Friday, March 29, 2013

Arab League summit showcases Qatar’s swagger

    Friday, March 29, 2013   No comments
Hamad looking down at his Arab colleagues.

Doha, Qatar • Qatar’s emir looked over an assembly of Arab leaders Tuesday as both cordial host and impatient taskmaster. His welcoming remarks to kings, sheiks and presidents across the Arab world quickly shifted to Qatar’s priorities: Rallying greater support for Syrian rebels and helping Palestinians with efforts such as a newly proposed $1 billion fund to protect Jerusalem’s Arab heritage.

No one seemed surprised at the paternal tone or the latest big-money initiative. In a matter of just a few years, hyper-wealthy Qatar has increasingly staked out a leadership role once held by Egypt and helped redefine how Arab states measure influence and ambition.

Qatar gives al-Khatib Assad's seat; was it premature?
Little more than a spot to sink oil and gas wells a generation ago, Qatar is now a key player in nearly every Middle Eastern shakeout since the Arab Spring, using checkbook diplomacy in settings as diverse as Syria’s civil war, Italian artisan workshops struggling with the euro financial crisis, and the soccer pitches in France as owners of the Paris Saint-Germain team.

As hosts of an Arab League summit this week, Qatar gets another chance to showcase its swagger.
With power, however, come tensions. Qatar has been portrayed as an arrogant wunderkind in places such as Iraq and Lebanon where some factions object to its rising stature, and Qatar’s growing independent streak in policy-making has raised concerns among its Gulf Arab partners. It also faces questions — as do other Gulf nations and Western allies — over support for some Arab Spring uprisings while remaining loyal to the embattled monarchy in neighboring Bahrain.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Erdoğan doing everything to make Israel regret apology: Israeli far-right leader

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013   No comments

The leader of Israel's far-right Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennet, slammed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's comments following his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu's apology for the Mavi Marmara killings, Israeli media reported March 27.

"It seems that since [Netanyahu's] apology, Erdoğan is doing everything to make Israel regret it," Bennett, the economy and trade minister in Netanyahu's new Cabinet, wrote on his official Facebook page, according to Jerusalem Post. "He is running a personal and vitriolic campaign at the expense of Israeli-Turkish relations," he said.

Islamists, secular rebels battle in Syria over Nusra Front’s call for Islamic state

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013   No comments

Two Syrian rebel groups – one seeking an elected civil government, the other favoring the establishment of a religious state – are battling each other in the city of Tal Abyad, on the border with Turkey, in a sign of the tensions that are likely to rule this country if the government of President Bashar Assad falls.
Four people were killed Sunday in fighting here between the Farouq Battalions, which favors elections, and Jabhat al Nusra, or the Nusra Front, which the United States has declared an al Qaida-affiliated terrorist group. Since then, Farouq has been massing men here in an example of the growing friction that’s emerged in recent months as Nusra has captured strategic infrastructure across Syria’s north and east, including oil and gas installations, grain silos and a hydroelectric dam.
Raqqa province, where Tal Abyad is, and Hasaka province, to the east, are poverty-stricken but vital to Syria’s agriculture. Hasaka and Deir el Zour province to the south are the center of the country’s oil industry.
“They want to control the border crossing here,” said Abu Mansour, a member of Farouq in Tal Abyad. Like other rebels, he uses a nom de guerre to hide his identity from the government.

Read more here:

Terror in Timbuktu: A trip through the heart of Mali

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013   No comments

I have been writing about Mali since before the military coup last March. My friend Yeah Samake, the mayor of Ouelessebougou, was running for president until the coup destabilized the country and the elections were called off.
Islamist extremists took advantage of the ensuing lack of governance in the northern region and seized control of the towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They instituted Shariah law and brutalized the Malian people in these towns and surrounding villages. There was also an influx of insurgents from countries as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Northern Mali — about the size of France — had become the epicenter for the Islamists in the Sahel. Many of these insurgents were involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

On Jan. 10, Malian President Dioncounda Traore called French President Francois Hollande and asked for military help because extremists from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) had moved south and taken over the town of Konna, just 300 miles from Bamako, the capital. The next day French troops and Mirage jets arrived from nearby Chad.
Additional troops also came from several neighboring countries. The Islamists were quickly driven from Konna, and within weeks Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal were liberated. The Islamists were driven into the northern frontier mountain region near the Algerian border, where French and Chadian troops are still seeking the extremists.
Since I continue to write regularly about Mali, I planned an information trip to the northern region for mid-March. Mr. Samake arranged for me to meet with Mahamadou Alou Toure, the mayor of the town of Bourem Sidi-Amar, 30 miles from Timbuktu.

BRICS plan new 50bn bank to rival World Bank and IMF

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013   No comments
BRICS leaders, 2013

The ‘big five’ of the developing world will discuss creating their own global World Bank as their 5th annual summit kicks off Tuesday in sunny Durban.

