Did FBI Let Islamists Attack a Texas Cartoon Contest? – Fix This Nation .com

Source: Did FBI Let Islamists Attack a Texas Cartoon Contest? – Fix This Nation .com

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Middle East

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

Sadr

Headed by Ahmed al-Sadr, son of the movement’s leader Moqtada, the delegation was welcomed in Irbil by President Masoud al-Barzani.

The president’s media officer Kifah Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat that the two sides discussed the political situation in Iraq and the ongoing war against ISIS in the city of Mosul.

They also tackled the post-ISIS phase, especially in Iraq, he revealed.

The Sadr delegation said that they are making preparations for the upcoming elections, he said.

Meanwhile, Kirkuk governor Najm Eddine Karim announced that Baghdad is not offering any aid to the city.

He told reporters during a celebration in honor of Kurdish journalism: “There are over half a million refugees in Kirkuk, including 30,000 families that have fled al-Huweija district.”

“This is posing a major burden on the city and the residents are sharing medicine, water, electricity and other services with these refugees. Their patience will not last long,” he warned.

He therefore demanded that Baghdad work on allowing the displaced to return to the liberated areas “as soon as possible.”

“The delay in liberating al-Huweija does not serve Kirkuk or Iraq,” Karim said.

He said that Baghdad’s aid to refugees in Kirkuk is so slim that it is bordering on nonexistent, urging the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to seriously address Kirkuk’s demands.

“Everyone in Baghdad and anywhere else should know that the residents of Kirkuk will not accept this attitude,” he warned.

Coexistence In The Middle-East (And Every Where else On Earth): Or Self Inflected Armageddon?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY  ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Coexistence Is the Last Chance to Avoid the Precipice

Last week, Egypt’s Coptic Christians cancelled Easter celebrations in mourning for those who were killed in two separate terrorist explosions targeting churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

In Iraq too, new maps are being drawn by sectarianism, while minorities shrink and ethno-religious fabric change under the violence perpetrated by Iran on one side and ISIS on another.

Likewise, we openly witness how shredded Syria has become, and under the eyes of the international community, it is well on the road of partition and population exchange– finally, the less said the better it is when the subject matter is ongoing events in occupied Palestinian territories.

Given this painful regional climate, the ongoing arguments about Lebanon’s future electoral system become a travesty, not much different from the ‘crowded’ field of Iran’s presidential elections where neither votes nor abundance of candidates mean a thing against what the Supreme Leader utters and the elitist Revolutionary Gaurd the (IRGC) dictates.

In Lebanon, the Middle East’s ‘democratic’ soft belly, the Lebanese’ daily bread and butter is endless and absurd arguments and counter-arguments about what the most appropriate electoral system should look like in upcoming parliamentary elections. This is not actually new. Moreover, true intentions behind what is going on have nothing to do with what is being said, whether the intention is escalation or hypocrisy.

The real problem is that the Lebanese are acutely divided on several basic issues regarding conditions of coexistence, political representation and even the meaning of democracy.

For a start, one must ask oneself whether the next elections – regardless of what system is adopted – are going to produce any change in the status quo? Is there any common Lebanese vision as to what the country’s identity is among the ostensible ‘allies’, let alone political adversaries and those dependent on foreign backing and sectarian hegemony?

Then, one may also ask – given defective mechanisms of governance – would ‘state institutions’ still be relevant and meaningful? Would any electoral law be effective in the light of accelerating disproportionate sectarian demographics, and the fact that one large religious sect enjoys a monopoly of military might outside the state’s umbrella, while still sharing what is underneath that umbrella?

The other day in his Easter sermon the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Ra’i said “the (Lebanese) Christians are nobody’s bullied weaklings, but are rather indispensable (!)…”. This is tough talk indeed, but it too is not new.

From what is widely known about Cardinal Ra’i, even before assuming the Patriarchate, is that he is highly interested in politics, and that political views are as candid as they are decisive. On Syria, in particular, he has been among the first to warn the West against and dissuade its leaders from supporting the Syrian uprising; when he claimed during his visits – beginning with France – that any regime that may replace Bashar Al-Assad’s may be worse, and thus it would better to keep him in power.

