Iraqi City (Kirkuk) Set to Implode if the Kurd’s Vote for Independence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

Kirkuk's provincial governor Najim al-Din Karim third from right, who was recently sacked by the Iraqi parliament, attends a rally in support of the upcoming independence referendum in Kirkuk on Sept. 19, 2017
Kirkuk’s provincial governor Najim al-Din Karim third from right, who was recently sacked by the Iraqi parliament, attends a rally in support of the upcoming independence referendum in Kirkuk on Sept. 19, 2017 Marwan Ibrahim—AFP/Getty Images

The Iraqi City Set to Implode if the Kurd’s Vote for Independence

For decades, even a census has been considered too risky in the hotly contested northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, claimed by Kurds, Arabs and the Turkmen ethnic group. But on Monday, the city’s residents will join people across northern Iraq in a vote on Kurdish independence.

Kirkuk is the most significant of Iraq’s disputed territories under de facto Kurdish control that will vote in the controversial referendum Sept. 25. After a century of Kurds pushing for independence, Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurds’ semi-autonomous region has promised his people the chance to vote on their future. The governments in Baghdad and in Washington have urged the Kurdish leadership to postpone or cancel the vote, seeing it as a divisive distraction from the fight against ISIS.

But for some non-Kurdish residents of Kirkuk and other disputed areas, the referendum is seen as a provocation and an attempt by Kurds to assert power in contested territory. Experts fear the vote could lead to unrest and even violence.

“This is a very dangerous move,” says Kamal Chomani, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “If the referendum is held there will be violence between the ethnic groups of Kirkuk.”

The contention here is not just about Kurdish self-rule, it is about what happens to the tens of thousands of Arab and Turkmen residents of Kirkuk under Kurdish rule. Arab residents already seemed hesitant to discuss the referendum this week, many refusing to say if they will even vote, but Turkmen leaders have been more outspoken.

“We won’t allow Kirkuk to be part of Kurdistan,” says Ali Mehdi Sadiq, who is with the Iraqi Turkmen Front and member of the Kirkuk Provincial council. Sitting in his central Kirkuk office behind tall cement blast walls guarded by armed men, Saddiq says the Turkmen will take up arms to stop the Kurds from annexing the city. Earlier this week, clashes outside another Turkmen party office left at least one person dead. “We will fight to the last Turkman,” Sadiq says.

Posters encouraging people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum are seen in central Kirkuk on Sept. 21, 2017. Posters encouraging people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum are seen in central Kirkuk on Sept. 21, 2017.  Marwan Ibrahim—AFP/Getty Images

Similarly, the city’s mostly Sunni Arabs worry what will happen if the Kurds declare independence. “There are no guarantees of rights for Arabs if Kirkuk gets attached to Kurdistan. The only thing they mention is the rights of the Kurds and the Turkmen,” Ramla Al-Obaidi, an Arab member of the Kirkuk provincial council. “This will lead to more marginalization and neglect of the Arabs in Kurdistan.”

The Kurdish forces took control of Kirkuk in 2014 without firing a single bullet. As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advanced the Iraqi army crumbled and thousands of troops fled their posts in Iraq, including in Kirkuk. The Kurdish region’s military forces — known as the Peshmerga — walked in, taking control of the long-contested city and millions of dollars of arms.

Many Kurds cite the Iraqi forces’ desertion as a reason why the Peshmerga fighters can’t give back the city. The Iraqi army, they say, is unable or unwilling to protect them or Kirkuk.

Kurdish flags now fly over the checkpoints at the entrance to the city and a 20-meter statue of a Peshmerga fighter, made from cement and iron, guards the main road from Erbil. The Kurds says it a sign of appreciation for the Kurdish fighters protecting the people of the area from ISIS, but it feels like a reminder of who is in charge here.

“The Peshmerga will definitely not leave Kirkuk even if they sacrifice their lives for the city,” says Hawer Ali, who was serving in the Iraqi army in 2014 and has now joined the Peshmerga. Some fear the mostly-Shia militia of the Popular Mobilization Units, having grown in power and influence during the fight against ISIS, could enter Kirkuk in support of the government, and clash with the Peshmerga.

Ali, like many Kurds, has historic reasons for wanting an independent state. The regime of Saddam Hussein began pushing Kurds out of Kirkuk in the mid-1970s as part of a campaign of Arabization across mixed areas of northern Iraq. Tens of thousands of Kurds were evicted and Arabs from other parts of the country were brought to settle here, changing the demographics in a bid to cement Arab control of the oil-rich city. Ali was just one year old when his family was pushed from Kirkuk.

During the U.S. invasion of 2003, the Kurdish Peshmerga fought alongside American troops and took control of Kirkuk. Ali’s family returned to the city that same year. “All the Kurds came back,” says Ali. The Kurds soon gave control back to the national government but in the almost 15 years since, hundreds of thousands of Kurds have returned to Kirkuk, many lured by free land and homes courtesy of Kurdish political parties.

Ali acknowledges the referendum is increasing tensions in his city, but he says it’s necessary for what is to come. “I don’t think there is any country that declared independence without paying for it,” says Ali. “And we are ready to pay for it. We are ready to sacrifice.”