The move is linked to the developing world’s disillusionment with the status quo of world financial institutions. The World Bank and IMF continue to favor US and European presidents over BRICS nations, and in 2010, the US failed to ratify a 2010 agreement which would allow more IMF funds to be allocated to developing nations.

"Not long ago we discussed the formation of a developmental bank... Today we are ready to launch it," South African President Jacob Zuma said on Monday.

The ‘big five’- Brazil, Russia, India, China, and its newest addition, South Africa, come together for the annual conference this year in Durban, South Africa in hopes of establishing a new development bank which will fund infrastructure and development projects in the five member states, and will pool foreign currencies to fend off any impending financial crisis.

“We will discuss ways to revive global growth and ensure macroeconomic stability, as well as mechanisms and measures to promote investment in infrastructure and sustainable development,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday, before heading to Durban.

The BRICS have called for a reconstruction of the World Bank and IMF, which were created in 1944, and want to put forth their own ‘Bretton Woods’ accord. And they are serious.

"Brics is not a talk show. It is a serious grouping," Zuma told reporters at the presidential guest house in Pretoria.

Israel's apology to shift Mideast balances: Turkish PM

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013   No comments

Israeli apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara incident changed equation in the Middle East peace process as the bilateral deal obligates Israel to cooperate with the Turkish government over this process, the prime minister has said. 

“The point we have arrived at as a result of our consultations with all our brothers in Palestine and peripheral countries is increasing our responsibility with regard to solving the Palestinian question and thus is bringing about a new equation,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in his address to his lawmakers yesterday at the Parliament. Erdoğan added that Israel agreed to make cooperation with Turkey on carrying out talks with Palestine for the Middle East peace process. 

He said all his regional interlocutors, including Khaled Mashaal of the Hamas, admit that a new era has begun in the Middle East what they all call after Turkish victory on Israeli apology. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jihadists, not Assad, apparently behind reported chemical attack in Syria

    Tuesday, March 26, 2013   No comments
The explosion claimed the lives of Syrian Armed Forces soldiers who are apparently loyal to Assad, and the Syrian government was quick to demand an international investigation of the incident. These two facts would indicate that Assad's forces were not behind the attack.
In addition, from what has been released of the physical and medical evidence, it seems that some of the injuries were caused by chlorine. While chlorine gas has been used in the past as a weapon, mainly in the First World War, the chemical arsenals of nations developing these weapons have for decades focused mainly on mustard gas and various types of nerve agents, which, had they been used last week, would have caused different symptoms that were not observed.

It appears that the target of the attack was a checkpoint manned by Syrian Armed Forces, which reinforces the theory that rebel forces, probably jihadists known to be operating around Aleppo, were behind it. A report by Britain's Channel Four, based on Syrian military sources, claims that the weapon used in the attack may have been a missile carrying a warhead filled with chlorine mixed into a saline solution. The Syrian source also said that a factory that manufactures chlorine is located nearby.

read more >> 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hezbollah slams Mikati, says resignation worsens paralysis

    Monday, March 25, 2013   No comments

BEIRUT: Hezbollah slammed Sunday Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati for throwing in the towel, saying the country now faced further paralysis.

Meanwhile, the opposition Future parliamentary bloc reiterated its praise for Mikati, saying his decision was a step toward the reactivation of National Dialogue.

“The resignation was not a surprise to any of us because we had already said, way back during the [government’s] formation, that it would only last until the beginning of the elections,” Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Mohammad Raad said.

However, the Hezbollah official still criticized Mikati’s move to step down, saying the Tripoli lawmaker had run out of ways of preserving security.

“The issue was not about the refusing to extend [the mandate] of an employee at an institution but rather the prime minister exhausted what he was able to offer in terms of maintaining stability in Lebanon,” he told a gathering in south Lebanon.


Iraq's Maliki Rejects Kerry Demand to Bar Iran Overflights

    Monday, March 25, 2013   No comments

BAGHDAD – Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki on Sunday to stop Iran from flying arms across Iraqi territory to the beleaguered Syrian regime, but found him unwilling to give ground.

In a visit to Baghdad that was not announced in advance, Kerry told Maliki that the almost daily flights have become a lifeline for Syrian President Bashar Assad that is undermining the efforts of the United States and allies to negotiate the departure of Assad and an end to the 2-year-old war. And Kerry warned that many in the United States are wondering how, after Americans “have tried so hard to be helpful” in rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq, the country could stand in its way.

“The overflights from Iran are, in fact, helping to sustain Assad,” Kerry told reporters after the meeting, which he described as “spirited.”

