Informed Comment

Syndicate content
Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion
Updated: 14 hours 11 min ago

Jerusalem: Ultra-Right Israelis again invade Aqsa Mosque compound; UN condemns provocation

Mon, 27 Jul 2015 - 11:46pm

Ma’an News Agency | – –

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Right-wing Israelis broke into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Monday for the second day in a row, as the UN expressed concern over “religious provocations” in and around holy sites in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

Witnesses said that 70 right-wing Jews entered the compound via the Moroccan Gate under Israeli police escort.

Israeli police reportedly assaulted and detained a Palestinian worshiper, Ahmad Asaliyyeh, from the compound, and detained a Palestinian woman as she was leaving the compound.

An Israeli police spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

The incident came a day after Palestinian worshipers clashed with Israeli police and soldiers across the compound and inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself, leaving 19 Palestinians and four Israeli police injured.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, issued a statement on Monday to express concern over “recent incidents and heightened tensions” in and around Jerusalem’s holy sites, and to “call upon people on all sides to maintain calm.”

He said: “Provocative actions and language carry the seed of violence and ultimately undermine the ability of worshipers of all faiths to have access to their respective Holy Sites. Respect for the status quo is in the interest of all and is essential for stability.”

The UN representative called on religious and political leaders to “prevent extremist elements from abusing the sanctity of Holy Sites and the different religious sentiments of all people.”

Bans, arrests

Israeli forces reportedly detained eight Palestinians from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday, and an Israeli court on Monday banned four Palestinians from entering the compound for periods of up to 60 days.

Dania Eid and Alaa Bashi, both Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, were banned from the site for 60 days, while two Palestinians from the West Bank, Akram Daana and a young man identified only as Fadi, were given bans of 30 and 45 days.

Right-wing Israelis were visiting the compound on Sunday to mark Tisha B’Av, an annual Jewish fast day that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples.

The third holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the Temples once stood.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained an agreement with the Islamic Endowment that controls the compound not to allow non-Muslim prayer in the area.

Jewish prayer is allowed at the neighboring Western Wall, which is the last remnant of the Second Temple.

The mosque compound has seen rising tensions in recent days, with Jewish organizations calling for the compound to be open to Jews for the week following Tisha B’Av and others seeking to celebrate unconfirmed reports that Israel is negotiating the reopening of the compound to non-Muslim worship.

At the end of June, International Crisis Group reported discussions between Israel and the Islamic Endowment on allowing non-Muslim worship at the site, although the move has not yet been confirmed.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AJ+ reported on the previous day’s clash: “Israeli Police Storm Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque”

Top Six Signs ISIL/ Daesh is Doomed

Mon, 27 Jul 2015 - 3:01am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

It has been over a year since Mosul fell to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). In some ways the organization has continued to make advances since then, taking Ramadi and Palmyra in the past few months. It isn’t as important as FBI director James Comey says it is, though. People in government security agencies feel they have to hype threats so as to ensure next year’s budget.

I maintain that the Daesh menace has been exaggerated from day one. I doubt four million people live under its rule, not the 9 million often alleged. Most of its territory is barren desert and lightly populated. It has no obvious purchase in the United States. And, it has lost key assets in the past year in the Middle East.

Here are some signs that we won’t be talking about Daesh in just a few years:

1. Daesh has been excluded from Diyala Province in eastern Iraq, and was chased out of the major Sunni city of Tikrit. It carried out a horrific bombing in Diyala recently, but that is like a ghost haunting someone because it was defeated.

2. The Iraqi military and Shiite militia auxiliaries chased Daesh from the oil refinery at Baiji north of Tikrit in late June. Without income from gasoline and kerosene smuggling, Daesh will suffer a crisis in finances.

2. Kurdish forces, including the Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, successfully launched a campaign to take Mt. Sinjar away from Daesh and to establish Kurdish control of northern Ninevah Province. The Peshmerga and the Syrian YPG or Peoples’ Protection Units cooperated to rescue the Yazidi Kurds. This operation also hurt Daesh’s logistics, cutting it off from some of Syria.

4. The Iraqi military and Shiite militias are massed around Fallujah and Ramadi and sometime within the next month or they are likely to launch a campaign to retake Iraq’s Western al-Anbar Province. A side effect of that will be to cut Daesh in Mosul off from provisioning.

New ISW Iraq Control of Terrain map. Trebil border crossing closed by Iraq to stop $ 4 ISIS.

— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) July 20, 2015

5. After having been repelled from Kobane, the Kurdish enclave in the north of Raqqa Province, Daesh has lost the Tel al-Abyad border crossing to Syria’s Kurds. This loss makes it more difficult for it to smuggle in men and arms via the border checkpoint. In fact, it has lost control of the northern part of Raqqa Province, its seat of power.

6. Turkey has finally relented and given permission to the US to bomb Daesh targets in Syria from the Incirlik air base in Turkey. US planes are now 400 miles from the faux caliphate’s capital, Raqqa– much closer than they were. Turkey also seems to be closing off the part of the Syrian border stretching from Kobane west, further hurting Daesh ability to bring in men and supplies.

Daesh is gradually being surrounded in preparation for it being cut off. It lost Diyala, it lost Tikrit, it lost Sinjar, it lost Kobane, it lost Tel al-Abyad, and now it is facing being cut off from smuggling routes in Turkey and it is facing losing major cities in al-Anbar.

There is a lot of hard fighting ahead, and defeating Daesh won’t be easy, since they mine their towns and set booby traps. But all the pieces are gradually being put in place that would allow a coup de grace over the next year or two.

Related video:

CNN: “Turkey launches airstrikes against ISIS in Syria”

Trying to out-Trump Trump, Huckabee goes all Holocaust on Obama’s Iran Deal

Mon, 27 Jul 2015 - 1:51am

CBSN | (Video News Report) |

“After weeks of controversial remarks, GOP primary candidate Donald Trump is still leading in the polls while other candidates like Mike Huckabee are stepping up their own attacks. CBS News senior political editor Steve Chaggaris has the latest from the campaign trail.

CBSN: “Inflammatory talk from Trump, Huckabee draws criticism”


Related tweets added by Juan Cole:

This is incredibly offensive. The systematic extermination of my people is nothing like an arms control agreement.

— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) July 26, 2015

US Jews support Iran nuclear deal significantly more than Americans in general.

— Borzou Daragahi (@borzou) July 26, 2015

Syria Civil War leaves Civilians with Water Cut-offs, Raw Sewage in Rivers

Mon, 27 Jul 2015 - 1:18am

By Kanya D’Almeida | (Inter Press Service) | – –

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Licensed from Inter Press Service

Related video added by Juan Cole:

UNICEFmena from last spring: “Syria Crisis – 4 Years On: Providing clean water to a region in conflict

Jerusalem: Israeli forces, extremist Jews, storm Aqsa mosque compound

Mon, 27 Jul 2015 - 12:57am

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces broke into Al-Aqsa mosque compound Sunday morning firing stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets at Muslim worshipers as they cleared way for right-wing Jews who were visiting the compound to mark a Jewish fast day, witnesses said.

Dozens of Palestinian worshipers were reportedly hit with rubber-coated bullets and suffered excessive tear gas inhalation, while Israeli police officers were reported to have attacked worshipers with pepper spray, rods and rifle butts.

At least three Palestinians were reportedly detained.

The officers entered the compound through the Moroccan Gate, Chain Gate and Hutta Gate and clashed with worshipers, witnesses said, before Israeli soldiers then shut down the compound’s gates with chains.

Israeli soldiers also reportedly stormed Al-Aqsa mosque itself and fired rubber-coated bullets inside the holy site. The compound’s Palestinian security guards were assaulted and prevented from moving, witnesses said.

Israeli police claimed that they entered the mosque after “masked rioters” threw stones at them, “with the aim of preventing further injury to police.”

h/t Ma’animages

Israeli media reported that four police officers were injured, with two moved to hospital for treatment.

As the clashes subsided, right-wing Jews began to make their way into the compound in groups via the Moroccan gate.

Israel’s minister of agriculture, Uri Ariel, was reportedly among the right-wingers to tour the compound under heavy police escort. Ariel is a member of Naftali Bennett’s ultra-right Jewish Home party.

Israeli police said that a young Jewish man on Sunday attempted to enter while wearing phylacteries — small leather boxes containing sacred texts worn by Orthodox men at prayer.

When told to remove them, the man resisted and grabbed hold of railings, biting a policeman who tried to remove him before he was arrested.

Sunday marked Tisha B’Av, an annual Jewish fast day that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Temples. The fast day is considered the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.

Earlier in the morning, Israeli forces imposed strict restrictions on entry of Palestinians Muslim worshipers into the compound.

Witnesses said that at dawn, Israeli officers allowed only women and men over the age of 50 to enter the compound. After 6:30 a.m. all Palestinians were reportedly denied entry.

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound has seen rising tensions in recent days, with Jewish organizations calling for the compound to be open to Jews for the week after Tisha B’Av and others seeking to celebrate unconfirmed reports that Israel is negotiating the reopening of the compound to non-Muslim worship.

At the end of June, International Crisis Group reported discussions between Israel and the Islamic Endowment that controls the mosque compound on allowing non-Muslim worship at the site, although the move has not yet been confirmed.

The third holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa mosque compound is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained an agreement with the Islamic Endowment not to allow non-Muslim prayer in the area.

Jewish prayer is allowed at the neighboring Western Wall, which is the last remnant of the Second Temple.

However, Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to Al-Aqsa, leading to anger among Muslim worshipers.

The last time Israeli police entered the mosque itself, in November last year, Jordan — one of the very few Arab states with diplomatic relations with Israel — recalled its ambassador.

