Iraqi Dinar News

Trade Iraqi Dinar

Turnover of Obama’s SecDefs Eclipsed by Revolving Door of Reagan’s National Security Advisors

By , November 27, 2014 8:37 pm

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Ronald Reagan went through so many national security advisors as president that, on occasion, he forgot their names.
Foreign Policy In Focus

U.S. Seeks to Build Lean Iraqi Force to Fight the Islamic State

By , November 27, 2014 8:33 pm

U.S. Seeks to Build Lean Iraqi Force to Fight the Islamic State

After learning hard lessons rebuilding foreign militaries over the past dozen years, the U.S. military is shifting strategy against the Islamic State, choosing to train a smaller number of Iraqi soldiers rather than trying to stand up an entire army anew.

At their peak, Iraqi combat forces, painstakingly built and paid for by the United States during the last Iraq war, numbered about 400,000 troops. By the time the Islamist militant group launched its advance across northern Iraq in June, the Iraqi forces had shrunk by as much as half, depleted by years of corruption, absenteeism and decay.

When the Islamic State completed its seizure of the city of Mosul, four Iraqi army divisions and another from the federal police had disappeared, shrinking the original combat force to as few as 85,000 active troops, according to expert estimates.

As the Obama administration scrambles to counter the Islamic State, commanders have decided against trying to rebuild entire vanished divisions or introduce new personnel in underperforming, undermanned units across the country, according to U.S. officials. Rather, the officials said, the hope is to build nine new Iraqi army brigades — up to 45,000 light-infantry soldiers — into a vanguard force that, together with Kurdish and Shiite fighters, can shatter the Islamic State’s grip on a third of the country.

“The idea is, at least in the first instance, to try and build a kind of leaner, meaner Iraqi army,” said a senior U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning.

The development of a spearhead force is unlikely to address the larger decay across Iraq’s security forces and institutions, a more complex, deeply rooted phenomenon that undermines the country’s stability. The force is also insufficient on its own to retake strategic cities such as Mosul.

But U.S. officials and others said the training of a smaller number of high-quality units could enable Iraqi security forces to make significant headway against the Islamic State — supplemented eventually, U.S. officials hope, by a new “national guard” that could bring an array of armed groups operating across Iraq under provincial government control.

“Before the Mosul crisis, we were living in a fantasy,” said Hakim al-Zamili, head of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee. “We thought the army could defend the country. We trusted them. But what happened revealed the truth to us.”

The Obama administration’s plan for repairing some of Iraq’s most serious military failings appears unlikely to change with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s impending departure. Inside the Pentagon, Hagel was known as being closer to reform programs and budgetary initiatives than to the military campaign against the Islamic State.

U.S. officials blame former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for the decline in the quality of Iraqi forces after the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011. They say the Shiite leader assigned commanders on the basis of sectarian loyalty, diminishing military capabilities and undermining morale.

Under corrupt leadership, payrolls were padded with “ghost soldiers” and payments issued for troops long dead — a system that not only resulted in undermanned military units but contributed to the difficulty of assessing the size and strength of the security forces.

According to Michael Knights, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been assembling a detailed analysis of remaining Iraqi military units, army brigades that were supposed to comprise as many as 4,000 men have regularly included fewer than half that number.

“There was a huge disconnect” between the military Iraq had on paper and what it looked like in reality, a senior U.S. defense official said on the condition of anonymity.

The problems laid bare this summer were a surprise even to those involved in 2003-2011 initiative to rebuild Iraq’s military, an undertaking that cost more than $ 25 billion. While an even lengthier effort in Afghanistan has paid dividends in the fight against the Taliban, Afghan forces still lack advanced military capabilities and are suffering high battle casualties.

The Obama administration has been encouraged by the initial reforms that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took over from Maliki in August, has made. This month, Abadi replaced more than 20 senior military commanders. He has also eliminated the commander-in-chief office that Maliki had established to tighten his grip on the military. How far Abadi — seeking to keep a fragile national unity government intact — can push those reforms is unknown.

Even when the nine army brigades complete their two-month training, those more competent troops will represent a modest share of the larger Iraqi army, which Knights estimated comprised just 36 active brigades after the defeat in Mosul. The United States also plans to train three brigades of Kurdish peshmerga forces.

“Whether [the training plan] is adequate or not, it might be what’s possible right now,” Knights said.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik, who headed the U.S. training of Iraqi forces from 2007-2008, said Iraqi troops would need to progressively clear militant-held territory, as U.S. forces did during President George W. Bush’s troop surge, but without a large U.S. ground force for support.

“It’s possible, but it will take longer,” Dubik said.

The vanguard force, for instance, would be smaller than what is required to retake Mosul, where hostility toward Baghdad’s Shiite-led government has long fueled support for insurgents. Officials hope an offensive to reclaim the city can occur in the first quarter of 2015. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that three divisions, or roughly 80,000 troops, would be needed to attempt an assault on Mosul.

U.S. officials are backing a longer-term Iraqi plan to restructure the army, transforming a force that was supposed to comprise 14 to 15 divisions into one of seven to eight slightly larger-than-normal divisions: one armored, two mechanized and five light infantry, the senior defense official said. That is in addition to Iraqi special-forces troops who have borne the brunt of the fighting this year.

The success of plans to create a smaller army that is focused on Iraq’s external defense will hinge on a second initiative, to build a “national guard” to provide security in Iraqi cities and towns.

Zamili said his committee was preparing to examine a draft of the law needed to establish the guard. An early copy of the draft law that was leaked to the Iraqi media showed the program would seek to recruit former officers from the Saddam Hussein-era military, some of whom are believed to support the Islamic State.