But Maliki repeated Iraq’s view that there is no definitive proof that the cargoes are arms, rather than humanitarian aid, as the Iranians contend. Kerry was left to say that he will gather more information to prove his point.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Israel says deal with Turks does not require Gaza blockade end

    Sunday, March 24, 2013   No comments

Israel did not commit to ending its Gaza blockade as part of reconciliation with Turkey and could clamp down even harder on the Palestinian enclave if security is threatened, a senior Israeli official said on Sunday.
After Friday's US-brokered fence-mending announcement, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Israel had met his demands it apologize for killing nine Turks aboard a Gaza-bound activist ship in 2010, pay compensation and ease the blockade.

But during the almost three-year rift between the ex-allies, Erdoğan had routinely insisted that Israel end the blockade.   

The rapprochement deal noted Israel's relaxing of curbs on Gaza's civilian imports in that period and pledged "to continue to work to improve" Palestinians' humanitarian situation.

"If there is quiet, the processes easing the lives of Gazan residents will continue. And if there is Katyusha (rocket) fire, then these moves will be slowed and even stopped and, if necessary, even reversed," Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror said.


Saturday, March 23, 2013


    Saturday, March 23, 2013   No comments


A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Philip Gourevitch and I interviewed Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, at a New Yorker event on stage, at Joe’s Pub. We hoped for a round-the-world survey of expansive and off-the-cuff honesty, but, as it turned out, there was only so much candor that diplomatic propriety would allow. Rice, from Syria to Rwanda, strictly adhered to the made-in-Washington talking points. She even pronounced herself “happy” that she was still U.N. Ambassador, even after losing a bid to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. (I am sure she was “happy” beyond words to have been the hate-object of a cynical gaggle of right-wing senators who exacted some post-election revenge on the President by punishing her for the disaster in Benghazi.) It was frustrating but not unexpected. You had to admire Rice’s discipline—and even how, at the end of the discussion, she robbed some French fries from a guy in the audience who was eating, flagrantly, at the lip of the stage.

You also had to admire the watchfulness of the White House. About thirty minutes after leaving the theatre, I got out my phone to catch up on my messages. There was one from a White House official who had noticed that I’d been “quoted” on Twitter saying that President Obama was not likely to spend any political capital in his second term to help bring about a Palestinian state. The quote was extracted from a question I had asked Rice about what might happen in the Middle East. Was a two-state solution really dead? Would the Obama Administration—with all it faced in the world—risk anything to initiate a renewed peace process?

Friday, March 22, 2013

McMecca: The Strange Alliance of Clerics and Businessmen in Saudi Arabia

    Friday, March 22, 2013   No comments

The Saudi government is demolishing some of the oldest sections of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, according to a report by The Independent this week , which includes photos of the wreckage. The mosque is one of Islam's most important religious sites, to which all Muslims face while praying. The sections being destroyed date back to the Ottoman and Abbasid period and are the last remaining parts of the compound that are more than a few hundred years old. "One column which is believed to have been ripped down is supposed to mark the spot where Muslims believe Muhammad began his heavenly journey on a winged horse, which took him to Jerusalem and heaven in a single night," The Independent reports.

Though the Saudi government argues that the demolition is part of a plan to expand the Grand Mosque complex to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims to the site, it seems strange that the theocratic government, controlled by extremist Wahhabi clerics, would so wantonly destroy Islamic holy sites. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Morocco's Liberal Facade

    Thursday, March 14, 2013   No comments

Rabat, Morocco -- In the early hours of February 17, Morocco's military penal court sentenced 25 criminals in a high-profile trial seen as a litmus test of Morocco's human rights record and position on the contested territory of Western Sahara. The trial's process in a military court was so controversial that two weeks later, Morocco's King Mohammed VI bowed to pressure from his human rights council and agreed that civilians should not be tried anymore in a military court except in certain circumstances.

The Rabat courthouse, Morocco's only martial court, conjures an era when torture, forced disappearances and public executions without due process were routine in the kingdom. The same court held trials in 1971 following a bloody coup d'état attempt against the government of King Hassan II. Meanwhile, hundreds of suspects had been summarily executed or imprisoned without trial. During this same era, Morocco's protective strategy in Western Sahara was heavy-handed and militarized.

The recent trial was considered an issue of both national security and international reputation for Moroccans. Twenty-five men faced charges for murder of military personnel, desecration of corpses and criminal gang activity in November 2010 outside Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara. Morocco's de facto rule of the territory since 1975 is strongly opposed by Algeria and the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi independence movement operating in Algeria. Many Moroccans believe the territory is a legitimate part of Morocco and issue of national integrity.

