Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Iraqis may have all but retaken the Mosul dam; The Guard deploys to Ferguson; Ukrainian forces claim they've snagged a key rebel town; Bob Work to Asia; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

As U.S. airstrikes in Iraq continue, Iraqis say they have wrested the Mosul dam back from Islamic State militants. The massive dam on the Tigris, captured by Islamic State militants weeks ago, had served, not only as a potent symbol of the militants' battlefield effectiveness as they charged across northern Iraq, but represented a real threat under IS control: blowing up the already fragile dam could send a 60-foot torrent roaring downriver. This morning, Kurdish forces say they have recaptured the dam from the IS. Way too soon (and probably inaccurate anyway) to say this is a turning point, but if the reports are true it would show at least a partial turning of the tide and be welcome news to American policymakers whose fingers are crossed that the U.S. bombing campaign, in conjunction with support to the Iraqis, is having an effect. The next 24 hours will reveal to what degree this is true - and what it means.

Reuters this morning: "...A Twitter account belonging to a media organization that supports the Islamic State said the dam was still under the group's full control. On Sunday, a Mosul dam engineer who has been in close contact with Islamic State militants holding the dam said they had been placing roadside bombs along roads leading in and out of the complex in anticipation of an assault." More here.

U.S. airstrikes help the Kurds gain against IS.  Meantime, after the revelation that the humanitarian crisis atop Mount Sinjar wasn't nearly as bad as feared, there had been some question what that would mean for the U.S. airstrike campaign in Iraq. But recent days have shown that there is no immediate plan to suspend airstrike operations, all in an attempt to help the peshmerga and Iraqi forces to reverse the situation against the IS. But the conflict in Iraq, as yet un-branded by the Obama administration, has brought strange bedfellows. The WSJ's Joe Parkinson: "U.S. jets, drones and bombers pounded Sunni insurgent positions on Sunday to ease the siege of the strategically vital Mosul Dam, as Washington and its Kurdish allies turned up pressure on the radical group Islamic State.

"...Hundreds of guerrillas linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, have this weekend fought in a broader Kurdish offensive against the insurgents under U.S. air cover. They joined the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region's Peshmerga forces around the regional capital of Erbil and the Sinjar mountains, where thousands from the Yazidi religious minority have been trapped by the rapid advance of Islamic State fighters. It wasn't immediately clear whether PKK guerrillas were assisting in the Kurdish ground offensive launched Sunday in conjunction with U.S. air attacks to retake the Mosul Dam.

"...Last week, PKK commanders said they met U.S. advisers dropped on Mount Sinjar to assess the humanitarian crisis there and had ‘constructive discussions.' A U.S. defense official couldn't confirm whether the meeting took place and stressed in response to reports that the PKK was fighting alongside the Peshmerga that ‘it's hard to tell from Washington who's on the front line in a Kurdish-Iraqi fight.'" More here.

Interviews with witnesses show the Kurds, now getting weapons and air support from Washington, left the Yazidis defenseless earlier this month. Christine van den Toorn for the Daily Beast, here.

Obama needs to go to war with the Islamic State, or it will go to war with America. Washington Institute's Jim Jeffrey for FP: "...Well, another American war in Iraq is exactly what is going to happen, sooner or later. The president has already slowed the Islamic State's (IS) momentum with his strikes near Erbil, but it is not clear if this is a one-time response or the beginning of a campaign to first contain, then destroy the jihadist force. The sooner we begin such a campaign, the less complicated our involvement will be, the greater our chances of success, and the more likely IS's forces can be defeated before they tear apart the region completely -- and directly threaten America." More here.

Iraq must sort out its politics to have any hope of routing the Islamic State. The Economist's analysis, here.

China's strategic dilemma in the Middle East - and Iraq. The FT's Nick Buter, here.

Prowess: U.K.'s David Cameron argues for a protracted mission in Iraq, meaning months, even if it doesn't mean ground troops. Cameron: "Yes we should use all the assets we have - our diplomacy, our political relationships, our aid, the military prowess and expertise we have to help others - as part of a strategy to put pressure on Islamic State and make sure this terrorist organisation is properly addressed and it cannot cause mayhem on our own streets." The Guardian's Nicholas Watt, here.

