Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Are Maliki’s days numbered?; Dempsey, Hagel lay out an analysis; Petraeus urges caution; Kirby defends Pentagon transparency; Is Qatar helping raise funds for terrorists?; The presidential race at the Pentagon; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Buyer’s remorse: Is it time for Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki to go? There is consensus forming around the administration’s line now that the problems in Iraq fall squarely at the feet of the Iraqi security forces – and Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for fomenting the Sunni militants’ action by ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Buyer’s remorse: Is it time for Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki to go? There is consensus forming around the administration’s line now that the problems in Iraq fall squarely at the feet of the Iraqi security forces – and Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for fomenting the Sunni militants’ action by not making a strong enough effort to govern inclusively. FP’s Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson: "…In a sign of the growing disconnect between Obama and Maliki, the Iraqi leader formally asked the White House to launch airstrikes inside his country to prevent militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, from reaching Baghdad, and to gradually force them out of the growing list of cities they already control. The administration gave no indication that it is willing to launch that kind of military intervention, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel telling a Senate panel that ‘a political solution is the only viable solution’ to Iraq’s crisis. White House officials say Obama hasn’t spoken to Maliki since the ISIS offensive began earlier this spring and declined to say if, or when, the president planned to do so.

"Current and former administration officials are increasingly open about their frustrations with Maliki and about their doubts that he is the right man to lead Iraq. On Tuesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Fox News that Maliki ‘has failed as a leader.’ On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, a growing number of lawmakers from both parties said that Maliki has to go if his country has any chance of forming a collaborative government capable of uniting Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds in the fight against ISIS. Maliki’s governing style privileges his fellow Shiites at the Sunni minority’s expense. Many lawmakers believe the Iraqi prime minister has inadvertently fueled the ISIS onslaught by alienating Sunnis and persuading them that they’d be better off living under Sunni religious extremists than under his unrelentingly hostile Shiite government.

McCain in an interview: "He’s got to step down… There’s no reconciliation with him and the Sunnis. He should form a coalition government and leave."

"None of the lawmakers offered up any specific ideas about what steps the U.S. could or should take to dislodge Maliki. The White House maintains that Iraqis must determine his future. Privately, however, several people who regularly interact with the White House say top administration officials concluded it would be impossible to cobble together a coalition government encompassing Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds with Maliki still at the helm.

A former high-ranking official who maintains close ties to the White House: "There’s a growing understanding that he’s become simply toxic… I haven’t heard anyone talk about how to persuade him to step down but I’ve heard a lot of people say that the situation on the ground won’t really improve if he stays at the helm." More here.

The U.S. Signals Iraq’s Maliki Should Go. Jay Solomon and Carol Lee on Page One: "The Obama administration is signaling that it wants a new government in Iraq without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, convinced the Shiite leader is unable to reconcile with the nation’s Sunni minority and stabilize a volatile political landscape. The U.S. administration is indicating it wants Iraq’s political parties to form a new government without Mr. Maliki as he tries to assemble a ruling coalition following elections this past April, U.S. officials say. Such a new government, U.S., officials say, would include the country’s Sunni and Kurdish communities and could help to stem Sunni support for the al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, that has seized control of Iraqi cities over the past two weeks. That, the officials argue, would help to unify the country and reverse its slide into sectarian division." More here.

Dempsey says airstrikes aren’t as easy as looking at an iPhone and then striking. At a budget hearing yesterday with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, most of the talk was about Iraq and the two acknowledged formally that Iraq has asked for airstrikes. But, it’s complicated. FP’s Hudson: "The request [for airstrikes] comes as militants belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized Iraq’s biggest oil refinery on Wednesday. But it also comes as Barack Obama’s administration raised doubts about the value of kinetic strikes in a conflict plagued by deep sectarian divisions throughout the country.

Dempsey to a Senate appropriations panel yesterday: "We have a request from the Iraqi government for air power… It’s not as easy as looking at an iPhone video of a convoy and then striking it…. These forces are very intermingled." More here.
Defense News’ Paul McLeary on Hagel and Dempsey’s Senate hearing yesterday,

Biden calls three Iraqi leaders to urge unity against ISIL insurgents, by Reuters’ Roberta Rampton, here.

The conflict in Iraq adds a new angle to the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks. The NYT’s David Sanger, here.

