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Tags: Iraq

More U.S. Troops to Iraq, but Don’t Call It ‘Mission Creep’!



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President Obama, June 19:

I think we always have to guard against mission creep, so let me repeat what I’ve said in the past: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.

The news this morning:

. . . Another 100 troops, who had been on standby in the Middle East since mid-June, also will move into Baghdad to provide security and logistics support.

That raises to about 470 the number of U.S. troops providing security in Baghdad.

Those forces are separate from the teams of up to 300 U.S. military advisers that Obama authorized for deployment to Iraq earlier in June. Of those 300, about 180 had arrived as of Monday, the Pentagon said. They are assessing the state of Iraqi security forces and coordinating with Iraqi authorities.

The U.S. also has a permanent group of about 100 military personnel in the Office of Security Cooperation, at the U.S. Embassy, to coordinate U.S. military sales.

That adds up to about 870 U.S. military personnel in Iraq.

How many times can the president send another couple hundred troops before it starts becoming “mission creep”?

UPDATE: Another thought — when President Obama declares, “American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again,” has ISIS gotten that memo? What happens if (when?) ISIS starts taking shots at our embassy or other Americans in the area?

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq

John Kerry: ‘Nobody’ Expeted Mosul to Fall

Via Fox News:

Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with Fox News, claimed “nobody expected” Iraqi security forces to be decisively driven out by Sunni militants, as they were earlier this month in Mosul — despite reports that Kurdish officials warned Washington and London well in advance about this threat. 

Kerry spoke with Fox News on Tuesday in the middle of a multi-country swing through the Middle East and Europe as he tries to calm the sectarian crisis in Iraq. 

Pressed on whether the takeover of Mosul and other northern cities and towns by Sunni militants marks an intelligence failure, Kerry said nobody could have predicted Iraqi security forces would have deserted. 

“We don’t have people embedded in those units, and so obviously nobody knew that. I think everybody in Iraq was surprised. People were surprised everywhere,” he said. . .

By "nobody" he means everybody but the United States maybe. - Greg Pollowitz

Tags: ISIS , Obama , Iraq

Rand Paul Defends President Obama From Dick Cheney



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Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) defended President Obama from former vice president Dick Cheney’s critiques of his policy in Iraq, saying that he faults Cheney and the rest of President George W. Bush’s team for launching an invasion of Iraq that ultimately strengthened Iran.

“What’s going on now, I don’t blame on President Obama,” Paul told NBC’s David Gregory. “But I do blame the Iraq War on the chaos that is in the Middle East. I also blame those who were for the Iraq war for emboldening Iran.”

Paul explained that “Iran is much more of a threat because of the Iraq war than they were before. Before, there was a standoff between Sunnis and Shiites; now, there is Iranian hegemony throughout the region.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) made a similar point while dismissing Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestion that the United States could collaborate with Iran on a response to the militants now storming Iraq. Pelosi, noting that Saddam Hussein’s regime was a counterweight to Iran in the region, said that Iran is now ”free and clear because we took out their main check.”

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly raked Cheney over the coals for the mistakes made in the lead-up and during the Iraq War.

“But time and time again, history has proven that you got it wrong as well in Iraq, sir,” Kelly told him.  “You said there were no doubts Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  You said we would greeted as liberators.  You said the Iraq insurgency was in the last throes back in 2005.  And you said that after our intervention, extremists would have to, quote, ‘rethink their strategy of Jihad.’  Now with almost a trillion dollars spent there with 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say, you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?” 

Cheney responded that no one, in the lead-up to the invasion, doubted that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. “We had a situation where if we — after 9/11, we were concerned about a follow-up  attack, it would involve not just airline tickets and box cutters as the weapons, but rather something far deadlier, perhaps even a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Paul has hit Cheney over his support for the Iraq War before.  ”I think there’s at least the appearance and the chance of a conflict of interest,” Paul said of Cheney’s work with Halliburton. ”And in his case, there was a policy of thinking it was a bad idea to invade Baghdad — then going to work in private for a contractor, coming back and now saying it was good. I don’t know what his thought process is, and I’m not trying to say. I’m just saying there’s an appearance that there could be a conflict of interest.”

The comment was made in 2009, but didn’t receive much attention until Mother Jones published the video in April, at which point Paul emphasized that he didn’t believe Cheney supported the war in order to benefit his old company.

“The point I was trying to make is one similar to one Eisenhower made,” Paul told Business Insider. ”He said that the military-industrial complex — beware, because then they could be influencing policy by people who make money off government contracts. I wasn’t intending really to impugn his personal motives. I think he is a patriot as much as anyone else, and wants what’s best for the country. I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t question his motives.”

Charles Krauthammer explains how Obama bears responsibility for failing to secure a status of forces agreement that would have helped prevent the current instability by leaving United States forces in Iraq.

“David Petraeus had won the war. Obama’s one task was to conclude a status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) to solidify the gains. By Obama’s own admission — in the case he’s now making for a status-of-forces agreement with Afghanistan — such agreements are necessary ‘because after all the sacrifices we’ve made, we want to preserve the gains’ achieved by war,” Krauthammer wrote. “Which is what made his failure to do so in Iraq so disastrous. His excuse was his inability to get immunity for U.S. soldiers. Nonsense. Bush had worked out a compromise in his 2008 SOFA, as we have done with allies everywhere. The real problem was Obama’s reluctance to maintain any significant presence in Iraq.”

 

Tags: Iraq , Rand Paul , Barack Obama , Dick Cheney

National Journal: ‘The Once-Soaring Avatar of Change Crashing Earthward’



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From the last Morning Jolt until June 30 . . . 

