Archive for June, 2014

“Devised a way for Congress to unravel any potential agreement”

30/06/2014

In an exclusive Foreign Policy blog post, the tactics for those attempting to derail the ongoing nuclear discussions with Iran has been revealed.

The report begins, “Though the United States has yet to secure a final deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, an influential pair of hawks in Washington have already devised a way for Congress to unravel any potential agreement after the ink is dry. The plan, obtained by Foreign Policy, calls on Congress to oppose the lifting of financial sanctions on Iran until it proves that its entire financial sector, including the Central Bank of Iran, has sworn off support for terrorism, money-laundering, and proliferation. Some of those topics haven’t been part of the ongoing U.S.-led talks with Tehran, which means that linking sanctions relief to those conditions after a deal is made would likely drive the Iranians off the wall, say experts. Tehran would likely see any such measures as moving the goalposts and as evidence that the United States wasn’t genuinely interested in backing up its end of the deal”.

The whole point of the strategy, as the report notes, is to destroy the agreement irrespective of the long term strategic costs to America, or the world.

The report reveals that “The two authors of the plan — Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, and Richard Goldberg, the former senior foreign-policy advisor to Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk — each played pivotal roles in shaping the Iran sanctions debate. They both say the paper is simply a guide for how to keep sanctions in place that will deter and punish Iran if it doesn’t comply with a final deal. Either way, the detailed strategy is of keen interest to advocates on both sides of the Iran debate given the immense political clout its authors enjoy on Capitol Hill and the significant role Congress will have in approving, modifying, or rejecting a final deal”.

The article goes on to mention that “A regular on Capitol Hill, Dubowitz provided expert testimony on the Iran talks before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in November and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June. His warnings about the folly of Obama’s “bad deal” with Tehran and the inherent deceptiveness of the Iranian regime were often cited by hawkish lawmakers in both parties, including the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). “He’s very well informed, with a team of Wall Street consultants who contribute to [his] analytical materials on the Iranian economy,” said Maloney. Goldberg, the onetime Kirk aide, operated skillfully inside the Senate last year to build bipartisan support for a bill that would have imposed new sanctions on Iran if it failed to live up the terms of the interim deal signed in Geneva last year. The White House derisively referred it as a “march to war” and President Obama threatened to veto it, but Goldberg pressed the flesh in December and January and managed to get some 60 senators to co-sponsor the legislation”.

The blog post adds that “Titled “Smart Relief After an Iran Deal,” the duo’s new paperdetails what sanctions Congress should maintain after Iran and six world powers (Britain, France, Germany, China, the United States, and Russia), otherwise known as the P5+1, reach a final agreement. To be sure, it’s far from certain that the P5+1 will be able to strike a final deal in Vienna by the July 20 deadline. Negotiators are hashing out a permanent deal designed to restrain Iran’s nuclear program while unwinding international sanctions imposed on the regime. Last week diplomats left the Austrian capital with a working document, the first concrete advance in months. Negotiators said all sides appeared to be working in good faith and the seven nations agreed to a two-week marathon session from July 2 to July 15″.

The fact that two people have come up with a “plan” that appeals to a certain constitutency in Washington should not be allowed to derail the talks that are, as the report suggests, progressing.

Importantly the post adds, “Although many obstacles remain to a final deal, the possibility of an agreement only heightens the importance of Congress’s role in the nuclear talks. The Obama administration is free to negotiate a deal of its choosing and can issue temporary waivers exempting Iran from certain sanctions, but only Congress has the authority to lift the measures once and for all — a key component to any deal, say experts. That’s where Dubowitz and Goldberg come in. A major tenet of their strategy is to maintain restrictions on Iran’s oil exports and limit what the government can do with its oil revenues”.

The report then adds vitally, “Given the widespread corruption that poisoned the Iraq program, Maloney, the Brookings expert, questioned the new plan’s wisdom. ‘I can’t imagine that anyone sees the Iraqi sanctions regime as a model for success,’ she said. ‘Even if Tehran might agree to such provisions, it would be politically suicidal; control of oil production, exports, and revenues is the wellspring of Middle Eastern nationalism.’ Dubowitz rejected the comparison, noting that his preferred plan is based on the existing oil revenues escrow program, would not be administered by the United Nations and allows Iran to purchase a much wider array of goods than the oil-for-food program did”.

It concludes, “Dubowitz is well aware that the administration is likely to fall short of his strategy paper, should it manage to secure a deal in the first place. Regardless, he says he wants to arm members of Congress with the information they need to scrutinize any final deal. “We think the administration’s deal should be measured against some standard with respect to how sanctions relief should be done and this is our contribution to that framework,” he said in an interview. Though some are skeptical of the validity of Dubowitz’s and Goldberg’s views, no one questions their relevance in the public debate. If negotiators manage to complete a deal, their voices will only grow louder in the weeks to come”.

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The ISIS cliphate

30/06/2014

Jihadist militant group Isis has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, on the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. It also proclaimed the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph and “leader for Muslims everywhere”. Setting up a state governed under strict Islamic law has long been a goal of many jihadists. Meanwhile, Iraq’s army continued an offensive to retake the northern city of Tikrit from the Isis-led rebels. The city was seized by the insurgents on 11 June as they swept across large parts of north-western Iraq. In a separate development, Israel called for the creation of an independent Kurdish state in response to the gain made by the Sunni rebels in Iraq”.

The state of the Middle East

30/06/2014

aaron david miller writes about the state of the Middle East, from Syria, Iraq and ISIS.  He opens, “Syria is melting down, and now Iraq is on the verge too. Refugees and radicals flood the region with abandon. Sunnis and Shiites — each with their respective patrons — face off. Even in Israel and the Palestinian territories, violence threatens. Also, Iran with nukes? Terrorists with access to money, weapons, and passports threatening Europe and America with bloody jihad? There are those possibilities too”.

He goes on to argue sensibly, “Before jumping off the deep end — as happened with the analysis of the Ukraine crisis as a new Cold War, or after 9/11 when America launched a social science project that cost more than a trillion dollars by invading Iraq — one must reasonthings out a bit more. Spinning doomsday scenarios serves no one’s interest. Indeed, it interferes with the kind of cool, rational analysis that usually leads to good decisions, or at least to avoiding the worst ones. There may be no good options here, but there are ways to stop the slide and avert disaster. And that first requires recognizing some key realities — and adjusting expectations downward”.

Miller writes about the problems facing Iraq, “America couldn’t fix it in 2003; and it certainly cannot fix Iraq now. That is, if “fixed” means creating a unified, stable, and productive polity where everyone shares power fairly and happily. Sure, it may matter some if Nouri al-Maliki stays or goes. But on balance, what Iraq is and where it is — that is, its demography and geography — will continue to undermine any ecumenical vision one might have for it. But that doesn’t mean Iraq as we know it will fracture, disintegrate, or merge into a seamless sectarian mess with Syria. Iraq’s neighbours and the Iraqis themselves (who do have a sense of national identity) will want to keep the fiction alive for their own reasons. Iraq may never be unified, but it doesn’t have to be a failed state either. Most likely, assuming that the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) can be checked and a modicum of political reform occurs”.

He rightly goes on to dismiss the long term threat posed by ISIS, “To be sure, ISIS is a terrifying phenomenon. Right now, it seems like the group is on a veritable run — depicted like a cross between the Mongol horde taking over the Middle East or Hitler rolling throughout Western Europe. It faces little opposition and thus rules by default where it has seized control. And it’s hard to predict how it will evolve. The dysfunction of the Iraqi state, and the catastrophe in Syria, have given it a foothold in both places. But it is unlikely that it will come to rule Syria or Iraq in full, let alone fulfill its fantasy of creating an Islamic caliphate. Its own character and ideology of Muslim hating-and-baiting will limit its influence, even as it feeds on Sunni disenfranchisement. Should ISIS try to govern territory in a more structured way, it will offer up a physical address, which will make it vulnerable to military strikes. And while it may welcome those attacks as a way to feed its jihad, the group’s cruelty and arbitrary character will sooner or later create contradictions that will make it vulnerable to Sunni dissent and opposition from within. As a recent International Crisis Group study points out, ISIS has time and again proved to be its own worst enemy”.

Miller goes on to argue however that “it is likely that ISIS will become a major counterterrorism problem for the region, and perhaps for Europe. As for striking America, that’s a more complicated issue. It didn’t work out so well for al Qaeda’s central operations, as recent history shows”.

The fate of Assad, he argues is that “If the 2013 U.S.-Russian chemical weapons agreement was a life preserver for Assad, the rise of ISIS has been a gift that will keep giving for quite a while. Assad now seems vindicated and strengthened. Not only is the world attention diverted from getting rid of him, his allies, particularly Russia, will increasingly argue that kicking him out simply can’t happen — as a matter of security. Does the world want Syria taken over by ISIS? A rough alignment is now emerging in which Russia, Iran, Iraqi Shiites, and Syrian Alawis are the lesser of the evils in play, even a front line of defense against the jihadi hordes. The United States isn’t going to ally with this cabal directly. But it certainly isn’t going to be calling for Assad’s demise, either. Indeed, the United States is in peculiar bind: Assad’s brutality has helped make ISIS possible, but the regime is now moving to constrain the group. So Washington is left in the anomalous position of supporting moderate Sunni elements against Assad, while going after ISIS”.

On the question of Iran being an ally, Miller writes that “Iranian and U.S. goals aren’t compatible in Iraq or in Syria: Washington would like a coherent, independent Iraqi state, for instance, while Tehran wants a weak one under Shiite auspices that it can influence. But in the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ game that is now afoot, Tehran must be seen as another way to check ISIS’s advance It can do this partly by pressing Maliki to reform, and partly by trying to control other Shiite militias so that an all-out sectarian war can be avoided. Talk about letting the fox guard the henhouse. The price may well be conceding, or even validating, Iranian sway in Iraq. But that was more or less inevitable anyway: Iraq is in Iran’s sphere of influence, not America’s. That doesn’t mean Washington has to roll over, but it does mean it needs to be realistic about what it can actually do, and what sort of unlikely partners it will need to accomplish the things it cannot do alone”.

Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova look West

30/06/2014

The European Union has signed far-reaching trade partnership deals with three former Soviet republics – Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. The official title of each one is “Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area”. They commit the countries to EU standards, including new customs regulations, quality controls and free market competition. Economically these eastern neighbours of the EU have lagged behind other former communist bloc countries which joined the EU in the past decade. So economic integration is a big step towards possible EU membership in future. Russia is suspicious of these agreements – it is trying to draw ex-Soviet republics into its own customs union.

Just like Iraq?

30/06/2014

A blog post from Foreign Policy asks if Afghanistan will become like Iraq. It opens, “The Shadow of Iraq’s post-war failure is creeping over Afghanistan as it crumbles into political crisis just months ahead of the drawdown of U.S. military support. The sight of armored personnel carriers on the main roads of Kabul coupled with urging from the United Nations for supporters of presidential candidates to stop their calls for civil disobedience raised the specter of a slide into chaos. For days it has seemed that President Hamid Karzai would not be leaving his palace any time soon. The prospect of Afghanistan heading for its own version of the meltdown happening in Iraq — insurgents filling a vacuum created by the departure of American troops; domestic security forces incapable of doing their job; and a government lacking legitimacy for the whole population — has clashed with hopes for a trouble-free presidential election and a smooth segue into sovereignty”.

The writer goes on to add, “The decision by one of the candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, to challenge the official bodies overseeing Afghanistan’s presidential election followed an announcement by the Independent Election Commission within hours of the polls closing on June 14 that seven million people had voted in a country with only rudimentary methods of collating national data. Some numbers appeared to exceed population estimatesfor certain regions. Abdullah polled well in the first round of voting, on April 5, but fell short of the majority needed for a victory. His rival, Ashraf Ghani, was trailing but appeared to pick up support in the June 14 run-off, later attributed to alleged massive vote rigging, or ‘sheep stuffing,’ as the local parlance would have it. With a winner due to be announced on July 22, Abdullah said he had evidence of fraud in Ghani’s favour and demanded that vote counting cease: tapes of phone conversations he alleges prove his accusations are true. His team is adamant that, rather than use the law to flag irregularities once the count was complete, he made the right decision to disrupt the process and throw the entire presidential contest  — and the country’s political stability — into doubt”.

It goes on “Afghans were already watching developments in Iraq before Abdullah’s drama began unfolding. International troops have protected Karzai and his government –reelected in a 2009 poll (also tainted by extensive fraud) after Abdullah refused to go to a second round — for more than a decade, and that responsibility will fall to Afghan security forces on Jan. 1, 2015. The Afghan National Army suffers high attrition, drug addiction and illiteracy, and low morale. Antonio Giutozzi, of King’s College London, said in a report released by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit in May, that “a serious political crisis at the top (for example, following the 2014 presidential elections) would weaken state legitimacy further and seriously damage morale in the ANA.” Like Iraq’s forces, Afghanistan’s military and police were built by the occupying powers on a model they created. The same teams that trained the Iraqi security forces have worked in Afghanistan, where salary payments are unreliable and the government’s lack of revenue sources to replace the international military and aid flows could lead to a rise in defections to the insurgency, which pays in cash”.

The article goes on to mention, “The terrorist group ISIS is exploiting that dissatisfaction with the Baghdad government to set Sunni against Shia. Kurds, for their part, are defending their territory in the north. Nechirvan Barzani, the Kurdish prime minister, has said the country could fragment, raising the possibility of the northern Kurdish territory moving closer to the West, and the south coming under intensifying Iranian control. Karzai told the BBC this month that what is happening in Iraq could never happen in Afghanistan. ‘Never. Not at all. We are a united country.’ He cited the will of the Afghan people and the performance of the Afghan security forces in keeping the insurgency at bay. Afghanistan’s potential fault lines are largely ethnic, rather than religious. Abdullah is of mixed Tajik and Pashtun background and has strong support from the largely Tajik north thanks to leaders such as the governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor, a former Tajik mujahedeen commander who openly campaigned for him”.

Interestingly he writes “Ghani, a Pahstun, is expected to continue Karzai’s effort to broker peace with the Taliban, and thus is seen as a Taliban sympathizer who could lead a Pashtun takeover of the government, according to a Kabul-based journalist who asked not to be identified. Ghani pulled in the bulk of the Uzbek vote through his running mate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek leader with a reputation for brutality. Atta and Dostum are long-time rivals. Ghani could have benefited, according to reports, from a higher turnout in the second round among Pashtuns in south and east. There are unconfirmed reports that some former anti-Taliban resistance groups, mainly Tajiks, in the north are arming in preparation for a fight against any Pashtun takeover of the electoral process. One observer of Afghan politics, speaking anonymously, said Abdullah, in effectively accusing Karzai, a Pashtun, of mobilising his formidable political resources in Ghani’s favour, has poked a hornet’s nest that has compromised not only the election process, but potentially a peaceful transition of the presidency and a well-ordered move from occupation to sovereignty”.

The similiarities are manifold and the author continues, “ISIS has proved that lack of governance creates a vacuum for insurgents and terrorists to fill. The Taliban did so after Afghanistan’s civil war but it is unlikely they could do the same today: Not only do they not have public support, they appear to be struggling financially. Where ISIS has been robbing banks and picking up oil assets as it goes, the Taliban have been extending the begging bowl. In April they admitted they were ‘in dire need of financial assistance from the Muslim brothers worldwide for its military and non-military expenditures.’ Karzai is a clever political tactician who can point to many achievements, not least holding the country together, and appears determined to end the war with a limited role for the Taliban. He has appeared willing to sacrifice some of the gains of the past decade — women’s rights, free media — for peace”.

It concludes, “The situation in Kabul was described to me as ‘volatile’ by the Afghan journalist, who also points out that there are still tens of thousands of foreign troops in the country, a possible bulwark against violence though, the academic said, ‘it’s not likely they’d get involved, outside Kabul, if factional fighting did break out.’ The post-2014 political landscape of Afghanistan is unclear, but this does not presage a descent into the terrorism engulfing Iraq and threatening its neighbours. Rather, it appears that Karzai’s man, with the tacit support of his most important sponsors, will prevail and give him the chance to bring a lasting, albeit conditional, peace to his country and lay down that legacy he so desperately seeks”.

100 years ago today

28/06/2014

100 years ago today HI&RH Archduke Franz Ferdinand was murdered. His death brought destruction to not only Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia but also to their royal houses and led to the disaster of the Russian Revolution, Hitler and the Cold War.

Rouhani fights the media

28/06/2014

There has been much discussion on the nature of the regime in Iran under President Hassan Rouhani. Some have argued that it is the same Iran, others have argued that it indirectly assists ISIS. The piece reports that the moderation of the President Dr Hassan Rouhani has been used against him, but that Rouhani has begun to fight back.

It begins “Earlier this spring, a documentary that claimed to provide an exclusive glimpse into the ‘real’ revolutionary past of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani began circulating around the country. Produced by the mysteriousShafagh Multimedia Group, a company believed to have ties to Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), I Am Rouhani was distributed on free DVDs, screened at major universities, and broadcast in segments on state television. It promised to tell the story of ‘five decades of Dr. Rouhani’s political, social, and revolutionary activities.’

The writer argues that “the movie attempted to make the case that the smiling Rouhani was, in fact, a hard-liner at heart. It claimed that he was involved in imposing mandatory veiling for women after the 1979 revolution, and that he had ordered a violent crackdown against students in 1999, while also engaging in traitorous secret talks with the United States during the Reagan era. It was a hack job — one intended to show Rouhani as a craven old apparatchik and destroy his image as a moderate among the millions of Iranians who voted for him. Within weeks of its release, the president’s friends and allies stepped in, canceling screenings and criticising the film in public. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani denounced it as ‘a big lie.’ With screenings quickly suspended, I Am Rouhani never reached the wide audience its producers may have hoped it would. But the film’s backers may have achieved their purpose: Rouhani was shaken enough that he addressed the film’s creators directly in a televised speech on April 29, just days after its release”.

The author adds that “state-run or state-affiliated media has long been a thorn in the side of moderate, reformist politicians. It pummeled former President Mohammad Khatami throughout his tenure, as he attempted to relax censorship and cut back on state intrusion into private lives, branding him a traitor to the revolution. In 2009, it slammed the protestors campaigning against what they called rigged presidential elections, portraying protest leaders as hooligans. And now, state media has trained its eye on Rouhani, the moderate president trying to resolve his country’s nuclear standoff with the West. I Am Rouhani was just one salvo from the hard-line publicity machine that has set about besieging the Iranian president. A wide network of online news outlets and media producers — many affiliated with the IRGC — have attacked the president’s cultural and diplomatic initiatives for promoting immorality and endangering revolutionary values, as well as bargaining away Iran’s rights to uranium enrichment”.

He cites further evidence, “The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the government-funded state broadcaster and one of the country’s most powerful institutions, has waged a particularly dedicated anti-Rouhani campaign. One early slight came last September, when the broadcaster arranged its coverage of the president’s trip to the U.N. General Assembly for the same time as a major soccer match, ensuring that many Iranians would miss what the Rouhani administration hoped to bill as a signature diplomatic success. Then, in February, the head of the IRIB — Ezzatollah Zarghami, a former IRGC general sanctioned by the European Union for human rights violations — attempted to block a live interview with Rouhani from hitting the airwaves. A short delay arose after Rouhani reportedly asked for the antagonistic interviewer IRIB had sent to be replaced, and Zarghami responded by suspending the interview for an hour”.

Still further he adds, “An array of hundreds of hard-line news websites and daily newspapers also peck at Rouhani on a daily basis. In January,Kayhan — a newspaper run by the hard-line figure Hossein Shariatmadari, who has ties to the intelligence services —accused Rouhani in an editorial of deceiving the Iranian public over the course of the nuclear negotiations. The article compared the ongoing nuclear talks with the Battle of Siffin, a seventh-century Muslim civil war in which a deadlocked negotiation was only resolved by an all-out attack”.

The interesting point however is that “Unlike former President Khatami, who simply ignored these relentless attacks when in office, Rouhani appears to be successfully fighting back. In an interview on IRIB shortly after taking office, the president accused the broadcaster of ‘giv[ing] voice to radical forces and opposition, broadcasting their news and damaging the reputation of the government in people’s eyes.’ In February, when IRIB sent what the president believed was a hostile journalist to interview him, Rouhani cancelled. But Rouhani’s attempt to quiet the hard-line media has also apparently won the backing of a higher power. A flurry ofaccounts from Iranian officials and news media suggest that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself has stepped into the fray, ordering hard-line news outlets to stand down. Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said in a speech this month that Khamenei had grown dismayed with the media’s ‘spreading of lies’ and had ‘issued a stern warning to the media responsible’ — and, when that didn’t work, summoned the unnamed outlet’s leadership”.

He ends, “a July 20 deadline to reach an agreement looms. Should Rouhani and his negotiators fail — or should Khamenei either change his mind on backing a deal, or decide the government no longer needs protection — the president might once see the gloves really come off. If that happens, he may find that a low-budget documentary was the just the beginning”.

Syria helps Iraq

28/06/2014

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of Iraq has told the BBC he supports an air strike on Islamist militants at a border crossing between Iraq and Syria. Military and rebel sources say the strike took place inside Iraq, at the Qaim crossing, although Mr Maliki said it was carried out on the Syrian side. Mr Maliki also said the militants’ advance could have been avoided if US jets had been delivered more quickly. Isis and its Sunni Muslim allies seized large parts of Iraq this month.Iraq has been receiving support from Iran, with whom its Shia Muslim leaders have close links”.