The initiative echoes a program launched in 2006-2007, when U.S. forces helped organize Sunni tribesmen in western Iraq, and then across the country, to fight al-Qaeda. But plans to secure a lasting Sunni buy-in failed when promised jobs did not materialize for many of the tribal fighters, fueling resentment against Baghdad. Tribesmen cooperating with Baghdad also have been widely targeted by militants.

This time, U.S. officials say, Abadi is working to demonstrate support for Sunnis. “The national guard concept is designed not to repeat that mistake,” the first U.S. official said.

Another senior U.S. official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Iraqi government has integrated a “couple hundred” tribesmen into Iraqi forces as part of a “bridging solution” before the national guard can be established.

Sheik Naim al-Gaoud, a tribal elder from Anbar, expressed tentative support for the program: “We must have guarantees we will not be abandoned.”

U.S. officials hope the program will eventually absorb Kurdish peshmerga forces and at least some Shiite militiamen. The goal is ambitious given the likely reluctance of Kurdish or Shiite militia leaders to cede power to the central government, and the obstacle of first getting the proposal through Iraq’s fractious parliament.

Fuad Hussein, a senior official in the Kurdistan Regional Government, said Iraqi Kurdish leaders are open to including Kurdish troops in a national guard but doubt that the plan can take root in the midst of the current crisis. “The idea is not bad, but how are you going to implement that?” he said.

As the United States deepens its involvement, the growing role played by Iranian-backed Shiite militias remains a source of discomfort for U.S. officials.

Groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Brigade helped fuel Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed in the years after the U.S. invasion in 2003. While militia activity subsided in recent years, the fighters have returned in force to battle the Islamic State.

The militias have played a pivotal part in some of the few Iraqi successes. The militiamen, who analysts estimate as numbering in the tens of thousands, appear to be coordinating with Iraqi security forces but are not under the government’s command.

“We are watching it closely, and we are also sending very strong signals to Abadi that it doesn’t obviously serve Iraq’s interest to have militias going on rampages against Sunni civilians,” the first official said. “He gets it.”

Rights groups have been increasingly alarmed by reports of kidnappings and sectarian attacks by militiamen, including an August massacre in a Sunni mosque that Human Rights Watch blamed on Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen.

“Unless these militias are reined in, it is likely that the U.S. will be perceived as supporting the growing sectarian divide in Iraq,” said Sarah Margon, the group’s Washington director.

For now, Abadi and the United States both need the militias to make up for shortcomings in the Iraqi military, said Ahmed Ali, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. But Iraqi officials say the new prime minister is worried about what happens “the day after” — if and when the fight against the Islamic State is won.

Cunningham reported from Baghdad. Mustafa Salim contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

U.S. Seeks to Build Lean Iraqi Force to Fight the Islamic State

By , November 27, 2014 8:33 pm

U.S. Seeks to Build Lean Iraqi Force to Fight the Islamic State

After learning hard lessons rebuilding foreign militaries over the past dozen years, the U.S. military is shifting strategy against the Islamic State, choosing to train a smaller number of Iraqi soldiers rather than trying to stand up an entire army anew.

At their peak, Iraqi combat forces, painstakingly built and paid for by the United States during the last Iraq war, numbered about 400,000 troops. By the time the Islamist militant group launched its advance across northern Iraq in June, the Iraqi forces had shrunk by as much as half, depleted by years of corruption, absenteeism and decay.

When the Islamic State completed its seizure of the city of Mosul, four Iraqi army divisions and another from the federal police had disappeared, shrinking the original combat force to as few as 85,000 active troops, according to expert estimates.

As the Obama administration scrambles to counter the Islamic State, commanders have decided against trying to rebuild entire vanished divisions or introduce new personnel in underperforming, undermanned units across the country, according to U.S. officials. Rather, the officials said, the hope is to build nine new Iraqi army brigades — up to 45,000 light-infantry soldiers — into a vanguard force that, together with Kurdish and Shiite fighters, can shatter the Islamic State’s grip on a third of the country.

“The idea is, at least in the first instance, to try and build a kind of leaner, meaner Iraqi army,” said a senior U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning.

The development of a spearhead force is unlikely to address the larger decay across Iraq’s security forces and institutions, a more complex, deeply rooted phenomenon that undermines the country’s stability. The force is also insufficient on its own to retake strategic cities such as Mosul.

But U.S. officials and others said the training of a smaller number of high-quality units could enable Iraqi security forces to make significant headway against the Islamic State — supplemented eventually, U.S. officials hope, by a new “national guard” that could bring an array of armed groups operating across Iraq under provincial government control.

“Before the Mosul crisis, we were living in a fantasy,” said Hakim al-Zamili, head of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee. “We thought the army could defend the country. We trusted them. But what happened revealed the truth to us.”

The Obama administration’s plan for repairing some of Iraq’s most serious military failings appears unlikely to change with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s impending departure. Inside the Pentagon, Hagel was known as being closer to reform programs and budgetary initiatives than to the military campaign against the Islamic State.

U.S. officials blame former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for the decline in the quality of Iraqi forces after the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011. They say the Shiite leader assigned commanders on the basis of sectarian loyalty, diminishing military capabilities and undermining morale.

Under corrupt leadership, payrolls were padded with “ghost soldiers” and payments issued for troops long dead — a system that not only resulted in undermanned military units but contributed to the difficulty of assessing the size and strength of the security forces.

According to Michael Knights, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been assembling a detailed analysis of remaining Iraqi military units, army brigades that were supposed to comprise as many as 4,000 men have regularly included fewer than half that number.

“There was a huge disconnect” between the military Iraq had on paper and what it looked like in reality, a senior U.S. defense official said on the condition of anonymity.