The eight-day trial progressed amid heavy security and dozens of guards toting guns and tear gas cans. Yet the defendants were free of handcuffs and sat a few feet from the victims' families. Permitted to wear their traditional Saharan cotton garments and shout political slogans throughout the trial, the defendants presented their cases to the judge and jury without interruption for hours on end. Such leniency and respect for criminals in a Moroccan court is unprecedented, especially in such a prominent case. Meanwhile, police allowed protests and demonstrations to occur day and night outside the court.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Silent Salafists Of Indonesia-Post Arab Spring

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013   No comments

By Vinay Kumar Pathak
The Salafi political activism in the post Arab Spring Muslim World could have been a source of inspiration for the local Salafi movements in Southeast Asia in particular Indonesia, the world’s most populated Muslim country. Yet the winds of the Arab Spring never did blow across Indonesia although certain socio political and economic realities were similar between the Arab world during the Arab Spring and Indonesia during the period of the New Order (1966-98) under Soeharto. However the end of authoritarianism lead to the era reformasi, which was integral in the democratization of Indonesia. Ever since the fall of Soeharto, Indonesia has continued on this path of democratization that also includes accommodating various voices including that of Islamist movements.

At the same time socio religious movements such as the Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) continue to be pivotal in balancing the role of State and religion in the country. Hence, an imperative reason why the Arab Spring did not resonate with the Islamist factions and most importantly with the people was because Indonesians to begin with have largely accepted the values of Pancasila, they have access to important socio religious institutions such as the NU and the Muhammadiyah which are lacking in the Arab world and the socio political and economic climate of the Arab world and Indonesia was very different during the period of the Arab Spring (2010-2012).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Christians, police clash in Pakistan after Muslim mob burns homes of minority religious group

    Monday, March 11, 2013   No comments

LAHORE, Pakistan — Hundreds of Christians clashed with police across Pakistan on Sunday, a day after a Muslim mob burned dozens of homes owned by members of the minority religious group in retaliation for alleged insults against Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Christians are often the target of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which rights activists say are frequently used to persecute religious minorities or settle personal disputes. Politicians have been reluctant to reform the laws for fear of being attacked by religious radicals, as has happened in the past.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Three killed in Cairo as violence rages after Port Said verdict

    Saturday, March 09, 2013   No comments

Three protesters have been killed and reportedly 65 injured in Cairo as outraged crowds protest both in the Egyptian capital and the city of Port Said over the latest verdict on the deadly Port Said stadium riot in February 2012.

Security sources have reported that the protester died from the effects of tear gas. Meanwhile, Ahram Online puts the number of dead at three, saying an 8 year-old boy was among them. It says the other two were killed by birdshot during the clashes.

The number of injured also differs with the majority of sources reporting about 15 people and Reuters putting the figure at 65.

The verdict, broadcast live from the courtroom, was initially cheered by fans of Cairo's Al-Ahly team.

"First we were happy when we heard the 21 death sentences," one fan told AFP news agency.

"We were cheering and didn't hear the rest of the verdict. Then we were very angry."

An Egyptian court has confirmed Saturday the death sentences for 21 football fans involved in the fatal riots in Port Said in 2012, in which most victims were supporters of the Cairo team.

It also sentenced five other suspects to life in jail and 10 others to 15-year terms, including the city’s security chief Esam Samak.

US and Europe in 'major airlift of arms to Syrian rebels through Zagreb'

    Saturday, March 09, 2013   No comments

The United States has coordinated a massive airlift of arms to Syrian rebels from Croatia with the help of Britain and other European states, despite the continuing European Union arms embargo, it was claimed yesterday.

Decisions by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to provide non-lethal assistance and training, announced in the past week, were preceded by much greater though less direct Western involvement in the rebel cause, according to a Croat newspaper.
It claimed 3,000 tons of weapons dating back to the former Yugoslavia have been sent in 75 planeloads from Zagreb airport to the rebels, largely via Jordan since November.
The story confirmed the origins of ex-Yugoslav weapons seen in growing numbers in rebel hands in online videos, as described last month by The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers, but suggests far bigger quantities than previously suspected.

Goodbye Chavez

    Saturday, March 09, 2013   No comments

Inside the casket, the former leader was wearing olive green military dress, a black tie and his signature red beret. He had a red sash across his torso, with the word ‘militia’ on it – the name of the 120,000-strong force which he created.
The government estimated the turnout figure to be around the 2 million mark in a country with a population of 29 million. Many kept a nighttime vigil.
Chavez’s body was transported seven hour procession on Wednesday from the hospital where he died to its current resting place. The official funeral took place on Friday, but the announcement that he is to be embalmed has surprised many, only hours before it was planned to occur. Maduro said that the demand to see the deceased leader was far too great to ignore.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell adamant that al-Qaida suspect Suleiman Abu Ghaith be interrogated at Guántanamo

    Saturday, March 09, 2013   No comments

The White House clashed with Republicans on Friday over the decision to prosecute Osama bin Laden's son-in-law in a civil court in New York rather than holding him at Guantánamo.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, accused Barack Obama of putting his desire to close Guantánamo ahead of the country's security needs. The decision denied the intelligence community the opportunity to interrogate Suleiman Abu Ghaith to obtain information about possible harm to the US, McConnell claimed.