300 More U.S. Troops in Iraq. So . . . Are We At War With ISIS?

I’m not saying this move from President Obama is the wrong one

Obama said he would send up to 300 additional U.S. Special Operations troops to better assess the situation on the ground, where forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have moved ever nearer to Baghdad, and to determine “how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward.”

But what do we do if some of those 300 guys get attacked? If ISIS ambushes some of our guys in a Black Hawk Down Mogadishu-style scenario . . . doesn’t that drag us into this war even further? I’m all for killing ISIS, but are we sure we want to pursue this path? Is the president sure?

We all know that our Special Operations guys are the best of the best, but they can’t win the war for the Iraqi government.

I suppose if there’s a chance you’ll run across Persians, 300 guys is a good number to have.

James Oliphant of National Journal acknowledges what so many in Washington have tried to deny for about six years now: the world doesn’t work the way Barack Obama thought it did.

[Sending 250 troops to Iraq to help secure the embassy] is a tacit acknowledgment that many of the assumptions that Obama and his foreign policy team made about the world have proven to be incorrect:   

• That without the leverage of U.S. military power in the country, Iraqi leaders would pursue political change that wouldn’t leave Sunnis alienated and antagonized and that its security forces could counter internal threats

• That Afghanistan would be stable enough for the U.S. to end that war and depart with confidence the government can keep the nation on a stable path;

• That the U.S. could pursue a “reset” with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — but then watched his troops take Crimea and threaten the rest of Ukraine;

• That the civil war in Syria could somehow be contained within its borders — and could reach a resolution without American intervention.

More than anything, these events and others have served as a rebuke to Team Obama’s worldview that a new generation of leadership could move on from both the Clinton-era and Bush-era policies. Both of those administrations were more hawkish and aggressive about the exercise of American power, whether it was to intercede in regional conflicts in the Balkans or take down Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

Disdainful of much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment, Obama and his close-knit circle of advisers, on the other hand, talked about engaging Iran diplomatically, using sanctions to punish bad actors, “pivoting” to Asia, and neutralizing the threat of terrorism more bloodlessly through the use of drones. They viewed American power in terms of limits. This was a president, after all, who opposed the U.S. “surge” that arguably stabilized Iraq to the point where Obama could pull the troops out.

Yet here was Obama on Thursday using the language of presidents past such as John Kennedy and George W. Bush, talking of sending “advisers” into a global hot spot and warning of the need to deny “safe haven” to terrorist groups. “Right now, this is the moment when the fate of Iraq hangs in the balance,” he said — something that sounded So 10 Years Ago.
That’s why Obama’s remarks had to have left such a bitter taste. Iraq was a box that his administration had checked. And already, the unrest there is casting fresh doubt on his decision to leave Afghanistan just a few years removed from calling for his own “surge” there. Americans are giving his handling of foreign policy the lowest marks of his presidency. With Syria on fire, Egypt and Libya in turmoil, and Russia meddling in Ukraine, the world has reached up and pulled the once-soaring avatar of change crashing earthward.
Icarus, we told you so.

The odds of President Obama’s drastically changing his foreign-policy worldview are slim . . . but even if he did change his approach to the likes of Russia, Iran, Assad in Syria and the rest . . . would the Democratic party’s base revolt against those changes?

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq , ISIS , Foreign Policy

Dempsey Warns ‘Disappointed’ Iraq War Vets Of Possible Military Action



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General Martin Dempsey wrote a note to Iraq war veterans frustrated to see terrorists threatening to overthrow the government established after the United States overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, in which he emphasized that the current instability doesn’t diminish their accomplishment and says the military might take further action.

“I’m proud of what we, along with our Iraqi and coalition partners accomplished. We provided the Iraqi people an historic opportunity for a better future. Nothing will diminish that accomplishment,” Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a note released by the Defense Department. “Like many of you, I was disappointed at how quickly the situation in Iraq deteriorated as well as the rapid collapse of many Iraqi units.”

Dempsey said the violence is “part of a broader, regional struggle that extends from Baghdad to Beirut to Damascus,” adding that Iraq’s political leaders exacerbated the problem.

The note ended with a warning. “The path forward will not be easy,” Dempsey wrote. ”And, as always, we in the military are preparing options for the President to consider in addressing the emerging threats there.”

On Wednesday, Dempsey told Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) that the terrorists had “partnered” with dictator Saddam Hussein’s old party. “I suspect its a partnership of convenience and there’s probably an opportunity to separate them,” he said.

Tags: Martin Dempsey , Iraq

Irony You Can Believe In: Obama Sends U.S. Troops to Iraq



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In the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt . . . 

Irony of Ironies: President Obama Sends U.S. Troops to Iraq

This job is hard, isn’t it, Mr. President?

It’s hard to disagree with the decision to move troops to protect our people in country. It’s also hard to stifle a chuckle that the man whose entire rise in national politics was driven by the insistence that we had to get all U.S. troops out of Iraq, and that the fate of that country was no longer America’s concern, finding himself sending more troops into that country and realizing that control of Iraq is indeed very much an American concern.

As Islamic militants continue their murderous advance in Iraq, the Pentagon is moving more firepower and manpower into the region to prepare for whatever U.S. President Barack Obama orders.

Already at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, dozens of Marines and Army troops have moved in to beef up security.

The aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush and five other warships are now in the Persian Gulf. More than 500 Marines and dozens of helicopters are on standby.

A top priority: evacuate all Americans at the embassy if it comes to that.

It’s nice to see the Obama administration taking the security of American diplomats in an unstable, dangerous Muslim country seriously for a change, isn’t it?

Of course, we may see more than just embassy protection: “On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with Yahoo! News, acknowledged that airstrikes on Iraqi targets are under consideration.”

To quote William Shatner in Airplane 2, “Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.”

The scene in the Fox News Washington Bureau Green Room last night: A producer walks in: “General, we’re ready to take you to the set!”