The problems laid bare this summer were a surprise even to those involved in 2003-2011 initiative to rebuild Iraq’s military, an undertaking that cost more than $ 25 billion. While an even lengthier effort in Afghanistan has paid dividends in the fight against the Taliban, Afghan forces still lack advanced military capabilities and are suffering high battle casualties.

The Obama administration has been encouraged by the initial reforms that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took over from Maliki in August, has made. This month, Abadi replaced more than 20 senior military commanders. He has also eliminated the commander-in-chief office that Maliki had established to tighten his grip on the military. How far Abadi — seeking to keep a fragile national unity government intact — can push those reforms is unknown.

Even when the nine army brigades complete their two-month training, those more competent troops will represent a modest share of the larger Iraqi army, which Knights estimated comprised just 36 active brigades after the defeat in Mosul. The United States also plans to train three brigades of Kurdish peshmerga forces.

“Whether [the training plan] is adequate or not, it might be what’s possible right now,” Knights said.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik, who headed the U.S. training of Iraqi forces from 2007-2008, said Iraqi troops would need to progressively clear militant-held territory, as U.S. forces did during President George W. Bush’s troop surge, but without a large U.S. ground force for support.

“It’s possible, but it will take longer,” Dubik said.

The vanguard force, for instance, would be smaller than what is required to retake Mosul, where hostility toward Baghdad’s Shiite-led government has long fueled support for insurgents. Officials hope an offensive to reclaim the city can occur in the first quarter of 2015. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that three divisions, or roughly 80,000 troops, would be needed to attempt an assault on Mosul.

U.S. officials are backing a longer-term Iraqi plan to restructure the army, transforming a force that was supposed to comprise 14 to 15 divisions into one of seven to eight slightly larger-than-normal divisions: one armored, two mechanized and five light infantry, the senior defense official said. That is in addition to Iraqi special-forces troops who have borne the brunt of the fighting this year.

The success of plans to create a smaller army that is focused on Iraq’s external defense will hinge on a second initiative, to build a “national guard” to provide security in Iraqi cities and towns.

Zamili said his committee was preparing to examine a draft of the law needed to establish the guard. An early copy of the draft law that was leaked to the Iraqi media showed the program would seek to recruit former officers from the Saddam Hussein-era military, some of whom are believed to support the Islamic State.

The initiative echoes a program launched in 2006-2007, when U.S. forces helped organize Sunni tribesmen in western Iraq, and then across the country, to fight al-Qaeda. But plans to secure a lasting Sunni buy-in failed when promised jobs did not materialize for many of the tribal fighters, fueling resentment against Baghdad. Tribesmen cooperating with Baghdad also have been widely targeted by militants.

This time, U.S. officials say, Abadi is working to demonstrate support for Sunnis. “The national guard concept is designed not to repeat that mistake,” the first U.S. official said.

Another senior U.S. official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Iraqi government has integrated a “couple hundred” tribesmen into Iraqi forces as part of a “bridging solution” before the national guard can be established.

Sheik Naim al-Gaoud, a tribal elder from Anbar, expressed tentative support for the program: “We must have guarantees we will not be abandoned.”

U.S. officials hope the program will eventually absorb Kurdish peshmerga forces and at least some Shiite militiamen. The goal is ambitious given the likely reluctance of Kurdish or Shiite militia leaders to cede power to the central government, and the obstacle of first getting the proposal through Iraq’s fractious parliament.

Fuad Hussein, a senior official in the Kurdistan Regional Government, said Iraqi Kurdish leaders are open to including Kurdish troops in a national guard but doubt that the plan can take root in the midst of the current crisis. “The idea is not bad, but how are you going to implement that?” he said.

As the United States deepens its involvement, the growing role played by Iranian-backed Shiite militias remains a source of discomfort for U.S. officials.

Groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Brigade helped fuel Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed in the years after the U.S. invasion in 2003. While militia activity subsided in recent years, the fighters have returned in force to battle the Islamic State.

The militias have played a pivotal part in some of the few Iraqi successes. The militiamen, who analysts estimate as numbering in the tens of thousands, appear to be coordinating with Iraqi security forces but are not under the government’s command.

“We are watching it closely, and we are also sending very strong signals to Abadi that it doesn’t obviously serve Iraq’s interest to have militias going on rampages against Sunni civilians,” the first official said. “He gets it.”

Rights groups have been increasingly alarmed by reports of kidnappings and sectarian attacks by militiamen, including an August massacre in a Sunni mosque that Human Rights Watch blamed on Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen.

“Unless these militias are reined in, it is likely that the U.S. will be perceived as supporting the growing sectarian divide in Iraq,” said Sarah Margon, the group’s Washington director.

For now, Abadi and the United States both need the militias to make up for shortcomings in the Iraqi military, said Ahmed Ali, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. But Iraqi officials say the new prime minister is worried about what happens “the day after” — if and when the fight against the Islamic State is won.

Cunningham reported from Baghdad. Mustafa Salim contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

U.S. Seeks to Build Lean Iraqi Force to Fight the Islamic State

By , November 27, 2014 8:33 pm

U.S. Seeks to Build Lean Iraqi Force to Fight the Islamic State

After learning hard lessons rebuilding foreign militaries over the past dozen years, the U.S. military is shifting strategy against the Islamic State, choosing to train a smaller number of Iraqi soldiers rather than trying to stand up an entire army anew.

At their peak, Iraqi combat forces, painstakingly built and paid for by the United States during the last Iraq war, numbered about 400,000 troops. By the time the Islamist militant group launched its advance across northern Iraq in June, the Iraqi forces had shrunk by as much as half, depleted by years of corruption, absenteeism and decay.