But the White House spokesman Josh Earnest brushed aside McConnell's claim. "With all due respect, that's not the assessment of the intelligence community," Earnest said.

The row came as Abu Ghaith appeared in a US federal court on Friday to plead not guilty to a charge of conspiring to kill Americans. During a 15-minute arraignment hearing at the southern district court in lower Manhattan, close to where the September 11 attacks took place in 2001, Abu Ghaith spoke only to confirm that he understood his rights.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mo Sabri: I Believe in Jesus

    Friday, March 08, 2013   No comments

“This ain’t a song about bottles in the club / This is about a role model filled with love. / A teacher, a preacher, with guidance from above.” So begins the rap song “I Believe in Jesus” by Mo Sabri, a Muslim from Johnson City, Tennesee.

Sabri introduces the song’s music video with:

The angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary.’ (Quran 3:45)

Here’s a hip video, by a nice young gentleman wearing a starched shirt and a tie, about a radical commitment to following Jesus with one’s life, not just in words. Sabri’s isn’t a mushy attempt to paint Jesus as just a “nice guy” like the rest of us.

Instead Sabri sings about human weakness and sin, and our need for Jesus. He identifies Jesus as:

The son of a virgin, they say it is illogical,

probably improbable, but God made it possible.

Gabriel told Mary that her son would be phenomenal,

His voice was always audible, the opposite of prodigal,

He overcame the obstacles, people attacking him.

He was a walking hospital, with heathen he was compassionate.

He healed the sick, raised the dead. Shout out to Lazarus.

I’m talkin’ about Jesus of Nazareth.

US-funded special police commandos who ran a network of torture centres in Iraq

    Friday, March 08, 2013   No comments
A 15-month investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic reveals how retired US colonel James Steele, a veteran of American proxy wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, played a key role in training and overseeing US-funded special police commandos who ran a network of torture centres in Iraq. Another special forces veteran, Colonel James Coffman, worked with Steele and reported directly to General David Petraeus, who had been sent into Iraq to organise the Iraqi security services.

Watch Video

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Turkish parliamentary delegation visit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

    Thursday, March 07, 2013   No comments

A parliamentary delegation from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) paid a visit to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday, Syria's state-run news agency SANA reported.
The delegation reportedly held talks on the war-torn country and the CHP's support for the Syrian regime. SANA reported that the CHP delegation, which was headed by Hatay deputy Hasan Akgöl, “expressed the Turkish people's rejection of interfering in Syria's internal affairs and keenness on establishing good neighborly relations.”
In reply to the CHP delegation's words, Assad reportedly underlined the “necessity of differentiating between the stances of the Turkish people in support of Syria's stability and the stances of Erdoğan's government which insists on supporting terrorism and extremism and on destabilizing the region.”
Previously, another CHP delegation visited Assad in 2012 and expressed its support for the Syrian regime. The delegation played an active role in securing the release of Turkish journalist Cüneyt Ünal, who was captured by government forces in Syria and released in November with the help of CHP lawmakers.

The visit took place just days after a fight broke among Turkish members of the parliament over the handling of the Syrian crisis. Read more about this >>

Syria world's top destination for jihadists, says William Hague, as aid promised

    Thursday, March 07, 2013   No comments

Syria has become the "top destination for jihadists" across the world, William Hague said on Wednesday, announcing that Britain will give the opposition "non-lethal" military equipment for the first time.

The Foreign Secretary promised another £13 million of British help for opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, on top of £9.4 million already committed.
While no weapons or ammunition will be supplied, Britain has secured an amendment of the European Union arms embargo to allow the provision of certain kinds of military equipment.
In particular, armoured cars and body armour will now be given to the opposition. "Our policy has to move towards more active efforts to prevent the loss of life in Syria and this means stepping up our support to the opposition," said Mr Hague in the Commons. The aim was to increase the "pressure on the regime to accept a political solution".
Mr Hague's statement came as the United Nations confirmed that 20 peacekeepers from the Philippines had been detained by armed fighters in a Syrian-controlled area of the Golan Heights. A video posted on the internet showed the gunmen, claiming to be Syrian rebels, standing next to UN-marked vehicles.

How the Shia are in power in Iraq – but not in control

    Thursday, March 07, 2013   No comments

On paper Iraq's religious majority also runs the country. In reality, sectarian divisions make it virtually ungovernable

Iraq is the first Arab country to be ruled by a Shia government since Saladin overthrew the Fatimids in Egypt in 1171. But Shia rule is deeply troubled, and Shia leaders have been unable to share power in a stable way that satisfies the Sunni, the Kurds and even the Shia community.

