Friday, April 10, 2015

Yazidi sex slaves 'gang-raped in public' by Isis fighters, harrowing accounts reveal - Middle East - World

Yazidi sex slaves 'gang-raped in public' by Isis fighters, harrowing accounts reveal - Middle East - World

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Hundreds of women and children were abducted from the town of Sinjar, in northern Iraq, and held hostage by Isis for over eight months. Some were sold to fighters as sex slaves or given as ‘prizes’. Many were beaten and forced to convert to Islam.
More than 200 were released by fighters in Himera, near Kirkurk, earlier this week. They have told harrowing tales of the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their captors. Ziyad Shammo Khalaf, who works with the Yazda organisation to support Yazidi victims, said children were separated from their mothers and "distributed among houses" in Mosul and Tal Afar.
"If you come and sit with the girls you will find different stories from girl to girl. A lot of them have been sold to Isis fighters, they have been raped in [...] public, and by more than two or three people at a time," he told the International Business Times. "They were tortured, beaten and subject to any type of violence."
Iraq crisis: Yazidi nightmare on Mount Sinjar
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Iraq crisis
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Isis in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate
REUTERS/Rodi Said
Other Yazidi survivors have also given disturbing accounts of their treatment by Isis, with one women describing how militants were forcing hostages to give their blood for transfusions.
The atrocities endured by Yazidi sex slaves was exposed more fully in an 87-page report released by Amnesty International in November 2014, who found girls and women were repeatedly raped and sold as sex slaves.
The report found that even children were being sold to Isis fighters or given as “gifts”.
Isis considers Yazidis heretical and published an article in its propaganda magazine Dabiq attempting to justify the practice of selling them using theological rulings of early Islam. However, experts say the practice has caused friction among the ranks of the extremist group. Sajad Jiyad, Research Fellow and Associate Member at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform, told The Independent that many supporters had been in denial about the trafficking of kidnapped Yazidi women until the Dabiq article was published.
Read more: Tensions rise over Isis use of Yazidi sex slaves
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ISIS kills 52 men in Iraq

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isisISIS killed 52 men, the majority Iraqi police officers,  at the al Qaim border crossing with Syria this week, according to Sohaib al Rawi, governor of Iraq’s Anbar province.
The men were shot Monday, and their deaths were confirmed by the governor’s office Thursday.
ISIS had detained the victims since the militant group overran the border post last year.
The group has captured large areas of Iraq and Syria for what it says is its Islamic caliphate.
Photo credit: frontpagemag
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The war against Islamic State (2): Mosul beckons

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Planting the Iraqi flag in Tikrit. But too many fight only for their sect
IN A barren military camp near Mosul in Iraq, 500 balaclava-clad men train for urban warfare under the watchful eye of their leader, a former general in Saddam Hussein’s army. They are among 4,000 volunteers for the National Mobilisation Unit, a multi-ethnic force being assembled by Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Mosul’s Nineveh province.
The men are preparing to be deployed to keep the peace in Mosul, if and when Iraq’s second city is retaken from Islamic State (IS). They would replace the police and military forces that melted away in the face of the jihadists’ onslaught last June. A combination of Iraqi soldiers, mainly Iranian-backed Shia militiamen and American air power recaptured Tikrit on March 31st. Now Mosul beckons.
Yet the fight there will be far harder. Mosul is a city of 2m people compared with some 300,000 in Tikrit, which took weeks to retake (there are still some IS pockets). Mosul is the Iraqi base of IS, which was present there long before it took the city.
It is still unclear who will try to recapture the place. Mr Nujaifi rejects any notion of a Shia-led intervention in the city. In Tikrit, Shia militias had to be pulled out after looting and revenge attacks on Sunni residents; last year hundreds of Shia soldiers were executed, and their bodies are now being exhumed. Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said that the Hashid al-Shaabi, the umbrella-group for Shia militias, will not be sent to fight in Mosul.
Mistrust between Sunni Arabs and Iraq’s mainly Shia security forces runs especially deep in Mosul. Unlike other Iraqi cities that are more ethnically and religiously uniform, Mosul is home to myriad communities. Sunni Arabs, Shias, Kurds, Christians and Yazidis have all registered for Mr Nujaifi’s force. But Mosul also has a hard Sunni core, partly fuelled by disgruntled former officers under Saddam who bore the brunt of de-Baathification policy after America toppled Saddam in 2003. Iraqis call the place “the city of a million soldiers”. Some of them joined IS.
On April 6th the Kurdish president, Masoud Barzani, said his fighters, known as Peshmerga, would assist in the campaign to retake Mosul. But officials say they are likely only to provide support, not enter the city. So the task will most likely fall to the Iraqi army, which is still being rebuilt after last June’s debacle. “American command and co-ordination will be the key factor if Mosul is to be retaken,” says Michael Stephens of RUSI, a think-tank. Iran may not be happy about that.
Mr Nujaifi says the government pays his men salaries of about $700 a month, but it has not sent them any arms. He uses his own money to buy guns on the black market. Officials in Baghdad cite a shortage of weapons, somewhat implausibly. Sunni officials, and some diplomats, say the delay may be due at least in part to the Shia leanings of the government. Many ministers mistrust the Sunnis, and the most extreme Shia militiamen label them all as IS. This all suggests that the battle for Mosul is unlikely to happen this spring. Lesser targets in Anbar province to the west of Tikrit may come first. Some Iraqis even suggest Mosul should just be left to IS.
The National Mobilisation Unit is a reminder of what Iraq’s security forces are supposed to be. As they train, the recruits sing Arabic and Kurdish ditties about a united Iraqi force waging war against IS. “We believe in a national feeling,” says a 19-year-old, amid raucous shouts of “Long live Iraq!” The display of pride rooted in national identity rather than sectarianism sets the unit apart from most of Iraq’s militias. Sadly its fighters are still too few, and too weak, to make a difference.
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Iran is not cooperating with the deal

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Like some of you, I had my doubts about all this talk of a deal with Iran. 
First, I get very nervous when they cheer in the streets of Iran but worry in Israel.  Sorry, but I'd rather see the Israelis smiling than the Iranians celebrating.  There is something about a crowd cheering "Death to America" that turns me off.
Second, the framework is down on paper but Iran keeps making demands:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic's supreme leader, meanwhile, told state-run media outlets he is neither in favor nor against the proposed deal because it isn't final, and he's not certain it will become binding because he has "never been optimistic about negotiations with the U.S."
So much for all those meetings, extensions, and press conferences.
In all fairness, negotiating with a country like Iran is not easy.  I don't mean to take a cheap partisan shot against the Obama administration, because it would have been difficult for any other president.
At the same time, Iran fears only one thing: our bunker-busting bombs and Air Force. 
They know that we have the military capability to bomb them for weeks and then come back for a few more weeks.  They know quite well that we could destroy or, at the very least, set their program back a generation. 
They fear the bombs, but they don't see that in President Obama's or Secretary Kerry's eyes.  What they see is a U.S. eager to make a deal.  They've read Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry correctly.  They understand that Mr. Kerry wants a Nobel Peace Prize rather than to resolve the issue of a nuclear Iran.
My suggestion is that we keep the sanctions and go back to square one.  Let's rip the current deal and start talking again.  We may have to wait until the next president takes office. 
P.S. You can hear my show (CantoTalk) or follow me on Twitter.
Like some of you, I had my doubts about all this talk of a deal with Iran. 
First, I get very nervous when they cheer in the streets of Iran but worry in Israel.  Sorry, but I'd rather see the Israelis smiling than the Iranians celebrating.  There is something about a crowd cheering "Death to America" that turns me off.
Second, the framework is down on paper but Iran keeps making demands:
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic's supreme leader, meanwhile, told state-run media outlets he is neither in favor nor against the proposed deal because it isn't final, and he's not certain it will become binding because he has "never been optimistic about negotiations with the U.S."
So much for all those meetings, extensions, and press conferences.
In all fairness, negotiating with a country like Iran is not easy.  I don't mean to take a cheap partisan shot against the Obama administration, because it would have been difficult for any other president.
At the same time, Iran fears only one thing: our bunker-busting bombs and Air Force. 
They know that we have the military capability to bomb them for weeks and then come back for a few more weeks.  They know quite well that we could destroy or, at the very least, set their program back a generation. 
They fear the bombs, but they don't see that in President Obama's or Secretary Kerry's eyes.  What they see is a U.S. eager to make a deal.  They've read Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry correctly.  They understand that Mr. Kerry wants a Nobel Peace Prize rather than to resolve the issue of a nuclear Iran.
My suggestion is that we keep the sanctions and go back to square one.  Let's rip the current deal and start talking again.  We may have to wait until the next president takes office. 
P.S. You can hear my show (CantoTalk) or follow me on Twitter.
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Yazidi women 'gang-raped in public' by Isis fighters, harrowing accounts reveal

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Yazidi women released by Isis this week were gang-raped in public by fighters and tortured by their captors, according to distressing accounts of their ordeals.

Hundreds of women and children were abducted from the town of Sinjar, in northern Iraq, and held hostage by Isis for over eight months. Some were sold to fighters as sex slaves or given as 'prizes'. Many were beaten and forced to convert to Islam.

More than 200 were released by fighters in Himera, near Kirkurk, earlier this week. They have told harrowing tales of the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their captors.


READ ALSO: Yazidi girls seized by ISIS speak out after escape

Sex slavery driving girls held by ISIS to suicide
Ziyad Shammo Khalaf, who works with the Yazda organisation to support Yazidi victims, said children were separated from their mothers and "distributed among houses" in Mosul and Tal Afar.

"If you come and sit with the girls you will find different stories from girl to girl. A lot of them have been sold to Isis fighters, they have been raped in public, and by more than two or three people at a time," he told the International Business Times. "They were tortured, beaten and subject to any type of violence."

Other Yazidi survivors have also given disturbing accounts of their treatment by Isis, with one women describing how militants were forcing hostages to give their blood for transfusions.

The atrocities endured by Yazidi sex slaves was exposed more fully in an 87-page report released by Amnesty International in November 2014, who found girls and women were repeatedly raped and sold as sex slaves.

The report found that even children were being sold to Isis fighters or given as "gifts".

Isis considers Yazidis heretical and published an article in its propaganda magazine Dabiq attempting to justify the practice of selling them using theological rulings of early Islam.