When the Islamic State completed its seizure of the city of Mosul, four Iraqi army divisions and another from the federal police had disappeared, shrinking the original combat force to as few as 85,000 active troops, according to expert estimates.

As the Obama administration scrambles to counter the Islamic State, commanders have decided against trying to rebuild entire vanished divisions or introduce new personnel in underperforming, undermanned units across the country, according to U.S. officials. Rather, the officials said, the hope is to build nine new Iraqi army brigades — up to 45,000 light-infantry soldiers — into a vanguard force that, together with Kurdish and Shiite fighters, can shatter the Islamic State’s grip on a third of the country.

“The idea is, at least in the first instance, to try and build a kind of leaner, meaner Iraqi army,” said a senior U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning.

The development of a spearhead force is unlikely to address the larger decay across Iraq’s security forces and institutions, a more complex, deeply rooted phenomenon that undermines the country’s stability. The force is also insufficient on its own to retake strategic cities such as Mosul.

But U.S. officials and others said the training of a smaller number of high-quality units could enable Iraqi security forces to make significant headway against the Islamic State — supplemented eventually, U.S. officials hope, by a new “national guard” that could bring an array of armed groups operating across Iraq under provincial government control.

“Before the Mosul crisis, we were living in a fantasy,” said Hakim al-Zamili, head of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee. “We thought the army could defend the country. We trusted them. But what happened revealed the truth to us.”

The Obama administration’s plan for repairing some of Iraq’s most serious military failings appears unlikely to change with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s impending departure. Inside the Pentagon, Hagel was known as being closer to reform programs and budgetary initiatives than to the military campaign against the Islamic State.

U.S. officials blame former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for the decline in the quality of Iraqi forces after the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011. They say the Shiite leader assigned commanders on the basis of sectarian loyalty, diminishing military capabilities and undermining morale.

Under corrupt leadership, payrolls were padded with “ghost soldiers” and payments issued for troops long dead — a system that not only resulted in undermanned military units but contributed to the difficulty of assessing the size and strength of the security forces.

According to Michael Knights, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been assembling a detailed analysis of remaining Iraqi military units, army brigades that were supposed to comprise as many as 4,000 men have regularly included fewer than half that number.

“There was a huge disconnect” between the military Iraq had on paper and what it looked like in reality, a senior U.S. defense official said on the condition of anonymity.

The problems laid bare this summer were a surprise even to those involved in 2003-2011 initiative to rebuild Iraq’s military, an undertaking that cost more than $ 25 billion. While an even lengthier effort in Afghanistan has paid dividends in the fight against the Taliban, Afghan forces still lack advanced military capabilities and are suffering high battle casualties.

The Obama administration has been encouraged by the initial reforms that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took over from Maliki in August, has made. This month, Abadi replaced more than 20 senior military commanders. He has also eliminated the commander-in-chief office that Maliki had established to tighten his grip on the military. How far Abadi — seeking to keep a fragile national unity government intact — can push those reforms is unknown.

Even when the nine army brigades complete their two-month training, those more competent troops will represent a modest share of the larger Iraqi army, which Knights estimated comprised just 36 active brigades after the defeat in Mosul. The United States also plans to train three brigades of Kurdish peshmerga forces.

“Whether [the training plan] is adequate or not, it might be what’s possible right now,” Knights said.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jim Dubik, who headed the U.S. training of Iraqi forces from 2007-2008, said Iraqi troops would need to progressively clear militant-held territory, as U.S. forces did during President George W. Bush’s troop surge, but without a large U.S. ground force for support.

“It’s possible, but it will take longer,” Dubik said.

The vanguard force, for instance, would be smaller than what is required to retake Mosul, where hostility toward Baghdad’s Shiite-led government has long fueled support for insurgents. Officials hope an offensive to reclaim the city can occur in the first quarter of 2015. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that three divisions, or roughly 80,000 troops, would be needed to attempt an assault on Mosul.

U.S. officials are backing a longer-term Iraqi plan to restructure the army, transforming a force that was supposed to comprise 14 to 15 divisions into one of seven to eight slightly larger-than-normal divisions: one armored, two mechanized and five light infantry, the senior defense official said. That is in addition to Iraqi special-forces troops who have borne the brunt of the fighting this year.

The success of plans to create a smaller army that is focused on Iraq’s external defense will hinge on a second initiative, to build a “national guard” to provide security in Iraqi cities and towns.

Zamili said his committee was preparing to examine a draft of the law needed to establish the guard. An early copy of the draft law that was leaked to the Iraqi media showed the program would seek to recruit former officers from the Saddam Hussein-era military, some of whom are believed to support the Islamic State.

The initiative echoes a program launched in 2006-2007, when U.S. forces helped organize Sunni tribesmen in western Iraq, and then across the country, to fight al-Qaeda. But plans to secure a lasting Sunni buy-in failed when promised jobs did not materialize for many of the tribal fighters, fueling resentment against Baghdad. Tribesmen cooperating with Baghdad also have been widely targeted by militants.

This time, U.S. officials say, Abadi is working to demonstrate support for Sunnis. “The national guard concept is designed not to repeat that mistake,” the first U.S. official said.

Another senior U.S. official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Iraqi government has integrated a “couple hundred” tribesmen into Iraqi forces as part of a “bridging solution” before the national guard can be established.

Sheik Naim al-Gaoud, a tribal elder from Anbar, expressed tentative support for the program: “We must have guarantees we will not be abandoned.”

U.S. officials hope the program will eventually absorb Kurdish peshmerga forces and at least some Shiite militiamen. The goal is ambitious given the likely reluctance of Kurdish or Shiite militia leaders to cede power to the central government, and the obstacle of first getting the proposal through Iraq’s fractious parliament.