This is not wholly the leaders’ fault. They fear the Kurds want independence and the Sunni hope to regain their old dominance. Qusay Abdul Wahab al-Suhail, the Sadrist deputy speaker of parliament, says “the problem is that the Sunni do not accept power in the hands of the Shia”.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s response to all this has been to grab as much authority as he can, circumventing agreements that would parcel out power in a nominally fair way, that, in practice, paralyses the state machinery. The government in the Green Zone, the great fortress it inherited from the Americans, is not shy about its sectarian allegiance. Shia banners and posters of Imam Ali and Imam Hussein decorate checkpoints and block-houses in the Green Zone and much of the rest of Baghdad, including prisons and police stations.

Mr Maliki’s efforts to monopolise power – though less effective than his critics allege – have alienated powerful Shia individuals, parties and religious institutions. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shia religious leader of immense influence, whom the Americans at the height of their power found they could not defy, will no longer see the Prime Minister’s emissaries. The marji’iyyah – the small group of men at the top of the Shia religious hierarchy – have come to see the Prime Minister as a provoker of crises that discredit Shi’ism and may break up the country. Iran, the only other large Shia-controlled state, with strong but not overwhelming influence in Iraq, says privately that it is unhappy with Mr Maliki, but does not want a political explosion in the country while it is facing ever-mounting pressure over Syria, its other Arab ally, and its economy is buckling under the impact of sanctions.

US captured Bin Laden son-in-law on the way to Kuwait

    Thursday, March 07, 2013   No comments

The CIA recently captured Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith while passing from Jordan to Kuwait, soon after leaving Turkey, daily Hürriyet reported today.

The U.S. asked Turkey to extradite Abu Ghaith after his detention in Ankara early February. 

Abu Ghaith, the former spokesman of the al-Qaeda terror network, was seized in a luxury hotel in Ankara after a tip-off from CIA. He was held there by police for 33 days, the Hürriyet report said. 

However, a Turkish court decided to release Abu Ghaith after 33 days in detention on the grounds that he had not committed any crime in Turkey. 

Ankara considered Ghaith a “stateless” person, as he was stripped of his Kuwaiti nationality after appearing in videos defending the 9/11 attacks and threatening further violence.

Turkish police also found no criminal record for Abu Ghaith, who entered the country illegally from Iran; he could therefore be deported to Iran or to another country of his choice. After Iran did not accept him, Turkey decided to send him to Kuwait via Jordan. Abu Ghaith was sent to Jordan on March 1, the same day U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Turkey.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


    Wednesday, March 06, 2013   No comments
Results for student elections taking place in Egyptian universities this week suggest the Muslim Brotherhood, normally one of the best-organized and most successful political movements in student politics, has lost much ground. This tends to confirm and accelerate trends first seen last year of new political movements on campus becoming more popular, as well as some good coalition-building between radicals, leftists, liberals and others to face challenges by Brothers and the Salafis. The trend has also been seen in professional syndicates over the last year, and may also grow this year. This should be striking, as one would expect the Brotherhood to reap the benefits of being the party in power. But the opposite is happening, and the failure of the Brotherhood to win a majority in a single election yesterday (although of course there will be more) is telling of the discontent with them.

Allegations of UK Murder, Torture of Iraqis

    Wednesday, March 06, 2013   No comments

See here for the background of the UK investigations of “terrifying acts of brutality” by British troops in Iraq. We all know the stories from Abu Ghraib. And see here and herefor some of the details about US-sanctioned torture that the WikiLeaks cables revealed.

Independents named as Tunisia foreign, defence ministers

    Wednesday, March 06, 2013   No comments

Independents will take over the foreign and defence ministries in Tunisia's new government under a deal by the ruling Islamist party to cede key portfolios following violent unrest over the assassination of a secular opposition leader.

The new coalition of moderate Islamists, three secular parties and non-partisan figures aims to restore stability and prepare the troubled North African state, where the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011, for elections later this year.

President Moncef Marzouki asked Interior Minister Ali Larayedh of the Islamist Ennahda party on Feb. 22 to form a government within 15 days after Ennahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned.

Coalition sources said Othman Jarandi, a former Tunisian ambassador to the United Nations, Oman, South Korea and Pakistan, had been named as foreign minister to capitalise on his strong ties with international bodies and the West.

Tunisia needs to negotiate a $1.78 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The political turmoil has set back that quest and prompted Standard and Poor's to lower its long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit rating of Tunisia.

UAE trial: Ninety-four in court over 'coup plot'

    Wednesday, March 06, 2013   No comments

Ninety-four people, said to be members of an Islamist organisation, have gone on trial charged with plotting to overthrow the United Arab Emirates government.

