss Bell" is credited with creating modern Iraq after World War I. But her vision has yet to be realized. The NYT's Tim Arango: "...Today, though, her legacy, which has always been fragile, is at risk of being undone amid the renewed sectarian violence that has already seen Sunni militants effectively erase the border she drew between Iraq and Syria and raised the possibility of Iraq fracturing into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish territories. Seen through the experience of Iraq's tumultuous recent past, the decisions made by Miss Bell, as she is still affectionately referred to by Iraqis, and others working for the British and French to reorder the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire collapsed nearly a century ago, hold cautionary lessons for those seeking to bring stability or seek advantage in the region now." More here.



Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: As a rescue mission looks "unlikely," a decision for Obama; Will the Kurds Take K Street?; Former DARPA chief didn't do the right thing; Why standards matter when careers end; Operation Name that Op continues; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Chuck Hagel says the assessment the U.S. military did on Mount Sinjar shows things aren't as bad as feared and a rescue mission is now "unlikely." After weeks of speculation that as many as 40,000 Iraqi civilians, including minority Yazidis, were starving and thirsty and children were dying, a U.S. recon team dropped onto the mountain yesterday and reported back. And in just that one day, their assessment, that there were far fewer stranded Iraqis, the ones there were in relatively good shape - meant the dramatic rescue mission that seemed to be under consideration probably wouldn't happen.

That assessment is a big deal because it will force a bigger decision by Obama. The trapped civilians had animated the administration and had really been the motivating factor behind this past week's military operations - both humanitarian and airstrike. Indeed, for a president who wanted to get out and stay out of Iraq, the humanitarian operations had been a political fig leaf. And that had helped to lure a growing list of international partners to join the U.S. But now that the assessment concludes there's far much less to worry about on that mountain, the President confronts a much bigger decision - what to do about the brutal advance of the Islamic State, which a senior officer at the Pentagon said this week in no way had been broken by the recent series of airstrikes.

Indeed, the militant threat gets a modest response. The WaPo's Greg Jaffe and Greg Miller: Senior U.S. officials describe the threat posed by the Islamic State in chilling terms, but have mounted a decidedly modest military campaign to check its advance through northern Iraq.

"The radical Islamist organization has attracted more fighters, controls more territory, and has access to a larger stream of money than al-Qaeda did before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to U.S. officials and terrorism experts. Its refusal to rein in its brand of rampant violence accounts in part for its break from the better-known terrorist group.

"...So far, though, the Obama administration's response to the group's blitzkrieg through northern Iraq has been defined primarily by the limits it has placed on the U.S. military's intervention." More here.

The NYT trumpeted the significance of the assessment with the Page One headline, "Pentagon Says Militants' Siege in Iraq is Over," suggesting the administration had reached perhaps a broader policy conclusion than others might see. The WaPo had this Page Oner: "N. Iraq rescue mission less likely - shaping of strategy to beat back Islamic State continues," and the WSJ, which had trumpeted on Page One the day before the notion of an emergency rescue operation put inside the paper: "U.S. Says Refugee Rescue Unlikely."

Meantime, Obama's pledge to have no boots on the ground increasingly becomes one of semantics. FP's Lubold: "President Barack Obama has pledged repeatedly not to put "combat boots on the ground" in Iraq. But a growing air campaign, combined with an increasingly dire need to address the situation atop Mount Sinjar, means it will be increasingly difficult for him to keep his promise.

"As the United States expands its air campaign in northern Iraq -- which included a new round of strikes Wednesday -- the Pentagon will almost certainly need to deploy American "spotters" to help guide precision munitions to their targets. Those forces would operate in areas close to IS positions, leaving them potentially vulnerable to attack.

"James Dubik, a retired Army three-star general who commanded U.S. forces in Mosul, said it's hard to square the administration's words when it comes to defining the U.S. mission there without accepting that U.S. forces are in combat. "Pretty narrow splitting of hairs," he said in an email." More here.

AP this morning: Iraqi security forces, militants, clash west of Baghdad, here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. 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 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.

CNAS' Richard Fontaine and Michele Flournoy look at U.S. forpol in the National Interest under the headline: "America: Beware the Siren Song of Disengagement," here.

And CSIS' Clark Murdock, Kath Hicks, Thomas Karako, Sam Brannen, Ryan Crotty and John Schaus look at "the next level questions on Iraq", here.

Today at 12:15 at the New America Foundation, an event on "What is Happening in Iraq." Event deets here.

Also today, at the Heritage Foundation at 2pm, another event on "An Assessment of Obama's Strategy," here.

Meantime, the Kurds are masters of influence. Will they take K Street this time around? FP's Kate Brannen, citing the Sunday show appearance this past weekend of Gen. Jim Jones and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad: "...To those who follow the issue closely, Jones and Khalilzad's TV appearance was a sign of the Kurds' sophisticated and well-funded influence machine in Washington kicking into high gear. Both Jones and Khalilzad are longtime supporters of Iraqi Kurdistan who have also been involved in business dealings with the region.

"With the Islamic State advancing and embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki locked in a political showdown with his rivals, advocates for the Kurds are pushing for greater autonomy from Baghdad, as well as for larger amounts of direct U.S. military support for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces struggling to hold the line against militants from the Islamic State."

"To spread their message in Washington, Kurdish leaders have long maintained relationships with members of the media, the think tank and academic communities, politicians on Capitol Hill, and officials in and out of government. For the last several years, the Kurds have also retained a slew of lobbying firms, including Patton Boggs, to work on their behalf. The Kurdish Regional Government, which runs the Kurds' proto-state in northern Iraq, spends at least $1 million a year on these efforts, according to documents filed with the Justice Department." Read the rest here.

Bedfellows: Iranians and the U.S. aid Kurdish fighters, by the WSJ's Nour Malas and Joe Parkinson, here.