Rethinking Syria

28/06/2014

It seems that at last, President Obama is beginning to signal a rethink of his failed Syria “policy”. A report in the Wall Street Journal notes that the near defeat of the Iraqi army is starting to lead to a reevualation in policy. It opens “The Sunni militant advance in Iraq has reignited a debate in the Obama administration over its policy toward Syria, increasing pressure on the president to act more aggressively against a growing regional threat, according to current and former government officials. Some argue that any U.S. military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, in Iraq will fall short if it doesn’t hit the group’s major strongholds in neighboring Syria. ISIS now occupies territory on both sides of the border”.

The report adds “Several compared the ability of militants to easily cross from their Syrian sanctuaries into Iraq to that of extremists based in Pakistan who stage attacks on U.S. interests in neighboring Afghanistan. ‘Syria and Iraq are largely a single problem,’ said one senior defense official. ‘If we really get into this, you will have to look in to Syria to solve some of these problems.’ The Obama administration is currently pushing for a political deal in Iraq that could inject confidence in the government in Baghdad. It hasn’t reached agreement on the value of airstrikes against Islamic militants, and instead sent small military assessment teams to help Baghdad regain the upper hand on the battlefield”.

To be clear, a political solution is the only long term strategy for Iraq’s survival and the value of airstrikes has been rightly questioned recently.

The piece goes on to mention that “The decisive ISIS victories across Iraq have forced the Obama administration to re-engage in two conflicts it has tried to keep at arm’s length. The U.S. pulled virtually all forces out of Iraq in 2011 and has taken only tentative steps to engage in Syria’s civil war, which pits groups including ISIS as well as U.S.-backed militants against President Bashar al-Assad. ‘There’s no question that developments in Iraq are changing the nature of the debate,’ said Julianne Smith, who served until last year as Vice President Joe Biden‘s deputy national-security adviser. ‘We’re in essence dealing with significant destabilization and the rise of a terrorist group that seems intent not only on taking on the leadership in Baghdad, but also playing a pretty terrifying terrorism role world-wide.’ Syria appears to be already making similar calculations from its own strategic vantage. Its warplanes on Tuesday struck targets in the western Iraqi province of Anbar on Tuesday, killing at least 50 people, according to local witnesses”.

Interestingly the article mentions that “President Barack Obama‘s national-security team discussed the idea of hitting ISIS in Syria after the militants seized key cities in northern Iraq earlier this month, but the administration isn’t ready to take such a dramatic step, officials said. Administration officials have indicated that any airstrikes against ISIS might mirror the approach used in places like Yemen, where U.S. drones have hit suspected militants”.

The piece notes the proposal of Robert Ford, “the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, said the U.S. should consider selective strikes against ISIS in Syria in conjunction with an accelerated effort to arm, train and equip moderate Syrian rebels battling the Sunni extremists for control. ‘I don’t see how you confront the Islamic State in Iraq and then stop at the border, especially when the border, de facto doesn’t really exist,’ said Mr. Ford, who left his post last month after growing disillusioned, he says, with American policy. He now serves as a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. Military officials who guided the U.S. through the war in Iraq are wary of jumping back in without considering the potential blowback. Hitting ISIS strongholds in Syria might allow Mr. Assad to focus more firepower on moderate Syrian forces backed by the U.S. That prospect has sparked some calls for America to target both ISIS and the Assad government if it decides to hit targets in Syria”.

Unsuprisingly the wife of Dr Fred Kagan is quoted, “‘It is essential to combine targeting [ISIS] in Syria with targeting the regime and supporting the moderate opposition,’ said Kim Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War and a longtime advocate for a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Legally, carrying out airstrikes in Syria might require the U.S. to argue that ISIS strongholds in Syria pose a danger to American interests. While Iraq has asked America to help it beat back ISIS, Syria hasn’t”.

The piece concludes, “One of the biggest risks is the possibility that U.S. airstrikes against Sunni militants could be viewed across the region as an attempt by America to tip the balance of power in favour of Shiite forces. That could imperil U.S. relations with key Middle East power brokers, including Saudi Arabia”, however this arguement can be easily rebutted as Saudi Arabia and many in the GCC have been calling for greater US involvement in Syria as well as moderate support for the regime of Egypt’s new president.

Abu Qatada acquitted

28/06/2014

A Jordan military court acquitted on Thursday radical preacher Abu Qatada in the so-called “Reform and Challenge” case related to a 1998 plot to carry out terrorist attacks including one on the American school in Amman. The military court in Amman ruled that the 53-year-old Abu Qatada was innocent for lack of evidence against him. Abu Qatada was extradited from Britain last year following a lengthy process to face trial in Jordan. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. The radical preacher will still be held as he faces a second set of terrorism charges, involving plots to attack Israelis, Americans and other Westerners in Jordan in 2000. The court said would deliver its verdict in that case in September. “The court did not find evidence to support charges against Omar Mahmud Mohammed Otman (Abu Qatada) that he conspired in late 1998 to carry out a terror attack on the American school in Amman,” judge Ahmad Qatarneh said in a ruling”.

 

Iran and ISIS

28/06/2014

An interesting piece argues that Iran is funding ISIS. It begins controversially “‘There has never been any doubt in my mind that elements within Iran’s security services have facilitated ISIS,’ Col. Derek Harvey told Foreign Policy, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, a terrorist network-cum-jihadist army that has now taken over territory in Syria and Iraq that, when combined, is roughly the size of Jordan”.

The article goes on to note “Harvey, a retired Army intelligence officer and senior Central Command advisor, was emphatic that any solution for containing the rising threat of ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway group, must foreclose on the possibility of U.S.-Iranian collusion. His comments were echoed by two other high-ranking U.S. military officials who served extensively in the Iraq theater in the last decade and believe that Iran was the principal spoiler for American-led reconstruction efforts after the fall of Saddam Hussein. These reminders from Iraq war veterans come at a time when debate rages in the U.S. policy establishment and commentariat over whether or not the Obama administration should adopt an ‘enemy of my enemy’ logic in Iraq and work with Washington’s 30-year foe in Tehran”.

The writer goes on to mention “Secretary of State John Kerry floated this idea in an interview on June 16 with Katie Couric, saying, ‘We’re open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and ability of the government to reform.’ President Barack Obama, in remarks delivered on June 19, seemed to rule out a direct military coordination with the Islamic Republic but nevertheless struck a similar chord of possible future cooperation. ‘Iran can play a constructive role if it is helping to send the same message to the Iraqi government that we’re sending, which is that Iraq only holds together if it’s inclusive,’ the commander-in-chief said, before adding that Iran’s ‘hot and heavy’ military support for the Assad regime has gravely worsened conditions in Syria — implying that what is transpiring in Iraq now is spillover from that conflict next door. Perhaps not so surprisingly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also seemed amenable to an entente cordiale with the Great Satan. In a televised address on Iranian state media broadcast on June 14, he appeared to invite U.S. military intervention in Iraq to stem the ISIS assault and presented (not for the first time) Iran as a partner in what was once known as the global war on terror: ‘We all should practically and verbally confront terrorist groups.’ Yet American veterans of the decade-long Iraq war and occupation say that the idea is both preposterous and dangerous. Iran, they maintain, has long played a double game in Mesopotamia and the Levant, both enabling Sunni extremists to infiltrate countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and then swooping in as the only safeguard heralded against the very forces they helped unleash”.

The author then goes on to note what has been suspect for many years, that Iran was funding groups that attacked US troops while in Iraq in the early 2000s. To say however that these groups were Sunnis seems, as has been said before, far fetched for a number of theological and pratical reasons.

The writer adds, “Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militia groups, has also noted that the Shiite militants recruited and trained for service in Syria have been returning to Iraq since last January, since roughly around the time that ISIS first invaded Anbar province and seized control of Fallujah and much of Ramadi, the provincial capital. Smyth argues that although they have been enlisted under the pretext of ‘protecting’ Shiite holy sites and shrines, this is a mere dog-whistle for rallying sectarians to prop up the Assad and Maliki regimes. Writing for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he noted that in January and again in March, two such militia groups — Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (LAFA) and its constituent, the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) — ‘were described as ‘protectors of holy sites in Syria and Iraq,’ including the Hadi al-Askari shrine in Samarra, Iraq. By mid-May, both groups had launched their own recruitment efforts to field fighters in Iraq. And by late May, the RRF had reportedly deployed to Abu Ghraib, an area with no prominent shrines to ‘protect.” Colonel Harvey argues that for these reasons, Washington must be wary of even objectively or temporarily aligning itself with the IRGC’s Suleimani, whose strategy thus far has been to retrench along sectarian lines — strengthening militia groups’ holds on Shiite-majority cities such as Karbala, Najaf, and Samarra — rather than taking the fight to ISIS in Sunni-majority areas”.

Now it is becoming more clear, Iran, he argues is not funding groups like ISIS but implicitly assisting them, “The fact that Iran has facilitated or underwritten al Qaeda in the Middle East is only counterintuitive to those with short memories, or who don’t bother to keep up with the U.S. government’s more recent assessments. The 9/11 Commission Report, for instance, found that al Qaeda and Iran formed an ‘informal agreement’ in Sudan in the early 1990s to ‘cooperate in providing support — even if only training — for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States.’ The commission also found that ‘there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers,’ although it found no evidence that Tehran was aware of the pending attack on the United States”.

He goes on to cite further evidence, “In his superb September 2013 profile of Qassem Suleimani, the New Yorker‘s Dexter Filkins cited former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who is otherwise portrayed in that piece as amenable to a U.S.-IRGC alliance, as saying that in 2003 Washington gained intelligence suggesting that al Qaeda agents in Iran were planning attacks against Western targets in Saudi Arabia. Crocker even flew to Geneva to warn the Iranians against such provocations, to no avail. Three residential compounds in Riyadh were subsequently blown up, along with 35 people, including nine Americans. Suleimani’s promiscuous enlistment of any and all enemies of the West eventually backfired, however, as the Sunni jihadists he insinuated into Iraq began waging terrorist attacks against Shiite targets, such as the al-Askari shrine in Samarra, which the IRGC commander is now intent on ring-fencing from ISIS”.

He goes on to mention “Iran’s cooptation of al Qaeda and Sunni extremists does not appear to have been severed since the bloodiest heights of Iraq’s civil war. Last February, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov, an Iranian-based Uzbek affiliated with the Islamic Jihad Union, which is accused of “provid[ing] logistical support and funding to al-Qa’ida’s Iran-based network.” That network, the Treasury designation stated, “facilitated the transfer of funds from Gulf-based donors to al-Qa’ida core and other affiliated elements, including the al-Nusrah Front in Syria [the official al Qaeda franchise there],” as well as helping Kuwaiti donors send money to jihadists in Syria. Added to this is the widespread allegation, shared by both the Syrian opposition and many defectors from the Assad regime, that Damascus purposefully released jihadists from the notorious Sednaya prison in 2011 as part of an “amnesty” designed to lay the foundation for terrorist structures in Syria. “The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their work, in their creation of armed brigades,” one former member of Syria’s Military Intelligence Directorate told the National newspaper in January”.

The piece closes, “The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, Martin Chulov, who traveled to Aleppo last month, observed that the now-abandoned ISIS headquarters in that provincial capital, situated inside a former hospital, remained untouched by barrel bombs or Scud missiles whereas, right next door, the headquarters of a more mainstream Islamist rebel brigade, Liwa al-Tawhid, had been powdered. Chulov also helpfully reported last week that, based on Iraqi security forces’ confiscation of ISIS digital material, the main sources of funding for the organization come from oil sales to the regime and the theft of priceless Syrian artifacts. Assad’s curiously selective “war on terror” has made the most formidable terrorist network in Syria unbelievably rich. None of the foregoing appears to have had much of an impact on the thinking of policymakers and analysts who are now advocating that Iran is our single best hope for containing ISIS”.

He ends, “As Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN’s State of the Union on June 15, “The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall.” In his most recent Washington Postcolumn, David Ignatius, who ironically relies on Colonel Harvey’s assessment of U.S. military options for Iraq, wrote, “The Saudis are going to have to swallow the reality that ISIS can’t be stopped without some cooperation with Iran.” It goes without saying that this is music to the ears of the mullahs who are now set on a carefully scripted propaganda campaign to end U.S. sanctions and lower the temperature on three decades of geopolitical isolation. Yet it is also deeply strident to those who spent a decade trying to save Iraq and have not quite forgotten or forgiven the one country that made their efforts all but impossible”.

“Overturning Utah’s voter-approved ban”

28/06/2014

Expanding a streak of legal victories for same-sex marriage, a federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that states may not deny same-sex couples their “fundamental right” to marry, overturning Utah’s voter-approved ban on such unions. Advocates for same-sex marriage hailed the 2-1 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit here in Denver as a historic win. It had special resonance because it sprang from a legal challenge that brought jubilant scenes of gay nuptials to the socially conservative Utah heartland in December, when a lower court first struck down the state’s ban. Since then, judges from Arkansas to Michigan to Idaho have tossed out prohibitions on same-sex marriages, with the most recent ruling coming Wednesday as a federal judge struck down Indiana’s ban. But legal observers said the Utah ruling was significant because it was the first time a federal appeals panel had found that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. “They desire not to redefine the institution but to participate in it,” Judge Carlos F. Lucero, nominated by President Bill Clinton, wrote in the majority opinion. Judge Jerome A. Holmes, nominated by President George W. Bush, joined Judge Lucero in striking down Utah’s ban, while Judge Paul J. Kelly Jr., a nominee of the elder President George Bush, dissented. The judges immediately stayed their ruling, and Utah’s attorney general, Sean Reyes, said his office would appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court. Numerous lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans are percolating through the legal system, and the Supreme Court could confront the issue next year”.

Obama needs a new policy

28/06/2014

David Rothkoopf writes that President Obama needs a new Middle East policy. This comes rightly after heavy and sustained criticism of his foreign policy.

He opens, “If there was a turning point in the presidency of George W. Bush, it came when he and his team finally accepted that their strategy in Iraq was not working and embraced the idea of the ‘surge.’ It prompted them to admit they were wrong and to adapt. This, as much as the strategy itself, was an important step forward, difficult politically, and the kind of adaptability required but not always seen in presidents. We are at a moment ripe for such a realization and a manifestation of flexibility for President Barack Obama. As it happens, it comes at almost precisely the same moment in his presidency as it did for President Bush and it has been triggered by similar events in the same country, by the same kind of people who forced the Bush team’s course correction”.

Rothkopf notes “The events are not unrelated, of course. Reasonable analysts are pointing out that the roots of the instability that wracks Iraq today can be traced not only to the Bush-era invasion of Iraq but also to the only-temporary benefits won by the surge and the failure of both Bush and Obama to address the deep political flaws in the Iraqi system earlier. But the current events in Iraq are not just a flashback. They are much more dangerous than the insurgency the Bush team eventually, and reluctantly, admitted had been gaining ground through 2005 and 2006. Because the militant extremists taking over multiple cities in Iraq represent a metastasizing of two once-distinct conflicts — that in Syria and that in Iraq — and an unprecedented threat to the entire region”.

He continues noting, “There are signs that the U.S. administration recognizes this is a watershed. So far they have responded roughly as they should have: After a few half-hearted and unpersuasive efforts to suggest this was not our problem, the president ordered naval assets into the region, 300 military advisors into Iraq, and has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to the region to help advance the kind of long-overdue political change in Iraq that is necessary to offer Sunnis a path to inclusion in their governance that the Maliki regime has systematically sought to deny them. These are good first steps, although the resolve driving each effort as well as the overarching strategy guiding them have yet to be seen or tested. With reports Sunday of ISIS doing more to literally rewrite the borders of the Middle East by taking over official checkpoints between Iraq and Syria and Iraq and Jordan, the United States and our allies must first recognize that this is not about Fallujah or Mosul or whether or not ISIS will attack Baghdad (it would be unnecessarily risky and a diversion of assets, according to security specialists I spoke to in the region). It is about the possibility that ISIS will succeed in creating either an extremist state encompassing part of Syria or part of Iraq, and with broader designs that threaten, among others, America’s vital and loyal ally, Jordan, with whom it would share a long border. Or, alternatively, whether endless inconclusive battles between ISIS and those attempting to push it back will lead to the creation of a Somalialike lawless region in the Middle East — a failed state that becomes a breeding ground for ills that will make the whole world suffer”.

He argues that the ISIS rampage through Iraq, “Given the dimensions of the threat, the United States must actively work with whomever it can to contain and then defeat ISIS. It is not, by any means, primarily a problem for the United States and local leadership — international collaboration is required. That’s always a tall order. But it is one of those rare moments when such cooperation is possible, provided there is some flexibility about who does what. As the president and Secretary Kerry have rightly noted, this is an effort that will require political, diplomatic, military, and economic cooperation. It is by no means a simple undertaking. For one thing, putting pressure on ISIS in Iraq could lead to just the latest illustration of the “squeezing the balloon” problem so often seen with terror groups. Tighten around them in Iraq and they may simply retreat again into Syria and wait out the current sense of urgency … while letting events in Baghdad take their course as Maliki increasingly relies on Iran (which will be easier to deal with than the United States), while shrugging off U.S. pressure to give Sunnis a voice, and doesn’t fix the political problems in his country, thus ensuring a permanent opening for Sunni champions including extremists like ISIS”.

He then rightly blames America for not getting involved in Syria and that the result of this inaction is the current mess in Syria. Rothkopf notes “a cautionary factor in all this is that while it is nominally in the interest of all to stop ISIS (including bitter rivals al-Nusra Front), the rise of ISIS is paradoxically of use to some of these actors. Some of those in ISIS were, in fact, released from prison by Assad precisely because he felt it would be useful to have an enemy to battle. He has used the existence of such enemies brilliantly from a PR perspective, playing the “devil you know” strategy to perfection. He has grown stronger as they have grown stronger. This has served Iran, Assad’s ally, as has the rise of ISIS in Iraq because it has enabled Maliki to turn to the Iranians for help in protecting Shiite shrines and even has the United States gently sniffing around the possibility of some kind of tacit, wink-wink, nod-nod collaboration with its onetime enemy in Tehran”.

With the region in the worst chaos in its history and Obama’s foreign-policy approval rating plummeting, they know he needs the Iran nuclear deal more than ever before. It’s the only brass ring out there for him. And since he also needs them to help out with Iraq and with managing Assad, well, let’s put it this way: They’ve got special leverage with the United States at the moment.

He goes on to argue “Ironically, the Obama administration has fallen into the same trap that the Bush team did midway through their time in office: They thought they could just declare victory and head home. As insurgents made gains, Bush had the courage to acknowledge that he needed to change strategy, tactics, and personnel. In 2005-2006, Bush moved his National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to the State Department and her deputy, Steve Hadley, to National Security Advisor, and improved the performance of both and their teams. He later replaced Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and dialed back the role of his vice president throughout. Bush also took a more hands-on role in dealing with the problem, engaging in weekly videoconferences with Iraq, going to meet with the chiefs in the Pentagon to discuss strategy, moving toward the problems he was having rather than denying them or moving away from them. The surge, of only temporary benefit, was just one of the benefits of this change of team and of attitude. During the last several years in office, Bush’s national security team achieved a great deal, from Africa to the emerging world to beginning to restore relationships damaged during the first term. It’s hard for political opponents of Bush to hear that. But it’s a fact and in my recent work on a book that is a history of national security decision-making during the past decade, I’ve found it is one accepted by policy professionals from both parties. Thus far, Obama has proven more reluctant to admit errors and adapt”.

He goes on to make the valid point that while the the foreign policy people have been moved their preformance “has actually gotten worse. The past year — from indecision over Egypt to the Syria fiasco last fall, from mishandling the NSA fiasco to the Bergdahl mess to rapidly disintegrating situations in Syria, Iraq, and Libya — has been among the misstep-prone in recent national security management history — perhaps the worst since the wrong decision to go into Iraq in the first place. It has been a dog’s breakfast of indecision, lack of coordination, interagency sniping, bad press messaging, incrementalism, and failure to take responsibility. Sometimes you can be so afraid to do stupid shit, you make a mess anyway. To revert to caricatures: Bush — famously unstudious — learned from his experience. Obama — famously the brilliant professor — now has the opportunity to show that the smartest kid in the class can learn from the inarticulate frat boy he denigrated. That will, however, require not only the courage to admit a change is needed, it will require the guts to deal with a complex situation in which there is no easy way in or out”.

He concludes, “Foreign policy is sometimes messy and action is sometimes required even when perfect outcomes are not apparent. This is one of those times. We should push for political change in Iraq but we also must prepare and accept the reality that we should use air power and intelligence to help push them back … and we must accept that reality in both Iraq and Syria. It is now time to accelerate aid for the Free Syrian Army and humanitarian assistance because it wins hearts and minds and it is the right thing to do in the face of the catastrophe Syrians and their neighbors face. It is time to identify and work with new Sunni leaders in Iraq and in Syria, likely a task in which we support our regional allies’ efforts on the ground. We should make it clear that we will not tolerate the violation of Jordanian sovereignty … and mean it this time. We should squeeze by every means possible the sources of support ISIS has, whether from oil smuggling or from individuals in countries that are supposed to be our allies. We should work with our allies in the region to develop a long-term vision for a stabilized region — not some fantasy of Jeffersonian democracy but something that will contain the disasters that are daily befalling the Middle East. This is a partial list. Disagree with some or several of the points. But acknowledge that it is a time for action, strategy, and collaboration in equal proportions … and all in greater proportions than we have done thus far. It is time to acknowledge that what we have been doing — and what we have not been doing — is not working”.