READ ALSO: ISIS justifies enslaving, having sex with non-believers: Report

Life under ISIS: Captured teenage girl tells story of horrendous abuse
However, experts say the practice has caused friction among the ranks of the extremist group. Sajad Jiyad, Research Fellow and Associate Member at the Iraqi Institute for Economic Reform, told Independent that many supporters had been in denial about the trafficking of kidnapped Yazidi women until the Dabiq article was published.
Stay updated on the go with Times of India News App. Click here to download it for your device.
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ISIS: the mad, bloody residue of the war on terror

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Key to the emergence of ISIS, in Cockburn’s telling, has been the civil war in Syria, a conflict that was rapidly transformed from a popular uprising against the brutal, economically struggling dictatorship of Bashar al Assad into a vicious, intractable jihadi-led war against Assad the Alawite. The intervention of the US, Britain and other Western powers played a crucial role in this transformation. As Cockburn argues, and as we at spiked have also argued, the West has effectively fuelled and prolonged the war despite the fact that, from very early on, it was clear Assad, with control of 13 out of 14 provincial capitals and backed by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah, was not going to fall any time soon. Yet throughout, the US, Britain and the EU have fallen over themselves to declare Assad’s rule illegitimate, telling him that no settlement could be reached unless he stepped down. In doing so, they sided with, and encouraged, the opposition, while simultaneously backing Assad into a corner. What else could the Assad regime do but continue to fight?
But the US and other Western states didn’t simply damn Assad; they also anointed his potential successors – then known as the Free Syrian Army – and, through regional intermediaries, gave them funding and arms. As Cockburn is at pains to point out, the West justified this low-level, almost-behind-the-scenes intervention on the grounds that they were fostering a moderate opposition to Assad, the type of people you could do business with. The only problem with this scheme is that this moderate lot, as opposed to the black-flag-waving Salafi-inspired extremist opposition, never really existed. What did exist, certainly by 2012, was a Sunni/Salafist-rebel opposition movement dominated by ISIS, the group it set up to fight Assad’s force, Jabhat al-Nusra, and assorted other jihadist groups. The US and its friends could convince themselves that they were backing moderate opposition only by failing to classify those groups it supported as extremist, a triumph of nominative categories over gun-toting, Sharia-dreaming reality. Cockburn gives the example of the so-called Yarmouk Brigade, part of an anti-Assad southern front based in Jordan. The only fly in the ointment being that the Yarmouk Brigade fights alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, one-time ISIS affiliate, and full-time jihadists.
‘It was the US, Europe, and their regional allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates that created the conditions for the rise of ISIS’"
The practical effect of the West’s tacit, often covert support, reports Cockburn, was that, as one ISIS member boasted, no matter who arms were given to, they would always end up in the hands of ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra. Little wonder that last year, the Iraq government reported that sophisticated weapons used by ISIS in Iraq were originally meant for the so-called moderate opposition in Syria. As US vice-president Joe Biden admitted in October last year, there is no moderate middle, because the ‘moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers’.
The effect of the West’s wilful stirring of the Syrian pot, exacerbating, deepening and ultimately transforming a civil conflict into a holy war, has not been confined to Syria. It also served to destabilise Iraq, something Cockburn wryly calls the West’s ‘blind spot’. Up to 2011, Iraq’s post-Saddam Sunni minority were increasingly resigned to the Shia-Kurdish-dominated status quo. And, as a result, the Sunni jihadists of what was to become known as ISIS were on the wane. But the Syrian uprising, and its gradual transformation into a sectarian conflict, with the Syrian Sunnis arrayed against Assad’s non-Sunni regime, provided, to quote Cockburn, ‘encouragement and an example’. ISIS fed off the Syrian conflict, drawing weapons and monies from assorted foreign sources investing in the anti-Assad opposition, and it simultaneously fed into the conflict, sending, from 2012 onwards, fighters and funds to its affiliates in Syria.
It was not just Western involvement in Syria that was to fuel the rise of ISIS, of course. Turkey tacitly allowed ISIS to use its 510-mile border with Syria, largely because of their mutual dislike of the Kurds, while Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and above all Saudi Arabia, pursued their own agendas in Syria, providing millions of dollars-worth of funding and weaponry to the Sunni anti-Assad opposition. Saudi Arabia’s role was hardly a surprise. As a 2009 cable from Hillary Clinton revealed, many in the US knew that Saudi Arabia, and its Sunni monarchical rulers, were the most significant funders of terrorist groups worldwide. Pumping money and military hardware into an opposition movement dominated by hardline Salafi jihadists was almost to be expected. But Saudi Arabia has not just been handing over cash and guns. For several decades, it has been the most prominent funder and propagator of Wahhabism, an eighteenth-century return-to-the-texts reinterpretation of Islam, which calls for Sharia law, the relegation and submission of women, and, most importantly the active persecution of kuffirs – in other words, non-believers. That the bastard Salafist sons of Wahhabism, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, now dominate the Sunni opposition in Syria and Iraq would not be possible without the involvement of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies. As Cockburn makes clear throughout, they have funded and inspired these jihadist movements.
The Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia and their near allies, explains Cockburn, have long been concerned with the threat of Shia militancy, especially from the Shia minorities within their own borders. As they see it, supporting the Sunni opposition in Syria and Iraq is in their interests, or at least it was until the black-clad beast the Saudis spawned down through the Euphrates valley started posing a threat to Saudi Arabia itself. The House of Saud’s recent decision to refuse to allow Saudi jihadists back into Saudi Arabia is too late to reverse its impact on Iraq and Syria. ‘[Saudi Arabia’s involvement] has de-emphasised secular democratic change as the ideology of the [Syrian] uprising, which then turned into a Sunni bid for power using Salafi jihadist brigades as the cutting edge of the revolt’, says Cockburn. And now the whole region is reaping the Wahhabist-cum-Salafist whirlwind.
Of course, ISIS might not have been able to redraw the Middle Eastern map if the Iraqi state had been stronger. At the beginning of 2014, it certainly looked capable of resisting an ISIS-style insurgence. After all, the Iraqi army numbered some 350,000 and had been invested in to the tune of $40 billion since 2011. Yet, by July of last year, the army had simply melted away. With ISIS at the gates of Baghdad, the state’s incapacity was writ large. ‘It was a measure of the collapse of the state security force and the national army’, writes Cockburn, ‘that the government was relying on a sectarian militia to defend the capital’.
Cockburn’s portrait of Iraq’s government and state institutions is damning. Self-interest and corruption are rife, with the army reduced to little more than a gravy train people pay to join in return for a hefty salary and a chance to make money from checkpoint kickbacks. No wonder it provided as much resistance to ISIS as smoke. In fact, just about the only thing sustaining the Iraqi political elite’s rule last year was denial. Cockburn tells of going for dinner at the Alwiyah Club in central Baghdad, with ISIS’s latest victories meaning it was just an hour’s drive away. But, such was the Baghdad’s elite’s bonhomie, Cockburn could barely find a table. A former Iraqi minister tells him: ‘It is truly surreal. When you speak to any political leader in Baghdad, they talk as if they had not just lost half the country.’ Cockburn writes: ‘Iraq’s Shia leaders had not grasped that their domination over the Iraqi state, brought about by the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, was finished, and only a Shia rump was left.’
Why was Iraq officialdom so corrupt? Why were those governing the country only interested in what they could get out of it? Cockburn’s response is pithy: ‘The simple answer that Iraqis give is that “UN sanctions destroyed Iraqi society in the 1990s and the Americans destroyed the Iraqi state in 2003.”’ Quite.
By the end of The Rise of Islamic State, you’re left in little doubt that ISIS stands as the result of ceaseless intervention in the affairs of Iraqis and Syrians, inhibiting at every turn their ability to determine their own futures. ISIS’s emergence also, therefore, represents an indictment of the conflicting agendas of foreign powers, be it the shallow ethical posing of the West or the cynical sectarian manoeuvring of the Middle East’s autocracies. It is a grisly coda to the US-led ‘war on terror’. In Cockburn’s words: ’Whatever [Western powers] intended by their invasion of Iraq in 2003 and their efforts to unseat Assad in Syria in 2011, it was not to see the creation of a jihadi state spanning northern Iraq and Syria, and run by a movement a hundred times bigger and much better organised than the al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden.’
Tim Black is deputy editor of spiked.
The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, by Patrick Cockburn, is published by Verso. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)
For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.
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JK Alternative Viewpoint » Blog Archive » The history of the Islamic State:rise of this Sunni terrorist group-STANLY JOHNY