Brett McGurk is Washington's man in Baghdad. The WSJ's Jay Solmon and Matt Bradley: "...As the administration's point-man on Iraq, the 41-year-old diplomat has been leading the U.S. pivot on Mr. Maliki and facing down the challenges the Obama administration has in helping stabilize a country in political turmoil and fighting a growing threat from the militants calling themselves the Islamic State. Mr. McGurk, despite his midlevel title of deputy assistant secretary of state, has played a central role in crafting U.S. policy in Iraq for a decade. He is now serving as the White House's leading interlocutor to build ties with Mr. Maliki's successor and forge a unified front in battling Islamic State militants." More here.

Operation Name that Op! continues. The U.S. military mission in Iraq, which includes more than a thousand U.S. personnel, dozens of airstrikes and, to date, thousands of gallons of water and bundles of food, still doesn't have a name, even though the military almost always names even the most ridiculous operations even when they are tiny in scope. The lack of a name isn't just a frivolous observation. The fact that Obama's Pentagon hasn't named it seems to reflect Obama's reluctance at conducting humanitarian and airstrike operations in the first place; the military's non-branding campaign when it comes to this keeps it generic, diminishes its significance in the hopes it will all go away.

Still, there is some fun to be had out there. SitRep readers played with the idea of naming the operation, and the world renowned "Doctrine Man" started a contest - an "Order of the Blue Falcon" coin goes to the winner. And there may already be an un/official winner in Doctrine Man's contest - Operation Caliph-fornication - but we're still checking for full confirmation. There are a ton of nominations on Doctrine Man's Facebook page here.

Here's a history of naming military operations provided to Situation Report from the Pentagon, here.

Here's a sample of the many received in Situation Report's inbox yesterday or overheard about the Pentagon: Operation Enduring Clusterfuck; Operation Ruined Vacation; Operation ISIL (Incremental Sort of Intervention, Ltd.); Operation Provide Comfort 2; Operation Here We Go Again; Operation Doubtfire; Operation NoRedline; Operation Mountaintop; Operation Yaz; Operation CrISIS; Operation Desert Redemption; Operation SinJar; Operation Save the Catholics; Operation Whitesnake (Here I Go Again); Operation Third Time's the Charm;  Operation Hey, Isn't that my Humvee?; Operation Cold Comfort; Operation Reluctant Thunder; Operation Again? Really? That last one had this note: "Sorry it's snarky but somewhere post-WW II we forgot both why we should fight wars and how to do it properly and that frustrates me to no end."

Read Kristina Wong's post on The Hill blog, in which the Pentagon's Col. Steve Warren argues for crowdsourcing the name, here.

The DOD Inspector General finds that the former DARPA chief violated Pentagon ethics rules when she discussed products with defense officials made by the company she founded. FP's Nicole Duran: "...The Defense Department's Office of Inspector General concluded that Regina Dugan, the former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), essentially promoted her former defense contracting company to Pentagon colleagues in violation of the department's ethics code while leading the agency, according to the report, which was dated April 9, 2013, but not released until Wednesday." More here.

Israel tries to spin success from the war in Gaza, by Defense News' Barbara Opall-Rome, in Tel Aviv, here.

Obama stifled Hillary's Syria plans for years, The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin reports, here.

The burial service for Maj. Gen. Harold Greene is at Arlington this afternoon.

Yesterday, Greene was remembered by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and others at a memorial service. Military Times' Michelle Tan: "...A standing room-only crowd gathered in the Pentagon auditorium for the memorial ceremony, which was marked with tears but also laughter as Greene was remembered for his sharp wit, his love of the Boston Red Sox and his outsized personality.

"...Greene often walked the offices and hallways where he worked, and he knew everyone by name, said [Greene's Chief of Staff Col. Ken Rodgers], who first met Greene in 1996 and has worked with him five times since then. 'If he made eye contact with someone, he'd talk to them,' Rodgers said. Rodgers did not go with Greene on the Aug. 5 visit to The Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul. When news of the attack, which also left 15 troops wounded, got back to the headquarters, Rodgers said he was in shock." More here. 

Michael Isikoff about the (count 'em) six soldiers who are shopping around a Bowe Bergdahl book and movie proposal. Isikoff: "...A draft of their book proposal, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, depicts Bergdahl as a 'premeditated' deserter who 'put all of our lives in danger' - and possibly aided the Taliban - when he disappeared from his observation post in eastern Afghanistan in the early morning hours of June 30, 2009." For Yahoo News, here.

More remembrances of Robin Williams: The NYT's Thom Shanker wrote yesterday about how Williams opposed the war but supported the troops - a key distinction that average Americans grapple with all the time. Read Shanker's post at The Times' At War blog, here.

Remember the letter FP's Tom Ricks published from a Major Slider about how he was unceremoniously asked to leave the Army? Well we heard from a friend to Situation Report after we ran Tom's piece who said Slider's letter made his blood boil. Yesterday, Tom ran a letter that reader wrote in response to Slider's bit under the headline: "A Marine Officer Who Also Had a Career Stopper Responds To Major Slider's Letter." Former Marine officer Lloyd Freeman: "...I am a Marine officer and I too received a 'black mark' earlier in my career due to my failure to uphold the high moral code of the Corps. I knew my mistake would mean I would not be assigned to select posts nor could I expect to be selected to command, and I wasn't. However, unlike Major Slider, I felt remorse only for the mistake I made and I harbored no ill will towards the Marine Corps, whose high standards I had failed to live up to."

"...Like Major Slider, I failed my service, but unlike Major Slider, I don't expect my service to compromise its standards because I could not live up to them." Read Freeman's letter to Tom, reposted on Best Defense by permission, as well as Major Slider's original post, here.