Two men look up. “Which one?”

For what it’s worth, in the military community, there’s some skepticism that the several thousand guys of ISIS will be able to conquer Baghdad. Maybe it’s time for those guys to get bogged down in the nightmare of urban fighting.

But they are getting close:

Iraqi government forces are engaged in heavy clashes with Sunni insurgents who have made major advances in the past week.

Reports say parts of the city of Baquba — just 60km (37 miles) from Baghdad — were briefly taken over by the rebels.

Of course, sectarian killing may arrive in Baghdad before ISIS does:

The first recent sign of sectarian killing appeared in Baghdad late Monday when police found the bodies of four young Sunni men shot to death and left on a street in a mainly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad.

They were between 25 and 30 years old and had been shot numerous times, according to a police source in the Interior Ministry.

Iraq’s largest oil refinery is now shut down.

Oh, and bringing together all of our recent big War on Terror news together:

Spanish police are holding 10 people including a former Guantanamo Bay detainee for allegedly recruiting jihadi militants to fight abroad, mainly in Iraq and Syria.

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq

A Maliki Primer, and an American Abdication



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Here’s an extensive primer on the background and rise of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, by Dexter Filkins, from The New Yorker in late April. I’m hipped to it via Power Line, whose summary emphasizes the evidence within it that President Obama is to blame for the recent debacle, particularly regarding his imprudent giving up on the negotiations that could have kept some U.S. forces there. I largely agree with the Power Line analysis, but again stress that the best outcome with a posited-wise Obama might have been the U.S. now having leverage, ISIL having made fewer gains, and Maliki still semi-pretending to be for Iraq more than he is for the Shia.  And maybe his most recent election results would have been substantially poorer. 

Filikins’s evidence suggests Maliki has been a “sleeper despot” all along. That is, the evidence points to Maliki’s aim to emerge as a Shia version of Saddam Hussein, at least over a rump Iraq.  Not so much for the glory, but for his personal safety, and that of the Shia generally. 

Filkins’s narrative suggests the key moment of disaster for post-Bush Iraq came when the Obama administration calculated that they had no way to back the “secular, pro-Western coalition called Iraqiya, led by Ayad Allawi,” when it won the most votes in the 2010 election but not enough to form a government, without hopelessly angering Maliki’s backers and other Shia parties and politicians. It seems likely that that calculation was heavily swayed by an Obama desire to wash our hands of involvement in Iraqi politics, but Obama-critics should remain at least open to the possibility that it was basically a correct assessment of what the Shia parties would do if Allawi replaced Maliki. Not that that justifies our not vigorously resisting the violations of the Iraq constitution, which sidelined Allawi and Iraqiya, or any of the rest of Obama’s non-policy since then. For Obama to have insisted upon Allawi’s rights in 2010 might have simply brought about civil-war type activity occurring then, instead of now. But do note, in that scenario a non-sectarian party with ample Sunni-support would have been a major player, and we would have remained the “strongest tribe” in everyone’s calculations. Now, we are gone, Iraqiya and such seem irrelevant, and an al-Qaeda empire is emerging from the wreckage of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. 

It feels to me as if Obama and those around him simply succumbed to the all-American temptation, one that even Michael Totten is succumbing to now, to just say, “Forget it, Iraqis, we gave you what chance we could, you squandered it, and you’re just 100 percent on your own now.” (The liberal version of this puts more of the blame on our trying to help in the first place.) It’s just that there never is a 100 percent, is there? Nor are we capable of not caring any more about the Iraqis, are we? Obama’s abdication of our (not primary but nonetheless substantial) responsibility for post-Saddam Iraq is by no means as clear-cut as the one the congressional Democrats forced upon Gerald Ford with respect to South Vietnam, but it remains an abdication. One that looks likely to kill hundreds of thousands, if not more. 

Again, like most Americans, I’m playing catch-up, so I welcome anyone calling my attention to any errors of fact or analysis. 

 

Tags: Iraq , Maliki

‘Sunnis and Shiites don’t need guns from us. They need the truth.’



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The first Morning Jolt of the week offers some eye-opening news about Hillary Clinton, an attempt to understand the appeal of the World Cup, and some terrific personal news, but it begins with this awful update from developments overseas:

‘Practically Speaking, [Iraq] Has Broken Apart’

You know the news from the Middle East, and Iraq in particular, is usually bad. Today is no different:

Fighters affiliated with an extremist Al Qaeda-inspired faction seized control Monday of another town in the northwest of Iraq, beating back pro-government forces scrambling to stop the group’s advance

Tal Afar, an ethnically diverse town of Sunni Muslims and Turkmen, was overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, after heavy clashes with Iraqi army units and Turkmen tribal fighters, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anatolia news agency. Pro-government activists in Tal Afar, however, asserted on social media that the fight was continuing, with heavy airstrikes against the militants’ positions.

Eli Lake:

American presidents and Iraqi strongmen have been trying for decades to keep the country intact. But that effort is now failing under pressure from the Islamic extremists who are taking over more and more of Iraq’s cities. “Practically speaking, the country has broken apart,” a top official in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government told The Daily Beast.

On the Sunday shows, Washington politicians aren’t downplaying the danger:

The bloodthirsty Islamist group hellbent on overthrowing the Iraqi government claims to have massacred 1,700 soldiers and posted a series of gory pictures of executed captives that kicked off a chain reaction of fear from Baghdad to the Beltway.

And in further evidence of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, terrorists killed more than 20 people with four bombs on Sunday in Baghdad, and the State Department moved to protect the U.S. Embassy and its employees.

“This is as dangerous as it gets,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers said on “Fox News Sunday.” He was one of several GOP lawmakers who called on the Obama administration to act aggressively against the Sunni militants who call themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Iraq War proponent, echoed Rogers with a dire caution of his own.