Egypt Sentences ISIS Killers to Death for Beheading of 21 Coptic Christians In Libya

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Egypt Sentences ISIS Killers to Death for Beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya

(PHOTO: REUTERS/SOCIAL MEDIA VIA REUTERS TV)Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State kneel in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15, 2015. 

A court in Egypt has sentenced to death seven people over links to the Islamic State terror group in northwest Egypt and over the February 2015 beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya.

The seven were accused of being members of an Islamic State cell in Marsa Matruh and of planning attacks after having received military training at jihadist camps in Libya and Syria, AFP quoted judicial officials as saying. Three of them were sentenced to death in absentia.

The newswire added that an unspecified number of those condemned were accused of having taken part in the beheadings.

The death sentence will now be reviewed by Egypt’s mufti.

Thirteen others are on trial in the same case, and rulings for them are scheduled to be delivered on Nov. 25.

An affiliate of Islamic State, which also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, in North Sinai started an insurgency after the military’s ouster in 2013 of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

IS released a video of the 2015 beheadings, titled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” Despite the horrific actions of the jihadists, the minority Coptic community in Egypt has been emboldened by the example the 21 men set in the video in their refusal to deny Christ.

As International Christian Concern reported at the two-year anniversary of the beheadings in February, relatives of the men, who were kidnapped in separate incidents in Libya throughout December 2014 and January 2015, have been honoring the memories of their loved ones.

One widow said at the time that her husband “kept the faith, and was martyred in the name of Christ. His faith was very strong. I’m proud of him. He has lifted our heads up and honored us and all the Christians.”

The children of the 21 Christians have also said that they are “proud” of the courage their fathers showed the world by refusing to renounce their faith.

Numerous Coptic Christians cross over to Libya in search of work despite knowing that they will face severe persecution, including death.

The Sunday Times recently quoted a Coptic Christian as saying, “We know it is more likely we will die than live in Libya but we don’t have a choice… More and more people are going to Libya because of the economic crisis here. You can’t get work, you can’t make money in Egypt. We are aware of the dangers, particularly as Christians.”

In July, at least 22 Egyptian migrants were found dead in the Libyan wilderness. According to the Libyan Red Crescent, they died from heat and starvation.

A Libya intelligence report estimates that about 700 IS terrorists have re-grouped in the valleys and desert areas south of the city of Bani Walid, and another 3,000 terrorist fighters from different groups, including al-Qaeda, are operating in the country.

“Moderate” Iman In Muslim Mosque Recorded Encouraging Children to Join ISIS, Kill Local Unbelievers

(THIS ARTICLE IS FROM THE ‘CONSTITUTION’ NEWS)

“Moderate” Muslim Mosque Recorded Encouraging Children to Join ISIS

 As if you needed more evidence that there was no such thing as “moderate” Islam, along comes proof that Islam is just different degrees of extremism.

A so-called moderate mosque in England is under fire after an undercover police officer recorded their imam encouraging his parishioners and their children to join ISIS.

Kamran Sabir Hussain, 40, was recorded on 17 different occasions delivering sermons wherein he encouraged the people listening to join ISIS and embrace martyrdom.

From the Daily Mail:

On September 2 last year, he allegedly told nine children and 35 adults that martyrdom was the ‘supreme success’, greater than any other such as school or college.

Those who died ‘fighting for Allah’ had nothing to fear because they would be forgiven, he is claimed to have said. They would be martyrs in paradise hated by no one except ‘unbelievers’ and hypocrites.

In front of a congregation of ten to 15 children under the age of 15 and about 25 adults on August 19 last year, Hussain allegedly said the Government funded groups such as the English Defence League and Britain First to insult Muslims, attack them and put them down.

‘The kuffar [unbelievers] will attack you and kill you,’ he added. ‘Stand up and be ready to sacrifice, be ready to stand in the face of the elements of shaytan [satan], be ready to spill blood and have your blood spilt’…

‘Some of the sermons, however, strayed beyond mainstream moderate Islamic thought and moved into support and encouragement to those carrying out acts of terrorism.’

The court heard that in March last year Hussain posted a ‘chilling message’ on social media in which he said the ‘Khilafah’ – a reference to IS – was ‘knocking on your door and the fulfilment of Allah’s command is near and if you don’t like it and are enraged by it, then our message to you is simple: “Die in your rage.’’’

In another post, he wrote that Islam ‘is the light of Allah, pre-destined to eliminate the darkness of kufr’ [non-believers]…

The sermon echoed a recording made at a demonstration in which someone was heard saying: ‘Inshallah [God willing], we will see the black flag of Islam over Big Ben and Downing Street’.

The preacher has been arrested and now faces two charges of encouraging support for ISIS and six counts of encouraging others to commit acts of terrorism.

While the imam is not known to have committed acts of violence against non-Muslims, the fact is he can be heard encouraging the people in his mosque to embrace terror and violence as a tool in the battle against the infidels (that’s us folks).

Even worse, and something that the Daily Mail article does not discuss, is the fact that the imam was preaching this filth on a regular basis and the people in his congregation said nothing, did nothing to stop him. The undercover officer recorded 17 different sermons where the imam could be heard exhorting his people to engage in violence against the nonbelievers. How many sermons like that did he preach when the undercover officer wasn’t around? What does their silence say about the Muslim community in England?