AFP contributed to this report.

Via Ma’an News Agency

Turkey’s new “war on terror” mainly targeting Kurds

Sun, 26 Jul 2015 - 3:38am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

What was at first announced as a new Turkish turn toward attacks on Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) on Friday has quickly become largely a campaign against Kurds instead. It is being alleged that the Turkish Air Force launched dozens of strikes against bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party over the border in Iraq on Saturday, and just 4 against Daesh positions in Syria.

#BREAKING Sources tell CNN Türk last night Turkish jets made 159 sorties against #PKK camps in N.Iraq&hit 400 targets

— CNN Türk ENG (@CNNTURK_ENG) July 25, 2015

Political cartoonists had fun with the mismatched sense of priorities:

Erdogan vs. #ISIS (BY Marian KEMENSKY) #Turkey #TurkeyAttackKurdsNotISIS

— Scimonium (@scimonium) July 26, 2015

What is weird about the Turkish campaign against the Kurdish forces is that they have been the only really effective fighters against Daesh with the exception of Shiite militias in Iraq. If you were going to launch a campaign against Daesh, would you do it by damaging Daesh’s most effective foe on the ground?

Early on Sunday Turkish police in the capital of Ankara dispersed hundreds of Kurdish activists who gathered to protest the bombardments, and arrested 25. the headlines say something about the protesters not wanting the campaign against Daesh, but these were mostly Kurds and they weren’t demonstrating in favor of the beheaders. Turkey’s twin campaign has a propaganda element that the press is sometimes falling for.

Some 550 persons have been detained by Turkish police, including a prominent Salafi preacher suspected of ties to Daesh/ ISIL. But Kurdish activists maintain that a large number of the arrestees are not Daesh at all but just Kurdish Turks. In other words, the AKP government is taking advantage of its alleged turn against Daesh actually to crack down on the Kurds instead.

Kurdish news agencies closed,kurdish people arrested,jets bomb PKK targets,and Turkey says "we fight with ISIS" #TurkeyAttackKurdsNotISIS

— Nurcan Baysal (@baysal_nurcan) July 25, 2015

The PKK had had a truce with the Turkish government since 2013, but a PKK spokesman said Saturday that the truce, and any peace process are at an end given the bombing campaign Ankara launched against them.

The US and Turkey consider the PKK a terrorist organization, and in the past it has been extremely violent. In the 1980s and after some 30,000 persons died in southeastern Turkey in a dirty war between the PKK guerrillas and the Turkish army. Some 20% of Turkey’s 75 million people are ethnic Kurds, who mainly live in the hardscrabble southeast of the country. Very few Kurdish Turks are separatists, but Ankara is obsessed with the danger that they might turn in a secessionist direction, encouraged by moves toward autonomy of Kurds in Syria (Rojava) and in northern Iraq (the Kurdistan Regional Government).

The PKK seemed a spent force 15 years ago, but the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq destroyed that country’s security and some 5000 PKK commandos fled Turkey to camps on the Iraqi side of the border.

The pro-Kurdish left of center Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has 13 percent of seats in the Turkish parliament, complained that

“It is unacceptable for [Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan] and the Justice and Development Party [AKP] to make their war on the Kurdish people part of their war on Daesh.”

The turn of Kurdish Turks to parliamentary politics and their entry into parliament in the recent elections could have formed a basis for improved Turkish-Kurdish relations. Instead, the Islamically-tinged AKP seems to have seen this development as a threat and appears to want to polarize the country so as to weaken and isolate the Kurds.

The HDP believes that the bombardment of PKK positions is an electoral ploy intended to whip up nationalist Turkish fervor in case there are snap elections because Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of the center-right ruling Justice and Development Party could not put together a coalition with another party.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, the bombings put KRG President Massoud Barzani in a bind. He had sought better relations with Ankara after the rise of Daesh, Salafi Arab organization that relentlessly attacks Kurds. People are accusing him of letting Turkey bomb Kurdish territory, and President Erdogan said after a phone call with Barzani that the Kurdistan Regional Government leader approved of the bombardment of PKK positions. Barzani himself denied saying any such thing and he demanded that Turkey stop its aerial bombardment immediately. Barzani’s forces, the Peshmerga, and the PKK fighters had not gotten along until last summer, when they united against the depredations of Daesh. Barzani’s government is center-right whereas the PKK are leftists and former Communists.

The HDP theory is that Erdogan is doing all this to win the next parliamentary elections which could come as early as four months from now if coalition talks between the AKP and its rival, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) fail. I don’t know if that is true. I can’t actually see how AKP could improve its fortunes by mobilizing Turkish Kurds. Maybe AKP leaders are convinced they lost the last election, or didn’t get 51% of seats, because of low turnout among ethnic Turks?

In any case, sensible analysts agree that Erdogan’s decision to ruin the truce with the PKK is a fateful one, and that it could throw Turkey into disarray.


Related video:

Euronews: “Protests erupt in Turkey and Iraq over Ankara’s operations against IS and Kurdish militants”

Is this how the Establishment takes down Outsiders like Bernie Sanders?

Sun, 26 Jul 2015 - 1:39am

Thom Hartmann | (Video report) | – –

“Thom Hartmann shares about media coverage of a new Quinnipiac poll, but the coverage leaves out some important information. Why? because Bernie is an outsider.”

Thom Hartmann: “This Is How the Establishment Takes Down the Outsiders like Bernie Sanders…”

Climate Change Dunnit: The Case of the missing Woolly Mammoths

Sun, 26 Jul 2015 - 1:08am

By Chris Turney and Alan Cooper | (The Conversation) | – –

Imagine a world populated by woolly mammoths, giant sloths and car-sized armadillos – 50,000 years ago more than 150 types of these mysterious large-bodied mammals roamed our planet. But by 10,000 years ago, two-thirds of them had disappeared.

Since the end of the 19th century, scientists have puzzled over where these “megafauna” went. In 1796, the famous French palaeontologist Georges Cuvier suggested a global catastrophe had wiped them out. Others were appalled. The great Thomas Jefferson was so against Cuvier’s idea he sent an expedition to try to find vast herds of these animals grazing contentedly in the American interior. The only thing anyone could say with certainty was there should be a lot more of them than we see today.

Alfred Wallace, who wrote the first paper on evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin, noted that “we live in a zoologically impoverished world, from which all the hugest, and fiercest, and strangest forms have recently disappeared”. It’s one of the great historical whodunnits: what happened to the megafauna, and when did they disappear?

As with any good mystery, there are two main suspects: climate and humans.

The idea that our ancestors may have hunted the huge beasts to extinction has long been a popular view, particularly as the spread of humans around the world appears closely associated with their demise. Several major criticisms continue to be levelled at this theory, the most popular being that many large animals are still present in Africa, despite it having the longest record of occupation by people. Others in turn argue that humans co-evolved alongside megafauna in Africa for millions of years, giving animals time to learn from human behaviour.

The alternative is that a rapidly changing climate caused the habitat of the megafauna to shrink or disappear. As the planet warmed out of the last ice age 12,000 years ago, many animals would have struggled to adapt to the new environment. A major criticism here is that there have been other major climatic changes in the past, some of which have been equally extreme and rapid. What could have been so different with this most recent warming?

In a research paper published in the journal Science, we report new advances in ancient DNA, carbon dating and climate reconstruction that finally give some answers. Previously, as long as species appeared to survive in the fossil record the interpretation had been that nothing significant had happened for tens of millennia.

But thanks to ancient DNA analysis of megafaunal bones we now know that this approach has missed a series of events throughout the past 50,000 years when major parts of a species’ genetic diversity, or even the whole species itself, disappeared. Alongside this, more accurate carbon dating of the fossil remains shows these extinctions did not all happen at a single time but were staggered through time and space.

The authors recently discovered this DNA-filled mammoth vertebrae preserved in ice, while doing fieldwork in northern Canada.
Kieren Mitchell, Author provided

It’s important to realise the backdrop to these extinctions was a wildly fluctuating climate. The ice age of the northern hemisphere was not one long frigid wasteland. Instead, frozen conditions were punctuated by many short, rapid warming periods, known as interstadials, where temperatures would soar from 4 to 16˚C within just a few decades and last for hundreds to thousands of years. They represent some of the most profound climate changes detected in the recent geological past.

When we precisely compared the dates for European and American extinctions with climate records, we were amazed to find they coincided with the abrupt warming of the interstadials; in stark contrast there is a complete absence of extinctions at the height of the last ice age. As temperatures rose during the interstadials, dramatic shifts in global rainfall and vegetation patterns would have placed the megafauna under immense stress. Those that could not adapt to the rapidly changing conditions would have quickly succumbed. The European cave lion, for instance (Panthera leo spelaea in the chart below), survived through periods when much of the continent was covered in ice, only to go extinct during relatively benign conditions around 14,500 years ago.

Megafaunal extinctions mapped against climate change. Temperature history is shown along the bottom; the black and red bars represent 95% confidence ranges. Most animals went extinct during warm interstadial periods (shaded brown), and the last ice age (shaded blue) had almost no effect.
Cooper et al

There seems little doubt humans would have contributed to extinctions, however. While the dramatic climate shifts were the major driver in megafaunal extinction events, humans would have applied the coup de grâce to populations already suffering major stress.

In one likely scenario, humans would have concentrated their hunting efforts along dispersal routes, killing the few bold individuals moving out to re-establish an extinct population, causing localised extinctions to expand into larger and larger areas, that would have eventually led to an irreversible ecosystem collapse. It’s likely the scattered pattern of extinctions and the difficulty of detecting them from fossils alone is why the relationship with warming events has not been detected before.