Juncker taunts Cameron

28/06/2014

David Cameron has been taunted over his lack of “common sense” by Jean- Claude Juncker, who hopes to be confirmed as president of the European Commission this week. Mr Juncker said that he expects to be appointed as commission president this week despite Mr Cameron’s bid to prevent his candidacy. It leaves Mr Cameron looking increasingly isolated in the EU. The Prime Minister has threatened to block Albania’s membership of the EU amid a growing row with EU leaders over Mr Juncker’s candidacy. Mr Cameron’s spokesman said that the Prime Minister said he would prevent Albania becoming an EU member if Brussels does not make major reforms to the rules around the free movement of migrants. Mr Juncker, an arch-federalist, insisted he will be “fair” to Mr Cameron when he becomes commission president. He said that he will be president by the end of the week “if common sense prevails”. In a clear rebuke to Mr Cameron he added: “It seems that common sense is very unequally distributed, so one will have to wait.” The Prime Minister will force an unprecedented vote on Mr Juncker’s candidacy in Brussels on Friday. He believes that if Mr Juncker becomes commission president, he will prevent important reforms to the EU that could benefit the UK ahead of an in-out referendum in 2017″.

Coulson found guilty

26/06/2014

Yesterday the British political world was rocked by the verdicts in the phone hacking trial. The two most infamous News International executives, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson have been tried for eight months. Brooks was acquitted while most damning of all, Coulson was found guilty and will be sentenced at a later date.

A report in the Telegraph writes “Andy Coulson has been beenfound guilty in the phone hacking trial, but his co-defendant, Rebekah Brooks has been cleared of all charges. Coulson, who edited the News of the World before becoming Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman, now faces prison after the jury returned a guilty verdict in dramatic scenes at the Old Bailey”.

It adds “Mrs Brooks, who edited The Sun and the News of the World before promotion to News International chief executive, was exonerated after being cleared of conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to corrupt public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She was overcome by emotion on hearing the verdicts and was taken away by the court matron”.

The report goes on to mention “The trial, which has been one of the longest and most expensive in British criminal history, heard allegations of how journalists working at the News of the World and The Sun, under the stewardship of Mrs Brooks and Coulson, routinely broke the law in pursuit of exclusive stories. Jurors were told how reporters at the News of the World hacked hundreds of public and private figures, including celebrities, politicians and even victims of crime”.

The report continues, “The court heard how private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who was paid more than £100,000 a year by the News of the World, also hacked members of the royal family including Princes William and Harry and Kate Middleton. Their arrests, along with other senior colleagues at News International, followed widespread public revulsion after it emerged that among those who were hacked was the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. Among those hacking victims who gave evidence at the trial were former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, the actor Jude Law and actress Sienna Miller. Retired managing editor Stuart Kuttner was also cleared of being part of a conspiracy dating back to 2000 and spanning six years”.

In what is obviously a weak attempt to repair the damage already done, David Cameron has apologised “Cameron has said that he is ‘profoundly sorry’ for employing Andy Coulson after his former director of communications was found guilty in the phone hacking trial. The Prime Minister said that he gave Coulson ‘a second chance and that was a bad decision’. He said that he takes ‘full responsibility’ for hiring Coulson, who edited the News of the World before becoming his official spokesman. Mr Cameron acknowledged that people would be ‘concerned’ at Coulson having worked for him in Downing Street both as leader of the opposition and Prime Minister, but stressed that there had been no complaints about his work in Downing Street. He said that before hiring Coulson, he had asked ‘questions about if he knew about phone hacking’ following his resignation from the News of the World”.

Yet it was George Osbourne that pushed for Coulson to be appointed despite Cameron being warned by Nick Clegg, Lord Ashdown, Lord Prescott as well as Andrew Tyrie and Alan Rusbridger. Still Cameron did nothing.

Coulson was appointed as Dowing Street Director of Communications six months after he resigned from the News of the World in the wake of the first phone hacking trial, which saw a private investigator as well as Clive Goodman, convicted of hacking phones of members of the royal household.

The report adds “Cameron said that Coulson had ‘said that he didn’t and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the job’. Speaking in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said: “I take full responsibility for employing Andy Coulson. ‘I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turned out not to be the case. ‘I always said that if they turned out to be wrong, I would make a full and frank apology and I do that today.’ He added: ‘I am extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision and I am very clear about that’  The Prime Minister added: ‘I would say that no one has made any complaints about the work that he did for me either as Leader of the Opposition or indeed here in Number 10 Downing Street, but knowing what I now know and knowing that those assurances weren’t right it was obviously wrong to employ him. I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision.’ George Osborne, the Chancellor, said: ‘We gave him a second chance but, knowing what we now know, it’s clear that we made the wrong decision.'”

Sensing a weak Cameron, as well as a chance to cover up for his own failings as leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband rightly lambasted Cameron, “The Labour leader launched a determined attack on David Cameron’s judgement after the Prime Minister’s former director of communications Andy Coulson was convicted of involvement in phone hacking while editor of the News of the World. Ed Miliband said that Mr Cameron had “brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street’ and his Government was ‘tainted’ as a result.’ In a televised statement, Mr Miliband said: “I think David Cameron has very, very serious questions to answer, because we now know that he brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street. ‘David Cameron was warned about Andy Coulson, the evidence mounted up against Andy Coulson. David Cameron must have had his suspicions about Andy Coulson, and yet he refused to act”.

In a seperate report that is likely to make things even harder for Cameron further questions need to be answered, “When Coulson was hired as the Tory leader’s media adviser, in late May 2007, he gave assurances to Cameron and to George Osborne that there was nothing more that they needed to know about the scandal, which had ended with the jailing four months earlier of Clive Goodman as a “rogue reporter” who had hacked royal phones without the knowledge of anybody else at the News of the World. Detailed evidence that directly challenged that claim was already in police hands at that time. A clear hint was available on the public record in comments made by the judge who had sentenced Goodman. But, according to senior Tory officials, Cameron made no attempt to seek a police briefing or to check the court record, even when he became prime minister and took Coulson into Downing Street. Cameron has been accused of employing Coulson in spite of his past in order to build a bridge to Rupert Murdoch”.

That is not the only issue for Cameron however, “Downing Street has been asked to explain whether Andy Coulson is the only senior press adviser to recent prime ministers to have been spared high-level security vetting. Lord Justice Leveson, whose judicial inquiry is examining relations between the government and the media, in particular News Corporation, said he wanted to find out whether the issue represented “a smoking gun”. The former head of the civil service Lord O’Donnell also told the inquiry that the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, should have known if his special adviser was giving feedback to News Corporation on its controversial £8bn takeover bid for BSkyB. The judge requested a full breakdown of the security vetting status of recent top Downing Street media advisers following revelations that the former News of the World editor received only mid-level security checks before starting work for David Cameron in government. O’Donnell was responsible for security vetting when Coulson became the prime minister’s director of communications in May 2010. He oversaw the decision not to subject Coulson to rigorous “developed vetting” (DV) checks that involve testing whether there is anything in an individual’s background that might make him or her vulnerable to blackmail. The Cabinet Office saidon Monday it was preparing a full list for the inquiry. Downing Street sources conceded it was likely to show that most of the previous incumbents of the role were subject to DV, or its equivalent, under earlier systems. Coulson was allowed to operate with a mid-ranking “security check” level of vetting that allows only supervised access to the most secret documents. He told the Leveson inquiry last week that he nevertheless had unsupervised access to top-secret files”.

Lastly, the Guardian, in yet another scoop has reported that “Rupert Murdoch has been officially informed by Scotland Yard that detectives want to interview him as a suspect as part of their inquiry into allegations of crime at his British newspapers. It is understood that detectives first contacted Murdoch last year to arrange to question him but agreed to a request from his lawyers to wait until the phone-hacking trial was finished. The interview is expected to take place in the near future in the UK and will be conducted “under caution”, the legal warning given to suspects. His son James, who was the executive chairman of News International in the UK, may also be questioned. News of the police move comes after an Old Bailey jury found Murdoch’s former News of the World editor Andy Coulson guilty of conspiring to hack phones, but acquitted his former UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks on all charges. The verdict on Coulson also means that Murdoch’s UK company is now threatened with a possible corporate charge, while the media owner also faces the prospect of a dozen more criminal trials involving his journalists as well as hundreds more legal actions in the high court from the alleged victims of phone hacking by the News of the World. Also, the verdict revives troubling questions for the prime minister about his links with Murdoch and his hiring of Andy Coulson. Questions are likely to focus on why Cameron employed Coulson without making effective checks and whether Cameron gave misleading evidence on oath about this at the Leveson inquiry”.

 

 

 

Targeting Haqqani network

26/06/2014

The Pakistan army for the first time announced that the Haqqani network in North Waziristan is also a target of the current military operation. “For the military, there will be no discrimination among Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) groups or Haqqani network, all terror groups are going to be eliminated,” DG ISPR Major General Asim Bajwa told a briefing at GHQ. He said so far 327 terrorists and 10 security personnel have been killed. The DG ISPR confirmed the presence of a large number of Uzbeks and other foreign militants in North Waziristan, saying that they will all be wiped out. “The Pakistan Army has requested the Afghan military to take action against terrorist hideouts in Kunar and Nooristan, but so far there has been no action taken,” General Bajwa said. The chief military spokesman said it is solely a Pakistan Army operation and not a joint Pak-US military offensive, adding that Pakistani security forces are capable of doing such an operation”.

The problem of airstrikes

26/06/2014

Daniel Byman has written that US airstrikes on ISIS are not the correct way to deal with the problem. Byman writes that “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) ismetastasizing, with its forces spreading across Iraq and threatening Baghdad. Much of the world is aghast as this brutal insurgent and terrorist group seems to grow in power, and much of the world is groping for ways to intervene effectively. Iraq’s hard-pressed regime has called on the United States to provide air power to help it defeat ISIS, and U.S. administration officials are weighing limited airstrikes. However, such a move would represent the triumph of tactics over strategy. A successful intervention would require far more massive and comprehensive measures, and in the absence of these, limited steps might be the worst of all worlds”.

Byman notes that air strikes seem ideal “They appear decisive, yet because they do not involve American boots on the ground, they limit risk. If the United States were to deploy fixed-wing aircrafts or drones, so the thinking goes, it could destroy some of ISIS’s forces. This would make it harder for ISIS to mass its troops and move quickly from one area to the next, as large formations and moving targets are particularly vulnerable to U.S. air power. Bombing might offer a morale boost for the beleaguered Iraqi forces, showing them that the United States and its powerful military are on their side. And back in Washington, a limited campaign would answer demands to “do something” about a deteriorating military situation in a country where Americalost over 4,000 soldiers and spent billions of dollars, offering an opportunity for the president to look strong”.

He does argue that air strikes are not the best way to deal with the threat from ISIS, “limited bombing has many downsides. Currently, the United States lacks the intelligence on Iraq and ISIS necessary to carry out anything more than opportunistic strikes. The United States has begun the process of gaining this intelligence, but getting a comprehensive picture will take months, if not longer. ISIS is an irregular army that does not rely on tanks or other mechanized forces to achieve victory, making it hard for air power to deal a decisive blow. Although its convoys flying black flags would be easy targets, it would quickly adapt — becoming more discreet and traveling in smaller units if U.S. aircraft threatened to attack”.

Byman makes the excellent point “If the Iraqi Army withers and runs when attacked, limited airstrikes will ultimately do little to push ISIS back. Air power can’t conquer territory by itself. Even in the best circumstances, airstrikes must be sustained to have a strategic effect. And strikes must work in tandem with advances on the ground, so Iraqi forces can move in and occupy any territory from which ISIS withdraws. If strikes are limited in duration, ISIS can simply lie low, camouflaging its forces among the civilian population and avoiding the offensive until the spotlight moves off Iraq, as it inevitably will. If its forces are hit in one area, it can simply reoccupy the territory when the bombing ends. The United States must be prepared to strike often and repeatedly if it is going to play a major role in pushing ISIS back. This could take months even if all goes well”.

He writes that the NATO invervention in Libya is illustrative, “The good news is that in Libya the opposition was able to stabilize the front with the help of NATO air power. However, pushing back Qaddafi’s forces required European special operations forces and the opposition to provide the necessary intelligence to call in airstrikes. Opposition forces then moved in on the ground to take the territory Qaddafi’s forces abandoned. Their morale was high as they believed they were fighting for a free Libya. Most importantly from a military point of view, the campaign took several months and involved over 25,000 sorties — a far more massive effort than what is being considered in Iraq. Making the problem even more complex is the interplay between Iraq and Syria, and the region as a whole. Al Qaeda in Iraq, which renamed itself ISIS (and, to add confusion, hassince been rejected by the al Qaeda core), began in Iraq but moved the core of its operations to Syria. This was both part of a genuine desire to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and because the group was hard-pressed in Iraq. As it regrouped and grew in Syria, it expanded operations in Iraq, culminating in the recent offensive. Pushing ISIS back in Iraq is beneficial, but as long as it retains a base in Syria this is only a short-term solution”.

He adds later, “A few surgical strikes to hit ISIS forces and leaders is not enough. A truly successful intervention would require far more time and effort on the part of the United States. The good news is that there may be more time than the ominous headlines of Baghdad’s imminent fall suggest. ISIS has so far advanced primarily through Sunni Arab areas, and it will face a much tougher fight as it approaches Baghdad and the Shiite heartland. A one-off set of strikes, particularly if they were divorced from a ground campaign, would offer at best limited military advantages, but would be more likely to produce little lasting effect and might even backfire. The use of force, even limited force, must be linked to a broader strategy for Iraq and for the region as a whole. The first step is to stop ISIS from spreading farther. The spread of violence in Iraq was utterly predictable, and there is no reason to think it will stop there. The United States should help shore up the regimes in Lebanon and Jordan, providing financial support to manage surging Syrian and Iraqi refugee populations and providing assistance to those regimes’ security forces to police their borders. This aid will not stop ISIS in Iraq or Syria, but it can help prevent ISIS, and regional instability in general, from spreading farther”.

He concludes, “Finally, the United States must harmonise its Iraq and Syria policies and develop an overall regional strategy. As the 2011 unrest in Syria has turned to violence and then to civil war, U.S. policy in the region has been reactive. The United States needs to more aggressively back moderate Syrian opposition forces, many of which are strongly opposed to ISIS. It may be too late to topple Assad (especially in the near term), but when combined with a more effective Iraqi military, these forces can put pressure on ISIS on both sides of the border. To stop ISIS and make the region more stable, the Obama administration needs to ensure that any use of force is embedded in a broader strategy. Otherwise, all that limited bombing offers is the illusion that America is acting decisively, and it could make a bad situation worse”.

“Less than a third of Libyan voters”

26/06/2014

Less than a third of Libyan voters had gone to the polls by late afternoon on Wednesday in a parliamentary election overshadowed by violence. At least five people were killed in heavy clashes between Islamists and government forces in the eastern city of Benghazi, medical sources said, as turmoil continued to grow in the wake of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi three years ago. Turnout was much lower than in July 2012, the first free national vote in more than 40 years. Some 1.5 million were registered to vote, compared with 2.8 million in 2012, after rules were tightened. Live cameras from Libyan news channels in the main cities showed mostly empty polling stations. By 5.30 p.m., more than 400,000 had cast their vote, election officials said. Polling stations closed at 7 p.m. Libyan officials last month announced elections intended to strengthen central state authority after renegade army general Khalifa Haftar opened a campaign against Islamists in the east. Some polling stations stayed shut for security reasons in the eastern Islamist hotspot of Derna, Kufra in the southeast where tribes regularly clash, and the main southern city of Sabha, officials said”.

 

 

Iran as the problem?

26/06/2014

An article argues that Iran is the problem rather than the solution to the current crisis in Iraq. This follows on from the news that America is considering talks with Iran. The piece starts, “United States is now exploring whether to cooperate with Iran in the fight against radical Sunni jihadists in Iraq. Such an alliance would be a grave mistake: It would alienate Sunnis throughout the region and confirm a prevalent conspiratorial view that the United States is bolstering the Shiites, a minority in the Arab world, against the majority Sunnis, playing an old imperial power game to control the region and its natural resources. Violent jihadi sectarianism is only part of the story in Iraq today. Iran, like President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus, is making the case that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries of the Persian Gulf are the real problem — the wellspring of terrorism in the region — and that Iran is therefore the natural ally of the United States”.

Interestingly he writes “But this is only half-true. Iran has also nurtured Sunni jihadists when it was convenient to do so, and it has also spent years cultivating Shiite sectarianism. In its effort to dominate the region after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iran fostered staunch Shiite chauvinists, first in Iraq and more recently in Syria. By doing this, Tehran gave up completely on an earlier ecumenical attempt to make Shiism acceptable to Sunnis under the banner of joint resistance against the “forces of global arrogance” — that is, the United States, Israel, and the Arab monarchies of the Gulf”.

The danger however is that the nauances of foreign policy and diplomacy will be ignored by the public and his prediction that if America were to “ally” will Iran then the Sunni “conspiratorial view that the United States is bolstering the Shiites” would be seen to be true. Needless to say such a view is preposterous. Also, the writer does not state when Iran has “nurtured Sunni jihadists” or to what extent. Iran is par excellence a Shiite state and sees itself as such. It seems implausible, though not impossible, that it would work with Sunnis and that Sunnis would work with it.

He writes that Iran has backed Syria and Nouri al-Maliki whose obvious sectarian policies have only made matters worse for Iraq but he notes “Tehran mobilized significant financial, ideological, and military resources, including Shiite paramilitary forces such as Hezbollah, to fight for Assad’s survival while he wantonly continued to kill and brutalize Syria’s Sunni population. The net effect is that Iran has alienated the Sunnis of the Arab world, some of whom now express support for the most extreme forms of Sunni radicalism”.

He goes on to mention that “Having now lost the Sunnis, Iran needs the United States to help secure its gains in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Washington shouldn’t give Tehran what it wants. Several facts have been obscured in the dominant narrative about what is taking place in Iraq today”.

He continues, “First, the uprising in Iraq and Syria is not exclusively a jihadi effort but rather a general Sunni revolt against political disenfranchisement and persecution. The radical Sunni jihadists, who form a part of this uprising, are also equally brutal toward other Sunni Muslims who don’t share their beliefs and politics — ISIS aspires to conquer Riyadh as much as Baghdad. U.S.-Iranian cooperation in the fight against ISIS would consolidate all the Sunnis under the jihadi banner and would confirm the jihadi narrative that the “Crusaders” and the “Persian Zoroastrians” are conspiring to destroy Islam, a confirmation that would help boost recruitment to the jihadists’ cause”.

It is true that ISIS have attacked their fellow Sunnis but to say that following on from this the “uprising” as he describes it is part of a “revolt against political disenfranchisement and persecution” seems far fetched. He warns apocalypticlly that an American alliance with Iran would move “all the Sunnis under the jihadi banner” which is to be dismissed as nonsense. Any “alliance” with Iran would probably be short lived and deal only with Iraq. His contention that all Sunnis would rise up against America is lunancy, America is far closer to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states than it would be to Iran.

He goes on to argue “Iran and Syria can be expected to embrace these jihadists when it serves their short-term interests. Both countries have had dealings with radical Sunni jihadists in the past, as when the two countries set them loose to fight U.S. troops in Iraq. More recently, Assad emptied his prisons of jihadists and has focused his military offensive on more moderate brigades to encourage the radicalization of the Syrian opposition”.

He repeats a claim made above but offers no further evidence for such a claim. Iran certainly caused the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq in the beginning of the Iraq campaign but it should not be assumed that those fighters were Sunnis and were assisted by Iran. It could be argued, perhaps more plausibly, that Iranian Shia military commanders assisted their co-religionists in Iraq while America was there.

He ends “Iran and Iraq’s army and Shiite militias don’t need the help of the United States to fight this war, which is not only about defeating jihadists but also about keeping Sunnis disenfranchised. Helping the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces and Shiite militias do battle with Sunnis — even if they are radical jihadists — is not America’s concern. America’s concern should be stopping ISIS from moving its forces south toward Saudi Arabia. ISIS’s jihadi proto-state, which has been recruiting successfully in the kingdom, could attempt a push into northern Saudi Arabia from Iraq’s Anbar province — and from there, it is only a few hundred miles to the oil fields or to Riyadh. Such an attack would test the mettle of the Saudi armed forces”.

His narrow view of the US national interest is at fault here. If America were to get further involved, then it could influence though not dictate, the outcome of the events after ISIS was defeated. His concern about Sunni disenfranchisment is valid and so all the more reason for America to get involved and end the sectarianism of Maliki. His comment about Saudi Arabia is correct but ISIS has not had any movement south, at least yet, and besides, the Saudi troops are better equipped and trained than the Iraq forces.

He closes, “ISIS’s ideologues consider the Saudi royals to be apostates and enemies of God as much as the Shiites. The group’spropaganda videos highlight Saudi recruits tearing up their Saudi passports and identity cards, an act meant to deny the political legitimacy of the kingdom as well as the boundaries of the territorial nation-state. And many of ISIS’s recruits hail from Saudi tribes (Otaibah, Shammar, Harb, among others) whose tribesmen also form the core of Saudi Arabia’s military units. This raises questions about the Saudi army’s reliability in battle. Securing the oil reserves of the Gulf is in America’s national interest — heeding Iran’s siren call to secure its regional domination and sectarian clients is not. Tehran has been as complicit as the jihadists in the sectarian violence that has gripped the Middle East. An American alliance with Iran will be seen as a war against the Sunnis and will condemn the region to an imperial politics of a past era, when outside powers bolstered minorities at the expense of the rights and privileges of the majority — a recipe for endless rage and strife”.