Extremism is much closer to home than you realize. It’s not just the terrorists on the battlefield in Syria, it’s the imams like Kamran Sabir Hussain preaching hate in mosques across the Western world, and it’s the congregations hearing his sermons and sitting in silent agreement.

Onan Coca

Onan is the Editor-in-Chief at Romulus Marketing. He’s also the managing editor at Eaglerising.com, Constitution.com and the managing partner at iPatriot.com. Onan is a graduate of Liberty University (2003) and earned his M.Ed. at Western Governors University in 2012. Onan lives in Atlanta with his wife and their three wonderful children. You can find his writing all over the web.

At Least 20 Dead in Mosque Attack in Afghan Capital

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME WORLD.COM)

 

At Least 20 Dead in Mosque Attack in Afghan Capital

1:45 PM ET

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Militants stormed a packed Shiite mosque in the Afghan capital during Friday prayers, in an attack that lasted for hours and ended with at least 20 worshippers killed and another 50 seriously wounded, many of them children, an official said.

Two of the assailants blew themselves up and another two were shot to death by Afghan security forces, according to police official Mohammed Sadique Muradi.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest to target Afghanistan’s minority Shiites. The Taliban condemned the violence, with a spokesman for the militants, Zabihullah Mujahid, telling The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the group had nothing to do with it.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the violence and said the militants were turning to attacking places of worship because they were losing on the battlefield. He urged Islamic clerics everywhere to condemn the bloodshed.

The death toll of 20 was expected to rise because many of the victims were seriously wounded, said Mohammad Salim Rasouli, chief of Kabul’s hospitals.

Terrified worshippers endured about four harrowing hours of gunfire and explosions during the afternoon before the four attackers were killed.

The Islamic State said in a statement on the website of its Aamaq news agency that it had deployed two attackers to the mosque. There was no immediate explanation for the contradictory number of attackers.

Security forces had surrounded the mosque in the northern Kabul neighborhood but did not initially enter to prevent further casualties to the many worshippers inside, police official Mohammed Jamil said. Later, as police tried to advance, one of the attackers set off an explosion that forced them to withdraw, Muradi said.

The cleric who was performing the prayers was among the dead, said Mir Hussain Nasiri, a member of Afghanistan’s Shiite clerical council. The gunmen had taken over both the cavernous prayer hall for the men and the separate, second-floor prayer area for the women, he said.

The mosque could accommodate up to 1,000 people, Nasir added.

When police initially tried to get inside, they discovered the militants had blocked the door leading to the second floor, turning the women upstairs into hostages, Nasir said.

“I was trying to escape over the wall when I saw my daughter, who was wounded, also trying to climb the wall,” one man who gave his name only as Bismillah told the AP.

“There was another girl who was shot in the head. I saw the body myself,” he said. “Finally I managed to escape with my daughter and a police escorted us to safety from the back of the mosque.”

Last month, the Sunni-dominated Islamic State group attacked the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul and then warned Shiites in Afghanistan that their mosques would be targeted. Sunni extremists consider Shiites to be heretics.

Within days of that, IS also took responsibility for a suicide attack on a Shiite mosque in western Herat province that left 32 people dead.

In southern Kandahar province Friday, Afghan security forces repulsed a Taliban attack on an outpost overnight, according to provincial police chief’s spokesman, Zia Durrani. Four members of the security forces died in the exchange and another seven were wounded, he said.

Durrani said the Taliban sustained heavy casualties. There was no immediate comment from the militants.

Elsewhere, provincial deputy police chief Nisar Ahmad Abdul Rahimzai said Afghan security forces recaptured a district in eastern Paktia province from the insurgents.

The summer fighting season in Afghanistan has seen relentless Taliban attacks as the insurgents battle to expand their footprint.

On Thursday, Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, and Hugo Llorens, the U.S. Embassy’s special chargé d’affaires, told reporters in Kabul that the new U.S. strategy was a promise to Afghans that together they would defeat terrorism and prevent terrorist groups from establishing safe havens.

Nicholson vowed to defeat both the Islamic State group affiliate and the remnants of al-Qaida, and he had the following message to the Taliban: “Stop fighting against your countrymen. Stop killing innocent civilians. Stop bringing hardship and misery to the Afghan people. Lay down your arms and join Afghan society. Help build a better future for this country and your own children.”

President Donald Trump had announced the new plans for Afghanistan on Monday. While he did not give specifics, senior U.S. officials have said that he might send up to 3,900 more troops, with some deployments beginning almost immediately.

Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: What we know so far

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Barcelona and Cambrils attacks: What we know so far

People wait to enter the area after a van crashed into pedestrians near the Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona, Spain August 17, 2017Image copyright REUTERS
Image caption Barcelona is one of Europe’s most popular cities for tourists

There have been two attacks in Spain’s Catalonia region involving people driving cars at crowds at high-speeds.

Here is what we know so far.

What happened?

On Thursday afternoon at 16:50 local time (14:50 GMT) a white van smashed into people on Las Ramblas, a famous boulevard in central Barcelona that runs 1.2km (0.75 miles) and was packed with tourists.