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yemen
The veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn’s latest book traces the history of the Islamic State and identifies the reasons for the rise of this Sunni terrorist group. By STANLY JOHNY
IN the first two years of the Syrian civil war, Western and Arab leaders repeatedly asked President Bashar al-Assad to step down as they seemed to have believed that he would eventually be thrown out of power. In August 2011, United States President Barack Obama asked him “to get out of the way” of democracy. British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy had all joined Obama in demanding Assad’s resignation. In November 2011, King Abdullah of Jordan said the chances of Assad surviving were so slim that he had to step down. In December 2012, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Secretary General, said: “I think the regime in Damascus is approaching collapse.”
With the war entering its fifth year this March, Assad still controls Damascus, the seat of power in Syria, and much of the populated regions along the Mediterranean coast and around the capital city. A substantial chunk of the population remains loyal to him. But the Syrian crisis took a disastrous turn. While the backers of the anti-regime rebels believed (or pretended to believe) that destabilising the regime would expedite the political transformation in Syria, what actually happened was a transformation of parts of the country into a jehadi haven.  It is in this haven that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reinvented his struggling group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, as the world’s deadliest terrorist outfit—the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS).
Before the Syrian civil war began, there was no ISIS in the region. The Islamists in Syria had never risen after their 1983 rebellion in Hama was brutally suppressed by former President Hafiz al-Assad (Bashar’s father). But the ISIS is now the principal opposition of President Assad in the Syrian conflict and controls territories as big as Great Britain straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. How did it become so powerful in a matter of a couple of years? Where does it get support from? Can it be beaten? These are intriguing questions for anyone interested in the contemporary history of West Asia. The veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn’s latest book, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, seeks to answer most of these questions. Cockburn, who has been covering West Asian conflicts for his United Kingdom-based paper, The Independent, for years, traces the history of the ISIS and identifies the reasons that led to the rise of this Sunni terrorist group into notoriety.
The roots
The roots of the ISIS go back to the region’s violent Islamist activism of the 1980s. The U.S. then joined hands with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in training mujahideen against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. The jehad in Afghanistan drew a young Jordanian street thug known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into the Central Asian country in 1989. The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in the same year. Zarqawi went back home, where he was briefly jailed. Upon his release, he travelled to Afghanistan again to found his own militant group, the Tawhid wal-Jihad.
Zarqawi became known to the world after he established himself as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, thanks to George W. Bush’s 2003 Iraq war. The war destroyed the Iraqi state and ruptured the country’s social equilibrium. The vacuum created by the destruction of the state was partly filled by Islamist militants. Zarqawi’s group emerged as the deadliest in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and unleashed a violent sectarian campaign against Iraqis, especially the Shias in 2005-06. He was so brutal and sectarian that even Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al Qaeda central, had criticised him for targeting Shias. But with Zarqawi on the one side and a sectarian Shia government on the other, Iraq plunged into a civil war between Shias and Sunnis.
Zarqawi was killed in an American strike in 2006, and his group was contained, partly by the U.S. “surge” and partly by the “Sunni awakening” under which tribes took up arms against Al Qaeda under the guidance of Washington and Baghdad. But this lull in violence did not solve Iraq’s fundamental problems, which would come back to haunt it in a few years.
The civil war
Cockburn identifies the two major problems that plunged Iraq back into crisis: the sectarianism of the Iraqi leadership and the Syrian civil war. In Syria, the crisis started when peaceful demonstrations broke out against the Assad regime in March 2011 in the wake of similar protests in other Arab countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The Syrian government’s response to the protests was brutal and hundreds of people were killed. The stand-off between the regime and its opponents soon turned into an armed civil strife in which outside powers also started interfering through their proxies, mainly driven by geopolitical reasons.
Syria is Iran’s strongest ally in the region. It is a vital link between Tehran and Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia-cum-political movement. Besides, Syria also houses Russia’s only naval facility outside the former Soviet region —at Tartus. So taking Assad out of power would naturally weaken Iran and Russia, and the West and Saudi Arabia would obviously gain from this game. This was the broader geopolitical theme of the Syrian crisis. When the protests slipped into an armed conflict, the Saudis and their Gulf allies started pumping weapons and money into the hands of anti-Assad rebels. Jordan also joined the anti-Assad brigade by letting rebels operate a training camp from its territory. Turkey, which is repositioning itself as a dominant power in the Islamic world under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has kept its 800-kilometre-long border with Syria open to allow the rebels easy cross-border movement. The West also pitched in by imposing sanctions on the Assad regime and sending weapons to the “moderate” rebels.
On the other side, Iran and Russia stayed resolute in their support of the Assad regime. Russia continuously vetoed United Nations Security Council resolutions targeting Syria, while Iran sent money, men and weapons to Syria. Besides, Hizbollah was directly involved in the war, especially on the Syrian-Lebanese border, fighting alongside Assad’s army against the rebels. In effect, the Syrian civil war transformed into a regional war in which no one could claim total victory. Baghdadi found in this an opportunity and sent his men across the border to Syria to fight the government troops. They fought with Jabhat al Nusra, the official Al Qaeda wing in Syria, against the army and other rebels.
The Syrian opposition had hardly been united. The political face of the opposition in the early days of the crisis was the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. But when the civil war started, the Free Syrian Army, a military group comprising anti-government fighters and Syrian troops that had defected, assumed prominence. Mostly, it was getting support from the West. Then there were Islamist groups that were getting direct help from the Saudis. The ISIS-al-Nusra combine emerged as the strongest force out of the disunited opposition groups, and most of the weapons that countries shipped into Syria for their proxies ended up in their hands. But the ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra also fell out, probably because of Baghdadi’s refusal to accept the Al Qaeda leadership.
As later developments would show, Baghdadi is more ambitious than Al Qaeda. “Al Qaeda is an idea rather than an organisation… whose adherents are self-recruited and can spring up anywhere,” writes Cockburn. But Baghdadi wanted to build a state, which he himself calls the Islamic State. After capturing the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa in 2013, the ISIS started expanding its influence back to Iraq, where the Sunni population was angry at and frustrated by the sectarian Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki.
U.S.’ strategic blunders
“A blind spot for the U.S. … has been their failure to see that by supporting the armed uprising in Syria, they would inevitably destabilise Iraq and provoke a new round of sectarian civil war…. ISIS has been able to exploit the growing sense of alienation and persecution among the Sunni in Iraq,” writes Cockburn. The U.S. war on Iraq had already shaken up its social equilibrium. Saddam’s Sunni-dominated Baath party ruled the Shia majority country for decades under a tight fist. But the post-Saddam elections saw the rise of Shias into political power. The Shia government, which cultivated very strong ties with neighbouring Iran, with whom Saddam’s regime had fought an eight-year war, did nothing to address the concerns of the Sunni community. Worst, the Iraqi government’s sectarian policies had driven Sunnis further away from the socio-political mainstream of the country, opening up space for radicalisation. Baghdadi made good use of this situation.
One of the U.S.’ greatest strategic blunders was the disbanding of Saddam’s Baathist army. Tens of thousands of skilled fighters and a number of generals, who became jobless in the wake of the U.S. invasion, found insurgency a good option to continue doing what they were trained to do—fighting. Some of them joined Al Qaeda-type organisations, while others formed tribal militias or Baathist paramilitary groups. These Sunni paramilitary groups and tribesmen such as “the Baathist Naqshbandi, Ansar al-Islam, and the Mujahideen Army” joined the ISIS in its war in Iraq. Together they won some support of the Sunni populations which were already alienated by the Shia government in Baghdad. It is in this context that the ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Falluja in January 2014. With this, it extended its influence from Raqqa in Syria to western Iraq, effectively erasing the border between the two countries. Falluja became the launch pad for the further attacks of the ISIS in Iraq. In five months, ISIS fighters were in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The fall of Mosul marked the end of a “period starting in 2005 when the Shia tried to dominate Iraq, as the Sunni had done under Saddam Hussein and monarchy”.
Cockburn says the ISIS has established itself as a “terrifying state” which will “not easily disappear”. It has redrawn the map of West Asia and created a regional war theatre where multiple actors are involved. And still, the ISIS’ enemies are unable to find common ground. The divisions among those who fight the ISIS run deeper than those between the terrorist group and its enemies. For example, Saudi Arabia is part of the U.S.-led coalition against the ISIS. Iran is a major backer of the Iraqi government in its war on the ISIS. But the Saudis and the Iranians do not see eye to eye. The intricacies of the conflict are sometimes hard to comprehend not only for analysts but for the actors themselves. It is “a Middle Eastern version of the 30 years of war in Germany of the 17th century. All sides exaggerate their own strength and imagine that temporary success on the battlefield will open the way to total victory,” says Cockburn, putting the present crisis in a historical perspective.
He does not talk about any certain solutions to the crisis. Perhaps, there may not be any convincing solution. But he points out what went wrong, and all those responsible for today’s condition of the region. The interventionist policies of the Atlantic capitals, be it in the name of democracy, human rights or whatever, were disastrous for the region. The U.S.’ war on terror itself was problematic. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York, the U.S. did not target the countries that were mostly closely involved, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. While most of the hijackers were Saudis, Pakistan was the sponsor of the Taliban, which was protecting Al Qaeda. Both countries were American allies. The Bush administration sidestepped these facts and went for a “global war on terrorism”, which backfired miserably. The U.S. failed to stabilise post-war Afghanistan, but it still went ahead with its attack on Iraq and pushed the country into anarchy and civil war. But no lessons were learnt. It went to Libya along with European allies to topple the Muammar Qaddafi regime. And then they worked together to destabilise the Assad regime in Syria through their cohorts in that country. And now the Taliban is on the comeback in Afghanistan and the ISIS is spreading from Syria to Iraq to Libya.
“There was always something fantastical about the U.S. and its Western allies teaming up with the theocratic Sunni absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to spread democracy and enhance human rights in Syria, Iraq and Libya…. ISIS is the child of war…. It was the U.S., Europe, and their regional allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and UAE that created conditions for the rise of ISIS,” writes Cockburn. But does anybody listen? Will the interventionists ever admit their mistake, even after seeing the tragedies they have caused to a people? Will there be a pragmatic common strategy to take on forces such as the ISIS? The contemporary history of West Asia says it is unlikely, given the imperialist ambitions of the big powers in the region and the geopolitical power struggle among regional actors.
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Sweden to Join U.S.-Led Coalition Against ISIS

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by AFP10 Apr 20150
(AFP) Sweden will send up to 120 troops to northern Iraq to train Iraqi and Kurdish fighters as part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, foreign minister Margot Wallstroem said Thursday.
“In the first stage 35 soldiers will take part in the mission but the number can rise to 120,” Wallstroem told news agency TT.
“Increased military support is needed now.”
She added that the Swedish troops will provide “military advice and training… not combat units” and that they will focus on Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
“We’re responding to a request from the Iraqi government… they can need everything from weapons training to mine sweeping,” said Wallstroem.
The Swedish forces are expected to be in place in June and will be under U.S. command. No end-date for their participation was announced.
The international coalition fighting ISIS in northern Iraq – which includes Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Finland – has been in place since August and has carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

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10 doctors ‘shot dead’ after refusing to treat ISIS militants

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Ten doctors who refused to treat wounded Islamic State militants faced a familiar punishment meted out by the terror group – bullets to their heads, according to a report.
A photograph shows the doomed docs being shot 15 miles south of Mosul, the group’s stronghold in the northern Iraqi desert, the Daily Mail reported.
Several ISIS fighters were injured in battles in the Hammam al-Alil area but the doctors refused to treat them because they opposed the militants’ activities.
The Iraqi Al-Sumaria satellite TV network reported their killings as news emerged of the executions of 60 Sunni tribal fighters at the hands of jihadists in Anbar province.
ISIS fighters accused the members of the Al-Karableh, Albu Ubaid, Albu Mahal and Albu Salman tribes of collaborating with the Iraqi security forces.
The jihadists were recently pushed out of key towns and villages by Iraqi troops and Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
Forces last week liberated the strategic city of Tikrit – a victory that the Iraqi Army hopes will set the stage for recapturing Mosul and kicking ISIS out of the country.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Friday said the US has made progress in the fight against ISIS in Iraq – but could not provide a time frame for ridding the country of the jihadists, who have carved out a self-styled Caliphate in the large swaths of Iraqi and Syria.

Who Is to Blame for the Rise of ISIS — Bush or Obama?