The group - all Emiratis - was arrested in a series of raids last year.

The detainees include two prominent human rights lawyers, as well as judges, teachers, and student leaders.

If convicted, the group, believed to include 12 women, faces up to 15 years in jail, with no right of appeal.

The government alleges that they were part of a secret cell with links to the Muslim Brotherhood organisation.

Most of those arrested belong to the conservative religious society al Islah.

Critics say al Islah intends to replace the Emirati ruling families with a strict Islamist regime underpinned by sharia (Islamic) law, a charge human rights activists have challenged.

Nick McGeehan of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told the BBC: "We have seen no evidence in the public domain to substantiate that charge.

"As far as we are aware al Islah is a peaceful civil society that advocates a government based on more traditional Islamic precepts."

Human rights lawyers Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed al-Mansoori are among those on trial.

Some of the defendants have been in detention for nearly a year but most were arrested in July and August 2012.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Prohibition & Humanism

    Tuesday, March 05, 2013   No comments

“Pot’s Legal!” declared the Seattle Times in large print on November 7, 2012, while that same day the Denver Post ran the headline: “FIRED UP.” As two states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, an ancient debate is slowly rekindling. The term prohibition seems to be a remnant of an age long past, when mobsters wearing slick suits and fedoras sipped moonshine in speakeasies. However, as marijuana legalization enters onto the national stage, the word is quickly becoming associated with a new intoxicant. The religious and non-religious alike find themselves once again faced with a moral question that has haunted humanity since the first caveman stumbled across fermenting fruit: Should drugs be allowed?
For as long as drugs and alcohol have existed, society and religion have weighed judgment on their consumption. In ancient Egypt beer was a gift from Osiris, while in ancient Greece many praises were sung to Dionysus, god of the grape harvest and life of the party. However, many of the world’s younger religions have not been so friendly toward intoxicants. Buddhists, Muslims, and Mormons generally condemn drugs and alcohol as a form of evil, while Christians can’t seem to agree on whether intoxicants are a gift from God or a tool of Satan.
Christianity’s indecision on drug and alcohol policy is directly related to a number of contradictions in the Bible. In the beginning, it seems as if God tacitly accepts the consumption of booze. In Genesis, God’s right-hand man on earth, Noah, loves the stuff. Following the flood, he immediately plants a vineyard and lolls about naked and drunk once his wine has fermented (Genesis 9:20-25). As humanity repopulates, God’s people continue to sing praises for this apparent gift to man. The Song of Solomon contains beautiful poetry comparing the joys of love to the intoxication of wine (Song of Solomon 1:2, 7:9). Later, when the wine runs out at a wedding, God’s own son goes on a celestial booze-run, reinvigorating the party (John 2:1-11). Given that precedent, one would think that Christians would host keggers every Sunday. However, as Alcoholics Anonymous will tell you, there are many other Bible verses that simultaneously condemn the consumption of intoxicating beverages.

Egypt’s Morsi ‘mulling’ army takeover of restive Port Said

    Tuesday, March 05, 2013   No comments

Clashes continue in Port Said as security forces fired shots into the air and deployed teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters. Egypt’s president ordered police to withdraw from the streets, leaving the army to restore order in the city.

Hundreds of protesters massed near the Port Said Security Directorate and lobbed stones and firebombs at security forces, who responded by firing teargas and warning shots into the air.

Earlier in the day, a group of protesters fell on the port city’s branch of the National Security Agency, setting the building’s garage on fire with Molotov cocktails. Armed Forces vehicles were deployed to the scene, which proceeded to fire live shots to disperse the demonstrators.

A tank was later stationed outside the building, while armored vehicles patrolled the surrounding neighborhood.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi ordered police forces to withdraw following three weeks of strikes and protests in the city which boiled over on Sunday.

Uhuru Kenyatta leading rival Raila Odinga in early results but tight race could lead to runoff vote and rerun of 2007 clashes

    Tuesday, March 05, 2013   No comments

Despite multiple attacks on security forces that left a dozen people dead on the coast and reports of gunmen seizing control of two polling stations in Garissa, near the Somali border, the prevailing mood was one of relief as millions waited peacefully and patiently to cast their vote. For most, epic queues and computer glitches were a bigger headache than the much-predicted tribal conflagration.

Provisional results, based on more than a quarter of polling stations reporting, showed Uhuru Kenyatta – who is due to stand trial at the international criminal court – leading with 55% of the vote, well ahead of his main rival, Raila Odinga, on 40%.

Throughout most of the country millions of Kenyans waited in long lines and cast their ballots in peace. Monday's election was Kenya's first since more than 1,000 people were killed in violence following its December 2007 presidential election.