So what does this mean for the future? Well for a start, rapidly increasing temperatures are not good news for the megafauna that survived the last warming. In many ways the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels and resulting warming effects are expected to have a similar rate of change to the onset of past interstadials, heralding another major phase of large mammal extinctions.

This seems all the more likely thanks to our “success” in developing the planet’s surface, breaking up areas of natural habitat and disrupting any connectivity that once existed between areas. Migration is becoming increasingly less of an option for species struggling to adapt to changing temperatures with little chance of back filling from neighbouring areas for re-establishing populations. Even after all these years, megafauna are providing a precious lesson from the past.

Chris Turney is Professor and ARC Laureate Fellow at UNSW Australia.
Alan Cooper is Director, Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at University of Adelaide.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Iraqis Divided on Iran Deal: Sunnis say, “The US sold us to Iran”

Sun, 26 Jul 2015 - 12:41am

Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | ( | – –

While the rest of the world debates the merits of the Iranian nuclear deal, Iraqis are arguing about it too: Did the US sell them out? Will Iran now be able to interfere in Iraq with impunity?

Earlier this month news broke that a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme had been reached, after months-long negotiations involving foreign ministers from seven countries – Iran, the US, the UK, Russia, China, France and Germany as well as the European Union’s head of foreign policy. The deal would curb Iran’s nuclear programme and prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons quickly. In return long-standing international sanctions against Iran would eventually be lifted.

h/t PressTV

Around the world, opinions were divided as to whether the agreement was a triumph of diplomacy that would help achieve peace in the Middle East or whether it was, as one conservative US senator put it, “a historic defeat for the United States”.

Opinions were also divided in Iraq, which shares an almost 1,500 kilometre border and a chequered history of war, peace and political interference with Iran.

Just a few hours after the agreement was announced, Iraqis were heatedly discussing the topic on the streets, in cafes and on social media forums. The opinions expressed mostly seem to be indicative of the ethnic and sectarian fault lines already running through Iraqi society.

Those favouring the deal tended to be Shiite Muslims and they suggested that a better relationship between Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, and the US would mean more stability in Iraq in general. The two nations – arguably Iraq’s closest foreign allies – often jostle for power inside Iraq, using Shiite Muslim (Iran) or Sunni Muslim (the US) proxies. If they are on better terms, so the argument goes, maybe Iraq’s sects will be on better terms and all forces could come together to combat the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which is currently causing Iraq’s debilitating security crisis.

“It’s a good deal,” argues Haider Kadhim, a shop owner in the upmarket Karrada area in central Baghdad. “I went to Tehran three months ago and I saw what suffering the economic sanctions have caused. It made me remember the problems that sanctions on Iraq caused here – poverty, disease, lack of services. The fact that sanctions on Iran are lifted will be good for Iraq. They are our neighbours and we are close to them. If they’re good, then we’re good. And it will certainly increase economic cooperation and trade with them.”

However those opposed to the deal – most often Sunni Muslims – are arguing that the agreement gives Iran the right to interfere in Iraq without any US opposition. Washington has bought Iran’s nuclear weapons, they complain, and in return they have sold Iraq to Iran.

“The nuclear deal is against Iraq’s interests; Iran and the US have allied to destroy this country,” says Safaa Abdel-Meguid, an employee with the Ministry of Electricity who lives in the mostly Sunni neighbourhood of Saidiya in southern Baghdad. “Ali Khamenei has already acknowledged that his country won’t stop supporting Iraq, even after the deal – which basically means his country won’t stop interfering in Iraq.”

Insults and accusations also flew, with anyone opposed to the agreement often accused of being a secret agent for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – these countries have already expressed concern about the agreement, believing that if Shiite-majority Iran has more power it will be to the detriment of their Sunni-Muslim-majority nations.

The same kinds of arguments and discussions played out everywhere in Iraq – from family dining tables to coffee shops to Facebook. The Iran agreement also brought back unpleasant memories for many Iraqis – of the nuclear programme that was initiated by former Iraqi ruler, Saddam Hussein, and the trouble it caused.

“This kind of controversy among Iraqis reflects the social divisions we already have” Majid Kathem, a professor of sociology and psychology who lectures at the University of Baghdad and the University of Mustansiriyah, told NIQASH. “It is the result of the sectarian problems between Sunnis and Shiites that have plagued this country for years. Which is why every time there is a contentious topic like this, Iraqis come down on one or the other side; they cannot agree.”

The nuclear deal also gave critics of the Iraqi government another opportunity to harangue local politicians and their lack of achievement. Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite politician, was the target of much criticism. His dismal performance on open files – such as the fight over water with neighbouring Turkey and the dispute over Kuwait’s Mubarak al-Kabir Port – was compared with that of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was seen as triumphant after many long and difficult negotiations. There were a lot of jokes made about al-Jafaari too. Iraqis often laugh about the way al-Jafaari speaks Arabic. He uses a haughty style of Arabic that seems old fashioned to many. Jokes about him compared his way of speaking to Zarif’s, whom Iraqis see as more plain spoken and direct.

As for Iraq’s senior politicians themselves, their opinions were divided in the same way as their voters were. At a senior political level most of Iraq’s leaders welcomed the agreement in various statements to the press – even if some were a little lukewarm with that welcome.

“The agreement will help in strengthening security and stability in the Middle East,” Iraqi President, Kurdish politician Fuad Masum, told local media.

“We hope that the agreement will spare the region the scourge and disaster of war and conflict,” Iraq’s Prime Minister, Shiite Muslim politician Haider al-Abadi, added in a statement.

And, senior Sunni Muslim politician, Salim al-Jibouri, also the Speaker of Iraq’s Parliament, noted: “We hope that this agreement achieves greater economic and trade cooperation and gives the people their chance to live in peace and security”.

Other politicians made comments that reflected their own political allegiances.

“Unfortunately the agreement did not discuss the issue of respect for other nations’ sovereignty and Iranian interventions in the region,” Ayad Allawi, one of Iraq’s three Vice Presidents said; although Allawi is a Shiite Muslim too, he leans towards the secular lobby and he is well known for his antipathy toward Iran. “However,” Allawi conceded, “the agreement remains significant.”

Meanwhile Nouri al-Maliki, former Prime Minister of Iraq and now another of the country’s Vice Presidents, described the agreement as a “victory for those who love peace in this region and in the world”. By the end of his regime last year, al-Maliki was known for his close links with Iran. Unsurprisingly the same kinds of sentiment were expressed by most of the Shiite Muslim-majority political parties.

While influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who leads the millions-strong Sadrist movement and who has been critical about Iran’s policy toward Iraq in the recent past, kept out of it, one of his counterparts, cleric Ammar al-Hakim, who heads a major Shiite Muslim political party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, said in an official statement: “We congratulate the noble Iranian people, its wise leaders and brave negotiators… We believe the nuclear deal is key to solving many of the thorny problems in the region”.

As yet though, the true impact of the agreement on Iraq cannot be seen. For instance, the impact of the agreement on oil prices. These dropped after the agreement was signed, a negative for Iraq which needs prices to rise if it wants to overcome its current federal budget crisis.

There may yet be more aspects of the agreement that have an affect on Iraq but these terms have not yet been revealed, says Ahmad al-Allusi, a local political analyst based in Baghdad. “The talks focused on more than just the nuclear issue. And we will doubtless learn more in the coming days – we will learn whether the two sides have agreed to resolve other conflicts in a conciliatory manner, through negotiation, or whether they will simply maintain the status quo.”

Obama Walks Fine Line in Kenya on LGBTI Rights

Sun, 26 Jul 2015 - 12:27am

By Aruna Dutt | (Inter Press Service) | – –

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 25 2015 (IPS) – U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Nairobi at the end of a two-day visit Saturday, focusing on Kenya’s economy and the fight against terrorism, but also briefly touching on gay rights and discrimination.

‘“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“You can’t encourage change by staying silent.” — Charles Radcliffe”

Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

But LGBTI Kenyans are not in agreement about whether Obama’s presence will help or hurt their struggle, according to the Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern.

“The difference of views is a sign of the strength and diversity of the Kenyan LGBTI movement, but there’s no question that this is a potential minefield, and ultimately, those who stand to get hurt most are regular Kenyans,” she told IPS.

Some have argued that the U.S. president speaking out on LGBTQ human rights in Kenya was counterproductive in the past, and has made the people of Kenya, where same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, more homophobic and unsupportive of the LGBTQ community.

Anti-gay organisations like the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum claim that they gained more support due to President Obama’s comments in 2013, along with some American policies, likely because the protection of LGBTQ communities is widely viewed as an American value being imposed on African society.

After Obama’s comments Saturday, President Kenyatta stated that in Kenya, it is “very difficult to impose” gay rights because the culture is different from the United States, and the societies do not accept it – which makes it a “non-issue” to the government of Kenya.

“There’s been a deliberate attempt to portray homosexuality as a Western import, which it isn’t,” the U.N. adviser on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, Charles Radcliffe, told IPS. “The only Western imports in this context are the homophobic laws used to punish and silence gay people,” these laws mostly originating from 19th century British colonialism.

By speaking on LGBTQ human rights abuses, Obama is “imposing human values, not Western ones,” says Radcliffe. “It’s possible to respect tradition, while at the same time insisting that everyone — gay people included — deserve to be protected from prejudice, violence, and unfair punishment and discrimination.”

Radcliffe said he believes Obama and other leaders should speak out, as it will “open people’s eyes to the existence of gay Kenyans and the legitimacy of their claim to respect and recognition.”