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March 19, 2015|3:49 pm
U.S. President Barack Obama
(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in Washington, February 18, 2015.
President Barack Obama indirectly blamed the foreign policy of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, for the rise of the barbaric and brutal Islamic State terrorist organization in Iraq.
In an interview with Vice News founder Shane Smith released on Tuesday, Obama was asked how the ISIS terrorist group, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, which has seized large chunks of Syria and Iraq, was able to become "so popular so fast."
Obama responded saying that the group's rise was aided by the U.S. invasion of Iraq that began in 2003 during Bush's presidency.
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"Two things," Obama said. "One is ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences, which is why we should generally aim before we shoot."
Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who served as U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence under Bush from 2002 to 2007, told The Christian Post in a Thursday interview that the president is simply looking to find somewhere else to lay the blame.
"I find that an incredible statement," Boykin, who is the executive vice president of the Family Research Council, asserted. "Al Qaeda existed before 9/11. Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden were responsible for 9/11. The fact that Al Qaeda in Iraq, under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi emerged as a major force there is, I think, a ridiculous statement to say that they emerged there because of the invasion or that we created them."
"The reality is that is an Al Qaeda affiliate in Nigeria that is capturing young girls and is killing people. The events in Tunisia were perpetrated by an Al Qaeda affiliate. Did we create that?" Boykin asked. "The answer is no. I think that the president is scrambling for somebody to blame."
Boykin went on to explain that the reason ISIS has gained so much momentum is because of Obama's own "failed foreign policy."
"I think that one of the reasons that we are seeing them gain strength and momentum is because of failed foreign policy that has done nothing to stop them," Boykin argued. "I think [Obama] needs to look internally at the very poor decisions that he has made and the fact that he hasn't had a policy that in anyway has impeded their growth."
In the Vice News interview, Obama offered assurance of his current plan to defeat ISIS with limited U.S involvement and stated that the international U.S.-led coalition will eventually defeat ISIS in Iraq.
"We got a 60-country coalition. We will slowly push back ISIL out of Iraq," Obama contended. "I am confident that will happen."
Although Obama is "confident" in the coalition efforts to defeat ISIS, Boykin feels there is no way ISIS will be defeated under Obama's current strategy.
"It is definitely not going to in any amount of time destroy ISIS, no matter what he says. The pace at which we are pursuing this so-called strategy, we are not going to destroy ISIS," Boykin argued. "The question is, could we destroy ISIS? And the answer is, it is questionable. Could we destroy them if we had an all-out campaign against them? It is questionable. But, it is for certain that at the current pace, with the current strategy, we are not going to destroy ISIS."
Boykin offered his own strategy for defeating ISIS and said first the president needs to admit to the religious nature of the group's war.
"To begin with, we start by our president acknowledging that ISIS is a component of Islam and that ISIS is fighting in the name of Islam, that ISIS is motivated by the theology of Islam and identifying who the enemy is and what makes them fight," Boykin stated. "Once we do that, then we engage the Muslim communities around the world, who don't want to be part of this grand jihad. There are many, many Muslims who don't but they sit on the sidelines and they watch to see if we are going to take a stand, if we are going to actually recognize who the enemy is. As long as we continue to deny who the enemy is, those components of the Muslim community that also reject jihad, that rejects sharia, they are going to continue to sit on the sidelines."
Boykin also warned against the United States providing weapons to other Islamic groups and said weapons should only be provided to groups that the United States knows it can trust.
"We [need to] arm our friends, not our enemies," Boykin said. "We don't arm these Islamic groups like the Free Syrian Army and the rebel groups in Libya, we arm our friends like the Kurds and the Christian militias that want to fight for themselves."
Lastly, Boykin said that the United States should equip the U.S. Special Operations Command with everything they need to arm, train and lead trusted militia groups in the fight against ISIS.
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Obama Realigns American Foreign Policy

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Foreign policy pundits are not quite sure about the Obama administration’s Middle East strategy. It appears that the administration is either playing a balance-of-power game in the Middle East, or realigning its foreign policy in the region.
Max Boot, one of America’s leading military historians and foreign-policy analysts, believes that the Obama administration has decided on realignment. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on March 26, 2015, Boot argues that the Obama administration “keeps largely silent about Iran’s power grab in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, even going so far now as to assist Iranian forces in Tikrit (Iraq) while attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal with Tehran that would allow it to maintain thousands of centrifuges. Obama berates Benjamin Netanyahu for allegedly ‘racist’ campaign rhetoric, refuses to accept his apologies, and says the U.S. may now ‘re-assess options,’ code words for allowing the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state over Israel’s objections. Taken together, these facts suggest that Obama is attempting to pull off the most fundamental realignment of U.S. foreign policy in a generation.”  In Boot’s view, Obama’s new doctrine is to “downgrade ties with Israel and the Saudis while letting Iran fill the vacuum left by the U.S. retreat.”
An alternative assessment of the Obama administration’s new regional strategy is to contrast it to the George W. Bush era policy, when the U.S. played a decisive military role in the region. The Obama administration shifted the primary burden of fighting to regional powers, while having the U.S. play a secondary role, as evidenced by actions taken during the recent conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and now in Yemen. 
In an unprecedented move, combined Sunni-Arab powers attacked Iran’s proxies, the Shiite Yemeni Houthis, who have captured Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, placed under house arrest its legitimate president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (he has since escaped to Saudi Arabia), and moved south to take over the port city of Aden. This has the potential of turning into a wider conflict between Sunni-Arab powers including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf States, Jordan, Sudan, possibly Turkey, and Pakistan on one side, and on the other, non-Arab Shiite Iran with its allies among the Iraqi Shiite militias, the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hizb’allah, and the Alawi-led Assad regime in Syria.
All of this is happening in the shadow of the impending nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran, a deal that is likely to lead to a nuclear arms race in the region. The Saudis will buy a bomb from Pakistan and finance one for Egypt. Turkey’s megalomaniacal leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan will seek to build his own bomb. This might bring about a balance of fear and insecurity rather than a balance of power, which the U.S. would be unable to manage.
The Obama administration is currently furnishing the Saudis with intelligence needed to effectively attack the Houthis. At the same time the U.S. is cooperating with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Tikrit, providing the Iranian and the Iraqi Shiite militias with air power in the battle against the Sunni Islamic State (IS). Arguably, the Saudis would have welcomed the same aerial support the U.S. is giving the Iranians in Tikrit. 
One has to wonder why the Obama administration, under the guise of trying to achieve balance-of-power in the region, has failed to curb the Islamic Republic of Iran’s unimpeded control over four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and now Sanaa. The Saudi royals can certainly make the claim of being far more pro-U.S. than the Iranian regime, and yet there has been no reaction from the U.S. regarding Iran and its proxy’s presence on Saudi Arabia’s northern border with Iraq, and now on its southern border in Yemen. Moreover, the Tehran mullahs have instigated revolts among their Shiite co-religionists in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, where the oilfields of Dhahran are located. Alain Gresh in Le Monde Diplomatique posited that “Iran has always interfered in the affairs of Saudi Arabia. In 2003, it was Tehran that gave the green light to Al-Qaida attacks on the kingdom.” 
Iran’s mullahs have fomented trouble throughout the region. In Bahrain, the Islamic Republic incited the Shiite masses against its Sunni leaders. It resulted in the March, 2011 Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states intervening to save the Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Amir Hossein Motaghi, an Iranian journalist who defected this weekend and sought asylum in Switzerland, served during the 2013 Iranian elections as Hassan Rouhani’s presidential campaign communications director. Motaghi revealed that “The U.S. negotiating team is mainly there to speakon Iran’s behalf with the other members of the P5+1 countries, and convince them of a deal.”
Ariel Kahana, a political analyst for the Israeli newspapers Makor Rishon and Maariv explained that since President Obama is no longer running for office and his attention is focused on his legacy, his hidden agenda is surfacing. Kahana pointed out that some opinion-makers in Washington believe Obama prefers the Shiites over Sunni Islam, and that Obama is convinced the U.S. and Iran have shared interests, hence his unstoppable drive to sign an agreement with Iran.
Kahana added that when Netanyahu sought to attack Iran, leading Israelis opposed him. Now however, it turns out that Obama is ‘throwing Israel under the bus’ and those who trusted him must open their eyes. As proof that Obama has tilted towards the Islamic Republic of Iran from the very get-go, Kahana cited the 2009 Iranian students demonstrations against the “stolen presidential elections” that re-elected Ahmadinejad, while Obama looked the other way. Kahana mentioned the warm letters Obama sent to the Iranian Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the immediate call Obama made to Hassan Rouhani upon his election as president in 2013.
Kahana asserted that the Obama administration opened a secret channel of communication with Iran that was hidden from America’s allies including information critical to Israel. Obama, according to Kahana, ignored warnings from the UN’s IAEA about Iran’s violations of its NPT commitments, and took Iran and Hizb’allah off the terror threat watch-list. He also resisted tougher sanctions on Iran. Kahana concludes that all of these steps indicate Obama’s consistent pro-Iranian tilt.
With Sunni Arabs set to forge a NATO-like military force, perhaps with help from non-Arab Turkey and a nuclear-armed Pakistan aimed primarily at halting Iran’s hegemonic drive, what will the U.S. do? Perhaps more worrisome is the question, what will the U.S. do when the Saudis, Egyptians, and Turks view the nuclear deal with Iran as detrimental to their security interests? The region as a whole will undoubtedly become nuclear. A nuclear arms race in the most unstable part of the world will have dire consequences on the entire world.
The prospects of a hegemonic, revolutionary, and soon to be nuclear Iran would alter any balance-of-power game conceived in Washington. One must conclude, therefore, that the administration must be looking beyond establishing a balance-of-power in the region. That it is seeking a new foreign policy in the region, which realigns the U.S. historical positions.
Foreign policy pundits are not quite sure about the Obama administration’s Middle East strategy. It appears that the administration is either playing a balance-of-power game in the Middle East, or realigning its foreign policy in the region.
Max Boot, one of America’s leading military historians and foreign-policy analysts, believes that the Obama administration has decided on realignment. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on March 26, 2015, Boot argues that the Obama administration “keeps largely silent about Iran’s power grab in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, even going so far now as to assist Iranian forces in Tikrit (Iraq) while attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal with Tehran that would allow it to maintain thousands of centrifuges. Obama berates Benjamin Netanyahu for allegedly ‘racist’ campaign rhetoric, refuses to accept his apologies, and says the U.S. may now ‘re-assess options,’ code words for allowing the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state over Israel’s objections. Taken together, these facts suggest that Obama is attempting to pull off the most fundamental realignment of U.S. foreign policy in a generation.”  In Boot’s view, Obama’s new doctrine is to “downgrade ties with Israel and the Saudis while letting Iran fill the vacuum left by the U.S. retreat.”
An alternative assessment of the Obama administration’s new regional strategy is to contrast it to the George W. Bush era policy, when the U.S. played a decisive military role in the region. The Obama administration shifted the primary burden of fighting to regional powers, while having the U.S. play a secondary role, as evidenced by actions taken during the recent conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and now in Yemen. 
In an unprecedented move, combined Sunni-Arab powers attacked Iran’s proxies, the Shiite Yemeni Houthis, who have captured Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, placed under house arrest its legitimate president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi (he has since escaped to Saudi Arabia), and moved south to take over the port city of Aden. This has the potential of turning into a wider conflict between Sunni-Arab powers including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf States, Jordan, Sudan, possibly Turkey, and Pakistan on one side, and on the other, non-Arab Shiite Iran with its allies among the Iraqi Shiite militias, the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hizb’allah, and the Alawi-led Assad regime in Syria.
All of this is happening in the shadow of the impending nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran, a deal that is likely to lead to a nuclear arms race in the region. The Saudis will buy a bomb from Pakistan and finance one for Egypt. Turkey’s megalomaniacal leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan will seek to build his own bomb. This might bring about a balance of fear and insecurity rather than a balance of power, which the U.S. would be unable to manage.
The Obama administration is currently furnishing the Saudis with intelligence needed to effectively attack the Houthis. At the same time the U.S. is cooperating with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Tikrit, providing the Iranian and the Iraqi Shiite militias with air power in the battle against the Sunni Islamic State (IS). Arguably, the Saudis would have welcomed the same aerial support the U.S. is giving the Iranians in Tikrit. 
One has to wonder why the Obama administration, under the guise of trying to achieve balance-of-power in the region, has failed to curb the Islamic Republic of Iran’s unimpeded control over four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, and now Sanaa. The Saudi royals can certainly make the claim of being far more pro-U.S. than the Iranian regime, and yet there has been no reaction from the U.S. regarding Iran and its proxy’s presence on Saudi Arabia’s northern border with Iraq, and now on its southern border in Yemen. Moreover, the Tehran mullahs have instigated revolts among their Shiite co-religionists in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, where the oilfields of Dhahran are located. Alain Gresh in Le Monde Diplomatique posited that “Iran has always interfered in the affairs of Saudi Arabia. In 2003, it was Tehran that gave the green light to Al-Qaida attacks on the kingdom.” 
Iran’s mullahs have fomented trouble throughout the region. In Bahrain, the Islamic Republic incited the Shiite masses against its Sunni leaders. It resulted in the March, 2011 Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states intervening to save the Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Amir Hossein Motaghi, an Iranian journalist who defected this weekend and sought asylum in Switzerland, served during the 2013 Iranian elections as Hassan Rouhani’s presidential campaign communications director. Motaghi revealed that “The U.S. negotiating team is mainly there to speakon Iran’s behalf with the other members of the P5+1 countries, and convince them of a deal.”
Ariel Kahana, a political analyst for the Israeli newspapers Makor Rishon and Maariv explained that since President Obama is no longer running for office and his attention is focused on his legacy, his hidden agenda is surfacing. Kahana pointed out that some opinion-makers in Washington believe Obama prefers the Shiites over Sunni Islam, and that Obama is convinced the U.S. and Iran have shared interests, hence his unstoppable drive to sign an agreement with Iran.
Kahana added that when Netanyahu sought to attack Iran, leading Israelis opposed him. Now however, it turns out that Obama is ‘throwing Israel under the bus’ and those who trusted him must open their eyes. As proof that Obama has tilted towards the Islamic Republic of Iran from the very get-go, Kahana cited the 2009 Iranian students demonstrations against the “stolen presidential elections” that re-elected Ahmadinejad, while Obama looked the other way. Kahana mentioned the warm letters Obama sent to the Iranian Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the immediate call Obama made to Hassan Rouhani upon his election as president in 2013.
Kahana asserted that the Obama administration opened a secret channel of communication with Iran that was hidden from America’s allies including information critical to Israel. Obama, according to Kahana, ignored warnings from the UN’s IAEA about Iran’s violations of its NPT commitments, and took Iran and Hizb’allah off the terror threat watch-list. He also resisted tougher sanctions on Iran. Kahana concludes that all of these steps indicate Obama’s consistent pro-Iranian tilt.
With Sunni Arabs set to forge a NATO-like military force, perhaps with help from non-Arab Turkey and a nuclear-armed Pakistan aimed primarily at halting Iran’s hegemonic drive, what will the U.S. do? Perhaps more worrisome is the question, what will the U.S. do when the Saudis, Egyptians, and Turks view the nuclear deal with Iran as detrimental to their security interests? The region as a whole will undoubtedly become nuclear. A nuclear arms race in the most unstable part of the world will have dire consequences on the entire world.
The prospects of a hegemonic, revolutionary, and soon to be nuclear Iran would alter any balance-of-power game conceived in Washington. One must conclude, therefore, that the administration must be looking beyond establishing a balance-of-power in the region. That it is seeking a new foreign policy in the region, which realigns the U.S. historical positions.
Read the whole story
 