But this was the easy part. There are still many hurdles to come, as a tight contest for the presidency could lead to a run-off vote and ugly disputes both in the courts and on the streets.

East Africa's biggest economy is desperate to avoid a repeat of 2007's ethnic violence that left more than 1,100 people dead and 600,000 displaced.

Turkey’s ambassador to Chad: al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organization

    Tuesday, March 05, 2013   No comments

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has fired salvos at the government with questions regarding their view of al-Qaeda. 

Recalling that Turkey’s ambassador to Chad, who said “al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organization,” in a tweet is still on duty, CHP Deputy Chair Faruk Loğoğlu yesterday called on the government to make clear whether or not it considered al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization.

Loğoğlu also said al-Qaeda’s former spokesperson, Abu Ghaith, who entered the country without a passport, was released by Turkish security forces following his detention and that Turkey had not extradited him despite a U.S. request to do so. “What is this person still doing in Turkey?” he asked, speaking at a press conference at the Parliament. Unconfirmed news reports in February said the United States asked Turkey to extradite Ghaith after his detention in Ankara earlier this year. Ghaith was seized at a luxury hotel in Ankara after a tip-off from the CIA, and was being held there by police, the reports said. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Argentina’s Deal with Iran Could Carry Political Price

    Monday, March 04, 2013   No comments

Despite the government’s insistence that the purpose of the agreement struck with Iran is merely to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish institution AMIA, as the Argentine parliament voted its ratification, discussions focused on geopolitics and the country’s position in the changing international scenario.

Following the Senate’s approval last week, Argentina’s House of Representatives voted early Thursday to adopt a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Iran to unblock the judicial inquiry into the terrorist attack against the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Aid Association (AMIA), which left 85 people dead and more than 300 injured.

After much debate, the agreement was finally ratified without the support of any legislators from the opposition.

The Iranian parliament still has to ratify the agreement, which will allow Argentine federal judges to travel to Tehran to question five Iranian nationals accused of planning the bombing, for whom at Argentina’s request Interpol had issued red notices (arrest warrants) in 2007.

The opposition’s greatest objection to the agreement is the establishment of a truth commission that will be formed by five independent legal experts, none of them from Argentina or Iran, to examine the legal proceedings conducted in Argentina and issue a non-binding opinion to the parties.

Among victims and relatives of the victims, positions are divided between those who see the agreement as a step back and those who view it as an opportunity, however uncertain, to move forward in a case that is at a standstill due to lack of cooperation from Iran.

Tehran has challenged the evidence allegedly found by Argentine prosecutors against the Iranian nationals and refuses to extradite the suspects.

One of the suspects is Iran’s current Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who, despite the Interpol red notices against him, travelled to Bolivia in 2010 to meet with President Evo Morales.

As she announced the MoU, Argentina’s central-left president, Cristina Fernández — who in the past had taken a firm stand before the United Nations General Assembly demanding that Iran comply with the extraditions– vowed she “would never allow the AMIA tragedy to be used as a pawn in a geopolitical game of chess played out by foreign interests.”

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Will Iraq be next to have an Arab Spring?

    Sunday, March 03, 2013   No comments
It has all the outward trappings of another Arab Spring: tens of thousands of demonstrators, a permanent protesters' "camp", and megaphoned demands for the removal of another "dictator".
Yet the slogans that now ring out on the streets of Iraq each Friday are the voice of a community not best known for championing civil rights - be it for themselves or anyone else.

Instead, they are the disenfranchised members of Saddam Hussein's Sunni minority - the Muslim sect that enjoyed three decades of privileged status under his rule, and which spearheaded the long and bloody insurgency against British and American troops.

Led by grizzled ex-members of Saddam's Ba'ath Party and former insurgents rather than Facebook-surfing students, they now hold huge demonstrations across Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle, once notorious as a battleground for US forces.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Kerry to 'express concerns' to Turkish PM over Zionism remarks: US official

    Friday, March 01, 2013   No comments

Secretary of State John Kerry will on Friday express concerns to Turkey's prime minister over his remarks branding Zionism a "crime against humanity," comments that Washington considers offensive and wrong, a US official said,  Agence France-Presse reported.

"The secretary will have the chance to express his concerns about the remarks" made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a UN forum on Wednesday, a US State Department official traveling with Kerry said on condition of anonymity.

"We put out a statement from Washington making clear that the statement was both offensive and wrong and I am sure the secretary will be able to convey that to the prime minister directly this afternoon," the official said.

Netanyahu slams Erdoğan’s comments on anti-Semitism as 'dark and libelous'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s comments on Zionism and anti-Semitism on Feb. 28, describing them as a “crime against humanity.”

“I strongly condemn the comparison that the Turkish prime minister drew between Zionism and Nazism. I had thought that such dark and libelous comments were a thing of the past,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, according to daily Haaretz.

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