The same path has been followed by current Lebanese president Michel Aoun, who was strongly backed by Hezbollah, to the extent that the latter forced a political vacuum on Lebanon lasting for over two years.

Of course, Hezbollah, in the meantime, had been imposing its hegemony over Lebanon, fighting for Al-Assad in Syria, and training the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of Iran’s project of regional dominance. In promoting this ‘project’ globally, but particularly in the West, Iran has given it the themes of ‘fighting terrorism’ – meaning ‘Sunni Muslim terrorism’- and ‘protection of minorities’ within the framework of a tactical ‘coalition of the minorities’.

A few days ago Aoun said during an interview that “the aim behind what is taking place in the Orient is to empty it of Christians and partition the region into several states”. Again, this is not something new, as it used to be said on the murder and kidnapping road blocks during the dark days of the Lebanese War between 1975 and 1990. Those days the fears of uprooting were common and widespread; reaching the climax within the Christian community with rumors that the mission of American diplomat Dean Brown was to evacuate Lebanon’s Christians to Canada, and within the Druze community during ‘the Mountain War’ (1983-1984) that they would be expelled to southern Syria.

However, Aoun, as it seems, has not been quite aware of who was applying the final touches on population exchange, and drawing the map for the ‘future’ states he has been warning against. He has simply ignored the full picture, turning instead, to repeat old talk in order to justify temporary interests that are harmful if not fatal to minorities, rather than being beneficial and protective.

In this context, come the ‘try-to-be-smart’ attempts to impose a new electoral law in Lebanon as a means of blackmail, as if the country’s sectarian ‘tribal chieftains’ are naïve or debutants in the arena of sectarian politics. The latest has come from Gebran Bassil, the foreign minister and President Aoun’s son-in-law, when he expressed his “willingness to entertain the idea of a Senate, on the condition that it is headed by a Christian!”. This pre-condition was quickly rejected by the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri on the basis that the presidency of a Senate, as approved in “Taif Agreement” – which is now part of Lebanon’s Constitution – was allocated to the Druze; and thus, what Bassil had suggested was unconstitutional.

It is worth mentioning here that all suggestions regarding the future electoral law have ignored the issue of a Senate. It was has also been obvious that another item in the “Taif Agreement” was being intentionally ignored too, which is adopting ‘Administrative De-Centralization’.

However, if some Lebanese parties feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘De-Centralization’, more so as both Iraq and Syria seem to be on their way to actual partition, it is not possible anymore to separate Lebanon’s politics from its demographics.

The latter are now being affected by radical and everlasting demographic changes occurring across the country’s disintegrating eastern borders with Syria. These include what is being reported – without being refuted – about widespread settlement and naturalization activities in Damascus and its countryside. Furthermore, once the population exchange between Shi’ite ‘pockets’ of northern Syria and the Sunni majority population of the Barada River valley is completed, the new sectarian and demographic fabric of Damascus and its countryside would gain a strategic depth and merge with a similar fabric in eastern Lebanon.

This is a danger that Lebanese Christians, indeed, all Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis and all Arabs, must be aware of and sincere about. The cost of ignoring facts on the ground is tragic, as blood begets blood, exclusion justifies exclusion, and marginalization undermines coexistence.

Nation-building is impossible in the absence of a free will to live together. It is impossible in a climate of lies, while those who think they are smart gamble on shifting regional and global balances of power.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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Iran’s Supreme ‘Liar’ Ali Khamenei Criticizes Officials’ Fears from ‘Enemy Warnings’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

Khamenei Criticizes Officials’ Fears from ‘Enemy Warnings’

London- Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei indirectly criticized some political parties for reiterating slogans to distance the country from war.

Khamenei addressed a gathering of top military and army staff, telling them a country would be in its worst situation if its officials fear the slightest of enemy’s threats.

“If they fear them, they have actually opened up a way for the enemy’s invasion and aggression.”

Khamenei went on to note, “if one wishes to be scared, it is alright, as long as the fear is not extended to be on behalf of the nation, because the Iranian people are courageously standing against all threats.”

“Tasks should be done with wisdom, logic and prudence — there is no doubt about that — but they should also be done courageously,” Khamenei said.

“Fearing or worrying, or becoming affected by the threats, frowns, and mistreatment that arise from the world’s superpowers, is just the beginning of a country’s misery.”