· · · · · · · ·

Why Obama chose the Iran talks to take one of his presidency’s biggest risks

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A handout picture released by the White House on April 1, 2015 shows President Obama and Vice President Biden, with the national security team, participating in a secure video teleconference from the Situation Room of the White House on March 31, 2015, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and the U.S. team negotiating with Iran about their nuclear program in Lausanne, Switzerland. (White House / Pete Souza/EPA)
Much of President Obama’s foreign policy agenda has been foisted upon him during his six years in office. He inherited two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which he’s been able to end. He’s had to react to chaos in the Middle East and a Russian incursion in Ukraine.
The negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program are a different matter. They are Obama’s choice, and he’s fought to keep them moving since the beginning of his presidency despite setbacks and second-guessing from Republicans, fellow Democrats and longtime foreign allies.
The latest setback came Wednesday when the White House agreed, for a second time in two days, to suspend its self-imposed March 31 deadline for an agreement, amid complaints from the United States and its allies that Iran was not offering serious counterproposals.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry said he would stay in Switzerland and continue negotiations until at least Thursday morning.
Obama: 'Historic understanding' with Iran(2:28)
President Obama announced that negotiators from Iran, the U.S. and other countries agreed to a framework for a final agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. (AP)
The president’s decision to keep negotiating reflects both the importance he has placed on the talks and his particular view of how American leadership, persistence and engagement with enemies can change the world.
Obama often talks about moments in which U.S. leadership can “bend the arc of human history.” An Iran accord represents exactly such an opportunity, but it is also one of the most risky foreign policy gambles of his presidency.
The talks revolve around an issue — nuclear proliferation — that has been a major focus for Obama since he first arrived in Washington. As a senator, he called for a world without nuclear weapons. As president, his first foreign policy speech focused on the dangers that a terrorist group, such as al-Qaeda, might someday acquire a nuclear bomb.
“If we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable,” he told a crowd of thousands in Prague’s main square, “then in some ways we are admitting to ourselves that the use of a nuclear weapon is inevitable.”
The Iran talks also reflect his abiding belief that the best way to change the behavior of hostile governments with spotty human rights records is not through isolation or the threat of military force, but by persistent engagement. In recent years, Obama has pushed to open up trade and diplomatic relations with countries such as Cuba and Burma.
“He believes the more people interact with open societies, the more they will want to be part of an open society,” said Ivo Daalder, Obama’s former NATO ambassador and head of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Iran, a longtime enemy and sponsor of some of the world’s most potent militias and terrorist groups, is the biggest and boldest test of Obama’s theory.
Some critics worry that the president’s eagerness to strike a deal has led the administration to minimize its potential costs. “They are captivated by the vision of an Iran as a potential source of strategic stability in a region that’s falling apart,” said Peter Feaver, a Duke University political science professor who was a White House official in the George W. Bush administration. “They would never be so naive to describe it that way, but you can tell that’s a hope.”
Even if the United States and its allies secure a deal with Iran, the accord could backfire. Iran could cheat, although evading intrusive inspections will be difficult for the Islamic republic, said White House officials. If U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia, think that the accord doesn’t do enough to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, they could start their own program, triggering an arms race in one of the most dangerous and unstable regions of the world.
The most immediate concern is that an emboldened Iran will use the financial windfall that comes with the easing of economic sanctions to boost support to its proxy militias in a region that is already being torn by sectarian war.
Obama has acknowledged those risks but insists that the alternatives to an Iran deal — tighter sanctions or military strikes — would be much worse. As the negotiations have progressed, Obama has become more personally involved in the talks, said current and former aides. He can describe in minute detail the number and type of centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to retain under a deal.
In public comments, he has often put the chances of striking an accord at less than 50 percent. Privately, aides said, he has demanded briefings on every minor setback and reversal. His personal involvement demonstrates how important the negotiations have become to his presidency.
Obama and senior aides have bemoaned what they see as a tendency in Washington to look first to the military to solve America’s most vexing foreign policy problems. “The debates around the Middle East don’t seem to recognize that the Iraq war took place,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to the president. There continues to be “an instinctive reach for military solutions as the only sign of America’s seriousness,” he said.
The Iran negotiations, for Obama, offer a new model. The talks have played down threats of U.S. military force and instead placed a heavy emphasis on American diplomacy and statecraft. The United States has acted as part of a broad international coalition that includes Russia and China, a change from an earlier era in which Obama insisted the United States had too often ignored its allies and tried to go it alone.
The negotiations are also personal for the president. Obama was dismissed as dangerously naive in 2007 by then-candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton for suggesting that he would engage in “aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran. More recently, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress, where the Israeli leader leveled the same charge. Netanyahu’s speech infuriated the White House. Two weeks later,47 GOP senators sent an open letter to Iran’s leaders warning that a future president or Congress could undo any agreements the administration and its partners reached with Tehran.
“There’s a determination to prove the Republicans wrong, and to prove the world wrong,” said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Biden and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
An accord with Iran also would give credence to Obama’s core belief that the United States must be open to negotiations with its enemies. In 2007, the then presidential candidate said it was a “disgrace” that the Bush administration had not done more to talk with U.S. enemies in the Middle East. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous,” Obama said.
In Iran, Obama has chosen to negotiate with one of the United States’ biggest and most destabilizing enemies. Iranian money, weapons and combat advisers have helped President Bashar al-Assadcling to power in Syria. In Lebanon and Yemen, Iranian-backed militias have sown unrest against U.S. allies. Iran’s support has helped Hamas launch deadly attacks on Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the region.
Although Iran is working alongside the United States in Iraq to destroy Islamic State insurgents, Iranian-backed militias were responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on U.S. troops before 2011. It is Iran’s potential as a stabilizing force in the region that gives it such allure. “They’re a big, sophisticated country with a lot of talent,” Obama said in an interview with the New York Times in the summer. Even a moderately less threatening Iran could pay big dividends at a time when the Middle East’s post-World War I order is coming apart.
“With all this turmoil in the Arab world, you need a workable relationship with the other side,” said Shawn Brimley, a former director for strategic planning in the White House. “You can’t argue with Iran’s importance in the region. That’s why Obama is taking this extremely seriously.”
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.
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Greg Jaffe covers the White House for The Washington Post, where he has been since March 2009.
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Rand Paul: Kurds would fight ISIS 'like hell' if promised a country