America has a chance not only to push Iraq towards a better more federalised future but at the same time by co-operating with Iran it could help build trust with them and thus have a greater chance for a full and final settlement for a nuclear deal.

Maliki rejects unity government

26/06/2014

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has rejected calls for a national salvation government to help counter the offensive by jihadist-led Sunni rebels. Such calls represented a “coup against the constitution and an attempt to end the democratic experience”, he warned. The US has led appeals to the country’s political leaders to rise above sectarian and ethnic divisions. Government forces have been unable to recapture the territory seized by the rebels this month. Almost half of the 300 US military advisers assigned to help the Iraqi security forces have arrived. Fighting was reported to have continued on Wednesday, with an attack by rebels on the Balad airbase, about 80km (50 miles) north of Baghdad. Also on Wednesday, a suicide bombing outside the main market in the northern city of Kirkuk left at least two people dead and many more injured”.

 

The last Chaldeans of Iraq

26/06/2014

Christian Caryl writes that the latest violence in Iraq means the end of Christians in Iraq, with a history going back 2,000 years. He opens, “The takeover of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, by the jihadist troops of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is a catastrophe for the people of Iraq, who now face a revival of full-blown sectarian warfare, and a strategic and psychological nightmare for the United States, which sacrificed vast amounts of blood and treasure to topple Saddam Hussein and build a viable government — the latter, it would seem, in vain. But over the past few days I’ve found myself mourning a more specific disaster: the flight and dispersal of the last remnants of Iraq’s once-proud community of ChristiansEmil Shimoun Nona, the archbishop of the Chaldean Catholics of Mosul, has told news agencies that the few Christians remaining in the city prior to the ISIS invasion have abandoned the city”.

Caryl goes on “Since the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, he estimates, Mosul’s Christian population dwindled from 35,000 to some 3,000. ‘Now there is no one left,’ he said. Most of them have joined the estimated 500,000 refugees who have fled the ISIS advance; many of the Christians, including the archbishop, have opted for the relative security of Iraqi Kurdistan”.

There are Chaldean Catholic eparchies spread across the world, with a particular presence in America and Australia and as well their natural home in the Middle East in Syria and Lebanon, but with security and a better standard of living in Europe and America many choose to leave the Middle East altogether. The result as some have said is a “spiritual Disneyland”.

Caryl writes that the latest surge “has been triggered, above all, by the jihadists’ reputation for bloodlust — a reputation that ISIS has consciously furthered through its own propaganda. A few days ago, the jihadists used social media to distribute photos supporting their claim that they had killed 1,700 Shiite prisoners taken during their rapid offensive. No sooner had ISIS entered Mosul than some of their fighters set fire to an Armenian church. This all seems consistent with the group’s grim record during the civil war in Syria, where, among other things, it has revived medieval Islamic restrictions on Christian populations”.

Caryl goes on to note the troubles faced by the Christians, many of them Eastern Catholics in the region, “In 2003, it was estimated that some 1.5 million Iraqis were Christians, about 5 percent of the population. Since then, the overwhelming majority has reacted to widening sectarian conflict and a series of terrorist attacks by leaving the country. (Archbishop Nona’s predecessor, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and killed outside his Mosul church back in 2008.) Almost all of the various Iraqi Christian communities — the Chaldeans (who are part of the Roman Catholic Church), the Armenians, the Syriac Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox — have benefited from large émigré contingents around the world who have welcomed refugees from Iraq”.

He adds “For the past 2,000 years, Iraq has been home to a distinct and vibrant culture of Eastern Christianity. Now that storied history appears to be coming to an end.Even if the ISIS forces are ultimately driven back, it’s hard to imagine that the Mosul Christians who have fled will see a future for themselves in an Iraq dominated by the current Shiite dictatorship of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which enjoys strong support from Iran”.

Speaking of the 2003 invasion he mentions “I soon discovered that there was a lot more to Mosul than the headlines. The citizens of Mosul I met welcomed me with a spontaneous hospitality that I hadn’t really experienced in the Iraqi capital. This may have had something to do with the fact that Baghdad, the heart of Saddam Hussein’s brutal Baathist state, retained little palpable sense of its rich historical past. Baghdad had an almost Soviet soullessness — the vast tracts of ugly prefab housing wouldn’t have looked out of place in Warsaw or Beijing. Mosul, by contrast, still retained its character as an Ottoman trade route city, a place both scruffy and intimate. And it was enlivened by a proud sense of its own diversity: You never knew whether the next person you were going to meet was a Sunni or a Shiite, a Kurd or a Christian. The Christians were especially fascinating — above all, because it was hard to escape the sense that you were witnessing the practice of traditions you weren’t going to find anywhere else. Some of Mosul’s Christians answer to Rome; some follow various Orthodox patriarchs; and some, like the members of the Ancient Church of the East, are beholden to no authority but their own”.

Giving an indication of how old the Christian communities are Caryl notes “There are Christians in and around Mosul who still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ”.

He ends, “For what it’s worth, the city’s long history of peaceful coexistence doesn’t seem to be completely dead. Archbishop Nona has told of Muslims in Mosul banding together to guard the city’s churches from looting, and other reports from Mosulsuggest that the Islamists are trying to assuage the fears of religious minorities in the city. But the Christians of northern Iraq can hardly be blamed if they’re unwilling to bank on these faint glimmers of hope — the jihadists’ record speaks too eloquently against them. Back in 2003, there was little inkling of the disaster that was about to befall Iraq’s Christians. Today, there seems to be little that can be done to reverse it”.

Assad’s loopholes

26/06/2014

The world’s chemical weapons watchdog this week announced a landmark in the fight against weapons of mass destruction: Syria became the first country to voluntarily surrender its entire stockpile of declared chemical weapons agents in the midst of a civil war. So why, then, is the world so reluctant to call it a victory and move on? Even as they applauded the chemical weapons milestone, U.S. and European officials made it clear they would continue to closely monitor Syria’s chemical weapons program. “It should not be lost on anyone that our work is not finished,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday. There are three reasons for the West’s caution. First, President Bashar al-Assad is widely believed to be taking advantage of a loophole in his agreement to rid Syria of chemical weapons by using chlorine gas on the battlefield (chlorine, which is widely available commercially, isn’t considered to be a chemical weapon but its use as such is banned under international law because it is a toxic substance). Western officials also allege that Syria is refusing its obligation to destroy chemical warfare production and storage facilities. The United States, Britain, and France, meanwhile, informed the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) months ago that they suspect that Syria has failed to declare secret stockpiles, raising the possibility that Damascus still possesses chemical weapons, according to Security Council diplomats.

Blame Maliki

24/06/2014

A piece argues that Nouri al-Maliki has destroyed Iraq with his intense sectarianism. It starts, “How in just a matter of days could a cancerous, extremist organization defeat Iraq’s U.S.-trained security forces, which count more than 1 million personnel in their ranks and have received close to $100 billion in funding since 2006? The truth is, nothing is surprising about the developments in Iraq right now. Nor was any of this inevitable”.

He argues that “Four years ago, Iraq finally had relatively good security, a generous state budget, and positive relations among the country’s various ethnic and religious communities after years of chaos following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But Iraq’s political elites squandered this opportunity. Their corruption and hunger for power distracted them from emerging crises — like the rise of ISIS — and laid the groundwork for what is now taking place. By 2008, al Qaeda-affiliated militias and death squads no longer swarmed the country from Samarra to Mosul as they had just two years before. U.S. officials, state security services, tribal forces, and some armed groups had forged an agreement to work together against the most extreme groups terrorizing Iraq’s population. The major roads in those areas were lined with the flags of the Awakening Councils, and local fighters had decided to protect ordinary Iraqis from al Qaeda. In time, the Iraqi military was deployed in all major cities and set up checkpoints every few miles”.

He rightly qualifies this noting “Although unemployment, corruption, and failing public services were still major problems, ordinary Iraqis in the areas that had been dominated by al Qaeda still breathed a collective sigh of relief. They could go back to work, resume their studies, and relax outdoors without the constant ring of gunfire in the background. Families took their children to the river, where they swam and picnicked, while young men made regular trips to Kirkuk or Baghdad to stock up on local Iraqi beer”.

He writes that things were looking up for Iraq, “Iraqis were demanding more from their politicians than mere survival. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki established a new political alliance, the State of Law alliance, which campaigned on a platform of re-establishing strong state institutions, reducing corruption, and providing adequate services to the people. The Iraqiya alliance, another large and newly formed coalition, backed a similar platform. The tantalizing prospects of establishing a new political environment and creating a stable state seemed within reach”.

Instead of improvements in the lives of ordinary Iraqis “Maliki’s government used ‘de-Baathification’ laws, introduced to keep members of Saddam Hussein’s regime out of government, to target his opponents — but not his many allies, who also had been senior members of the Baath Party. The 2010 government formation process turned out to be yet another opportunity for politicians of all stripes to grant themselves senior positions which they could use to plunder the state. When tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in February 2011 to protest corruption, they were branded terrorists and were attacked and beaten by security forces and hired thugs. Dozens were killed and thousands arrested and tortured until the protests fizzled. Meanwhile, though terrorist groups were not operating as openly as before, hundreds of civilians continued to be killed every month, particularly in Baghdad, denying Iraqis in many parts of the country even a brief period of normalcy. At that time, Maliki began referring to himself publicly as Iraq’s preeminent military leader. When the 2010 electoral results did not conform to his expectations, he demanded a recount in his ‘capacity as commander in chief.’ When he forced senior anti-corruption officials from their positions, he once again inappropriately invoked his military credentials. He called officers on their mobile phones to demand specific actions or that individuals be arrested, circumventing the chain of command. After the new government was formed in November 2010, he refused to appoint ministers of the interior and of defense, preferring to occupy both positions himself. He appointed senior military commanders directly, instead of seeking parliamentary approval as required by the constitution”.

He goes on to mention “Then there was the corruption. The security sector, which had an annual budget greater than the budgets for education, health, and the environment combined, was subject to minimal oversight. Soldiers were enrolled and paid monthly salaries without reporting for duty. Overpriced and faulty equipment was procured using the laxest standards. Training sessions were financed on paper but never took place in practice. Appointments were politicized. Officers close to the prime minister’s office who failed to investigate leads on terrorist attacks were almost never held accountable for their actions. Even the most grotesque failures, including the military’s passivity in the face of regular attacks against Christians in Nineveh over a period of years, went unpunished. Morale among the rank and file was low, and there was very little desire to take risks on behalf of political elites who were viewed as wildly corrupt. Against this backdrop, many of the armed gangs that had terrorized local populations from 2005 to 2007 now saw their opportunity to re-emerge. They still could not operate in broad daylight, but they understood that the security forces could be manipulated, and they identified the weakest link in each institution. Those officers who could most easily be bribed or who were willing to participate in illegal activities were brought on board”.

The result of this he continues was attacks on state institutions in the full light of day. He posits the theory that it was ISIS that ended the phantom power of the security forces’ power away.

He goes on to note “When ISIS escalated with a full-on assault on Mosul this month, all of the Iraqi state’s pathologies came together in a perfect storm of corruption and incompetence. This left the city virtually defenseless. People in Mosul and soldiers have told me that a consensus has formed over the past few days that members of the military’s rank and file were ordered to abandon their posts either shortly before or at the start of ISIS’s assault. There is still significant mystery as to why the withdrawal took place at all. Rumors have been circulating. The most outlandish accusation is currently being made by Maliki and his allies, who have accused the Kurdistan Regional Government of colluding with ISIS against the Iraqi state. The incompetence of the Iraqi security forces was further underscored in the days that followed the fall of Mosul. As the jihadists began to advance, residents in Tikrit, around 130 miles south, expected that ISIS would overrun their city at any moment. Anyone who has been to Tikrit knows that it would be extremely easy to fend off an invasion by ISIS gunmen, because there is essentially a single highway that runs through the city center. All that would have been needed to protect the city would have been to position a few armored vehicles with limited air support along the highway. Yet there was no reaction from Baghdad, which is just a two-hour drive away. Tikrit was seized in a couple of hours, and hundreds of Army recruits were taken hostage. Having been abandoned by their government, many of those individuals appear to have been executed”.

He ends the piece, “It was the clearest admission of failure possible. Maliki micromanaged the security forces for years, and in the end he didn’t even trust them, choosing instead to let foreign-backed militias and untrained volunteers defend the capital. Meanwhile, one week after Tikrit’s fall, Baghdad had done nothing to free it from ISIS, abandoning its citizens to their fate and allowing the militants to reinforce their positions free from interference. The United States has made it clear that Washington now views Maliki’s government as part of the problem. “Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together [to forge] a political plan for Iraq’s future,” President Barack Obama said in a press conference on Thursday. Secretary of State John Kerry is being dispatched to the Middle East to help bring about political reconciliation between Iraq’s factions. But the damage that the prime minister and his cronies have inflicted on Iraq cannot be undone. The end result of Iraq’s unending series of unforced errors will almost certainly be yet more flattened cities, hundreds of thousands more displaced, and yet more damage to its people’s sense of community”.

Kerry in Kurdistan

24/06/2014

Secretary of State John Kerry held crisis talks with leaders of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Tuesday urging them to stand with Baghdad in the face of a Sunni insurgent onslaught that threatens to dismember the country. Security forces fought Sunni armed factions for control of the country’s biggest oil refinery on Tuesday and militants launched an attack on one of its largest air bases less than 100 km from the capital. More than 1,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed in less than three weeks, the United Nations said on Tuesday, calling the figure “very much a minimum”. The figure includes unarmed government troops machinegunned in mass graves by insurgents, as well as several reported incidents of prisoners killed in their cells by retreating government forces. Kerry flew to the Kurdish region after a day in Baghdad on an emergency trip through the Middle East to rescue Iraq after a lightning advance by Sunni fighters led by an al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”.

 

Cameron loses to Junker

24/06/2014

The process for appointing a new president of the European Commission, thought to be Jean-Claude Junker, has become much more fraught.

A report in Open Europe notes “The appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as next European Commission President is often boiled down to a stand-off between David Cameron and Angela Merkel. And it looks increasingly likely that there will be a vote on Juncker as early as at next week’s summit of EU leaders. He is still the favourite to land the job. However, Juncker’s road to the Berlaymont building is unlikely to be incident-free, and a degree of unpredictability remains”.

They write importantly that “Over the past few days, France and Italy have made clear that their support for any candidate to the European Commission Presidency is tied to a substantial change in EU economic policies. French Europe Minister Harlem Désir held talks with his Italian counterpart Sandro Gozi in Paris yesterday, to refine a common strategy. Furthermore, France will host a mini-summit of the seven centre-left EU heads of state and government tomorrow, to discuss their priorities for the new European Commission. The proposal Paris and Rome have been working on is clear: growth-enhancing investments and the cost of structural reforms should no longer count as deficit under EU rules. Merkelhas so far resisted the proposal, but Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel – of the SPD – has come out in support of giving more budget leeway to countries that undertake a wide-reaching reform process”.

The piece adds, “Unlike Cameron, neither French President François Hollande nor Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi seem to have a personality problem with Juncker. Nor have they openly criticised the principle of Spitzenkandidaten. But there is a chance they could end up on the same side of the debate, although for different reasons. There are many factors at play here. But if Hollande and Renzi push it too far and make it clear that the price of their support for Juncker is a weakening of the eurozone’s fiscal rules, they could provide Merkel with an excuse to drop Juncker, sacrificed on the altar of German budget discipline. That would make such a decision more acceptable to the German public, surely?”

A different piece looks at the supposed mandate claimed by many in the European Parliament, as well as others, by Junker, “Supporters of the ‘spitzenkandidaten’ concept say that it represents genuine ‘EU democracy’, and that since the national centre-right parties belonging to the European People’s Party (EPP) won the most seats in the European Parliament, Juncker has a “popular mandate” to become the next Commission President, and that therefore, national governments are obliged to nominate him at the European Council summit later this month. However, Open Europe has compiled some figures which put these claims to democratic legitimacy into sharp context. Out of a total electorate of approximately 395 million people, 40.3 million (10.2%) voted for EPP affiliated parties. However, this falls to 38.4m (9.7%) when you take out Sweden and Hungary, where the EPP parties made a point of not endorsing the spitzenkandidaten process and/or Juncker’s candidacy in particular”.

The article goes on to argue “A handful people on twitter have predictably vented their frustration at the flaws within the UK’s democratic system, trying to somehow show that, in fact, Juncker does have a strong public mandate after all. Arguments include that David Cameron himself was only on the ballot in one constituency and therefore is elected by some 33,000 people. This is of course silly. If we want to play this game, the Tories contest virtually every constituency in the UK and it was blatantly clear that if they emerged as the largest party, Cameron would become the Prime Minister. As we demonstrate below, in the European elections, even those voting for EPP parties did not know they were effectively casting a vote ‘for Juncker’. In addition,. turnout in the last UK general election (65.1%) was around a third higher than in the European elections (43.1%)”.
More interestingly they mention that “When Juncker was chosen as the EPP’s official candidate at the group’s March congress in Dublin he only received 382 delegates’ votes, less than half of the 800 who were eligible to vote. 245 delegates voted for Michel Barnier instead, and 173 did not vote at all. There is no publicly available list of who the delegates were or how they voted. In reality, far less than 9.7% can be said to have genuinely voted ‘for Juncker’ given that the majority (outside of his native Luxembourg) did not know that he was standing – or even who he was.A poll commissioned by the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformers immediately after the European elections found that unprompted, only 8.2% of respondents were able to name Juncker as one of the lead candidates, and only 8.8% were able to name the EPP or any other EU-level political party. When prompted, only 25.9% of respondents (33.9% of voters) were able to identify Juncker, and only 24.4% of respondents (30.8% of voters) were able to identify the EPP”.

The piece ends, “This completely demolishes the argument that the majority of those who voted for national centre-right parties were aware they were actively casting a vote either for the EPP or for Juncker”.

In related developments, leaked tapes of conversations between the Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, have shown just how poor Cameron is regarded in Warsaw.
It notes “Poland has been rocked by a political scandal involving the covert surveillance of senior government ministers, state officials – including the governor of Poland’s Central Bank Marek Belka – and business figures, and recordings of their conversations were leaked to Polish magazine Wprost“. 

Open Europe goes on to note “that this is a crucial bilateral relationship, the health of which will have a significant impact on the success or otherwise of Cameron’s EU reform agenda. Unfortunately, this relationship has become particularly strained in recent times, particularly over the related questions of free movement and access to benefits. Here are the key sections of a conversation between Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski at some point this spring”. It goes:

Rostowski: “[Cameron] thinks he’ll go renegotiate and come back, no Polish government could agree to it. Except in return for a mountain of gold.”

Sikorski: “Its either a very badly thought through move, or, not for the first time a kind of incompetence in European affairs. Remember? He f***** up the fiscal pact. He f***** it up. Simple as that. He is not interested, he does not get it, he believes in the stupid propaganda, he stupidly tries to play the system… his whole strategy of feeding [his critics] scraps in order to satisfy them is just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said, f*** off, tried to convince people and isolate [the sceptics]. But he ceded the field to those that are now embarrassing him.”

Rostowski: “For the Polish government to agree, someone will have to give us some mountain of gold. The Brits won’t give it to us, and the Germans, in order to keep the Brits on board, won’t give it to us either in all likelihood. So the answer will be: f*** off… [the impact of a Brexit] will generally be bad for us, because we would like for Great Britain to stay. I think it’ll be the case that [Cameron] will lose the elections. Great Britain will leave. Once they do, they’ll keep open borders. Not for [gypsy] beggars…”

Sikorski: “Just like Norway… Enough of this!” They’ve f***** up Eastern Europe and a few other things. [Mimics a Brit] If Europe doesn’t reform, it’ll end badly! Let them worry about their economy. If they don’t re-organise themselves, they’ll have as bad an economy as Germany. What is that? What, how is that so monstrous?”

Open Europe go on to mention the consequences of this conversation, “It is notable that Rosowski assesses the prospects of Brexit as highly likely, and how resigned both he and Sikorski are to that outcome even while admitting that it would be bad for Poland. As such, it is outright bizarre that they are so flippant and dismissive about Cameron’s reform agenda – which – for all its flaws from a Polish perspective – remains the best chance for keeping the UK in the EU from a wider perspective. Both Rostowski and Sikorski are adamant that even in the event of a Brexit, the UK will not be able to block free movement – if it wants to maintain access to the single market – a key demand of many better off outers (Switzerland is currentlyfacing this dilemma)”.
In all probablity Sikorski is right, it would be better to isolate those MPs who are more or less detached from reality and ignore them and challenge them to come up with realistic policy proposals in dealing with the UK’s biggest trading partner. The danger however is that Cameron, either through advice, or pressure, is forced to take a position that overestimates the desire of Merkel and the rest of Brussels to keep the UK in the EU.
A piece notes that the campaign of Junker to become head of the Commission is gaining ground as a result of Cameron’s desire to find another candidate. The report opens, “European leaders are joining forces to thwart David Cameron’s attempt to stop Jean-Claude Juncker becoming the European Union’s most powerful politician, as senior Tories warn the defeat will be a blow to the Prime Minister’s authority. Mr Cameron has promised to fight the appointment of Mr Juncker, who favours closer EU ties, as president of the European Commission, the executive body which designs European laws. But François Hollande, the socialist president of France, declared on Saturday that nine centre-left governments across Europe, including Italy, Austria, and Denmark, had agreed to back Mr Juncker at a summit in Paris”.
The opposition to Cameron’s demands, and therefore Junker’s chance of becoming head of the Commission notes “Werner Faymann, the Chancellor of Austria, said: “Juncker is not negotiable. If needed, Cameron should be outvoted by a qualified majority. We cannot allow a single person to dictate everything to us.” His remarks represent the strongest attack on Mr Cameron’s policy from a fellow national leader so far. The comments will fuel tensions between European leaders ahead of a dinner in Ypres on Thursday and a summit meeting to discuss the presidency of the European Commission on Friday in Brussels. Senior British officials have admitted that momentum is building in European capitals for Mr Juncker to become the next president of the Commission, despite the fact that Downing Street regards him as a barrier to EU reform”.