A bit more on Iraq below.

Welcome to Monday'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 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 National Guard has been called up in Ferguson, Missouri. Reuters' Ellen Wulfhorst this morning: "Missouri's governor said on Monday he would send the National Guard into the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson to restore calm after authorities forcibly dispersed a crowd protesting last week's fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by police. Gov. Jay Nixon signed an executive order deploying the U.S. state militia, saying demonstrators had thrown Molotov cocktails and shot at police as well as a civilian, a description of the night's events diverging widely from some eyewitness accounts." More here.

Bob Work is headed to Asia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work left yesterday for swing through Asia, with stops across the Pacific. Today, he's in Hawaii, where he is visiting U.S. Pacific Command; he'll head to Guam, then South Korea, then Japan, and be back sometime about Aug. 24. More details to follow.

Staffers on a plane:  Kelly Magsamen, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Security Affairs, Cara Abercrombie, principal director for East Asia, Luke Collin, Country Director for Japan, Matthew Squeri, Country Director for Korea, Paul Vosti, Director for Guam Policy, Greg Grant, special assistant and speechwriter, and Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, public affairs officer.

The U.S. and South Korea begin a military drill - despite the threats from the North. AP: "... The beginning of the "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" exercise, which will last until August 29, came as Pope Francis led a mass for inter-reconciliation in Seoul at the end of the five-day trip to South Korea. Although largely played out on computers, the drill involves tens of thousands of South Korean and US soldiers and is aimed at testing combat readiness for a North Korean invasion." More here.

A source in Seoul tells Yonhap news agency that North Korea is launching a new model of tactical rockets. Yonhap: "North Korea has introduced and test-fired new tactical rockets that can pose a threat to South Korea's major military facilities, a military source here said Monday. 'The five short-range projectiles that North Korea fired off last week were found to be novel tactical missiles, according to our analysis jointly with the United States of the North's photo of the rockets,' said the source, asking not to be named." More here.

A defector from North Korea finds his voice - in rap. The WaPo's Anna Fifield in Seoul, here.

The top officer at the oldest American sub base in Groton is retiring. AP's Michael Melia: "...an admiral whose ties to Groton date back to his birth, may become the last flag officer to serve here as his submarine group is eliminated in a Navy streamlining. Rear Adm. Kenneth Perry, a career submarine officer with responsibility for all 23 U.S. attack submarines on the East Coast, is retiring Friday at the same ceremony where his Submarine Group 2 will be formally disestablished." More here.

Ukrainian forces claim to have captured a key rebel town. The NYT's Andrew Kramer: "The Ukrainian military on Sunday moved into the heart of the separatist hub of Luhansk for the first time, officials said, chipping at one of the cornerstones of the pro-Russia rebels' disintegrating virtual state.

"...The claim could not be independently confirmed, though a photograph of the flag and police station was circulating on social media, and the report was consistent with the progress of fighting there going into the weekend. Along with increased Ukrainian pressure on rebel positions in Donetsk, the army's move into Luhansk focused attention on the profound reversal of the separatists' fortunes since they declared independence in April. Interviews across eastern Ukraine portray a rapid breakdown in discipline in the rebel ranks. Many fighters have abandoned their uniforms in favor of civilian clothes, and three senior leaders have left the war zone in recent days." More here.

Putin is nakedly invading Ukraine... Writing for FP, Michael Weiss asks, "why won't anybody say anything?" Weiss's BLUF: "...So the foreigners have now retired (or been retired), just as Russia nakedly dispatches columns of armored vehicles into Ukraine, and stages a piece of pseudo-humanitarian theater to legitimate a more open form of warfare. This is win-win for Putin: If Ukraine declares war on Russia, he gets to ride in to save his faltering rebellion. If it doesn't, he keeps waging deniable "incursions" to send the rebels heavy machinery.