Fuad Hussein, a senior official in the Kurdistan Regional Government, said Iraqi Kurdish leaders are open to including Kurdish troops in a national guard but doubt that the plan can take root in the midst of the current crisis. “The idea is not bad, but how are you going to implement that?” he said.

As the United States deepens its involvement, the growing role played by Iranian-backed Shiite militias remains a source of discomfort for U.S. officials.

Groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Badr Brigade helped fuel Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed in the years after the U.S. invasion in 2003. While militia activity subsided in recent years, the fighters have returned in force to battle the Islamic State.

The militias have played a pivotal part in some of the few Iraqi successes. The militiamen, who analysts estimate as numbering in the tens of thousands, appear to be coordinating with Iraqi security forces but are not under the government’s command.

“We are watching it closely, and we are also sending very strong signals to Abadi that it doesn’t obviously serve Iraq’s interest to have militias going on rampages against Sunni civilians,” the first official said. “He gets it.”

Rights groups have been increasingly alarmed by reports of kidnappings and sectarian attacks by militiamen, including an August massacre in a Sunni mosque that Human Rights Watch blamed on Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen.

“Unless these militias are reined in, it is likely that the U.S. will be perceived as supporting the growing sectarian divide in Iraq,” said Sarah Margon, the group’s Washington director.

For now, Abadi and the United States both need the militias to make up for shortcomings in the Iraqi military, said Ahmed Ali, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. But Iraqi officials say the new prime minister is worried about what happens “the day after” — if and when the fight against the Islamic State is won.

Cunningham reported from Baghdad. Mustafa Salim contributed to this report.

Assyrian International News Agency

The Assyrian Fighters in North Iraq

By , November 27, 2014 2:51 pm

An Assyrian fighter (Dwekh Nawsha) in Baqufa, north Iraq.(AINA) — Since the formation of Dwekh Nawsha, an Assyrian Christian paramilitary force operating in the Ninawa Plains area of northern Iraq, on 11 August 2014, there have been a number of news articles about the group: in the National Geographic on 27 August, from the AFP on 27 September, in MintPress News on 8 October, my article in Al-Monitor on 30 October, by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi on 6 November, and from AP on 13 November. The group was also briefly mentioned by Robert Fisk in an article from 16 November.

Media Articles on the Dwekh Nawsha

The first article, by Rania Abouzeid in the National Geographic, described the Dwekh Nawsha being formed on 11 August. Referred to as ‘Dukha’ rather than ‘Dwekh Nawsha’, the group comprised 40 men, and was founded by the Assyrian Patriotic Party (APP) with the aim of cooperating with the Peshmerga in the fight to reclaim the Ninawa Plains from the Islamic State (IS). (In an aside, the article mentions Arab Christians, an inappropriate appellation given the identification of many of Iraq’s Christians, including Dwekh Nawsha’s members, as Assyrians rather than Arabs.)

The AFP article, by Camille Bouissou and published in various places (the link above is to the Lebanese Daily Star), is problematic in that the distinction between Dwekh Nawsha, an APP-founded group which is pro-KRG and which seeks to work with the Peshmerga, and the paramilitary force of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) in Alqosh which is anti-KRG and pro-federal government in its outlook, is poorly drawn. An assertion is made that “2,000 men have already volunteered to fight ISIS”, presumably with the ADM. The ADM has maintained armed men since the late 1970′s which has long numbered around 2,000 men; furthermore, the ADM force in Alqosh restricts its activities to guarding the town, far from the front lines. While Alqosh’s residents were evacuated the group patrolled the town, when they came back the group restricted its activities to keeping watch over the plains from its office. Either way, the group has never sought to fight IS, and if anyone had volunteered for the ADM with that aim, they would have been disappointed. Both Dwekh Nawsha and the ADM force in Alqosh numbered 100 men, according to the article; when I visited both groups in early October, the ADM had 40 men in Alqosh and Dwekh Nawsha had between 50 and 100.

The MintPress News article is a flattering portrayal of Dwekh Nawsha, giving the impression that the group is more militarily savvy that it is, and that it plays a larger role than is actually does. “Each day consists of patrolling several villages on the Mosul Dam frontline, looking out for ISIS explosives that have been planted and keeping a close eye on the militants who lie in wait just a couple of kilometers away.” The Mosul dam is far from Dwekh Nawsha’s area of operations, and while Dwekh Nawsha do patrol, it must be stressed that they do so behind the Peshmerga.

I won’t describe my own article here on the grounds that this piece draws on it, being the result of visits to the Alqosh ADM force and Dwekh Nawsha on 01 and 04 October, and to Dwekh Nawsha on 15 November. One issue is worth mentioning: like the AFP article, I failed to mention a third group, a militia force apparently of around 30 men in Alqosh belonging to the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), which I was later told performed a role similar to that of the ADM force: patrolling the town while the inhabitants were evacuated.

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi’s article, published on his website and by the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), has good background information on Iraq’s Christians and their situation between the Baghdad and Erbil governments, but suffers for being the result of internet research instead of fieldwork. He asserts that “the group’s role seems to be primarily defensive, and evidence does not point to Dwekh Nawsha as a vital military force to coordinate with the Kurdish Peshmerga”; the group does try to coordinate with the Peshmerga, but its role is more focussed on guarding and patrolling, and the term ‘defensive’ perhaps oversells their role as they do not generally play a role on the front line. Al-Tamimi accepts the figure of 200 men; on 15 November the group told me they had a total of around 250 volunteers but on a rotating pattern, and only weapons for 50 men; their effective force is therefore not more than 50 men. In terms of the photos published with the article, three are worth mentioning: in one, Dwekh Nawsha members hold an APP flag, it should be emphasised that most Dwekh Nawsha members are not APP members despite the group being founded by the APP. In other photos, members are shown in front of a Humvee, and using a truck-mounted machine gun: Dwekh Nawsha has neither of these vehicles, which probably belong to the Peshmerga.