“Those who follow western media see how the enemies are trying to disrupt the elections in some way, but the Iranian nation will remain vigilant and wise to these hostile moves and the election will hopefully be held with a high turnout in a secure, passionate and lively atmosphere,” he said.

Khamenei further stressed that an election held with such parameters in mind will bring great immunity to the country.

“I place stress on the people’s living conditions; I put stress on the living conditions of the employees of various sectors; and the living conditions of the staff belonging to the armed forces: These issues should seriously be followed up. This is a duty of the officials,” he said.

He also warned that Iran’s adversaries target weak points of the Iranian economy and stressed the need to strengthen the country’s “resistance economy.”

Khamenei further stated: “The enemies–whether the United States or greater than the United States–cannot do a single thing against the Iranian regime that is linked to its people, a regime that has admiration for its people and the people admire it back.”

Iraqi Forces Kill Baghdadi’s Top Aide

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Middle East

Iraqi Forces Kill Baghdadi’s Aide

Mosul – Iraqi security forces killed a number of ISIS’ top commanders including Abu Baker al-Baghdadi’s aide, whereas six citizens were injured during an ISIS attack on the Algerian neighborhood, in east Mosul’s center.

Chief of the Iraqi Federal Police Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat said that the troops bombed several ISIS sites in west Mosul killing Abu Abdul Rahman, Baghdadi’s first aide.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the troops bombed ISIS site in al-Zanjili neighborhood. Whereas in the Old City, near al-Awsad Mosque, they killed ISIS’ commander Abul Walid al-Tunisi and four of his bodyguards, while another commander, Russian Abo Maria, was killed during the attack on Ras al-Jadah.

Civilians continue to escape areas of heavy clashes towards the demarcation with security forces while carrying white flags. Despite the constant attempts, security forces are not able to establish safe corridors for the civilians especially in the Old City, given that ISIS snipers are preventing the civilians from reaching safety. The snipers even bomb the citizens with mortars killing and injuring dozens of them.

Civilians’ presence in areas under ISIS control, especially the Old City, hinders the progress of the Iraqi troops given that these areas are highly populated. In addition, Iraqi troops are unable to use warplanes or heavy armors against militants who take advantage of the narrow alleyways where armored vehicles and tanks can’t enter.

In west Mosul, the infrastructure of the city has been destroyed because of the war which is much worse than in the east of the city. ISIS militants tend to bomb areas they are escaping leaving behind their belongings and dead bodies which begin to stench especially now that the temperatures are rising.

As the Iraqi troops headed towards liberating the remaining of the neighborhoods in the west of the city, ISIS bombed the liberated east side.

Media officer of the Mosul branch of Kurdish Democratic Party Saeed Mamuzini told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that two citizens were killed and four others injured on Wednesday during the mortar shelling on the Algerian neighborhood.

He added that the terrorist organization launched the attack from neighborhoods under his control in the west side.

So Far Trump And Obama Don’t Act Much Different When It Comes To Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

New York (CNN) As a candidate, President Donald Trump pulled no punches in his criticism of the Obama administration’s multilateral pact with Tehran to curb the Iranian nuclear program. The deal stank, he said then.

Now his secretary of state is, for the time being, certifying it.
“I’ve been doing deals for a long time, I’ve been making lots of wonderful deals — great deals — that’s what I do. Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran. And I mean, never.”
It was September 9, 2015, a few months into his presidential campaign, and Trump was in Washington, where he was addressing a rally against the Obama administration’s historic nuclear pact with Tehran. Trump by then had established himself as a Republican primary player. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz welcomed his rival to the event, reasoning that where Trump went, the cameras followed.

Trump: "I've been doing deals for a long time"

Trump: “I’ve been doing deals for a long time” 05:06
That much has remained the same. But when it comes to the Iran deal, Trump has, for the moment, changed. Blaring skepticism has given way to (yet another) pragmatic adjustment. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday delivered a letter to Congress confirming that Iran has kept up its end of the controversial bargain.
The letter pads what will be an unpopular conclusion among GOP hawks with word that Trump has ordered a review of plans to lift sanctions in accordance with the deal, citing the Iranian government’s ties to assorted terror groups. To follow through on the implicit threat would, ironically, put the US in defiance of the terms of the agreement.