The article notes that Cameron has adopted a risky strategy but that “Angela Merkel, who supports the former Luxembourg premier. Mrs Merkel’s backing is seen as vital to the success of any reforms in Europe, including Mr Cameron’s own plan to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership. Her Social Democrat vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel also reaffirmed his country’s support for Mr Juncker at the meeting on Saturday in Paris”.

The article makes the vital point however that  “senior Tories fear that his negotiating position will be significantly weakened by failing to stop Mr Juncker. One leading figure in the Conservatives’ European debate said Mr Juncker’s impending appointment showed Mr Cameron’s chances of securing significant EU reform were “feeble”. Another Tory, Bernard Jenkin, a senior MP and select committee chairman, said Mr Cameron had the full support of all his MPs in his fight to block Mr Juncker’s appointment. However, the likely failure of the anti-Juncker campaign demonstrates that other European leaders are not interested in negotiating with Britain for a new deal on EU membership, he said”.

This is something of an exaggeration. The EU does need the UK, but sometimes irrationality and emotions can take hold leading Germany and the rest of the hard core EU countries to not give concessions to the UK during the talks that could well keep the UK in the EU and make the EU stronger and more democratic in the long term.

Lastly, a piece in the Telegraph reports on the problems faced by Cameron as the EU seems to have ignored his asking for concessions, “David Cameron’s hopes of reforming Britain’s relationship with Brussels have been dealt a blow after a confidential blueprint setting out the European Union’s “priorities” for the next five years fell far short of his demands for change. The document, obtained by The Telegraph will be given to the Prime Minister by Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, when they meet in Downing Street. David Cameron’s hopes of reforming Britain’s relationship with Brussels have been dealt a blow after a confidential blueprint setting out the European Union’s “priorities” for the next five years fell far short of his demands for change”.

It goes on to write “The document, obtained by The Telegraph will be given to the Prime Minister by Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, when they meet in Downing Street. It comes as Mr Cameron prepares to force a vote on the possible presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker. The Prime Minister has been attempting to block the appointment but is increasingly resigned to defeat. The document being give to Mr Cameron by Mr Van Rompuy will further anger the Prime Minister ahead of a crucial Brussels summit where European leaders will discuss Mr Juncker’s appointment”.

The piece goes on to mention, “The four-page document fails to deliver any of the substantial reforms that Mr Cameron could sell to a sceptical British public in return for accepting Mr Juncker and holds out no prospect of even discussing EU Treaty change or abolishing the legal commitment to an “ever closer union”. It also fails to countenance Mr Cameron’s key demand for national parliaments to be given a veto over European legislation”.

It closes, “The most concrete reference to a British demand is a loose commitment to giving MPs more of say in EU decisions but it is a pledge that falls far short of Mr Cameron’s call for groups of national parliaments to be given a veto over European legislation. “A greater place should be given to national parliaments, including by strengthening their means of participating in the debate and making their voice heard in the decision-making process,” the document said. More positively for Mr Cameron, the paper appears to criticise the EU parliament for imposing Mr Juncker as commission president, on the basis that he was the spitzenkandidat or lead candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP) that won most seats in elections across Europe last month”.

“lifts a ban against his travel”

24/06/2014

A Pakistani court in Karachi ordered the removal of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf from the Exit Control List on Thursday, a move that lifts a ban against his travel abroad. The court gave the government 15 days to appeal the decision in the country’s Supreme Court, said Musharraf’s lawyer, Farogh Naseem. There was no immediate reaction from the government. “The court has ordered the government to lift the ban imposed on . . . Musharraf’s travel and asked for the removal of his name from ECL,” Naseem told reporters. “The court’s ruling has proved that the cases registered against General Musharraf were politically motivated,” he said. Naseem said Musharraf would return to Pakistan after his travel abroad to face the cases against him”.

“Unless Iran steps back from its maximalist stance”

24/06/2014

Colin Kahl writes in a piece in Foreign Affairs in which he argues that by demanding too much, Iran could scuttle the talks altogether.

Kahl opens, “Iranian and U.S. diplomats raced to Geneva for unscheduled, high-level bilateral talks. The news might have come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t have. The deadline to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran — July 20 — is fast approaching, and the parties still have significant differences to overcome. In particular, unless Tehran changes its tune on the all-important issue of uranium enrichment, and does so soon, the prospects for a peaceful diplomatic solution are nil. Five months ago, Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) reached an interim nuclear agreement known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), which froze and then modestly rolled back Tehran’s nuclear program. The JPOA was designed to buy time for both sides to negotiate a final accord that would ensure that Iran would not weaponize its nuclear program. Iran and the P5+1 have made some real progress since then, but they remain very far apart on the critical issue of enrichment: the process of purifying uranium to produce fuel for nuclear reactors and, potentially, atomic bombs”.

He adds “The Obama administration and its negotiating partners are demanding that Iran substantially roll back its enrichment capacity. The purpose, U.S. officials say, is to extend Iran’s breakout capacity — defined as the time it would take Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon — from about two months, where it sits today, to at least a year. The longer it takes Iran to make one bomb, the thinking goes, the more its leaders will be deterred from building one, and the more time the international community would have to discover and stop the process if they aren’t deterred. Outside analysis, including from some former U.S. officials, suggests that a somewhat shorter breakout cushion, perhaps even six months, may be enough. In either case, Iran would have to scale back its nuclear program from 19,000 centrifuges (10,000 of which are currently operating) to just a few thousand first-generation centrifuges or even fewer of the more advanced models. It would also have to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU, which can theoretically be further enriched to bomb-grade) and place limits on centrifuge research and development”.

Predictably he writes that “Iranian officials, in contrast, insist that the Islamic Republic’s enrichment infrastructure be maintained and even expanded by tens of thousands of additional centrifuges, including more efficient next-generation machines, to fuel Iran’s Bushehr power plant and additional power and research facilities that Iran plans to construct. Their argument is that Iran’s practical need for an expansive enrichment infrastructure is substantial, both now and in the near future. But a “civilian” nuclear program on that scale would also theoretically allow Iran to shrink its breakout timeline to a few weeks. For Iranian officials, however, the breakout concept is largely irrelevant; after all, they are quick to point out, the Islamic Republic is committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa years ago prohibiting the acquisition of nuclear weapons”.

He makes the valid point that “Iran’s case for a large-scale enrichment program is weak. Russia is committed to providing fuel for Bushehr through 2021, and has indicated its willingness to renew the supply contract for the life of the reactor. Further, Iran has enough enriched material to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes, for many years to come. And if the heavy-water research reactor under construction at Arak is eventually modified to use LEU, as the P5+1 are reportedly requesting to address concerns about plutonium output, Arak’s fuel requirements could be met by fewer than 2,000 first-generation centrifuges. Beyond this, the need for additional domestic sources of nuclear fuel — and, therefore, tens of thousands of spinning centrifuges — remains purely hypothetical. And, in any case, construction of any new reactors is likely to take at least a decade. Tehran’s current negotiating position is therefore more about political symbolism — a nationalist assertion of expansive nuclear rights — than practical, near-term requirements”.

He does make the point that the West have given Iran concessions, “The P5+1’s recognition five months ago that Iran will ultimately possess a limited enrichment program under a final agreement was a huge, and long sought after, concession to Iran. The Obama administration and its partners rightly saw the move as a way to provide the regime with a face-saving exit from the nuclear crisis. As talks enter the final stretch, all sides will have to make additional tough compromises for diplomacy to succeed”.

He rightly warns, “if Iran persists in its unrealistic stance on enrichment, there will be no final deal, period, and the glimmer of diplomatic hope this week could quickly be replaced by the shadow of conflict. To be sure, backing down from its maximalist position will require Khamanei and other Iranian leaders to swallow some of their revolutionary pride. But the alternative — a diplomatic train wreck — would likely prove far worse for the regime. For one, only a comprehensive nuclear deal can produce the comprehensive sanctions relief that Iran’s badly battered economy desperately needs. The success of the Rouhani government hinges on economic improvement, as does the domestic legitimacy of Khamenei’s revolutionary system. The White House just barely staved off fresh sanctions last winter, and Congress is already chomping at the bit to impose punishing new sanctions that would drive much of Iran’s remaining oil off the international market if a final deal is not reached by July 20. If Iran proves unwilling to make the hard choices necessary to reach a final agreement, the political tide for punitive action would be unstoppable; indeed, even Obama has pledged to support sanctions if Iran fails to negotiate in good faith. And, as a result, the Islamic Republic’s economic crisis and international isolation would deepen”.

Kahl concludes, “even if Iranian negotiators were somehow able to convince the P5+1 to acquiesce to more centrifuges in the near term in exchange for greater transparency and pledges never to weaponize, such an outcome would paradoxically leave the Islamic Republic much less secure than if Iran accepted greater constraints on its program. In a recent Foreign Affairs article outlining Iran’s national security doctrine, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif admitted that “even a perception that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons is detrimental to the country’s security and regional role” because of the reaction it produces among Iran’s neighbors. For this very reason, a large-scale enrichment program that leaves Iran only a few weeks or months from producing bomb-grade material would be a highly unstable outcome. The greater Iran’s enrichment capacity, the more difficult it will be for the United States, Israel, and other countries to overcome their long-standing distrust of Iranian intentions. Shorter theoretical breakout times also mean fewer nonmilitary responses to real or perceived Iranian acts of noncompliance. Together, the volatile mix of mutual suspicion and a hair-trigger atmosphere would be a recipe for constant crises, miscalculation, inadvertent escalation, and a significant risk of war. Although Iran’s leaders may bristle at the very concept of breakout, then, it is actually in Tehran’s interest to make sure that the world knows that it could not nuclearize quickly”.

He finishes “It will be difficult for Iran and the P+5 to overcome their differences by July 20. Other contentious issues such as the investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear research and the phasing of proposed sanctions relief must also be resolved before a final deal is signed. Consequently, there is growing speculation that the JPOA will have to be extended for another six months to allow talks to continue. Nevertheless, news this week that Khamenei and his representatives had instructed Iranian hard-liners to support the Rouhani administration and cease criticism of Iran’s nuclear negotiators, combined with the sudden announcement of bilateral talks with the Americans, may be a sign that the regime is preparing to make some tough concessions. And if all sides are open to compromise, there may be creative ways to bridge the enrichment divide, such as long-term international fuel guarantees, gradually lifting constraints on Iran’s program after a lengthy period of confidence building, or perhaps allowing a conditional expansion of Iranian enrichment capacity contingent on the emergence of actual (rather than hypothetical) energy needs. But whether there are six more weeks or six more months of negotiations, no final deal will materialise unless Iran steps back from its maximalist stance. If it refuses to compromise, the window for a peaceful, diplomatic solution will close, and the regime will have no one to blame but itself”.

Iraq asks for air strikes

24/06/2014

Iraq has asked the US to stage air attacks on Sunni insurgents as the Islamist fighters edged closer to full control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery and continued to hold out against troops trying to retake the city of Tal Afar. As the war to redefine the region’s borders entered a second week, Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, appeared on al-Arabiya television to issue the urgent plea: “We request the United States to launch air strikes against militants.” Witnesses at the Baiji refinery – between the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, both seized by the insurgent group last week – said insurgents broke through the perimeter of the site early on Wednesday and were within sight of administration buildings. Their advance comes despite fierce resistance from Iraqi troops stationed at the refinery. There were reports that foreign security contractors had been sent to Baiji to protect what is one of Iraq’s most important strategic assets. Many plant workers have been evacuated to Baghdad”.

Zarif’s alternate reality

24/06/2014

Dr Mohammed Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of Iran, in a long winded piece in Foreign Affairs writes an article What Iran Really Wants, that argues that any disagreements in the ongoing nuclear talks can be overcome as it is “wholly manufactured and therefore reversible”.

Dr Javad Zarif opens, “Foreignpolicy is a critical component in the lives, conduct, and governance of all nation-states. But it has become even more significant in recent years as interstate relations have grown ever more complex. The inexorable rise in the number of international players — including multilateral organizations, nonstate actors, and even individuals — has further complicated policymaking. Meanwhile, the ongoing process of globalization — however conceived and defined, whether lauded or despised — has brought its inescapable weight to bear on the foreign policies of all states, whether large or small, developed or developing”.

He writes that since the “popular revolution” of 1979,which is perhaps something of a stretch Iranian foreign policy has been based on  “the preservation of Iran’s independence, territorial integrity, and national security and the achievement of long-term, sustainable national development. Beyond its borders, Iran seeks to enhance its regional and global stature; to promote its ideals, including Islamic democracy; to expand its bilateral and multilateral relations, particularly with neighboring Muslim-majority countries and nonaligned states; to reduce tensions and manage disagreements with other states; to foster peace and security at both the regional and the international levels through positive engagement; and to promote international understanding through dialogue and cultural interaction”.

All of this is mostly waffle and obviously overlooks the fact that Iran funds Hezbollah as well as the Assad regime and was directly involved in the killing of American troops during the 2003 Iraq war.

Dr Javad Zarif writes that “Since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the bipolar world in the early 1990s, the global order has undergone a major structural transformation. But a firm new order has not yet emerged”.

This is not true. Since the end of the Cold War the world has prospered under American unipolarity that is both durable and secure while providing international goods that all nations can use.

He goes on to say correctly, “The concept of power itself, traditionally measured in terms of military might, has changed substantially. New forms of influence — economic, technological, and cultural — have emerged. Concurrently, changes at the conceptual level have brought the cultural, normative, and ideational components of power to the fore, making power more accessible to a larger pool of actors”, but of course America dominates in these areas also. He goes on to discuss the rise of multilateralism which is of course true but is not the whole picture given that the international system is still dominated by America and that international institutions are weak and unable to deal with the challenges posed by states like Russia, China and Iran.

Interestingly he writes “most nation-states, regardless of their size, power, influence, or other attributes, have come to realize that isolationism, whether voluntary or imposed, is neither a virtue nor an advantage. Collective action and cooperation have become the hallmarks of the era”.

It will be interesting to see to what extent he views Iran as being included in this. Or is it simply a case of one rule for you, another for me? Iran must show that it is willing to live by the ideals that it puts forward with human rights and the rule of law and respect for minorities, both religious and sexual, and that it is open to co-operation on issues like funding Hezbollah and propping up Assad before these remarks can be taken seriously.

He goes on to write, “The much-challenged position of the United States in the world today, notwithstanding its preponderance of military power, is a glaring case in point. The actual situation in various parts of the world where the United States is directly involved, most notably in the greater Middle East and in Iran’s immediate neighborhood, points to Washington’s reluctant but unmistakable turn to the path of coalition building with other global powers and even regional actors. China, India, and Russia are engaged in intense competition, primarily with the Western bloc, in a concerted effort to secure more prominent global roles. However, major powers and emerging powers alike are now loath to use military means to resolve rivalries, differences, or even disputes”.

Dr Javad Zarif writes that the position of America is challenged, but those that challenge it want an order that is less free, less fair, and more violent. His comment that America has turned to alliance building is correct but somewhat out of date, the United States has always had coalitions in the region, albeit, ones that are imperfect. He then argues that this has led to a revisionist foreign policy which is incorrect and only takes into account the last year of US relations with Iran and not the previous decades where America has offered Iran much only to have its offers spurned.

He goes on to note “As a solid regional power in this era of intense transition in global politics, Iran stands in a unique position. Given its large landmass and unique geographic position along the east–west transit route, Iran, since antiquity, has enjoyed a preeminent position in its region and beyond. Although Iran’s civilization and cultural heritage have remained intact, its political and economic fortunes have fluctuated periodically, depending on, among other things, its governance at home and its relations with the outside world”.

Laughably he claims “The Islamic Republic can actively contribute to the restoration of regional peace, security, and stability and play a catalytic role during this current transitional stage in international relations. In light of the increasing importance of normative and ideational factors in global politics, the Islamic Republic is well suited to draw on the rich millennial heritage of Iranian society and culture and the significant heritage of the Islamic Revolution, particularly its indigenously derived and sustained participatory model of governance. Iran can use such strengths to help realize the deeply cherished national aspirations of the Iranian people, including the achievement of long-term development and regional ascendance commensurate with the country’s inherent capacities and stature”.

He adds “Iran today has to grapple with a number of major challenges in its external relations. Needless to say, the long shadow of the decades-old and still ongoing tussle between Iran and the United States, which has been much exacerbated as a result of the nuclear imbroglio, has further complicated the state of relations between Iran and a host of its neighbors. Meanwhile, there has been a recent surge in the activities of extremist and violent nonstate actors in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, with a clear and unmistakable anti-Iran, anti-Shiite platform. A well-orchestrated campaign has promoted Islamophobia, Iranophobia, and Shiite-phobia and depicted Iran as a threat to regional peace and security; extended support to anti-Iran claimants in the region; tarnished Iran’s global image and undermined its stature; armed Iran’s regional rivals; actively supported anti-Iran forces, including the Taliban and other extremist groups; and fomented disagreements between Iran and its neighbors”.

All of this is true but it is as much Iran’s fault than the fault of those Muslims within Islam who despise Shia Islam. America can play a positive role in this Sunni-Shiite strife by offering a model where both groups can live peacefully together, but only with the co-operation of Iran can America push nations like Saudi Arabia and others to desist from their Shia persecutions.

Javad Zarif writes “It was within this international context that Rouhani won a decisive victory in the heavily contested Iranian presidential election in June 2013. He won 51 percent of all the votes cast in the first round against five conservative rivals. His political platform of prudent moderation and hope represented a significant turning point in Iranian politics. The fact that voter turnout reached 73 percent suggests that the public had moved past the lingering divisions of the June 2009 election. Rouhani’s pragmatic positions on foreign and domestic issues proved reassuring to the Iranian electorate. Rouhani distinguished his campaign from the murky platforms of his rivals in several key respects: his clear analysis of Iran’s current situation, his lucid and unambiguous articulation of the major challenges facing society and the state, and his honest and straightforward approach to problems and possible solutions. In this way, Rouhani managed to mobilize the disenchanted segments of the population to take an active interest in the final days of the campaign and to participate in the national vote. Rouhani’s foreign policy platform was based on a principled, sober, and wise critique of the conduct of foreign relations during the preceding eight years under the previous administration. Rouhani promised to remedy the unacceptable state of affairs through a major overhaul of the country’s foreign policy. The changes he proposed demonstrated a realistic understanding of the contemporary international order, the current external challenges facing the Islamic Republic, and what it will take to restore Iran’s relations with the world to a state of normalcy”.

He adds “Rouhani’s approach entails a delicate balancing act: between national, regional, and global needs, on the one hand, and the available means, instruments, and policies, on the other; between persistence and flexibility in foreign policy; between goals and means; and among various instruments of power in a dynamically changing world. Finally, Rouhani’s commitment to constructive engagement requires dialogue and interaction with other nations on an equal footing, with mutual respect, and in the service of shared interests. It requires that all participants make serious efforts to reduce tensions, build confidence, and achieve détente”.

He mentions that Iran has several goals, “Iran will expand and deepen its bilateral and multilateral relations through meaningful engagement with a wide range of states and organizations, including international economic institutions. Multilateralism will play a central role in Iran’s external relations. That will involve active contributions to global norm-setting and assertive participation in coalitions of like-minded states to promote peace and stability. A second priority will be to defend the individual and collective rights of Iranian nationals everywhere and to promote Iranian-Islamic culture, the Persian language, Islamic values, and Islamic democracy as a form of governance. Third, Iran will continue to support the cause of oppressed people across the world, especially in Palestine, and will continue its principled rejection of Zionist encroachments in the Muslim world”.

Of course the crux is how Iran will do this. If it expands its relationships and becomes part of the international community with rights for its citizens and minorities then there should be no hinderance in Iran attempting to pursue its other goals of spreading Iranian culture.

He then says that Iran’s most important task, or at least one of them is “is to diffuse and ultimately defeat the international anti-Iranian campaign, spearheaded by Israel and its American benefactors, who seek to “securitize” Iran — that is, to delegitimize the Islamic Republic by portraying it as a threat to the global order. The main vehicle for this campaign is the “crisis” over Iran’s peaceful nuclear program — a crisis that, in Iran’s view, is wholly manufactured and therefore reversible. That is why Rouhani wasted no time in breaking the impasse and engaging in negotiations with the so-called P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) to find common ground and reach an agreement that will ensure nonproliferation, preserve Iran’s scientific accomplishments, honor Iran’s inalienable national rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and end the unjust sanctions that have been imposed by outside powers”.

His assertion that the nuclear talks are simply a figment of people’s imaginations and are therefore “reversible” as he puts it are an insult to the intelligence of the vast majority of people who are aware of Iran’s secrecy and covert operations in this issue. It has persistently hid information and documents from inspectors and as a result has no right to claim it should be trusted.