“Iraq and Syria combined are going to be the staging area for the next 9/11 if we don’t do anything about it,” the South Carolina Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “If Baghdad falls . . . a disaster awaits us of monumental proportions.”

Thomas Friedman is sounding . . . almost isolationist, or at least noninterventionist:

Hence my rule: The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them — when they take ownership of reconciliation. Please spare me another dose of: It is all about whom we train and arm. Sunnis and Shiites don’t need guns from us. They need the truth. It is the early 21st century, and too many of them are still fighting over who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad from the 7th century. It has to stop — for them, and for their kids, to have any future.

There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do now, so they’ll spend a lot of energy arguing about what should have been done in March 2003.

Tags: Iraq , Thomas Friedman , Mike Rogers , Lindsey Graham

Just How Long Can the U.S. Contemplate Its Response to ISIS?



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It’s easy to understand why a man elected president because of his opposition to the Iraq War would be extremely hesitant to commit military forces to help save the Iraqi government.

It’s a perfectly fair question as to whether U.S. military force could be decisive in the fight against ISIS, or whether that action would be delaying the inevitable, or whether any government headed by Maliki is destined to fall apart eventually.

But Obama began by saying . . . 

Over the last several days, we’ve seen significant gains made by ISIL, a terrorist organization that operates in both Iraq and in Syria. In the face of a terrorist offensive, Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend a number of cities, which has allowed the terrorists to overrun a part of Iraq’s territory. And this poses a danger to Iraq and its people, and given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.

and then he also said . . . 

We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraq’s security forces. And I’ll be reviewing those options in the days ahead . . . We’ll be monitoring the situation in Iraq very carefully over the next several days.

At one point, Obama openly acknowledged the difference in speed between the events in Iraq and the decision-making of his administration:

. . . although events on the ground in Iraq have been happening very quickly, our ability to plan — whether it’s military action or work with the Iraqi government on some of these political issues — is going to take several days. So people should not anticipate that this is something that is going to happen overnight.

Isn’t the president worried that by the time he resolves how to react to the situation as it existed on, say, Saturday, it will change, and/or worsen? Doesn’t the president and his team need to speed up their OODA loop (“Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act”) if they want to have an impact on the situation?

Or is the slow, deliberate pace the point?

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq

Nobody Ever Wants to Admit Baghdad Is Under Attack



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Ouch, courtesy Campaign Spot reader Jeff:

Obama’s statement at the White House today was reasonably realistic . . . except he did point out that events were moving quickly . . . and that he and his advisers would take several days to consider their options.

A good option on Friday evening may be moot by Monday morning.

Tags: Iraq , Barack Obama

Big Questions on Iraq that Americans Have to Resolve Quickly



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Happy Friday the 13th . . . An appropriately ominous Morning Jolt closes out the week . . . 

Some Big Questions to Consider on Iraq

First the obvious: Is ISIS bad for our interests? Does anyone want to dispute this?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has thrived and mutated during the ongoing civil war in Syria and in the security vacuum that followed the departure of the last American forces from Iraq.

The aim of ISIS is to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria . . . 

It wants to establish an Islamic caliphate, or state, stretching across the region.

ISIS has begun imposing Sharia law in the towns it controls. Boys and girls must be separated at school; women must wear the niqab or full veil in public. Sharia courts often dispense brutal justice, music is banned and the fast is enforced during Ramadan.

Sharia law covers both religious and non-religious aspects of life.

Some may point to their dispute with al-Qaeda . . . ​

The stories, the videos, the acts of unfathomable brutality have become a defining aspect of ISIS, which controls a nation-size tract of land and has now pushed Iraq to the precipice of dissolution. Its adherents kill with such abandon that even the leader of al-Qaeda has disavowed them. “Clearly, [leader Ayman] al-Zawahiri believes that ISIS is a liability to the al-Qaeda brand,” Aaron Zelin, who analyzes jihadist movements for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Washington Post’s Liz Sly earlier this year. . . . 

But a dispute with al-Qaeda does not indicate they’re any less dangerous or ruthless:

But in terms of impact, the acts of terror have been wildly successful. From beheadings to summary executions to amputations to crucifixions, the terrorist group has become the most feared organization in the Middle East. That fear, evidenced in fleeing Iraqi soldiers and 500,000 Mosul residents, has played a vital role in the group’s march toward Baghdad. In many cases, police and soldiers literally ran, shedding their uniforms as they went, abandoning large caches of weapons.

Two: Is the preservation of the existing government in Iraq in the U.S. interests?

It’s understandable if Americans feel no particular affection for Nouri al-Maliki . . . ​

The stunning gains this week by Iraq’s Sunni insurgents carry a crucial political message: Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, is a polarizing sectarian politician who has lost the confidence of his army and nation. He cannot put a splintered Iraq together again, no matter how many weapons the Obama administration sends him.

Maliki’s failure has been increasingly obvious since the elections of 2010, when the Iraqi people in their wisdom elected a broader, less-sectarian coalition. But the Obama administration, bizarrely working in tandem with Iran, brokered a deal that allowed Maliki to continue and has worked with him as an ally against al-Qaeda. Maliki’s coalition triumphed in April’s elections, but the balloting was boycotted by Sunnis.

. . . and it’s understandable if Americans see this as similar to Syria — an Iranian-backed leader stuck in a bloody fight with Islamist extremists:

In the worst case, if Mr. Maliki were driven from power, the shrines were threatened and radical Sunni insurgents were killing Shiite civilians, Iran would more than likely be compelled to intervene, say experts close to Iran’s leadership.

“They are our ally and we will help them,” said Hamid Taraghi, a political analyst who is close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But exactly how Iran would do so is unclear.