Explore Trump’s progress on key campaign promises

Which is to say, it’s not happening. At least not yet. By fate or fancy, the Trump administration has effectively taken on the foreign policy of its predecessor. The missile attack on Syria — a one-off tactical jab — was initially celebrated (or denounced) as a departure from Obama’s caution, but the reality is that American strategic positions in multiple foreign theaters remain essentially indistinguishable from a year ago.
Democrats will, of course, use this as another example of Trump betraying his campaign promises. That’s fair enough. Candidates make outlandish claims at their own political peril. But the reality here is that reality, more than any president, rules. Who saw it coming? Former Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson, kidnapped by Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, in 1985 and held for nearly seven years, offered a pretty good preview.
“The Iranians aren’t at Trump’s beck and call, and they won’t be if he’s elected president,” Anderson told The New Yorker after the 2015 speech. “It’s so idiotic that I don’t know how to address it. One of the first things a president learns when he comes into office is that he can’t simply order things and make them happen — in our government, let alone anyone else’s.”
If he hasn’t yet learned that, then Trump has surely experienced it. Though largely true to his campaign pledges as a matter of effort, he has been repeatedly turned back by the same forces he vowed to tame. Obamacare remains, thanks to in the intransigence of his own party. NATO? “Obsolete” no more. Tax reform? That could be the most difficult feat of all.
President Trump’s reversals
before becoming president
after becoming president

NATO
March 27, 2016
“I think NATO’s obsolete. NATO was done at a time you had the Soviet Union, which was obviously larger, much larger than Russia is today. I’m not saying Russia’s not a threat. But we have other threats.”
April 12, 2017
“I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change. Now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

China
June 28, 2016
“I’m going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator.”

Attacking the Syrian government
August 29, 2013
Tweet: “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.”
April 6, 2017
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched…” Trump did not ask for nor receive congressional approval to launch his attack.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen
September 12, 2016
“She’s keeping (rates) artificially low to get Obama retired … I think she is very political and to a certain extent, I think she should be ashamed of herself because it is not supposed to be that way.”
April 12, 2017
I like her, I respect her … It’s very early.”

Executive orders
July 10, 2012
Tweet: “Why is @BarackObama constantly issuing executive orders that are major power grabs of authority?”
March 31, 2017
Trump has issued 23 executive orders, including his controversial travel ban, since taking office on January 20.

The unemployment rate
March 12, 2016
The numbers are phony. These are all phony numbers. Numbers given to politicians to look good. These are phony numbers.”
March 10, 2017
White House press secretary Sean Spicer: “I talked to the President prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’ “

Presidential golf
October 13, 2014
Tweet: “Can you believe that,with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf.Worse than Carter”
February 11, 2017
Trump has visited his golf courses 16 times since taking office. In early February he tweeted: “Played golf today with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and @TheBig_Easy, Ernie Els, and had a great time. Japan is very well represented!”

The Export-Import Bank
August 4, 2015
“I don’t like it because I don’t think it’s necessary … It’s sort of a featherbedding for politicians and others, and a few companies. And these are companies that can do very well without it. So I don’t like it. I think it’s a lot of excess baggage. I think it’s unnecessary. And when you think about free enterprise it’s really not free enterprise. I’d be against it.”
April 12, 2017
“It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies. But also, maybe more important, other countries give [assistance]. When other countries give it we lose a tremendous amount of business.”

Federal hiring freeze
October 23, 2016
“On the first day of my term of office, my administration will immediately pursue … a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health).”
April 12, 2017
Trump signed a presidential memorandum freezing federal hiring days after taking office. Then, on his 82nd day in office, budget director Mick Mulvaney announced this: “What we are doing tomorrow is replacing the across-the-board hiring freeze that we put into place on day one in office and replacing it with a smarter plan, a more strategic plan, a more surgical plan.”
Even China, an ever-present campaign trail piñata, has been spared in deference to existential concerns on the Korean Peninsula. “They’re not currency manipulators,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal a week ago, after more than a year of guarantees that he would order his treasury secretary to label the country a currency manipulator.
His explanation was simple. Pyongyang and its nukes were the priority.
“What, am I going to start trade war with China in the middle of (Chinese President Xi Jinping) working on a bigger problem with North Korea?” Trump said during an interview with Fox News. “I’m dealing with China with great respect. I have great respect for him. We’ll see what he can do. Maybe he won’t be able to help. That’s possible. I think he is trying. Maybe he won’t be able to help. That’s a whole different story.”
And so it goes for the Iran deal. Is Trump going to begin unraveling the dense, multinational accord in the middle of a ramped-up war on ISIS and escalating tensions with Syria (plus Russia and Iran by proxy)?
Not yet. His tactical unpredictability, for now, only stretches so far. Through nearly 100 days in office, Trump’s foreign policy has a familiar ring.