Furthermore he goes on to write, “Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons and is convinced that such weapons would not enhance its security. Iran does not have the means to engage in nuclear deterrence — directly or through proxies — against its adversaries. Furthermore, the Iranian government believes that even a perception that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons is detrimental to the country’s security and to its regional role, since attempts by Iran to gain strategic superiority in the Persian Gulf would inevitably provoke responses that would diminish Iran’s conventional military advantage”.

Controversially he argues ” the ongoing negotiations over the nuclear issue face no insurmountable barriers. The only requirements are political will and good faith for the negotiators to “get to yes” and achieve the objective established by the Joint Plan of Action adopted in Geneva last November, which states, “The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.” The unexpectedly fast pace of progress in the negotiations so far augurs well for a speedy resolution of this unnecessary crisis and for the opening up of new diplomatic horizons”.

He ends the article by claiming, “Iran will prudently manage its relations with the United States by containing existing disagreements and preventing further tensions from emerging unnecessarily, thereby gradually easing tensions. Iran will also engage with European countries and other Western states with the goal of reinvigorating and further expanding relations. This normalization process must be based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual interest, and it must address issues of legitimate concern to both sides. Iran will also expand and consolidate its amicable ties with other major powers, such as China, India, and Russia”.

His note that Iran will contain existing problems and at the same time try to prevent “further tensions from emerging” is interesting. This is an obvious reference to Syria and signals that whatever is going on it Syria will not derail the discussions. Of course this is in his interest, and the interests of Iran, as America seems to have tied the two issues together.

He closes “The Iranian people, with their massive turnout in last year’s presidential election and their decisive choice of assertive engagement, have provided a unique window of opportunity for the new Iranian government and for the world to chart a different and much more promising course in our bilateral and multilateral relations. The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to vigorously honor its citizens’ choice, which will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on world affairs. For this endeavor to succeed, it is imperative for other states to accept the reality of Iran’s prominent role in the Middle East and beyond and to recognize and respect Iran’s legitimate national rights, interests, and security concerns. It is equally important for other states to scrupulously observe the sensitivities of the Iranian nation, particularly regarding its national dignity, independence, and achievements. Westerners, especially Americans, need to modify their understandings of Iran and the Middle East and develop a better grasp of the region’s realities, avoiding the analytic and practical mistakes of the past. Courage and leadership are required to seize this historic opportunity, which might not come again. The opportunity must not be lost”.

 

“Resumed a military buildup”

22/06/2014

Russia has resumed a military buildup near Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday, calling it “a very regrettable step backward.” I can confirm that we now see a new Russian military buildup — at least a few thousand more Russian troops deployed to the Ukrainian border — and we see troop maneuvers in the neighborhood of Ukraine,” Rasmussen said in London. “If they’re deployed to seal the border and stop the flow of weapons and fighters that would be a positive step. But that’s not what we’re seeing.” Russian Defense Ministry refused to comment on Rasmussen’s claim. Russian officials responded angrily to previous NATO claims of a massive Russian military presence near the 2,000-kilometer border, calling them overblown and insisting that the troops there were stationed quite far from the border and were involved in regular training”.

Showing Maliki the door

22/06/2014

A piece in Foreign Policy discusses the worsening relationship between Nouri al-Maliki and President Obama,  “Four years ago, the Obama administration helped Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hold onto power. Today, the White House has to decide whether to push him to give it up”.

This is an obvious progression from just a few days ago where Obama refused to call for Maliki to leave office, “Obama has long had a complicated and, at times, hostile relationship with Maliki, whose refusal to give legal immunity to American troops serving in Iraq was the primary reason Obama ordered a full U.S. military withdrawal from the country at the end of 2011. That decision is under intense political criticism as detractors inside and outside the administration argue that Iraq’s slide back into civil war could have been prevented if U.S. forces had remained in the country”.

The piece continues, “Current and former administration officials are increasingly open about their frustrations with Maliki and about their doubts that he is the right man to lead Iraq. On Tuesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Fox News that Maliki ‘has failed as a leader.’ On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, a growing number of lawmakers from both parties said that Maliki has to go if his country has any chance of forming a collaborative government capable of uniting Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds in the fight against ISIS. Maliki’s governing style privileges his fellow Shiites at the Sunni minority’s expense. Many lawmakers believe the Iraqi prime minister has inadvertently fueled the ISIS onslaught by alienating Sunnis and persuading them that they’d be better off living under Sunni religious extremists than under his unrelentingly hostile Shiite government”.

The article goes on to mention that “John McCain, a consistent Iraq hawk, was even blunter. ‘He’s got to step down,’ McCain said in an interview. ‘There’s no reconciliation with him and the Sunnis. He should form a coalition government and leave.’ None of the lawmakers offered up any specific ideas about what steps the U.S. could or should take to dislodge Maliki. The White House maintains that Iraqis must determine his future. Privately, however, several people who regularly interact with the White House say top administration officials concluded it would be impossible to cobble together a coalition government encompassing Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds with Maliki still at the helm”.

Context is given “The roots of the tense relationship between Obama and Maliki extend back to the president’s first months in office. Obama campaigned on ending what he called the ‘dumb war’ in Iraq and believed that his predecessor, President George W. Bush, had grown so close to Maliki that he wasn’t willing to prod the Iraqi leader to do more to reach out to the Sunnis. Bush normally spoke to Maliki weekly, either by phone or video teleconference. Obama almost immediately decided that he didn’t want to talk to Maliki even remotely that often, particularly as U.S. troop levels begin to fall from their pre-surge highs. ‘The concern was that weekly video conferences were no longer necessary, post-surge, and ultimately cheapened the currency of the presidency,’ said Colin Kahl, who served as the Pentagon’s top Middle East policy official from February 2009 until December 2011. Obama had more substantive concerns as well, according to two former aides. He believed that Maliki was steadily expanding control over the country’s military and internal security forces and then using them to arrest prominent Sunni leaders and detain young Sunni men on a wide scale. The White House also worried that Maliki was becoming autocratic. For example, he banned public protests, arrested journalists, and brought Iraq’s judiciary under his personal control”.

The piece goes on to praise Maliki for holding elections that were reasonably free and fair. Yet Maliki is almost assured of election as a result of him representing the Shia community so whole heartedly, but it does qualify this “In the spring of 2010, tens of millions of Iraqis headed to the polls to choose between Maliki’s Shiite-dominated State of Law coalition and the mixed Shiite-Sunni party of former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Allawi won 91 seats to Maliki’s 89, but Maliki gave no indication that he was prepared to give up power. Most Obama administration officials believed that Allawi would make a far better prime minister because of his close ties with top Sunni leaders. However, the White House opted against intervening on his behalf, in part because they feared that the prolonged squabbling that would accompany a political transition from Maliki to Allawi would destabilize the country and risk its fragile security gains. The Iraqi supreme court, in a highly controversial ruling, then effectively gave Maliki first dibs on forming a new government. He garnered a majority of seats in Iraq’s parliament and was sworn in for another term in December 2010”.

It ends, “The White House still had a chance of getting Allawi a share of power that would potentially have allowed him to serve as a curb on Maliki’s sectarian tendencies. Kahl said the administration considered two approaches: trying to persuade Kurdish leaders to give Iraq’s presidency — which they had held for years — to Allawi or creating a new and powerful national security advisor position that would give the former prime minister some control over the country’s security forces. In the end, Kahl said, the Kurds weren’t willing to give up the presidency and Maliki wasn’t willing to cede that much of his power to Allawi. Kahl and many other Iraq experts believe that a Prime Minister Allawi probably wouldn’t have implemented the same pro-Shiite policies that Maliki has put in place to such disastrous effect”.

The article closes, “Maliki is giving no indication that he’s ready to give up the helm — or make a sustained outreach campaign to the country’s Sunnis. On Tuesday, he met with several Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni leaders and then made what Reuters described as a “visibly uncomfortable televised appearance” calling for national unity. The most prominent Sunni, Osama al-Nujaifi, didn’t speak during the event and walked away from Maliki without saying anything, according to the Reuters account. While the White House considers whether and how to push Maliki out, some lawmakers believe Washington needs to accept that he may not go anywhere anytime soon. Maliki, they believe, is in for the long haul, for better and probably for worse”.

 

Abdullah accusing Karzai

22/06/2014

Presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah on Wednesday accused President Hamid Karzai of supporting his rival in the runoff election, saying he no longer trusted the electoral bodies. At a news conference in Kabul, the former foreign minister demanded an immediate stop to the vote-tallying process until their demands were met.Looking to throw in the towel, he added the election commissions’ decisions would not be acceptable to his camp as long as his demands were not met”.

 

The Iran talks and Iraq

22/06/2014
 David Sanger, in the New York Times, writes that the conflict in Iraq will bring a new angle to the ongoing Iran talks.
He writes, “The Iranian leadership had a message for Washington on Wednesday: If President Obama really wants some cooperation on stabilising Iraq, he might first think about speeding forward with a permanent deal over Iran’s nuclear capability. That statement by President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, to reporters at an international relations forum in Oslo, hardly surprised the American and European negotiators. They are growing skeptical that a deal both Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani can embrace — and sell at home — is possible by a deadline agreed upon with the Iranians last year, now a little more than a month away. ‘The Iranians desperately needed leverage,’ one European negotiator said Wednesday after weeks of arguments over how many centrifuges Iran would be permitted to keep spinning, and how fast the sanctions that have so crippled the economic lives of ordinary Iranians could be lifted. ‘They clearly think the American fear of getting sucked back into Iraq may be just the thing, at just the right moment.’ To the Iranians, an agreement that preserves what they call their ‘nuclear rights’ and the collapse of century-old borders and the American-enforced order in the Middle East are both, if played right in Tehran, an opportunity to restore and expand Iran’s influence in the region. To the White House, however, a long-term nuclear accord in which the United States has direct strategic interests while managing the latest spasm of sectarian violence in a conflict Mr. Obama is loath to re-engage is a prescription for a bad deal”.
Sanger goes on to explain, “when Mr. Nahavandian said a nuclear agreement would be ‘the test for confidence building’ that could lead to ‘opportunities for other issues,’ the response was swift. ‘Any discussion about Iraq with Iran will be entirely separate’ from the negotiations, Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said Wednesday. ‘And any effort to link the two — or any other regional issue — is a nonstarter. We have been clear about this since the start of our negotiations over the nuclear program.’ In fact, there has not been much serious discussion of Iraq inside the luxurious hotel near the Stadtpark where American, Iranian, British, French, German, Russian and Chinese negotiators are convening”.
While this is true, Sanger does not rule out the possibility of talks on the sidelines. The official position is what all officials say for the obvious reason that expectations cannot always be met in the open. Instead it is always better to deal and discuss quietly but at the same time both Iran and America, in this instance at least, have the same interests. Neither want to see ISIS/ISIL take over Iraq. Iran wants a Shia ally and America does not want to undo the years of effort it has put into the country to see it become a haven for terrorists.

Sanger goes on to write “The deputy secretary of state, William J. Burns, raised the issue briefly with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, when he was here Monday. But Mr. Burn’s mission was mostly to reinforce the message to the Iranians that the time for the hardest decisions on dismantling the country’s nuclear infrastructure — decisions that only the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei can make — has now arrived. Mr. Burns, who led the secret initiative last year to get these talks going, returned to Washington the next morning. That left the chief American negotiator, Wendy R. Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs, to put together what she calls the Rubik’s cube of a deal that would guarantee Iran would not have the technology and fuel on hand to race for a bomb. Or, that if that race began — a “breakout” in the nuclear world — the United States, Israel and the Sunni Arab states that deeply fear a nuclear Iran would have a year or more to react, diplomatically or militarily. Some parts of the cube have begun to fold into place. The Iranians have come up with a formula for dealing with their heavy water reactor in Arak that should sharply limit the amount of plutonium it produces. But the plant would remain open, a face-saving step that avoids crossing one of Ayatollah Khamenei’s mandates that no nuclear facilities would actually close. There are also reports of an emerging solution for Iran’s deepest, hardest-to-bomb site, called Fordo, near the holy city of Qum. It would be converted from an enrichment plant to some kind of “research facility,” though it would be a long elevator ride, under a mountain, to get to the labs.”

Sanger ends, “That leaves the hardest problem: How many centrifuges would Iran be permitted to keep? Centrifuges rotate at very high speeds to enrich uranium, and they have long been a target of America and its Western allies. Several years of covert cyberattacks on Iran’s main plant at Natanz were aimed at knocking out the technology. But now the negotiations are aimed at permanently limiting what Olympic Games, the code name for the attacks, could only do temporarily. The problem is that just as the Americans talk about reducing the number of centrifuges by roughly three-quarters, to just a few thousand operating machines, the Iranians propose expanding the numbers by tens of thousands. (There are 19,000 installed today, but only about half are running.) At issue is a fundamental difference in points of view — Iran says it wants to produce all its own fuel for nuclear power plants — though it has only one major plant running, and the fuel for that comes from Russia. The West insists Iran should have only a token capacity, for research reactors”.
 He concludes, “The problem is that with tens of thousands of centrifuges, Iran’s ‘breakout time’ to produce bomb fuel drops significantly. That is why an Iranian nuclear agency turned out a paper last week arguing that it would take years for Iran to build a bomb; almost all its major conclusions were disputed on Wednesday by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, which concluded that the Iranian report was ‘either mistaken or knowingly exaggerated.’ There are other unresolved disputes, including whether Iran would have to reveal to international inspectors work that it is suspected — but has never been proved — of doing on weapons design. Even if all these issues are resolved by July 20 — many here believe an extension of talks is unavoidable — Mr. Obama would still have to sell any agreement to a suspicious Congress, Israel and deeply worried Arab allies”.

A government without Maliki

22/06/2014

The Obama administration is signaling that it wants a new government in Iraq without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, convinced the Shiite leader is unable to reconcile with the nation’s Sunni minority and stabilize a volatile political landscape. The U.S. administration is indicating it wants Iraq’s political parties to form a new government without Mr. Maliki as he tries to assemble a ruling coalition following elections this past April, U.S. officials say. Such a new government, U.S., officials say, would include the country’s Sunni and Kurdish communities and could help to stem Sunni support for the al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, that has seized control of Iraqi cities over the past two weeks. That, the officials argue, would help to unify the country and reverse its slide into sectarian division. On Wednesday, Iraq stepped up efforts on several fronts to blunt the insurgency’s progress, deploying counterterrorism units and helicopter gunships to battle them for control of the country’s main oil refinery, in Beiji”.

End of the EU’s raison d’etre

22/06/2014

A piece in Foreign Affairs argues that the gains made by the EU in Eastern Europe have vanished. However, it has been said that the EU has sealed its place in the history books because it stabilised democracy. The article argues the opposite and the EU is powerless to do anything about it.

It begins, “Europeans love to celebrate anniversaries, especially those commemorating a terrible past overcome. This year will offer many such moments, marking as it will 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, 75 years since the beginning of World War II, and, most uplifting of all, a quarter century since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Such milestones are bound to make everyone feel good about European unity. But another important anniversary is less likely to be celebrated, precisely because it would put a damper on those good feelings. Ten years ago, eight eastern European states joined the European Union, followed by Bulgaria and Romania three years later. Europe seemed to have overcome not just Cold War divisions but also deeper historical differences. The EU had brought East and West together, consolidating the fragile democracies that had emerged from the fall of communism”.

He fairly argues that “however, this supposed triumph is in serious doubt. Democracy is struggling: nearly all the countries that joined the EU during the last decade are experiencing profound political crises. And as western European leaders call for restrictions on free movement across the continent, new rifts are opening up. Instead of stoking the resentment of ordinary eastern Europeans seeking a better life in the west, EU leaders should learn from the mistakes of accession and enforce clearer boundaries on what political elites can get away with once their countries have joined the EU”.

He sets the scene “In 2004, observers hailed the EU’s “transformative power” and “invisible hand” for profoundly changing countries from within. Whereas the United States had bet on brutal military interventions to promote democracy, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq, the EU had used ever-so-soft power to achieve the same end in its region, extending offers of membership that no country could refuse. Once governments gave in to the union’s power to attract, the wonders of EU conditionality — making a country’s entry to the club and, perhaps most important, the disbursement of EU subsidies dependent on its compliance with what Brussels demanded — did the rest of the work. In 1993, the EU’s then 12 member states formulated the “Copenhagen criteria,” which stipulated that candidate countries had to prove their liberal democratic credentials before being admitted. Candidates also had to demonstrate that they could operate within the union’s common market, which governs trade among the member states, and reliably apply EU law. All the EU members admitted in the new millennium — Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004; Bulgaria and Romania in 2007; and Croatia in 2013 — seemed ready to follow the old pattern and, sooner or later, do the right thing. When, in 1998, Slovaks realized that their nationalist prime minister, Vladimir Meciar, was unlikely to lead them to EU-style prosperity, they duly ditched him. Even Bulgaria and Romania, states heavily burdened by corruption and communist legacies, eventually decided to play by the Brussels rule book in the run-up to their accession in 2007, reforming their judiciaries and establishing offices to fight graft. In Croatia, the latest country to join the EU, the same pro-EU politician who had kick-started the creation of independent legal institutions became an example of their eventual effectiveness: former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader is now serving ten years in prison for corruption”.

He goes on to write realistically, “Yet it has become clear that at least some of this success story was a fairy tale that many in the EU chose to believe despite a lot of worrisome evidence of its falsity. For such boosters, an ever-enlarging union seemed to demonstrate the world-historical importance of the entire EU enterprise, proving that, for all the Euroskepticism in countries such as the United Kingdom, Brussels was doing something right — enough so that it kept attracting aspirants. Today, that fairy tale has become impossible for all but the most starry-eyed believers to accept in its entirety. Although the EU remains attractive to many nonmembers, the problems with the union’s eastern European members have grown so numerous that they can hardly be dismissed as a matter of one or two bad apples — much as Europe’s elites, preoccupied with the euro crisis, might like to do. The term usually employed to describe what is happening among the new members — “backsliding” — doesn’t quite capture things. That word originally meant returning to a life of religious sin, or deconversion. What eastern European states are experiencing today is hardly a simple lapse in morals, however. Nor are they returning to any previously known form of authoritarianism. Rather, something new is emerging: a form of illiberal democracy in which political parties try to capture the state for either ideological purposes or, more prosaically, economic gain. Some countries in eastern Europe are moving toward a model of governance that resembles that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Like Moscow, the governments of these countries are careful to maintain their democratic façades by holding regular elections. But their leaders have tried to systematically dismantle institutional checks and balances, making real turnovers in power increasingly difficult”.

The key example for this he writes is Hungary, “Hungary has led the trend. In 2010, after the disastrous reign of a “reform socialist” government that combined the worst of all possible worlds — the ruthless promotion of capitalism, rampant corruption, and ballooning deficits — Viktor Orban and his right-wing party, Fidesz, returned to power (Orban had been prime minister from 1998 to 2002), winning almost 53 percent of the national vote. Due to the peculiarities of Hungary’s electoral system, this number translated into a two-thirds majority in parliament, allowing Fidesz to adopt a new constitution in January 2012 without the involvement of any other party, civic groups, or the public at large. Instead, Fidesz declared the 2010 victory to have been a “revolution in the polling booths” and pushed through a highly partisan charter created in its nationalist and populist image. Under the Orwellian label “System of National Cooperation,” it also attempted to purge the judiciary, the bureaucracy, and the media of nonloyalists. The party’s underlying moral justification was that Fidesz and only Fidesz truly represented the Hungarian nation. As Orban, whose first tenure as prime minister began in 1998, put it after his government was ousted in the 2002 parliamentary elections, the “nation cannot be in opposition.” The implication, of course, was that any opposition to Fidesz was illegitimate and not truly Hungarian. The irony is that Hungary was once a poster child for the EU-led transition to democracy. During the 1990s, many Hungarians hoped that Budapest would soon become like Vienna (which is only a few hours away by train). During previous transitions, such hopes were eventually fulfilled — formerly right-wing authoritarian Spain was admitted in 1986, and Barcelona really did become the poor man’s Paris. But for eastern Europe, the great investment boom ended around 2007. The public’s faith in democracy plummeted along with the economy; as Alexis de Tocqueville noted long ago, it is not a country’s objective economic situation that tends to generate serious political crises but the sense that legitimate expectations have been disappointed”.

He notes that there have been some exceptions to this, “There are profound differences among the countries, just as there were always important idiosyncrasies in the Eastern bloc. But most of the region has suffered from deeply divided political establishments, with at least one side declaring the other one illegitimate and unfit to govern. And electoral volatility has remained high, as newcomers, such as the Czech billionaire Andrej Babis, whose party finished second in the October 2013 Czech general election, keep appearing on the scene to declare that the entire existing political establishment is immoral and needs to be thrown out. Even in countries where the recent power struggles have been less about ideology and more about grabbing state resources (Bulgaria and Romania being the obvious examples), a toxic mixture of culture wars and constitutional crises has become the new normal. One of the postcommunist transition’s former paragons, the Czech Republic, suddenly looks like Weimar Germany. When the country directly elected a president for the first time last year, that president, Milos Zeman, defied the Parliament by installing one of his own confidants as prime minister, thereby trying to grab new powers for the presidency”.

The exception to this trend he adds correctly is Poland, “The one great exception to this pattern has been Poland, the region’s largest state. The country has weathered the recent global financial crisis exceptionally well and is the only European state that has avoided a recession since 2008. Benefiting from close integration with Germany, it has tried hard to be viewed as a leader of fiscally responsible northern Europe. In the country’s 2011 election, Prime Minister Donald Tusk managed to get reelected by portraying himself as the only alternative to the arch-populist Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose antidemocratic politics had already backfired during his tenure as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. In any case, Kaczynski never had the kind of majority from which Orban has benefited. There is a good chance, however, that he will make a comeback in the 2015 elections. By then, Kaczynski may have learned from Orban’s example: don’t just make nationalist speeches deriding the previous establishment; rewrite the rules and reorganize the system in your favour”.