"There's a Russian chess term that explains what's happening: mnogohodovka. It means making multiple moves at once. As ever, Putin is counting on his enemies not realizing this, and being multiple moves behind him." More from Weiss on FP, here.

Sides in Gaza talks dig in as the end to the current ceasefire loom. AP: "Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Egypt-mediated Gaza truce talks hardened their positions Monday ahead of the expiration of a five-day cease-fire, though both sides appear reluctant to return to the deadly all-out fighting that has destroyed large parts of the densely-populated coastal strip.

"...The Gaza blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas militants took control of the strip in 2007, remains the main stumbling block. It has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports. A Palestinian negotiator, Qais Abdul Karim, told The Associated Press that on Sunday, Israel pressed for guarantees that Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza would be disarmed, while the Palestinians demanded an end to the blockade without preconditions." More here.

Former Al-Awsat editor-in-chief Tariq Alhomayed on Nasrallah's communication confusion: "In a long interview, published recently in two parts, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made striking efforts to polish his image. He talked about everything to an interviewer from the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar-whose affiliation to Hezbollah is such that the paper once dedicated a 1,600-word story just to the way he made his speeches or waved his finger. Speaking at length, Nasrallah tried to justify his own, his party's, and Iranian policies in the region. He tried to polish the image of the Assad regime and went as far as saying that the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had been taught in Gulf schools for many years." More here.

NATO-based nuclear weapons are an advantage in a dangerous world. Brent Scowcroft, Stephen Hadley and Franklin Miller on the WaPo's op-ed page this morning: "When NATO's leaders gather in Wales in early September, they will address several issues critical to the alliance, including Russian adventurism in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, members' contribution to collective defense, the adequacy of individual national defense budgets and plans for supporting the people of Afghanistan. In the course of their deliberations on these issues, however, they also should reaffirm the value to the alliance of the continued presence of the modest number of U.S. nuclear bombs in Europe. We believe this is necessary because we are again hearing calls for the United States to unilaterally withdraw its small arsenal of forward- deployed nuclear bombs. Those arguments are shopworn, familiar - and wrong." More here.

The Obama doctrine: What's in, what's out? (hint, limited bombing raids are in, and so are stronger partnerships). Defense News' John Bennett and Paul McLeary: "...Out are the targeted armed drone strikes [Obama] launched in the hundreds during his first term to cripple al-Qaida's core leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and take out top leaders of its splinter groups in Yemen and North Africa. Also out are the kinds of risky - but largely effective - special operations raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

"In are ‘limited' and ‘targeted' uses of American air power, like those Obama has green-lighted in northern Iraq to prevent the Islamic State from slaughtering minority populations. US Central Command's daily updates to journalists indicate American drones aren't taking out Islamic State commanders, but hitting small vehicles by the ones and twos.

"In are shipments of US-made weapons directly to indigenous forces to fight violent Islamic groups, such as Obama has sent to arm Iraq's Kurdish militia.

"Also in: Sending millions of dollars to American allies to fight al-Qaida splinter groups, work the US commander in chief is reluctant for his own troops to do. Obama on Aug. 11 approved $10 million in aid to Paris to assist 20,000 French troops in their counterterrorism operations in northern Africa." More here.

More on Iraq:

While covering the crisis on Mount Sinjar, the NYT veteran foreign correspondent Alissa Rubin was seriously injured in a helicopter crash. From her hospital bed in Istanbul, she dictated this account of what happened for Sunday's paper, here.

Kurdish militants are training hundreds of Yazidis to fight IS. Reuters' Youssef Boudlal: "Kurdish militants have trained hundreds of Yazidi volunteers at several camps inside Syria to fight Islamic State forces in Iraq, a member of the armed Kurdish YPG and a Reuters photographer who visited a training camp said on Sunday. The photographer spend Saturday at the training camp at the Serimli military base in Qamishli, northeastern Syria on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, where he saw 55 Yazidis being trained to fight the Islamic State. Dressed in green military fatigues, young and old men were taught how to use assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades by the Syrian Kurds, sweating in the 40 degree Celsius heat." More here.

 

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 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.

"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.