But we do have interests in keeping the country stable

Iraq is a major oil-producing country that shares borders with Iran and Syria. The United States has a large embassy in Iraq, and the country has attracted sizable foreign investment. “We’re committed to this country,” [James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq], said. “Its stability is important.” Growing chaos in Iraq would lead to a spike in oil prices and would likely spread instability throughout the region.

Three: Can we make a difference? Obviously Maliki thinks we can, otherwise he wouldn’t be asking for the air strikes, and Obama wouldn’t be considering them.

While initial reports indicated that the Iraqi army turned and ran, there are some men in Iraq willing to stand and fight against ISIS:

Volunteers flocked to protect the Iraqi capital on Friday as militants inspired by al-Qaeda seized more territory overnight, continuing a rampage that is threatening to tear the country apart.

Iraqi officials said tens of thousands of volunteers had answered a call to join the ranks of the crumbling security forces and repel advances by heavily armed fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as the group seized the towns of Saadiyah and Jalawla north of the capital.

Iraqi state television showed the new unpaid volunteers scrambling to get on packed army trucks at recruitment centers after a call from the Shiite-led government. The mobilization of the irregular forces, as well as Iraq’s notorious Shiite militias, to battle the radical Sunni Muslim insurgents threatened to plunge Iraq into large-scale sectarian bloodletting. The volunteers also appeared to be mostly Shiites.

For what it’s worth, some like Leslie Gelb argue we need to ensure our help is minimal:

And before the U.S. government starts to do the next dumb thing again, namely provide fighter aircraft and drone attacks and heaven knows what else, it should stop and think for a change. If America comes to the rescue of this Iraqi government, then this Iraqi government, like so many of the others we’ve fought and died for, will do nothing. It will simply assume that we’ll take over, that we’ll do the job. And when things go wrong, and they certainly will, this cherished government that we’re helping will blame only America. Don’t think for a moment it will be otherwise. Don’t think for a moment that the generals and hawks who want to dispatch American fighters and drones to the rescue know any better today than they’ve known for 50 years.

Sure, I’m in favor of helping governments against these militant, crazy and dangerous jihadis. But first and foremost and lastly, it’s got to be their fight, not ours. As soon as the burden falls on the United States, our “best friends” do little or nothing and we lose. If they start fighting hard, and we’ll know it when we see it, there will be no mistaking it. Then the military and other aid we provide will mean something.

That’s persuasive in the abstract, but what if the Iraqi government is just short of being capable of pushing back ISIS? Is it worth withholding our assistance to make the point that they need to be independent? How much can fear of future scapegoating limit our options in the here and now? If we really are going to adopt a philosophy of “we could help you, but we suspect you’ll grow dependent upon us and blame us for problems down the road,” could we please apply that to domestic spending programs as well?

Four: What is the risk to our forces? We already have drones over Iraq.

The U.S. since last year has been secretly flying unmanned surveillance aircraft in small numbers over Iraq to collect intelligence on insurgents, according to U.S. officials.

The program was limited in size and proved little use to U.S. and Iraqi officials when Islamist fighters moved swiftly this week to seize two major Iraqi cities, the officials said.

Before the Islamist offensive, the program was expanded based on growing U.S. and Iraqi concerns about the expanded military activities of al Qaeda-linked fighters.

Officials wouldn’t say what types of drones were being used but said the flights were conducted only for surveillance purposes. The program was launched with the consent of the Iraqi government.

A senior U.S. official said the intelligence collected under the small program was shared with Iraqi forces, but added: “It’s not like it did any good.”

Obviously, manned flights would include more risk to pilots than unmanned drones. Downed helicopters are more common that fixed-wing aircraft getting shot down, but sometimes the enemy is lucky, and sometimes accidents happen.

We already have Americans in harm’s way:

U.S. contractors began evacuating the air base in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, that is being prepared for the arrival this year of F-16 aircraft purchased by Iraq. The international engineering and electronics company Siemens was trying to move 51 people out of Baiji, about 30 miles farther north, where they are upgrading Iraqi power plants . . . 

About 10,000 American officials and contractors are in Iraq.

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq

The Coming ‘There’s Nothing We Could Have Done’ Excuses



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Sometimes you can see the administration-defending Washington conventional wisdom forming before your very eyes: “The Iraqi government was always weak and destined to collapse sooner or later. There’s nothing the Obama administration could have done.”

Even if, say, they asked for assistance a month ago and we turned them down.

As the threat from Sunni militants in western Iraq escalated last month, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against extremist staging areas, according to Iraqi and American officials.

But Iraq’s appeals for a military response have so far been rebuffed by the White House, which has been reluctant to open a new chapter in a conflict that President Obama has insisted was over when the United States withdrew the last of its forces from Iraq in 2011.

We’ve seen a lot of this “There’s nothing the Obama administration could have done!” thinking recently, and we’ll probably see a lot more of it in the coming years:

Tags: Iraq , Afghanistan , Barack Obama

Another Foreign-Policy Crisis Catches the Obama Team by Surprise



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Big, busy Morning Jolt today:

Oh, Hey, No Big Deal, Iraq’s Just Being Taken Over by Terrorists, That’s All

Most Americans never want to hear the word “Iraq” again, and our president is happy to oblige, no matter how bad it gets.

And it’s getting pretty damn bad, as Eli Lake points out:

Two and a half years after the last U.S. soldier departed, an al Qaeda offshoot is in control of Mosul and headed for Baghdad — and Iraq’s prime minister is requesting U.S. air strikes.

It seems like only yesterday that Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was celebrating as the last American soldiers left Iraq. Now, with an al Qaeda offshoot threatening to take Baghdad, Maliki’s government is quietly asking at least some troops — specifically airmen and drone pilots — to return.