He also cites the example of Romania, “Romania’s prime minister, Victor Ponta. Since he won a two-thirds majority in Parliament in December 2012, Ponta and his party have been working on a new constitution that would severely limit the independence and oversight role of the country’s courts, decisively tilting the balance of power away from the judiciary in favour of Parliament”.

He ends noting that there is little the EU can do about this, “As democracy in the region has come under sustained attack, the EU has done little. Part of the problem is that the Copenhagen criteria were never as effective as Brussels claimed. They were too general and were applied too inconsistently. EU elites presumed that if new members were capable of adhering to the rules governing the EU’s common market, they could be certified as full-fledged liberal democracies. Even countries that clearly weren’t quite ready for full EU membership, such as Bulgaria and Romania, were let in, and with few strings attached — all in the hope that joining Europe’s club would turn seeming barbarians into good liberal democrats. Such hopes proved unwarranted, and now that these countries have been admitted, Brussels has even less leverage over them. The European Commission has occasionally had stern words for Orban, with its justice commissioner calling time and again on Budapest to adhere to “fundamental European values,” but it lacks the legal and political instruments to intervene. The commission does have the power to impose sanctions, but only when countries do not play by the rules of the EU common market. So at best, Brussels has been able to address political problems indirectly. In 2011, for instance, when the Fidesz government effectively decapitated Hungary’s judiciary by lowering the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 to 62, the most the EU could do was sue Hungary for age discrimination. Brussels eventually won its case, but the judges were never reinstated, and the political situation remained as Fidesz wanted it”.

He does note that “Theoretically, an EU member state can have some of its membership rights suspended if it persistently violates “fundamental European values,” such as democracy and the rule of law. But it is the national governments of EU member states that ultimately decide whether to take such drastic measures, and they are unlikely to use this power in anything but the most dire circumstances. Their primary fear is of setting a precedent; what if someone comes after them one day? Unfortunately, the alternative — having influential European leaders apply pressure behind closed doors — has not had much effect”.

He makes the valid point that “Clubs don’t function, however, unless someone enforces the rules from time to time, and the EU is no exception. Officials in Brussels are therefore now discussing how to craft new instruments that would allow the EU to set limits on whether and how EU member states can change their constitutions”.

He closes, “In the end, the people of eastern Europe may prove better than their political establishments. So far, not one of the profound constitutional changes in the region has been popularly ratified. The Fidesz constitution was never put to the people, and a referendum initiated by Romania’s Ponta to unseat the president failed in 2012. Meanwhile, popular protests prevented the appointment of oligarchs to the Bulgarian government in 2013. On the streets of Sofia, students protesting the country’s oligarchs sang western Europe’s cultural anthem: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” In 1989, ordinary people and political dissidents managed to (in most cases) peacefully overthrow the oppressive governments of eastern Europe in a series of “velvet revolutions.” Twenty-five years later, the people of the region must safeguard the legacy of their revolutions by once more showing such resolve — and blocking attempts by Orban-style populists to now steal them”.

Controling a refinery?

22/06/2014

Sunni fighters were in control of three quarters of the territory of the Baiji refinery north of Baghdad, an official said there, after a morning of heavy fighting at gates defended by elite troops who have been under siege for a week. ISIL aims to build a Sunni caliphate ruled on mediaeval precepts, but the rebels also include a broad spectrum of more moderate Sunnis furious at what they see as oppression by Baghdad. Some international oil companies have pulled out foreign workers. The head of Iraq’s southern oil company, Dhiya Jaffar, said Exxon Mobil had conducted a major evacuation and BP had pulled out 20 percent of its staff. He criticised the moves, as the areas where oil is produced for export are mainly in the Shi’ite south and far from the fighting. Washington and other Western capitals are trying to save Iraq as a united country by leaning hard on Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to reach out to Sunnis. Maliki met Sunni and Kurdish political opponents overnight, concluding with a frosty, carefully staged joint appearance at which an appeal for national unity was read out”.

 

Obama’s 300

20/06/2014

President Obama has made a decision on what military support to send to Iraq.  A blog post reports, “After staking part of his legacy on ending the war in Iraq, President Barack Obama announced Thursday that up to 300 American troops would return there to advise Iraqi security forces on how to counter a growing threat from Islamist militants as they press ever closer to Baghdad, and left the door open to using American airstrikes to ‘take targeted and precise military action’ if it is needed. Obama said that the troops would not be combat forces but would serve in a train-and-advise role, adding that the United States has already been building up its intelligence capabilities inside the country and would create “joint operation centers” in northern Iraq and in Baghdad to share intelligence and coordinate planning against the threats posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. But as he attempted to walk the line between addressing the security crisis in Iraq and being dragged into another war there, Obama stressed that he would ensure that the deployment of troops and other assets would not amount to ‘mission creep.'”

There is an argument that in order to prevent this, or at least lessen the possibility of it, that much greater force is needed by America. However, it should be said that the political track that Obama is stressing is also part of the correct approach that will solve Iraq’s problems in the long term.

The report notes “following Obama’s remarks, a senior administration official wouldn’t rule out a potential military strike on ISIS fighters in Syria, where they’ve maintained a stronghold amid a bloody civil war and from where they have flooded across the border into Iraq. The official said that ISIS hasn’t limited its operations to one country and that the United States would not be “restricted” in taking actions to protect its national security. The official pointed to the United States’ capture in Libya this week of the alleged ringleader of the 2012 Benghazi attack as evidence of America’s will to fight terrorists wherever they’re located. Obama was harshly critical of the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom he accused of alienating the country’s Sunni minority. But he stopped short of saying Maliki should go”.

The piece adds “Obama’s move, coming after days of withering criticism from both sides — those who want airstrikes against militants or another definitive action, versus those who want the president to be more circumspect about entering the conflict — will likely appease neither group. Yet for an administration that has been scolded for not consulting Congress on its national security decisions, one of its harshest critics seemed to have been brought on board. The actions Obama announced are a ‘step in the right direction,’ Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, told Foreign Policy. Graham said he hoped Obama would use air power but would only use it in combination with diplomacy”.

The report closes, “Confronted with a worsening situation in Iraq that challenges the wisdom of removing all American troops from there in 2011 when negotiations over a long-term security arrangement between the two countries failed, the administration has been scrambling in recent days to find a politically and strategically viable approach to stem the insurgents’ advance toward Baghdad. Critics believe that if the Obama White House had managed to hammer out a security agreement between the two countries, the United States could have maintained as many as 15,000 troops there to conduct train-and-advise and other operations inside Iraq”.

In a different but related article, it reports that President Obama has increased syping on ISIS and that this could pave the way for airstrikes. It begins “In ordering hundreds of military advisors to Iraq and dramatically ramping up intelligence-gathering on jihadist fighters threatening Baghdad, President Barack Obama sent his strongest signal yet that U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) may be likely. Since ISIS fighters took control of two key Iraqi cities last week, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies have blanketed portions of the country with spy satellites and drones, giving them what one senior administration official called “round-the-clock coverage” of locations where ISIS is active. The military personnel headed to Iraq — as many as 300, Obama said — will work alongside Iraqi military forces in special intelligence centers, using drone video feeds and spy satellite photographs to track and attack ISIS fighters. They’ll also be in a prime position to help carry out U.S. airstrikes the moment Obama orders them”.

The report adds “Obama didn’t say that airstrikes are imminent. He stressed that the only long-term solution to Iraq’s stabilization will come from political reconciliation between the Shiite-led government and the marginalized Sunni minority. But he left no doubt that he’s putting all the pieces in place to launch the first significant military action in Iraq since U.S. forces left there in 2011”.

It concludes “Satellite images and video surveillance are essential for tracking ISIS’s locations and perhaps even predicting where it will attack next. But in order to precisely target airstrikes against ISIS fighters, and importantly, to distinguish between them and Iraqi military forces or innocent civilians, the military needs real eyes on the ground to help coordinate and call in airstrikes. That’s where the advisors could come in. The advisors will “help give us better visibility into the situation on the ground” and provide intelligence about “potential military action,” a second senior administration official told reporters. Technical sources of information won’t give U.S. forces the level of precision they need to launch such targeted airstrikes, former defense and intelligence officials said. Whether advisors will be used to call in airstrikes has not been decided yet, a senior official said. But, the official noted, they would be able to share intelligence with the Iraqis to help them develop targets and plans for attacking ISIS positions”.

It ends “The concept was pioneered in Iraq during the troop surge of 2007, and used to great effect by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) commandos led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Using a combination of intercepted phone calls, satellite imagery, and drone footage, as well as spies and informants, JSOC forces quickly located and captured or killed insurgents and terrorists. “McChrystal helped develop that into a fine art,” said the former intelligence official with experience in Iraq. A spokesperson for McChrystal, who is retired from the Army and helps run a consulting firm, said he was unavailable to comment. What’s being contemplated now is a much smaller version of the model used in the Iraq War, but conceptually, it’s similar. And with 300 military personnel in Iraq, with possibly more on the way, the U.S. could eventually generate a lot of intelligence and pinpoint the locations of ISIS fighters more reliably”.

Philip VI of Spain

20/06/2014

King Felipe VI has called for “a new Spain that we will build together” after being proclaimed head of state in a ceremony in parliament. Earlier, King Felipe received the royal sash from his father, Juan Carlos, at the Zarzuela Palace near Madrid. He acceded to the throne at the stroke of midnight after King Juan Carlos formally abdicated on Wednesday. The proceedings have been kept low key, as many Spaniards are suffering economic hardship. The swearing-in ceremony took the form of a proclamation rather than a coronation. It is the first royal transition in Spain since democracy was restored in the 1970s. The new king, 46, swore an oath promising to uphold the constitution. The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Jesus Posada, then proclaimed him king, declaring: “Long live Spain! Long live the king!” In a speech to parliament, Felipe said he had “great hope” for the future of Spain and called for unity”.

Iraq’s long term production problem

20/06/2014

Keith Johnson writes that ISIS remain a long term threat to Iraqi oil supplies. He begins, “The relentless march of Islamist militants south through Iraq is taking a toll on the country’s oil infrastructure, forcing the closure of Iraq’s largest oil refinery and sparking fears of an attack on Baghdad itself. But with Iraq’s oil output, if not its national integrity, apparently still intact, global oil markets are treading water after pushing crude prices up to nine-month highs late last week”.

He argues that the concern is “whether OPEC’s second-biggest producer can meet outsized production-growth expectations for the rest of the decade. If it can’t, energy analysts say, the world’s inexorable thirst for oil could soon collide with limited growth in supply, leading to higher prices and lower economic growth in the United States and around the world”.

He goes on to note that “So far, ISIS militants have not threatened Iraq’s giant oil fields; most of those are farther south, and oil exports are still flowing out of the country through ports far from ISIS-held territories in the north. The relative security prevailing in the south, where exports could hit near-record levels of 2.8 million barrels a day next month, is keeping a lid on oil prices. Crude trading in New York and London held steady at about $106 and $113 a barrel, respectively, or roughly 3 percent higher than before the ISIS march began. There is another potentially bright spot in the Iraqi oil sector: the quasi-independent Kurdish region in the north. Kurdish troops have so far stood up to ISIS and kept their territory free from insurgent attacks. And now that Kurdish forces occupy the historically contested city of Kirkuk and its significant adjacent oil fields, the Kurds are in a much better position to jump-start exports to countries such as Turkey. In a significant oil-market report released Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that Iraqi output will account for 60 percent of all OPEC production growth for the rest of the decade”.

He ends noting “Even though the United States’ recent oil-production boom has helped offset oil-market struggles elsewhere, Iraq’s importance to world oil supplies will only become more crucial after 2020 because the market is counting on Iraq meeting very ambitious output targets. “It is difficult to overstate the importance of Iraq to the long term outlook for oil markets,” said Securing America’s Future Energy, a group that advocates reducing U.S. dependence on oil, in a report Tuesday. In the short term, Kurdistan will be a vital, if politically charged, part of Iraq’s efforts to juice oil production and exports. The Kurdish natural resources minister, Ashti Hawrami, said at a conference in London that the Kurdish government has linked the Kirkuk oil fields to a Kurdish export oil pipeline, raising the possibility of greater oil exports that bypass Baghdad altogether. Although exports from the north are blocked for now — the pipeline is still damaged and border areas are under ISIS control — Kurdish officials said they hoped for 200,000 barrels a day of oil exports this summer and 400,000 barrels by the end of the year. The Kurds have already loaded oil onto asecond pair of tankers for resale in Europe, he said”.

He concludes, “That could be the region’s ticket to financial independence from Baghdad. The central government and the semiautonomous region have been fighting over how to divvy up revenue from Iraqi oil exports; Kurds say they are shortchanged by Baghdad and don’t receive their stipulated 17 percent share”.

Dividends for China

20/06/2014

For years, American administrations have embraced U.N. peacekeeping as a cost-effective alternative to U.S. military intervention, a policy that has allowed Washington to harness the power and purse of foreign governments to promote America’s security and humanitarian interests abroad. “It’s a smart investment,” President Obama recently told cadets at West Point. In South Sudan, the investment is indeed paying dividends — for China. Last month, Beijing quietly secured a deal that will put the U.N.’s famed blue helmets to work protecting workers in South Sudan’s oil installations, where China has invested billions of dollars over the years and holds a major financial stake — at least 40 percent — in South Sudan’s largest oil field. American taxpayers, who fund about 27 percent of the cost of U.N. peacekeeping missions, will effectively be helping to shoulder the financial burden of securing China’s investment. The unprecedented arrangement was hammered out last month in closed-door negotiations — which have not been previously detailed — over how to bolster the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS, so it could better protect hundreds of thousands of civilians from ethnic cleansing. The beefed-up mission will include thousands of additional troops from African countries as well as hundreds more from China”.

Sisi the Islamist?

20/06/2014

A piece in Foreign Affairs by Robert Springborg, argues that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt is far closer to the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood than many would  hope or think.

The writer opens, that Sisi during his “election campaign gave little indication of his character; his appearances were limited to a handful of prerecorded and heavily edited television interviews that revealed little about his vision for the country”.

He goes on to mention “Sisi will draw far more heavily upon Islam to legitimate his autocratic regime than he has led Egyptian and foreign observers to believe. The most telling aspect of Sisi’s campaign was its very reticence. Sisi is an exceedingly private person, someone who has always kept his thoughts to himself. Within the Egyptian military establishment, he was long known as a loner, someone who preferred to keep company with a small group of friends. That reputation for discretion helped make him a favourite of Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, former minister of defence”.

He goes on to note “Since becoming Egypt’s de facto leader one year ago, Sisi has staffed the military and intelligence services with allies from his very tight inner circle. As a result, Egypt’s minister of defense, the head of the Republican Guard, and other high-ranking defense officials are all people who have known Sisi either since they were fellow students in the military academy or since they served with him in mechanized infantry in the early stages of his career. Sisi’s personal mentor from those days in the mechanized infantry, for example, is now director of General Intelligence, while his classmate at the military academy — also the father of his son’s wife — is now chief of staff”.

As for what informs his policy views, Sisi was mostly at pains during the campaign to suggest that he is not particularly religious. When he announced the military’s “roadmap to democracy” in the wake of the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, he had onstage with him the Coptic Pope, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the country’s most venerable institution of Islamic learning, and Galal al-Murra, a prominent Salafist. He distanced himself from the conservative Islamist parties that endorsed his candidacy and surrounded himself with moderate Muslim figures, including the Islamic scholar and former grand mufti Ali Gomaa, whose interpretations of Islam are palatable to Egypt’s foreign ministry and Western audiences. His campaign has also received endorsements and operational support from prominent Egyptian secularists, including Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, a distinguished journalist; Amr Moussa, Egypt’s former minister of foreign affairs; and Hisham Kassem, a publisher and democracy activist”.

Most interestingly he argues that “Sisi’s private views contrast starkly with his public image as a religious moderate. In a leaked audio recording of a conversation last summer between Sisi and a journalist for the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Yawm, Sisi is asked whether he had ever dreamed of becoming head of the Egyptian armed forces or even president of the country. Sisi replies that he has, and goes on to explain that he was inspired by a religious vision in which he was wielding a sword inscribed in blood with the words ‘No God but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God’ and in which he saw the devout former Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat, who promised him that he would be president. Despite efforts to conceal his views, Sisi has occasionally revealed the depths of his religiosity to the Egyptian public. When crowds protested against the military for imposing ‘virginity tests’ on female protesters in 2011, Sisi declared that it was his responsibility, as leader of an honourable national institution, to ‘decide if [protesters] were honorable.’ He has enjoined Egyptians to ‘put their trust in God, the army, and the civilian police to take Egypt to freedom, stability, and progress.’ He has attributed corruption to ‘the detachment of religious speech from reality’ and called for the need to ‘represent God in a good way through our words and deeds.’ When asked in the first television interview of his presidential campaign about foreign policy under his presidency, he replied not by describing a policy but by praising Saudi King Abdullah as the leading Arab head of state. While this can be interpreted as a public thank-you for the financial and other support provided by Saudi Arabia for Sisi and Egypt, it also suggests that Sisi is comfortable with the conservative Islam of that ruler and his country. And he has never rejected the Salafist parties’ endorsement of him, which suggests that he could be prepared to offer their members positions in the state bureaucracy or conceivably even the government after his inauguration”.

This argument is somewhat basic however. It assumes that as a result of a few statements and polite words for King Abdullah, Sisi will govern as if he was Muslim Brotherhood-lite. This is some thing of a stretch. However, there are two reasons for this. The first is that Egypt is badly divided and was on the edge of civil war in 2011 and 2012 and Sisi could feel the need to say inclusive things to those in the Brotherhood that are left. The second point flows from the first. In order to gain stability, both economic and political, Sisi needs order and to do this he needs peace which can only be gained in the short term by appeasing the Brotherhood.

The writer does add worryingly that “A 2006 paper that Sisi wrote for the U.S. Army War College, in which he argued that democracy in the Middle East could only be of an Islamic nature, also suggests that Islam provides the intellectual framework for his political beliefs. And absent Sisi’s personal and political religiosity, it is impossible to understand the almost unlimited faith that Morsi and his colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood placed in Sisi. Having promoted him to minister of defense in place of Tantawi, apparently because at least some in the Brothers’ leadership had convinced themselves he was a secret supporter of their organization, they continued to believe that he would remain loyal to their cause almost until the moment Sisi initiated the decisive coup on July 3, 2013. It is also important to note that the core of Sisi’s disagreement with the Brotherhood has never been doctrinal. Nowhere has he specified how his beliefs differ from theirs, or where theirs are erroneous. His condemnation of the Brotherhood stems from the same source as the Saudi ruling family’s antagonism toward it — namely, competition for control of the state. Just like the Brothers, Sisi believes that the existential role of the state is to foster a moral order based in Islam. But the key issue is who should do that fostering. For Sisi it is the military and, ultimately, himself. In other words, he, like the Brotherhood, believes in a messianic Islam. The difference is that Sisi sees himself and the military in the Messiah role”.

He concludes “Sisi’s devotion to Islam is sure to suffuse his military-backed rule of Egypt. Connecting him and the military to the country’s Islamic institutions will constitute a primary source of legitimation of his presidency. This will likely give those Islamic institutions important leverage over a range of domestic policies, including those dealing with gender equality. It will also help shape Egypt’s foreign policy, as indicated by Sisi’s friendliness toward Saudi Arabia. Finally, it will serve to reinforce the military’s ever-growing role in the economy, as the military’s avariciousness can now be portrayed as evidence of an interest in creating a morally sound Islamic economy. Sisi’s Egypt, in sum, will be one in which religion will reinforce military authoritarianism and serve to justify repression of opponents, most notably those whose politics, paradoxically, are also informed by Islam. This was not the image being conveyed during Sisi’s campaign, but it is a reality that Westerners and Egyptians alike would be wise to prepare themselves for”.

“Away from airstrikes”

20/06/2014

President Barack Obama has shifted his focus away from airstrikes in Iraq as an imminent option for slowing a fast-moving Islamic insurgency, in part because there are few clear targets that U.S. could hit, officials said. Officials said Obama has made no final decisions and could ultimately approve limited strikes if stronger targets emerge. The CIA and other spy agencies are scrambling to close intelligence gaps in the region and track the movements of key figures in the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which seized Mosul, Tikrit and other towns in Iraq as the country’s military melted away. The president summoned top congressional leaders to the White House Wednesday afternoon to discuss the collapsing security situation. The relentless violence marks the greatest threat to Iraq’s stability since the U.S. military withdrew at the end of 2011 after more than eight years of war.”

 

Not the only option?

20/06/2014

Micah Zenko writes that bombing is not the only option for America in Iraq.

He opens “two days after the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) captured territory and military installations in Iraq, Washington foreign policy commentators and policymakers are considering options for responding. And unsurprisingly, the scope of the debate about what to do in Iraq has broken down into bombing, or not bombing. Sen. Lindsey Graham declared on the Senate floor, ‘I think American airpower is the only hope to change the battlefield equation in Iraq.’ President Barack Obama later saidI don’t rule out anything,’ to which White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later explained, ‘We are not contemplating ground troops. The president was answering a question specifically about air strikes.’ The debate shrinks immediately around whether and how to use the tactic of force”.