Radcliffe advises prominent individuals to take their lead from members of the local LGBT community – who are best placed to advise on what interventions are likely to help, and which ones risk making things more difficult.

“LGBT activists are too often isolated in their own countries; they need the support of fellow human rights activists, women’s rights activists and others campaigning for social justice. Public opinion tends to change when individual members of the public get to know LGBT individuals and realise they are people too. The government should hasten that process, not obstruct it. ”

Radcliffe notes that “you can’t encourage change by staying silent.”

According to Stern, “LGBTI Kenyans have been fighting their own heroic struggle for years, but the extremists have seized upon this opportunity to undermine their credibility as Kenyans. All Kenyans, gay and straight, lose when there’s this kind of media spin doctoring.”

Stern urged leaders like Obama and the media not to undermine an opportunity to address a spectrum of human rights abuses Kenyans are living with. Instead, she says there should be a focus on concerns which are being left by the wayside, such as the lack of police accountability, abuse by government security forces, abuse of Somali and Muslim communities, and a crackdown on NGOs, among many others.

“If the mechanisms for government accountability are weak, human rights of all stripes will suffer,” says Stern. “Kenyan activists of all stripes, including those working on LGBTI rights, are protesting corruption in government. They’ve continued calling for accountability for violence in 2007/2008 after elections.

“They’re defending people who’ve been arbitrarily arrested and charged, such as two men in Kwale County being tried under the ‘unnatural offenses law’. They’ve documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings by police in recent years, and they’ve called for police guilty of violence and theft to be disciplined and prosecuted.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenya continues to be plagued by corruption at all levels of government with limited accountability.

For example, although both presidents Kenyatta and Ruto campaigned for elected office on pledges to continue their cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged both presidents with crimes against humanity in the past, their campaigns later painted the ICC as a tool of Western imperialism, and encouraged other African leaders to undermine the ICC.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Licensed from Inter Press Service

Related video added by Juan Cole:

KTN News Kenya: “US President Barack Obama cautions on gay rights in Kenya”

Obama in Kenya: Why the Horn of Africa Matters to Geopolitics

Sat, 25 Jul 2015 - 2:57am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama’s visit to Kenya is of course personal, though he has been there before both as a civilian and as a senator. But it does also have a geopolitical and economic dimension.

Kenya is a country of roughly 46 million people, about the same as Spain. But its nominal gross domestic product is only $70 billion a year (Spain’s is 1.4 trillion). But its economy has been growing impressively, with 6% growth expected this year despite a downturn in coastal tourism because of terrorist incidents and a drought that has hurt agriculture.

It mainly produces agricultural products such as vegetables, fruits, tea and coffee, as well as some minerals. The US and Kenya only do a little over $1 billion in trade with one another annually, with the US selling a bit more than it imports. (It mainly sells machinery to Kenya, including everything from aircraft to medical equipment).

Kenya’s strategic position derives in part from its abutting the Horn of Africa to the north, off the coast of which is one of the world’s most important trade routes, linking the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and thence the Mediterranean and Europe through the Suez Canal.

On land, Kenya is a player in Somalia, which has been wracked by decades of internal instability and is still under threat by the al-Shabab terrorist group, despite successful presidential elections and steps back toward normality. In 2012-2013 Kenya partnered with the Somali government in operations against al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has hit Kenya twice with big attacks as part of its struggle to come back to power in Somalia, a prospect Kenya’s opposition makes unlikely. One of these left 147 dead at Garissa University College in early April of this year. The al-Shabab attacks led CNN unfairly to call Kenya a “hotbed of terrorism.” (This is not true and it is perfectly safe to visit).

The entire region stretching north from Kenya is mixed Christian and Muslim (Kenya is 11 percent Muslim) and a site of religious tension. Of course, this is an arena of the US “war on terrorism,” and al-Qaeda hit US embassies in East Africa in 1998.

Africa is also increasingly an arena of competition between the United States and China. China invested $5 billion in infrastructure projects in Kenya, and has twice the volume of trade with Africa as the United States does.

Kenya is moving to provide the other 80% of its population with electricity that does not now have it, and likely Chinese solar panels will be important to this endeavor. The opportunity costs of American business’s antipathy to solar technology mean that China is able to get the bids to provide solar panels and even panel factories for local production. China is building a 50 megawatt solar plant in Kenya.

Kenya has a mixed record on elections and human rights. On the one hand, its parliamentary elections are generally thought aboveboard. Political violence in 2007 and suspicions of stirring it up for political gain have resulted in cases against the current president and vice president by the International Criminal Court, though the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta did not go forward.

Obama is the first president to visit Kenya and Ethiopia, attesting how neglected this part of the world has been in the United States. For the geopolitical reasons mentioned above, that neglect is unwise. Africa’s population will quadruple in this century at a time when countries like Germany and Japan are thought likely to shrink in population; Africa will be the world.

Related video:

Obama’s all smiles as he catches up with long-lost family on official visit to Kenya

Young Protesters Languish in Jail under Egypt’s Military Counter-Revolution

Sat, 25 Jul 2015 - 1:35am

By Nelly Bassily | ( openDemocracy) | – –

Yara Sallam is starting the second year of her sentence in Qanater Women’s prison outside Cairo. She says, “I do not feel any regret or self-defeat, the prison is not inside me.” 

Yara Sallam is starting her second year of detention in an Egyptian prison. No mother ever wants to see her child in prison, but Rawia Sadek is not letting her daughter’s incarceration bring her down.

For over a year now, Sadek has tried not to let the multiple security checks inside the jail, the uncomfortable waiting-time in the visiting room, or the fact that her daughter is even being called an inmate ruin the precious hour-long visits she has with her daughter. Sadek has also been writing about Yara and all unjustly detained prisoners in Egypt via social media and posting photos of her daughter along with the hashtag #FreeYara.

Yara is a 29-year-old women’s human rights defender from Egypt. Before she was detained, she was a transitional justice researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). On June 21, 2014, twenty-three young activists, among them Yara and six other young women, were arrested for protesting against a draconian anti-protest law.

The law was introduced in 2013 to prevent anyone from protesting without permission from the government. Ironically, Egyptian President Abel Al Fattah el Sisi’s current government wouldn’t be in power if brave and defiant young Egyptians hadn’t taken to the streets in protest to oust then President Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011.  

Yara at a Khaled Said protestYara, as it turns out, wasn’t actually taking part in the unsanctioned protest when she was arrested on June 21. In fact, she was with her cousin, buying a water bottle inside a shop when they were arrested. Authorities released her cousin, but after police discovered that Yara worked with EIPR, she was referred to the prosecutor.

Yara and the 22 others activists who were arrested on that day have now completed over a year of their two year sentences. The Egyptian Appeal Court’s judgment handed down in December 2014 stipulates that their sentences will also be followed by two years of police surveillance.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture. Last December, the Observatory said in a statement that it considers that these activists are languishing in jail “solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly” and that their arbitrary detention and sentencing “only aim to sanction their legitimate human rights activities.”

 “Yara is an honest person, and she was raised to do the right thing and everything she does, she does with passion. She cares not only about herself but is always thinking about others in everything she does.” That’s how Sadek describes her daughter.  Being a lawyer isn’t just a career Yara chose – it’s a calling.  Sadek remembers: “I used to tell Yara ‘you’re a lawyer’ but she would reply ‘No mum, I’m a rights defender.’ Even when she was just 14 years old, she was involved in an organization that defends children’s rights.”  

Yara and 5 of the young women detainees who were arrested on June 21 2014 share a cell inside Qanater Women’s prison, 19-kilometers North of Cairo. When Sadek visited with Yara on June 9, Yara was feeling good that day. “Of course, there are times when she’s not happy, and not feeling good about her situation. But this time, she was happy and laughing,” she says.

At first, Sadek was afraid for Yara. She knows cases of abuse are rampant at the hands of state security forces and in Egyptian prisons. She feared that they would treat her badly or sexually abuse her in prison but Yara has confirmed that this has not happened.  

Losing one’s freedom without justifiable cause is not easy, but Yara is strong. In a letter from prison she wrote: “I do not feel any regret or self-defeat, the prison is not inside me.”

Much like Mahienour El Masry, a well-known political activist who is currently detained in Alexandria, Yara is trying to make her time in jail meaningful. When a group of human rights defenders visited Qanater prison, she and Sanaa Seif (another well-known young activist who campaigned against military trials for civilians in Egypt) insisted on bringing attention to the case of a young woman who has been unjustly placed in solitary confinement. They also complained about the overcrowding in the prison.

When a prison warden asked Yara if they were treating her well, she told him that she was treated fine, but that others were not. “That says everything about Yara and about how she cannot stand idle in the face of injustice,”  says Sadek, “I can go on and on about how wonderful my daughter is.”

Radwa Medhat has worked as a colleague with Yara in the EIPR team and they are close friends. Medhat says that she is the most caring, thoughtful, funny, compassionate friend that anyone can have. “Yara’s time in prison is by far my worst nightmare and it has been going on for over a year now.  It means the disappearance of a very close friend and a colleague and it’s the ongoing feeling of guilt accompanying anything I do or enjoy.  It’s also the ongoing question of why her not me. To me nothing makes sense without her.”

Prison hasn’t changed Yara

 “We don’t like prisons but we are not afraid them.” That’s a quote from Mahiehour El-Masry that Sadek holds dear to her heart. That quote keeps her grounded.  She says that a year in prison has not changed her daughter because Yara knows she did nothing wrong. She adds: “They are wrong for imprisoning her. They are the ones who don’t respect the law. The charges against her are fabricated.”