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says he supports creating a new nation for the Kurds in exchange for their help fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“I think they would fight like hell if we promised them a country,” Paul told Breitbart News during a stop in Naples, Fla.
Paul, a likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, said the Kurds are “the best fighters” in the military campaign against ISIS and said he would support sending additional arms for the Peshmerga, the Kurds’ trained soldiers in Iraq and Syria.
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“Part of the problem is the Kurds aren’t getting enough arms,” Paul said. “The arms are going through Baghdad to get to the Kurds, and they’re being siphoned off, and they’re not getting what they need. I think that any arms coming from us or coming from any European countries ought to go directly to the Kurds. They seem to be the most effective and determined fighters.”
Kurdish Peshmerga forces successfully retook Kobani, Syria from ISIS in January. Paul said their efforts against the radical Islamist group deserved recognition from the U.S. and its allies.
“But I would go one step further: I would draw new lines for Kurdistan and I would promise them a country,” Rand said.
The Kurds are an ethnic group that has inhabited a region dubbed “Kurdistan” in the Middle East for centuries. It includes portions of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria.
Paul acknowledged the difficulty of granting Kurdish sovereignty. Given the number of states impacted by creating them a state, he said creating Kurdistan would involve complex diplomacy.
“It’s a little easier to say than it is to actually make it happen, because in order to actually draw a new country you’d have to have the complicity of Turkey and probably Iraq a little bit as well,” he said. “There really is no Syria to be complicit with, but there is just a little piece of Syria – Kobani — and in there is predominantly Kurdish.”
Turkish and Kurdish leaders have long fought over the latter’s sovereignty in Turkey. Paul said that solving that conflict would not only give Kurds independence, but bring Turkey into a greater role against ISIS too.
“I think if you did that and could get peace between the Kurds and the Turks, then the Turks would actually fight if the Kurds would give up claims to any Turkish territory,” he added.
Paul’s remarks come after the U.S.-led coalition forces seized “key terrain” from ISIS in Syria this week.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another potential 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, also advocatedincreasing Kurdish arms last month.
“We need to stand with the Kurds,” he said on Feb. 8. “They’re effective. They’re ready. They’re our close allies and we need to use that in close coordination with overwhelming air power to take out ISIS.”
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U.S. Advisers May Be Working With Terrorist-Labeled PKK to Fight ISIS - The Daily Beast

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The U.S. relationship is informal amid a tangled roster of Kurdish warriors, but the PKK troops are too good to ignore.
MATARA, Iraq — On the volatile front lines facing the so-called Islamic State outside the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, American military personnel have been coordinating with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), according to a local commander from the left-wing guerrilla group that is still on the U.S. State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Ageed Kalary commands a unit of about 30 PKK fighters positioned some 500 meters from the front. He claims that he has met with U.S. military personnel accompanying commanders from Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government, whose soldiers are known as the Peshmerga, and which has strong, open American support. The last direct encounter, he said, was in December. But the coordination does not have to be face to face.
“The Americans tell us what they need and share information but there is no formal agreement,” he says about the U.S. military’s interaction with a group that earned its “terrorist” label for the tactics it employed in its 29-year armed struggle against Turkish rule.
The PKK’s dug-out fortifications on the flats of the Little Zab River are shared with a Kurdish unit of the Iraqi army and all are in the line of fire for snipers of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, also known as ISIS. The winding front is reinforced by a mix of Kurdish Peshmerga units, PKK, Kurds equipped by the Iraqi army and Shia militias, while the U.S. provides logistical support and airstrikes to keep most of northern Iraq’s richest oil region from the clutches of the jihadists.
While the U.S. military affirms it shares information and provides advisory support for various Kurdish security forces through a Joint Operations Center in Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, the U.S. maintains that the foreign terrorist organization designation of the PKK remains unchanged—which on paper ought to mean no contact.
However, U.S. Central Command spokesperson Mark Blackington doesn’t outright deny that there has been coordination with PKK fighters in Iraq. Instead he calls Kalary’s description of “cooperation” as a “mischaracterization.” He then declines to characterize it further.
PKK guerrillas entered Iraq in the summer of 2014 to bolster Kurdish forces battling to repel ISIS’s rapid advance. From Kirkuk to Mount Sinjar these fighters—equipped with light arms and using hit-and-run tactics—have been essential to halting the bloody advance of the sectarian fundamentalists who have carried out gruesome atrocities and left mass graves of civilians in their wake.
... It is the experience of fighting the Turkish army in the mountains that has given his troops an edge taking on ISIS.
From playing a pivotal role on the Kirkuk front to training Yazidi fighters on Mount Sinjar while their units help secure and retake territory there, the PKK continues to be active in the broader Kurdish offensive.
Kalary and his fighters crossed into Iraq from the mountainous border region between Turkey, Iran, and Iraq last July and he argues that his forces’ style of irregular warfare is the most effective against brazen and determined jihadists. He is quick to note that it is the experience of fighting the Turkish army in the mountains that has given his troops an edge taking on ISIS.
The PKK fighters, clad in olive green uniforms, peer over sandbagged fortifications with their Kalashnikovs at the ready as they scour the landscape for any enemy movement. The fighting outside the walls of the base flares up in fits and bursts.
Sitting cross-legged on a mattress in his front line barracks, an M16 resting in the corner and a yellow flag bearing the face of his movement’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan overhead, Kalary bristles at the mention of his organization’s classification as “terrorist.”
“We are fighting for our freedom and it’s wrong for them to call us terrorists,” argues the grizzled fighter. He describes the advance of the Islamic State as the biggest enemy Kurds and the world face today and complains that being labeled a terrorist group makes it more difficult to fight it, hampering access to needed arms and equipment.
The PKK’s sister organization in Syria, the YPG, benefitted from the support of U.S. airstrikes during the desperate battle for Kobani last year. The YPG received U.S. arms as well. But Kalary says that the U.S. has not given the PKK similar support, and he is a realist about this contradictory interaction.
“These decisions are based on [U.S.] benefits and interests,” he says, sketching a relationship where the U.S. sees his fighters as an enemy of its enemy rather than a potential partner.
Regardless of the role the PKK is playing in Iraq, American relations with the Turkish-based organization will be difficult as long as Ankara, a key NATO ally, bans the organization. Ocalan continues to sit in a Turkish prison for his group’s many attacks targeting the Turkish military and civilians.
The 29-year Kurdish insurgency, fought for political and cultural self-determination, saw brutal Turkish military repression of Kurds in the country’s southeast as Kurdish guerrillas fought from the mountains and carried out bombings and assassinations around the country. While the armed campaign in Turkey has been shelved for shaky peace talks that started last year, the PKK’s political goals remain, and its calls for local democratic control apply to Kurdish communities in Iraq, Syria and Iran as well. It will be a long road to reconciliation.
Although the U.S. is under pressure to protect the interests of its NATO partner, in Erbil there is increasing pressure for the PKK and U.S.- backed Peshmerga forces from the regional government to work more closely together. Right now the various Kurdish groups coordinate on the battlefield but maintain separate command structures.
“We need a joint command between the Peshmerga and the guerrillas,” says Nilufer Koc, a co-chairperson for the Kurdistan National Congress. She speaks to The Daily Beast over cups of sugary Kurdish tea in the living room of her Erbil residence, representing an umbrella organization of Kurdish communities that span the borders of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. The organization has strong PKK backing.
Koc argues that with ISIS reshaping the borders of the Middle East and Kurdish forces crossing the Turkish and Syrian borders to repel it, the map of the region is being redrawn and full inclusion of all Kurdish groups is essential to victory.
Still, as long as there is no resolution between Turkey and the PKK, the contradiction between official U.S. policy and action in northern Iraq is unlikely to change, and the opportunity for jihadists to exploit these divisions will remain.
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China’s March Westward and the ISIS Challenge