Petraeus weighs in with a cautionary note. The Daily Beast’s Nico Hines in London: "David Petraeus, the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, has issued a stark warning to those advocating U.S. military intervention against ISIS militias bearing down on Baghdad… [Petraeus] said it was only wise to offer military support if the political conditions were exactly right in Iraq, a scenario that is virtually impossible to imagine in the near-future. ‘This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias, or a Shia on Sunni Arab fight,’ he said… Petraeus said the only way the U.S. could intervene without further destabilizing Iraq would be if the Shia-led government in Baghdad was seen as fair and representative throughout Iraq." More here.

Veterans offer each other help as Iraq falls apart. TIME’s Mark Thompson: "More than 1.5 million Americans served in Iraq between 2003 and 2011. More than a few of them are upset with what’s happened to that country, where they fought and their friends died, over the past week. That’s why the Wounded Warrior Project sent an email Tuesday to its 50,000 members acknowledging their sacrifices and offering mental-health services if they find the latest happenings from Iraq depressing.

Ryan Kules, the project’s national alumni director and a double amputee: "Your feelings are justified… If you feel frustration watching the news, remember that we did our duty and served admirably, coming home with the visible and invisible scars of that service."

"The reaction of those who fought, and whose friends died, in Iraq has been somber.
There wasn’t so much bitter anger as a palpable sadness. Those who thought the invasion was a mistake consoled themselves by blaming President George W. Bush; others blamed President Obama for not fighting harder to keep some U.S. forces in the country after 2011 to try to ensure the lives of the 4,486 Americans who died there didn’t end in vain." More here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Wanna know how the lessons of the European wars of the Reformation — hundreds of years old — can help stave off the lethal mix of religious radicalization and politics in Iraq? We happened to hear a couple people talking about this piece in the hallways of the Pentagon yesterday and how spot-on it was, no bull, and since we missed it yesterday, we’re picking it up today. Adm. James Stavridis for FP: "As Sunnis and Shiites tear their societies apart throughout parts of the Arab world, old ghosts are indeed rattling from the eastern Mediterranean and Levant to the northern Arabian Gulf. We watch with horror and near disbelief as radicalized elements on both sides of the Islamic faith take up arms in Iraq and Syria in increasingly vicious ways. But in the West, we have seen this play out before: in the Christian faith, during the wars of the Reformation.

"From the early 1500s to the mid-1600s, Protestants and Catholics tore Europe apart, killing perhaps a third of the population in parts of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, with brutal casualty rates in many other parts of the continent and the British Isles. Coincidentally, this was the moment when Christianity was about 1,500 years old — roughly the length of time since the founding of Islam to the present. Then, as now, this was not purely religious fury at work.

"…In the Arab and Persian worlds today, geopolitics and economics are clearly at work as well. Iran seeks to dominate as much of the Middle East as it can, and it is willing to use the genie of Sunni versus Shiite to allow it a dominant voice in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. On the Sunni side, the Persian Gulf monarchies have incautiously supported radical Sunni groups, resulting in the germination of not only al Qaeda and its subsidiaries, but also the emergent Sunni terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)." More here.

Ahmed Abu Khatala is on his way to the U.S. on a Navy ship – the USS New York. AP’s  Julie Pace and Nancy Benac: "…U.S. officials said Abu Khatala was being held on the Navy amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, which was in the Mediterranean Sea. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss Abu Khatala whereabouts." More here.

The U.S. makes the case for the abduction of Khatala. FP’s Colum Lynch: "Barack Obama’s administration has mounted a strenuous defense at the United Nations of its decision to capture Ahmed Abu Khatala, the chief suspect in the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. It notified the U.N. Security Council that America acted in self-defense to prevent similar attacks, according to an unpublished copy of the U.S. letter to the world body.

The appeal to the Security Council came as the Libyan government accused Washington of violating Libyan law by abducting Abu Khatala within its borders and urged the United States to return Abu Khatala to stand trial in Libya. The Libyan government ‘considers this as a violation of legal sovereignty and certainly they are asking for some explanation from the U.S. government,’ Libya’s U.N. envoy, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told Foreign Policy. ‘I think the guy is also wanted for crimes in Libya.’ The Libyan government, he added, believes that Libya should try him rather than the United States." Read the rest here.

Abu Khatala was an unlikely leader before the Benghazi attacks – and a loner afterward. The WaPo’s Erin Cunningham, Nizar Sarieldin and David Fahrenthold: "Ahmed Abu Khatala – the Islamist militant U.S. forces captured in Libya over the weekend – did not seem to have the personality for leadership. He was a standoffish oddball, the son of a government employee, who had spent more than a decade in the brutal prisons of ruler Moammar Gaddafi. But, in the chaotic time after Gaddafi’s fall, Abu Khatala had two credentials that led people to follow him. The prison time was one. The other was a fierce disdain for anyone who had worked with Gaddafi’s government. In a country full of guns and anger, Abu Khatala came to command his own militia. He appeared to be untainted in a country where few leaders had no connections to the hated old leadership." More here.

Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby took some issue with the notion that the Pentagon was not forthcoming with details on the capture of Khatallah. Kirby was mum on many of the details reporters wanted at a Pentagon briefing earlier this week, and in Situation Report, we noted some of his non- and evasive answers to questions posed to him about where Khatala is, how he was captured, and the like while also noting that the Pentagon was one of the most if not the most transparent government departments. Kirby defended the claim and explained why sometimes providing operational details isn’t always practical. Kirby, to SitRep, in total: "I honestly believe we are one of the most transparent agencies in the government.  The media have good access to the Pentagon, our facilities and to our leaders. We routinely embark and embed reporters in our units. We actively facilitate and encourage public engagement and debate about our activities. Every dollar we spend, virtually every unit we deploy and pretty well near every discipline issue we face we talk about. When something goes wrong, we investigate. When someone is fired, we issue a press release. When an accident occurs, we own up to it. The rules and our own policies are prejudiced toward disclosure. That we don’t release every report, every investigation or every scrap of operational detail in no way tarnishes our very real commitment to being as open and as transparent as possible.

‘As possible.’ That’s the important part. Equal to our obligation to explain is our obligation to protect. To defend the nation, we must safeguard secrets from those who wish us ill – like those who perpetrated the Benghazi attack. I fail to see how disclosing in detail the tactics, procedures and planning through which we captured Abu Khatallah helps us bring more of these people to justice … people, I remind you, who
are trying to evade us, who follow the news and who constantly change their own tactics. The American people expect us to be honest with them. And we are. But they also expect us to prove able and willing to keep our mouths shut when appropriate."

Is Qatar where terrorists turn for funding? CNN’s Erin Burnett of OutFront looked at the U.S. relationship with Qatar and charity fundraisers and then singled out and tracked a few fundraisers in Qatar which are operating freely in the country and whose work is endorsed by al Nusra Front in Syria. Takes a looksee, here.

Who’s Where When today – Navy Sec. Ray Mabus attends the White House Medal of Honor ceremony for Marine Cpl Kyle Carpenter and holds internal staff meetings… Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos attends the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House… Army Secretary John McHugh, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno and Sgt. Major of the Army Ray Chandler all host an Army birthday cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate the Army’s (June 14) birthday. Following the cake-cutting at 11 a.m., the Washington National’s Racing Presidents will have at it – right there in the Pentagon courtyard. (we typically root, root, root for the home team – and also for Teddy).

Happy belated 239th birthday, Army – you don’t look a day over 238.

Meantime, at Brookings this morning, an event on America’s options in Iraq. Panelists will include Brookings’ Suzanne Maloney, Kenneth M. Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon. Tamara Cofman Wittes will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion. Deets here.

Also today, Obama will award Marine Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Stripes’ Jon Harper: "Marine Lance Cpls. Kyle Carpenter and Nicholas Eufrazio were standing watch on the roof of a mud and timber building being used as the command center at Patrol Base Dakota, in the Marjah district of Helmand province. Their squad was pushing south into Taliban strongholds, working to set up patrol bases and establish a stronger U.S. Marine presence in the volatile region. On the morning of Nov. 21, 2010, insurgents threw three grenades. One landed on the roof. Rather than trying to escape the blast or shield himself, Carpenter dove on top of the grenade to protect his comrade.

"‘Due to [then] Lance Corporal Carpenter’s actions, the majority of the grenade blast was deflected down rather than up, causing a cone-shaped hole to be blown down through the ceiling of the command operations center (below) … Lance Corporal Carpenter’s body absorbed a majority of the resulting explosion,’ according to a Marine Corps account of the battle. The blast seat of the grenade was found under Carpenter’s torso. ‘His total disregard for his own personal safety distinguishes his conduct above and beyond the call of duty,’ according to the Marine Corps." More here.

An Army veteran who served alongside Bowe Bergdahl said Bergdahl was deeply frustrated with the mission and had lodged false allegations that the unit had carried out atrocities. The WaPo’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff: "…Bergdahl ‘didn’t understand why we were doing more humanitarian aid drops, setting up clinics, and helping the populous instead of hunting the Taliban,’ former Spec. Cody Full told lawmakers during a hearing on the exchange of Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. ‘He wanted to hunt and kill.’" More here.