A friend of Yara’s, who was recently released from prison, jokingly told Sadek: “Prison is nice. Tell Yara she should tell the guards that prison is nice.” So, on one of her visits with Yara, Sadek gave her the message. Yara thought about it for a second and replied: “If I was outside of these prison walls, with everything that’s happening in the country, I would have felt guilty and helpless so, in that respect, maybe it’s ok that I’m in prison.”

Yara and the other young women serving the same sentence have remained cellmates, but many of the young women – who were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood for example –  are treated differently. They are separated and placed in cells with other offenders.

Inside and outside Egypt’s prison walls, injustice persists. More stories of young Egyptians being arrested, disappearing and being killed keep surfacing. It’s almost hard to keep track of them all. Sadek says ” they are not just numbers or random names. They all have faces, stories and feelings that we should know about. Yara says she knows people keep her story in the media but she wants all detainee stories to be just as talked about, if not more. Yara wants all those unjustly detained freed.”

Egyptian activists held two days of international solidarity actions with Egyptian political prisoners on June 20-21. They want to see an end to repression and worldwide-support for the various campaigns to free political prisoners in Egypt. Putting pressure on the Egyptian government to immediately end the  repression of protests, free political prisoners, stop the disappearances, conduct fair trials for all and put an end to abuse, torture and executions has never been more important than now.

Sadek doesn’t want her daughter or any of her cellmates to spend another year behind bars. She hopes for an early release without getting her hopes too high. She has to in order to keep going. As Yara and others continue to serve unfair and unjustified sentences, Sadek says her daughter is grateful for all the people who have continued to stand by her, support her, talk about her and pray for her.

Those who believe in freedom in Egypt have never rested. The fight continues.  

About the author

Nelly Bassily is a Programme Associate with Young Feminist Activism. She has a degree in journalism from Concordia University,  Montreal. She works on a feminist community radio show called The Third Wave, profiling feminist news, initiatives and events from different corners of the globe, with a focus on gender-based violence, rape culture and reproductive justice.

Licensed from openDemocracy

White non-terrorist La. Cinema Shooter Loved Hitler, Hated Liberals

Sat, 25 Jul 2015 - 1:18am

John Iadarola, Jimmy Dore, Jayar Jackson, Michael Shure | (The Young Turks Video) | – –

“A day after the shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana we now know a little about shooter John Russel Houser. Based on social media posts what’s clear is that he hated liberals and admired Hitler and the Westboro Baptist Church. John Iadarola (Think Tank), Jimmy Dore (The Jimmy Dore Show), Jayar Jackson, and Michael Shure (Al Jazeera America) break it down on tonight’s Power Panel. Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

“An investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch found that the man whokilled two people and himself in a Louisiana movie theater Thursday night was an active member of online forums that praised white supremacist and anti-gay organizations and espoused right-wing, anti-government conspiracy theories.

The online trail of 59-year-old John Russell Houser, who police publicly identified in a press conference on Friday morning, included comments such as, “Decent people can retake the entire world, as Hitler proved,” and diatribes against “the Black” and “the Jew.” He also expressed admiration for Greece’s neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn as well as the Westboro Baptist Church, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as an anti-gay hate group.”*

The Young Turks: “Louisiana Theater Shooter Hated Liberals, Loved Hitler”

Why the Arab Gulf Oil Monarchies should Welcome Iran Deal

Sat, 25 Jul 2015 - 1:07am

By Miriam R Lowi | (Via al-Araby al-Jadeed ) | – –

Gulf states, long-time rivals of Tehran, should seize the opportunities for regional peace and security offered by the historic deal, writes Miriam Lowi.

In recent months, a lot has been said about the promises and perils of negotiating with Iran, making compromises and reaching agreement.

In addition to Israel, Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbours have been especially anxious about the outcome of negotiations.

But the agreement arrived at on July 14 actually provides a sorely needed opportunity for regional players to turn the page on policies and practices that have failed to improve security in the region and for its peoples.

Rather than respond with fear, Gulf monarchies should seize the opportunity to imagine new, and hopefully more effective ways to address the violence and human suffering that persists today. How would this work?

The agreement shows that when adversaries face each other and engage across a table, there is a chance that they will come to some mutual understanding. When they don’t do so, there’s little chance of moving beyond adversarial positions.

As time passes and adversaries persist in spurning and maligning each other, their positions tend to harden. Adversaries become increasingly intransigent, and hyperbolic rhetoric mounts.

Isolating and punishing one’s adversary – through embargoes, sanctions, “closures” of various sorts, extra-judicial killings – does not bring them to heel; more often than not, it radicalises them, or at least toughens their resolve.

As Obama noted, the agreement with Iran – after more than three decades of hostility between the Islamic Republic and the United States – reduces the possibility for yet another war in the Middle East. This, in and of itself, is a positive outcome.

“No doubt, some have been eager for another war in the region, and with Iran in particular.

The peoples of the region have been living in unending turmoil since 2003, at least, with significant escalation during the past three to four years.

No doubt, some have been eager for another war in the region, and with Iran in particular.

But Gulf states should be wary of objectively finding themselves in the same camp as Israel.

Alas, Israel’s concerns are focused squarely on gaining most of historic Palestine for a Jewish state. Achieving this goal has meant the continued oppression of the Palestinian people – who, despite more than half a century of punishment, have not given up.

Israel’s relentless finger pointing at Iran – another strong, steadfast, and technologically sophisticated regional power with “bullying” capacity – and its increasingly hysterical insistence that the Islamic Republic represents the principal threat to regional security is, in large measure, a way to distract international attention from its own brutality in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – and now, among the Negev Bedouin as well.

No doubt, in the current, dreadfully sectarian environment in the Middle East, Netanyahu looks on gleefully as Gulf states vent their aversion for Iran – and by inferred association, for Shia populations and Shiism in its various forms.

The sectarian turn suits Netanyahu’s aims beautifully, at the same time as it tears the region apart. Gulf states play into Netanyahu’s hands by joining the chorus of Iran/Shia demonisers.

Now’s the time for Gulf states to distance themselves from Israel’s posturing.

Now’s the time for Gulf states to return to the Arab fold and take up the real struggles. Gulf states should devote themselves to addressing the most pernicious conditions that prevail in the region today: notably, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people and their lands, and the destructive force of mounting sectarianism.

How, though, can Gulf states contribute to rolling back sectarianism?

There are, it seems, two essential tasks. First and foremost, they should embrace their own Shia citizens – the vast majority of whom are Arabs. At long last, these communities should be accorded whatever rights and opportunities their Sunni co-nationals enjoy.

When Shia nationals are no longer marginalised and treated as potential traitors by their own governments, the likelihood that they would claim allegiance to or be recuperated by Iran would recede.

Indeed, integrating their Shia citizens into the national community would help strengthen Gulf Arab regimes and better equip them to face other regional powers, especially Iran, rather than feel threatened by them.

Some degree of cooperation between Iran and the Gulf monarchies would open up multiple possibilities.

Second, with integration underway, Gulf states should seek opportunities to engage in discussion with Iran, across a table, in the spirit of hopefully arriving at some degree of mutual understanding.

There would be much to talk about, and both parties would likely find that they share several interests and concerns. They could explore avenues to cooperation in trade, but also in education, science, and technology.

Together, they could tackle the thorny issue of sectarianism in the region. Just as Gulf states should fully integrate their Shia populations, so Iran should restrain its allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and stop encouraging the spirit of revenge among Shia populations.

Iran should be made to understand that its hegemonic ambitions in the region, backed by official sectarian discourse and executed by a host of agents, have been and remain deeply destructive.

Some degree of cooperation between Iran and the Gulf monarchies would open up multiple possibilities.

It may prove to be a dissuasive force regarding Israel. It could pave the way toward resolving conflicts in the region. It could even empower the entire region as a player in the international arena.

Embarking on these two tasks will not only reduce the perception of threat from Iran; it will contribute to reducing tensions, hostilities and the threat of war.

Gulf states should welcome the nuclear agreement and seize the opportunities it offers for bringing peace and security to the region. The time is now.

Miriam Lowi is professor of comparative and Middle East politics, at The College of New Jersey. She is also author of Oil Wealth and the Poverty of Politics: Algeria Compared (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and Water and Power: the Politics of a Scarce Resource in the Jordan River Basin (Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Via al-Araby al-Jadeed


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Iran: Nuclear Deal is New Chance for Regional Cooperation”

After Israeli Attack, 50% Gaza Children have PTSD, 70% have regular Nightmares

Sat, 25 Jul 2015 - 12:10am

By IMEMC | – –

Gaza Community Mental Health Program’s (GCMHP) Deputy Director General for Professional Affairs Taysir Diab Thursday said around 51% of Gaza’s children and 31% of its adults suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result to the latest Israeli mass attack on the besieged Gaza Strip.

These results were presented following a series of activities organized by the program to test the psychological condition and mental health of Gaza’s community; including children and adults.

According to WAFA Palestinian News & Info Agency, Diab along with Head of External Affairs and Resources Development Department Husam El-Nounou met with a delegation from the GIZ, which included the Regional Director of GIZ Rudolf Rogg, accompanied with GIZ Gaza-Representative Wael Safi.

The meeting, held in the GCMHP’s headquarters in Gaza, aimed at strengthening the means of joint cooperation between the GCMHP and the GIZ.

GCMHP’s Director General Yasser Abu Jamei warmly welcomed the visiting delegation, giving a brief about key activities and services provided by the GCMHP to the Palestinian community through its therapeutic and psychological interventions, in addition to its advocacy efforts, and developing the skills of professionals working in the field of community mental health.

Showing evidence and statistics collected from research and studies, Abu Jamei reaffirmed the need to offer the Palestinian people access to many psycho social and mental health services.