The van driver is said to have zig-zagged to try and hit as many people as possible along the pedestrianised area, knocking many to the floor and sending others fleeing for cover in shops and cafes.

He killed 13 people and injured more than 100, and managed to flee the scene.

Spanish police have described it as a terror attack.

Barcelona map

What was the second attack?

About eight hours later, an Audi A3 car ploughed into pedestrians in the popular seaside resort town of Cambrils, 110km (68 miles) south-west of Barcelona.

Six civilians were injured, one critically, and a police officer was hurt too.

Five attackers, some of whom appeared to be wearing suicide belts, were then shot by police. Four died at the scene and one later died of his injuries.

Controlled explosions were carried out and authorities later said the explosive belts were fake.

Both the Las Ramblas and Cambrils attacks are believed to be linked.

Who has been arrested?

On Thursday, one person from Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla was arrested in Alcanar and a Moroccan was arrested in Ripoll. Both are towns in Catalonia – the same region as Barcelona.

Police say neither of the pair arrested was the driver.

Documents belonging to the Moroccan, 28-year-old Driss Oubakir, were allegedly used to rent the van used in the Las Ramblas attack but local media report he says his papers were stolen and used without his knowledge.

He arrived in Barcelona from Morocco on 13 August, the El Pais newspaper reports, citing police sources.

On Friday, police announced another arrest in Ripoll. It remains unclear how many people were involved in the plots.

Weren’t there other incidents too?

On Thursday evening at 19:30 local time, a car was driven into officers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barcelona.

The car was later found with a dead man inside it, but the interior ministry has denied earlier reports he was killed by police gunfire. He is not believed to be linked to the Las Ramblas attack, officials say, but investigations are ongoing

On Wednesday night, an explosion completely destroyed a house in Alcanar, 200km south of Barcelona, killing one person and wounding seven.

Media caption What was it like to be caught up in the Barcelona attack?

The house was filled with bottles of propane and butane, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported (in Spanish).

That incident is believed to be connected to Thursday’s events.

Who are the victims?

They come from all over the world, with at least 24 nationalities represented.

People from Ireland, France, Australia, China, Pakistan, Venezuela, Algeria, Peru, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines are all reported to be among the victims.

Aftermath of Barcelona attack in pictures

Belgium said one of its citizens was killed and France said 26 of its nationals were injured, 11 seriously. The Australian government said at least four citizens were injured.

Who is responsible?

So-called Islamic State (IS) has said it was behind the Las Ramblas attack and that IS “soldiers” carried it out. But it did not provide any evidence or details to back up the claim.

Why Spain?

The country is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations but in recent years has not seen the kind of jihadist violence that has rocked France, the UK, Belgium and Germany.

Still, Spain has been targeted before – several trains in Madrid, the capital, were bombed by al-Qaeda inspired militants in 2004, killing 191 people.

The IS news agency, Amaq, said the attack was carried out as part of efforts to target states fighting in the US-led anti-IS coalition.

A few hundred Spanish soldiers are in Iraq, training local forces fighting the Sunni militant group.

How much jihadist activity is there in the country?

The number of operations carried out against jihadists has increased significantly since Spain raised its terror alert level to four out of five in June 2015, meaning there was “high risk” of a terror attack.

Before these attacks, 51 suspected jihadists had already been detained in the country this year, while 69 were detained last year, and 75 were detained in 2015, according to El Pais.

Security and surveillance was stepped up in the wake of truck attacks in the French city of Nice in July 2016 and the German capital Berlin in December.

Related Topics

We Thought George W. Was The Most Ignorant Fool Ever, Then Along Came Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORKER.COM)

 

Max Boot, a lifelong conservative who advised three Republican Presidential candidates on foreign policy, keeps a folder labelled “Trump Stupidity File” on his computer. It’s next to his “Trump Lies” file. “Not sure which is larger at this point,” he told me this week. “It’s neck-and-neck.”

Six months into the Trump era, foreign-policy officials from eight past Administrations told me they are aghast that the President is still so witless about the world. “He seems as clueless today as he was on January 20th,” Boot, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. Trump’s painful public gaffes, they warn, indicate that he’s not reading, retaining, or listening to his Presidential briefings. And the newbie excuse no longer flies.

“Trump has an appalling ignorance of the current world, of history, of previous American engagement, of what former Presidents thought and did,” Geoffrey Kemp, who worked at the Pentagon during the Ford Administration and at the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, reflected. “He has an almost studious rejection of the type of in-depth knowledge that virtually all of his predecessors eventually gained or had views on.”

Criticism of Donald Trump among Democrats who served in senior national-security positions is predictable and rife. But Republicans—who are historically ambitious on foreign policy—are particularly pained by the President’s missteps and misstatements. So are former senior intelligence officials who have avoided publicly criticizing Presidents until now.

“The President has little understanding of the context”—of what’s happening in the world—“and even less interest in hearing the people who want to deliver it,” Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general and former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, told me. “He’s impatient, decision-oriented, and prone to action. It’s all about the present tense. When he asks, ‘What the hell’s going on in Iraq?’ people around him have learned not to say, ‘Well, in 632 . . . ’ ” (That was the year when the Prophet Muhammad died, prompting the beginning of the Sunni-Shiite split.*)

“He just doesn’t have an interest in the world,” Hayden said.