These guys — too vicious for al-Qaeda! — are taking over city after city. And the forces we trained to keep order . . . apparently just aren’t up to the task:

Soldiers in Mosul threw down their guns and stripped off their uniforms as Sunni insurgents approached and raised their black flags on Tuesday, allowing the city to fall after just four days of fighting. Terrified residents were streaming out of the city.

The fall of Iraq’s second largest city to Islamist extremists Tuesday sends an alarming message about the deterioration of a country where the U.S. spent eight years, 4,500 lives and $1.7 trillion. Mosul, a city of 1.8 million located in the far north of the country, long cultivated a reputation as a military town. But Iraqi soldiers threw down their guns and stripped off their uniforms as the insurgents approached on Tuesday, according to officials stunned by the collapse of its defenses.

I know this will shock you, but it appears the Obama administration was caught flat-footed by quickly developing events:

The quickly unfolding drama prompted a White House meeting Wednesday of top policy makers and military leaders who were caught off guard by the swift collapse of Iraqi security forces, officials acknowledged . . . 

Some military officials now believe ISIS is the single greatest terrorist threat the U.S. and its allies face — stronger than the al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen or Africa and far more powerful than al Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan. Other senior U.S. officials say ISIS has yet to carry out any attacks directly targeting the U.S.

“It makes you want to kill yourself,” a senior U.S. official said of the intelligence on ISIS, which was presented by U.S. and Gulf allies during the May meeting in Jeddah.

The Obama administration, unable to operate openly in Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal and unwilling to intervene in Syria for fear of getting pulled into another conflict, has left itself few options to directly confront the growing threat, according to senior U.S. defense and intelligence officials.

Watch for movement on this front in the next 24 to 48 hours:

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is preparing contingency plans to evacuate its employees if necessary now that one of the deadliest Islamic militant groups in the region has taken control of large swaths of Iraq, a U.S. official told TheBlaze.

The State Department also warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Iraq, following several days of bloody clashes between insurgents with the Al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Iraqi military forces. ISIL has taken control of Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah and aims to create an Islamic state across the Iraq-Syria border.

Coming to Baghdad soon?

Tags: Iraq , Barack Obama

Scarborough: ‘Hillary Clinton is the biggest neo-con that there is out there.’



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The third and final part of my recent chat with Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe, about his new book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics — And Can Again.

Geraghty: For a while, you stood out from most Republicans in your views on foreign policy. You would describe it as non-interventionist, I’m sure you’ve had the term “isolationist” thrown at you. It does seem there’s been a shift in the party — you see in dealing with Syria, an exhaustion with Iraq, a frustration with Afghanistan. How different is your idea of a good noninterventionist policy from what President Obama is doing now, and how big an issue will this be in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, for Americans who want to find an alternative to what we experienced under Bush but also may not be happy with what they’re getting with President Obama?

Scarborough: I actually think the biggest fight is going to be within the Republican party — and I say fight, I really mean debate, and it’s going to be a positive debate.

Hillary Clinton is the biggest neo-con that there is out there. Democrats are basically going to be putting a candidate out there who’s going to be in agreement with my friend [former Bush official and Romney-Ryan advisor] Dan Senor the majority of the time. So we’re going to try to figure out whether we want to do what Bush said he would do in that second Inaugural Address, and end tyranny in all four corners of the globe, or whether we’re going to be tough realists like Ike was, and yes, like another Republican general, Colin Powell, was. He followed up on the [Caspar] Weinberger Doctrine that the United States of America only sends troops into battle as an absolute last option. And when we go in there, we go in with overwhelming force. As Colin Powell said in the 1990s, we don’t want a fair fight. We want to go over there, we want to kill the enemy, we want to achieve our objectives, and we want to bring our sons and daughters back home.

I think it’s funny that the New York Times and the other progressives will attack George W. Bush for eight years about being a neo-con, and then the second that Republicans start talking about restraint, suddenly we’re isolationists. What I’m talking about is not isolationism. It’s realism. We can’t keep spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan, which we’ve been doing for years now, and rebuilding Afghanistan instead of rebuilding our own country.

Geraghty: The costs of interventions are crystal clear in a situation like Iraq, where we spent a great deal of blood and treasure, and then see inconclusive or dissatisfying results. But there’s also a cost of not intervening, and you see it in places like Syria, where we’re not involved, and the death toll has passed six figures and it’s getting messier. Is America, and or the world, ready for the consequences of a world with a non-interventionist America?

Scarborough: We’ve got to choose our strategic targets carefully. Afghanistan was doomed to fail from the beginning when we moved beyond what George W. Bush had [originally] planned for Afghanistan to be, which was an anti-terror campaign. When it stopped being an anti-terror campaign, and began being a counter-insurgency campaign, and we started trying to rebuild Afghanistan instead of hunting down the terrorists who blew up our buildings on September 11, killing them or bringing them to justice, then we had mission creep. Then Obama tripled the number of troops. That’s insanity. I said it in real time, and I’m still saying it today.

You brought up Syria. If you look at a map of the Middle East, over the past 25 to 30 years, you see our two enemies — and I use that term specifically — have been Iran and Syria. There are times where there are strategic battles to be fought. If Barack Obama had gone into Syria six months ago, nine months ago, a year ago, things would have been different. If the president had actually had a plan to do that, I would have been supportive of it.

I wasn’t supportive of him going into Libya. I wasn’t supportive of it, because I didn’t see that as central to U.S. foreign-policy interests. I do see Iran and Syria and the checking of those regimes as central, not only to long-term U.S.-foreign policy objectives, but also to our biggest ally in the region, Israel.