GCMHP’s Director General stated that GCMHP has bought a piece of land on which its permanent headquarter, funded by the Islamic Development Bank, will be built, and it will include Gaza Community Centre and departments affiliated with the GCMHP.

Diab illustrated the reasons why a great deal of men didn’t participate in the community mental health activities carried out by GCMHP, the most important of which was the excessive anger that this segment of the society is feeling because they are homeless until now, in addition to the feeling of shame for appearing in a weaker position.

The high percentage of Palestinian families in Gaza that is suffering from mental and psychological issues is not a new topic, nor a surprising one. According to Save the Children, “Homelessness and repeated exposure to violence, coupled with soaring unemployment for parents and limited mental health support, have prevented children from recovering from the mental trauma of war.”

Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth said in a statement, ‘Many children in Gaza have now lived through three wars in the past seven years, the last one notable for its brutality. They are emotionally and, in some cases, physically shattered.”

According to the organization’s report, “An average of 75% of children surveyed experience unusual bedwetting regularly. In one area, al-Shoka, nearly half the children interviewed wet the bed every night. Up to 89% of parents reported that their children suffer consistent feelings of fear, while more than 70% of children said they worried about another war. On average seven out of 10 children interviewed suffer regular nightmares.”


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Turkey enters war on ISIL w/ airstrikes: Does AKP Fear losing Snap Election?

Fri, 24 Jul 2015 - 3:03am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkey at long last entered the struggle against Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) on Thursday. It gave the US Air Force permission to bomb sites in Syria from Incirlik Air Force Base. (The US has long had use of this base as part of Turkey’s NATO commitments, and it was used against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War; but Turkey had declined to let it be used against Daesh in Syria). Being able to bomb Raqqa from Incirlik will allow the US to be far more efficient, since Incirlik is not that far from the capital of the phony caliphate.

But beyond allowing the US to bomb Syria from Turkish territory, Turkey itself scrambled F-16s and bombed Hawar, just across the border from the Turkish town of Kilis.

h/t Google Maps

During the past year, the government of Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been remarkably passive in the face of advances by Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). Mosul fell, Palmyra fell, Ramadi fell. Turkey even had a direct border with Daesh at Tel al-Abyad.

It seemed as though almost anything was more important to Ankara than fighting the growing Daesh threat. It worried about Syria’s Kurds and their growing semi-autonomy, lest that development put separatist ideas in the heads of Turkey’s Kurds, some 20% of the population. (In opinion polling, only 2% of Turkish Kurds say they have separatist ideals, so Ankara’s obsession about this menace is out of proportion to the actual challenge. It would be better off taking the money it spends on securing southeastern Anatolia and making some factories out there to ensure that part of the country develops economically).

Ankara also worried about the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus and wanted to pressure the US into removing it first before moving against Daesh. The US was afraid that if it assaulted the Baath regime directly, al-Qaeda-linked organizations like the Support Front and Daesh might sweep into Damascus.

But Ankara is finally in play against Daesh.

Why? Well, Daesh seduced a couple of Turkish youth for the horrific bombing of Suruç near Kobane on Monday. It thus challenged the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the allegiance of Turkey’s religious Muslims and it hit Turkish soil. Since Suruç is predominantly Kurdish, it also attempted to make trouble for Ankara with Turkey’s Kurds, many of whom blamed AKP for being soft on Daesh and being poor at providing security to the country.

In the aftermath of the Suruç attack, several Turkish cities were shaken by Kurdish protests. The Kurds weren’t sure whether the AKP was only soft on extremist Muslim terror, or whether it deliberately allowed Kurds to get blown up, or whether this was a false flag attack and the government was actually behind it. The opposition press, especially newspapers favoring the closed, religious Gulen movement, which had broken with the AKP, attacked the AKP for failure to provide security.

Then on Wednesday Turkish border personnel took shelling from Daesh on the Syrian side, and Turkish tanks fired right back into Syria.

Prime Minister Davutoglu appears to have finally come to the conclusion that Daesh is a genuine danger to Turkey, and that the threat is growing, and that simply trying to remain neutral will no longer forestall the threat. Hence letting the US bomb Raqqa from Incirlik Base and hence bombing Hawar with Turkish fighter jets.

But it likely is not merely the deteriorating security situation that is driving these changes. Although Turkey just had parliamentary elections in May, it faces a hung parliament, where no party is able to form a coalition to get to 51 percent of seats. In parliamentary systems, a hung parliament requires a snap election.

So the AKP may be going back to the polls. Likely the turnout won’t be as great, since people will be tired of voting. But last time the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) got 13 percent of seats and blocked the AKP from having an absolute majority. Kurds are mobilized as a result of the Suruç bombing, and if Turks don’t turn out to vote because of fatigue, the HDP could even improve its position in a snap election.

If the centrist, secular party, the People’s Republican Party (CHP), the Kurds and the Gulen movement all lambaste Davutoglu as soft on Daesh and flat-footed when it comes to security, they could shrink the AKP share of seats even further in a hypothetical snap election.

Davutoglu and his mentor, President Tayyip Erdogan, thus faced enormous pressures to act against Daesh, and the political future of their center-right, religiously tinged party is a stake.

Not only did he have the Turkish Air Force bomb Syrian soil (albeit only kilometers from the Turkish border), he also gave the Americans the run of Incirlik.

The AKP appears to be frantic about losing seats in a snap election, and needed to act dramatically to underline its security credentials.

But whatever the reasons, Turkey appears finally to have prioritized destroying Daesh. This turning point could be huge in the struggle against Daesh.


Related video:

Euronews: ” Turkey: tit-for-tat attacks continue along Syrian border”

Michigan Town Fears ISIL Summer Camp In Their Backyard

Fri, 24 Jul 2015 - 1:44am

John Iadarola, Hannah Cranston, Jimmy Dore | (The Young Turks Video) | – –

“A Michigan town has blocked one of their Muslim residents from building a summer camp, for fear that it will become an ISIS training camp. The man wanted to build the camp for his son and daughter to bring their scout troops to earn some extra money. The other residents are convinced that it will become a training ground for Muslim extremists. John Iadarola (Think Tank), Hannah Cranston (Think Tank), (The Point) and Jimmy Dore (The Jimmy Dore Show) hosts of The Young Turks discuss.

Did this man really intend on building an ISIS training camp in Michigan? What’s more dangerous: summer camps for kids or Bill O’Reilly fear mongering? Let us know in the comments below.”

The Young Turks: “Michigan Town Fears ISIS Summer Camp In Their Backyard”

As GOP fumes re: Iran, Russia & China are outflanking West with New Eurasia Silk Road

Fri, 24 Jul 2015 - 1:34am

By Pepe Escobar | ( | – –

Let’s start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations — the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS’ New Development Bank) — whose acronyms you’re unlikely to recognize either.  Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.

Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi have been actively establishing interlocking security guarantees. They have been simultaneously calling the Atlanticist bluff when it comes to the endless drumbeat of attention given to the flimsy meme of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”  And a few days before the Vienna nuclear negotiations finally culminated in an agreement, all of this came together at a twin BRICS/SCO summit in Ufa, Russia — a place you’ve undoubtedly never heard of and a meeting that got next to no attention in the U.S.  And yet sooner or later, these developments will ensure that the War Party in Washington and assorted neocons (as well as neoliberalcons) already breathing hard over the Iran deal will sweat bullets as their narratives about how the world works crumble.

The Eurasian Silk Road

With the Vienna deal, whose interminable build-up I had the dubious pleasure of following closely, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his diplomatic team have pulled the near-impossible out of an extremely crumpled magician’s hat: an agreement that might actually end sanctions against their country from an asymmetric, largely manufactured conflict.

Think of that meeting in Ufa, the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan, as a preamble to the long-delayed agreement in Vienna. It caught the new dynamics of the Eurasian continent and signaled the future geopolitical Big Bangness of it all. At Ufa, from July 8th to 10th, the 7th BRICS summit and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit overlapped just as a possible Vienna deal was devouring one deadline after another.

Consider it a diplomatic masterstroke of Vladmir Putin’s Russia to have merged those two summits with an informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Call it a soft power declaration of war against Washington’s imperial logic, one that would highlight the breadth and depth of an evolving Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Putting all those heads of state attending each of the meetings under one roof, Moscow offered a vision of an emerging, coordinated geopolitical structure anchored in Eurasian integration. Thus, the importance of Iran: no matter what happens post-Vienna, Iran will be a vital hub/node/crossroads in Eurasia for this new structure.

If you read the declaration that came out of the BRICS summit, one detail should strike you: the austerity-ridden European Union (EU) is barely mentioned. And that’s not an oversight. From the point of view of the leaders of key BRICS nations, they are offering a new approach to Eurasia, the very opposite of the language of sanctions.

Here are just a few examples of the dizzying activity that took place at Ufa, all of it ignored by the American mainstream media. In their meetings, President Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked in a practical way to advance what is essentially a Chinese vision of a future Eurasia knit together by a series of interlocking “new Silk Roads.” Modi approved more Chinese investment in his country, while Xi and Modi together pledged to work to solve the joint border issues that have dogged their countries and, in at least one case, led to war.

The NDB, the BRICS’ response to the World Bank, was officially launched with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other developing nations across the Global South — all in their own currencies, which means bypassing the U.S. dollar.  Given its membership, the NDB’s money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed, in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB’s attempt to break a Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility of someday aiding in the reconstruction of Syria.

You won’t be surprised to learn that both the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the NDB are headquartered in China and will work to complement each other’s efforts. At the same time, Russia’s foreign investment arm, the Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), signed a memorandum of understanding with funds from other BRICS countries and so launched an informal investment consortium in which China’s Silk Road Fund and India’s Infrastructure Development Finance Company will be key partners.