I asked top Republican and intelligence officials from eight Administrations what they thought was the one thing the President needs to grasp to succeed on the world stage. Their various replies: embrace the fact that the Russians are not America’s friends. Don’t further alienate the Europeans, who are our friends. Encourage human rights—a founding principle of American identity—and don’t make priority visits to governments that curtail them, such as Poland and Saudi Arabia. Understand that North Korea’s nuclear program can’t be outsourced to China, which can’t or won’t singlehandedly fix the problem anyway, and realize that military options are limited. Pulling out of innovative trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will boost China’s economy and secure its global influence—to America’s disadvantage. Stop bullying his counterparts. And put the Russia case behind him by coöperating with the investigation rather than trying to discredit it.

Trump’s latest blunder was made during an appearance in the Rose Garden with Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, on July 25th. “Lebanon is on the front lines in the fight against isis, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah,” Trump pronounced. He got the basics really wrong. Hezbollah is actually part of the Lebanese government—and has been for a quarter century—with seats in parliament and Cabinet posts. Lebanon’s Christian President, Michel Aoun, has been allied with Hezbollah for a decade. As Trump spoke, Hezbollah’s militia and the Lebanese Army were fighting isis and an Al Qaeda affiliate occupying a chunk of eastern Lebanon along its border with Syria. They won.

The list of other Trump blunders is long. In March, he charged that Germany owed “vast sums” to the United States for nato. It doesn’t. No nato member pays the United States—and never has—so none is in arrears. In an interviewwith the Wall Street Journal, in April, Trump claimed that Korea “actually used to be part of China.” Not true. After he arrived in Israel from Saudi Arabia, in May, Trump said that he had just come from the Middle East. (Did he even look at a map?) During his trip to France, in July, the President confused Napoleon Bonaparte, the diminutive emperor who invaded Russia and Egypt, with Napoleon III, who was France’s first popularly elected President, oversaw the design of modern Paris, and is still the longest-serving head of state since the French Revolution (albeit partly as an emperor, too). And that’s before delving into his demeaning tweets about other world leaders and flashpoints.

“The sheer scale of his lack of knowledge is what has astounded me—and I had low expectations to begin with,” David Gordon, the director of the State Department’s policy-planning staff under Condoleezza Rice, during the Bush Administration, told me.

Trump’s White House has also flubbed basics. It misspelled the name of Britain’s Prime Minister three times in its official schedule of her January visit. After it dropped the “H” in Theresa May, several British papers noted that Teresa May is a soft-porn actress best known for her films “Leather Lust” and “Whitehouse: The Sex Video.” In a statement last month, the White House called Xi Jinping the President of the “Republic of China”—which is the island of Taiwan—rather than the leader of the People’s Republic, the Communist mainland. The two nations have been epic rivals in Asia for more than half a century. The White House also misidentified Shinzo Abe as the President of Japan—he’s the Prime Minister—and called the Prime Minister of Canada “Joe” instead of Justin Trudeau.

Trump’s policy mistakes, large and small, are taking a toll. “American leadership in the world—how do I phrase this, it’s so obvious, but apparently not to him—is critical to our success, and it depends eighty per cent on the credibility of the President’s word,” John McLaughlin, who worked at the C.I.A. under seven Presidents, from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, and ended up as the intelligence agency’s acting director, told me. “Trump thinks having a piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago bought him a relationship with Xi Jinping. He came in as the least prepared President we’ve had on foreign policy,” McLaughlin added. “Our leadership in the world is slipping away. It’s slipping through our hands.”

And a world in dramatic flux compounds the stakes. Hayden cited the meltdown in the world order that has prevailed since the Second World War; the changing nature of the state and its power; China’s growing military and economic power; and rogue nations seeking nuclear weapons, among others. “Yet the most disruptive force in the world today is the United States of America,” the former C.I.A. director said.

The closest similarity to the Trump era was the brief Warren G. Harding Administration, in the nineteen-twenties, Philip Zelikow, who worked for the Reagan and two Bush Administrations, and who was the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, told me. Harding, who died, of a heart attack, after twenty-eight months in office, was praised because he stood aside and let his Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, lead the way. Hughes had already been governor of New York, a Supreme Court Justice, and the Republican Presidential nominee in 1916, losing narrowly to Woodrow Wilson, who preceded Harding.

Under Trump, the White House has seized control of key foreign-policy issues. The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a real-estate developer, has been charged with brokering Middle East peace, navigating U.S.-China relations, and the Mexico portfolio. In April, Kushner travelled to Iraq to help chart policy against isis. Washington scuttlebutt is consumed with tales of how Trump has stymied his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of ExxonMobil.

“The national-security system of the United States has been tested over a period of seventy years,” John Negroponte, the first director of National Intelligence and a former U.N. Ambassador, told me. “President Trump disregards the system at his peril.”

Trump’s contempt for the U.S. intelligence community has also sparked alarm. “I wish the President would rely more on, and trust more, the intelligence agencies and the work that is produced, sometimes at great risk to individuals around the world, to inform the Commander-in-Chief,” Mitchell Reiss, who was the chief of the State Department’s policy-planning team under Secretary of State Colin Powell, told me.