The AP article (the link above is to the Daily Mail’s publication) also overstates Dwekh Nawsha’s activities. The piece tells us that the “men of Dwekh Nawsha now patrol Bakufa round-the-clock, in the hope that the village stays free long enough so their families can return”; this is true, but Baqufa also has a Peshmerga presence. Baqufa, like the town of Telisqof a few kilometres to the north, was occupied by IS around 6 August, and retaken by the Peshmerga on 16-17 August; Dwekh Nawsha has only recently been allowed by the Peshmerga to base themselves there instead of in the village of Sharafiyya just south of Alqosh. Most Dwekh Nawsha members are not local to Baqufa or Telisqof. Furthermore, it captions a photo of the white, blue and red Assyrian flag as being the APP flag. It also refers to the Assyrians and the Chaldeans as separate groups. While the terms ‘Assyrian’ and ‘Chaldean’ are used at various times with either ethnic or religious connotations, the APP uses ‘Assyrian’ to mean the entire ethnic group, including the adherents of both the Assyrian and Chaldean churches, and Dwekh Nawsha membership is open to any (Chaldo-)Assyrian man regardless of church affiliation.

On 16 November Robert Fisk mentioned Dwekh Nawsha very briefly in his column: “I was intrigued to visit Syria’s National Defence Forces (NDF) in Qamishli, far to the north-east of the country, which includes — like the newly formed anti-Isis Dwekh Nawsha (Self-Sacrifice) group in the Iraqi village of Bakufa — Christians as well as Muslims.” The implication that Dwekh Nawsha includes non-Christians is wrong. (The entire article is slightly odd in that it talks about north-east Syria and the Christian militias there without mentioning the Kurdish YPG forces.)

Dwekh Nawsha’s Current Position

At present, Dwekh Nawsha is found in the villages of Baqufa and Sharafiyya, and in Alqosh. They do not yet have weapons for more than 50 men, although the total number of members is higher with groups rotating between Dwekh Nawsha and in many cases their jobs in other areas of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Some members are local — for example, one is a farmer from Baqufa, others come from different regions, both in the KRI and in the IS-occupied areas. By their own estimate, around 70% of Dwekh Nawsha members have some military or police expertise, with some being serving members of the Iraqi military or police. Most are not APP members, and the group is open to any Assyrian man — the group thinks in ethnic and Assyrian nationalist rather than religious terms. (On 15 November the group said that they had contacted the ADM force in Alqosh with a suggestion to collaborate but that they had not received a favourable reply.)

Until recently, Dwekh Nawsha was based in the village of Sharafiyya just south of Alqosh. The Peshmerga in the area have now allowed the group to base themselves, and to patrol, in Baqufa, just a few kilometres north of the front line. IS occupied the area, including Telisqof, on 6 August, and was pushed out by the Peshmerga on 16-17 August; the frontline has been stationary since then, with two major IS attacks and a number of skirmishes. The Peshmerga there say that they are able to go on the offensive but that orders to do so have not yet been issued. Dwekh Nawsha’s leadership is keen to be more involved in the fight against IS, but the extent of their activities depends on the Peshmerga, which have not yet enabled a regular front-line role for the group.

Dwekh Nawsha is clearly a group with big aims, and the capacity to expand. Their activities should not be belittled, however, it is also important not to overstate their current role. With more funding the group could easily increase its reach. What they can do is limited as well by the attitude of the Peshmerga towards them, and the group is keen to expand its coordination and collaboration with the Kurdish military with a view to becoming an effective fighting force rather than a behind-the-lines auxiliary.

Assyrian International News Agency

Canadian Dollar Sinks After OPEC Meeting

By , November 27, 2014 11:20 am

LooniesToday, trading is lighter than usual due to a holiday in the United States. But this does not mean that the Forex market was quiet. Traders were focusing on the OPEC meeting, and it certainly affected the market. The Canadian dollar together with other oil-related currencies sank after the gathering.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries held a meeting in Vienna today. Analysts were speculating ahead of the event that the organization might reduce production quotas to address the slump of prices for crude oil. This has not come to be as the OPEC stated:

Recording its concern over the rapid decline in oil prices in recent months, the Conference concurred that stable oil prices – at a level which did not affect global economic growth but which, at the same time, allowed producers to receive a decent income and to invest to meet future demand – were vital for world economic wellbeing. Accordingly, in the interest of restoring market equilibrium, the Conference decided to maintain the production level of 30.0 mb/d, as was agreed in December 2011.

Oil prices sank after the announcement. Currencies of oil-producing countries followed the drop. The Canadian dollar, the Norway krone and the Russian ruble were among the losers.

USD/CAD jumped from 1.1245 to 1.1343 as of 17:57 GMT today. EUR/CAD advanced from 1.4060 to 1.4147, and CAD/JPY tumbled from 104.67 to 103.79.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Canadian Dollar, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Turkish Christians, Migrants and Refugees Waiting for Pope Francis

By , November 27, 2014 9:09 am

Istanbul — What Church is waiting for Francis in Turkey? One that is smaller than the smallest of seeds, a small and varied Christian community that is getting smaller and smaller: about 120,000 Christians, or 0.15 per cent, living scattered in tiny communities amid 76 million people. This small and very diverse group of Christians includes Orthodox, Protestants, and Roman Catholics as well as Armenians, Syriacs and Chaldeans.

Yet, in recent years, the face of the Catholic community has been changing considerably. Whilst the number of indigenous Christians is decreasing more and more – the offspring of the last ones go to Europe, America or Australia – a large number of immigrants are coming from the Philippines, from various African countries and also from the Middle East, like the thousands of refugees displaced from northern Iraq, Mosul, and Syria.