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By Aurangzeb Qureshi for Global Risk Insights
In recent years, China is slowly returning to its former glory as the “Middle Kingdom” as it was once was during the 6th century. Unlike the isolationist China of the past, President Xi Jinping’s China is a resurgent dragon looking to connect with the rest of the world. In other words, China is not only open for business, it is also making business possible.
Winning Central Asia
China’s annual growth, still around 7%, has forced it to seek new markets. None are more important than Central Asia. As U.S. presence endures in the Middle East, China is increasingly looking westward and claiming geopolitical wins.
For example, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is the only foreign company that has direct access to Turkmenistan’s onshore gas fields — including the world’s second-largest gas field, called Galkynysh. Since 2009, China has been importing close to half of its gas from Turkmenistan. Given Turkmenistan’s general unwillingness to open up to other foreign companies, China has won a gas export market few states have been able to penetrate.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also opened up to China namely due to investment into developing infrastructure. Pouring money into improving critical infrastructure is not only crucial to winning over foreign governments, but also the hearts and minds of the people – something Russia still hasn’t been able to achieve. The result of this gradual outreach has been the Central Asia gas pipeline(CAGP) – a mammoth 1,830 km gas pipeline stretching from the Turkmen-Uzbek border city of Gedaim through central Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan before reaching Horgos in China’s Xinjiang province. A fourth line from Turkmenistan through Krygyzstan and Tajikistan is currently under construction that will add even greater capacity to the 50 billion cubic metre per year pipeline. The “New Great Game” has seen its first checkmate courtesy of the “New Middle Kingdom.”
The Malacca Strait Jacket
In his best-selling 2009 book, The Next 100 Years, American political scientist and author George Freidman underscores the advantage of U.S. naval supremacy: the U.S. controls all the major seas and is the first superpower to do so in history. It is also true, however that China is doing everything to neutralize that advantage.
Although Central Asia accounts for close to half of Chinese gas imports, natural gas accounts for only about 4% of China’s overall energy consumption. (Coal and crude oil still remain China’s two main sources of energy.) With oil accounting for close to 20% of China’s energy consumption, and most of these imports coming from the Middle East, it is imperative that China not only diversify energy imports but also diversify trade routes. China currently relies on the Straits of Malacca, a narrow, 805 km stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, to supply close to 40% of its oil. Given the U.S. Navy presence in the region and the threat of piracy, an alternative route is essential.
The Myanmar-China oil pipeline now provides this alternative, allowing China a new avenue to import Middle East oil. In fact, the pipeline and other Chinese interests such as the Myitsone Dam were deemed so important that China broke from traditional foreign policy practice by mediating between Kachin rebels and the Myanmar government. With a similar natural gas pipeline going online in 2013, China’s mediation may be paying dividends. Natural gas pipelines may receive the lion’s share of the media focus, but for China’s burgeoning energy needs, securing safe passage for crude oil is essential.
Connecting Eurasia
These developments are part and parcel of an overall plan connecting China to the West by land and sea, more commonly known as the Silk Road Economic Belt. The Yiwu-Madrid rail line, that connects the northeastern city of Yiwu in China to Madrid, perhaps best encapsulates what the “New Silk Road” is trying to achieve. China is not only trying to circumvent U.S. naval superiority but is also striving towards greater business efficiency between Asia and Europe. This again involves Chinese investment into states that lack infrastructure, with full knowledge that offering to revive fledgling economies is an offer few states in the developing world will refuse.
China’s critics point out that this coincides with the existing “String of Pearls” strategy that aims to surround India and neighboring states. In this way the “New Silk Road” may have a dual purpose – first to create land and sea-based interconnections to promote and advance trade, and secondly to create spheres of influence to prevent other regional and world powers from threatening Chinese interests.
Fighting the ISIS threat
The third and perhaps most important reason for the “New Silk Road” is to develop the strategic Western province of Xinjiang. In order to prevent Chinese ethnic Uyghur Muslims from falling into extremism, China must create economic opportunities in this region. However, the ISIS advance threatens to destabilize China’s efforts at creating East-West linkages. With Uyghur Muslims fighting alongside ISIS and more willing to enter Syria to fight the Assad regime, the threat is too close for comfort. Given that ISIS has also declared Xinjiang as part of its caliphate is all the more reason for China to take an active stance against the terrorist group.
This is where China may have to shift its traditional policy towards Xinjiang and empower the Uyghurs as opposed to seeing them as an obstacle to a greater purpose. Migration of ethnic Han Chinese into Xinjiang has been a major roadblock in creating a harmonious relationship. Clamping down on religious practices and culture may only further energize and embolden radicalization. Just as China has been building goodwill externally by building infrastructure or by mediating conflicts, perhaps it is time China did so within its borders by empowering ethnic Uyghurs and providing the Muslim minority a level of religious and cultural autonomy. This will give Uyghurs less reason to join groups like ISIS, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
With China gradually entering a stage of economic maturity, it may also be time for a change in policy to account for changing circumstances. China is at a place in history where it has too much to lose, and political flexibility may be a small price to pay for continued prosperity.
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National View: InsideSources — Cyber security and the importance of investing and innovating - Opinion - southcoasttoday.com

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Normalization and a De-facto Alliance Between Washington and Tehran | Raghida Dergham

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Within one week, this is what Tehran sowed and reaped: The Islamic Republic of Iran celebrated the opening of a new historical chapter with the United States and the European Union, signing the declaration of what is its own understanding of the framework nuclear agreement with the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany, especially as relates to lifting the international and US sanctions on Tehran. Tehran engaged Pakistan, which had declared its willingness to join the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, with the result being a joint declaration by the Iranian and Pakistani foreign ministers supporting the "facilitation" of a Yemeni dialogue. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that a "consensus" over the Iranian position on Yemen was the outcome of meetings held with officials in Oman - which neighbors Yemen - Turkey and Pakistan, which have the top two armies in the Islamic world and which are not members of the Arab coalition in Yemen. Tehran received Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had criticized Iranian interference in Yemen through the Houthis, and explained to him how the Islamic Republic has become a heavyweight in the regional balance of power. Tehran declared that it is dispatching navy destroyers and cruisers to the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, in a three month mission - the same time period ahead of the June 30 deadline for reaching a final nuclear deal that would practically establish Iran as a nuclear power in the Middle East, with a stay of execution. All this happened in just a week. All this should compel Arab leaders, particularly the Saudi leadership, to sit down to draw both immediate and long-term strategies in light of Iran's achievements, even if Tehran is exaggerating its "historic achievements" and behaving as if it has triumphed before the battle has ended.
The new chapter in the relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran is a historical event, because it gives Tehran exactly what the Mullah regime wants from the Obama administration since President Barack Obama began his series of concessions. The nuclear deal will give Tehran what it has always insisted upon, namely: recognition by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council of its nuclear "right" and caving in to Tehran's insistence on acquiring nuclear capabilities, provided it agrees to postpone implementation. The deal establishes Iran as an honorary member of the international nuclear club with the approval of the five nuclear powers along with Germany.
The framework agreement declared last week as a prelude to the anticipated final deal to follow the negotiations of the coming three months is important in a way that goes beyond the nuclear dimension. It also meets two other important demands of the Islamic Republic: first, a public American declaration, which has the the flavor of being an official pledge, that the United States respects the Mullah regime in Tehran and will never seek to topple this regime no matter what. Indeed, this regime has now become a partner of the United States for the next ten years - at the very least - being the party pledging to comply with the inspection regime to be agreed upon for the nuclear activities led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Second, the US president agreed to another very important demand made by Tehran, namely, recognizing its regional weight, ambitions, and roles without meddling on the part of the United States. Thus, Barack Obama bowed down to the Iranian insistence on non-US objection to Iranian intervention in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, to secure the nuclear deal that he wants to serve as his historic legacy. In this context, it is not important what this or that US official may say about the American position on Iranian intervention here or there. The bottom line is that the Obama administration has abandoned -- or was forced to abandon -- the chips through which it could have put pressure on Tehran to stop it from encroaching on key Arab nations such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.
This is the picture then: First, the US president's recognition that Iran, within 13 years, will be ready to turn into a nuclear military power. What will supposedly prevent this is an ambiguous and loose inspection mechanism whose features are yet to be specified, to be conducted by the IAEA with a yet mysterious and non-specified link to the process of lifting the international sanctions at the UN Security Council.
Secondly, the international sanctions on Iran will be gradually lifted at the Security Council in parallel with the gradual implementation of nuclear commitments -- in the Obama administration's view. In the view of Tehran and a number of European capitals, however, the sanctions will be lifted as soon as the nuclear deal is signed. No matter how many ways the agreement can be interpreted, the countries gearing up to capitalize on the nuclear deal are ready to reap the spoils -- led by Russia, India, China, and Brazil, the so-called BRICS countries, which had for long appeased Iran and spared it from accountability on Syria and on the international resolutions Iran violated. The first milestone will be Russia's delivery of advanced air defense systems such as the S-300 to Iran, as soon as the sanctions are lifted.
At the level of the United States, lifting the sanctions is the purview of Congress and not just the US administration. Many in Congress consider that lifting the sanctions on Iran prematurely is tantamount to dropping a necessary "stick" to ensure Iran is honest about abiding by its commitments and pledges, and that this squanders the proverbial "carrot" at the same time.
Realistically speaking, the Obama administration in its eagerness to lift the US and international sanctions, is practically funding Iranian nuclear and regional ambitions, as represented by fighting the war in Syria, supporting the Iraqi militias, backing the arrogance of its ally Hezbollah, and arming the Houthis in Yemen where the US ally Saudi Arabia is fighting a fateful war.
Practically speaking, the Obama administration has told Tehran that it will remain silent and will not mind the Iranian regional role, and has signaled to it on the ground that Tehran remains a de-facto ally in the US-led war on ISIS.
In reality, and following more than three decades of official estrangement, the US-Iranian relationship is now being normalized through this de-facto alliance and the blessing of the Iranian expansion in the Arab region, with the pledge to recognize the legitimacy of the regime in Tehran.
The Arab leaderships, especially Saudi leadership, have three months to effect a radical change in the equation of the American-Iranian-Arab relationship. Work must begin immediately in a way that goes beyond short-term actions, even if these appear to be qualitatively advanced.
Of course, it is significant that the US Department of Defence (Pentagon) stated the US air force has started operations to support the Saudi air force operating over Yemen, beginning with refueling in mid-air for Saudi fighters partaking in Operation Decisive Storm against the Houthis in Yemen. Washington has stressed that its military support for Decisive Storm will remain "limited", and will not reach the level of taking part directly in the air strikes, and will instead remain limited to intelligence and logistical support. This support has come late, but it remains worthwhile, especially if intelligence assistance helps pinpoint military sites to avoid civilian casualties, and if it helps end military operations and the return to political dialogue to reach a settlement.
However, it is imperative for the Arab leaderships to demand from the Obama administration more determination and insistence, especially with regard to showing firmness with Iran to compel it to stop sending military aid to the Houthis and cease its naval deployment in the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab. Any delay in such a determination would have disastrous consequences on Yemen and Decisive Storm, which the Arab coalition cannot afford to lose no matter what the cost is. This is a fateful battle for the forces of the coalition, including Saudi Arabia, and failure will lead to extremely dangerous regional repercussions.
President Barack Obama invited the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries -- Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman - to Camp David to give them reassurances regarding the anticipated nuclear deal. Oman has practically left the Arab-Gulf camp and is now designated neutral if not close to Iran in the equation. Nevertheless, the events in Yemen have brought Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar closer together, and opened a new door to inter-Gulf cooperation and a new strategy that could be up to the level of the challenges.
Washington will not take the Arab coalition, which included Egypt -- the largest Arab army -- seriously enough unless these countries come up with a tight plan with both a strategic tack and a tactical tack.
Washington will become further divided in the coming weeks and months, not only between Republicans and Democrats, or between Congress and the administration, but also at the level of the public opinion. The majority of Americans do not want war or anything resembling a war, and thus will welcome the proposals of the Obama administration, even if they entail a showdown with Israel over the Iranian issue. However, the Democratic Party and Democratic congressmen and women will not support the Obama administration automatically. They are open to a more profound understanding of the implications of the nuclear deal with Tehran.
What does not receive attention enough in America, however, is the regional dimension of the Iranian intervention, expansion, and encroachment in the Arab countries. This is a problem for which the Arab countries bear responsibility, a problem they should explain and highlight. The American media does not accept Arab opinion easily or coherently, be it from Arab officials or Arab commentators. This is a flaw that must not be ignored, especially since the Arabs have the capacity to address it.
More importantly, there should be an Arab strategy to deal with Congress without appearing to be at odds with the administration or to be undermining its jurisdictions. There is an important window that the Arabs must not fail to benefit from. America is divided, and there is nothing wrong about trying to explain the implications of the nuclear deal in the context of the policy of self-dissociation the US administration is pursuing vis-a-vis the Iranian adventures on Arab soil.
Then there is the ISIS and al-Qaeda factor. It is not logical for the Arab countries to ally themselves with the United States against ISIS and al-Qaeda without highlighting the importance of Arab participation in crushing these two terrorist organizations. The United States has stopped at the 9/11 terror attacks for which it blames Sunni Arabs. Therefore, there is a dire need to highlight the quality, quantity, history, and objectives of Arab participation in the war on ISIS and al-Qaeda, which US circles largely see as Sunni terrorism.
The United States understands the language of both immediate and strategic interests, and the Arab leaderships must speak this language fluently in light of the developments, and not with an archaic, rigid language.
As stated in an article in The Wall Street Journal by both Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, both of whom served in several posts in previous US administrations, if political controls are not added to nuclear controls, a deal that liberates Iran from sanctions risks furthering Iran's expansionist abilities. This is no joking matter.
Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi
RaghidaDergham.Com
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ISIS 'demand $30m ransom for Assyrian hostages'