Republican critics are divided on whether Trump can grow into the job. “Trump is completely irredeemable,” Eliot A. Cohen, who was a counsellor to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, told me. “He has a feral instinct for self-survival, but he’s unteachable. The ban on Muslims coming into the country and building a wall, and having the Mexicans pay for it, that was all you needed to know about this guy on foreign affairs. This is a man who is idiotic and bigoted and ignorant of the law.” Cohen was a ringleader of an open letter warning, during the campaign, that Trump’s foreign policy was “wildly inconsistent and unmoored.”

But other Republicans from earlier Administrations still hold out hope. “Whenever Trump begins to learn about an issue—the Middle East conflict or North Korea—he expresses such surprise that it could be so complicated, after saying it wasn’t that difficult,” Gordon, from the Bush Administration, said. “The good news, when he says that, is it means he has a little bit of knowledge.” So far, however, the learning curve has been pitifully—and dangerously—slow.

* This post has been updated to clarify the contextual significance of the year 632.

 

Why a Referendum Won’t Solve Iraqi Kurdistan’s Problems

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

 

Opinion

Why a Referendum Won’t Solve Iraqi Kurdistan’s Problems

There’s a lingering impression in Washington that Iraqi Kurdistan is what it was five years ago, before the rise of ISIS: a peaceful, prospering, emerging pro-Western democracy whose aspirations for full independence from Iraq are increasingly hard to ignore.

Unfortunately, a great deal has changed since then, thanks to war, the US retreat from the region and the Kurds’ own dysfunctions. As the ISIS slowly crumbles to its south and west, Kurdistan is politically and economically broken. President Masoud Barzani remains in office four years after his term ended, and parliament has not met in almost two years. The government is deeply in debt and can scarcely afford to pay the three-quarters of the workforce who are state employees. The army and security services are divided into rival factions.

Barzani’s reaction to this distress has been to schedule a referendum on Kurdish independence for Sept. 25. The initiative has been rejected not just by the Iraqi federal government, but also by Kurdistan’s powerful neighbors Iran and Turkey, as well as the United States. More significantly, it is being viewed even by staunchly pro-independence Kurds as evidence that the region’s politics have reached a dangerous dead end.

The referendum is “an excuse by Kurdish leaders to remain in power,” says Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir, the owner of Kurdistan’s independent NRT television network. “The younger generation doesn’t know anything about their fight in the mountains against Saddam Hussein. So the old leaders need another excuse to run the country for another 26 years.”

Those bitter words reflect Qadir’s perspective as one of a rising generation of Kurds — and Iraqis — struggling over how to create stable political institutions and a working economy amid the mess of sectarian conflicts, extremist movements and corrupt establishments littered across the post-ISIS landscape.

An independent television network is, at least, a place to start. While most Iraqi media are controlled by the government or political parties, Qadir is one of Kurdistan’s few self-made magnates: Born in the city of Sulaymaniyah, he started peddling electronic games as a teenager and became one of Kurdistan’s largest real estate developers before founding NRT in 2011, at the age of 32.

Launched under the slogan “courage, balance, truth,” the network saw its first office attacked and burned within a week of opening; Qadir blames militants from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the region’s two historical political forces. Two years later he survived an assassination attempt. Kurdish authorities have closed NRT’s offices and arrested its journalists on multiple occasions. Yet it has persisted and flourished: It now has two Kurdish channels, an Arabic channel covering all of Iraq, and an English-language website.

A referendum, Qadir says, might prompt Turkey to shut down that pipeline, through which Kurdistan exports the relative trickle of petroleum that is its only reliable revenue. It also might cause the Turks and Iran to back opposing factions of the army, which is divided between the PUK and Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, triggering a resumption of the civil war they fought in the 1990s.

“What kind of Kurdistan would we have?” Qadir asked. “Would we have South Korea or South Sudan?”


The Washington Post

Martial Law Will Be Extended in the Philippines

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME WORLD)

Martial Law Will Be Extended in the Philippines

9:24 AM ET

(MANILA, Philippines) — The Philippine Congress on Saturday overwhelmingly approved the president’s appeal for martial law in the south to be extended to the end of the year to help troops quell a two-month siege by Islamic State group-linked militants and stamp out similar extremist plots in the volatile region.

House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez announced that senators and House members voted 261-18 in favor of granting President Rodrigo Duterte’s request in a special joint session. The 60-day martial law was to expire late Saturday.

The military chief of staff, Gen. Eduardo Ano, warned during the session that aside from the uprising in Marawi, extremist groups have plotted similar insurrections in other southern cities and that martial law has helped troops stop attacks, including bombings, elsewhere.

“There was an order for them to do their own version of Marawi in other areas, but we were able to stop this because of martial law,” Ano told the legislators.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana played down concerns of military abuses, saying no major human rights violations have been reported since Duterte declared martial law to deal with the Marawi violence, the worst crisis in his yearlong presidency.

Some opponents argued that government forces could deal with the attack in lakeside Marawi, a center of Islamic faith in the southern third of the largely Roman Catholic nation, without resorting to martial law. Others worried that the extension was too long and that the rest of the country may eventually be placed under martial rule.