Full Spectrum Transportation Dominance

On the ground level, this should be thought of as part of the New Great Game in Eurasia. Its flip side is the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Pacific and the Atlantic version of the same, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which Washington is trying to advance to maintain U.S. global economic dominance. The question these conflicting plans raise is how to integrate trade and commerce across that vast region. From the Chinese and Russian perspectives, Eurasia is to be integrated via a complex network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines, ports, airports, pipelines, and fiber optic cables. By land, sea, and air, the resulting New Silk Roads are meant to create an economic version of the Pentagon’s doctrine of “Full Spectrum Dominance” — a vision that already has Chinese corporate executives crisscrossing Eurasia sealing infrastructure deals.

For Beijing — back to a 7% growth rate in the second quarter of 2015 despite a recent near-panic on the country’s stock markets — it makes perfect economic sense: as labor costs rise, production will be relocated from the country’s Eastern seaboard to its cheaper Western reaches, while the natural outlets for the production of just about everything will be those parallel and interlocking “belts” of the new Silk Roads.

Meanwhile, Russia is pushing to modernize and diversify its energy-exploitation-dependent economy. Among other things, its leaders hope that the mix of those developing Silk Roads and the tying together of the Eurasian Economic Union — Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — will translate into myriad transportation and construction projects for which the country’s industrial and engineering know-how will prove crucial.

As the EEU has begun establishing free trade zones with India, Iran, Vietnam, Egypt, and Latin America’s Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), the initial stages of this integration process already reach beyond Eurasia. Meanwhile, the SCO, which began as little more than a security forum, is expanding and moving into the field of economic cooperation.  Its countries, especially four Central Asian “stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) will rely ever more on the Chinese-driven Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the NDB. At Ufa, India and Pakistan finalized an upgrading process in which they have moved from observers to members of the SCO. This makes it an alternative G8.

In the meantime, when it comes to embattled Afghanistan, the BRICS nations and the SCO have now called upon “the armed opposition to disarm, accept the Constitution of Afghanistan, and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations.” Translation: within the framework of Afghan national unity, the organization would accept the Taliban as part of a future government. Their hopes, with the integration of the region in mind, would be for a future stable Afghanistan able to absorb more Chinese, Russian, Indian, and Iranian investment, and the construction — finally! — of a long-planned, $10 billion, 1,420-kilometer-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline that would benefit those energy-hungry new SCO members, Pakistan and India. (They would each receive 42% of the gas, the remaining 16% going to Afghanistan.)

Central Asia is, at the moment, geographic ground zero for the convergence of the economic urges of China, Russia, and India. It was no happenstance that, on his way to Ufa, Prime Minister Modi stopped off in Central Asia.  Like the Chinese leadership in Beijing, Moscow looks forward (as a recent document puts it) to the “interpenetration and integration of the EEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt” into a “Greater Eurasia” and a “steady, developing, safe common neighborhood” for both Russia and China.

And don’t forget Iran. In early 2016, once economic sanctions are fully lifted, it is expected to join the SCO, turning it into a G9. As its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, made clear recently to Russia’s Channel 1 television, Tehran considers the two countries strategic partners. “Russia,” he said, “has been the most important participant in Iran’s nuclear program and it will continue under the current agreement to be Iran’s major nuclear partner.” The same will, he added, be true when it comes to “oil and gas cooperation,” given the shared interest of those two energy-rich nations in “maintaining stability in global market prices.”

Got Corridor, Will Travel

Across Eurasia, BRICS nations are moving on integration projects. A developing Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor is a typical example. It is now being reconfigured as a multilane highway between India and China. Meanwhile, Iran and Russia are developing a transportation corridor from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the Caspian Sea and the Volga River. Azerbaijan will be connected to the Caspian part of this corridor, while India is planning to use Iran’s southern ports to improve its access to Russia and Central Asia. Now, add in a maritime corridor that will stretch from the Indian city of Mumbai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and then on to the southern Russian city of Astrakhan. And this just scratches the surface of the planning underway.

Years ago, Vladimir Putin suggested that there could be a “Greater Europe” stretching from Lisbon, Portugal, on the Atlantic to the Russian city of Vladivostok on the Pacific. The EU, under Washington’s thumb, ignored him. Then the Chinese started dreaming about and planning new Silk Roads that would, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, extend from Shanghai to Venice (and then on to Berlin).

Thanks to a set of cross-pollinating political institutions, investment funds, development banks, financial systems, and infrastructure projects that, to date, remain largely under Washington’s radar, a free-trade Eurasian heartland is being born. It will someday link China and Russia to Europe, Southwest Asia, and even Africa. It promises to be an astounding development. Keep your eyes, if you can, on the accumulating facts on the ground, even if they are rarely covered in the American media. They represent the New Great — emphasis on that word — Game in Eurasia.

Location, Location, Location

Tehran is now deeply invested in strengthening its connections to this new Eurasia and the man to watch on this score is Ali Akbar Velayati. He is the head of Iran’s Center for Strategic Research and senior foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Velayati stresses that security in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Caucasus hinges on the further enhancement of a Beijing-Moscow-Tehran triple entente.

As he knows, geo-strategically Iran is all about location, location, location. That country offers the best access to open seas in the region apart from Russia and is the only obvious east-west/north-south crossroads for trade from the Central Asian “stans.” Little wonder then that Iran will soon be an SCO member, even as its “partnership” with Russia is certain to evolve. Its energy resources are already crucial to and considered a matter of national security for China and, in the thinking of that country’s leadership, Iran also fulfills a key role as a hub in those Silk Roads they are planning.

That growing web of literal roads, rail lines, and energy pipelines, as TomDispatch has previously reported, represents Beijing’s response to the Obama administration’s announced “pivot to Asia” and the U.S. Navy’s urge to meddle in the South China Sea. Beijing is choosing to project power via a vast set of infrastructure projects, especially high-speed rail lines that will reach from its eastern seaboard deep into Eurasia. In this fashion, the Chinese-built railway from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province to Almaty in Kazakhstan will undoubtedly someday be extended to Iran and traverse that country on its way to the Persian Gulf.

A New World for Pentagon Planners

At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last month, Vladimir Putin told PBS’s Charlie Rose that Moscow and Beijing had always wanted a genuine partnership with the United States, but were spurned by Washington. Hats off, then, to the “leadership” of the Obama administration. Somehow, it has managed to bring together two former geopolitical rivals, while solidifying their pan-Eurasian grand strategy.

Even the recent deal with Iran in Vienna is unlikely — especially given the war hawks in Congress — to truly end Washington’s 36-year-long Great Wall of Mistrust with Iran. Instead, the odds are that Iran, freed from sanctions, will indeed be absorbed into the Sino-Russian project to integrate Eurasia, which leads us to the spectacle of Washington’s warriors, unable to act effectively, yet screaming like banshees.

NATO’s supreme commander Dr. Strangelove, sorry, American General Philip Breedlove, insists that the West must create a rapid-reaction force — online — to counteract Russia’s “false narratives.” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claims to be seriously considering unilaterally redeploying nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. The nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Commandant Joseph Dunford, recently directly labeled Russia America’s true “existential threat”; Air Force General Paul Selva, nominated to be the new vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seconded that assessment, using the same phrase and putting Russia, China and Iran, in that order, as more threatening than the Islamic State (ISIS). In the meantime, Republican presidential candidates and a bevy of congressional war hawks simply shout and fume when it comes to both the Iranian deal and the Russians.

In response to the Ukrainian situation and the “threat” of a resurgent Russia (behind which stands a resurgent China), a Washington-centric militarization of Europe is proceeding apace. NATO is now reportedly obsessed with what’s being called “strategy rethink” — as in drawing up detailed futuristic war scenarios on European soil. As economist Michael Hudson has pointed out, even financial politics are becoming militarized and linked to NATO’s new Cold War 2.0.

In its latest National Military Strategy, the Pentagon suggests that the risk of an American war with another nation (as opposed to terror outfits), while low, is “growing” and identifies four nations as “threats”: North Korea, a case apart, and predictably the three nations that form the new Eurasian core: Russia, China, and Iran. They are depicted in the document as “revisionist states,” openly defying what the Pentagon identifies as “international security and stability”; that is, the distinctly un-level playing field created by globalized, exclusionary, turbo-charged casino capitalism and Washington’s brand of militarism.

The Pentagon, of course, does not do diplomacy. Seemingly unaware of the Vienna negotiations, it continued to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons. And that “military option” against Iran is never off the table.

So consider it the Mother of All Blockbusters to watch how the Pentagon and the war hawks in Congress will react to the post-Vienna and — though it was barely noticed in Washington — the post-Ufa environment, especially under a new White House tenant in 2017.

It will be a spectacle.  Count on it.  Will the next version of Washington try to make it up to “lost” Russia or send in the troops? Will it contain China or the “caliphate” of ISIS? Will it work with Iran to fight ISIS or spurn it? Will it truly pivot to Asia for good and ditch the Middle East or vice-versa? Or might it try to contain Russia, China, and Iran simultaneously or find some way to play them against each other?

In the end, whatever Washington may do, it will certainly reflect a fear of the increasing strategic depth Russia and China are developing economically, a reality now becoming visible across Eurasia. At Ufa, Putin told Xi on the record: “Combining efforts, no doubt we [Russia and China] will overcome all the problems before us.”

