Today’s D Brief: Iraq PM’s first WH visit; Bannon indicted for border wall fraud; US drops death penalty for ISIS’ Beatles; WH wants to sell F-35s to the UAE; And a bit more.
Iraq’s big day at the White House. President Trump is scheduled to spend the latter half of Wednesday morning with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who has held that job for nearly three months now. “One question for the leaders is the future role of the 5,200 American troops, who have been training Iraqi forces and advising them in their fight against Islamic State militants,” the Wall Street Journal reports in a preview.
The two are slated to chat briefly before cameras just after 11 a.m., before shifting to a private, “expanded bilateral meeting” in the Cabinet room about 20 minutes later. NPR’s Jane Arraf has a three-minute summary of what the PM may be keying in on today, here.
It comes one week after Gen. Frank McKenzie said troop reductions in Iraq have forced the remaining Americans into a defensive crouch against continued Iranian-backed militia attacks. It’s enough to do the job, with Iraqis, he said, but it’s preventing the U.S. from pursuing ISIS. Iran is now the CENTCOM chief’s top focus, signaling a shift in policy and the times. That, here.
The PM is a former journalist as well as a former intelligence chief for Iraq. He rose to power this spring after months of protests eventually forced his predecessor out. Al-Kadhimi’s first trip abroad was, of course, to Iran back in late July.
Some reasons why Al-Kadhimi may be visiting: “Five U.S. firms including Chevron Corp signed agreements on Wednesday with the Iraqi government aimed at boosting Iraq’s energy independence from Iran,” Reuters reported Wednesday.
The companies involved in that five-firm deal signed Wednesday: Honeywell International Inc, Baker Hughes Co, General Electric Co, Stellar Energy and Chevron. Altogether, the companies “signed commercial agreements worth as much as $8 billion with the Iraqi ministers of oil and electricity,” according to Reuters. More on all that, here.
BREAKING: Former White House advisor and Trump’s right hand Steve Bannon was indicted for fraud in a $25 million crowdfunding operation to build a border wall along parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, according to charges unsealed today in a Manhattan federal court. Reuters refers to the charges “conspiracy to commit wire fraud.”
What’s going on here: AP reports, “Bannon promised that 100% of the donated money would be used for the project, but the defendants collectively used hundreds of thousands of dollars in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations. The indictment said they faked invoices and sham ‘vendor’ arrangements, among other ways, to hide what was really happening.”
Recall that Trump funneled billions from the military to fund the wall in his race to stand up as much of it as he could before the November election. Then in late June, a federal appeals court said the White House didn’t actually have the authority to divert those $2.5 billion in Defense Department funds. More on that from CNN, here.
From Defense One
Exclusive: US Drops Death Penalty for ISIS 'Beatles' // Katie Bo Williams: Atty. Gen. Barr's letter to the UK brings two ISIS fighters accused of beheading American journalists and aid workers closer to a U.S. trial.
Why Don't The Dead Matter? // Gregory A. Daddis: Far too few Americans seem to feel genuine compassion for the dead, even among their fellow citizens. Our endless wars may be to blame.
The Pandemic is Pushing the Pentagon Toward Classified Telework // Frank Konkel: The risk-averse agency has cracked small-scale remote handling of secret and top-secret information. The challenge is doing it at scale.
Let Japan's Companies Help // Bernice Kiyo Glenn: To stay ahead of China, the Pentagon should reach out to allies who have more advanced capabilities than the U.S. Japan is top of the list.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson with Kevin Baron. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 636, the first “great wave” of Muslim conquests was cemented in history with the Battle of Yarmouk, near the modern-day border of Jordan and Syria.
Closer to justice for the American hostages ISIS murdered. Ending an international policy standoff with the U.K., the Trump administration on Wednesday dropped its pursuit of the death penalty for two British ISIS members of the notorious “Beatles,” in exchange for the evidence needed to prosecute them. Why? The U.K. already revoked their British citizenship, but: “In order to bring charges, U.S. prosecutors need evidence held by the British government. But Britain abolished the death penalty in 1969 and British courts have blocked the government from cooperating in the case.” Now they can proceed. Defense One’s Katie Bo Wiliams broke the story, details here.
The catch: “Barr said that if the U.K. does not resolve its domestic legal hurdles and begin transferring the needed evidence to the United States by Oct. 15 — through what’s known as a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty — then the United States would move to transfer custody of the two men to the Iraqi government for prosecution.” If that happens, “they would almost certainly be executed.”
Remember them, the orange jumpsuits, the knives, the horrifying videos: Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are their names. “Among those killed by the group was James Foley, an American journalist who was beheaded in August of that year, and three other Americans: journalist Steven Sotloff and aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.”