Parish communities have therefore acquired a colourful, young, and vibrant face but one that is also extremely in need of new spiritual and material care.

“Yes, now these are the sheep of the flock entrusted to me,” said Mgr Louis Pelâtre, apostolic vicar to Istanbul, bishop of this cosmopolitan city for more than 20 years, “and I have to take this into account in the regular pastoral ministry, and be very careful in how I respond to the new demands of the times.”

“The situation of the Church has not only changed within, where praying in Turkish and having a liturgy closer to the local culture have become a fact, but relations with the state have also evolved in a positive direction, although this does not mean that things will change as quickly as we would like.”

“As [Pope] Roncalli said, we need patience, lots of patience. As I constantly take my inspiration from reading his Journal of a Soul, there are some positive signs. For example, we were recently invited – we six Catholic bishops in Turkey – to take part in the consultations in parliament for the new Constitution. This is a significant and surprising gesture, unthinkable just a few years ago.”

There are however some burning issues, such as Church property. “Our greatest difficulties concern legal issues rather than relations with the local population, which are good,” the bishop explained. “Legally in fact, the Catholic Church does not exist in Turkey. In everyday life, this does not mean any particular problems for ordinary worshippers; however, it does make things difficult for the Church as an institution.”

In Turkey, despite a growing Islamisation, the state is still secular. Religious schools, hospitals and charitable works are not allowed. However, the Church, officially recognised as a place of worship, stands as a place of reference for explicit faith, “God’s house”, where everyone can feel welcome.

The Church’s presence is realised by being accessible, open to people who knock on the door, listening to their faith and picking up the “fragments” of God buried in their lives, in the light of the exchange with the Muslim faith, in consoling and bearing the sufferings of body and spirit. In such a “container” that is the sacred building, people of every social status, age, creed and ethnicity search for their identity and for some meaning to their existence.

Local Christians are well aware how important it is to have a point of reference and therefore have a strong bond with the Church, both as an institution and as a building, and even more as a community of living stones. It is a precious treasure to build and safeguard, a womb that can embrace anyone.

In Turkey, the Church’s presence is so limited that where it can be found it immediately becomes a place where every meeting – with tourists, atheists, believers, Christians or Muslims – becomes a meeting with the ‘Other’, a meeting of dialogue, friendship, and faith.

An increasing number of people knock on church doors to find comfort, support, serious discussion, and a desire to build relationships and deepen their faith. When this happens, it does not matter if one is Catholic or Orthodox, a follower of the Latin or Armenian rite.

Precisely for this reason, Christians in Turkey immediately felt great affinity and affection for Pope Francis, perceiving his desire to break down walls and, on the basis of a show of love for one another, bear all the pain of today’s humanity.

People like this pope because he cares about the “many Christians who are persecuted,” and because in Jerusalem, in an amiable manner, said that “When Christians of different confessions suffer together, side by side, and assist one another with fraternal charity, there is born an ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood, which proves particularly powerful not only for those situations in which it occurs, but also, by virtue of the communion of the saints, for the whole Church as well. Those who kill, persecute Christians out of hatred, do not ask if they are Orthodox or Catholics: they are Christians. The blood of Christians is the same.”

Now they are waiting for him with a lot of trepidation and joy. Everyone would like to see him, touch him, kiss him, make him feel their affection and esteem, be blessed by him as they see happening in other parts of the world. But, for security reasons, there will be no huge crowd, no one lining up the roadside for his motorcade.

Sadly, only a select few will be able to attend the Mass the pope will preside at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul on the afternoon of Saturday, 29 November. Only a small group will meet him during the interritual celebration of the different traditions of the Catholic Church, in the presence of representatives of the Eastern and Protestant Churches.

However, all Christians scattered throughout Turkey’s territory are waiting to hear him say words that will comfort them and give them hope and courage. They hope that this does not remain just a diplomatic trip and that the pope through his visit will make them feel the close presence of the caring Father who does not forget his children, however small, poor and insignificant they may be in the eyes of the world, thus confirming them in their faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord of history and Saviour of the world.

Assyrian International News Agency

Soccer Club Real Madrid Removes Cross From Logo to Appease UAE Bank

By , November 27, 2014 3:27 am

Soccer giant Real Madrid unveiled a new logo for its partnership with a UAE bank – one without the cross.If spreading religious intolerance is the goal, a Middle Eastern bank has scored by prompting Real Madrid to alter its world-famous logo so that a small cross does not appear on an officially-licensed credit card.

The Spanish soccer giant unveiled the adjusted logo that will adorn a new credit card issued by the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, reported The Algemeiner. The new logo looks exactly like the club’s 83-year-old trademark, except for the absence of a tiny Christian cross that normally sits at the top.

The logo change was agreed to by the world’s wealthiest sports team, valued at nearly $ 3.5 billion, in order to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities as the team and the bank enter a three-year “strategic alliance,” according to Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez.

“I know that the local people experience every match in a special way and that our links with the UAE are constantly growing stronger,” Perez said recently. “This agreement will help the club to keep conquering the hearts of followers in the United Arab Emirates.”

Noted Spanish soccer website Marca: “from the looks of things, the club is willing to compromise on aspects of its identity in pursuit of these new fans.”

However, it was not the first time the soccer juggernaut tweaked its crest to avoid offending Islamic sensibilities.In the oil-rich Emirates in 2012, Real Madrid made the same change to smooth the way for a partnership with a UAE resort.