Geraghty: I live in Virginia, where Ken Cuccinelli just got demolished on the airwaves, accused of wanting to ban birth control, ban divorce, and so on. Are social issues a liability for the GOP? Is it just a matter of avoiding Todd Akin moments, or do they have to approach these issues differently?

Scarborough: Avoid a Todd Akin moment, but understand that Chris Christie is pro-life. He’s the first pro-life guy to get elected in New Jersey since 1973, since Roe v. Wade passed. He used an approach to social issues that I used in northwest Florida. He said, “I could have been very outspoken and aggressive and ideological about it.” He let people know he was a Catholic, he let people know he was pro-life, and he let people know he wasn’t going to waver on that position. That’s a great approach.

Let me say also, this idea that Ken Cuccinelli was defeated because of his positions on social issues is absolutely ridiculous. Cuccinelli will tell you that, and the polls and the numbers show it. The first thing that killed him was the government shutdown. Cuccinelli will say that, and all the people close to Cuccinelli will say that. The other thing was that the Republican polling killed them. Republican pollsters got it wrong in 2013 the way they got it wrong in 2012.

All the polls showed him down seven, eight, nine points. That kept the money out. . . . With a little more money, and without that government shutdown, which Cuccinelli’s people say totally got him off his game and really hurt him in northern Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli would have won.

You would be hard-pressed to find a race where a candidate being pro-life cost them an election. We’ve got a pro-life senator from Pennsylvania [Pat Toomey], and we’ve got a pro-life governor in New Jersey.

A lot of this has to do with temperament and emphasis. If a Republican candidate can convince middle-class voters and working-class voters, that he’s the one who has the best ideas for getting them back to work and strengthening the economy, they’ll vote for a pro-life candidate.

Geraghty: What is the one most important thing that Republicans need to do between now and the 2014 midterms?

Scarborough: They need to come together. I’ll be the first to take my share of the blame. I was very critical of some guys who are actually friends of mine, leading up to the government shutdown. I was because I thought it would hurt the party, and I think I was right. But one of the things that exasperated me after the election this year was that everybody was sniping at each other. Cuccinelli was the bad guy, or Christie was the bad guy. We’re going to start winning elections when we get the Christie supporters and the Cuccinelli supporters on the same side. And we’re going to start winning elections the way Reagan won elections when we get a candidate that both Ted Cruz and Colin Powell can vote for. . . . We can do it again. But we’ve got to stop the ideological witch hunts, and we’ve got to start focusing on beating Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Tags: Joe Scarborough , Syria , Hillary Clinton , Iraq , Ken Cuccinelli , Chris Christie

Hey, No Big Deal, Just 500 al-Qaeda Members Escaped Death Row from Abu Ghraib.



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Epic Morning Jolt today covering Iraq’s big prison breakout, discussion of a bailout for Detroit, George Zimmerman emerges for a dramatic rescue, a new face appears in Georgia’s Senate race, what Despicable Me 2 puts parents through and . . . (deep breath) . . . yes, the royal baby.

Today’s preview: the Iraq section.

Oh, Hey, No Big Deal, Just 500 al-Qaeda Members Escaped Death Row from Abu Ghraib.

So, one of the good things about the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq is that we don’t have to worry about that country anymore, right? The whole Sunni-Shia-Kurd rivalry, not our problem anymore. Rising sectarian violence, on par with the worst times of 2006 and 2007? Call somebody else.

Except . . . maybe what happens over there can come back to bite us anyway:

Hundreds of convicts, including senior members of al Qaeda, broke out of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib jail as comrades launched a military-style assault to free them, authorities said on Monday.

The deadly raid on the high-security jail happened as Sunni Muslim militants are gaining momentum in their insurgency against the Shi’ite-led government that came to power after the U.S. invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.

“The number of escaped inmates has reached 500, most of them were convicted senior members of al Qaeda and had received death sentences,” Hakim Al-Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament, told Reuters.

Those 500 bad guys probably will cause trouble locally, and not necessarily set out to target Americans here or abroad . . . probably.

If you’re wondering, no, no one has ever escaped Guantanamo Bay (these guys don’t count) and no one has escaped the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, either. Four bad guys escaped from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2005, and all four were eventually recaptured or killed.

One other thought, since we’re briefly refocused on Iraq: The calculations of the death toll from the Iraq War range from 110,600 (the Associated Press) to The Lancet’s 601,027 to the “Opinion Research Business Survey,” which declared 1 million. (It will not surprise you that the latter numbers are greatly disputed.) But the number is reasonably estimated to be somewhere north of 100,000 and probably short of 200,000.

In other words, estimates of the death toll from the Syrian Civil War — 83,000 to 110,000 — are now reaching the low end of the Iraq War casualties; by the time the bloodbath over there ends, it may surpass the death toll from the Iraq War.

Tags: Iraq

The Demonization of the Iraq War Ensures No Syria Intervention



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A busy Morning Jolt today, looking at Marco Rubio giving the response to the president’s State of the Union Address, some bad reviews for Chuck Hagel, some messaging issues on the president and skeet shooting, and then this point about the increase in cries to intervene in Syria:

No, World, We’re Never Going to Militarily Intervene in Syria.

This column, by Roger Cohen of the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, has garnered a bit of attention in recent days:

The United States does not want to get dragged into another intractable Middle Eastern conflict. Americans are tired of war. My colleagues Michael Gordon and Mark Landler have revealed how Obama blocked an attempt last summer by Hillary Clinton to train and supply weapons to selected Syrian rebel groups.

Nor does Obama want to find himself in the business of helping Islamist extremists inherit a Syrian vacuum. The opposition coalition is divided and lacks credibility. But the net result of these concerns cannot be feckless drift as Syria burns. Senator John McCain was right to say here that, “We should be ashamed of our collective failure to come to the aid of the Syrian people” and to answer a question about how to break the impasse with two words: “American leadership.”