Now that Israel and UAE are friendly, the Trump White House wants to sell F-35s and Reaper drones to the UAE military — against likely objections from Israel and Congress, the New York Times' Mark Mazzetti and Edward Wong reported Wednesday.
It’s part of the Trump administration’s plan to “realign the Middle East,” according to the Times. And to that end, “On Tuesday, an Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, reported that the Trump administration had secretly agreed to a sale of F-35s and drones to the Emirates as part of the Emirati peace agreement with Israel.” (Bloomberg unpacked the key takeaways from that UAE-Israel deal on Wednesday, here. And Reuters relays, briefly, just how excited the Emiratis are over this possible deal, here.)
Notable caveat to all this: “Even if the Trump White House were to announce its intent, selling the F-35s would take six to eight years and could be undone by a future administration,” Mazzetti and Wong write. More at the Times, here; or via Reuters and AP, here and here, respectively.
Btw, pirates are back: A Panama-flagged ship that departed the Emirates was just reportedly hijacked by six Somali pirates, Reuters reports. The ship was headed to Mogadishu, but it’s now somewhere between the two points, closer to the coast of Puntland. More here.
Facebook finally steps up to mute the pro-Trump info war conspiracy theorists of QAnon. The social media company announced Wednesday that it removed nearly 800 QAnon group pages from its site as part of new rules against advocating political violence. But they’re still not outright banned.
“Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy,” is what FB is calling it, targeting “organizations and movements that have demonstrated significant risks to public safety but do not meet the rigorous criteria to be designated as a dangerous organization and banned from having any presence on our platform.”
Trump, in his first comments on QAnon, thanked them: “I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” he said of QAnon in remarks to reporters Wednesday. "I've heard these are people who love our country," he added. (Catch video of that exchange in full, here.) More below.
The purge “removed 790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon," Facebook said in its release Wednesday. Facebook also "blocked over 300 hashtags across Facebook and Instagram, and additionally imposed restrictions on over 1,950 Groups and 440 Pages on Facebook and over 10,000 accounts on Instagram."
Why now? Perhaps in part because these QAnon groups have experienced “record growth” on the site, “much of it since the coronavirus pandemic began in March,” the New York Times reported Wednesday. And most of that growth occurred thanks to the widely-shared and broadly discredited pseudo-documentary, “Plandemic.”
Just now catching up to these dangerous clowns? Here’s a run-down on who they are, via the Times: “Founded four years ago, QAnon was once a fringe phenomenon with believers who alleged, falsely, that the world was run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who were plotting against President Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring. But in recent months, the movement has become mainstream.” And that now includes “Marjorie Taylor Greene, an avowed QAnon supporter from Georgia, won a Republican primary this month and may be elected to the House in November.” (See also this a deep-dive from the Times’ Tech Columnist Kevin Roose, published Wednesday as well.)
Here’s how NBC News summarizes QAnon: “QAnon is an elaborate, unfounded conspiracy theory alleging that President Donald Trump is secretly saving the world from a group of prominent satanic cannibals who run the world. The group has been linked to several violent, criminal incidents, including a train hijacking, kidnappings, a police chase and a murder.”
Trump was asked directly about the nonsensical conspiracy by a reporter on Wednesday: “Mr. President, at the crux of the theory is this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals. Does that sound like something you are behind or a believer in?”
His stunning response: “Well, I haven't — I haven't heard that. But is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, you know, if I can help save the world from problems, I'm willing to do it. I'm willing to put myself out there.” Trump then blamed the left. “We’re saving the world from a radical-left philosophy that will destroy this country,” which will destroy the world, said the president. “We need strength in our country, not weakness. Too much weakness.”
“This is a big deal,” tweeted Roose of the Times. “And will be an even bigger deal if Facebook keeps enforcing against these groups when they (inevitably) try to reorganize and come back under new names.
And that’s why nobody thinks this will end here. In fact, a Facebook spox told NBC News, “This doesn't mean we've captured all of the ones we want to restrict yet. We 100 percent know that they're going to change their terminology. We don't think we're flipping a switch and this won't be a discussion in a week.”
Apropos of nothing: South Korean spies think Kim Jon Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, is North Korea’s “de facto second-in-command.” Reuters has the story from Seoul, here.
Lastly today: Now might be a good time to figure out who’s who in Mali’s new military junta. And so Reuters rolled up five key figures in a short “Factbox” feature, here.
Backgrounder: The Washington Post calls what’s happening in Bamako “The first coup d’etat of the coronavirus era.” Get caught up on all that, here.