The Army’s New Modified Stryker Has A Special Laser Surprise For ISIS

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TASK AND PURPOSE WEBSITE)

The Army’s New Modified Stryker Has A Special Laser Surprise For ISIS

on April 17, 2017

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In their fight against ISIS, American troops face a dangerous and unpredictable new threat on foreign battlefields: weaponized drones specially designed for suicide missions. And while all branches of the military are exploring advanced gear for combat troops that will counter the new threat of “flying IEDs,” the Army has already whipped up a special armored vehicle to keep soldiers out of harm’s way.

Last week, the Army unveiled a specially modified Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle (ICV) prototype outfitted with a special surprise for ISIS militants: an experimental laser weapon that can shoot down enemy drones without firing a single round — or making a sound.

Dubbed the Mobile High Energy Laser (MEHEL), the Army showed off the Stryker at the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, blasting more than 50 remote-controlled test targets out of the sky with its 5 kilowatt laser cannon. Here’s the Army account of the test:

On a television screen in a nearby tent off Thompson Hill — a range used during the 10-day Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment here — observers watched the black and white output of those sensors on two flat-screen televisions, April 12. A crosshair was centered on the screen. When what appeared to be a drone entered the frame, the crosshairs locked on to it and followed it.

After a few attempts to destroy the drone with the laser, the drone fell from the sky, crashing to the ground. Not a bullet was fired, and no sounds were made by the system that accomplished the kill.

“We were skeptical at first, when we were first briefed we’d be shooting down drones with lasers,” the MEHEL commander, Army Capt. Theo Kleinsorge, said of the demonstration. “We achieved a success rate well beyond what we expected we’d have and we are excited to see this go to the next step of the experiment, shooting beyond the horizon, and showing this technology can solve the problem.”

This Mobile High-Energy Laser-equipped Stryker was evaluated, April 12, during the 2017 Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, already a favorite combat support platform for decades, were slated for upgrades as of 2016, including a medium-caliber cannon and Javelin anti-tank missiles. But given the emerging threats posed by ISIS UAVs, the MEHEL seems like an appropriate pivot for the Pentagon. The War Zone has a great breakdown of the MEHEL’s specs:

A basic Stryker ICV weighs in at nearly 16.5 tons, has a top speed of over 60 miles per hour on improved roads, and usually carries a .50 caliber M2 machine gun or a 40mm Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. The MEHEL still has a machine gun, but its main weapon is a five kilowatt laser. On top of the laser, the vehicle had has powerful cameras to detect and track targets, as well as electronic warfare equipment. The latter system can try and crash an unmanned aircraft by jamming the signal from its control station, as well as try and pinpoint the location of those sites.

This isn’t the first time the Army has experimented with direct-energy weapons to counter enemy drones. In 2016, the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command demonstrated the High Energy Laser Mobile Test Truck (HELMTT), outfitted with a 10 kilowatt laser director, during last year’s MFIX.

“Our team did a great job,” SMDC Technical Center HELMTT demonstrator program manager Adam Aberle said at the time. “We absolutely blew lots of stuff up.”

Despite the spectacular test at the 2017 MFIX, it’s unclear when the MEHEL will actually deploy downrange to Afghanistan and Iraq. But based on the excitement of program managers and observers on hand to watch the MEHEL in action, lasers can’t hit the battlefield soon enough.

“It’s mind-blowing stuff to think you are shooting a laser at something,” Spc. Brandon Sallaway said of the MEHEL test at Fort Sill. “Sometimes it’s hard to fathom.”