Left-wing activists opposed to Duterte’s declaration rallied outside Congress. Some unfurled protest posters in the plenary hall but were forced out by security officers.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros recalled how civil liberties were curtailed and Congress was padlocked when dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in the Philippines in 1972. Marcos was ousted in a “people power” revolt in 1986.

Since the Marawi fighting broke out on May 23, at least 428 militants, 105 soldiers and policemen, and 45 civilians have been killed. Half a million residents have been displaced, according to the military.

During the daylong special session of Congress, a wounded army officer, 1st Lt. Kent Fagyan, told how troops smashed concrete walls of houses and buildings with sledgehammers to advance slowly toward militant positions away from sniper fire. Troops dealt with booby traps and had to wrest back control of Marawi communities room by room, he said, adding that the militants had powerful machine guns, drones and “seemingly unlimited ammunition.”

“Inside, you can’t eat on time, you can’t sleep because you’ll be awakened by explosions here and there starting in the morning up to evening for almost 24 hours,” Fagyan said.

“On behalf of my colleagues, who are still fighting in Marawi, we thank you for your continued support,” he said. “We feel that we’re not alone fighting them with the clothes and water that you sent over.”

The siege on Marawi started when more than 600 heavily armed fighters, waving Islamic State group-style black flags, stormed into the city, occupying buildings, houses and mosques and taking hostages. Several foreign fighters, including 20 Indonesians and a Malaysian financier known as Mahmud bin Ahmad, joined the insurrection, Duterte said in a letter to Congress this past week.

Duterte wrote in his letter that the leadership of the Marawi siege “largely remains intact despite the considerable decline in the number of rebels fighting in the main battle area.” Other radical armed bands “are ready to reinforce Isnilon Hapilon’s group or launch diversionary attacks and similar uprisings elsewhere,” he said, referring to the leader of the attackers.

Intelligence reports that Hapilon sent funds and ordered allied militants to launch attacks in key cities across the south have been validated, Duterte said.

The attackers’ lasting power and large arsenal of weapons have surprised Duterte and his top security officials, who acknowledged they underestimated the combat strength of the militants and their preparations, including the stockpiling of assault firearms in Marawi. Troops long used to fighting insurgents in the jungles have struggled to rout the gunmen from Marawi’s dense urban sprawl.

The crisis has sparked alarm that the Islamic State group may be gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia through allied local militants, as it faces major setbacks in Syria and Iraq. The United States and Australia have deployed surveillance planes to Marawi, and China has provided weapons for Filipino troops, including those fighting in the besieged city.

UAE: Al-Jazeera Has Gone Beyond Incitement to Hostility, Violence

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

Middle East

UAE: Al-Jazeera Has Gone Beyond Incitement to Hostility, Violence

UAE

Abu Dhabi- UAE has accused al-Jazeera TV station of spreading sectarianism and promoting violence and anti-Semitism in response to UN’s refusal to call on the Arab countries that have boycotted Doha to shut the channel.

UAE Dr. Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, addressing his country’s concerns that the Doha-based network promotes extremist ideologies.

The letter highlighted how al-Jazeera has promoted anti-Semitic violence by broadcasting sermons by spiritual leader of Muslim Brotherhood Yusuf al-Qaradawi in which he praised Hitler, described the Holocaust as “divine punishment” and called on Allah to “take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people and kill them, down to the very last one.”

“While the protection of the right of freedom of expression is of fundamental importance, this protection is not absolute, and restrictions on the right are permitted under the international law to protect national security and public order,” said Gargash in his letter sent.

“Freedom of expression cannot be used to justify and shield the promotion of extremist narratives,” the letter notes.

The minister recalled UN Security Council Resolution 1624 (2005), a historic resolution that focused on messages that often precede acts of terrorism and called on states to prohibit and prevent incitement to commit terrorist acts.

The letter referred to the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Countering Violent Extremism adopted by the special rapporteur and several regional and human rights bodies.

It recognized that states may restrict reporting that is intended to incite imminent violence, and there is a direct and immediate connection between the reporting and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence.

In this regard, the letter makes clear that al-Jazeera’s reporting has repeatedly crossed the threshold of incitement to hostility, violence and discrimination, and lists several examples of such content.

For instance, on February 18, 2008, following the re-publication of a blasphemous cartoon, al-Jazeera TV broadcast a speech by the spokesman of the Salah al-Din brigades in Gaza that called on Muslims to “burn down the offices of the newspapers that affronted our Prophet, and bomb them so that body parts go flying.”

Also included in the letter are numerous examples of the ongoing editorial support for terrorist groups and on-air promotion of sectarianism by the Qatari channel’s journalists.

The letter mentioned that, over the years, “the Qatari-owned and controlled al-Jazeera Arabic has provided a platform to Osama bin Laden (al-Qaeda), Abu Mohammed al-Jolani (al-Nusra), Khaled Mashal (Hamas), Mohammed Deif (Hamas), Anwar al-Awlaki (al-Qaeda), Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah), Ramadan Shallah (Palestinian Islamic Jihad), and Abdel Hakim Belhadj (Libyan ISIS Group), among others.

The letter explained that these interviews gave terrorist groups opportunities to threaten, recruit and incite, without challenge or restraint.