Read “efforts” as new Silk Roads, that Eurasian Economic Union, the growing BRICS block, the expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization, those China-based banks, and all the rest of what adds up to the beginning of a new integration of significant parts of the Eurasian land mass. As for Washington, fly like an eagle? Try instead: scream like a banshee.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for RT and Sputnik, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Pepe Escobar



Related video added by Juan Cole:

New China TV: “Xi urges China, Russia to maintain high-level coordination within SCO”

Israel’s Netanyahu & Iran: Even former Intel Officials think he’s Unhinged

Fri, 24 Jul 2015 - 1:16am

By Jeffrey Rudolph | (Detailed Political Quizzes) |

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot be taken seriously when he talks about Iran. While Netanyahu is a master at exploiting fear in a particularly fearful society, the following points demonstrate that thinking people can ignore his claims dealing with Iran.

“Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders blasted the [July 2015 nuclear] deal [between Iran and six world powers] even as negotiators in Vienna were still making the announcement and providing details.”

“[M]any former senior intelligence and national security officials in Israel disagree [with Netanyahu’s assessment of the July 2015 nuclear deal]. While they think the deal is flawed and that Netanyahu deserves credit for raising the alarm on Iran years ago, they also believe that the historic agreement is—on balance—in the national security interest of the State of Israel.” Ami Ayalon, “a former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, and a former chief of the Israeli Navy” can list numerous “former defense ministers and chiefs of Shin Bet and Mossad who agree with him that ‘when it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option.’ ‘When negotiations began, Iran was two months away from acquiring enough material for a [nuclear] bomb. Now it will be 12 months,’ Ayalon says, and the difference is significant to anyone with a background in intelligence. ‘Israelis are failing to distinguish between reducing Iran’s nuclear capability and Iran being the biggest devil in the Middle East,’ he says.”
The Daily Beast

When Netanyahu was asked on television whether he would lobby the US Congress over the landmark [July 2015] nuclear deal with Iran, he replied: “I feel it’s my obligation as the prime minister of Israel to speak out against something that endangers the survival of my country, the security of the region, the security of the world.” (To learn when Israel “discovered” Iran as an existential threat, see question 3 of the Iran Quiz at: Iran Quiz
Source: CBS News (19 July 2015)

“On the eve of the nuclear ­accord, Netanyahu warned on his Twitter account that Iran ‘is more dangerous than ISIS,’ a reference to the radical Islamic State group that has captured vast swaths of Syria and Iraq. He argued that ‘the true goal of [Iran’s] aggression…is to take over the world.’”
Source: WaPo

“Binyamin Netanyahu’s dramatic declaration [at the United Nations] in 2012 that Iran was about a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his own secret service, [Mossad, which]…concluded that Iran was ‘not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons’.”
Source: The Guardian

In 2010, Netanyahu wanted the Israeli military to prepare “for an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations…[Accordingly, he] convened the Security Cabinet, which then asked [former Mossad director Meir] Dagan, [former military chief of staff Gabi] Ashkenazi and several others for their views on military action. The generals argued against it. The cabinet duly voted the action down, infuriating Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak. Within a year Ashkenazi, Dagan and their ally, Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin, were all out of a job.”
Source: The Forward (12 June 2015)

Likudniks point to Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor as a successful example of what the Israeli Air Force can achieve. (Then-Prime Minister Begin disdained diplomacy as a route to deal with Iraq’s nuclear program.) However, “After [Israel’s 1981] attack…Saddam cranked up Iraq’s nuclear production several times over, putting thousands of new technicians to work on the project. This was only discovered when the Americans questioned the Iraqi nuclear scientists they captured during the 1991 Gulf War. It was that war, and the subsequent takeover of Saddam’s WMD, that prevented Iraq from getting the bomb – not the 1981 Israeli attack on Osirak.” There is no reason to assume Iran would not redouble its nuclear program after an Israeli attack.
Source: 972mag (2 March 2012)

Jeffrey Rudolph, a Montreal college professor, was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, the US Christian Right, Hezbollah, the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox, Qatar, and China. These quizzes are available here


Related video added by Juan Cole:

History of Iran’s Nuclear Threat — In 1992: Iran will have a nuclear bomb by 1997

One Ring to Bind them: Reading the Lord of the Rings to defeat ISIL

Fri, 24 Jul 2015 - 12:45am

By Akil N Awan | (The Conversation) | – –

The wave of recent attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and Turkey, all apparently linked to Islamic State in some way, have reinforced the spectre of the unstoppable “Daesh death cult” whose tentacles of terror can reach deep into every corner of the globe

The omnipresence of the group has precipitated something of an identity crisis in the Muslim world. Many assumed IS would vanish as quickly as it had appeared. Airstrikes from above and local disillusionment from below would be its rapid undoing. But the stubborn persistence of IS, has put paid to any such wishful thinking.

The staying power of this atavistic throwback to the dark ages, which positively revels in barbaric savagery and violence, all while shrouded in the language and regalia of Islamic caliphs and religious piety, has prompted a great deal of renewed soul searching in the Muslim world.

A flurry of uncomfortable questions has exposed this existential crisis. How Islamic is Islamic State? What does a legitimate Caliphate look like in the 21st century? Why are young Muslims from every corner of the globe flocking to its standard? And perhaps, the most difficult question: if IS is so reviled, why on earth is it still winning?

A difficult truth

It is safe to state that the Muslim world, through varying degrees of denial, apathy and self-interest, has largely failed to respond to the challenge posed by IS with any sort of coherence.

It is of course unfair to speak of the Muslim world in these monolithic terms, but perhaps the only body that might claim to speak as the collective voice of the Muslim world with some modicum of legitimacy is the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It is the second largest inter-governmental organisation in the world, with 57 sovereign member states from across the Muslim world. So on the rare occasions when it manages to speak with a unified voice, we would perhaps be wise to sit up and listen.

At the 42nd summit of the OIC, which took place in June in Kuwait, assembled foreign ministers collectively committed to a laudable shared vision for the Muslim world. It should promote tolerance, strengthen civil society, address socio-economic inequalities and target vitriolic hate speech and extremist thought. All are important counterweights to the appeal of extremism and IS.

Days later, the OIC met again in Jeddah in pursuit of the so-called Istanbul Process – the implementation of a UN resolution on religious intolerance and hate speech. Considering how damaging these last two factors have been in fomenting sectarianism and nurturing fundamentalism in many Muslim majority countries, the significance of these initiatives should not be underestimated.

All the more surprising then, that they have been almost universally neglected by the Western press. Perhaps this is partly understandable. A steady stream of earlier initiatives, from condemnations and fatwas against terrorism, to de-radicalisation programmes, proved themselves to be almost entirely impotent in the past.

Those sceptical of these sorts of projects (and I count myself among them) might be forgiven for doubting that change can somehow materialise from within the very bowels of moribund autocracies, authoritarian regimes, and conservative fiefdoms. After all, many of the ruling despots of the Muslim world, now railing against Islamic State’s moral bankruptcy and flagrant violation of Muslim cultural or ethical norms, have at some point either shared similar views or behaved in similarly abhorrent ways.

Enter Frodo

Discussing the OIC summit with a very senior Muslim political figure, I mentioned my apprehension over these seemingly hollow calls for reform. Was this not just another talking shop, aimed at assuaging their own cognitive dissonance?

His response was quite remarkable. I half expected him to defend the record of the countries present, or argue that now was a time for unity in the face of adversity, rather than internal criticism.

He did neither. Instead, he cited The Lord of the Rings. Sensing my bafflement, he continued by explaining that just as the One Ring could only be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, where it had originally been forged by the Dark Lord Sauron, Islamic State too could only be destroyed within the very heart of the Muslim world where it had been forged.

When I mentioned that I was writing this article, and wanted to attribute his unorthodox but rather clever analogy, he paled and refused point blank. An understandable response – which respected intellectual would wish to be seen trivialising the most serious political issues of our time by drawing parallels with fairy tales about hobbits and orcs? And so he shall remain nameless.

But what he said makes sense. IS and its predecessor al-Qaeda are born of problems inherent in the Muslim world. Leaders have not just failed their people with authoritarianism, poor governance and neglect. They have also peddled sectarian rivalries and promoted intolerant, puritanical creeds as distractions from their own political mismanagement and illegitimacy.

Of course, that is not to deny that the outside world is culpable too. We cannot understand the rise of IS without understanding the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq; or the wanton destruction of its infrastructure; or the dismantlement of its security apparatus; or the instatement of a divisive sectarian political administration in Baghdad. Nor should we forget the broader context of decades of Western support for Middle Eastern despots and dictators at the expense of their people.

Stretching the Lord of the Rings analogy further still, when Sauron created the One Ring, he concentrated a great part of his own inherent power and self within it. Thus, Sauron’s fate became bound to that of the Ring, and when it was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, so was he.

The legitimacy and appeal of Islamic State lies in its bastardised religious and political ideology. When Islamic State falls, and it will surely fall, the worldview that gave rise to it will also be exposed for the hollow sham that it was.

There has been a seismic shift in the Muslim world of late, which was reflected in the refreshing honesty in the language at these recent summits. The West would be unwise to reject the unique role the Muslim world can, and indeed must, play in discrediting extremist ideology from within.

The Arab Spring was one such sign of a burgeoning organic secular revolt from within. It deserved genuine support and solidarity from Western states, but sadly received neither. Save for the fragile Tunisian case, the Arab Spring is now well and truly dead. But, let us prepare to be part of the next Spring.

Akil N Awan is Associate Professor in Modern History, Political Violence and Terrorism at Royal Holloway.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Akil N Awan is Associate Professor in Modern History, Political Violence and Terrorism at Royal Holloway


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wall Street Journal: “The Fall of Ramadi: How ISIS Seized a Key Iraqi City”