An inflection point has been reached. Inaction spurs the progressive radicalization of Syria, the further disintegration of the state, the intensification of Assad’s mass killings, and the chances of the conflict spilling out of Syria in sectarian mayhem. It squanders an opportunity to weaken Iran. This is not in the West’s interest. The agreement that Assad has to go is broad; a tacit understanding that it is inevitable exists in Moscow. The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spluttered in justified incredulity at the notion the opposition would sit down with a regime that has slaughtered its own.

It is time to alter the Syrian balance of power enough to give political compromise a chance and Assad no option but departure. That means an aggressive program to train and arm the Free Syrian Army. It also means McCain’s call to use U.S. cruise missiles to destroy Assad’s aircraft on the runway is daily more persuasive.

Everybody knows we’re not going to intervene in Syria, right?

Part of this is because we have Obama as president, part of this is because Americans consumed with our own domestic issues right now — a consistently floundering economy, immigration — but mostly it’s because of Iraq.

Dear world . . . do you remember how you greeted the invasion of Iraq?

The invasion of Iraq was treated as the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world, denounced far more frequently and loudly than any act by Saddam Hussein, Bashir Assad, the Iranian regime, or North Korea.

Giant protests in lots of American cities. Giant protests in every foreign capital. The 2004 Guinness Book of Records described the anti-war movement around the globe as the largest mass protest movement in history — eclipsing any popular opposition to any act of the Soviet Union or any other totalitarian regime around the globe, ever. Among the elites in Paris, Berlin, and most corners of London, the Iraq War was the single-most important issue, and denouncing the evil of George W. Bush was the most important goal, not building a stable and peaceful Iraq. You recall Kofi Annan denouncing it, and the United Nations delegates scoffing when Hugo Chavez called our president the devil.

You recall the cries of “Bushitler,” the ubiquitous Code Pink interrupting every event in Washington, as if some ninny shouting during a press conference ever spurred sudden reversals in U.S. national security policy. You recall Hollywood’s relentless cavalcade of movies demonizing the war and those fighting it: “In the Valley of Elah,” “Stop Loss”, “Green Zone,” “Redacted,”  “Grace is Gone,” “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Hey, my Turkish friends so upset by a bloody civil war across the border and a flood of refugees, remember “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq”? Remember when that film suggested that Jewish U.S. army doctors in Iraq were harvesting organs from Iraqi civilians to be sold in Israeli, and that U.S. soldiers use Iraqi children as human shields? Yeah, remember that? Well, go solve your #*%&^ border problems yourself.

The Davos set is horrified to learn that after spending the better part of a decade screaming at the top of their lungs that an American intervention to topple a bloodthirsty Arab dictator is the absolute worst thing imaginable, suddenly Americans are no longer interested in toppling bloodthirsty Arab dictators.

(Slap, slap) Wake up, anti-war movement! You’ve got what you wanted! The United States is out of the armed intervention business, besides the occasional “leading from behind” in Libya, or the occasional covert mission in Pakistan.

And this is what you get:

The United Nations said earlier this month that more than 60,000 people had been killed during the 22-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. This figure was based on 59,648 individuals reported killed in Syria between March 15, 2011 and November 30, 2012.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Monday that the number of Syrian refugees and individuals awaiting registration is 714,118. This includes 5,417 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated in a report on January 17 that 4 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance across all 14 governorates in Syria. Of the total, 3 million lacked food and 2 million were internally displaced.

But wait, there’s more!

Outbreaks of hepatitis A and other diseases spread by poor hygiene are now becoming problems among Syrians displaced by the civil war, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. It is one of at least four United Nations agencies seeking to add a new sense of urgency to the humanitarian crisis afflicting the country.

Further aggravating the health of Syrians, the organization said, is a breakdown in the delivery of safe water throughout the country; the closing of at least one-third of Syria’s public hospitals; an exodus of doctors; and an acute shortage of ambulances, many of them damaged by fighting or impounded by the military or insurgent forces for use in combat.

But don’t worry, world. We may not be using our military force to influence the events in Syria, but we are taking action:

President Barack Obama released a video statement to the Syrian people attesting to the U.S. commitment to their humanitarian needs amid fresh reports of civilian killings by the Assad regime.

The three-minute video with Arabic subtitles was circulated today by the White House in connection with a U.S. announcement of $155 million in new humanitarian assistance to Syria. The move comes days after Obama indicated in an interview no move toward U.S. military intervention.

“The relief we send doesn’t say ‘made in America’ but make no mistake, our aid reflects the commitment of the American people,” Obama says in the statement.

I’m sure everyone in the civil war zone will appreciate that video statement.

Hate our quasi-isolationist policy, world elites, but don’t be surprised by it. We’re just giving you what you demanded. Maybe in a generation, we’ll be interested in intervening abroad again.

Tags: Barack Obama , George W. Bush , Iraq , Syria

Obama’s Iraq Pledge Reaches Its Expiration Date



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Obama’s statement, February 27, 2009: “I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.”

The news today:

The White House is offering to keep up to 10,000 troops in Iraq next year, U.S. officials say, despite opposition from many Iraqis and key Democratic Party allies who demand that President Barack Obama bring home the American military as promised.

I suppose this news will be greeted with a shrug; Obama said that combat in Iraq is over, and the public appears to believe him, even though the facts on the ground are not quite the same.

On August 31, 2010, Obama said in an Oval Office address that “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.”

Since Obama declared that the U.S. combat mission had ended nearly a year ago, 31 American servicemen have been killed by hostile fire, grenades, improvised explosive devices, rocket attacks, and sniper fire in Iraq.

Tags: Barack Obama , Iraq

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