Also, how a member of a special operations unit almost lost a leg, and, almost, his life, in the search for Bergdahl in "Saving Private Bergdahl" in Politico mag, here.

Meantime, will Afghanistan collapse like Iraq? Politico’s Philip Ewing: "…Worry is quietly building that the ongoing crisis in Iraq – the struggles of a government partly seen as illegitimate, the collapse of its American-trained military and the ascendance of Islamic extremists – is just Part 1 of a grim coda to George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Part 2 could be a repeat of this scenario in Afghanistan as, or after, the last American combat troops come home over the next two years. Members of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Wednesday whether Afghanistan would go the way of Iraq. No, they answered. ‘It is my judgment that the two bear very little comparison,’ Hagel said. But that level of confidence is not universal.

HASC Chairman Buck McKeon: "The president had hoped that as America stepped back from the world, other responsible actors would step forward to provide stability… That hasn’t worked. It isn’t going to work. Our vacillation and inaction in Syria, abandonment of Iraq, politically driven withdrawal from Afghanistan and senseless cuts to national security resources has allowed the resurrection of a transnational terrorist threat."
"…One important difference is the quality of the enemies. American commanders say the Taliban has lost a lot of momentum in its campaign against the Afghan government, pointing to the relative success of Afghanistan’s presidential elections. Baghdad’s enemy in ISIL, however, presents a much graver threat." More here.

Alleging ballot-stuffing, Abdullah Abdullah is pushing to have the vote count stopped in Afghanistan. The WaPo’s Kevin Sieff and Mohammad Sharif in Kabul: "…the former foreign minister said Wednesday that he will reject the results due to be issued next month by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), calling the commission biased and the results fraudulent. While many here expected some questioning of the vote, Abdullah’s objections came far earlier than expected – two weeks before preliminary results will be announced and well before an electoral complaints commission has finished investigating claims of fraud. "…Some perceived Abdullah’s comments as a sign of desperation after a poorer-than-expected showing in Saturday’s runoff election. Abdullah received 44.5 percent of the vote in the first round of voting in April, compared to 31.5 percent for Ghani. But reports of a higher voter turnout in the second round in the south and east, both Pashtun heartlands, might have boosted Ghani’s support. Ghani belongs to the Pashtun ethnic group, believed to be Afghanistan’s largest, while Abdullah is of mixed heritage and is often associated with the Tajik minority. Most Afghan and foreign observers had expected some fraud, but had hoped the candidates would entrust the country’s electoral bodies to weed out illegitimate votes." More here.

In Yemen, a fuel crisis prompts worries that the old regime is exploiting instability to bring itself back to power. Peter Salisbury in Sanaa for FP: "On June 10, tribesmen in Yemen
‘s Marib province attacked a power plant that supplies Sanaa, the capital with the bulk of its electricity, plunging the city into darkness. A day later, as diesel power generators ran out of fuel, festering frustration with the deteriorating security and feeble economy boiled over. Groups of young men started blocking off first small side streets and then major roads in Sanaa with barricades of burning tires. Plumes of smoke rose above the city as those cars that had fuel found themselves snarled up in seemingly never-ending traffic jams. Soldiers appeared on the streets clad in riot gear, firing live ammunition over the heads of protestors at Tahrir Square in central Sanaa.

"For many in Yemen, the past few months have been an increasingly unwelcome reminder of the darkest days of 2011. Then, as infighting between former allies in the regime of President Saleh threatened to tear the country apart, the economy ground to a halt. Supply of electricity, fuel, and water dwindled, and prices shot up — at least, where basic goods were available. Neighbors fought one another over liters of water. The poverty rate rose above 50 percent, where it has been stubbornly stuck ever since. Three years on, lines over half a mile long stretch out from gas stations in the capital, Sanaa. Electricity supply is erratic at best. In some parts of the city, lights flicker on for a few minutes at a time before cutting out again. The cost of black market fuel has doubled, as has the price of non-government supply water." More here.

Former Sec. of State James Baker III offers a seven-point roadmap for restoring American leadership in the op-ed pages of the WSJ: "First, we should be careful about making promises or threats without considering the consequences… Second, we should strive for greater stability in the Middle East, particularly given what is now happening in Iraq, the failure of the Geneva Conference on Syria, and the moribund Arab-Israeli peace talks. We should take the lead in organizing a coalition to develop a multilateral strategy dealing with the conflicts… Third, we need to find ways to convince our allies that we will honor our security commitments to them, whether they are in Asia or Europe… " More here.




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