Iraqi Christians Return To Ransacked Town With Fear And Hope

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Iraqi Christians return to ransacked town with fear and hope

A damaged statue of Jesus Christ is seen inside a church in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH
By Ulf Laessing | QARAQOSH, IRAQ

With Islamic State expelled, Iraqi Christians are trickling back to the ransacked town of Qaraqosh, beset by anxiety for their security and yet hopeful they can live in friendship with Muslims of all persuasions.

The town, about 20 km (12 miles) from the battlefront with Islamic State in the northern city of Mosul, shows why Christians have mixed feelings about the future of their ancient community.

In the desecrated churches of Qaraqosh, Christians are busy removing graffiti daubed by the Sunni Muslim militants during two and a half years of control – only for new slogans to have appeared, scrawled by Shi’ite members of the Iraqi forces fighting street to street with the jihadists in Mosul.

But nearby a shopkeeper is doing a brisk trade selling Dutch beer, Greek ouzo and several whisky brands to Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds alike, with this kind of commerce perhaps offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s fractured communities could again live together peacefully.

Encouraged by security checkpoints and patrols by a volunteer force, up to 10 Christian families have returned to what used to be the minority’s biggest community in Iraq until Islamic State seized it in 2014.

Iraqi forces pushed the group out of Qaraqosh in October, part of a six-month offensive to retake Mosul. But residents are worried that the Shi’ite slogans signal a new kind of sectarian division.

“Oh Hussein” is daubed in red on the wall of a church torched earlier by Islamic State, praising the hero of Shi’ite Muslims who was martyred 1,300 years ago.

“We are afraid of this, of tensions,” said Girgis Youssif, a church worker. “We want to live in peace and demand security,” said Youssif, who returned after fleeing to Erbil, about 60 km away in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Shi’ites in the Iraqi government forces and paramilitary groups, mostly from further south in the country, have scribbled such slogans on buildings all over Mosul too.

Soldiers have also hoisted the flag of Ali in the city and on their on military vehicles. Shi’ites regard Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and the prophet’s grandson Hussein as his true successors.

Two Shi’ite flags also fly over Qaraqosh.

Most Sunnis, who are the dominant community in Mosul, have shrugged off the Shi’ite slogans as the work of a handful of religious zealots but Christians take them as a signal that their future remains uncertain.

“Of course we are afraid of such signs,” said Matti Yashou Hatti, a photographer who still lives in Erbil with his family. “We need international protection.”

Those families who have returned to Qaraqosh – once home to 50,000 people – are trying to revive Christian life dating back two millennia. However, most stay only two or three days at a time to refurbish their looted and burnt homes.

“We want to come back but there is no water and power,” said Mazam Nesin, a Christian who works for a volunteer force based in Qaraqosh but has left his family behind in Erbil.

By contrast, displaced Muslims have been flocking back to markets in eastern Mosul since Islamic State’s ejection from that part of the city, despite the battle raging in the Old City across the Tigris river which is the militants’ last stronghold.

ALCOHOL SHOP

Numbers of Christians in Iraq have fallen from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand since the violence which followed the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Many Baghdad residents who could not afford to go abroad went to Qaraqosh and other northern towns where security used to be better than in the capital, rocked by sectarian warfare after the U.S.-led invasion.

But with the arrival of Islamic State, residents abandoned their homes with some applying for asylum in Europe. Germany alone took in 130,000 Iraqis, among them many Christians, in 2015 and 2016. But most ended up in Erbil with relatives or in homes paid for by aid agencies.

Supermarkets and restaurants remain closed in Qaraqosh, with windows smashed and burnt furniture strewn across floors.

One of the few businesses to have reopened is Steve Ibrahim’s alcohol shop in the town center; in the absence of cafes it has become a meeting point for local people. “Business has been good so far. Everybody comes here to stock up,” said Ibrahim, who has just reopened the store with his father.

They lost everything when Islamic State, known by its enemies as Daesh, wrecked their business. Now they have invested about $400 to refurbish the shop – new tiles shine on the walls – and customers are coming from beyond the town and from across the communities.

“I sell drinks to Christians and Muslims alike,” he said. “Many people come from Mosul or other towns.”

Many of Ibrahim’s customers ignore Islam’s forbidding of alcohol consumption. While he was talking, a Sunni Muslim from eastern Mosul drove up to buy a bottle of whisky and four cans of beer, packed in a black plastic bag to hide his purchase from the eyes of more religiously observant Muslims.