He mentions “Though it is commonly referred to as Maslow’s Hammer, the concept of privileging the tool at hand, irrespective of its appropriate fit to solving a problem, originated with the philosopher Abraham Kaplan. In his 1964 classic, The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science, Kaplan discussed the issue of the abstract nature of techniques, particularly the scientific method, used by scientists, whether conducting surveys, doing statistical analysis, or deciphering foreign language inscriptions”.

He adds “Somewhere along the line, in many influential schools of punditry and analysis, the totality of U.S. foreign policy has been reduced to whether presidents bomb some country or adversary, and the alleged impressions that this decision leaves on other countries. The binary construction employed by these pundits and analysts is that a president either demonstrates strength and engagement with air strikes, or fecklessness and detachment in their absence. Today, the U.S. military has over 400,000 troops stationed or deployed in 182 countries around the world — primarily conducting force protection, training, or security cooperation missions, but these troops do not factor into this equation. The binary choice is either bombs, or isolationism. Of course, the activities of the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Treasury Department, or any other government agency and entity working abroad are wholly disregarded or given short shrift at promoting and implementing foreign policy objectives. This vast overestimation of what military force can plausibly achieve runs totally contrary to what the past dozen years have demonstrated, at tremendous cost and sacrifice. The interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya show that the use of force as the primary instrument did not sustainably secure U.S. interests in those countries over time, nor assure U.S. allies of its mutual defense obligations, and had no latent capacity to deter potential adversaries. Nobody on earth today is scared of America because it put 170,000 troops in Iraq, 100,000 in Afghanistan, and led a seven-month air campaign over Libya”.

Zenko’s examples are manifold and cannot be tarred with the same brush. The intervention in Afghanistan was successful, it ended Taliban rule. Whether Afghanistan becomes a real democracy cannot be judged now but will only happen decades from now if there is peace and stability. His example of Iraq is also unfair and loaded. Similarly with Libya, while more could and should be done to assist Libya turning the page of 40 years of dictatorial rule does not take a mere three years. Zenko does not mention the positive effects of American power in 1999 in Serbia for example, or the threat of American power in 1996 when an aircraft carrier interposed itself between China and Taiwan.

He does not answer the question that how to change someone’s behaviour when they refuse to listen, or cannot be reasoned with. Both of these apply to ISIS/ISIL who are determined to recreated something that never really existed, a land ruled entirely by Sharia law, governed entirely by Muslims.

Zenko ends, “Op-ed militarism never dies, even as its underlying logic repeatedly does.  While ‘the pressures of fad and fashion’ apparently compel pundits and analysts to demand the use of force to address unstable or threatening situations, it is rarely accompanied with a definable or measurable military or political objective that it is intended to achieve within the targeted country. You rarely hear such pundits state explicitly what exactly military force is supposed to accomplish. Rather, it is a mindless demand to apply some military tactic to elicit some feeling — presumably fear and awe — among third-party witnesses. The most remarkable characteristic of this school of thought is that those within it also claim to be transcontinental mind-readers capable of knowing what specific U.S. instrument of power will change the calculus of potential adversaries. Unsurprisingly, it is always military force”.

He concludes, “It is unfortunate that military force — the most lethal, destructive, and consequential foreign action that the United States can undertake — suffers from such a dismal and imprecise discourse. It contains meaningless and empty metaphors characterised by crude gardening references, all options forever ‘on the table,’ ‘setting the bar’ higher, and Obama vowing to ‘take very tough actions.’ Military force is about blowing things up and killing people. Trying to ascribe virtues to its nature, or magical powers to its effects, is misleading and imprudent. Much of Washington does not see force as the solution to the world’s problems because the U.S. military has the best hammer, but rather because of the influence and supremacy that it falsely ascribes to it”.

“Fighter jets bombed terrorist havens”

20/06/2014

Pakistan’s government on Monday rallied support for a sustained assault on Taliban fighters and other militants, as fighter jets bombed terrorist havens in North Waziristan and the army shifted manpower into major cities to help guard against retaliatory strikes. The military operation is shaping up to be the nation’s biggest campaign against the Pakistani Taliban in at least five years. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif authorized the move amid growing concern that Islamist militants pose an existential threat to the country. “The army is fighting to protect the sovereignty of the motherland,” Sharif said in an address to the National Assembly on Monday night. For years, Pakistan’s leaders have adopted a restrained approach toward the Taliban, which had found refuge in lawless tribal areas in the northwest. But the recent attack on Karachi’s international airport, which killed 26 people and undermined the global image of Pakistan’s largest and wealthiest city, triggered the more muscular response. Sharif, who had been advocating peace talks with the Taliban, may also have been rattled by Sunni rebels’ rapid advance in northern Iraq last week, analysts say”.

Stable Iran?

18/06/2014

Following on from the article which argues plausibly, that little has changed under Dr Hassan Rouhani, a piece argues that Iran is the most stable country in the region. He opens “On New Year’s Eve 1977, President Jimmy Carter famously toasted the Shah at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran and declared, ‘Iran … is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.’ Less than two years later, Iran was in chaos as the revolution swept the country and brought down the 2,500-year-old monarchy. Carter has been mocked for his lack of foresight, but he wasn’t wrong. He was just a few decades ahead of his time”.

The author goes on to write “Iraq is disintegrating. Syria is in flames. Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state. The Taliban is making a comeback in Afghanistan. Libya is falling apart. The House of Saud is nervous about a potentially existential succession crisis. In this region, Iran looks like an island of stability”.

This however is naturally an overly simplistic view. Iraq and Syria certainly have their problems as does Pakistan but Pakistan is at least attempting to deal with its home grown problem whatever about the country’s involvement in its neighbour. The Saudi problem is real but it is not as impossible to resolve as he suggests. The last surviving son of Ibn Saud is in line behind Crown Prince Salman. After that it will be the choice of Prince Muqrin and the rest of the al-Saud to agree on a way forward. This may come sooner than expected as Salman is in poor health.

The writer adds “Meanwhile, the geopolitical enmity that has characterised relations between the United States and Iran for more than three decades has now been overtaken by events in Iraq and elsewhere. The United States seeks to reduce its footprint in the Middle East, choosing instead to focus its geopolitical energy on East Asia. And Washington’s traditional allies in the Persian Gulf are funding Sunni jihadists and are anti-Shiite. In this context, the U.S.-Iran rivalry cannot be left on autopilot. News emerged on Monday that Washington and Tehran may cooperate militarily to stop the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) from advancing deeper into Iraq — Iran’s neighbor, where the United States has spent years, trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives. Iraq’s Shiite government has been seen by some as a proxy of Iran that has often sided with Tehran against Washington. But the common interest between Iran and the United States is not merely tactical or temporary: With the region roiling as it is, the reality that Iran and the United States might end up on the same side is simply the new normal. While Washington may be struggling with the idea of a Persian pivot, Tehran can’t seem to break from the idea that it can boost its regional position by adopting an antagonistic role against United States. Iranian officials have told me that even if the nuclear issue is resolved, U.S.-Iran relations will remain a rivalry — not a partnership. But when radical Sunni ISIS fighters streamed across the Syrian border into Iraq and, in a matter of days, took over several major cities, the new reality became stunningly clear: Iran and the United States need each other more than ever before. Neither can salvage stability in Iraq or Afghanistan without the other”.

He adds that “Iran has tried to challenge U.S. hegemony in the Middle East by investing in Arab political opposition groups and backing Islamist movements like Hezbollah and Hamas with funding and support. But in the Sunni Arab world, this has yielded next to nothing for Tehran. Iran’s policy toward the Arab world since the 1979 revolution has been based on an accurate prediction that the reigns of the pro-American autocrats would not be durable and that Tehran’s long-term security was best assured by investing in Islamist movements that likely would take over. Iran’s brand of political Islam and anti-Israeli rhetoric, reasoned Tehran, could be a unifying force, bridging the deep animus that characterized the Arab-Persian and the Sunni-Shiite divides. Or so it thought. Instead, the Islamists who gained influence following the Arab Spring — in Syria, Egypt, and Libya — have largely shown allegiance to their financial benefactors in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms rather than to their supposed ideological allies in Tehran. Meanwhile, Iran’s support for the Assad regime in Syria has dissipated the extensive soft power Tehran used to enjoy in the Arab world”.

Yet there is no evidence of Iran backing away from Hezbollah, withdrawing support for Assad, or at least forcing him into talks. Without any of these basic fundamental changes there is little to say about Iranian change, at least at this moment in time.

The writer goes on to argue “The government in Tehran may find a better partner in the current administration in Washington than it might expect. Whatever America’s distaste for Iran’s brand of repressive Shiite nationalism, President Barack Obama knows clearly that the real threat to the United States is not the brand of Islam emanating from its nominal enemy Iran, but the one sponsored, funded, and embraced by its formal ally Saudi Arabia — particularly if the United States and Iran manage to resolve the nuclear issue in the next few weeks or months”.

Of course this is a gross simplification. While there is no realist reason for supporting Israel, and less and less of a political case, for now America must be seen to be supporting Israel, even as it move away from democracy. The result of this is that Hezbollah still attacks Israel and does little to ease the fears of Jews living in Israeli occupied territory. It must also be stated that Saudi Arabia does sponsor terrorism in Syria but it is only as a result of Obama doing nothing.

He ends the piece “Iran is understandably hesitant about reaching out to the United States. Iran’s leadership has been burned by past efforts to explore areas of strategic and tactical collaboration with the United States. Tehran provided extensive military, intelligence, and political support to the U.S. military in 2001 during the campaign to oust the Taliban. Iran’s help, according to President George W. Bush’s special envoy to AfghanistanAmb. Jim Dobbins, was decisive. But once Iran’s help was deemed no longer necessary, Bush included Tehran in the infamous Axis of Evil speech. Washington wasn’t interested in a new relationship with the Iranians. Washington has paid for that mistake ever since. Both the chaos in Afghanistan and in Iraq could have been evaded had Washington recognized the stabilizing role Iran can play if it isn’t treated as an outcast. In 2003, Iran offered to help stabilize Iraq and ensure that the government there would be nonsectarian. The Bush administration chose not to respond to that offer”.

He concludes, “Iran’s key objective is to be recognised as a stabilising force. But that is a role it ultimately cannot play if it simultaneously wishes to challenge the United States. Unlike in Afghanistan, any cooperation in Iraq will likely be more public. If Iran plays a constructive role, the world will notice. But changing old patterns require courage, strength, and political will. It remains to be seen if the leadership in Tehran can deliver those — or if Washington will be receptive. Whatever the two sides do, they should not let outdated rivalries stand in the way. If anything, the onslaught of ISIS shows that a U.S.-Iran conversation about regional matters is long overdue”.

To say that Iran is therefore an island of stability as President Carter said nearly four decades ago is quite a stretch. Iran still represses its people and while there are some signs of progress from Dr Rouhani they are minimal. Indeed Rouhani’s own election victory, as has been noted before shows just how worried the regime was about its stability. There is little evidence that this picture has fundamentally changed.

“did not opt for the order of cardinal priests”

18/06/2014

During the Ordinary Public Consistory for the vote on the canonisation of six blesseds, celebrated in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace, six cardinal-deacons, who had been in that cardinalitial order for more than ten years (they were promoted to the cardinalate on October 21, 2003), opted for the order of cardinal priests. They are Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran of S. Apollinare alle Terme Neroniane-Alessandrine, until then protodeacon, Francesco Cardinal Marchisano of S. Lucia del Gonfalone; Julián Cardinal Herranz Casado of S. Eugenio; Javier Cardinal Lozano Barragán of S. Michele Arcangelo; Attilio Cardinal Nicora of S. Filippo Neri in Eurosia; and George Marie Martin Cardinal Cottier, O.P., of Ss. Domenico e Sisto. All of them, except Cardinal Lozano Barragán, maintained their deaconries, elevated pro hac vice to titles. Cardinal Lozano Barragán opted for the new title of S. Dorotea. For Cardinal Marchisano, who was absent, Archbishop Ilson de Jesús Montanari, secretary of the Congregation for Bishops and secretary of College of Cardinals, submitted the request to the pope. Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino of S. Francesco di Paola ai Monti (also promoted on that date) did not opt for the order of cardinal priests and thus was confimed by the pope as cardinal protodeacon”.

Blaming Maliki and Obama

18/06/2014

An article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof blames Nouri al-Maliki for the problems Iraq has faced.

He opens “The debacle in Iraq isn’t President Obama’s fault. It’s not the Republicans’ fault. Both bear some responsibility, but, overwhelmingly, it’s the fault of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Some on the left suggest that President George W. Bush is at fault because he invaded Iraq in the first place. SenatorJohn McCain argues that the White House bears such responsibility that President Obama should replace his national security team. Let’s remember that Iraq isn’t a political prop. It’s a country whose 33 million people are on the edge of a precipice. Iraq is driven primarily by its own dynamic, and unfortunately, there are more problems in international relations than there are solutions”.

Kristof rightly rebuts the blame on President Bush, “The Democratic narrative is that President Bush started the cascade of dominoes. The problem with that logic is that Obama administration officials were boasting just a couple of years ago about how peaceful and successful Iraq had become because of their fine work. At a minimum, they catastrophically misjudged the trend. The Republican line is that by pulling out the last American troops in December 2011, President Obama allowed gains to evaporate and a hopeful story to unravel. Well, that’s conceivable, but unlikely. And Prime Minister Maliki seemed uncomfortable with the kind of reasonable status of forces agreement that would have enabled American troops to remain”.

Kristof argues correctly, as has been noted here before, that Obama’s inaction is where much of the blame lies, “Where Obama does bear some responsibility is in Syria, the staging area for the current mayhem in Iraq. In retrospect, Obama erred when he vetoed the proposal by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus to arm moderates in Syria. No one can know if that would have succeeded. But it is clear that Obama’s policy, to the extent there was one, failed”.

Kristof notes that the consequences of Obama inaction have been catostophic,”The upshot was that extremist forces, particularly ISIS, for the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria, gained strength and established safe havens in northern Syria. ISIS used these bases to assault northern Iraq in the last few days. What happened next was stunning: ISIS, with some 4,000 fighters, routed an Iraq Army that has more than 200,000 active-duty soldiers. Several divisions disintegrated“.

He ends arguing that “this is a political, not military, story. For several years, Maliki has systematically marginalised Sunnis, weakened Sunni Awakening militias that had been a bulwark against extremists, and undermined the professionalism of the armed forces. Some Sunnis so feared their own government that they accepted ISIS as the lesser of two evils. So Maliki created his own nemesis and ignored danger signs, blindly proceeding without wanting to hear the truth. In all this, he echoes Saddam Hussein”.

He ends “As the United States debates what to do, let’s remember Maliki’s central role in all this. Hawks are right that Iraq could be a catastrophe. We could see the establishment of a terrorist caliphate, untold deaths, soaring oil prices, more global terrorism. In that context,hawks favour American airstrikes. But such strikes also create risks, especially if our intelligence there is rusty. And while airstrikes might be necessary to slow ISIS, they’re not sufficient. The crucial step, and the one we should apply diplomatic pressure to try to achieve, is for Maliki to step back and share power with Sunnis while accepting decentralization of government. If Maliki does all that, it may still be possible to save Iraq. Without that, airstrikes would be a further waste in a land in which we’ve already squandered far, far too much”.

 

 

“Following an improvement in bilateral relations”

18/06/2014

Foreign Secretary William Hague has said he intends to re-open Britain’s Embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran. Mr Hague said the “circumstances were right” following an improvement in bilateral relations in recent months. Full diplomatic relations with Iran were suspended after attacks on the British embassy in Iran in 2011. The election of a new Iranian president and agreement on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme has led to increased contacts in 2014. The move also comes as Iraqi forces are engaged in heavy clashes with Sunni Islamist militants in the country and amid reports that Iran is providing military assistance to its historic rival. In a written statement, Mr Hague said the UK embassy will re-open “as soon as practical arrangements are made” as a sign of “increasing confidence” in the state of relations between the two countries”.

Same old Iran?

18/06/2014

An article in Foreign Policy looks back at the first year of Dr Rouhani’s presidency and casts doubt on the change that he has, and will, implemented.

Baird opens, It has now been one year since Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran. Rouhani came into power with big promises — to tackle entrenched corruption, to grant Iranians basic freedoms, and to unleash the constrained talents and aspirations of Iran’s citizens. His very mantra was one of hope and change. These promises appealed to a wide array of Iran’s long-suffering minority groups — Ahwazi, Baluch, Kurd, Azeri, Christian and Baha’i. And they appealed internationally, where Iran purported to extend the hand of friendship and co-operation, and offered an escape from the downward spiral of zero-sum rivalry and regional turmoil. After the obtuseness of Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this new language and tone was profoundly seductive to all those who long pined for hope and change in the country”.

He asks “one year later, we must be hard-headed, and ask ourselves: who has been accorded the dignity that President Rouhani promised? The honest answer cannot be optimistic. Not the Iranian defense lawyers imprisoned for defending the rights of their fellow citizens. Not the political prisoners beaten bloody by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) forces in Evin Prison’s notorious Ward 350. Certainly not Hashem Shaabani, a member of the Ahwazi minority who was arrested, tortured and summarily executed for his poetry”.

However, the Iranian regime is not monolithic and should not be treated as such. There have been some prisoners released but these cannot be said to have been a real sign of change. Equally, it must be said, Dr Rouhani or others should not be expected to dismantle the regime and become a democracy.

Baird goes on to note “Iranians hoping for moderation were let down almost immediately upon Rouhani taking office. On the day of his inauguration, Rouhani selected Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the former deputy intelligence minister, as his sole nominee for the role of justice minister. Pourmohammadi, as Iranians well know, was one of the key officials responsible for the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners in Iran. Later, in 1994, he was head of foreign counter-intelligence when the government of Iran was implicated in court for the deadly bombing of the Israeli Cultural Center in Argentina”.

Baird goes on to mention “Even compared to Ahmadinejad, Rouhani’s administration has almost doubled the monthly rate of executions. Their legal processes are as dubious as their purpose, with many charged under the pretext of narcotics-related offences, or the supposed crimes of “enmity against God” or “corruption on earth.” This disturbing trend is one of the more obvious causes for concern. Others have been blurred and obscured by an administration highly preoccupied with PR and perception. For example, to coincide with Rouhani’s highly-publicized appearance at the U.N. last year, Iranian officials promised the release of 85 political prisoners as a tangible demonstration of his moderation. The reality? Only a small fraction ultimately made it out of incarceration, the news of which did not garner the headlines generated by the original promise”.

While all this is probably true Rouhani should be given the benefit of the doubt, for now, in that he may need to assert his credintials inside the regime before attempting true reforms.

Baird does add however that “Rouhani’s administration then released a Draft Charter of Rights, a campaign promise that was meant to symbolise the new government’s embrace of human rights. The reality of this document was that it was widely discredited by legal experts, entrenched existing inequalities, and did nothing to advance the rights of the Iranian people. The grand promise of its title was further undermined with the introduction of a ‘political crime’ bill in Parliament last September, which would criminalise any criticism of the state. In the same month, Rouhani introduced a resolution at the U.N. dubbed “World Against Violence and Extremism,” supposedly an Iranian commitment to fighting extremism. Yet the reality of Iran’s unwavering moral, financial, political, and military support to the Syrian regime has resulted in the death of over 150,000 people, a more deeply entrenched extremism, and further destabilization of the region. Despite Iran’s long-suffering economy, it managed to supply Bashar al-Assad with a $3.6 billion line of credit and a mandate to continue the massacre of his own people. Iran unleashed Hezbollah to protect Assad, to undermine Lebanon, and to wage a clandestine sectarian war that impacts far beyond the immediate region.

He ends “Cynics may see unrealistic rhetoric and unfulfilled promises as par for the course for politicians. But the chasm between Rouhani’s style and substance belies a more sinister truth. Under the careful watch of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, the organized machinery of a clerical dictatorship remains in place. The Iranian regime’s scale of terrorizing its people at home and sponsoring terrorism abroad is staggering. That continues to be Iran’s reality”.

He concludes “Let us unite in reminding Iranians of the limitless possibilities of freedom. That a woman who had been jailed and tortured in prison could one day stand for presidential office — and succeed. That the halls of a notorious prison could one day be permanently closed to its brutal guards and opened to those who wish to reflect on past tyranny. These are not only the powerful true stories of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, or Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng prison. These could be the stories of someone like leading Iranian human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and of the notorious Evin Prison that confined her and many other political prisoners. To be truly optimistic about Iran’s future, we must be realistic about Iran’s present. Until we see reform rather than rhetoric, Canada will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Iran in their desire for real hope and dignity”.

“In a new US drone strike”

18/06/2014

At least 10 militants were killed in a new US drone strike early Thursday in a northwest tribal district where pressure was building on Islamabad to react after a brazen attack on Karachi airport, officials said. The second attack took place hours after an earlier drone strike killed at least six at the same site in North Waziristan tribal district, where militants had gathered to dig out the bodies and search for injured. “Three US drones fired six missiles on militants who had gathered to dig the debris of a compound,” a local security official told AFP, adding missiles also hit two vehicles at the site. Another security official confirmed the fresh US drone strike and told AFP drones were still flying in the sky. Earlier a US drone fired two missiles which hit a vehicle and a compound in Dargah Mandi village in North Waziristan, around 10 kilometres (six miles) west of the main town of Miranshah in an area considered a stronghold for the Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. The militants killed in the second strike have not yet been identified but officials said those killed in the first attack were Uzbeks and local Taliban”.