The minister reiterated that the UAE’s strong objections to al-Jazeera are not a matter of disagreement on its editorial standpoints but are a direct and necessary response to its persistent and dangerous incitement to hostility, violence and discrimination.

In light of the alarming examples quoted in the letter, these objections are legitimate, well founded and reasonable.

The letter concluded with an invitation to the High Commissioner to discuss additional cases of al-Jazeera’s promotion of extremist ideologies and ways to protect the right of freedom of expression in the face of such egregious abuses.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

More Posts – Twitter – Facebook – Google Plus – YouTube

Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

12:55 PM ET

Two weeks after the White House threatened to impose a “heavy price” on Syrian President Bashar Assad if it launched a new chemical attack, President Donald Trump’s first attempt at peacemaking looks set to keep the autocrat in power for the foreseeable future.

A regional ceasefire took hold in Syria’s southwest [when], following negotiations with Russia and Jordan. It’s the newest curveball in the Trump administration’s evolving policy on Syria, which has gone from bombing Assad’s military in April and shooting a Syrian warplane from the sky in June, to the new ceasefire deal and renewed calls for cooperation with Assad’s chief outside supporter, Russia.

Observers and former U.S. officials say the ceasefire deal effectively guarantees Assad’s regime remains in place, in spite of Trump administration rhetoric to the contrary. Trump discussed the Syrian truce during his first face-to-face meeting as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on Friday.

“My sense is that the Trump administration is resigned to the fact that the Assad regime has been secured by Iran and Russia for the indefinite future,” Fred Hof, a former U.S. special envoy on Syria under President Barack Obama, told TIME in an email. “They are forced – in large measure due to five plus years of Obama administration policy paralysis – to put Syrian political transition on the back burner.”

The ceasefire deal illustrates a new political reality as diplomatic attempts to resolve the six-year-old Syrian crisis as a whole give way to piecemeal efforts to deescalate the conflict in different parts of the country. Following more than a year of Russian-supported military gains by the government of President Bashar Assad, few now expect a broad national peace agreement between the regime and the rebel groups arrayed against it.

“There is no integrated solution for Syria anymore, at least for the time being in Washington,” says Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking to TIME from Paris. “The core of the problem, the political question, the Assad aspect, the transition; today it’s off the hook. Today this is on the shelf,” he adds.

International diplomacy has focussed lately on containing, rather than resolving the conflict as a whole. In May, Russia, Iran, and Turkey (a key supporter of the Syrian opposition) agreed to a plan to establish a series of four “de-escalation zones” in sections of the country held by the opposition. It achieved limited success in calming fighting between rebels and the regime.

The new ceasefire calls for Jordan and Russia to restrain Syrian rebels and the regime, respectively, along the existing front line in Syria’s southwest, according to an senior State Department official who briefed reporters on Friday. Russia, the United States and Jordan released few other specifics of the agreement. No text of the deal was made public, and it was not clear how the truce would be enforced or monitored.

The new truce could yet provide relief to people living in three provinces in southwestern Syria, if it holds: Daraa, Suwayda, and Quneitra. The southwest has long been a redoubt of mainstream rebel groups who oppose both Assad and extremist groups, owing in part to support from the United States and Jordan, Syria’s neighbor to the south. Assad and allied forces have intensified attacks on rebel-held areas in the south since February. Past national ceasefires have unravelled within days or weeks. Human rights monitors and President Trump claimed that the ceasefire held, at least in its opening hours.

Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding. Many lives can be saved. Came out of meeting. Good!

Others weren’t certain it would be durable. “Is the ceasefire actually going to lead to a reduction in hostilities and violence in the south? That remains to be seen,” said Charmain Mohamed, a Jordan-based Advocacy Advisor for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Past diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war have sought to broker a peace deal between Assad and a spectrum of rebel groups who demand his removal from power. Those talks collapsed last year as Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, launched a ferocious offensive that reclaimed territory lost to the rebels, including the insurgent stronghold of Aleppo. The loss of the northwestern city was a historic blow to the rebellion that all but ended maximalist hopes of future military success against Assad.

More than six years on from the mass uprising against Assad that spawned Syria’s civil war, the contours of the conflict are shifting. After years in which the United States supported armed opposition groups but avoided direct conflict with Assad, the U.S. military struck Assad’s forces and allied troops at least four times since April, beginning with a cruise missile strike in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people. In June, hostilities escalated again when American forces shot down a Syrian government warplane that attacked U.S.-allied militias on the ground eastern Syria.

The U.S. posture toward Assad is now difficult to gauge. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated a call for a “transition away from the Assad family,” but also acknowledged that there was no plan in place to replace the current regime. Speaking to reporters in Hamburg, Tillerson said of Russian policy in Syria, “Maybe they’ve got the right approach and we’ve got the wrong approach.”

Under Trump, the U.S. has focused its efforts in Syria on fighting ISIS, sending additional troops to support Kurdish-led militias now battling their way into the jihadists’ stronghold in the eastern city of Raqqa. The ISIS-focused approach has placed diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict as a whole on the backburner.

The ceasefire agreement overshadowed a new round of United Nations-brokered peace talks taking place in Geneva on Monday. Bahout, the analyst, said few expected any progress. “No one is betting one dollar on that,” he said.