“You couldn’t drink during Daesh. I am glad this shop is open again,” said the man who gave his name only as Mohammed, shaking hands with Christians enjoying an afternoon beer. “I still only drink at home.”

Later a Shi’ite from a village south of Mosul arrived to pick up drinks. “I come here twice a week. It’s the only shop in the area,” he said, asking not to be named, before driving off.

Even Ibrahim comes every day from Erbil, bringing by car supplies and fuel for the generator to power the fridges filled with cold beer. Then he drives back at night.

Whether more Christians can live permanently in Qaraqosh depends on whether the security forces win their trust.

Army and police have tried to ease fears by stationing soldiers in front of churches, and even helping Christian volunteers to set up a massive cross at the town’s entrance.

On Palm Sunday last weekend, soldiers escorted a procession in preparation for Easter, Christianity’s most important festival, and provided chairs for worshippers during Mass.

Some Christian policemen joined in, singing “Hallelujah” with civilians. But walking along rows of burnt out homes and supermarkets, others were still afraid.

“The security measures are not sufficient,” said Hatti, the photographer. “We want security to surround the town.”

(Click here, reut.rs/2ordbfj for a Photo essay on this story)

(Editing by David Stamp)

Turkey detains 5 Islamic State suspects over planned attacks: Anadolu

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Turkey detains Islamic State suspects over planned attacks: Anadolu

Police in Istanbul have detained five Islamic State suspects, some of whom were believed to be planning an attack in Turkey ahead of Sunday’s referendum, the state-run Anadolu news agency said on Friday.

Anadolu said three of the detained people were suspected of planning an attack in the name of Islamic State. Two others, including one of Tajik origin, had traveled to “conflict zones” and carried out operations for the jihadist group.

Islamic State has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey in recent months, including a New Year’s Day attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub which killed 39 people.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched an incursion into Syria in August to drive the jihadist group and Kurdish militia fighters away from its borders.

Turks will vote on Sunday on changing the country’s political system and giving President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. Two opinion polls on Thursday showed a narrow majority of voters would vote in favor of the changes.

Security efforts have been heightened ahead of the vote, but Kurdish militants on Wednesday claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a police compound in southeast Turkey that killed three people.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

The U.S. Just Dropped The ‘Mother Of All Bombs’ In Afghanistan. But What Is That?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

The U.S. Just Dropped the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ in Afghanistan. But What Is That?

Apr 13, 2017

The United States on Thursday dropped “the mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, on an ISIS tunnel and cave complex in eastern Afghanistan.

The bomb, officially called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), was dropped from a MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said, according to the Associated Press. The target was near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan.

President Donald Trump said Thursday the bombing was a “very successful mission,” according to Reuters, and he touted the mission as evidence of a stronger foreign policy under his administration. It was not immediately clear how much damage the bomb did, how many militants were killed, or whether any civilians were killed.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is the bomb?

The GBU-43 is a GPS-guided weapon that weighs an enormous 21,600 pounds, according to an article from the Eglin Air Force Base. Each one costs $16 million, according to military information website Deagel.

During testing in the early 2000s, it created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 20 miles away, according to the Air Force story.

Why was it developed?

The MOAB was designed in 2002 as a replacement for the BLU-82 Daisy Cutter, according to the Air Force article. Its purpose was initially to put pressure on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“The goal is to have the pressure be so great that Saddam Hussein cooperates,” said then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a 2003 interview, according to the Air Force article. “Short of that — an unwillingness to cooperate — the goal is to have the capabilities of the coalition so clear and so obvious that there is an enormous disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight against the coalition.”

Has it been used before?

The bomb was sent to the Middle East in 2003, but it had never been used before this week.

How many does the U.S. have?

The U.S. military says it has 20 MOAB bombs and has spent about $314 million producing them, according to CNBC.

What kind of destruction does it cause?

While not all details from Thursday’s blast have been made public, the bomb is very powerful. “What it does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Air Force Times. “It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”

While it was initially intended to deter U.S. opponents, this week’s strike marks a change to using the weapon as an active tool in fighting ISIS. The use of the MOAB in the Nangarhar province indicates the U.S. still considers ISIS a threat in the area.

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