Real Madrid’s most recent decision to cave into Muslim religious intolerance comes at a time of growing concern for Christians in the Middle East, where Islamic State terrorists have massacred and ethnically cleansed ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, noted The Algemeiner, citing a recent State Department report highlighting several violations of international standards on religious freedom in the United Arab Emirates, of which Abu Dhabi is a part.

“The government prohibits proselytizing and the distribution of non-Islamic religious literature under penalty of criminal prosecution, imprisonment and deportation,” the report observed. “The law prohibits churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses on the outside of their premises; however, the government does not always enforce this law, and some churches display crosses on their buildings.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Why Exactly Was Chuck Hagel Forced Out as SecDef?

By , November 26, 2014 9:49 pm
Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Was fired Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel simply a scapegoat for charges that the Obama presidency was slow to respond to the Islamic State and ebola? Perhaps an administration that hired him to wind down the Afghanistan War and cut Pentagon costs had reversed course and instead sought a secretary of defense to put the United States on war footing with the Islamic State.

Or as indicated by his confirmation hearings, was Hagel just too poor a spokesperson for the Pentagon?

Perhaps he just couldn’t contend with micromanagement from President Obama’s inner circle of Obama, which he was unable to penetrate.

Politico magazine asked What Was Chuck Hagel’s Biggest Mistake? Among those who responded was Tom Ricks, who wrote:

His biggest mistake was taking the job. He was working for a White House stuffed with political hacks and obsessed with message.

Winslow Wheeler:

His pathetic (“profoundly depressing”) performance at his confirmation hearing in January 2013 showed he lacked the spine or intellect, or both, to defend even his own past statements in front of bullying from Senators John McCain and Ted Cruz. Hagel’s performance since then has done absolutely nothing to dispel his initial impression as an empty shell. [Yikes! ― RW]

Lawrence Korb:

However, Hagel was sworn in already down in the count. First, his position was weakened by a disgraceful confirmation process. Hagel was all but branded a traitor in a contentious Senate confirmation hearing, and he remains the only nominee for defense secretary to be filibustered.

Peter Feaver:

Perhaps Secretary Hagel’s biggest mistake was his performance at his confirmation hearings, which left him hobbled and behind the respect-curve from the outset. As myriad leaked critiques attest, he was never able to overcome that troubled start and win the confidence of two crucial constituencies: the White House and the Pentagon.

Feaver continues beyond the confirmation hearings.

Beyond that, one can point to numerous challenges that Hagel was unable to overcome and that will greet his successor: a growing gap between what our strategy asks of the military and what our resources allow the military to do, the failure to develop a coherent strategy that will successfully deal with the threats in the Middle East, the failure to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine NATO and so on.

As far as micromanagement, Korb:

… Hagel came in at a time when the White House, burned by dissent among the team of rivals, took more control over the national security decision-making process, including selecting who would serve on Hagel’s team at the Pentagon.

Nor, according to Gordon Adams, was Hagel much help with what he was brought in to do, the budget.

Instead of disciplining the services to plan budgets at the level of the Budget Control Act caps, the services were allowed to plan budgets above the caps, which are unlikely to be achieved. But … [this] year, the services are imagining that there will be even more resources than ever, courtesy of the fear of Islamic State beheadings, Russian aggression, spreading disease and immigrants coming over the border. … Today, the budget planning process at the Pentagon is even less disciplined than it was under Secretary Leon Panetta.

Good luck with that, next SecDef! Meanwhile, John Arquilla’s reading may have been the most telling.

He has come late to an appreciation of the pressing need to pursue game-changing paths in military and security affairs, and will now have little time and no power to champion the redesign of our armed services. Thus, the need to move from a muscle-bound military that has engaged to little positive effect in Iraq and Afghanistan—at a cost of trillions—to a leaner, nimbler, more networked force will remain unmet. This, above all else, is the greatest shortcoming of Hagel’s time as secretary, a fault he shares with his post-9/11 predecessors in the defense post. Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta also failed to take advantage of the bully pulpit of the Pentagon to effect needed transformational changes.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Christians Stand Fast Against ISIL Terror in Syria’s Aleppo

By , November 26, 2014 9:45 pm

Tens of thousands of Christians have escaped from Syria’s city of Aleppo while many others intend to stand firm against ISIL terrorists, a local official says.

“A lot of members of our community have left because they lost their jobs and because of terror of Daesh (ISIL),” said Georges Bakhache, public relations officer for Aleppo’s Christians, adding that “Despite it all, we will not leave our land. Impossible.”

ISIL terrorists “are not in town but they’re not far,” he also said, adding that “Christians panicked when they saw what happened to the Christians of Mosul,” Iraq’s second city, which ISIL captured in June.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians were forced out of their homes in the city of Mosul following an ultimatum by ISIL terrorists, who ordered Christians to convert, pay a special tax, or leave, or otherwise there would be “nothing for them but the sword.”

This made “a big stir here (Aleppo) and Christians left for Lebanon, Sweden, Canada, America and Armenia,” Bakhache noted.

Bakhache said he is determined to stay in Aleppo, rather than join his family members in the United States.

Meanwhile, Father Imad Daher of the Latin church of Saint Francis said Christians are getting ready to put up their Christmas trees.

“We will celebrate Christmas … We will celebrate with a mass for peace,” he said.

The northern metropolis of Aleppo, which was the economic hub of Syria, has since July 2012 been divided into a western sector under the government troops’ control and a militant-held east.

Christians comprise roughly 10 percent of the Syrian population and Aleppo alone was home to some 250,000 of these people before the Syria war reached the city in 2012.

Syria has been grappling with a deadly crisis since March 2011. The violence fuelled by foreign-backed militants has so far claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, according to reports.

The ISIL terrorists that control large parts of Syria and Iraq have threatened all communities, including Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians.

Assyrian International News Agency