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Reuters
Displaced Assyrians, who fled from the villages around Tel Tamr, gather outside an Assyrian Church in al-Hasaka city.
More than 250 Assyrian hostages held by Islamic State could be released in return for up to $30 million dollars.
The hostages were taken by ISIS militants during raids in a number of villages near Tel Hmar, south of the Khabour river in Syria, on 23 February. It is not known how many were taken, but estimates range between 250 to 300. A representative from A Demand For Action (ADFA), a group campaigning for the protection of religious minorities, told Christian Today that ISIS is now demanding $100,000 per individual for their release.
An official from the Assyrian Church of the East, Younan Talia, who is invovled in the negotiations confirmed the figure during an interview on an Assyrian radio station in Australia. The negotiations have been ongoing for weeks alongside third-party Syrian Sunni Muslims from the region who are mediating.
Spokesperson for ADFA, Diana Yacqo, told Christian Today that they are worried ISIS will continue to demand even more money, "not just for our hostages but this could open new doors for them. It's over a month now, and they are still captives," she said.
"The international out cry from international leaders has been silent. It lasted about a week, and that is concering. Their [the hostages'] safety is the first priorty and responsible authorties should be working around the clock to make the situation a safe one."
"They [ISIS] know we cannot come up with this kind of money, so they are hoping other groups and countries will come up with the money," an Assyrian official warned Fox News.
ISIS previously released 23 Assyrian hostages from Tel Goran and Tel Shamiran villages. The circumstances under which they were set free are unknown, but British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the captives were processed through a Sharia court. Most are believed to have been at least 50 years old, though there was at least one six-year-old girl among the freed.
Head of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, Osama Edward, told Vatican Radio at the time that a tax levied on non-Muslims, known as jizya, had been paid.
Since the attack in February, ISIS has besieged several ancient Assyrian sites, including the Iraqi city of Nimrud, the village of Khorsabad, and Hatra, a 2,000-year-old city. On Easter Sunday, militants destroyed the Virgin Mary Church in Tel Nasri, Khabur. According to reports, the church was levelled in the attack.
An ancient branch of Christianity, the Assyrian Church of the East has roots dating back to the 1st century AD. Assyrian Christians speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and have origins in ancient Mesopotamia – a territory which spreads across northern Iraq, north-east Syria and south-eastern Turkey.
They are not in communion with the Orthodox Church communities, nor with the Catholic Church, and mainly follow East Syrian Rite liturgy.
At least 400,000 Assyrians fled Iraq between 2003 and 2009, and many more left when ISIS began its insurgency last year. Campaigners now fear that those who remain are facing another genocide at the hands of the Islamist group.
Ninson Ibrahim, Senior Syria Advisor for ADFA, told Christian Today that Assyrians could be forced out of their homeland all together.
"It started in Iraq and now it's also happening in Syria, and the Assyrian people have their roots in Iraq and Syria, but most have now fled the Middle East," she said. "So maybe they won't be extinguished, but they will definitely not be living in their home countries."
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Russian warns of ISIS' influence in Russia | News , World

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MOSCOW: A senior Russian intelligence official has warned of the potential influence of ISIS inside Russia.
Gen. Sergei Smirnov, deputy chief of the FSB intelligence agency, was quoted by Russian wires Friday as saying that the group is "beginning to infiltrate" terrorist organizations focused on operating inside Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus.
Russian federal forces have fought two separatist wars in Chechnya, which has become more stable under the watch of Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. The Islamist insurgency has since spread to other North Caucasus provinces where bombings and killings of law enforcement officers have become almost a mundane occurrence.
Smirnov says intelligence agencies estimate that about 1,700 Russian nationals have gone to join ISIS to fight in Syria and Iraq.
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US bombs ISIS in Saddam Hussein's hometown after Iran-backed offensive stalled

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Iraq March, 2015REUTERS/StringerA military vehicle, belonging to Shi'ite fighters known as Hashid Shaabi, burns after being hit by Islamic State militants, during clashes in northern Tikrit, March 11, 2015.
(Reuters) - U.S.-led coalition warplanes launched their first airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Tikrit on Wednesday, officials said, coming off the sidelines to aid Iraqi forces fighting alongside Iran-backed Shi'ite militia on the ground.
The decision to give air support to the Tikrit campaign pulls the United States into a messy battle that puts the U.S.-led coalition, however reluctantly, on the same side of a fight as Iranian-backed militia in a bid to support Iraqi forces and opens a new chapter in the war.
It also appeared to represent at least a tacit acknowledgment by Baghdad that such air power was necessary to wrest control of the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Islamic State fighters, after its attempts to go it alone stalled.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi forces would prevail with the support of "friendly" countries and the international coalition, including arms, training and aerial support.
"We have opened the last page of the operations," Abadi said on state television.
shi'ites tikritThaier Al-Sudani/ReutersShi'ite fighters and Sunni fighters, who have joined Shi'ite militia groups known collectively as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), allied with Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, gesture next to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's palaces in the Iraqi town of Ouja, near Tikrit March 17, 2015.
Reuters first reported the U.S.-led coalition's expected entry into the Tikrit campaign, disclosed by Iraq's president in an interview and later confirmed by a U.S. official. It has been carrying out strikes elsewhere in Iraq since August.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American warplanes and aircraft from allied nations were striking up to a dozen targets in Tikrit, selected after coalition surveillance flights.
A second U.S. official stressed that Washington in no way would coordinate with the Iranian-backed militia or seek to empower them in Iraq, even if those fighters might share the same narrow tactical objective as Iraqi forces in Tikrit.
Army Lieutenant General James Terry JSOC Pentagon Inherent ResolveWikimedia CommonsArmy Lieutenant General James L. Terry briefs reporters at the Pentagon on December 18, 2014.
In language that appeared to intentionally omit the Iranian-backed militia, Lieutenant General James Terry, the senior U.S. commander of the U.S.-led coalition, said the strikes were aimed at enabling "Iraqi forces under Iraqi command."
"These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure," Terry said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
As coalition aircraft entered the fray, Iraqi forces pounded Islamic State positions in Tikrit, resuming an offensive that had stalled for almost two weeks. Two military officers in the city confirmed Iraqi forces were shelling the militants. Iraq tank Tikrit assaultThaier Al-Sudani/ReutersA tank of Iraqi security forces in the town of al-Alam on March 10, 2015. Iraqi troops and militias drove Islamic State insurgents out of al-Alam that day, clearing a final hurdle before a planned assault on Saddam Hussein's home city of Tikrit in their biggest offensive yet against the ultra-radical group.
"Military operations in Tikrit started at around 9 pm local time by pounding Islamic State positions with artillery, mortars and Katyusha rockets," said provincial council member Hadi al-Khazraji.
More than 20,000 troops and allied Shi'ite paramilitary groups have been taking part in the offensive and have suffered heavy casualties on the edge of the city, 100 miles (160 km) north of Baghdad.
The Iraqi military had lobbied for U.S.-led coalition air strikes while Shi'ite paramilitary forces opposed such a move. One militia leader, Hadi al-Amiri, boasted three weeks ago that his men had been making advances for months without relying on U.S. air power.
The mainly Sunni city of Tikrit was seized by Islamic State in the first days of their lightning strike across northern Iraq last June.
iraqREUTERS/Thaier Al-SudaniShi'ite fighters known as Hashid Shaabi walk as smoke rises from an explosives-laden military vehicle driven by an Islamic State suicide bomber which exploded during an attack on the southern edge of Tikrit March 12, 2015.
If Iraq's Shi'ite led-government retakes Tikrit, it would be the first city wrested from the Sunni insurgents and would give Baghdad momentum for a pivotal stage of the campaign: recapturing Mosul, the largest city in the north.
Still, the offensive raised thorny questions for American war planners, who have long sought to distance themselves from the acknowledged risks that heavy involvement of the Shi'ite militia on the ground could heighten sectarian tensions in the Sunni city of Tikrit.
It also raises questions about whether the U.S.-led coalition can maintain the extent of operational control of the battlefield that it needs with so many Shi'ite militia on the ground.
(Additional reporting by Richard Mably, Samia Nakhoul, Ned Parker in Baghdad; Editing by Dominic Evans and Ken Wills)
This article originally appeared at Reuters. Copyright 2015. Follow Reuters on Twitter.
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